Book Review: Early Writings Of Herbert W. Armstrong

Early Writings Of Herbert W. Armstrong: Public Domain Articles Written From 1928-1953, by Herbert W. Armstrong, edited by Richard C. Nickels

A couple weeks ago or so I was enjoying a lovely dinner at the home of one of the deacons in my local congregation, watching a video about the Sabbath at the beginning of the Sabbath, when I saw this particular book and asked to borrow it. Being someone interested in archival research myself, I can recognize the skill of the late Mr. Nickels in finding a representative sample of works by Mr. Armstrong that are in the public domain, and hence above the quarreling that long went on over their ownership and that provides a rigorous and fair-minded view of at least some of the Armstrong canon. Included in this book is an excellent catechism that serve as quarterly Bible studies on the Kingdom of God, a sales pitch about the Feast of Tabernacles location in 1945 in rural Oregon, pointed doctrinal statements endorsing local congregations and an absence of central government and castigating the epidemic of divorce and remarriage that is at least twice as bad as it was at the time it was written in the 1930’s, and some memorable member letters and early doctrinal statements that appear to have been the raw material for several later booklets.

In terms of its contents, this book contains at least a few matters of note. The larger part of the contents of this book consist of various selected but representative samples of the early writing of Herbert W. Armstrong beginning during the period when he was a rising man in the Church of God, Seventh Day, including an excellent article on the Sabbath Covenant of Exodus 31 [1], along with some long-forgotten material written during his days as an early independent minister until the time when his burgeoning church organization was becoming fully formed in the early 1950’s. After about 190 pages of material from Mr. Armstrong, there comes about forty pages of technical notes, summary, and a somewhat critical biographical essay of the author by the editor. This material manages to speak honestly, but avoids gossiping about the more unsavory aspects of the lives of the author and his son. The essays are certainly critical of the spirit of authoritarianism that has long been found in Church of God circles, and is especially critical towards the doctrinal positions of some of the successor Churches of God like Philadelphia Church of God, as well as their changes to the writings of Mr. Armstrong that they now hold the copyright for.

As someone who has at times discussed my own personal upbringing in the Worldwide Church of God from birth until shortly before the age of 14 [2], I recognize this book as an example of the need of many people who were once a part of the Worldwide Church of God to attempt to make sense of their experiences, something that has driven many people, in their own characteristic ways, to write or collect material. Mr. Nickels largely comes from the point of view of giving a high degree of praise in encouraging Bible study and in providing plain-spoken biblical material, much of it cribbed from other writers without attribution, lamentably, balanced by severe criticism of the author’s character and difficulties in working with others as peers as well as showing praise and appreciation for others. This mixed approach will likely be too generous-minded by far for some potential readers and far too harsh and critical for others to accept. Nevertheless, Mr. Nickels provides a great deal of early writing, along with some comments on its redaction and editing later on, so that the reader can draw their own conclusions about the biblical scholarship and approach of Mr. Armstrong for themselves, if they feel compelled to make sense of the man and his immense influence in contemporary religious history as the most notable preacher of the Sabbath day in the 20th century. Those of us whose lives were greatly influenced by his own preaching, even if indirectly through being born into the organization he led so conspicuously for so long can find this book, and reflecting upon its materials, a way of recognizing that influence honestly and reflectively.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Cold Hands, Warm Heart

This morning, for the second time this week, I had to scrape ice off of my windows before I could make my way to work, after dropping off some books at the library that I have read [1] before heading over Cooper Mountain into work. Being someone whose hands and feet have often been a subject of concern in life, I was struck by the way that I could feel the chill in my arthritic limbs as I went about my business, doing my best not to let it hinder me, but noting it all the same, as I am wont to do. Judging from what I saw, it seemed like a fairly slow day for almost everyone else around me for one reason or another, which was not helped by the large amount of pie that was left for us, of which I managed to indulge in two slices of pumpkin pie and one slice of apple pie in the course of my breaks and lunch, in addition to my usual salad and soup. It was pleasing, I suppose, to enjoy a slight bit of a food coma that I did deserve in contrast to the usual food coma that one does not deserve.

The expression “cold hands, warm heart,” is a bit of a cliché that is commonly said in reference to people whose chilly exterior appearance hides a warm and compassionate heart that cannot often be seen by others. As human beings, we are prone to judge others based on appearances, and while this process benefits those who are skilled at dealing with external appearances, it can often mislead us into incorrect judgments and interpretations of others if we are looking to surface appearance as a basis of who to think highly of and who do disregard. There are, of course, many reasons why people would have cold hands and a warm heart. Some people do not have the best circulation, for example, and find it a struggle to keep their hands and feet warm. My own concern in this regard tends to leave me to wear socks almost all the time, even though it is often comical coming from where I was raised, where warm temperatures make such a habit seem very quirky and unusual. For others, the coldness of hands is more of a metaphorical expression to describe someone’s slight chill and remoteness in dealing with others, that may not always reveal the true extent of someone’s warmth and compassion as a person. Some people, for reasons of self-defense, choose not to let others know their loving nature, because of the vulnerabilities of a tender heart in a cold world full of harsh cruelty.

At least one time, the expression was used to signal a particularly moving understanding of love and exploration. In the 1964 season of the television show The Outer Limits, the expression serves as the title of an episode that stars future Star Trek lead actor William Shatner as a space explorer whose efforts to visit Venus lead him into a dangerous alien encounter that give him recurring nightmares and an increasing inability to stay warm [2]. The closing narration gives a bit of a chill in reflecting upon life: “The eternal, never-ceasing search for knowledge often leads to dark and dangerous places. Sometimes it demands risks not only of those who are searching, but of others who love them. These, in their own special way, know that knowledge is never wasted, nor is love.” This is not only true when dealing with fictional space explorers, but those whose explorations are far more mundane. Our lives are full of dark and dangerous places that demand risks not only of ourselves, but also those who love us, in the hope that neither the knowledge or the love are ever wasted.

Recently, I had the chance to look at a rather chilling graphic that compared a pictorial representation of the men, women, and children who traveled across the Atlantic in 1620 to settle Plymouth and a second graphic that highlighted how few of them were left alive at the first Thanksgiving about a year later. We who seek to give thanks to God for His blessings do not always understand the dark path that people took whose example serves as a model for us. Those who celebrated the first Thanksgiving, in a festival strongly reminiscent, if not directly taken, from the biblical Feast of Tabernacles were those who had survived a cold and grim New England winter without having been able to do much in the way of farming or harvesting, in a strange and unfamiliar land. Their gratitude at having survived the experience was a gratitude based on knowledge of the alternatives to enjoying a bounteous blessing. To learn how to appreciate the graciousness of God is sometimes like appreciating the gentle and tender heart of someone with chilly hands—sometimes we cannot see the heart inside. May we learn to be more merciful and appreciative with others, as God has extended grace to us.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:,_Warm_Heart

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Book Review: The Conservative Bookshelf

The Conservative Bookshelf, by Chilton Williamson, Jr

There are some books that contain within them certain assumptions that may not be shared by the book’s likely reading audience. Such is the case with this particular book. The author of this particular naval-gazing and highly idiosyncratic and partisan collection of books spends much of this book engaging in internecine conflicts with various other wings of the conservative movement, seeking to claim that only those he considers paleoconservatives are “true” conservatives in a manner that seems to consider political ideology to be an aspect of true faith, rather than viewing political positions as the outgrowth of the repercussions of one’s belief system as a whole. For all of the author’s hatred of ideology, this book is strongly ideological in ways that are often hypocritical and self-serving. The author, for example, continually praises the lost cause of the defeated South, and fails to see how the racial and social problems the author decries are in many ways the straightforward result of generations of oppression that the author sees no need to address or even recognize. All of what the author demands for himself, and presumably others of his kind, like a respect for family and property, as well as social and political liberty, the author sees as particular and not universal rights. Straightforwardly seeking to roll back women’s suffrage under the rubric of one family, one male head of household vote, the author demonstrates himself to be an unabashed reactionary fan of a particularist version of freedoms and rights based on race, class, and gender status. In the author’s mind, the rights and freedoms we hold dear as Americans, and are willing to fight for, are not rights that the rest of the world is ready for, although the author appears not to have any particular test in mind by which those he considers unworthy of freedom and honor would be able to demonstrate themselves worthy. The political order of the kind desired by the author, and practiced by the self-professed master class of the antebellum South, is a school for civilization from which no one is ever permitted to graduate.

In terms of its contents, the book is best when the author ceases his repetitive diatribes against the modern world and almost everything after Abraham Lincoln and actually quotes from many of the fifty books included here. The author places a total of 50 works into a series of categories: religion, politics, society, economics, the prophetic artist, and the present day and then ranks them in his own preference within those categories. The end result is a set of books that range from the obvious (the Bible, C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man, Augustine’s City of God, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, Cicero’s The Republic, Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, the Federalist papers, de Tocqueville’s Democracy In America, Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, the Education of Henry Adams, Eliot’s The Waste Land, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, to give a few examples) to books that even well-read Conservatives are likely to have never heard of it (The Camp of the Saints, by Jean Raspail, Revolution From The Middle, by Samuel Francis, or Hilaire Belloc’s The Servile State). Besides the list of books, which itself includes some very worthwhile quotes [1] of the books that are being honored to be among the author’s top 50, some of which are not in print and are exceedingly difficult to find, the author also uses the nominations as a way of discussing the entire body of work of the author, making this a recommendation for somewhat more than 50 books when all of the subsidiary recommendations are taken into account.

Besides sharing an appreciation for books reading with the author, there are at least a few aspects of this book that are worthwhile to discuss. One of them is the general unprofitability of wrangling over words and definitions. When an author does not use the plain sense of a word, in the way that is commonly understood, or seeks to present himself as a self-appointed gatekeeper to how a given word is to be used, he moves from a fellow partner in the great conversations of ideas and opinions and seeks to become a judge of others by his own personal standards. When an author has a worldview that is as two-faced and hypocritical as the author’s, where the somewhat hyperbolic and paranoid view of the wickedness of the federal government is merely the same sort of domination and tyranny that the author himself endorses towards women and social and ethnic minorities, his placing of himself on a pedestal to look down upon others is particularly unwelcome. However, despite the unsavory and unpleasant nature of the author’s political and historical worldview, and his clear absence of the universal desire to edify mankind irrespective of the particulars that often lamentably divide us, the reader of this book can at least appreciate the author’s honesty, which is due to the fact that he appears to think he is talking to those who agree with him and so he drops the guard of polite fiction that he would adopt in speaking with outsiders and shows the reader what he truly believes, and shows how ignoble a fierce and temperamental resistance to change is when it is sheer mulish and obstinate stubbornness devoid of the right principles, rightly applied, that one ought to be stubborn in proclaiming and maintaining. It is not the pleasure one would wish out of a book about books, but one must take such enjoyment as one finds.

[1] See, for example:

“Has such been the fate of the centuries which have proceeded our own? And has man always inhabited a world like the present, where virtue is without genius, and genius without honor; where the love of order is confounded with a taste for oppression, and the holy rites of freedom with a contempt of law; where the light thrown by conscience on human actions is dim, and where nothing seems to be any longer forbidden or allowed, honorable or shameful, false or true?” – Alexis de Tocqueville (p.126)

“I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust” – T.S. Eliot (p. 224-225)

“This is not a travel guide but an elegy. A memorial. You’re holding a tombstone in your hands. A bloody rock. Don’t drop it on your foot—throw it at something big and glassy. What do you have to lose?” – Edward Abbey (p. 258)

“The republic passes over into empire when political activity is no longer directed toward enhancement of a particular people, but has become a mechanism for managing them for the benefit of their rulers. That is to say, an empire’s political behavior reflects management needs, reflects the interests of maintaining government itself, reflects the desires of those who happen to be in control of its machinery of administration, rather than the personality and the will of the nation being governed. The government of an empire is abstract, manipulative, a government of, by, and for the government, not of, by, and for the people. Power flows downward rather than upward.” – Clyde N. Wilson (p.288)

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For He Observes Himself, Goes Away, And Immediately Forgets What Kind Of Man He Was

In reading a book review of sorts within a larger collection of book’s highly recommended by an author whose judgment and insight I viewed as suspect, I came across the following quote from the book being reviewed in the book that I reviewed that read as follows: “The republic passes over into empire when political activity is no longer directed toward enhancement of a particular people, but has become a mechanism for managing them for the benefit of their rulers. That is to say, an empire’s political behavior reflects management needs, reflects the interests of maintaining government itself, reflects the desires of those who happen to be in control of its machinery of administration, rather than the personality and the will of the nation being governed. The government of an empire is abstract, manipulative, a government of, by, and for the government, not of, by, and for the people. Power flows downward rather than upward [1].” The author of this quote, a man named Clyde Wilson, is the editor of the John C. Calhoun papers at the University of South Carolina, and appears to be entirely unaware that the antebellum South he venerates practiced precisely the behavior that he abhors when it is present in the federal government. In defining empire by a particular way of behaving, rather than in its size, the author shows the antebellum South, and South Carolina in particular, to be the exact sort of empire that the author claims to abhor and detest in the United States of America.

What is to account for this clear hypocrisy and double standard? South Carolina on the eve of the Civil War was an area that was majority black, and yet there was no prospect in December of 1860 of the majority of the people of the state being given the right to express their own opinions and to vote based on their own worldview, or to seek their own best interests or protect the property earned through the sweat of their own brow, or even to marry and seek to protect their wives and sisters and daughters from the unwanted advances of the men of the planter class. There was also no dissenting vote in the South Carolina legislative body that voted to rebel against the Union in defense of its own narrow imperial interests. It is particularly stunning when a man speaks against precisely those qualities that he represents and that that he honors in others he judges like himself. The author appears to believe that all men are created equal, but some are more equal than others, to paraphrase the quote from Animal Farm. One is also reminded of the following passage in James 1:22-25, which reads as follows: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” If we abhor being treated in the same way that we treat others, and if we refuse to submit to authority that acts as we do when we are in positions and offices of authority over others, we have failed to follow the perfect law of liberty, that golden rule we all pay at least lip service to that tells us to treat others as we would wish to be treated.

Yet this is not an easy thing to do, whether we speak individually or in terms of larger institutions and governments. For one thing, in order to enhance people or serve people, or represent people, one has to behave in a particular way. For example, one must view others as human beings, with all the respect that entails. If one genuinely wishes to serve others, one has to get to know them, to allow them to communicate their preferences and their boundaries and their passions. We must not only seek what people want, if we wish to serve them, but we must make the best case possible for what people need that they may not want at the time. In any case, though, good government requires working for the benefit of others, and not merely for our own benefit. Throughout the melancholy course of human history, leaders have always wanted to be called benefactors. Corrupt emperors and robber barons alike used at least some of their plunder to build museums and serve others, but did so only as a desire to do penance for their sins by paying some portion of it back to those they robbed. Yet the desire to be seen as generous and loving has always remained, whether leaders themselves had merited that reputation or not through their conduct. This was even true of those corrupt slaveowners who Clyde Wilson praises, who often engaged in various pageants of mock submission where they sought to induce their slaves to show appreciation and gratitude for their meager generosity, and both insulted the slaves for being so gullible while simultaneously doubting the truthfulness of the show they had just demanded.

But let us judge not lest we shall be judged. It is easy to judge the hypocrisy of great sinners like slaveowners. It is easy to point to the corrupt leaders of the world’s nations and institutions and to heap scorn upon them. Those whose lives are open to the scrutiny of the public cannot help but draw critics for a wide variety of reasons both just and unjust. We see their errors, which cannot be hidden, and cannot see their heartfelt repentance and their desire to be forgiven and restored, and their desire to be given the blank slate without having lost all that they have worked so hard to gain. Yet if we are to live in a godly way ourselves, we too must see them as human beings, possibly very flawed ones, but humans nonetheless. If we only see the monstrous in those who do great evil and exploit and take advantage of others, we are no better than they, for it was their denial of the humanity of others in any meaningful or practical sense that led them to behave selfishly to gratify their own lust and greed without seeking to serve and build up those who they took advantage of. If we are morally sensitive where they were not, it is not because of our own greatness, but because God has been merciful to us, in part that we might extend that mercy even to those who might not be aware that we must extend a great amount of mercy to them merely to live at peace with them, because they live entirely in denial about the wrongs that they have committed. For knowledge is a gift from God, and we must know what kind of men and women we are before we can repent of it and seek God’s way, and be forgiven. Often in life, unfortunately, it falls upon us to say as did our Lord and Savior or Stephen the deacon to those who sought to kill them, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” For if they understood what they were truly about, how could people behave as they do?

[1] The quote was found on page 288 of Chilton Williamson, Jr’s book The Conservative Bookshelf, and is a quote from Clyde N. Wilson’s 2003 book From Union To Empire: Essays In The Jeffersonian Tradition.

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Bang Bang (My Neighbor Shot Me Down)

One of the unfortunate spillover effects from the ongoing problems in Syria [1] is the rising tensions between Russia and Turkey, two neighbors who have historically not seen eye to eye for a variety of reasons over a long period of time, where it is hard to be sympathetic sometimes with either side. Although Russia and Turkey are allies of a sort against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, both sides have what may politely be considered to be ulterior motives. Turkey wishes to support the interests of the Turkmen minority in Syria, which is concentrated along the border regions, while discouraging Kurdish independence that could spillover into its own vulnerable region with its own restive Kurdish minority, while Russia is using its efforts to support the military aims of the Assad regime, which are not necessary aligned with the interests of Turkey and other nations. All of this makes enough sense, but when a Russian jet is downed and Turkmen rebels fire on a helicopter sent in its aid and questions exist as to whether the Russian pilot and weapons officer are alive and captured or dead, the escalation of tensions in an area that has too many of them already is a predictable, if lamentable, outcome. Reading between the lines of the various responses, there are plenty of people that are hoping for peace to prevail, and plenty of people who lament the lack of communication and coordination between the nations involved in fighting against ISIL, whether for or against Assad’s regime in the complicated conflict that exists in Syria.

Turkey’s position is pretty clear. It claims that the Russians have repeatedly sought to attack Turkmen forces along the border and that the plane in question had violated Turkish airspace by crossing over the border into its Hatay province. On the other hand, Russia claims that Turkey’s attack was unprovoked. Germany has chimed in that Turkey is showing itself to be an unpredictable actor, while Russia’s behavior with regards to its neighbors like Ukraine and Georgia over the last few years has not given the international community a great deal of confidence in its willingness to respect the borders of other countries, to put it mildly. Some Turks have already started to protest Russian operations against Turkemen opposition forces to Assad’s regime and Turkey has, not surprisingly, called for an extraordinary NATO meeting, likely to make sure it is not being left out on a ledge and that it has the backing of NATO allies. While other nations are urging Turkey and Russia to remain cool-headed and calm, this is not always the easiest thing to do. It is not every day that a jet is downed by a neighbor with whom it has serious tensions—in fact, this is the first time that a NATO nation has downed a Russian jet for invading its airspace in about 60 years [2].

In looking at a problem like this, however the situation is resolved, it is important to examine the question of context. There are a great many reasons why Turkey and Russia are habitually at odds—they have a bad history going back hundreds of years, and Russia has traditionally been an aggressor in its dealings with Turkey, going back at least to Ottoman times. Turkey’s desire to be protected by NATO was a major source of Soviet vulnerability during the Cold War, and Europe has been leery at accepting Turkey as a fully European nation, which makes sense given the lack of Christian identity of the Turkish nation and its long history of oppression of its own Christian population, whether that meant genocide of Armenians or mass deportation of its Greek population after World War I, to say nothing of the long history of oppression of Christian minorities during the days of the Ottoman Empire, which have led to bad blood between Turkey and many nations in eastern Europe. Both Russia and Turkey have reasons at feeling vulnerable with regards to their reputation with other nations, and Russia in particular already has no shortage of foreign problems to deal with already, including its invasion of eastern Ukraine and Crimea, that would make an addition of a second front with Turkey an unwise decision. Likewise, Turkey will be leery of increasing hostilities without the support of the United States and other NATO allies, who would be obligated to actively defend Turkey in the case of a Russian invasion.

In an atmosphere of mutual distrust and hair trigger responses, it is difficult for two neighbors who must interact with each other on a regular basis to avoid some kind of response that could trigger a violent response. Even though Turkey warned Russia that it would shoot down aircraft violating its airspace, that does not mean that Russia’s air force is going to respect Turkey’s borders, or show any interest in seeking to avoid attacking those who are the enemies of its own ally/client. The larger question, of course, is whether cooler heads prevail in this particular situation, and perhaps more importantly, if the desire to avoid stress and tension and conflict lead these two enemies to communicate better with each other. After all, it is impossible for nations or people to be truly at peace, especially if they have serious disagreements, are prickly about defending their borders, and do not communicate well. If the two parties are going to be continually placed in proximity with each other, the only way that things are going to be less stressful between the two is if they are able to communicate better. Let us hope, for the sake of many others, that this is able to occur, and that both sides are not so committed to mutual hostility and disrespect that they are able to come to a better modus viviendi with each other.

[1] See, for example:


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Pick A Star On The Dark Horizon, And Follow The Light

This morning, after scraping the ice off of my car windows well enough so that I could see where I was driving, I was reminded of the tendency of weathermen to be somewhat alarmist in their predictions, while attempting to sugarcoat their alarmism. For example, on the one hand, the radio weatherman stated the possibility of snow in the valley tonight, as a better option than the freezing rain that could otherwise knock out power in some parts of the area. On the other hand, there was the promise that this snow would lead to an early opening of various ski lodges in the area, which is not a pleasure I have yet had the chance to enjoy, largely on account of the fact that I am a somewhat inexperienced skier who tends to ski socially when I do, and who lacks any suitable equipment to ski, or the sort of regular company that enjoys it. As is often the case in life, there are activities I enjoy but do not enjoy doing alone, and so finding the right group of people is a matter of particular importance when it comes to my own activities.

This evening, I had the chance to muse over some poll results from the Pew Research Group that stated that about 40% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 support government censorship of speech that is judged offensive by various minority groups [1]. Although I do not tend to consider myself to be a particularly strong libertarian [2]. Nevertheless, despite the fact that I have often found the speech of others insofar as it relates to me, or to groups that I identify with, to be offensive, at the same time I realize that my own compulsive need to express myself freely requires me in the interests of justice and equity to grant that same right to others. Those who have lost many hours of sleep because of fears of an unfriendly knock at the door because of the repercussions of what I have said, or more often written, are not going to be people that wish to inflict the same treatment on others. Clearly, those who believe in the importance of freedom of speech and expression, even of those ideas that are neither popular nor particularly savory, need to do a better job of teaching the young that sometimes free speech might sting, but it is a lot more preferable than a state where even peaceful but somewhat noisy people face the crippling burden of exile or imprisonment merely for saying what is true, but not popular.

Tonight I happened to read most of a book that I hope to review soon about a particular man’s view of the most important books to have on one’s bookshelves, some of which I have read, and more of which I have heard of. In reading this person’s writings, much of which sought to glorify a certain reactionary paleo-Conservative political ideology, including neo-Confederate ideals, I was struck by the tension and contradiction in the author’s thought and worldview. On the one hand, the author spoke passionate against abortion, but had nothing negative to say about the way that the antebellum South completely denied the dignity of human beings who happened to look differently than he or come from different areas. His apparent belief in the duties of Christian love and outgoing concern notwithstanding, the author seemed to have an elitist view that held that freedom and honor and dignity were not universally owed to all created in the image and likeness of our Heavenly Father above, but rather that they belong to a particular heritage descended from European Christendom, which is rubbish. In seeking to deny a sort of “universal democracy” that ignores tradition and that which has stood the test of time, he attacks the basis of human dignity, which holds a place for a brotherhood of fellow believers in which there is no exclusion by gender, ethnic origin, or social class, but rather a genuine community of faith that exists in obedience to a common Lord and God and a universal and transcendent and eternal set of moral standards of unchanging worth and value, regardless of the shifting trends of thought and practice.

Tonight as well I happened to complete a week’s worth of assignments and lectures in a class I am taking on Chinese history, and the two questions asked were “Who reproduces?” and “Who marries?” in the context of universal female but selective male marriage and the practice of delayed childbirth and occasionally even female infanticide. It is little surprise that the data-driven approach of the class would indicate that marriage and family was more common for those who were of a certain socioeconomic status, and that elites in particular viewed having sons as a moral obligation of the highest order. Even Westerners occasionally have the same sort of old-fashioned understanding, however badly they manage the affairs of their own family. It was a worthwhile class, but certainly a grim one in the way that it pointed out the family context that influenced views of marriage and family, a reminder, if any were necessary, that our behavior is influenced by our experience and context, whether we embrace those effects or seek to counteract them. The winds and currents of our world cannot help but leave their mark on us, no matter how skillfully we seek to chart a course for a better world than we have ever known.


[2] See, for example:

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Book Review: Ancient Israel’s History

Ancient Israel’s History: An Introduction To Issues And Sources, edited by Bill T. Arnold and Richard S. Hess

As I was reading the introduction to this book, whose editors praised the writings of historians like Kitchen [1], Longman and Long (whose history of ancient Israel is a classic in my own personal library), I felt the pleasure of seeing that the editors of this book, at least, share a certain taste when it comes to ancient history, as the historians they praised the most were those whose insight in biblical history and respect for the Bible as a historical source of the highest order are particularly notable in a field filled with those whose rejection of the Bible leads them into subjectivist folly, merely reading into ancient times the sort of views and worldviews that they already possess. This book’s materials do not fully match the excellence of its introduction, but at the very least, anyone reading this book will be aware of the issues and sources (biblical and otherwise) that address certain areas of history.

It should be noted, though, that this warm recommendation of the book’s contents comes with some caveats and limitations. For one, the authors of the thirteen essays that are part of this book do not always seek to come to conclusions, which is itself a good thing where definitive textual or architectural evidence is lacking. For another, at least a few of the authors of the essays show themselves to be a bit too enamored with the documentary hypothesis, or a priori assumptions about the late date of “second” Isaiah and Daniel, although it should be noted that most of the authors have a much higher regard for the value of biblical books, including prophecy and psalms, as historical sources of the highest worth once the Bible is properly understood and taken fully seriously. In terms of the book’s material, the thirteen essays of this book deal with the following subjects: Genesis, Exodus and the Wilderness, Covenant and Treaty, Early Israel and its appearance in Canaan, the Judges and the early Iron Age, the story of Samuel, Saul, and David, the United Monarchy, the biblical prophets in historiography, late 10th and 9th century issues, eighth century issues, Judah in the 7th century, 6th century issues, fifth and fourth century issues, and the Hellenistic period. The essays themselves total a little more than 450 pages, making this book an introductory read for its subject material and breadth of scope, but a demanding read for many readers.

If it is a demanding read, though, it is a worthwhile one despite its limitations. For one, the wide variety of views among the essay writers themselves, and discussed by the essay writers, put paid to any belief in a rigid uniformity of views among knowledgeable specialists within the field. Many of the authors, and the scholars whom they cite, are critical of misunderstandings and misinterpretations, often oversimplifications, of the biblical record and show themselves to be very astute and close readers of the scriptures with a keen desire to understand the Bible on its own terms. To give but a couple examples among many that could be chosen, one of the authors points out that according to the biblical standard Jehoshaphat is a far more notable king than Ahab, but by human standards Ahab was among the greatest rulers of his time, viewed with respect by the Assyrian monarch who was his opponent at Qarqar. We must not confuse the biblical perspective with the way that we view our own leaders in our contemporary political scene, because that which is well regarded by God is not always respected by men and women, and vice versa. Likewise, the common understanding of biblical history tends to be fairly flat, when the Bible itself is a work of considerable nuance and complexity and layers that are often not well understood by those readers who glide along the surface and do not recognize its tensions. For example, there is a fairly serious difference between the perspective of the historical prophets and Jeremiah on the one side, for example, and that of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. This is not to say that either source is without great worth, or that only one of them is inspired by God, but rather that the people who served God saw matters differently whether they remained in Judah after the exile or whether they were taken from Judah as part of the exiled elites and then returned two generations later with the desire to regain their elite standard in the restored community, a desire that was not always straightforwardly appreciated by those left behind. We would do well to remember that when God calls us, we do not always leave our backgrounds or our perspectives behind, and we can confuse disagreements about politics with far more serious conflicts over belief systems. This was as true in biblical history as it is today, and it is comforting to know that despite the wide gulf between the times of the Old Testament and our own, we are not so different after all.

[1] See, for example:

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You Had One Job

This evening after I got home and did at least some of my usual chores, I found that my computer refused to act like it was connected to the internet. When, after a considerable amount of frustration, I restarted my computer, I found that this refusal to stay connected to the internet was connected to some updates that had apparently downloaded but not asked me to restart for my computer’s operating system and once the restart was done my computer acted as if nothing had happened and I was able to resume my ordinary business. My general attitude towards computers is that they are supposed to work, and part of that working is to stay connected to the internet. When a computer is not able to stay connected to the various wireless networks that I tend to use, I view the computer as failing in its essential purposes, with a corresponding degree of disdain for any claims of reliability in internet service providers, for example. Given the rare amount of time that I spend at home, I expect the internet to be reliable during those evening hours when I do my writing and socializing.

As I write about from time to time [1], I am very fond of internet memes. Part of this is due to the fact that I have a great fondness for inside jokes and running gags. For example, in my time in Portland three people have attempted to give me the same exact book, in both hardcover and softcover form. This fact is worthy of at least some investigation. For one, the book itself is an illustrated history of the Civil War that accompanied the famous Ken Burns miniseries. For whatever reason, the book itself was popular enough to be printed and distributed with many copies, quite possibly as part of fundraising for public television, and yet the book itself was not of sufficient interest to remain a treasured part of personal libraries, yet it was a book that has found its way frequently into various used book stores as well as thrift shops, tempting people who see the Civil War as an obvious area of personal interest into buying a book that others have bought for me over and over again, and, given the fact that it has happened three times already within the past two years, it is likely to happen again at some point given the ubiquity of the book for a low price among the various thrift shops and estate sales and used bookstores of the Portland area. At some point, the fact that I keep writing about this book [2] indicates that someone may eventually buy it on purpose as a deliberate gag gift.

There are many cases where people have one overriding job that can be somewhat difficult to understand and realize. For example, today in a conversation a question was asked in conversation about the one job that someone else had, but where there was no update given on whether that job had been fulfilled. Yesterday at church, for example, apparently I failed at my one job to be available to answer questions from the pulpit, a job that I was not necessarily aware that I had until multiple people reminded me about it. At times, we may cling to a very restrictive definition of what sort of tasks or jobs we want to be responsible for because to engage in larger or more difficult tasks that we may not be able to accomplish based on our competence and the resources that we have to work with. Yet as we seek to live well, we must be aware of the question of whether we take on duties that are not ours to take on, at the risk of being or seeming presumptuous, while at the same time remaining aware of those duties that are ours to fulfill and accomplish in order to be successful at the tasks that are ours to undertake. It is a hard thing to know, after all, what one has a duty to do or what one is permitted to do. Let us hope that we can all become better at knowing and accomplishing the tasks that are needful and proper for us to accomplish. If we have but one job, we had better be able to do it.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

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Hebrews 4:1-11: There Remains Therefore A Sabbath Rest For the People Of God

Hebrews 4:1-11 contains the most blunt statement of the continuing worth of the Sabbath for the people of God, containing a unique Greek word for the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath that appears nowhere else in the Bible in Hebrews 4:9 that is generally translated as Sabbath rest. In tying together the past, present, and future of the Sabbath through a look at the history of Creation and of the nation of Israel, and also looking forward to the rest of eternal life in the kingdom of God, this passage in its entirety is perhaps the most pointed and noteworthy examinations of the Sabbath as a whole that can be found in all scripture. It is therefore worthwhile both to examine this passage in some detail as well as to point out its connections with the rest of the Bible so that we may properly understand the importance of the Sabbath rest to the author of Hebrews in history, for contemporary believers, and for all time.

Hebrews 4:1-11 reads as follows: “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them, but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’ “ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works;” and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.” Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. Therefore remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.”

This is a warning of such soberness that it ought to end any sort of wrangling about the Sabbath being unimportant to Jesus Christ and to salvation. Where present-day Sabbath observance is connected to the positive example of God resting after creation week in Genesis 2:1-3 and also with the negative example of Israel’s rebellious and disobedient conduct in the wilderness grimly detailed in the psalm that is quoted three times in this passage, Psalm 95, and connected to our ability to enter the Millennial rest of those who are blessed with resurrection into eternal life, this is a matter that must command our full attention. The fact that the Sabbath points backwards to history through the commandments given to Israel, and even before that to God’s creation of the entire earth points to its universal importance for all flesh. The fact that the Sabbath points forward to eternal life, and is connected to our judgment based on our obedience or disobedience to this commandment reminds us that this law is still in force, contrary to the teachings of many contemporary antinomians.

Of particular interest is the implicit contrast between Joshua and Jesus Christ. Rather than the Sabbath simply referring to the physical boundaries of the promised land that were given to Israel by right of conquest during the time of Joshua, as is claimed by some who wish to limit its span and application, the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 95 repeatedly in Hebrews 3 and 4 to point out that the promised rest of God was not merely a physical rest of freedom from oppression, but a rest on a deeper level as well, and that the physical rest we enjoy here and now points to a greater realization of the Sabbath that is yet to come. The first Joshua was a faithful servant who through the help of God gave Israel a temporary rest from their enemies before the rebellious and disobedient Israelites engaged in numerous cycles of disobedience, punishment, contrition, and deliverance. However, the true rest of God in its fullness is given by Jesus Christ to those who obey His commandments in love in this life, and who are able to enjoy that rest for all time as the citizens of the Jerusalem that is above and kings and priests over the heavens and the earth after our resurrection into eternal life. Thus the first Joshua is a type of Jesus Christ, and the Sabbath in this life is a type of the Sabbath that is to come. Far from nullifying or canceling the Sabbath, it instead deepens the obligation by broadening its meaning. He who is faithful in little is faithful in much, and more will be given to him.

For those who believe that the Sabbath is simply an Old Testament matter for Jews, Hebrews 4:1-11, taken in its context, provides a pointed reminder that this is not the case. Written shortly before the destruction of the physical temple in Jerusalem, in a book of the Bible which points out that the glorious implements of worship in that temple were mere copies of the even greater temple in heaven above, the reminder that those who do not obey God’s commandment to rest as God rested in this life will not enter the world to come is something that we all need to pause and pay attention to. It is all too easy for us to give excuses as to why we cannot obey God and take Him at His word, and God is certainly merciful to us despite the fact that we are flawed and imperfect creatures, but this command is plain and obvious enough that we are not to disregard it or treat it as unimportant. When God connects our entrance into eternal life with our obedience of the Sabbath commandment in this life, that is something that commands notice.

Having examined how Hebrews is connected through quotations and citations to Genesis 2 and Psalm 95, let us comment on some of the more implicit connections that this passage contains. The reference to the continuing validity of the Sabbath and its connections to the laws of God rather than the traditions of man forms a connection with Colossians 2 and helps us to interpret this notoriously difficult and lamentably frequently misinterpreted passage of Paul. Likewise, the discussion of the Sabbath day as a continuing observance for followers of Christ, regardless of whether they are Jew or Gentile, as part of the Israel of God, makes sense of the way that the author in Hebrews 10:24-25 commands believers not to forsake the assembly of the brethren as is the habit of some, something that is as true in our day and time as it was in the first century. This reference to commanded assemblies points back to Leviticus 23, where it points to not only the weekly Sabbath but also the annual Holy Days in a similar fashion to the way that the reference in Colossians 2 points to the weekly Sabbath as well as the new moons and annual Holy Days, showing the fact that all are connected with regards to Sabbath observance.

Having said that, let us note that just as the Sabbath remains for the people of God, so too questions remain as to how the Sabbath is to be observed. It is not my purpose, nor the purpose of the author of Hebrews, nor even God’s purpose, to place on believers something analogous to the legalistic interpretations and restrictions of the Pharisees. Even when we concede the importance of resting as God rested, we are faced with the question of service to God often being in tension with our own need for physical and spiritual restoration of energies after our immensely busy schedules. We may additionally face difficulties in the assembly of our brethren as there can be an absence of graciousness and the sort of drama and division for which the congregation of Corinth is particularly well-known. We face situations where people who work busy schedules during the week are still somehow expected to perform the full labor of preparing for the Sabbath and very limited time and means of doing so, and yet we are simultaneously expected to call the Sabbath delight when it involves much labor and often a great deal of personal stress. This does not mean that we are bad believers, or that there is something defective about the Sabbath, but it is a reminder that our understanding of the Sabbath needs to be broadened, so that we live so as to reduce the burdens that we place on others, and that the Sabbath is a weekly reminder of grace and of God’s desire that all flesh should be reconciled to Him and to each other, that all debts should be forgiven, and that we should walk among each other in love. While that is easier said than done, it remains a part of the Sabbath just like the Sabbath remains for the people of God.

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There’s Innocence In The Moment

This morning, as I was getting ready for church, I noticed that my hair was not being particularly cooperative. No matter what I would do, part of the hair on the left side of the head refused to stay down. Throughout the day, this was not helped by the fact that a handful of adorable small children kept on asking to ride on my shoulders and felt it necessary to play with my hair in some fashion. While I’m not always sure what other people think by such a scene of children feeling tall because they are on my shoulders, it is clear that there is a great deal of enjoyment to be found in enjoying the playful innocence of small children who feel tall when they are picked up and sit on someone’s shoulder, who gallivant around with few cares in the world and dim awareness of the efforts that others place to keep an eye on them and to keep them safe from trouble. It is for adults to be filled with cares and worries, and it is for little children to live their lives growing in godly character as well as in knowledge and competence, but if one is raising children consumed by anxiety about the world around them, then clearly their parents are doing something horribly wrong.

After leaving dinner and driving to spend the evening with some friends of mine in the far Southeast of the Portland area, where one of the members of the family fixed my car’s headlights and taillights and did a wonderful job at it, I was struck by the immensely temporary nature of life. On the one hand, for the third time since I have been in Portland I have been given the same exact illustrated history of the Civil War [1]. Yet this is not all. At the Feast of Tabernacles we met a relative of them by marriage who struggled with a bad family situation thanks to an alcoholic husband. Her daughter, as might be readily understood, was at a young age already immensely complicated and layered, hiding whatever vulnerability existed behind a rather fierce exterior mask. Rather abruptly, we found out today that the woman had died, shockingly suddenly, given that just yesterday afternoon she had posted on her Facebook profile some beautiful pictures of flowers. And now she is no longer living, leaving her husband a widower, and making it unclear who will raise her sullen and clearly deeply wounded daughter. Knowing how my own childhood deeply shaped the man I have become, I grieve when I see children suffer so deeply, deeply enough that they do not believe others can stand to see the truth about them and still be considerate about their feelings and see them as God made them to be, and not as the scarred and broken beings they may have become.

Even more so than most days, today was a day filled with vexing complexity. I spent much of my day at church teaching children about Cain and Abel, about the murderous hostility that can exist between estranged siblings, about the fact that God’s longsuffering and patience in allowing people the time and space to repent and seek His ways and seek a relationship with Him is confused with absence or weakness, and how often that is the case in humanity as well, where there seems like no way we can act that will not be twisted or misunderstood. Yet my presence teaching the young children attracted the notice of those at services when my knowledge of esoteric trivia, like the philosophers of the French Revolution, was wanted in services and my absence was noted publicly. This led to a lot of humorous questions that at first did not make sense, as people asked me questions about what grade/age range of children I was teaching without my knowing why there was a sudden surge of curiosity in my Sabbath School activities, which had not attracted a great deal of notice hitherto.

Not only this, but today was filled with some vexing complexities in terms of my action. In choir, I was the only tenor, making practice involve some solos on my part, which appeared to have drawn more attention to myself than I really wanted. Then, in the context of working on some writing for the variety show, I was placed in a context that requires a great deal of sensitivity that allows a point to be made but has to be done in such a way that does not bring greater difficulties upon me and upon others. We live in contexts and a world where we do not act merely for ourselves and only involving ourselves, but we act in a world where our behavior is continually involved with others. Sometimes we spend our time seeking to make life more enjoyable and pleasant for others. Sometimes we face the tension between various longings that complicate our lives. Sometimes we find ourselves involved in complicated situations where we know we must act or refrain ourselves from acting, but we do not fully know the seriousness of what we are involved in, or what the end will truly look like. Yet we must be both brave and kind, standing up for what is right without stepping over other people in the process. Oh, that we might be both brave and good, and make the most of the time that we are given.

[1] See, for example:

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