Top 3 Mistakes to Avoid When Sharing Prophecy

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The last few weeks have been pretty intense in the religio-political world. The arrival of Pope Francis in America has elicited all kinds of responses. For some, he is a breath of fresh air. For others, he is no different from any other Pope apart from his “terrific PR”.[1]


Regardless of which position you may take, one thing is certain – Pope Francis is a historic Pope. He is the first Latin-american Pope and the first Jesuit Pope. In addition “[h]is tour [in America] marked several firsts for the papacy: Francis was the first pope to address a joint sitting of US Congress. He also [conducted the]… first canonization to occur on US soil.”[2] And if that weren’t enough, Christianity Today recently published an article titled “From Antichrist to Brother in Christ: How Protestant Pastors View the Pope” which reveals the results of a Life Way Research project which discovered that “[m]ore than half of evangelical pastors say Pope Francis is their brother in Christ.”[3] This is a long shot from Luther, the father of Protestantism, who emphatically declared “I am entirely of the opinion that the papacy is the Antichrist.”[4]

Those who share the apocalyptic-consciousness that Luther and the reformers proclaimed continue to view the papacy (not necessarily the pope) as the Antichrist. This consciousness – or state of awareness – is arrived at through the historicist reading of apocalyptic literature. In the Bible, this interpretation chronicles an unfolding of end time events in which spiritual fraud forms the overlying strategy of scriptures protagonist – Satan. At the center of this strategy lies the Roman Papal system and the story that this system tells. A philosophy which, taken as a whole, forms a counter-narrative to the story that Jesus came to tell.

As a result, those who share this consciousness feel a responsibility to warn the world. Thus, while the masses may engage in ardent adulation of Romes pontiff, this group finds itself swimming against that stream. As a historicist I find myself in that very position and wonder, how can I effectively share this story with those who do not share my worldview? And while I have yet to arrive at a complete answer, the last few weeks have taught me 3 things I certainly do not want to do.

False Accusations
The first item on my list is false accusations. I cannot tell you how many Facebook posts I have seen that level false accusations against Pope Francis. The worst of all would have to be a recent article accusing the Pope of declaring Jesus’ work on the cross a failure. If this were true, it would be very significant. But it turns out, that’s not what Francis actually said. His exact words were:

The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds. God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.[6]

The relatively unbiased and careful reader would note that the interpretation of this passage rests on the phrase “humanly speaking”. In other words, we are not to measure success by way of human standards because “humanly speaking” Jesus’ life ended in failure. To say the Pope was actually saying that Jesus was a failure is clearly a false accusation. While such an accusation may convince the sensational and overtly biased it fails to bear the test of scrutiny.

Antichrist or not, Christians do not have the right to label false accusations against Pope Francis. Exodus 20:16 clearly states “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” And last I checked Pope Francis is my neighbor. While I may not agree with his meta-narrative he is still a child of God. And while I may fully embrace the apocalyptic warning concerning final events that does not give me licence to break the commandments in the name of “I’m just warning people”. If we are going to warn people against deception, lets not resort to deception. If we are going to proclaim truth, lets do so in the Spirit of truth and not vindictiveness and hatred. Our words and discourses regarding this matter should stand the test of scrutiny. As Ellen White said,

It is important that in defending the doctrines which we consider fundamental articles of faith, we should never allow ourselves to employ arguments that are not wholly sound. These may avail to silence an opposer, but they do not honor the truth. We should present sound arguments, that will not only silence our opponents, but will bear the closest and most searching scrutiny. . . .[7]

Hateful Rhetoric
Rhetoric is defined as “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.”[8] Combine that with “hateful” and you have got yourself one nasty piece of literature. Paul tells us in Colossians 4:6 “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” With such a clear command one would expect Christians to exercise caution when it comes to the kinds of rhetoric that they engage in regarding any topic – including the Pope. And yet, it is from Christians that I have witnessed some of the most hateful rhetoric around. From sarcastic memes to outright insulting statements the internet is crawling with the greatest exhibition of Christian hate that I have seen in a long time. Sadly, most of what I have seen is being promulgated by my Adventist kin. In many ways some (not all, of course) of my own brothers and sisters in faith have become, in the words of Adventist evangelist Roger Hernandez, “the kind of Christian other Christians have to apologize for.”[9]

Examples of hateful rhetoric can include articles and memes insulting the Pope with phrases such as “Marxist”, “idolater”, “blasphemer”, or “man of sin”. Now some may argue “but that’s what the Bible calls him!” To which I would say, no. That’s what we call him while borrowing scriptures language. Truth is, we don’t know who the Antichrist is. While I share the conviction that the Antichrist is certainly the papacy, that does not automatically mean that a particular Pope is the Antichrist. But even if Francis were, what have we accomplished by promulgating this? By calling someone “Antichrist” outside of Revelations narrative does nothing but offend those who do not share our worldview. If we want people to know who the Antichrist is its not about slapping Antichrist on a picture of Francis and sharing it all over social media. Its about inviting people into the story of Daniel and Revelation and lovingly helping them to see the entire tale unfold – a tale which has Jesus, not the pope, as its central theme. If we skip this and instead opt for the shallow meme or the anti-Catholic propaganda, what have we really accomplished? Have we led people to see the beauty of Jesus? Have we drawn people to the truth of the cross? Or have we attempted to simply convince them of the Papacy’s evils through our own brand of evil – our hateful words?

The worst part of engaging in hateful rhetoric is that ultimately we are the ones who suffer, not our target. By engaging in hateful rhetoric against the Pope we are sending a message to our friends and neighbors that we are intolerant, unloving, unhealthy, and fanatical. While Pope Francis pours his energy into relieving the suffering of illegal immigrants we raise our hate-speech banners all over Facebook to let everyone know where we stand. In the end, we accomplish nothing of value. Instead, we succeed in making ourselves look like the biggest fools on earth and do damage to the cause of Christ.

Thirst for More
The final point I would like to mention is our seemingly insatiable thirst for more beast and more Antichrist. I recently came across an article which, while rejecting the Catholic worldview, attempted to highlight the areas of Pope Francis’ philosophy that all Christians – especially Adventists – can embrace. The author focused exclusively on Francis’ appeal to social action, acts of charity, and stewardship of the earth. In the end he concluded that in relation to these positive and necessary pursuits we were in full agreement with Francis. I enjoyed the article and found it to be both balanced and thought provoking. What I found alarming where the comments that followed. Beginning with the very fist comment all the way down the page was one complaint after another on how the author had failed to mention how the Pope is the Antichrist, the beast of Revelation 13, and how he is using social justice as his mask for the Sunday law.

As soon as I read those comments all I could do was ask, “Haven’t you read enough of that already? Do we really need another article on the Antichrist agenda? Do we really need to be told again and again?”

The article did not deal with the apocalyptic narrative of Revelation 13. Instead, it approached the issue from the angle of “common ground” and called Adventists to recognize the value in social action. In my estimation, this is an angle that is painfully overlooked. Revelation 13 has been extrapolated in countless sermons, articles, documentaries, and books. Do we really need another article repeating the same stuff? And here I discovered one of the greatest dangers to avoid in this whole discussion – the thirst for more. Some, it seems, are constantly and endlessly craving more anti-Catholic and anti-Pope ideologies. It’s like we can’t get enough of it. Like addicts, we freak out when someone writes an article about the Pope that is not anti-Pope. “I want more anti-Pope!” is the cry of our “itching ears”[11]. And the more we go down this path the more susceptible we are to fanatical conspiracy theories, an imbalanced apocalyptic-consciousness, apocalyptic paranoia, and an unhealthy witness.[12]

So here is my main objective with this article. I wholeheartedly embrace the reformers historicist interpretation of Daniel and Revelation. I am all for giving the warning. I am all for preaching final events. But it can never be done via false accusations, hateful rhetoric, or a continual thirst for more anti-Papacy discourses which leave the avenues of our souls wide open to the dangers of apocalyptic paranoia. When discussing Revelations narrative we must remember that it is the “Revelation of Jesus”, that our words should always be seasoned with salt, that we are never to bear false witness,* and that if there is one thing that we should thirst for more and more it is Jesus and Jesus only. Psalm 42:1 says “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” May this prayer be ours.

Note: This article was originally posted at

* One of the main reasons why false information continues to spread is because many have not educated themselves on how to identify it and evaluate it. Here are 3 articles which should be of help with this endeavor:

“Therefore Keep Watch” – Watching the Signs vs. Conspiracy Theorizing
Does LOL Really Stand for “Lucifer Our Lord”?
Bruno Mars’ Masonic Baby Haircut and 5 Ways to STOP Misinformation on the Internet

[11] “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” – 2 Timothy 4:3
[12] See: Christians and Conspiracy Theories –


Would Jesus Be A Democrat Or A Republican?

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ONE doesn’t have to look far to see that the competition is well underway for a chance at the White House, even though the title “leader of the free world” won’t change hands for almost another year.  If it’s not a clip of Hilary doing the Nae-Nae streaming across your timeline, it’s a quote from a Donald Trump speech scrolling through a news headline. Anywhere you turn, candidates from all parties are rallying their troops and campaigning with infectious fervor in an attempt to garner the American voter’s support.

          American politics, to a large extent, can be boiled down into two cups: the Democrats and the Republicans. The country’s political party system is certainly more intricate than just “right winged vs. left winged”, but these two larger components of the political stratosphere seem to be what help keep our bald eagle in the sky. So as the presidential race itself begins to soar, most American citizens watch at the edge of their living room seats, aligning themselves with the donkey or the elephant.

          While the country at large works to keep the affairs of church and state separate, the intertwining’s of faith and politics seem largely unavoidable. What one believes naturally affects how one feels about sociopolitical issues, and how one feels naturally plays out into how someone addresses these issues. Unfortunately, everyone’s natural inclinations and feelings often fall short of God’s expectations. What we think is right, what we feel is right, and what we believe is right can be largely “hit or miss” if left unmeasured by Biblical standards. Therefore, as Christians, our political involvement should be reflective of our personal investments in the government of a King who reigns on the sole principle of love.

          Jesus, if alive today, would not have been Democratic or Republican. Not only does neither party completely reflect the principles He taught while on earth, but the Bible shows no evidence of Him aligning Himself with any political group vying for power during His time (Pharisees vs. Sadducees vs. Herod vs. the Roman Empire). It does not show Him condemning one group in an effort to promote another. It does not show Him allowing His feelings regarding political issues to temper how He relates to His family, His friends, or even His enemies. Does this mean that Jesus remained absent from the political spectrum of His time? Hardly. The Bible shows Jesus advancing His Father’s kingdom in the political realm. It tells of Him treating people who saw the world differently than He did with searing kindness. It only shows him using sociopolitical issues as an opportunity to demonstrate a full spectrum of love.

          As the nation prepares for the quadrennial clash of the colors, we’re reminded that regardless of whether we paint ourselves Red or Blue, we belong to a higher cause. As we raise our voices among the chorus of millions in favor of our favored candidates, we’re admonished to lift our voices in a way that reminds the world of the King of a nation that is coming soon. When our Facebook feeds become warzones and when our colleagues and comrades voice opinions we disagree with, we should remember that even still, the world “will know that we are Christians by our love.” Proud Americans, though we may be, it is important for us to always remember -and to always reflect- that we are first citizens of a better and brighter world.


My Father’s House

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“In my Father’s house are many rooms.”

Jesus statement in John 14 is one of the most treasured verses in all of the Bible and for good reason. The picture of Heaven and the future he has in store for us is held close to our hearts, providing us hope and strength to carry on in the toughest of times. But more than that, Jesus is tapping into perhaps the most integral concept in ancient Israelite society: the Beth Ab or “Father’s House.”

The Beth Ab was the most basic social unit of Israelite society. For us, the most basic unit is the individual and thus we think in individualistic terms. Not so for the ancient Israelite. He or she thought of him/herself in terms of his/her Beth Ab. It formed the lens through which they viewed the world. When the Israelites formed a kingdom, they viewed him as the head of national Beth Ab. Hence King Mesha of Moab didn’t refer to Israel as “Israel” but rather as the “House of Omri.” In the famous Tel Dan Stele, Hadadezer, King of Aram, calls Judah the “House of David.”  The kingdom was just a huge Beth Ab.

On a spiritual level, the Israelites and their neighbors viewed the cosmos as Beth Ab. Canaanite pantheons were structured as a Beth Ab. The Israelites looked to Yahweh as the head of their Beth Ab, even above the king. The Beth Ab provided the paradigm for the Israelites’ world view and therefore it is imperative for us to understand the Beth Ab to understand the Bible.

In essence, the Beth Ab was the family. This family was usually composed of a grandfather and grandmother, their sons and sons’ wives with their children, unmarried daughters, and servants or retainers, if any. Each nuclear family had its own house in the compound around a central courtyard with the whole compound enclosed in a low wall. This was a person’s Beth Ab and it provided them with everything: food, shelter, clothing, physical and legal protection, occupation, religion, value, and identity.

At the top of the Beth Ab was the patriarch, typically the oldest living male. In a three-generation Beth Ab, this would be the grandfather; in a two-generation home, it would be the father. The patriarch wielded virtually absolute authority over those in the house. In some cases, he could order the execution of members of his household.

Jacob and his family provide an example to how this worked. By the time they moved to Egypt, his sons all were married with children; some of them even had grandkids. Yet Jacob retained the ultimate authority and his sons, although adults bowed to his authority like a kid does today. Have you ever wondered why Benjamin, an adult in his own right, didn’t go down to Egypt on his own and get grain? Jacob was the patriarch and his word was law and he said Benjamin was not to go down to Egypt. That was the end of the discussion.

In a three-generation Beth Ab, the old Beth Ab was typically dissolved upon the death of the patriarch. Each of the sons would then branch off and form their own Beth Ab’s. Sometimes the inheritance would be divided up; most often it would go to the bekor or firstborn and the others would have to establish their own inheritance. Each son would then become his own patriarch. Esau and Jacob provide an excellent example of this. Jacob subverted the rights of the firstborn and therefore inherited Isaac’s Beth Ab; Esau went off to Edom (southern Jordan) and created his own.

But these new Beth Ab’s would still be connected; family still mattered. Now they formed a clan. Whole towns would spring up from a single Beth Ab, as cousins were often married to each other to preserve and strengthen these family ties. To us today, this seems revolting but the practice of endogamy (marriage within the family) was the norm and exogamy (marriage to non-relatives) was rare and often reserved to kings for political purposes.

The Beth Ab provided a person with everything necessary for survival: food, shelter, clothing, and protection. At the same time, the Beth Ab required everyone to take an active role in maintaining the health of the Beth Ab. Laziness was not allowed, as the law regarding the rebellious son in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 indicates. Dead weight could be the death of the whole Beth Ab and so everyone had a role and purpose.

Gender lines was the most common division of roles. Men and women each had specific yet equally integral roles. In the ancient world, gender roles were for survival, not necessarily for the oppression of one gender and the Bible reflects this particular reality. Unfortunately many have used the Bible to oppress women while ignoring the realities of the biblical world that shaped the writing of the Bible.

Even so, the ancient Near East was certainly patriarchal in nature and women were viewed below men. That is the reality of the biblical world and whether it was right or wrong, it shaped how the Bible was written. This is why studying archaeology and biblical cultural backgrounds is so important. The Bible was written in real time and space and in real cultures that of necessity had an effect on its composition. This does not mean the Bible is flawed; simply that to truly understand it and its message for us, we must make the effort to understand its world.

At any rate, the role of men was outside the family compound. They were quite literally the breadwinners of the family, as it was their responsibility to tend the fields and raise the flocks. This was a full time job as fields every year had to be cleared of stone, plowed, seeded, weeded, watered, guarded against thieves and wild animals, harvested and threshed. Flocks were just as demanding, requiring around the clock attention to protect against outside threats, as well as to protect the sheep and goats from themselves.

Additionally, men defended the Beth Ab against attacks from wild animals, thieves, bands of ‘Apiru (displaced raiders), other clans, and larger tribes and kingdoms. These raids and small wars were commonplace as it was easy to supplement one’s own stores by taking from another. The Bible reflects this with the statement “In the spring when the kings went out to war.” Spring was the time of threshing, when the harvest was ripe for stealing. As such, the men of the Beth Ab had to be competent warriors if the Beth Ab was to survive.

The household was the woman’s domain. Women of the Beth Ab were responsible for feeding and clothing the entire family, which is not nearly as easy as it might sound. Keep in mind, they couldn’t just hop down to Wal-Mart for all their needs. The women had to grind the grain into flour, a laborious process to say the least, dry fruit, haul their own water from the well or cistern, and churn their own butter and cheese, also highly laborious. After all that is when they actually go down to cooking, which was done in clay ovens or over open fires that didn’t have a temperature dial. Preparing the evening meal could legitimately take all day.

Clothing people was even worse. After the men sheared the sheep or goats, the women took the raw wool had to then clean it, spin it into yard by hand, dye it if they were wealthy enough, weave it through a loom into fabric, and then sew it into clothes. Alternatively, they could take flax and work it into linen threads and then go through the weaving process.

Finally, women functioned as the accountants of the family. It was their responsibility to ensure the Beth Ab had enough food for everyone to last the whole year with enough left over for planting. They had to make sure no one was eating too much. Gluttony could be a death sentence.

It should be noted these gender lines were not rigid, depending on the Beth Ab’s needs. Jacob is recorded as being someone who stayed close to home, perhaps helping out more with the woman’s side of things. Several women, Rebekah and Zipporah for example, were shepherds.

Children were key to the Beth Ab’s operation as well. Having children was of prime importance and was perhaps the most important task of a woman. Again, to us this is insulting, but producing children was seen as a gift from God. Motherhood was placed on a significantly higher pedestal than it is today.

The first thing children did was provide cheap labor. Harsh but true; the more kids on, the more could be done. It was actually economically advantageous to have more children as when they grew, one could have bigger flocks and more fields without expending more effort.

Initial education was in the hands of the women as the toddlers obviously stayed close to the family compound. As the kids got older, they were educated more along the gender lines. Boys learned farming, hunting, husbandry, and warfare from their fathers while girls learned cooking and weaving from their mothers so they could assume their roles when they got their own Beth Abs.

Children also provided a continuation of legacy, which meant everything to an ancient Israelite. Passing on one’s land and inheritance to the next generation was akin to achieving immortality. Think of how closely Naboth guarded his vineyard from King Ahab in 1st Kings 21.

The patriarch had a particular function in the Beth Ab as well and that was to provide legal protection for the family. Repeatedly the Bible refers to the city or town elders who sat in the gates. These were the heads of the various Beth Ab’s in the town.

When we read this, we often get a picture of a bunch of old guys sitting around drinking tea but in truth, the elders served in a crucial function. We must keep in mind, there was no official legal system until the time of the kings and even then, it wasn’t ubiquitous. Most towns were responsible for maintaining their own order and that task fell to the elders.

Therefore a Beth Ab provided legal protection, as well as physical protection. If there was a dispute of stolen sheep or boundary lines, your patriarch would go to the elders and plead your case. That was his responsibility and a huge one it was. If you weren’t part of a Beth Ab, especially if you were a woman or a child, there was no one to get you justice and thus you were at the mercy of everyone else.

Given that there was no police force, it was the responsibility of the Beth Ab to ensure justice was carried out. If someone in your Beth Ab was murdered, it was the responsibility of your Beth Ab to find the killer, track him/her down, and execute them. This is the “avenger of blood” talked about in Numbers 35. No one else would do it for you. Same thing with thieves and rapists, which makes Levi and Simeon’s massacre of Shechem make more sense.

The Beth Ab provided social protection. When a woman married, she joined her husband’s Beth Ab. If her husband died before she had a son, the Beth Ab would require a brother to give her a son so that the dead husband’s legacy carry on and the widow would have someone to care for her. To us this is strange, but sooner or later, the widow would find herself outside a Beth Ab otherwise. This is why Tamar went to such lengths to get a son from Judah in Genesis 38.

If you had a bad run in the fields, leaving you destitute your Beth Ab or your clan was to purchase your field and keep it until you could get your feet back underneath you. Then, once you were in better financial straits, they were to return it to you.

Clearly a Beth Ab was essential for life. Just in comparing men’s and women’s roles, it’s pretty clear no one person could do it all alone. This is why marriage and children were so important. Additionally, being part of a Beth Ab accorded you social standing and protection.

So what if you weren’t part of a Beth Ab? In short, you were probably toast. You had to do it all yourself, which was essentially impossible. You also had no one to represent you before the elders, which means you could be robbed blind and murdered with no repercussions. It was not a pleasant place to be.

Three groups of people are repeatedly seen as being outside the system: widows, orphans, and foreigners. It was almost impossible to survive as one of these. Given the high value placed on a woman’s virginity, widows were viewed as damaged goods and thus often considered ineligible for marriage. If she had no son, she could live in her husband’s Beth Ab until the patriarch died. But what then? The Beth Ab is disbanded and the other families go their separate ways. Where does that leave her? Out in the streets, where she can be raped or enslaved or molested or anything else with impunity because there is no one to defend her.

Quick side note: this view of virginity is why the rape laws we often find so abhorrent actually make sense. Regardless of how a woman’s virginity is lost (in the Bible’s view, rape does take away a woman’s virginity), she is now undesirable. She can live with her parents as long as they are alive but when they are gone, she’s in trouble. In the case of Absalom and Tamar, Absalom took his raped sister in and provided for her after Amnon refused to marry her. But he was a prince and could afford to do so; most siblings couldn’t. Therefore by forcing the rapist to marry his victim and not allowing him to divorce her, God was ensuring she was taken care of and wouldn’t end up in the streets. She was guaranteed of having a Beth Ab. Not ideal I’ll grant, but the best possible solution given the cultural context.

Children in general were seen as not really being people yet; orphans who had no land or wealth even more so. They were often too weak to provide for themselves and so often resorted to thieving and begging and prostitution for the girls. Like the widow, they were vulnerable to being taken advantage of because there was no legal protection for them. A kid could not take an adult before the elders. With no inheritance, there was nothing to look forward to.

A male foreigner might make it if he could claim some land to farm. Of course given the preference for endogamy, his chances of getting married were slim at best. Thus he was sentenced to toiling away at his little field while simultaneously trying to grind his grain, weave his own clothes, and all the other household chores of the woman. An impossible task really. Above all, even if he could go before the elders, he was alone. They were all related and had generations of family connections; the deck was decidedly stacked against him. If you were a woman, don’t even bother trying.

Granted, there are certainly cases of widows, orphans, and foreigners (sometimes all three at once) making it in the Bible but these are rare. Most often, they would starve to death or be murdered or something else horrible happened to them. Liminal women almost always became prostitutes; liminal men ended up as thieves and bandits.

God was keenly aware of this. While the Beth Ab system provided a great deal for those in it, it was death to those outside of it. With this culture in mind, the social laws of the Torah are astounding. Law after law after law is targeted at protecting those outside the Beth Ab system. Indeed, either exhortations to protect or condemnations for taking advantage of the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner occur 62 times in the Old Testament. God looks out for those who society tramples on.

But perhaps the most astonishing is the story of Ruth. With this culture in your mind, try to grasp what she did in leaving Moab with Naomi. She virtually became all three at once. Ruth knew she was going to a place where she would be at the absolute bottom of the social ladder, just a tick above pigs. She would have absolutely zero social standing or rights. Anyone could do literally anything they wanted to her with absolute impunity. Who would protect Ruth, the widowed Moabite? There is a reason Boaz repeats three times the command that no one harm her. And yet, knowing all of this, Ruth chose to take that risk to look after a despondent Naomi. It is arguably the greatest act of courage in the entire Bible next to Jesus and the cross.

The beauty of Jesus’ statement in John 14 is that we are a part of his Beth Ab with him as our head. He is providing us with all we need and one day, we are going go home to our Beth Ab. There is a place waiting for us in our Father’s house.

As always, if you have a question on this post or a topic on Biblical archaeology, Bible history, or backgrounds, please ask away in the comments section below. Also, I owe a great deal of this post to Life in Biblical Israel by Phillip King and Larry Stager.


Is it OK to Have “Fun” on the Sabbath?

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“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. – Isaiah 58:13-14

Growing up I never really gave this text much thought. I figured it was just another one of the clear commandments in scripture to honor the Sabbath day. No big deal right? Well, it wasn’t for me. But some take this text to say something, which if true, would have far reaching implications.

The argument goes something like this, “The Bible says that on the Sabbath day we are not to do as we please, therefore anything pleasurable should be avoided on the Sabbath.” And what do these well-meaning Sabbath keepers mean by “pleasurable”? Well, that depends on who you are talking to. Some would say that this text forbids sex on the Sabbath. Others would say that it forbids doing anything that would be considered “fun” like jumping in the pool or a lake. I know of some Adventist families that would allow their kids to go to the beach on Sabbath but only if they didn’t let the water go past their knees. If they went any deeper they were “breaking the Sabbath.” But is this interpretation of the text correct?

The problem with this interpretation is that it ignores the context in which this text was given. This text was part of a much larger message that God gave to Isaiah for the nation of Israel. Therefore, in order to understand the text we have to ask the question, “What did “pleasurable” mean for the Israelites? Is God here rebuking them for having sex on the Sabbath? Is he rebuking them for going out for a swim at the lake or for laughing or enjoying themselves on the Sabbath? Let’s find out.

Isaiah 58 is a message of rebuke to Israel from God because they were being, for lack of a better word, hypocrites. They were acting religious and going through all of the proper religious rituals but their hearts were not right with God. Because of this God’s blessing was not on Israel. Israel then got upset and said to God, “’Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’”

In other words, Israel is saying to God, “Hey, we are being faithful to you, but you aren’t being faithful to us. What gives?” God then responds to Israel and says something that unlocks the meaning of “pleasure” in verse 3. He says:

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.”

Did you catch it? The text mentions 3 things. First, the Israelites are fasting. This is a religious activity. Next, they are engaged in business with their workers. This is a business activity. Finally, they are exploiting their workers. This is a criminal activity. God is telling the Israelites “You do religious things because you think it gives you a license to do sinful things.” In other words, the “pleasure” God is referring to is the religious hypocrisy of Israel. They found pleasure in their religious activities because they thought all of their pious activity gave them license to mistreat others, which they also found pleasure in. Pleasure then refers to religious activity, business activity, and criminal activity – all of which were intricately related to one another in Israel’s streets.

So what is God saying when he says, “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day…”? He’s telling the Israelites, “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from being religious hypocrites who mistreat others on my holy day then” and he continues saying, “if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” And just in case you aren’t convinced that verse 13 is referring back to verse 3 note that the word “please” in verse 3 and “pleasure” in verse 13 are the same exact Hebrew word and these are the only times that this Hebrew word appears in the book of Isaiah. Clearly then, Isaiah’s use of “pleasure” in verse 13 is in reference to the word “please” in verse 3.

This text has nothing to do with not having sex on the Sabbath. It has nothing to do with not having fun on the Sabbath. On the contrary, it says to call the Sabbath “a delight.” Pleasure is not forbidden on the Sabbath. Going your own way, doing as you please, and speaking idle words are all references to Israel performing business on the Sabbath, exploiting their workers, and being religious hypocrites. God was calling them to be genuine in their faith, in their Sabbath keeping, and to treat others right.

So how should we interpret this text in light of today’s world? The same exact way. God is calling us to call his Sabbath a delight, not a religious demand. He’s calling us to enjoy it, not just go through the motions of keeping it while our hearts are far from him. He’s calling us to be sincere and to treat others right. If we do, he promises that we “will find your joy in the Lord.”

As Ellen White so passionately put it, “The Sabbath–oh!–make it the sweetest, the most blessed day of the whole week.” – White, Ellen G. The faith I Live By. p 36