They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

A Walk Through Galatia

Lyaconia and Galatia

Most scholars believe that the apostle Paul wrote the book of Galatians to the churches that he founded in that Roman province in Asia Minor on his first missionary journey in 45-47 A.D. Those churches were the ones he started in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe as chronicled in Acts 13 and 14. Also, a majority of scholars think that Galatians was the very first book written of all the New Testament canon, possibly in 48 or 49 A.D., even before any of the four gospels were written down.

The book of Galatians has always been thought of as the premier work on the gospel of grace; that man is justified and saved only by faith in Jesus Christ, and that there is nothing that he can do to earn his salvation. Galatians 2:16 says, “Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So, we too have put our faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” Galatians if often referred to as, ”Luther’s book”, because Martin Luther relied so strongly on this book to refute the prevailing theology of his day. It is obviously a book worthy of our study and debate. What was it like in the province of Galatia during the time Paul and Barnabas made their fist trip there? What did they find and what were the people like when they visited these first churches to give them the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Let’s take a walk through Galatia and see if we can unlock some of the secrets of this marvelous book.

It’s hard to put into words or even on paper how being in the land of the Bible widens your perspective and understanding of the gospel text. Nowhere was this more evident than the two days we spent walking through the huge rural province of Galatia. Each day we were let off our bus in the middle of nowhere and spent the entire day walking and following our guide through the rural countryside. As best we could, we tried to follow the route that we thought that Paul and Barnabas would have taken as they walked to Pisidian Antioch from the coast, and then on to Iconium, Derbe, and Lystra. Also, Paul came back through these same cities on both his second and third missionary tours. Amazingly, all four locations have been found and most have been archaeologically excavated at least to some degree. The whole area is very mountainous and remote even today and certainly even more so in Paul and Barnabas’ day. In two days of walking, we only came upon 3 or 4 rural villages. Just feeling the remoteness of the area with your boots was a real eye opener. Even the names of the land suggest how remote and rural the country side is. For example, Lycaonia, where Paul and Barnabas were mistaken for Zeus and Hermes, means “wolf land” and today is the home of the world famous sheep protecting dog, the Kangel. We saw these huge canines, but kept our distance, as they tended their flocks of goats in the rugged mountains. We began to get a feel for the people and the land as we observed the native Galatians in their home environment. A highlight of the trip was being invited to eat lunch with the townspeople of a local village, by the mayor of the town himself. Seated in the one room village school, we ate a simple but wonderful meal of home grown vegetables, fruits, and breads that they prepared for us. We spoke to them through an interpreter and they seemed so happy to have us as their guests.

We also learned many other lessons of the land. We stood in the remains of the synagogue at Antioch and read from the Bible Paul’s speech that he gave to the Jews and Gentiles that had gathered there to hear him speak (Acts 13:14-48). We had a faith lesson in a sheep fold (See “Kingdom of Heaven is Forcefully Advancing”) and sat under a linden tree near Lystra and heard the story (See “The Gods are Back!”). Also, we stood on top the tel of Lystra and heard the inspiring story of Timothy (See Timothy the Unlikely Disciple, Part 1Part 2, and Part 3). All of these stories are wonderful examples of how understanding the history and culture of the area makes such a difference in understanding these Bible stories. As we walked and read the scriptures in the land they were written to we began to wrestle with the idea of grace vs. works. What was Paul trying to say as he wrote to this group of rural and remote people? In our next session we will attempt to grapple with this age-old struggle in the church. Which one is it, or is there a way to reconcile the two?

Urim and Thummim; Knowing God’s Will – Part 2

In our first session, we looked at the fascinating subject of the two objects that the Israelites were to use to be able to determine God’s will in matters of great importance. Now, let’s see how this method of knowing God’s will might apply to us as twenty-first century believers. The obvious answer is that we would love to have this kind of guidance in our daily walk! “Just tell me , ‘Yes or No’, Lord and I will do it”! It is human nature to want to know the future and what is going to happen and what we ought to do in response. We all want to be able to say, “God told me to do such and such” and have the future fall into place accordingly. This is why psychics and fortune tellers are such a novelty, because they claim to have a window into the future.

However, God has not given us a direct means of divine guidance like the Urim and Thummim to make specific decisions. So, then how does He give guidance to his children today? The tool that God gives us for guidance is His Word. Although it does not have personal information about us, it does reveal God’s will for our lives. God’s word tells us what to do and what not to do; it has specific rules for our conduct. If we will read and obey the promises and commands that are contained in Scripture, we will know what God wants in every situation and we will be in His will. The Bible is not bashful in it’s discussion of life; it delves into every detail of the human experience. The better and deeper we know God’s word, the better and deeper we will know Him and what His will is for us. Guidance for life’s decisions comes through getting to know the guide!

The next ingredient to knowing God’s will is, His Spirit. The Spirit helps us understand God’s word and to know His will for us. His spirit dwells within us to help us to know and to do His will (John 14:26). When He comes to live in us He starts shaping our minds and hearts. The Spirit give us peace of mind and helps us to make good choices. Whenever we are uncertain as to what to do, we should pray that the Spirit would illuminate and show us in the Word what the correct way or decision is. God will answer our prayer (James 1:5).

The last thing that God uses to show us His will for us is circumstances, or just the way life unfolds. God uses the circumstances in our life to mold and shape us toward the goal He has in mind for us. What are our desires? What are we good at? What need can we meet? What do we have an interest in or compassion for? We look at the way the situation is unfolding and make the best choice we can. His leading is not often a direct revelation as much as it is His sovereign controlling of the circumstances of our lives, leading us in the direction we’re supposed to go. And, if we get to a point where His leading is not clear, we should wait on Him until it is.

There is no three step method to understanding God’s will for our lives. It involves a lifelong process of falling in love with His word and learning its precepts. The more we know God, the more our decisions will be in line with His will for us. We call and wait on Him daily in prayer, asking the Spirit within us to guide us. By the guidance of His hand, as He daily works out the circumstances of our lives, He leads us along the path of life, not allowing us to wander in the wrong direction. Life is a faith walk. God doesn’t write our future on the wall for us to read in advance, but calls for us to see it daily as we walk hand-in-hand with Him. We walk by faith, trusting Him for today and for our future. There is no better way to live! It would be nice to have a Urim and Thummim in one way, but we have a better and more intimate partner now. Hebrew 1:1-2 says it well, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son….”

Urim and Thummim; Knowing God’s Will – Part 1

Nothing gets our attention quicker than someone writing or speaking about, “knowing God’s will”. We all desperately want to know about the future and we want to be able to ask God for direction and have him plainly give it to us. If you study the Old Testament and in particular the book of Exodus, you will discover the method that the Israelites were told to use to determine God’s will in matters of great importance. It will give you some fresh insight on your quest to know God’s will for your life. Let’s take a look at what the Bible calls the, “Urim and Thummim”. In our first session we will attempt to describe these objects and how they were used by the Israelites. Then in our second session we will try to apply it to our own walk with God. Let’s, ”go and see” what is entailed in this fascinating subject in the Hebrew Bible.

In Exodus 28:1-15, God gave Moses specific and detailed instructions on how to make the priestly garment for his brother, Aaron, the High Priest. Verse 15 says, “fashion a breast piece for making decisions”. The breast piece was folded double to make a pocket or pouch around the heart. Inside this pocket or pouch were placed two objects, the Urim and Thummim (read Exodus 28:29-30). They were to be close to Aaron’s heart when he entered the Tabernacle in the presence of the Lord.

Apparently the Israelites knew what the Urim and Thummim were and how they were made and used, but the Bible doesn’t describe their appearance in any way, so we are left to guess as to what they were made of and looked like. They seem to have been some type of “holy dice” that were thrown to determine God’s will. Scholars speculate that they were made of stone, or bones, or some type of precious gems – similar to what was on the rest of Aaron’s breast piece – however, we just don’t know.

The Hebrew meaning for these words is interesting, also. The Hebrew word, “Urim” begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (alef) and Thummim begins with the last letter (tav), which is interesting in that it seems to indicate that it covers the whole spectrum from beginning to end. “Urim” means, “curses” and “Thummim” means, “perfections”. Scholars speculate about how they were read and actually used. One suggestion was that in a series of rolls, if “Urim” (curses) came up the most, then the answer was no. If “Thummim” (perfections) dominated, then the answer was yes. Also, it has been suggested that perhaps they were different colors such as black and white, with the same type of scenario for getting an answer. Or, possibly they could have been an object with two sides, like a coin, with “Yes or No” on them and they were tossed into the air to get an answer. We really just don’t know how exactly they were used. What is interesting though is that they were often used in time of crisis to determine the will of God. They trusted God to reveal his will to the High Priest through this decision making breast piece and objects. Proverbs 16:33 says, “The lot is cast into the lap, but it’s every decision is from the Lord”.

There are several stories in the Hebrew Bible where the Urim and Thummim were used. Joshua, in Numbers 27:21, was commissioned to succeed Moses and was instructed to go before Eleazar, the high priest and to obtain decisions from him by consulting the Urim. Joshua knew when to stay and when to go by consulting the Urim and Thummim. Saul also consulted the Urim and Thummim in 1 Samuel 28:6, but he didn’t get the answer he was looking for. Later, David received clear direction after consulting the ephod on attacking the Amalekites (1 Samuel 23:1-2,9-12 and 1 Samuel 30: 1-8). The Urim and Thummim are mentioned in Nehemiah when they were rebuilding the wall and returning to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity. A question arose as to who were eligible to become priests, since all family records had been lost (Nehemiah 7:65 and Ezra 2:63). In these verses the men were told to wait until the priest could use the Urim and Thummim. There are many other examples in the Bible where, although not specifically mentioned as the Urim and Thummim, lots were cast to make important decisions. It is very important to note here that only the high priest was allowed to consult the Urim and Thummim, and only in matters of great concern to the public good, and in instances where men could not possibly know the answer. The answer was not considered just a matter of chance, but God giving his judgment, his decision as to what to do. Now, that we have some basic knowledge of what the Urim and Thummim were and how they were used, let’s see if we can apply it to our walk and our desire to also know what God’s will for our life is.