I really ought to have learned by now that consulting “Bible scholars” is usually a waste of time.
But I was reading Ezekiel Chapter 1 yesterday, the vision of the “living creatures,” and I wanted to enrich my understanding. Because that’s a very difficult chapter!
Ezekiel was a scholar, a trained man: but that chapter is written by a man who is deeply frightened and terribly confused. The “living creatures” are cherubims, a familiar motif in the art and literature of the Ancient Near East. Ezekiel would have known all about them. But the way the chapter reads, it hasn’t been written by someone who has studied cherubims… but by someone who has seen them.
Enter Bible Scholars Inc. They are quick to spot parallels between Ezekiel’s vision and St. John’s Revelation. Both describe cherubims. Other motifs are repeated throughout.
There are also some differences in details–six wings for the cherubims, for instance, vs. four–which the Bible Scholars account for by saying this was how John crafted them to suit his own purpose.
In other words, he made it all up!
Not only made it up, but also got away with it. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Watch us put one over on the plebs.
Because that’s what they would do, they assume that was what Ezekiel and John did. Like Lord Chutt, they attribute their own low standards of character to everyone. I’m a stinker, so everyone else must be, too. I make things up! Therefore the writers of the Holy Scriptures made up everything!
How contemptible is this?
There are reliable Bible teachers out there. There have to be.
As someone who gets paid for making things up, and has received awards for doing it well, I declare the Bible doesn’t read like fiction. And I do know something about fiction. Gilgamesh is fiction and folklore. Homer write historical novels heavily influenced by oral tradition. It’s great fiction, but it’s still fiction.
I am as sure as I can be that Ezekiel wasn’t inventing anything. And I’ll bet he would have turned cartwheels if God had released him from being a prophet.
If we believe the Bible, then the question doesn’t even need to be addressed: of course he was for real. But there are other questions we can ask, whose answers can further illuminate the Bible for us.
Pictured above is a set of Mycenean body armor from Greece, circa 1200 B.C.: this and others like it can be seen in museums. Goliath probably had similar equipment–only his would have been new, well cared-for, and would have shone brightly–one might easily say alarmingly–with reflected sunlight.
Was Goliath a giant? Earlier Biblical texts, such as the Dead Sea scrolls, give his height as “four cubits and a span,” or about six feet nine inches. The NBA is full of guys that tall or taller; but back in the Bronze Age, six-foot-nine would have been much taller than the average full-grown man. Our King James Bible says Goliath was “six cubits and a span,” or nine feet nine inches tall: but that comes from the later Masoretic Texts and may be a scribal error.
Either way, Goliath was probably by far the biggest man in either army; and the armor he wore would have made him look even bigger. Ancient armor had two purposes, not just one: to protect the wearer, and to intimidate his foes. Goliath in new armor would have intimidated most people. Indeed, he intimidated everyone but David.
There’s a lot that we don’t know about the Philistines, including where they originally came from. Their artifacts suggest the islands of the Aegean Sea, or Crete, or the southeastern coast of Asia Minor. The ancient Egyptians called them “Peleset,” one of the Sea Peoples blamed for wrecking Mediterranean civilizations at the end of the Late Bronze Age. We don’t know what the Philistines called themselves.
The Greeks of the Mycenean civilization, the ones who fought the Trojan War, had a custom of settling matters between armies by single combat between each army’s chosen champion: Menelaus vs. Paris, Ajax vs. Hector, in The Iliad (in which neither of those two combats was allowed to go to a finish). Goliath challenges Israel’s army to send out a champion to fight him. His procedure is the same as what we see in Homer–and suggestive of authenticity.
When David killed Goliath, the Philistines panicked and fled. The strictest rules of Bronze Age military etiquette–which were observed by virtually no one–called for the Philistine army to leave off its operations and peacefully retire. But because they ran, the Israelites chased them back to Philistia. We doubt the Greeks would have sailed home from Troy if Paris had succeeded in killing Menelaus… although the rules said they should have.
The Bible provides us with many glimpses into long-lost epochs of history, many of which wind up being further illustrated by archaeological discoveries.
There is nothing in the story of David and Goliath to prevent a reasonable person from believing it.
I read a very wise thing in John MacArthur’s Parables. Consider it well:
“The underlying error… the belief that people can gain God’s favor by being good enough–is the central lie that dominates all false religion.”
In pagan religions, worshipers are always trying to buy the gods’ favor, or, as it were, hire the gods as their employees, by promising to do this or that good work, or sacrificing this or that prize animal. And where does it get them?
In Homer’s Iliad, Zeus, the king of the gods, is upset by the sight of Hector fleeing from Achilles. Zeus exclaims, “Confound it, I love that man whom I see hunted round those walls! I am grieved for Hector, who has sacrificed many an ox on the heights of Ida or the citadel of Troy. And now there is Prince Achilles, chasing him round the city of Priam. What do you think, gods? Just consider, shall we save him from death or shall we let Achilles beat him?” (W.H.D. Rouse translation)
And of course, in spite of Hector’s piety, in spite of all the sacrifices he gave the gods throughout his life, it turned out Zeus couldn’t save him, after all.
In contrast to every religion ever invented by man, Christianity teaches that we cannot hire God, we cannot buy His favor, there is no magic word or special kind of prayer that will compel Him to do our bidding.
Instead, His favor, His grace, our salvation, eternal life, forgiveness of sins–these are all free gifts, given by a sovereign God and paid for, paid for on the cross, by Jesus Christ the Son of God. God saves us; but when we reach for our wallets, we discover the bill has already been paid. By Jesus Christ.
At the root of it, Christianity is very simple. How simple? In Acts 16:30, during a crisis in which he was within an inch of taking his own life, the jailer in Philippi asks of Paul and Silas, temporarily his prisoners, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (v.31)
And that’s the whole theology.
You couldn’t possibly do enough good works, sacrifice enough bulls or rams, donate enough money to the church, to earn, to deserve, eternal life. But God can give it to you. It’s as simple as that.