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IN THE NEWS

Who are the Assyrian Christians under attack from Islamic State? (+video) →

February 25, 2015

For Assyrian Christians in present-day Syria and Iraq, religious persecution has been a constant for much of their modern history. The world was reminded of that stark reality Tuesday morning, when Islamic State militants reportedly captured dozens of Assyrians – estimates range from 70 to 150 – living in villages along the Khabur River in northeastern Syria. Their fate remains unclear, but fit a pattern of IS persecution of minorities in areas it seeks to subjugate.
- Christian Science Monitor

Netanyahu says world powers ‘have given up’ on stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. →

February 25, 2015

In his sharpest criticism yet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that world powers “have given up” on stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons in ongoing negotiations. Netanyahu’s comments, at a meeting of his Likud Party outside of Jerusalem, come as he plans to address the U.S. Congress on the nuclear negotiations.
- Associated Press

Season of the witch: why young women are flocking to the ancient craft →

February 24, 2015

Rapper Azealia Banks brought witchcraft back into the mainstream by tweeting ‘I’m really a witch’. But women in the US have been harnessing its power for decades as a ‘spiritual but not religious’ way to express feminist ambitions.
- The Guardian

Islamic State in Syria abducts at least 150 Christians →

February 24, 2015

Islamic State militants have abducted at least 150 people from Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria they had raided, Christian Syrian activists said on Tuesday. A Syrian Christian group representing several NGO’s inside and outside the country said it had verified at least 150 people missing, including women and elderly, who had been kidnapped by the militants.
- Reuters

Muslims form ‘ring of peace’ to protect Oslo synagogue →

February 22, 2015

More than 1,000 people formed a “ring of peace” Saturday outside Oslo’s main synagogue at the initiative of a group of young Muslims. The event in the Norwegian capital follows a series of attacks against Jews in Europe, including the terror attacks in Paris in January and in neighboring Denmark last week.
- The Telegraph

Why are girls flocking to ISIS? →

February 22, 2015

An alarming number of young Western women are defying their families — and all logic — to join the ISIS barbarians. As many as 550 of the estimated 3,000 Westerners who have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic terrorists are female, according to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London think tank.
- New York Post

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ARTICLES AND COMMENTARY

The Errors of Replacement Theology, Part 2 - (Print)

Editor’s Note: Much of the anti-Semitism in the world today can be traced to a concept called “Replacement Theology”. This principle presents the thesis that the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan. Replacement Theology teaches that the church is the replacement for Israel and that the many promises made to Israel in the Bible are fulfilled in the Christian Church, not in Israel.

What follows is Part Two of a two-part series on the errors of Replacement Theology. The author Dr. William Welty is the Executive Director of the ISV.

All Biblical citations are taken from the International Standard Version (ISV) translation of the Bible.

Distinguishing Including Gentiles from National Abandonment of Israel

The Apostle Paul asks his Roman Christian audience in Romans 11:1–12 this important question, and also provides his answer to the query he poses:

1 So I ask, “God has not rejected his people, has he?” Of course not! I am an Israeli myself, a descendant of Abraham from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he chose long ago. Do you not know what the Scripture says in the story about Elijah, when he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets and demolished your altars. I am the only one left, and they are trying to take my life.” 4 But what was the divine reply to him? “I have reserved for myself 7,000 people who have not knelt to worship Baal.” 5 So it is at the present time: there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if this is by grace, then it is no longer on the basis of actions. Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace. 7 What, then, does this mean? It means that Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking, but the selected group obtained it while the rest were hardened. 8 As it is written, “To this day God has put them into deep sleep. Their eyes do not see, and their ears do not hear.” 9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a punishment for them. 10 Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and keep their backs forever bent.” 11 And so I ask, “They have not stumbled so as to fall, have they?” Of course not! On the contrary, because of their stumbling, salvation has come to the gentiles to make the Jews jealous. 12 Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their fall means riches for the gentiles, how much more will their full participation mean!

Do note, won’t you please, how the Apostle Paul ends this section of Romans 11 by using the future tense verb to describe the coming “full participation” (to use Paul’s own words) in the unfolding plan of God for the world. The only way that this final sentence in verse twelve can carry any existential meaning at all is if God has not abandoned Israel permanently. There remains a future place for national Israel, and therefore Replacement Theology is a false doctrine with no biblical support. Also, please notice how Paul concludes Romans 11 with the following argument:

15 For if their rejection results in reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance bring but life from the dead? 16 If the first part of the dough is holy, so is the whole batch. If the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 Now if some of the branches have been broken off, and you, a wild olive branch, have been grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not boast about being better than the other branches. If you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were cut off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 That’s right! They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you remain only because of faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid! 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he certainly will not spare you, either. 22 Consider, then, the kindness and severity of God: his severity toward those who fell, but God’s kindness toward you—if you continue receiving his kindness. Otherwise, you too will be cut off. 23 If the Jews do not persist in their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, because God is able to graft them in. 24 After all, if you were cut off from what is naturally a wild olive tree, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much easier it will be for these natural branches to be grafted back into their own olive tree! 25 For I want to let you know about this secret, brothers, so that you will not claim to be wiser than you are: Stubbornness has come to part of Israel until the full number of the gentiles comes to faith. 26 In this way, all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion; he will remove ungodliness from Jacob. 27 This is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

Summary and Conclusions

Replacement Theology is false because it fails to make a distinction between the temporary setting aside of God’s dealings with national Israel so as to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth, where the gentiles live, and a permanent setting aside of God’s dealing with Israel, which cannot happen due to the promise that God made to his original covenant people. The gentiles have been grafted into God’s family through the faith requirements of the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah, and as the end of days sees the fulfillment of God’s plan concerning Israel as a nation, we will again see the hand of God moving on behalf of the modern nation. Indeed, it’s already evident from even the most cursory of examinations of the history of conflict in that nation between the Jews and their enemies that the same God who sovereignly moved to protect his own people in the past is doing so again.

(Part One of this series can be found at kiresearch.org.)

About the author

Dr. Welty is Executive Director of the ISV Foundation of Bellflower, California, producers of the Holy Bible: International Standard Version. He is a graduate (M.Div., 1978) of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School of Deerfield, Illinois and holds a Ph.D. in Christian Communications (2005) from Louisiana Baptist University. Dr. Welty also serves in the dual roles of Research Analyst in Advanced Communication Technologies and Adjunct Professor of Middle Eastern Studies on the faculty of the Koinonia Institute. He is also the author of a position paper entitled On the Validity of the State of Israel, a public policy recommendation prepared for the Calvary Chapel churches of New Zealand in response to a series of statements made by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon accusing Israel of international war crimes due to that nation’s military response to Muslim aggression during the summer of 2014.

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Purim: Still Relevant Today - (Print)

purim

“These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by each family in every province and town. These days of Purim should not be neglected by the Jewish people, and that they should not be forgotten by their descendants.”

— Esther 9:28, ISV

This week we are celebrating the Feast of Purim. Purim falls on the Hebrew calendar date of Adar 14. This year, the coinciding secular dates for 2015 are from sundown March 4 – to sundown March 15.

The Jewish holiday of Purim — a celebration of Queen Esther and Mordecai overcoming a plot to kill the Jews in Persia — dates to the 5th century B.C., but its message is as relevant as today’s headlines.

There are few books of the Old Testament more relevant to life in a society hostile to the gospel than the Book of Esther. Believers are scattered throughout the world, awaiting the Lord’s return. Although He is present and active now as much as ever, He is usually “hidden” behind the events of life that He is directing for His own glory and the benefit of His children.

Although unbelievers can refuse to acknowledge Him, those “who have eyes to see” are able to recognize His hand at work in the affairs of life. “In a world in which hostility to the household of faith seems to flourish naturally, and indeed in which atheistic explanations of the universe grow more strident, ‘scientific’ and apparently convincing, it belongs to faith to ‘hold fast’ nevertheless to our hope—now specifically in Christ—‘for the one who made the promise is faithful’ (Heb. 10:23 ISV).”

The Book of Esther

Although no one knows who wrote the Book of Esther, it was apparently written by a Jew who was familiar with Susa, the royal palace, and Persian customs. The Jewish Talmud attributes Esther to the “men of the Great Synagogue,” anonymous teachers who lived in the period between the last prophets and the earliest rabbinic scholars. Early Christian Fathers, such as Clement of Alexandria, as well as Jewish authorities like Josephus, ascribed the book to Mordecai.

The date of the book’s composition is also unknown. The events described in the story occurred during the reign of the Persian king Ahasuerus, whose name was rendered in Greek histories as Xerxes and who reigned 486–465 B.C. Although some scholars date its composition as late as the first century B.C., there is evidence to indicate the book was written shortly after the events it narrates and before the Persian Empire fell to Alexander the Great in 331 B.C. The Hebrew of Esther is similar to that of the books of Chronicles and Daniel, which suggests that these three books were composed during the same period. The author’s knowledge of Persian court life and customs and the book’s linguistic evidence point to the late fifth century B.C.

The Story of Esther

The story of Esther occurs during the Achaemenid period of biblical history (559–330 B.C.). This places the events of the story at least fifty years after the decree of Cyrus (538 B.C.), which announced that the exiled Jews could return to Jerusalem and about twenty-five years before Ezra’s return to Jerusalem.

Esther and Mordecai were living in the royal city of Susa. Susa had been an important political, cultural, and religious center for centuries. At the time of Esther, the city was one of the capital cities of a vast empire stretching from what is now India in the east to Turkey and Ethiopia in the west. The ruins of Susa are in Iran near its border with Iraq.

As traditionally understood, the purpose of the book is to explain the origin of the Jewish holiday of Purim as a celebration of deliverance. From the Second-Temple Period until now, the Megillat Ester (“scroll of Esther”) in its entirety is read in the assemblies of the Jews as the central rite of the observance of Purim. Although women are normally exempt from mandatory attendance at worship, they are required to be present for the reading of Esther.

The story has provided encouragement and hope for the Jews, who from that day until this, like Esther and Mordecai, have lived far from Jerusalem.

The story of Esther is similar to that of Joseph in the court of the Egyptian pharaoh (Gen. 37–50) and of Daniel in the court at Babylon (Dan. 1–2). Each of these stories is about a Jew who was delivered from a death plot and rose to a high position in a pagan government.

The book as Christian Scripture is part of God’s saving work in history that culminated in the coming of Jesus the Messiah. It reminds Christians that God is never absent, even though those living in a world hostile to the Christian faith may not always be aware of His presence.

Who the book was written for

The events recorded concern the well-being of the Jews in Persia. Certainly Jews were the original audience, but the book was also written for Jews facing a similar situation elsewhere at other times.

Theme

The major theme of the book is God’s sovereign power to work, even though pagans, in order to preserve and deliver His people. The enemies of God’s people, portrayed possibly as Amalekites in the Book of Esther, cannot prevail over His purposes, even when God Himself seems absent.

Esther, a Jewish girl raised by her cousin Mordecai, became the second wife of King Ahasuerus of ancient Persia. Tradition says that Mordecai, an adviser to the king, refused to bow down to Haman, another of the king’s advisers. In anger, Haman hatched a plot to kill the Jews of Shushan and built a gallows on which to hang Mordecai. Haman drew numbers (lots) to decide on what day the Jews would die. The word “purim” means “lots”, hence the holiday’s name. Mordecai discovered the plot and asked Esther to intervene with the king to save her people. Haman was hanged instead.

Purim celebrates the Jews deliverance.

It is considered a mitzvah to listen as the Purim story is read aloud from the Megillah, the Scroll of Esther, in synagogue. It is also traditional to come to synagogue dressed as the characters in the Purim story and to make noise—stomp feet and shake gragers—each time Haman’s name is mentioned during the reading. The idea is to drown out his evil name so that it is never heard again. Triangular-shaped cookies, called hamantashen, are a Purim treat.

As part of the hilarity of the holiday, people often dress up and put on short humorous skits called Purim-spiels. It is also customary to deliver shalach manot—gifts of fruit, hamantashen, and candy—to friends and neighbors. Synagogues often sponsor Purim carnivals, with games, prizes, and entertainment for children. In the State of Israel, children in costumes go from house to house, delivering shalach manot and collecting treats for themselves in return.

A Letter from Mordicai

Mordecai wrote these instructions and sent letters to all the Jewish people in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, establishing that they should celebrate the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month Adar every year, as the days on which the Jewish people enjoyed relief from their enemies. It was a month when things turned around for them, from sorrow to joy and from mourning to a holiday. They were to celebrate these days as days of feasting and joy, and they were to send presents to one another and gifts to the poor. So the Jewish people made a tradition out of what they had begun to do and of what Mordecai had written to them.

— Esther 9:20–23, ISV

Esther chapter 9 concludes with statements authorizing the festival of Purim. This passage provides an etiology for the holiday: in narrative form, it explains Purim’s origin for future generations.

The authorization begins with a letter from Mordecai. He instructs all Jews to keep Adar 14–15 as a holiday year by year (Esther 9:21). In connection with these dates, what Purim celebrates is not the battles and the violence. If that were the case, the festival would be Adar 13–14. Instead, Purim is in remembrance of the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies. The gift-giving mentioned in Esther 9:19 is expanded in Mordecai’s instruction to include presents to the poor (Esther 9:22).

Among the values which contribute to the significance of Esther and which give the story contemporary relevance is its explanation for anti-Semitism. According to the book, Haman’s attitude toward the Jews emerged out of an antipathy for a single Jew, Mordecai (Esther 3:6). Mordecai’s refusal to bow in the presence of Haman was related to another factor, namely, the separatism practiced by the Jews (Esther 3:8).

There is no doubt that anti-Semitism is a grim and scurrilous reality. Haman is representative of a line of leaders who have persecuted and assaulted the Jews. The extermination of six million Jews during World War II is a shocking reminder of this criminal and inhuman disposition.

The Pesach (Passover) Seder reminds us that in every generation, there are those who rise up to destroy the Jews, but God saves them. In the time of the Book of Esther, Haman was the one who tried to destroy the Jews. In modern times, there have been two significant figures who have threatened the Jewish people, and there are echoes of Purim in their stories.

Many have noted the echoes of Purim in the Nuremberg war crime trials. In the Book of Esther, Haman’s ten sons were hanged (Esther 9:13); in 1946, ten of Hitler’s top associates were put to death by hanging for their war crimes.

As reported in the New York Herald Tribune on October 16, 1946:

He (Julius Streicher, the Nazi editor of the anti-Semitic Das Strumer newspaper) glared at the Allied officers and the eight Allied correspondents representing the world’s press who were lined up against the wall behind small tables directly facing the gallows. With burning hatred in his eyes, Streicher looked down upon the witnesses and then screamed:

— “Purim Fest 1946!”

Another echo of Purim is found in the Soviet Union a few years later. In early 1953, Stalin was planning to deport most of the Jews in the Soviet Union to Siberia, but just before his plans came to fruition, he suffered a stroke and died a few days later. He suffered that stroke on the night of March 1, 1953: the night after Purim. The plan to deport Jews was not carried out.

A story is told in Chabad of that 1953 Purim: the Lubavitcher Rebbe led a Purim gathering and was asked to give a blessing for the Jews of the Soviet Union, who were known to be in great danger. The Rebbe instead told a cryptic story about a man who was voting in the Soviet Union and heard people cheering for the candidate, “Hoorah! Hoorah!” The man did not want to cheer, but was afraid to not cheer, so he said “hoorah,” but in his heart, he meant it in Hebrew: hu ra, which means, “He is evil”!

The crowd at the Rebbe’s 1953 gathering began chanting “hu ra!” regarding Stalin, and that night, Stalin suffered the stroke that lead to his death a few days later.

At Purim the Scroll of Esther is read and we are reminded of Esther’s heroism and that of her uncle Mordecai. We also remember that in every age the Jewish people have had enemies, from the time of Haman to the time of Ahmadinejad.

Ironically, Israel’s most dangerous enemy today is from the very same place as Haman, the enemy of the Jews from the Purim story — Persia, or modern day Iran.

Purim is a celebration of the triumph of justice — the Jews of Persia lived, and their would-be murderer, Haman, did not. Esther and Mordecai are role models who stood up for their Jewish community.

Today, too, it is critical to stand together and against a modern-day Haman, who threatens Israel and the entire Middle East with annihilation while busily arming his country with nuclear capability.

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