Importance of Culture
We’re going back to the basics, with our series “How to Read Your Bible.” We thought as we’re all home and have extra time to hopefully spend in God’s Word this would be an encouragement to you. This week, Chris will walk us through the importance of knowing the culture of the Bible. Last week we learned about the significance of geography. If you missed that you can listen in our archive section here on our site.
If you’ve listened to us before, you’ll know we talk a lot about how the Bible was written by Jewish men in a Jewish context. Learning about the culture of the Bible gives you a greater understanding of the Scriptures and we hope it will enhance your understanding!
Steve Conover: Welcome to the Friends of Israel Today, I'm Steve Conover. With me is our host and teacher, Chris Katulka. Here at the Friends of Israel Today we've had to adjust how we do ministry like many of you have during the season. As you listen to our broadcast or podcast, our team is producing the program remotely from our homes, which is something we've never done before, but you might notice a change in the audio quality but thankfully through technology we can continue to bring you new and relevant teaching during this time of quarantine.
I want to invite you to visit our website at foiradio.org, we're praying for you and we want to hear your prayer requests. When you go to our website, there is a prayer form you can fill out and when we receive those prayers we will pray for you privately. These prayers will not be mentioned on air, but our team will pray and bring them before our loving heavenly Father. Also, while you're at foiradio.org you can view a video interview Chris did with our frequent radio guest and colleague Steve Herzig. We have some other content coming to the site in the next few days, so keep an eye out on foiradio.org.
Chris Katulka: Yeah, I want to encourage our listeners to go to foiradio.org because that interview with Steve is actually about a so-called Christian who believes that coronavirus came as a result of the Jewish people, which is just a age-old antisemitic trope blaming Jewish people for the plagues. And so Steve and I talk about the Jewish people and really why they are always blamed for these kinds of things throughout history, so again, go to foiradio.org for that. But today on the program, we're going to be continuing our series on how to better enhance our Bible reading during this time. And so last week we looked at the geography of the Bible, this week we're going to look at the culture of the Bible, I think a great way for us to better understand the Scriptures to help enhance our Bible reading.
Steve Conover: But first in the news, the Israeli government announced the arrival of enormous shipments of supplies for fighting coronavirus, including 2.4 million pills of chloroquine, a drug touted by President Trump to cure coronavirus. Israeli doctors don't endorse giving hydroxychloroquine to patients, but the government is accumulating stockpiles to avoid an international race on pills should its effectiveness be proven.
Chris Katulka: Here's my take on this. Whether certain Israeli doctors used hydroxychloroquine or not to treat COVID-19, the stockpile of the drug is a smart move by the Israeli government. As Moran-Gilad, a Professor at Ben-Gurion University of Negev said this, "In a few weeks time if there is official data to show it is beneficial, it will be very difficult to secure the drug." So if it's proven that hydroxychloroquine stops the lethal coronavirus, Israel will be well equipped to take care of those whose immune systems couldn't handle the deadly virus itself.
We're continuing our series here on How to Read the Bible, and there's no better time than now to start reading your Bible. As you're doing your civic duty to stay put, this is a great time to pick up the Scriptures and to really dig into God's Word. Even Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, a pillow company, stood up at a White House presser and encouraged Americans to use this time to get into God's Word.
That's right, you heard me, a CEO of a pillow company reminded Americans that the only hope that we have during this pandemic is found in the Scriptures. Instead of binge watching the latest Jack Ryan season on Amazon Prime, let's dig into God's Word together, because I want to help you, I want to encourage you to get the most out of God's Word.
Listen, there are sections of the Bible that can be very hard to understand. We're talking about several thousand years of separation between the time the Scriptures were written and today. I mean, just think about the Book of Leviticus, when was the last time you did devotions from Leviticus? We often skip over these sections of the Bible because we're culturally removed from them and it's hard to get our minds wrapped around how they worshiped God in that day.
Last week we actually looked at the geography of the Bible, how knowing the geography the Bible helps us understand the history and theology of the Scriptures. We specifically looked at Bethlehem and how knowing the history and prophecy of this little town can give us some amazing insight into the life and mission of Christ. And so if you didn't get a chance to listen to last week's program, just go to foiradio.org and right there on our homepage you will see an archives link and you can go and listen to last week's program.
But today we're going to look at the culture of the Bible, how knowing the culture of the Bible will help enhance your understanding of the Scriptures. Before we get to the culture, I first want to get on my soapbox here and remind you of this one truth. Are you ready? The Bible is not about you, that's right. Please don't be offended, the Bible is not about you. If you read a passage and then insert your name into the passage, you're limiting the work of the Scriptures in your life. But let me start there. The Bible is not about you, but what's the Bible about? The Bible is about God's arc of redemption, His design to redeem what was lost at the fall through the work of His son, Jesus Christ.
But you shouldn't be asking yourself, "God, where am I in this story?" Because the Bible isn't a self-help book. God's Word communicates something great, how God's people can have a relationship with Him through His son. God is reconciling the world to Himself. The Bible isn't about you it's actually about how you fit in God's plan. How is God going to use you in His plan of redemption? So think of it that way.
Okay, so let's move on to the culture of the Bible. Culture and Scriptures are such an interesting combination, and here's the reason why. The Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends culture. Jesus is the Savior of the world, He saved mankind from their sin, which is a result of a broken relationship with God because of our disobedience. And that has no cultural ties, no culture sins more than another culture, no race or identity is more pure or Holy than another. Sin is a cross-cultural, multinational, multi-racial issue, no one can escape it.
And you know what? The church is made up of believers from all around the globe. And despite our cultural differences or our language barriers, the gospel connects us because we've all been delivered by the blood of the Lamb. So when someone reads the Scriptures, whether they're from North America or Europe or Asia, or Africa, or from South America or wherever, they can read the Bible with assurance that God has sent His Son to save them from their sins and He will one day return. We all look forward to that, we all unify under the banner of being saved by the blood of the Lamb.
Now though, when you are reading the Bible, even though it transcends culture, it's important to know the culture and the customs of the Bible. And the reality is that the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is a Jewish book. I mean, come on, Jesus is Jewish. The apostles were Jewish, the celebrations and holidays were Jewish, the message is a Jewish message, the setting is the Holy Land. What more do you want? It's a Jewish culture, it's Jewish customs that are embedded into the Scriptures.
To show you what I mean, I want to share about how the Jewishness of the Bible intersects with an important aspect of our faith as Christians. Let's go to Acts 2:1. And it says this, "Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting, and tongues were spreading out like fire appearing to them and came to rest on each one of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them."
The Apostle Peter actually picks up on this amazing moment when the church is born essentially and quotes the prophet Joel. In Joel 2, Peter sees what's happening here in Acts 2, and he links it right to Joel, the Old Testament prophet in Joel 2. Listen to what Joel says here. "And in the last days it will be," God says that, "I will pour out my Spirit on all people, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams."
Now, here's why knowing the culture of the Bible matters. Pentecost is actually, if you go back to Acts 2, it talks about the fact that this happened on Pentecost and Pentecost is originally a Jewish holiday. It's called Pentecost because it marks 50 days since Passover. Even as you're listening to this program, we're anticipating the coming of Pentecost very soon. In the Hebrew the holiday is actually called, Shavuot, which means “weeks”. And this was one of the holy days on the Hebrew calendar where the Israelites from all over the world were required to come to Jerusalem to worship God.
They had to come to Jerusalem and that's why in Acts 2, you have Jewish people from all over the world in Jerusalem hearing the gospel and coming to faith in the Messiah, Jesus, despite the language barriers that may exist. This was a major harvest celebration for the Jewish people, it was the wheat harvest when Jewish people would thank God for providing the food they needed to survive. But there is also another theological component to Shavuot or Pentecost. It's the day that Jewish people honor as they remember when God gave the Torah, the law. He gave the law, the Torah to the Jewish people. Pentecost in Acts 2 marks the birth of the church when the Holy Spirit came down to indwell those new Jewish believers who put their faith in the Lord.
So much like Moses coming down to give the law, the Spirit came down to dwell in the lives of believers just as Joel had promised. It's interesting the law of God often gets a bad rap, but the truth is that the law was actually a unique form of God's grace to His people. It was a letter that showed the nature and the character of God. If you wanted to know God's heart, then know the law. If you wanted to know how God wanted us to treat one another, know the law. If you wanted to know how to worship God and relate with God, then know the law.
See, the problem wasn't the law, the problem was the sin. Whenever God's holy standards are held up against our sinful flesh it will always reveal, it will always manifest, it will always let us know the things that are wrong in our life. The law was never designed to save a person from their sins, and this is where the work of the Holy Spirit comes into play in our lives. It's so interesting that these two events happen on the same day, the honoring of the giving of the law for Moses and the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. When we come back we're going to continue looking at the cultural background at Pentecost so that we can understand the Jewish culture in the Bible which helps enhance our reading of the Scriptures, so don't go anywhere.
Steve Conover: With COVID-19 taking over the headlines and effecting the daily routine of our lives, we want to remind ourselves that God is greater than this virus. Many of us have had extra time during the quarantine and it's a good time to catch up on our reading lists, and that's why we want to offer you 19% off your purchase along with free shipping in our web store. Go to foiradio.org, and there you will find a link to take you to our web store and we'll ask you to use the code, Psalm 19, at checkout.
Chris Katulka: Now, COVID-19 is something that might actually instill fear. And you know what? We want to redeem that for a moment. We want to redeem it from COVID-19 to Psalm 19, from fear to faith. To remember, Psalm 19 is a great Psalm, it's about God's creation. He's overall, He's created all things. That His Scriptures are alive and well and they can change us from the inside out, they're perfect. And that we want to be used by God, we want to be a servant of God in these times. And I love how Psalm 19 ends, "May my words and my thoughts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, my sheltering rock and my Redeemer. This is a great opportunity to redeem COVID-19 with Psalm 19, remembering who God is.
Steve Conover: Again, visit our website foiradio.org, that's foiradio.org and in checkout use the code, Psalm 19, that's P-S-A-L-M-1-9, all one word for 19% off your entire order and free shipping. A reminder, this is only valid online to U.S. residents through the month of April, 2020.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back everyone. We are in the middle of a series on How to Read the Bible. And I want to teach you three easy ways to help enhance your Bible reading so that you can better know and understand what God is doing in your life. And last week we looked at how knowing and understanding the geography of the Bible from both the historical and theological perspective can help you know more about what God is doing in the Scriptures. And today we're looking at culture, specifically how Jewish culture in the Scriptures impact our daily lives as believers.
And we're studying the Jewish holiday right now. This is an example of Pentecost from Acts 2, the day Jewish people celebrate the giving of the law. But it's also the same day Christians remember the birth of the church and the work of God in their lives through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Just listen to what the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 10:15-18 has to say here. It's very fascinating. Listen, he says, "And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us after saying, 'This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days," says the Lord. 'I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds.'"
Then he says, "Their sins and their lawless deeds, I will remember no longer. Now, where there is forgiveness of these there is no longer offering for sin." This is quite something here. The Holy Spirit is bearing witness that God has established a new covenant where God's law isn't written on stones any longer, not written on tablets for you to stare at, they're actually written on your heart and on your mind. You see the interesting connection here. So what are some ways that the Holy Spirit is ministering to you?
Well, the first one is this. One of the greatest tools that the Holy Spirit gives to us is that the moment that you put your faith in Jesus, you are indwelt with the Holy Spirit and He seals you. God sent His Holy Spirit as a down payment for greater things to come. Just listen to what Ephesians 1:13 and 14 says. It says, "And when you heard the Word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, when you believed in Christ, you are marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit who is the down payment for our inheritance until the redemption of God's own possession to the praise of His glory."
That word for “down payment” is arrabon. It's a word that's used in Greek to convey the first payment that shows a guarantee or a pledge for the completion of a transaction. It's kind of like a layaway plan, you put money down to buy something you want. That product is yours now but you don't fully have it yet, however, no one can take it away from you. So now you're waiting in anticipation for what's coming to you. You have hope for something greater and through the work of the Holy Spirit you've been sealed until the day of redemption, Paul says. That means you can never lose your salvation because the Holy Spirit has sealed you until the day Jesus returns.
First, the Holy Spirit gives us hope. And we need hope right now, we need to know God will never abandon us where we are in our journey with Him, He has sealed us. Also, if the believer is listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit and following the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of the Holy Spirit actually produces fruit. As Galatians 5 says, "It produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." So that in whatever circumstances life throws you, you can find joy if you yield to the Spirit. Peace where there isn't any, wisdom to be patient in moments of fear, kindness in times of stress, goodness when evil is surrounding you, faithfulness in a very selfish world and gentleness in the midst of hostility and self-control in a self-indulgent world.
The fruits of the Spirit set you apart from the rest of the world because it's more natural to be angry and hostile when things don't go your way. It's more natural to act impulsively when tough decisions need to be made. It's actually more natural to indulge in the pleasure of the world when the journey gets rough, but God has given us the fruits of the Spirit to show the world a different way.
You know what always amazes me? Just to kind of loop it all back right in here to this concept of Pentecost, the birth of the church, the coming of the Holy Spirit and also honoring the giving of the law, what always amazes me about the fruits of the Spirit, is that it practically mimics the characteristics of God that are mentioned in the law in Exodus 34:6-7. God wants you to be Holy like Him, that's the whole point. I hope that you dig into the cultural aspects of the Scriptures a bit as you study God's Word. The more you know about the culture and the customs of the Bible, the more fully you'll know and understand what God was telling us in the Scriptures.
Steve Conover: Thank you, Chris. As you were speaking, I got thinking about verses that I've heard out of context and often they're verses that are directly related to Israel and they're applied either to our nation or to our lives as individuals. My question for you is, what's the danger of imposing our culture onto the Bible?
Chris Katulka: One of the things we're going to talk about next week that I want to look at is when you look at the Bible, I think it's really important to look at it from a literal understanding. That when you read the Bible, you have to read it and we're going to look at this next week, in its context. When you're looking at the Scriptures you don't want to just place yourself at the center of it. First, I think you want to pull out what the original meaning is, who the original audience is. And that way when you finally see what God is really speaking into in that moment, then you can apply it to your life. And I actually think that that moment has a deeper meaning. Before we just shove our culture and our context into it, first we need to pull out what the original is and that way we can better understand what the Scriptures are actually telling us.
Steve Conover: Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life and ministry of Holocaust survivor Zvi Kalisher.
Mike Kellogg: Deuteronomy 20:1 says, "Do not be afraid for the LORD your God is with you." Here in Israel we live in the light of this promise day by day as we face Scud missile attacks from Iraq. We are sure of God's protection, therefore, we can sing confidently the words of our national and anthem, Hatikva. Even with missiles being dropped on us nightly, people continue their daily routines with high morale because they know God has said, "I have set watchmen on your walls of Jerusalem. They shall never hold their peace day or night."
Although most of our people do not believe in Messiah, they do trust in the promises of God to His chosen people. There are however many new immigrants in Israel, especially from the Soviet Union who do not know the promises of God since they have lived all their lives under communism. As soon as they arrive, the ultra-Orthodox try to convert them into their fold of Judaism. They tell the emigres not to have any contact with Christians, but truth ultimately conquers. I consider it an obligation to confront such people with the Word of God, and I am thankful the Lord has enabled me to speak their language.
When I first talk with a new immigrant, it's not with warnings but in the spirit of friendship, and then we can be open with each other and I can share my faith. Initially, the emigres are surprised to find a Jewish person who believes in Christ, especially in Israel. One emigre told me, "It is impossible for a Jew to praise the name of this one whom Jews have hated through the centuries." I replied, "I have heard many say this. You have been brainwashed against believers from the moment you stepped off the plane. But if you read the Jewish scripture for yourself, you will understand how to have true faith in God." I do not have with me any of the old commentary books, no stories, no traditions, but if you want it, I will give you a Bible in the Russian language and then you can make your own decision about God."
Even though the immigrants have been instructed to stay away from believers, they're independent and want to make their own decisions in the new land. Of course, some are skeptical, some have asked me if believers in the Lord are against the Jewish religion. I responded, "I'm not against any religion if it is in accordance with the Bible, but I am sorry to say most of the people of Israel are far from being the holy people to the Lord your God, that He is instructed them to be in Deuteronomy 7:6.
I only want to help you find the Lord your savior, then you will truly be His chosen people. These immigrants were very moved by our conversation. They said they had learned more in one hour than they did during several days of instruction from their assigned guides. I pray that the Lord alone will be their guide and lead them into His truth, which alone will make them free. Finally, during these difficult days, I pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they prosper who love you.
Steve Conover: Thank you for being with us today, Chris. We wrap up our series on how we can deepen our Bible study. What are we looking at next week?
Chris Katulka: Next week we're going to look at the context of the Bible, understanding the context, what was going on in that moment when the authors were writing will definitely help the believer better know how God is speaking to them in that moment. And I also want to remind our listeners, if right now you're suffering and you're worried and you're concerned about what's going on in the world, we understand and we want to stand behind you in prayer. Again, visit foiradio.org and send us your prayer requests, we're praying for you. We actually just finished wrapping up praying for some people that were sending in requests, foiradio.org if you'd like prayer.
Steve Conover: Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom-Gallione, co-written by Sarah Fern. Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong, and I'm Steve Conover, Executive Producer. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
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With COVID-19 taking over the headlines and affecting the daily routine of our lives, we want to remind ourselves that God is greater than this virus!
Many of us have extra time during the quarantine, and it’s a good time to catch up on our reading lists. That’s why we want to offer you 19% off your purchase along with free shipping in our webstore. Use the discount code PSALM19 at checkout.
*Offer valid for online orders excluding subscriptions for U.S. customers only through April 30, 2020.
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Apples of Gold: So Long Our Hopes Are Not Yet Lost
Though Israel faced missile attacks from Iraq, many immigrants were entering Israel. Eager to share Scripture with people who had lived under Communist rule all their lives, Zvi began building friendships and sharing his faith. He knew that truth ultimately conquers, and he considered it an obligation to reach out to many of these immigrants. Hear how Zvi comforted them with the Word of God and prayed that the Lord alone would be their guide and lead them to truth.
Zvi’s story is available in Elwood McQuaid’s book, “Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph over the Holocaust,” available at our online store.
More stories from Zvi are also available in his book, “The Best of Zvi,” available at our online store.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.