When the Rocks Cry Out
14 Jun 2008, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
WHEN THE ROCKS CRY OUT
No book in the whole history of mankind has had such a revolutionary influence and so decisively affected the development of the Western World as the 'Book of Books' that we commonly call the 'Bible'. After 2000 years it gives no sign of being exhausted in it triumphal progress (Keller, 1961: x).
Time writes no wrinkles on its brow for as 1Peter 1: 23 tells us it is '…the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.'
The Bible is a universal book. Its language is very easily translated with its message well adapted to the people of every nation, age, race and condition of men. Today, it speaks in many languages and dialects, acquiring a new tongue, on average, every thirty-two days. The foundation of the world's jurisprudence is laid in its laws, while the charm of its narrative, the faithful portrayal of its character sketches, the beauty of its prose and poetry, and the atmosphere of love that pervades it, place it in a class by its self, never equalled by human genius (Cottrell, 1953: 91).
This radiant lamp of Scripture not only penetrates the mist of past ages, but also discloses man's present duty and illuminates the otherwise uncertain future (Ibid: 90).
It is important to remember that these sixty-six books were written at various times throughout a period of fifteen hundred years by approximately forty of God's chosen penmen. These men were to represent five great eras of civilization and were to come from all walks of life. They wrote history, prophecy, poetry, moral laws and rules of hygiene and sanitation and yet we find that there is no discord among them (Ibid).
The Bible is also 'a divine, Spirit-filled book', presenting a complete plan for the redemption of a lost race. It acclaims God, the Creator of the Universe, as the loving, all-wise omnipotent Father. It exalts Christ as 'the way, the truth, and the life,' and the compassionate Saviour of [all] mankind. It also designates the Holy Spirit as the Master's ever-present representative, and the comforter of all His people' (Ibid: 93).
Throughout the centuries the Scriptures have lost none of the freshness and vitality that was seen to strengthen such men as the apostle Paul in Rome, Martin Luther in Germany and John Knox in the far reaches of Scotland and it still speaks to you and me today.
However, in this modern distressed, war-torn world that we live in, there are many voices that can readily distract us from the chosen path that the Lord would have us walk. Many of these voices seek to destroy our faith in God's Word and we see some of the greatest onslaughts against the Bible taking place at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
This was an era that saw an age of rationalism and reasoning in which man tried to find proofs for every thing that had been held as truth. People were no longer satisfied with traditional beliefs and this was to see an escalation of intellectual attacks on the Scriptures themselves (Horn, 1980: 9).
Sadly, it was to be the Bible scholars, now being trained in this way of thinking, that were to become its greatest critics. Because so little of the Bible story could be proved by ancient documents, many of these scholars began to argue that the Bible and its historical accounts were not trustworthy. They began to look upon many of its stories as part of the ancient legends, myths and folklore of the ancient world (Ibid).
Towards the end of the 1800s with the publication of Charles Darwin's views in 'The Origin of Species' (1859) and The Descent of Man' (1871) science and religion now seemed to draw further apart. This was to divide the Christian world into those who were prepared to accept this new view of origins and those who were to reject it completely (Linder, 2000: 20).
These new views were now to aid the rise of theological liberalism among Protestants. This movement, that first appeared in Germany in the early nineteenth century, originally set out to come to terms with modern knowledge and thought. It particularly was to focus on the new historical studies of the Scriptures (Ibid: 21).
Eventually, it was to result in a theological system based on rationalism and the scientific method that saw Christianity being stripped of its supernatural elements. Miracles were no longer seen for what they were and even the deity of Christ was under attack (Ibid).
The Bible, which had become the authority of faith and practice in the protestant churches was no longer considered trustworthy and was now being seen as full of errors and contradictions (Ibid).
When this form of German rationalism crossed from Europe to America in the late 19th century, the lines were being quickly drawn between those who were prepared to defend the historic Christian faith and those who were to accept this new form of liberalism. This divide in America was to see the rise of the Fundamentalist movement representing historic Christianity as apposed to the Modernists who wanted to 'modernize' the Christian religion along scientific lines (Ibid). With this divide in place there are those who suggest that the spirits of devils have now barricaded themselves behind the walls of many churches. This would seem to make the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4: 1 more relevant to us today where he says: 'Now the spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.' (Rudy, 1981: 334).
These ongoing debates were to last well into the twentieth century culminating in a theology of crisis after World War I and merging into what is now known as the 'New Modernism'. This was to see a new generation of preachers growing up in the churches who seemed to be more concerned with the social gospel than the gospel of Jesus Christ (Rudy, 1981: 332). This was to eventually affect the true mission of the church that, from its very beginning, was to preach the gospel in all the world unto all men.
However, the Lord must have anticipated these attacks against the Scriptures because as far back as 1798 we see an emperor by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte setting out on a course of discovery that would have the very rocks cry out against this new form of thinking.
When Jesus made the statement in Luke 19: 40 where He says to the Pharisees in reference to His disciples that 'I tell you…if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out' (Repeat) When Jesus made that statement I don't think He was referring to these future discoveries, but He might well have.
When Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798, his expedition from a military or political viewpoint was seen by many as an absolute failure. However, through God's providence, this campaign was to blaze a trail that was to lead to modern archaeological research (Cottrell, 1953: 7). This new science, that was to be called Biblical archaeology, was destined to counteract the destructive forces of 'higher criticism' and modernism.
As Napoleon stood in the shadow of the mighty pyramids, he uttered those memorable words to his men. 'Soldiers, forty centuries are looking down upon you' (Ibid: 8). Twelve months later, as a member of his expeditionary force was digging in a trench around the Nile Delta near the town of Rosetta, he found a strange looking stone made of black basalt, almost four feet in height, two and a half in width and one foot in thickness. Erected about 200 BC as an expression of gratitude to young King Ptolemy V, this stone was inscribed in three languages, Egyptian hieroglyphic, Egyptian phonetic and Greek and, since its discovery, has been known as the 'Rosetta Stone'. After the French linguist Champollion successfully deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphic script in 1822, modern archaeology was effectively born and the stones of Egypt were ready to cry out and release their secrets to the world.
It is interesting to note that during the time that 'higher criticism' and modernism were making their strongest attacks upon the Bible, this new breed of archaeologists were continuing to uncover amazing evidence to verify its historical and geographical data (Ibid).
The next great discovery of any import was to take place in Persia when a young British Officer by the name of Henry Rawlinson was dispatched to that country on a military assignment. However, I believe that God had other plans for him. While travelling close to the little town of Behistun, he looked up to a towering cliff 1700 feet high and was attracted by a large plane surface that stood out on the almost perpendicular side of the cliff. After a very hazardous ascent he discovered eight columns of inscriptions chiselled into the rock, each about eleven feet in height by two or three feet in width. He had discovered a very spectacular and public imperial proclamation announcing to the world the victories and achievements of Darius I, the mighty king of Persia.
Consequently, many years later, Rawlinson, along with other linguists, were able to unlock three more languages of antiquity allowing oriental scholars to now read cuneiform inscriptions that had been pressed into clay three or four millenniums before. The Behistun Rock, often referred to as the Persian Rosetta Stone, was now to cry out in the Persian, Elamite and Assyrian languages.
This discovery was now to allow the vast numbers of clay tablets that had formed part of the ancient libraries unearthed in the Euphrates Valley, to be studied and read. Along with histories, essays, hymns, prayers, dictionaries, lawbooks, schoolbooks, studies in medicine, mathematics, astronomy, deeds, mortgages and receipts, they also discovered a long list of kings, with the first eight being recorded as reigning 'before the great flood'. On another tablet is found the praises of a king who 'loved to read the writings of the age before the Flood' (Ibid: 10, Berg, 1993: 23).
Some years later, in 1868, at a town some fifteen miles east of the Dead Sea, a German missionary by the name of F. A. Klein, discovered another memorial similar in size to the Rosetta Stone. It was originally erected to commemorate a victory of a Moabite King over Omri, King of Israel. On this black and blue basalt stone, Israel is mentioned four times, Omri is mentioned by name, Jehovah is recognised as the God of Israel and it describes an invasion and subjugation of Moab by the armies of Israel with this event being faithfully recorded in 2 Kings 3: 4, 5. This monument was to become known as the Mesha Stele or Moabite Stone.
Little did this pagan king, by the name of Mesha, realize the value of his personal testimony that was inscribed on this large block of stone twenty-eight centuries ago. Little would he have realized that its preservation would have helped to confirm the records of inspiration at a time when scepticism was to be at its height (Ibid: 11).
In 1843, a Frenchman by the name of Paul-Emile Botta was to open the door to the historical world of the Old Testament with his discoveries at a place called Khorsabad, not far from the Zagros Mountains in Mesopotamia. Here he was confronted with the Assyrian palace city of King Sargon II, the father of Sennacherib. This was the king who, not only conquered Samaria, but also ravaged Israel and led its people off into captivity.
These discoveries were later to culminate in the finding of the ancient city of Nineveh located opposite the present day city of Mosul in Iraq. It was here in the destroyed archives of this city that tens of thousands of cuneiform documents were found. These clay tablets were to give an astonished world an insight into the rich literature and history of those times and was to provide names that were well known in the Bible, but practically unknown from most other sources (Horn, 1980: 31).
Included in this material they discovered an Assyrian copy of the Babylonian version of the creation and the flood.
We need to remember that archaeology, like all disciplines, is a human endeavour, and as such, people have to interpret the evidence. This was to give rise to a subjective element in some of the reports.
After George Smith of the British Museum issued his 'Chaldean Account of Genesis' in 1876, Bible scholars immediately claimed that they now had a copy of the original on which the Genesis stories of creation and the flood had been based (Wilson, 1973: 13). Because these writings were to predate the writing of Genesis by Moses, the critics were now claiming that he obtained his material from those sources and, hence, the Genesis record was being seen as part of the myths and legends of that period (Morris, 1968: 89).
However, as noted by author Henry Morris (1968)'…a mere comparison of the majestic account in the Bible with the garbled and mythological nonsense of… these other stories is sufficient evidence that the record of these events as given in the Bible is incomparably superior to all other records combined, a fact which can be accounted for only on the basis of inspiration' (Ibid).
Kenneth Kitchen of the University of Liverpool also makes it clear that '…in the Ancient Near East, the rule is that simple accounts or traditions may give rise to elaborate legends, but not vice versa. In the Ancient Orient, legends were not simplified or turned into pseudo-history as has been assumed for early Genesis' (Wilson, 1973: 20).
While these records are of interest in that they confirm the idea of creation and a world wide flood, the Chaldean records have been revealed as being nothing more than grotesque distortions which have been shown, by scholarly research, to be inferior to the records of Genesis (Ibid).
For well over a century, American, English, French and German scholars have been digging in the Middle East, in Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt.
As a result of their work, places and towns in Palestine that are frequently mentioned in the Bible are being brought back once more into the light of day. They have been found to look exactly like the Bible describes them and they lie exactly where the Bible has located them (Keller, 1961: viii).
Contemporary reliefs, along with colossal figures and sculptures show us the slim, tall Philistines and the elegant Canaanite chiefs with their 'chariots of iron' that were used to strike terror into the hearts of the Israelites.
They also show us the Hittites, who for many years were believed not to exist as no external evidence prior to this discovery was ever found. For many years the higher critics used the Hittite legend as one of their most telling blows against the inspiration of the Scriptures (Morris, 1968: 93). It has now long since been revealed that these people constituted one of the most powerful and influential nations of antiquity, thus once more demonstrating the weakness of the critical position and the elevation of the truth of the Bible (Ibid).
The same story could be told of Edom and the Edomites who were mentioned time and time again in the Bible, but were completely forgotten in secular history until the nineteenth century when references to them were found in Egyptian and Assyrian monuments. Further confirmation was to come with the discovery of their rock city known today as Petra (Morris, 1961: 93).
In the Nile Delta, archaeologists have found the cities of Pithom and Raamses where the resentful Hebrews toiled as slaves (Keller, 1961: viii)
In Gibea they found Saul's mountain stronghold, whose walls once echoed to the strains of David's harp (Ibid: ix).
At Megiddo they came across, what they believed, were the vast stables of King Solomon as well as his great copper-smelting furnace at his seaport of Ezion-Geber (Morris, 1968: 94; Keller, 1961: ix).
From the world of the New Testament the palatial edifices of King Herod have reappeared and in the heart of old Jerusalem, the pavement where Jesus stood before Pilate has been rediscovered.
These breathtaking finds, whose significance are difficult to grasp, have made it necessary for critical views about the Bible to be revised. God in His providence has had His hand over it all and we see this throughout history as neither the fires of persecution nor the attacks of rationalistic unbelief have been able to prevent the Bible's continued transmission to a world in desperate need of a Saviour.
While we know that the major theme of the Bible revolves around the Plan of Salvation, it is also a book about things that actually happened. While written from the perspective of Jewish history and their relationship to their God, the events, nonetheless, are historical facts that have been recorded with an accuracy that is nothing less than startling (Keller, 1961: ix). This accuracy is important because in order to understand the Word we need to see it in its proper chronological, historical and geographical setting (Ibid: x).
Dr. W. F. Albright, perhaps the most famous archaeologist of the twentieth century, was to make clear that 'There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition' (Albright, 1942: 176).
This belief shows a major change from many of the views held by Bible scholars throughout the nineteenth century and while scepticism still abounds, much more respect is being shown towards the Old Testament narratives and its teachings than was shown a few decades ago.
While we recognise there have been many forces at work to destroy our faith in the Bible, the very stones have cried out in defence of God's word. However, it is important to remember that our faith must rest not on rocks and inscriptions, but on the promises of God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
Albright, W. F. (1942) Archaeology and the Religion of Israel. Baltimore. Md: The John Hopkins University Press.
Berg O. (1993) Treasures in the Sand. Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Cottrell, R. F. (1953) The Triumphs of Archaeology in Bible Lands. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
Horn, S. H. (1980) The Spade Confirms the Book. Washington DC: Review & Herald Publishing Association.
Keller, W. (1961) The Bible as History. Suffolk, UK: Reprint Society Ltd.
Linder, R. D. (2000) The History of the Church. Carlisle, Cumbria: Candle Books.
Morris, H. M. (1968) The Bible and Modern Science. Chicago, USA: Moody Press.
Rudy, H. L. (1981) The Message of Revelation Vol. II. College Place, Washington: Color Press.
Wilson, C. (1973) That Incredible Book…The Bible. Melbourne: Hill of Content Publishing Co.
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