H’s Journey, Childhood

Journey Through Religion, Part 1 (Childhood) — H

I wrote the bulk of my autobiography during my 20s. Then, as a separate paper, I wrote specifically on my encounters with religion. These posts are built significantly upon that separate paper. Then, at the end of each part/post, I will give my thoughts on what I’d written.

When I became an adult, I discovered how many had been praying for me and my immediate family. Those praying included Dad’s sisters and mother, cousins, friends, acquaintances, and neighbors. Never underestimate how many quiet watchers are lovingly conversing with God about each individual. If you are an intercessor, thank you for demonstrating that love for others.

Warning on this post: For mature audiences only. Read my comments at the end for more.

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“In the beginning…”

Heh. Okay. In my beginning, God was there. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t just know God exists. My immediate family didn’t talk about God, but perhaps I noted that Grandma prayed at mealtime when we visited. Either way, God is.

As a result, I wanted to learn more about Him. So, I asked my sister, “April,” how to do that. Her teenage reply: “I don’t know. Go ask Dad.” (grin)

We were 7 years apart in age, and I was a pesky little sister. April loved me, but other things occupied her mind right then.

I went to Dad. He pointed me to a Children’s Bible Story set and a Bible he’d quietly put in the bookcase upstairs where my sister and I had our bedrooms.

In the Bible, I discovered what other people had experienced of God. Enthralled, I read it for hours, devouring the concepts and principles hungrily…eagerly. In these younger years, my reading stayed in the Old Testament because…well, books are meant to be read from the beginning, right?

Dyslexia and other challenges made me a slow reader. In spite of that, books and the library were a retreat for me. The Bible wasn’t any old book, though. There was something significantly different about it. I drank deeply from the Bible because, through it, I was recognizing God as my Protector, Comforter, Friend, and Heavenly Father. I needed Him!

Whenever my mother caught me reading any of the Bible, she was angry, sneering and mocking. Don’t hold that against her, though. She simply made several wrong choices in her life.

I believe she was seeking experiences with the God she’d learned about in church in her youth. But, I don’t think she sought Him in the Bible. Thus, she was wooed by our enemy into saying “yes” to his advances. She listened to his lies about her and about those around her. I know this because she’d say them.

Looking back, I wonder if there was something that initially caused her antagonism toward Christians. Perhaps it was only what she read, but maybe it was some event from her past, too.

My parents had a big bed with a headboard full of reading material. Mom didn’t seem to mind my browsing there. This is where I found a book about the cruelty in a convent as well as one written to give the negative “inside scoop” from a relative of Mormon leader, Joseph Smith. Also, this was where she kept her stacks of well-worn FATE magazines.

I had watched Mom pore over each FATE issue she received, so I was curious what she found there. They were filled with paranormal stories, most being creative and interesting. That also drew me in to read more, so I understood…until I got to one disturbing story about a couple where the husband was killed in a horrific accident, the wife took his head home, and it came alive to talk to her.

Distraught and horrified with the imagery described, I’d gone to her about it, asking if she believed it to be a true story.

Being a night nurse’s aide in a small hospital, she was stationed in E.R. a lot. She answered my question by telling me a graphically-detailed story about the remains of a man who’d committed suicide by lying in the middle of the highway and getting struck by a truck.

I was confused about the relevance, and her story only served to disturb me further. My internal knowledge of right and wrong told me, then, that a healthy, loving adult would not have told this story to her young child. How long had her mind and heart been this way?

A family story my father and brother told was that they had to pull Mom off of my oldest sister when she had been a teen. Mom had tackled her, was sitting on her, and was trying to choke her. So, something hadn’t been quite right for a very long time.

Voodoo and the occult enticed Mom further toward darkness. She purchased a Ouija board, a preserved rabbit’s foot “good luck” keychain, and a crystal ball, firmly believing in their “powers.” I knew this because she talked about them in that way. She also wasn’t debunking the superstitious and paranormal concepts in TV shows I watched like Bewitched and The Addams Family.

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An excerpt from my autobiography:

Dad, I don’t feel good.”

He reached to feel my forehead.  “You do feel a little warm.  How don’t you feel good?”

“Sick to my stomach.”

“Why don’t you go rest on the couch.  I’ll be in soon.”

“Can you stay home today?”

“I’d like to, but I can’t.  Your mom will be here.”

Inwardly, my heart fell, but I tried not to let it show.  I mumbled, “I know.”

Settling on the couch, I mentally began preparing for the day. I smiled weakly when he walked to my side. He settled a warm blanket over me and nestled a bucket on the floor nearby.

“I’m sorry you’re sick so much, honey.”

“You didn’t do it,” I said, aloud.

***

Inside, my thoughts added to that statement, silently whirling around but remaining unspoken: “You didn’t do it, but maybe Mom did with the voodoo doll. If I don’t believe in it, it won’t make me sick. Don’t believe, and you won’t be sick. Don’t believe, and you won’t…”

A previous afternoon, as I was staying home (sick again), I’d watched a sitcom where one of the characters had a voodoo doll. Mom must have been watching, too.

Some days later, she beckoned me to come to the upright piano. It was wisest to do as I was told, so I went to her. She got an item from the top of the piano and held it in her closed hand near my face so I could get a good view. Stiff hair was sticking out here and there between her fingers.

When she opened her hand, I saw that it was a homemade cloth doll with long hair, just like mine. Looking closely, I realized she must have saved some from my last haircut. The eyes and mouth were crudely sewn patches of black thread.

At that moment, I had forgotten about the sitcom, so I didn’t know what to make of the doll. I looked up into Mom’s face and wondered what I was supposed to do with it. She was smiling, so was I supposed to treat it like a gift and take it from her hand? But, was this her trustworthy smile? It didn’t quite look like it. Even if it wasn’t, am I to quickly say, “thank you,” so I don’t get into trouble?

I was deciding I’d best wait for her to say something when she brought my attention to her other hand. She had several stick pins on her open palm.

“Do you know what this is?” she said, slightly raising the hand with the doll. “This is you. If you’re not good and do what I tell you to do, I’m going to use these pins in the doll. You know how it works.”

With that, she put the doll on top of the piano where I could just barely see a part of it over the edge. But, I was not tall enough to reach it, perhaps not even if I did have the strength to move the piano bench and use it for help.

Then, showing her teeth in the untrustworthy grin that had been starting to form earlier, she looked down at me, nodded contentment with herself, scowled, and walked into the kitchen.

I stared up at what I could see of the doll and shuddered. I thought of the crystal ball she kept on her bureau and wondered if she’d used it to find out I had stuck my tongue out at her behind her back the day before.

My eyes fell on her “women’s magazines” stacked on the nearby bookshelf. She kept her Fate magazines in their bedroom. These were the good ones. Perhaps she knew I’d looked at one of her Good Housekeeping magazines in the stack, even though I’d been very careful to study and memorize the arrangement before touching them. I’d tried hard to put them back in exactly the same order and the angles of the edges exactly the way they had been in relation to each other.

She stepped back into the room and pointed to the very same magazines on the bookshelf.

As if she had been reading my mind, she snapped, “And, don’t be touching these again.”

It was amazing how she could do that.

She went back into the kitchen, and I just stood there, thinking about her crystal ball.

“No, she can’t see anything,” I assured myself. “It’s just a hunk of glass.”

I started pondering my techniques. I must have been a few fractions of an inch off in aligning the magazines back the way they were. That’s all.

I prayed, “Why is she always so mad at me? I’m trying to be a good girl.”

***

Sitting beside me on the sofa, Dad chuckled. “I know I didn’t make you sick, honey. I just wish you felt good. I’ll see you tonight.”

He kissed me on the forehead, picked up his briefcase, and left with a wave back at me.

I wanted to scream after him, “Dad, please don’t leave!”

But, no, it was best not to say anything.

Inside, I tried to counsel and steel myself for the day: “She’s going to say and think whatever she wants, so just ignore her. Be quiet and try to feel good. I don’t want to go to school, but it’s better than this. But, if I throw up there, they’ll call Mom to come get me, which will make her madder. So, just lay back and try not to be sick anymore.”

I settled into the couch, steadily feeling sicker, I decided I would be as quiet and unobtrusive as I could all day. If I was barely there, surely she would not find something to get mad about.

Shortly, Mom entered and looked out the front window toward the car.

“Yes, Mom,” I muttered in my head, “the coast is clear to start in now.”

She must have deemed that to be true, for she wheeled around to glare at me.

That look was on her face again. It was a familiar look by now, but no less heart stopping with each repetition. This was going to be a long day.

“Sick yet again. I swear you just live to make me wait on you hand and foot.”

“Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll take care of myself.” I tried to sound as innocent and reassuring as I could. “I won’t be any trouble to you.”

Scowling, she went into the dining room out of sight.

The nausea was really starting to overwhelm me, but I dedicated every brain cell toward thinking about other things – anything but the increasing need to throw up.

I stared at the overhead light and counted dead bugs. I pretended I was an elf, mountain climbing on the drapes as they swished back and forth…back and forth. Oh no!

Thankfully, I hit the bucket. I was still having painful, dry heaves when I opened my eyes to see Mom’s foot beside the bucket.

Her voice pelted me from above. “You aren’t really sick. You just fake it so you can have someone wait on you hand and foot. You don’t care about me or what this does to me. All you think of is yourself.”

Staring at her shoe, I was still overwhelmed with nausea. I felt like throwing up on her foot, but had nothing left. Besides, it would only serve to make matters worse. I had visions of her dumping the bucket over my head in fury.

She snatched up the bucket and fled to the back recesses of the house.

My mind drifted again as I rested my head back on the pillow.

“I don’t think the doll is on the piano anymore. I bet Dad asked about it, and she couldn’t explain it. I bet she still has it, though. Just hidden away somewhere. Probably in the same place as the crystal ball.”

The crystal ball was no longer on their bureau, but I suspected it was in a drawer. I hadn’t seen the Ouija board since I’d refused to “play it” with her. I doubted she got rid of it as I had pleaded with her to do. I figured she’d stuffed it away in her closet.

Now, resting here, no matter how hard I tried to stay awake, I slept. Perhaps she would kill me in my sleep, as I suspected she would do someday. Today, maybe it really didn’t matter.

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There were such threats, toward both Dad and I. All this is an incredibly long and complex story all by itself, so I’ll move on.

The important thing to get from this and keep in the back of your mind is that I was right in the midst of a violent spiritual war. And, God, through His Word, was walking me right through that battle zone every day.

It wasn’t all bad. Dad tried hard to make up for all the heartache and scariness. At one point, when Mom was at work, Dad showed me his old antique Bible. What a special treat for me to glance through it! He had gotten it from his parents just before he went to World War II.  Nestled on my lap, its weight and the gold-trimmed edges of its thin pages contributed to the image in my mind of its being an old treasure passed down from wiser generations. Before he put it away, he told me it would someday be mine. Wow! What a promise!

During these years of reading, my favorite story was that of Elijah. What fascinated me most about his story was the idea that he had developed such a wonderful companionship with God. In fact, one day when he and God were walking along, Elijah was so enveloped in the interaction that he didn’t even notice when he’d walked right on into Heaven with God. That is the impression I’d gotten, perhaps from the Bible Story series. Anyway, I wanted that kind of companionship with God, a friendship that intense.

I wanted to remember to be in continual communication with God like Elijah seemed to be. So, I wrote on tiny pieces of paper and taped them in strategic locations all around my bedroom. To be a little bit cryptic so as not to get in trouble with Mom, I simply said, “Elijah” and “Remember Elijah.”

Dad, being observant, asked me about them one time, “What’s this?”

Knowing I could trust Dad, I said with enthusiasm: “Every day, I want to think of Elijah and how he was a friend of God’s. I want to be, too.”

Dad smiled. I don’t remember what he said right then, but I imagine it was something encouraging.  He was like that. I do remember a time when he put his hand on my shoulder, got teary-eyed, and said, “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me.” Perhaps this was that time.

Dad was the best moral example for me as I was growing up. He did not preach the Bible; he lived it – every day. I have never faulted him for our family’s lack of church attendance. I once asked him why he didn’t attend church. He explained that he’d grown up going to a congregation with strict rules, and his family attended several times a week. In his words, he had “burned out” on church. But, he added, “I want you to feel free to go to church whenever you like, though. Just ask, and I will take you.”

I was around nine years old when a neighbor asked if I’d like to go to church with her. That Sunday, for the first time in my life, I entered a church building.

“Kevin,” my fellow mud-pie maker from next door, and his family were there! In fact, I knew and liked many of the people at this church. Here, I could visit with others about God and do so to my heart’s content. No one would belittle or sneer at me here for reading the Bible. No one here would tell me to shut up, if I talked about my Best Friend. And, because Mom wasn’t there, I thought I’d finally found a haven in which to relax and lower my guard a little.

To top it all off, only the nice kids from school were attending this church, so I wasn’t going to get bullied. I was ecstatic about the idea of attending every week.

There were three or four rooms just off the sanctuary. Kids my age were taken to one Sunday school classroom while I was guided to a different room for kids a few grades younger than me. I admit I was disappointed with that and sat close to the door so I could listen to the adult studies taking place in the sanctuary. However, my teacher came over, closed the door, and encouraged me to pay attention to my “own lessons.”

It disappointed me that the kids were separated from the adult session. I knew what the adults were talking about. I’d read the Bible, and what I was learning from listening in on the adults had real-life application for me at home. I wanted more than Noah’s Ark stories. I needed more than that.

The strangest part for me, though, was when I discovered I was not allowed to take communion. I’d read about this. I knew what the ceremony meant. I was bewildered when my neighbor passed the trays around me and to the adult on my other side. I felt like I was being told I wasn’t good enough to take part.

My neighbor operated a daycare in her home, so that’s probably why she picked up on my curious yet hurt expression. She apologized and explained that I couldn’t participate yet because I needed “to learn the meanings to it all and get baptized first.”  What’s more, she added that I couldn’t go to Heaven until I was baptized!

Wait…huh? What in the world was THAT supposed to mean?! I’d have to tell God about this one! Because of experiences at home, I was petrified of water. Not only did I need to overcome that fear to partake of communion, I also had to do it to be with God someday?

I didn’t go to church again for a while. Kevin and I still played together, though. After this first visit to a church, I was very curious and pelted him with questions as we were creating chocolate milk (dirt and water) and carrot cake (grass cuttings and mud, “baked” in the sun).

I’d seen drawings of church buildings in Ideal magazines, and I had noticed some things missing from his. I asked him why there wasn’t a piano in his church.

He said that it was “against his religion.”

“Why?”  I asked.  I couldn’t fathom why a piano would be wrong.

He just shrugged and added that the only music allowed in church was singing. He added, “We aren’t allowed to dance either.”

“You mean in church?”

“Anywhere. It’s against our religion to dance.”

This was the shock for me. I often twirled and leapt around our grassy yard.  Sometimes, I was trying to learn how to fly (without cardboard wings, at this point). Mostly, though, I pretended I was a ballerina like the one that twirled in Mom’s music jewelry box when she opened it. These moments were filled with joy and the kind of inner laughter that comes naturally between children and their Creator, so this prohibition confused me.

I said, “But I read in the Bible where good people were dancing for God. That was wrong?”

“I don’t know. We just aren’t supposed to do it,” he said, handing me a mud chocolate cake (colored black with decayed toadstools).

My experiences at the church and this talk with Kevin sure got me to thinking.

Day after day, I continued to read the Bible and the Children’s Bible Story series.  Now, I was searching intently for answers. What is allowed? What is wrong? What is God REALLY like?

Was God this exacting? Maybe I had to look for the best ways to show Him that He’s loved. In my eyes, we all needed to concentrate on keeping Him from getting lonely, since He’d created us in order to keep Him company. If it was wrong to dance and play instruments, what other ways could we show Him we liked having Him around? Maybe I hadn’t understood something.

With these questions in mind, I combed through what I’d read so far in the Bible. I came upon the story of Abraham and Isaac.

You mean, if God is to understand how much I love Him, I have to sacrifice something I love? Just then, I looked down at my cat, trustingly rubbing against my leg and looking back with slowly squinting eyes. He wanted me to reach down and pet him, as usual.

“I love him,” I prayed. “I would do it, I guess…for You. But, he wouldn’t understand. I don’t even understand. This is what You want?”

As I snuggled my feline best buddy, I thought, “If he somehow knew what I was wrestling with, would he be stretched out here so trustingly?” I agonized over this story for a day or two and decided God would have to come booming in to tell me to do it, and I’d have to have no doubts whatsoever that it was Him and knew for sure it was exactly what He wanted. I’m so glad my walk with Him had matured to this point.

Meanwhile, I again found the passage I’d thought about when hearing Kevin describe dancing and instrumental music as being “off limits.” I carefully read again about David singing, dancing, and playing instruments. I puzzled over it for a few days.

Then, I simply accepted a truth that made sense to me.

I figured everyone read the Bible from start to finish like I did. So, the people at church just must not have gotten to the part about David dancing and playing instruments yet. They were adults, but perhaps they read even more slowly than I did.

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My thoughts, upon looking back now:

  • I find it interesting that the things I experienced around me in my home and saw on TV were scarier for me than stories I read in the Old Testament — those very things that the churches avoid in classes for kids and, sometimes, even in church services.
  • There are only a few times I remember going to Dad with questions about what I read in the Bible. When he didn’t understand it either, he said so. When he thought he did, he made sure I knew it was just his opinion about the meaning.
  • I think Holy Spirit did a fantastic job working with me on what I read in the Bible. From my viewpoint, my God could do anything. If eyes were gouged out or even if people were killed, He could heal them or bring them back to life, if He wanted. He rescued the three from the fiery furnace, after all. He miraculously replenished the oil and flour for the widow and her son. He brought kids back to life. All that was no big deal for Him.
  • To some, Bible stories straight from the Bible are too graphic or scary for kids. However, to me, the Bible didn’t go into gory detail like the stories from FATE or like Mom when she would try to tell me what she witnessed in the emergency room. In modern times, have you sat beside a video gamer and watched the screen as they play some of the violent games? Not much is left to the kid’s imagination. The Bible is tame.
  • Dad had simply pointed me to the Bible and the Children’s Bible story series for reading about God. I had access to both. When one looks at the Bible from an adult’s viewpoint, the mature imagination is filled with images and thoughts from all of their experiences and from movies and shows. Even if a kid has some of that imagery and experience, I think Holy Spirit can be trusted to reach that kid as a unique individual, explaining the Bible understandably and in an appropriate way.
  • I look back on the story of David and remember thinking in pretty simple terms of David liking someone he shouldn’t because she was already married, then making sure her husband died so he could marry her. That was more than one commandment broken in the same story. That explained it as much as I needed to know.
  • Revisiting the story of Abraham and Isaac, maybe you noticed that I didn’t obsess over the idea that a father was going to stab his son with a knife. I’d read in the Bible about the animal sacrifices, yet I fled the scene whenever Dad was about to stun the fish we’d caught and fillet them. Isaac was a beloved and promised son – a human with more value than a fish! Why was I not freaked out? It said Isaac was bound, but my imagination didn’t go to a dramatic scene of Isaac struggling against Abraham. In fact, in my imagination, it looked to me like Isaac was agreeing to it in trust of not only his earthly father but also His Heavenly One. Maybe the son would be brought back? I didn’t know. I just kept reading in trust of God for whatever was going to happen next. And, it worked out. No surprise. Then, see how God worked with me on what it meant in my little world of a cat I adored and how I didn’t turn into a killer.
  • Baptism was a scary concept for me because it involved water. I didn’t get that fear from the Noah’s ark story. I was already fearful because of my own experiences.
  • I didn’t think in terms of “denomination” back then. I figured all the Bible-reading churches held beliefs found in the Bible…well, for at least as far as they’d gotten in their reading at the time. (chuckle) If something they believed didn’t “jive” with the Bible, I figured they just hadn’t gotten to that relevant area in their reading yet.
  • I remember thinking, when I read Mom’s short books about the abusive nuns and some of the stories about Joseph Smith, that these folks just hadn’t read the Bible. It really was that simple to me. Mom was the way she was because she didn’t read the Bible, which was obvious to me from her behavior but also because she didn’t like it when I read it.
  • The Bible, especially my favorite part (Psalms), was filled with writing about struggles similar to what I was going through. What a great comfort to know I wasn’t alone! Other people had gone through bad stuff, and God was right there with them the whole time! He comforted me with His Presence, too. In other words, I learned early that: 1) Everyone goes through bad stuff; 2) God is here as a comfort and never leaves, no matter what happens; 3) God steps in and helps when and how He sees fit. This knowledge was sufficient for me.
  • My autobiography is filled with personal stories like the one included here. The voodoo doll story scratches the surface of what went on in the life of this little girl. I am still in awe and ever thankful for what God brought me through and how. He is amazing!

Preamble to “Journey with H”

Father, in the name of Jesus, if Your discernment, love, and wisdom is to be found in the words on this blog, may they be found by the reader (and writers) and kept tight in our minds and hearts. May all other words and concepts fall to the wayside and not find soil in which to grow. I take it as Your truth that we all fall short of Your glory and Your perspective of perfection. Please help us to rely upon You and Your will in not only what we all share with others but what we bring into our belief system from others. Thank You for guarding our ears, our minds, our souls, and our hearts, preserving them for You. Help us to have ears to hear and eyes to see what You are saying to Your Church.


With the global pandemic and unrest of the last year or two, some are feeling like the end times are nearer and nearer. In that position, there seems to be a lot of focus on the potential things the enemy is doing to lead the elect astray.

It is a good thing to be watchful and alert. Jesus, Himself, addressed this: “And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came up to Him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?’ And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you! For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and they will deceive many.'” (Matthew 24:3-5 LEB)

So, there are understandable concerns. Am I going to be one of the elect that caves? Am I going to make a wrong move? Is the enemy going to pull a fast one, and I lose my footing without even realizing I was off the path?!

How do we find the narrow gate talked about in Matthew 7? How do we remain level-headed and not filled with fear? How do we have faith like Daniel in the lions’ den, hope like Moses in the wilderness, and a heart like David’s as he faced Goliath? How do we gain that confidence?

Keep our focus on our God. Prayerfully read the Bible. A lot. When we go about our day with His Word (instructions and love notes) streaming through our minds in relation to occurrences around us, I think this happens:  “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28, KJV)

I think our mutual enemy likes to see fear, confusion, and chaos. I do think he wants us to focus on him in the spotlight while he works subtly and quietly in a more vulnerable location. He dances before our eyes while he works around to a spot where he can stab us. We can get distracted by a big uproar in the news over there while he is sneaking his way into the churches.

So, yes, we can get deceived, as Eve was. Sometimes, we are not deceived but we still make a choice that is pleasing to our fellow rather than to God, as Adam did. Same fruit. Both sin. Same promise from God for both. Same promise for each of us.

1 John 1:5-10 — “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” (RSV)

Go on into the next chapter — “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we may be sure that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says ‘I know Him’ but disobeys His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His Word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in Him: he who says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” (1 John 2:1-6 RSV)

* * *

When I went off to college, I was new to extensive interaction with churchgoers. Thankfully, I met some fabulous people. But, then I came across those who used the Bible as a weapon against me and others.

It was a mess, and I ran. In that flight, I gave up on the Bible and who I thought were Christians.

And, I tried to run from God….heh…you know…the One talked about in Psalm 139:7-12 (ESV): “Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your Presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.”

Now, I’m back to clinging to Him. I don’t want to run or to stray again, so I’m staying in His Word and relying on Him to hold me.

Indeed, there is chaos in this world. It can get tiresome, I know. It can get confusing about what is true and what is not. It is easy to throw up one’s hands and go, “I give up on humanity. They’re all a bunch of loonies and meanies!” (chuckle)

When I feel like that, there’s a snippet of Scripture I remember that brings the whole context to mind and what I learned from it. That lesson is what reels me back in. “…let us not grow weary of doing good.” (Galatians 6) It gently says to me, “Don’t give up on humanity.”

That promise from 1 John 1:9 is great for me. It’s also great for that person who is, at the moment, behaving as the enemy. They can be forgiven, as I was. They, too, can be cleansed of all unrighteousness. God is faithful and just. I am so thankful for those who did not grow weary of being instruments of God to guide me back to Him.

I’m saying these things about people because, when I wrote most of my autobiography, it was not long after the events occurred. The upcoming posts from me about my journey through religion are extracted from that autobiography, mostly written during my 20s and early 30s.

So, although you, as the reader, are not getting the “full flavor” that would come from details, you will likely hear some of the hurt and snarky perspective from the “freshness” of the feelings that arose from the experiences described.

However, 20+ years later, the bitterness has faded into forgiveness. The hurt has been transformed into prayerful understanding. As I read through these writings now, I can look back and realize I have the real potential to behave just as hurtfully toward others. I often need a note floating in front of my eyeballs that says, “Be gentle and loving. Chill!”

That said, there’s a reason I’m sharing here.  As I run the course, I am not to be mute about the hazards and traps! I’m to be helpful to my fellow runners. Brief video on this: https://youtu.be/2Pmhs6aVezo

I don’t know whether you caught my earlier allusion to being fairly isolated from the body of Christ up until my college years. There were some lessons I learned after longer exposure. (grin) I think the most useful lesson for me is the first one on this list:

    • People are just people, whether they go to church or not. Most have the same motivation. Most just want to be respected and loved. We just have different ways of trying to gain that love and respect.
    • Because of this motivation, we all have moments of thinking the world revolves around us.
    • Regardless of our beliefs, people can be a poor representation of who God is. Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV) — “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
    • Not all who say they are Christians are fully trustworthy.
    • Not all who are leery of churches are untrustworthy.
    • We are made in His image; not the other way around. To me, this is one of the many reasons why we are to make Him #1 in our lives.
    • We all seem to go through distinct places in our Christian journey, and we aren’t all in the same place at the same time.

In a Christian’s walk, there are deserts. There are oases. There are quagmires. There are high points above the tar pits. There are places where you stand and wait, a place where He will take care of the fight and reveal Himself as the LORD, as in Exodus 14.

It SEEMS to me like I’m in a better location than I was because I’ve been studying the map so much more than I had. Yet, pride goes before the fall, right? I need to lean heavily on the Person who created the map. Otherwise, in thinking “I’ve got this” and running out ahead of Him — Holy Spirit — our Guide, I could easily land myself in the very next tar pit. I know this because I’ve done it. No matter how hard I try on my own, that’s where I can end up.

And, once I’ve spluttered into a tar pit and been pulled out of it (thank You, LORD, and those who have helped me out), I seem to, then, get extra paranoid about tar pits. And, the more paranoid I get, the more I see them where they are not actually there. Then, realizing that I’m being paranoid, I flip the other way and get paranoid about getting paranoid! (sigh)(fingers rapping on my own head) I do this to the point I may ignore a tar pit that actually does exist, running headlong right into it.

Again, I must remind myself to be drenched in His Word and have an ongoing communication stream with Him.

I strayed from Him. Yet, God is good. Our ever faithful Father will listen to the cries of His sheep. I can be there, up to my armpits in muck or even floundering in deep waters, but He is able to rescue. He’s made promises about this.

Psalm 40:1-2 (RSV) — “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

Psalm 18:16 (RSV) — “He reached from on high, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.”

The whole of Psalm 40 is good. All of Psalm 18 is worth reading, too, for it shows the quick and mighty delivery method He can enact for us. Boom! Smoke is rolling from His nostrils, and He means business, people! He’s saying, “Step aside! That’s My Child!” Whoa! You can see in Psalm 18 that, unmistakably, the Rescuing Steam Engine is a’comin’!

Both psalms were favorites as a kid, and I leaned on the promises there a lot. I saw Him work just like He promised He would. I still do, when I’m actually stopping long enough to watch (eye roll at myself), which I’m trying to do.

In upcoming posts, I am going to write about my journey in “religion.” Sometimes, it was a walk with Him. Sometimes, I strayed. Looking back, I know He was always near and listening for my cry.

Psalm 23 was a source of comfort in my childhood. So, now, as I ponder the act of sharing with you about my road, I think of Psalm 23:4 (RSV) — “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

One last thing I want us all to keep in mind:
We sheep are not dumb. I honestly don’t think that’s why we are called “sheep.” I think it is because we are small and defenseless on our own. We need the Shepherd. I personally am comforted to know that He can prod me back into His fold with His staff. I personally am comforted to know that He can roar in and combat the predators away with His rod.

When I willfully and/or pridefully go astray, thinking I can handle life on my own, that’s when I get into trouble. This sheep is an adult with free will, but I need Him in order to live in this world. I am not wise and discerning on my own, nor am I gentle and loving on my own. May it be that I turn to Him for both.

Matthew 10:16 (ESV) — “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

** On a side note, I tend to quote my favorites in RSV because that’s the Bible version I had access to when I was little. Its cadence and melody is what resonates for me, giving me the “down home with God” comfort I experienced in Him.

Just a Nickname?

Just a Nickname? — H

When I was a kid, having a curiosity about everything, I read nearly every nonfiction and biography book in the children’s section of the public library. When the librarian noticed I was checking out the same ones over again, she suggested some children’s fiction books I might like. Quickly exhausting the Walt Morey, Jean Craighead George, and Little Pear books, she said something absolutely beautiful to me.

“You do know you can go over to the adult section, right?”

I remember my eyes widening with wonder as I looked toward the adult stacks that filled two-thirds of the small, one-floor library!

Looking back to her, I asked, “I’m allowed to?”

She smiled and nodded. “Come on.”

I followed close at her heels as she pointed out a whole shelf of nonfiction nature books beside true-life animal stories. She seemed to be having fun taking me on the tour of what subjects to find where, emphasizing those she knew I was particularly fond of over in the children’s section. Then, I was released to the wilds of this new wonderland of reading adventures!

There, in the adult section, I found a couple books on yoga.

One of my favorites in the children’s section was a book of yoga stretches for kids. Glancing through these, though, I was turned off. There was a lot of talk about meditation and “centering.” Huh?

This was boring to me, and it wasn’t in the book for kids. So, I tried the next yoga book. It showed photos of a bearded, loin-clothed fellow stuffing a long, wet rag up his nose and it coming out his mouth. Gross!

“Okay,” I thought to myself, “Adult yoga isn’t for me.”

Just to my left there was a huge bookcase filled with Christian books as well as tomes describing the beliefs of other religions. I spent quite a bit of time over the next several years reading through many of these.

Back to yoga. I never “advanced” beyond the stretches, making them a regular part of my home fitness program. However, glancing through the weirdness and yucky ideas in the adult books spared me of other yoga practices.

When I got to college courses on grade school education, we were learning how to teach each subject. For the physical education portion, we each had to teach our fellow students a physical game or practice. I chose yoga. I told them I’d gotten the stretches from the world of yoga. I explained yoga’s origins. I described that, because I was a Christian, I wasn’t planning on teaching any of the accompanying meditation or spiritual beliefs that can go along with yoga. They seemed fine with that.

A year or so later, I asked a friend if I could “come do yoga” in her larger, more private living room.

She forcefully said, “no.” I accepted that. However, I had immediately felt unfairly condemned, so I wanted to talk to her about my thoughts on it. Knowing she was a Christian, I explained that all I did (and had ever done) were the stretches.

She angrily said, “I don’t care. I’m not having my kids exposed to it.”

“That’s fair. I don’t blame you. Again, just keep in mind that all I do are the stretches.”

I applaud her protection of her kids. Plus, even if we were best friends, she had a right to say what went on in her home. However, at the time, this knee-jerk reaction and quick anger confused me. She’d been in sports in high school, and I’d watched some of her practices as well as football. A large number of their stretches were from yoga. So, what was the difference? Did she know she’d been doing yoga all along?

I realized, then, the problem. I’d called it, “yoga.” Had I called them “stretches,” it might have been fine.

As I thought about it, I got why she’d reacted. By this time, though, I was seeing the good in it. I was teaching the yoga stretches to the elderly, chronically ill, and wheelchair-bound. In my experience, the slow, gentle movement and balancing poses were helping them tremendously, especially my fellow MSers (people with MS). I still wasn’t teaching anything beyond the stretches, and I’d explain it was because I was a Christian.

This is when it happened. As a term of endearment, my nickname from people became “Yogi.”

From then on, whenever fellow Christians heard or saw my nickname, they’d inevitably talk about the food-loving cartoon. Knowing the potential flip from a happy remembrance of a campground bear to angry revulsion over “yoga,” I simply affirmed I do like picnics and changed the subject. In other words, I just let them think of me as that cute cartoon!

At this point, it was already a long-standing part of my email address. [It still is, though I’m trying to get everyone moved over to one of my other ones. Why? I don’t want the nickname or my email address to lead others down a harmful path, thinking Christianity can flow righteously with Hindu or New Age beliefs.]

My full “religious journey” is a long write-up. For now, I’ll just cut to the chase and say that I eventually ran from an abusive man who claimed to be a Christian, ended up running from God in the process, and truly did get involved in New Age and shamanism.

Eventually, I started making steps back toward Jesus and the Bible I’d read so avidly as a kid. What I hadn’t expected was that the Bible and New Age beliefs could be mixed so believably. One can sincerely want to follow Jesus while still being led, via superficial reading of His Word, toward all kinds of troublesome theology and extrabiblical philosophies.

My husband talks about Satan claiming to be Jesus someday. Is it already happening? These extrabiblical principles are subtly infiltrating the Church. It angers me that Satan is gaining this foothold! It angers me that I fell for it. I hope that, by looking at my story in this and upcoming posts, you will be inspired to take heed and be watchful.

Ephesians 6:10-20 (LEB): “Finally, become strong in the Lord and in the might of his strength. Put on the full armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the stratagems of the devil, because our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Because of this, take up the full armor of God, in order that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.  Stand therefore, girding your waist with truth, and putting on the breastplate of righteousness, and binding shoes under your feet with the preparation of the good news of peace, in everything taking up the shield of faith, with which you are able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one, and receive the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, with all prayer and supplication praying at all times in the Spirit, and to this end being alert with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints, and for me, that a word may be given to me at the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for the sake of which I am an ambassador in chains, that in them I may speak freely, as it is necessary for me to speak.”

God’s Wagon, God’s House

“God’s Wagon, God’s House” — H

When I was a child, I loved spending time with Dad whenever I could. I could tell he treasured that time with me, too. He was a high school teacher and a freelance carpenter, so most of these father-daughter times took place in the summer when he was maintaining our property or helping someone with their home projects.

I followed him like a puppy. I did this because I adored him. He was a willing, patient tutor for a kid with an ongoing stream of curiosity. He would explain what he was doing and why, taking time to show me the most efficient way to use tools and accomplish the task. He’d take these opportunities to visit with me about our lives, about the world, and about the people around us.

Whatever this hero requested of me, I did. I trusted him. I knew what he asked came from his love for me. It was to teach me for a future need, or he knew it would lead to something I’d enjoy, or because he saw some immediate danger I didn’t, like that time he caught me in the act of making wings I could use to fly off the top of the swing set.

He sat me down and reasoned with me about the flimsiness of cardboard, the frailty of the human neck, and the reasonableness of various heights. He was right, of course. Test flights from the tree stump were a better plan.

I look back now and realize I was also copying him a lot. I watched him constantly. Whatever he was doing, I wanted to do the same. [No, he wasn’t a pilot. (grin)] I was his “little disciple,” really. He didn’t claim to be a Christian, but his deeds and ways did emulate Christ. I was thankful for his love and his discipline. Yet, not all of us saw his rules the same way.

I still remember the day he asked my oldest sister and her husband not to come in the house.

Why was he in the doorway, keeping them from coming in?

They were smokers, and they were drenched in the smell of it.

My dad answered their request for an explanation. “Both of your sisters are highly allergic to cigarette smoke.”

“Well, we won’t smoke in the house, then.”

“But, it is still on your clothes, and even that will make them sick. I can visit with you outside.”

“Never mind! We’ll just go home!”

They angrily went back to the car, and we didn’t see them again for a year or two. This incident comes to mind when talking about God’s Law.

Several years ago, I came upon Psalm 119.

v. 48) “I revere thy commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on thy statutes.”

v. 52) “When I think of thy ordinances from of old, I take comfort, O LORD.”

Then, I got to verse 97: “Oh, how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day.”

I took it to prayer, “Father, I can’t say that. I want to, but I can’t truthfully say that. If this is about all those ‘thou shalt not’s’ and strange commandments back then. I don’t even understand a bunch of them. What does it matter if our clothes are made with two different fibers? And, I’m a vegetarian now. I’m not even going to eat a goat, let alone boil it in its mother’s milk. A portion of these don’t even apply to our lives today. Yet, this writer is saying he loves the law and meditates all day on it. What is there to think about? I want to be able to have this enthusiasm for You, and the Psalms have been so valuable to me all my life. I want to relate, but this psalm is so foreign to my life. I don’t get it. Help me see what I need to see here.”

On one of our hikes, a while after that prayer, I was discussing this with Steve. As he does, he said something quite thought-provoking. When our own nation was new, we chose to govern ourselves with Biblical principles. When Israel was a new nation, they were needing to learn how to live with one another in healthy, sanitary, loving, and God-honoring ways. So, out of love for them, God gave them guidelines on how to make that happen. As technology and understanding have developed for humanity in most nations, medical and sanitation practices as well as neighborly laws have progressed to match.

Any new group of people needs to form guidelines of conduct – corporations, nations, clubs. Humans need laws to corral us into being civilized. The laws adapt as the group grows, but the reasons behind the laws remain the same.

When you look at Israel’s laws (past and present) and America’s laws (past and present), one can find similarities in them. Most can be categorized into the ten buckets over there in God’s wagon — the one that makes tracks overflowing with abundance (Psalm 65:11). Each bucket is labelled with one of the Commandments. The wagon itself is labelled, “Matthew 22:36-40.”

When I think about and study all the “strange Old Testament laws” in light of the culture, available tools at the time, and God’s ways, they start to make sense.

God didn’t give Adam and Eve a jumbo jet. He didn’t give Moses a hang-glider. He gave them Himself.

He gave us all Himself via His Word — His Law, which includes His Love. When I meditate on His Word, I do want more and more time with Him. I’m understanding the enthusiasm of Psalm 119 now.

However, there’s something new I’ve been chewing on as I wear Jesus’ easy yoke attached to God’s wagon. For the moment, there’s something in Matthew 25 that has been “a burr under my saddle.”

It’s Jesus’ story about the ten virgins. Those who were ready went in to the marriage feast with the bridegroom, but as for those who weren’t ready and came late, he answered the door and said, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”

I’ve been pondering all sorts of questions about this story. What is the oil? What is the significance of the lamps, and what is the act of “trimming” them? What does “being ready” mean? What are we to “watch” for?  But, the hardest question has been, “That seems really harsh, Father. All the virgins waited and watched. All the virgins fell asleep. Yet, you knew only half of them? How could this be?”

I’ve been reading a book by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It’s called, “Boundaries.”  It’s a slow read, for I’m writing down lots of quotations from it in my journal. I’d like to share a few of those here:

p. 36 – “We are responsible TO others and FOR ourselves. ‘Carry each other’s burdens,’ says Galatians 6:2, ‘and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ This verse shows our responsibility TO one another. Many times others have ‘burdens’ that are too big to bear. They do not have enough strength, resources, or knowledge to carry the load, and they need help. Denying ourselves to do for others what they cannot do for themselves is showing the sacrificial love of Christ. This is what Christ did for us. He did what we could not do for ourselves; He saved us. This is being responsible ‘to.’”

p. 37 – “On the other hand, verse 5 says that ‘each one should carry his own load.’ Everyone has responsibilities that only he or she can carry. These things are our own particular ‘load’ that we need to take daily responsibility for and work out. No one can do certain things for us. We have to take ownership of certain aspects of life that are our own ‘load.’”

It went on to describe how a person’s burden can be something in excess, a crushing boulder they cannot carry alone. Or, it can just be a “load,” which is the cargo of daily toil.

p. 37 – “Problems arise when people act as if their ‘boulders’ are daily loads, and refuse help, or as if their ‘daily loads’ are boulders they shouldn’t have to carry. The results of these two instances are either perpetual pain or irresponsibility.”

The authors go on to explain that in one’s boundaries, one needs to have gates to let in the good and to force out the bad.

p. 39-40 — “The concept of boundaries comes from the very nature of God. God defines Himself as a distinct, separate being, and He is responsible for Himself. He defines and takes responsibility for His personality by telling us what He thinks, feels, plans, allows, will not allow, likes, and dislikes.”

So, as I think on that, if I allow my neighbor his own personality and the autonomy to decide who gets to come into the bounds of his house that he built on his own land, why would I not accept that God has boundaries of His own for His own house He built on His land He created? I should extend God the same courtesy to think, feel, plan, allow, not allow, like, and dislike as He pleases. And, He’s given me the courtesy of writing all this on the Invitation to His house so I understand all this ahead of time.

So, when He and I arrive at His door during the marriage feast, could it be as simple as my having loved our Host and my fellow guests enough to have had the “smoke of sin” washed from me and from my robe before we are to go in?

What starts the prophecy of Daniel 9:25?

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What starts the prophecy of Daniel 9:25?

Daniel 9:25 LEB  And you must know and you must understand that from the time of the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem until an anointed one—a leader—will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be restored and will be built with streets and a moat, but in a time of oppression.

Many books have been written in response to this question. Entire denominations have been established based on the answer to this question.  Millions of people have had their faith in God strengthened based on the idea that this is a prophecy predicting Jesus.

Thousands of churches teach that the answer to this question is BC 457. Any challenge to this date is met with a full range of reactions from incredulity to hostility.

Click on image to view full size.

Some variation of this graphic is seen by everyone who studies Daniel 9.

There are two key events which never change, regardless of who is presenting the topic. One is the year BC 457, and the other is Jesus dying in the middle of the 70th week.. 

The question is whether the BC 457 date is correct. This paper explores when the instruction was given and by whom.

Who was the last high priest in Solomon’s temple when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the first temple?

Answer: Seraiah

Credit – William Struse for his genealogy work

Seraiah was arrested and killed when Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. (2 Kings 25:18-21)

Seraiah had at least two sons. One was named Jehozadak, who was taken to Babylon as a captive. His other son was Ezra, who wrote the book of Ezra. Ezra was the son of the last high priest of Solomon’s temple. Ezra listed his ancestry in Ezra 7 and we can compare that to the genealogy given in
1 Chronicles 6. 

Solomon’s temple was destroyed in 586 BC. It was in 586 that Seraiah was killed by Nebuchadnezzar.

Two of Seraiah’s sons were taken to Babylon. The reason we care is that this lets us know who wrote the book of Ezra, and it tells us under which Persian ruler it was written. The reason we care about these two things is that it tells us which dates we should use when we look at the prophecies given to Daniel by Gabriel in Daniel, chapter 9.  The upcoming graphic helps us see who was in power in the various years that we are considering. 

According to Jeremiah, the Jews were to be held captive in Babylon for 70 years. During this time, Jeremiah wrote a letter to the Jews in Babylon, telling them that God wanted them to cooperate with their captors because, as the captors prospeed, so would the captives. (Jeremiah 29:7

During this captivity, a number of events happened that are very important — not only to the people who experienced them, but also to us today. Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and Nebuchadnezzar all wrote parts of our Bible. Cyrus and Darius played very important roles in the history of God’s people. Our most important prophecies come from this time. It is what was written during this time that Jesus tells us to look to for a better relationship with Him.

Was Seraiah really the father of Ezra?  Many Bible commentators will tell you that Ezra was not the son of Seraiah.

If Ezra was alive when the temple was destroyed in 586 BC and in BC 457, then he would have been at least 129 years old — or more likely 140 or 150 — in BC 457. Everyone agrees that humans didn’t live to be that old after the days of Moses. 

This leaves many commentators with a problem. There is a desire by many for the events of Ezra 7 to happen in the year BC 457 so that the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 can be used as a prophecy foretelling Jesus.  Others want to use 457 as a start date for the 2,300 evenings and mornings of Daniel 8:14. The year 457 as the year for the decree to build and restore is an extremely important foundation for many people. 

So, there are two options.

  1. The first option is that Ezra was the son of Seraiah. And, we’d need to read the events of Ezra 7 as having happened in the reign of Artaxerxes Darius in the year 515 BC. If we do this, Ezra would be at least 71 years old and more likely 81 or 91 when he reads the law in Jerusalem as described in Ezra 7.
  2. The second option is that we would need to read that the events of Ezra 7 happened in the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus in the year BC 457. This would mean that Ezra did not accurately name his father.

For many commentators, making sure that the events of Ezra 7 happen in BC 457 causes them to decide that the genealogy of Ezra must be inaccurate.  

It is not uncommon for genealogy lists in the Bible to skip generations. In Zechariah 1:1, we are told that Zechariah is the son of Berekiah who is the son of Iddo. In Ezra 5:1 and Ezra 6:14, we are told that Zechariah was the son of Iddo. Berekiah is not mentioned. If the only thing we had to go on was the genealogy of Ezra, we would not be able to state with certainty that the author of Ezra was alive in 586 when the 1st temple was destroyed. 

For many commentators, BC 457 is more sacred than the accuracy of Ezra 7:1.

However, the genealogy of Seraiah is a minor challenge compared to the prophecy of Jeremiah 29:10.

While God’s chosen people were in exile in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter. He sent the letter from Jerusalem to Babylon, giving instructions from God about what the exiles were to do. Along with this, God told the exiles that they would be captives for 70 years. 

The 70 years began when Nebuchadnezzar’s general destroyed the temple and took thousands prisoner in 586. The story can be found in 2 Kings 25.

When does the word to restore and build Jerusalem occur?  There are four times when decrees are issued in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. These are highlighted with our numbers 1 through 4a.  There is universal agreement that the temple was destroyed in BC 586 or 587. The difference is dependent on whether the new year began in the Fall or Spring. Here, we will use the most commonly used year for the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. We will also use the Spring as when the new year begins, as directed by God when the Hebrews left Egypt. 

We will examine each of the decrees. Our goal is to identify the year in which the decree to restore and build Jerusalem occurs. 

Click on image for full size

Nebuchadnezzar caused the destruction of Jerusalem. It is he who caused thousands of Jews to be killed and exiled. He also wrote some of our Bible.  The captivity began in the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar. 

During the 70 years of captivity, there was a succession of rulers of the Babylonian and Persian empires. After Nebuchadnezzar died, there were four more Babylonian rulers. Three of them are shown in our graphic.  One is not shown, as his time was so short. The font for Amel Marduk and Nerigliassar is small because they do not play a role in the story.

Nabonidus is the father of Belshazzar. Nabonidus apparently didn’t enjoy being ruler and spent his time restoring temples in places far away from the palace. He is also the first known archeologist. Belshazzar was responsible for running the empire while his dad was away. 

The dates we use come from a variety of sources; but they are based on the clay tablets that were found at the Assyrian and Persian ruins and from the histories written by the Greeks. 

Cyrus issued the most famous decree, which we find referenced in Ezra 1. He issued this decree, allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem 23 years before God had told them they would be freed from captivity.

Cyrus issued his decree in BC 539. It was given during his first year of rule. The story can be found in Ezra 1. 

Ezra 1:1-4 LEB  “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to accomplish the word of Yahweh by the mouth of Jeremiah, Yahweh stirred the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia and he sent a message to all of his kingdom and also put the message in writing:  2)  “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: Yahweh, the God of the heavens, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. And he himself has appointed me to build a house for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.  3)  Whoever among you who is from all of his people, may his God be with him and may he go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and may he build the house of Yahweh, the God of Israel. He is the God who is in Jerusalem.  4)  And let every survivor, from wherever he resides be assisted by the men of that place with silver and gold, with possessions and domestic animals, and with the freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.””

The decree by Cyrus is an attractive start date for the Daniel 9:25 prophecy. It is an interesting story. It has a date that we can use. But, most Bible students choose not to use this date (539) because it doesn’t get us to Jesus, and that is the end goal for many. It also does not match the prophecy of Jeremiah, which has the Jews captives for 70 years. When Cyrus issued the decree, the Jews had only been in captivity for 47 years. They had another 23 to go. We will return to the decree by Cyrus. 

Another series of decrees were issued in the year BC 520, which was the second year of Darius’ rule. Ezra 6 gives us the story of the governor of the province Beyond the River, also called Trans Euphrates, and also called Eber-Nari. The governor sent a letter to the new ruler asking Darius if he wanted to continue to block the work on the new temple in Jerusalem, as the previous Artaxerxes had done. Darius responds with explicit instructions that, instead, the block would be removed and the decree by Cyrus would be upheld. He added funds to make sure it was done. Darius also included a threat to anyone who attempted to interfere with the temple being built. 

We also learn, in verse 15 of chapter 6, that the temple is completed in year 6 of Darius, which is the year BC 516.  

The temple was destroyed in 586

The 2nd temple was completed in the year 516

There were seventy (70) years between the destruction of the 1st temple and the completion of the 2nd temple. 

Part of the reason that Darius confirmed the decree of Cyrus is that, when he took power, there were a lot of people challenging his rule. So, Darius emphasized that he had a common ancestor with Cyrus. He was appealing to the loyalties of those who followed Cyrus by confirming the decrees of Cyrus. 

But, even more important than the confirmation by Darius that the decree of Cyrus should be honored is what we find in the book of Haggai. It is a short book with only two chapters; yet, in that book, we find God Himself issuing an instruction to build the temple in Jerusalem. God sends this message to those charged with building the temple in the same year that Darius confirms the decree of Cyrus. 

Here, we quote all of the book of Haggai. We emphasize the sections that tell us when God gave this message and what the message was.

To summarize, we have decrees issued in two years so far.

  • Cyrus – BC 539 – Rebuild
  • Darius – BC 520 – Confirm the Cyrus decree
  • God – BC 520 – Inspires people to build His temple

Ezra 6:15 tells us the temple is completed in the 6th year of Darius.  

It would seem that the decree to restore and build would be given before, not after, the temple is completed.

Next, we look at the decree that we find in Ezra 7. This is the basis for most evangelistic series and sermons on the topic of the Daniel 9 prophecy. 

Darius ruled for 36 years. In the graphic, each year is marked with a white dot. 

In year one of Darius’ rule, Daniel had his vision and interaction with Gabriel, which is our focal point.

Ezra chapter 7 does not include any instructions to build. Rather, the decree we find in chapter 7 is an emancipation act freeing all Jews from their captivity in Babylon. 

The question is: when does this emancipation happen? Does it happen immediately after the 70 years of captivity, or after 129 years of captivity?  

Ezra 7:8 tells us that the emancipation happens in “the seventh year of the king.” 

Ezra 6:15 tells us that the temple was completed in the last month of the 6th year of king Darius. 

Some suggest that there is a 58-year gap between Ezra 6 and Ezra 7.  

I believe a more accurate way to read it is that, on the first day of the following month, Ezra set out for Jerusalem with everyone who wanted to leave. This would be day 1 of the first month after the temple had been completed. 

The temple was destroyed in 586. It was rebuilt in 516, which was 70 years after the temple was destroyed.  Less than a month later, Darius issued the decree we find in Ezra 7 which:

  • Frees all of the Jews at the end of the 70 years. 
  • He makes a donation of silver and gold. 
  • He allows a fundraising drive in Babylon. In Haggai 2:7 God says that He would shake the nations and cause the treasure of all nations to come to Jerusalem. 
  • He allows the Jews to appoint their own judges so that they are no longer ruled by their enemies.
  • They are allowed to set up schools to teach people God’s law. 

Which makes more sense to you? Should we read Ezra 7 to happen at the end of the 70 years of captivity, or should we place it 58 years later? 

Jeremiah says that the Jews would be captive for 70 years. If we place Ezra 7 in the 7th year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, then they would have been captive 129 years, not 70.

Ezra 7 does not have a decree to restore and build Jerusalem. It is a decree to release the captives. 

I believe that the 70 years of captivity ended with the completion of the temple in BC 516 and the travel in BC 515.

The return to Jerusalem was a second Exodus with everyone freed from Babylon. They would have had all of their belongings and wagons of silver and gold. Ezra 8 tells us they had about 50,000 pounds of silver and 8,000 pounds of gold. That treasure was guarded by God. There would have been a number of older people in the group. They would have moved slowly. Their travel took four months.

We have another decree to consider. This is the decree that we find in Nehemiah, chapter 2. It was year 20 of King Artaxerxes. The wall still had gaps. This is either 14 years after the temple was completed in 516, or it is 72 years later in 444. 

Nehemiah had been the king’s cupbearer or wine taster –“Take a sip of that and tell me if it has been poisoned.”  

The king must have liked him, as he gave Nehemiah “letters”  which authorized him to take from the Governor of the province whatever he needed to repair the walls. Along with being given the authority to repair the walls, Nehemiah was made governor of Jerusalem for 12 years. 

He returned to Jerusalem and, within 52 days, repaired the walls that had been in disrepair for a long time. Why did the walls still have gaps for years?  Remember one of the arguments that was presented by the enemies of Jerusalem was that if the walls were repaired, it would be harder to force them to pay their taxes should they become rebellious like they had a history of doing.  

However, the king trusted Nehemiah and allowed him to repair the walls. Nehemiah named the people who were involved in helping repair the walls. In the list of names, we find some who were released by Cyrus in BC 539. Since we are choosing to accept the idea that people in the era might have a hard time remembering who their father is, we look for other evidence to decide which Artaxerxes Nehemiah is referring to.

We know that Ezra and Nehemiah are contemporaries. When the wall was completed in the 20th year of the king, Ezra led a choir procession around the top of the wall in one direction, and Nehemiah led another choir procession around the wall in the other direction. (Nehemiah 12)  The Ezra who led the procession of freed Jews in Ezra chapter 7 immediately upon the completion of the temple was still alive and leading the choir around the wall in the year BC 501. He would have been at least 85, and that assumes that he was taken from Jerusalem to Babylon while a fetus. If he was taken when he was 13, he would have been 98 as he led the choir around the wall.

Persia exacted tribute from the provinces of its empire. Egypt sent silver and grain. India sent timber and gold. The province of Beyond the River sent gold and timber. Scythia sent 100 eunuch boys each year. We are told that Daniel was managed by the master of the eunuchs.  The empire pulled people from across the empire to fill its armies and to administer the empire. Ezra was known as a scribe. His job was to mark clay tablets with the affairs of the state. 

This graphic considers how things would look if we decide that there was a 58-year gap between Ezra chapter 6 and chapter 7. The box in the bottom right reports how many years would elapse between various events, in BC 515 or BC 457.  

Haddassah, aka Esther, became queen in the 7th year of one of the kings. Of the Bible scholars who believe her story is true (most don’t), most choose to put her story in the time of Xerxes, the son of Darius. I believe her story fits best with the timeline and events of the life of Darius. Whether you place her story here or 36 years later, we know that the reign of Darius was of major importance in the story of the Jews.

The idea that we should use BC 457 as the starting point was suggested by George Rawlinson. He translated the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus. He worked with his brother, Henry, and completed the translation in 1860. He wrote a number of histories and contributed to religious commentaries. 

His brother, Henry, was an officer in the British East India Company army. The British government had army officers embedded in the company and provided protection for the company’s interests. The British government saw the company’s interests as national interests.

Henry Rawlinson transcribed the Persian portion of the Behistun inscription. He spent many years in Iran and was responsible for helping us learn how to translate the clay tablets.. 

His brother, George, translated the works of the Greek historian Herodotus. Herodotus is called the Father of History, as he was the first to have collected stories and arranged them in a narrative form. Herodotus was born in the Persian empire during the reign of Longimanus. Herodotus was Greek and wrote from the Greek perspective. He also reported that he didn’t always believe what he wrote but was just relaying things that he heard. 

The Rawlinson brothers were major contributors to our understanding of the Persian empire. Their translations of Greek and Persian are very important and provide us with much of our secular understanding of the era. 

As a part of George Rawlinson’s commentary on the family of the Achaemenids — which Darius, Xerxes, and Longimanus were are part of — he said that Herodotus mentioned Longimanus once but that there was every reason to believe that it was this Artaxerxes who sent Ezra and Nehemiah to Jerusalem. (History of Herodotus volume 4, page 217)  George published this in 1860.

The idea was picked up twenty years later by Robert Anderson, who was a preacher. He suggested in his 1881 book, the Coming Prince, that we should use the year 457 as the starting date for the decree to restore and build Jerusalem.  Credit William Struse for his research on the origin of the idea.

This supposition became popular with much of Christiantity because it allowed the seventy sevens of Daniel 9 to be used as a prophecy to foretell Jesus. 

Artaxerxes Longimanus began his reign in 464 or 465. Rawlinson said 465. According to popular theology, the decree to restore and build Jerusalem started 59 years after the temple was actually finished and 44 years after the walls of the city were actually completed and dedicated. The popular theory (that uses BC 457) has the year of the decree to allow all of the Jews to return home, which then causes the Jews to have been captive for 129 years.

This is not logical. The only reason we use BC 457 is because we need this date to be correct, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. We do this so we can use Daniel 9 to foretell Jesus.  

All of us are prone to confirmation bias where everything we see is interpreted to confirm what we want. Be careful that this is not happening to us as we study. 

A summary of the things we have shown:

  • Daniel was given the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 after the decree of Cyrus in BC 539 and before God’s word to build the temple. 
  • In BC 520, God instructed His chosen people to build His temple. In BC 520, God also inspired Darius to confirm the decree of Cyrus. This was 19 years after the decree of Cyrus.
  • Four years later, in BC 516, the second temple was completed. The second temple was completed 70 years after the first temple was destroyed.
  • The decree of Ezra chapter 7 does not include any instructions to build. Instead, Ezra 7 is an emancipation proclamation. In less than 30 days after the temple was completed, all Jews were released from Babylon and allowed to return to Jerusalem. This was 70 years after they were exiled. This was when the prophet Jeremiah said they would be allowed to return.
  • There is no evidence that the Jews were held captive for 129 years, as they would have been if we place Ezra 7 in the era of Artaxerxes Longimanus.
  • The temple building was finished in BC 516. The wall was repaired in BC 501. A decree in BC 457 to restore and build something which had already been built and dedicated doesn’t make sense.

We have demonstrated from the Bible that the decree to restore and build the second temple happened in either BC 539 with a decree by Cyrus or in BC 520 with the Word of God to Haggai and with the confirmation by Darius of the Cyrus decree. We have no evidence that any decree to build something that was already built and dedicated happened in BC 457.  In fact, we have Biblical evidence that no such decree would have been given in BC 457.

If we use the decree by Cyrus in 539 or the Word by God in 520, then the way we typically use the prophecy of Daniel 9:25 does not get us to the birth or ministry or death of Jesus. Yet, for many people, this is a must. Anything that fails to associate the Daniel 9:25 prophecy with Jesus must be wrong. 

This causes us to ask, “Are we so determined as to what an answer must be that we are willing to believe something that cannot be?  How many contortions are we willing to go through in order to get an answer we want?”

We have several options in dealing with the start date. 

  1. Decide that BC 457 is correct, regardless of any evidence otherwise.
  2. Decide that the 70 sevens of Daniel 9 are not 490 years but some time unit other than years.
  3. Decide that Daniel 9 is not a prophecy that takes us from the building of the 2nd temple to Jesus but, rather, that it has some other purpose.
  4. Decide that it is too complicated — too difficult — to understand and that the only thing that matters is that we love our neighbor and let someone else worry about this faith-shaking problem. 

Our understanding of what time period is associated with “the word to restore and build Jerusalem” should strengthen our faith and relationship with Jesus. Knowledge and understanding brings us closer to God. 

Daniel 9:25 LEB  And you must know and you must understand that from the time of the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem until an anointed one—a leader—will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be restored and will be built with streets and a moat, but in a time of oppression.

Deciding that something is true even when the evidence says otherwise doesn’t make us stronger. 

When we decide that Daniel 9:25 must get us to Jesus regardless of what the text says, we ignore anything in the text that doesn’t support our desires. 

Ask yourself, why must the Daniel 9:25 text go from a Persian ruler to Jesus?  Why is that interpretation a requirement? Can we consider any other options? If the answer is that there is only one way to understand it, regardless of the evidence, then we are choosing to ignore the Bible and exalt our own theories.

When Jesus was on Earth, He tried to convey the idea that He was here for a reason that was very different than what most people could accept. Many Jews had an expectation of what their Messiah would do. When He didn’t match that expectation, many rejected their Savior. Are we doing something similar? Have we decided that we know what we want the answer to be and, in doing that, reject the correct answer?

God gives us the freedom to believe what we want to believe. He doesn’t force us to accept Him. He doesn’t force us to understand Him. The promise is that He will give understanding to those who study and follow His commandments. 

I have tried very hard to make BC 457 the year of a decree to restore and build Jerusalem because I know that, for many, their faith in the Bible is dependent on the year BC 457 being the beginning of the prophecy in Daniel 9:25. So what do we need to do to cause BC 457 to be correct?

To make BC 457 correct, we need to do several things.

  1. We need to decide that the Ezra who wrote chapter 7 and who says his father is Seraiah is not accurately telling us who his father is. Perhaps the lineage he gives only includes “important” people and his real father and grandfather didn’t merit mention.  We have no reason to insert a couple of individuals into the lineage that Ezra gives other than we want BC 457 to be correct. However, there is evidence that generations do get skipped in lineage lists; so, perhaps we should not base our beliefs on Ezra’s ability to name his father accurately. 
  2. We need to decide that the Ezra who wrote the book is not the same Ezra who was a contemporary with Nehemiah. We could decide that the Ezra who wrote the book that bears his name is someone other than the Ezra that Nehemiah talks about in his book.
  3. We could decide that both Ezra and Nehemiah are not contemporaries with Darius. Instead, we must read all references to Darius in their books as referencing a historical figure. 
  4. In Ezra 7, the Persian king gives a decree permitting all Jewish people to return to Judea. This happened in the 7th year of the king giving the decree. We want this to be BC 457 because our faith is dependent on this being the year. The temple was destroyed in BC 586. The Jews were taken captive in BC 586. Jeremiah says that they will be captives for 70 years. Yet, 586-457 is 129 years; whereas, 586-516 is 70 years. BC 516 is the 7th year of Darius’ rule. But, we don’t want to use Darius; we want to use Longimanus. We will need to figure out how to add some more years to Jeremiah’s 70-year prophecy.  This issue seems insurmountable.
  5. We could decide that the year numbers given for the destruction of Jerusalem and the years that the kings ruled are not correct. Perhaps our conversions from the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman dating systems are not correct. Perhaps Jerusalem wasn’t destroyed in BC 586. Perhaps Cyrus didn’t take control of Babylon in BC 539. Perhaps the temple wasn’t rebuilt in BC 516. Perhaps the freeing of all the Jews did not happen in BC 515. Perhaps the only date that is correct is BC 457. We will need to come up with a better reading of the cuneiform tablets and Greek histories on which historians base their numbers. 

The Bible histories, dates, people, and stories all work and match the secular versions of history, if we accept Ezra and Nehemiah as living and acting during the reign of Darius. Trying to force Ezra to BC 457 creates some serious problems.

The most difficult change we would need to make in order to make BC 457 correct is the 70-year period of captivity. We would have to find a way for the 70-year prophecy of Jeremiah to actually be a 129 year prophecy. I can’t think of a way to do that.

Aftermath:

What is Daniel 9:25 about, if the events regarding the building of the 2nd temple do not take us from a Persian ruler of our choice to Jesus?

Millions of people have believed in Jesus because an evangelist told them that BC 457 was an important date. At least one Protestant denomination has this date as their foundation. Doesn’t the fact that millions have believed in God make everything the preacher teaches to be true?

Does the teacher who has taught BC 457 as the starting point for the prophecies of Daniel 8:14 and Daniel 9:25, lose credibility when they learn the start is really BC 539 or BC 520? Will our pride allow us to correct what we have been telling people?

Can we tell people that BC 457 is not correct before we have a suitable replacement to explain what starts the 70 sevens? Isn’t it better to assure people that BC 457 is correct?  We don’t want to shake anyone’s faith.  

The alternative is to open our Bibles and study. 

The next study looks at the prophecy given by Gabriel to Daniel without using BC 457 as the starting point.

If you read through this again, note the references to God’s festivals that we see. There are multiple. One of these includes God giving instructions to build His temple on the Feast of Shouts. 

Prepared March 2021 by Steve Smith
Orcas Island, WA
ServantsVoice.com