Jupiter and Venus

image by Thomas Bresson on Wikimedia Commons

How you are fallen from heaven, Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; and I will sit on the mountain of congregation, in the uttermost parts of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the uttermost parts of the pit. Those who see you shall gaze at you, they shall consider you: “Is this the man who made the earth to tremble, who shook kingdoms; who made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew the cities of it; who didn’t let loose his prisoners to their home?”

All the kings of the nations, all of them, sleep in glory, everyone in his own house. But you are cast forth away from your tomb like an abominable branch, clothed with the slain, who are thrust through with the sword, who go down to the stones of the pit; as a dead body trodden under foot. You shall not be joined with them in burial, because you have destroyed your land, you have killed your people; the seed of evil-doers shall not be named forever.

Isaiah 14:12 – 20

This passage is not about Satan. I know some translations say Lucifer is being addressed here, but have you ever wondered why we even call Satan Lucifer? Basically, it’s because of this passage, but why do we apply this passage to Satan? Because it refers to something called Lucifer. It’s completely recursive.

So Who Is It About?

The passage is talking about an unnamed king of Babylon. Pretty much all of chapter 13 is condemning a king of Babylon. Isaiah takes a break in the first couple of verses in Isaiah 14 to reassure the children of Israel they will return from captivity, and then he gets back on the Babylonian king’s case. Isaiah doesn’t change subjects until he gets to verse 24, where Assyria becomes the subject of judgment.

Also, look at some of the language. “You are cast forth away from your tomb … You shall not be joined with them.” This is a reference to kings being traditionally buried with their ancestors. Also, “Is this the man who … shook kingdoms; who made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew the cities of it; who didn’t let loose his prisoners to their home?” This is a description of a conquering king, possibly Nebuchadnezzar II or a whole line of Babylonian rulers.

So What’s Up with the Lucifer Thing?

When the first English translations of the Bible started popping up (the Tyndale Bible and the original King James Version among the most notable examples), some of the translators chose to anglicize certain words instead of directly translating them. βαπτιζω (pr. baptizo) is one such word. Baptize didn’t exist in the English language prior to the Bible being translated, and it came from anglicizing a Greek word. If it had been simply translated, everywhere we read baptize would instead read submerge.

The same basic thing happened with Lucifer. Lucifer is the Latin equivalent to הֵילֵל (pr. Heylel). It literally means “morning star” or “bringer of light” and makes reference to one of the brightest objects in the morning sky. We would call it the planet Venus. In the context of Isaiah 14, this king’s fame makes him shine brightly in the minds of the nations around him. He has grown proud because of this reputation, and Isaiah calls him by a name that reflects the magnitude of his pride.

How Did We End Up Making This About Satan?

I half-jokingly wrote that Satan getting pegged with the name Lucifer is recursive reasoning, but there’s probably a bit more at work here. First, we could be seeing some influence of Roman mythology (which has a lot of influence on many Catholic traditions). Prometheus was the bringer of godlike knowledge to man as symbolized by fire. He was a light-bringer. Satan does something similar in the Garden story. Therefore, the “bringer of light” in Isaiah 14 could easily be connected to Satan via Prometheus.

Canaanite mythology could be influencing tradition here as well. Ancient Canaanites called the morning star Attar, and Attar was a god who tried to overthrow Ba’al. He failed and instead went to rule the underworld. Historically, Satan has been depicted as an angel who wanted to usurp Jehovah. Perhaps this Canaanite legend melded with ancient Judaism and informed how Satan has been interpreted through the ages. (There are other similar legends throughout ancient Mesopotamian civilizations.)

Then there’s a small passage from the pseudepigraphic book of II Enoch:

And from the rock I cut off a great fire, and from the fire I created the orders of the incorporeal ten troops of angels, and their weapons are fiery and their raiment a burning flame, and I commanded that each one should stand in his order.

Here Satanail with his angels was thrown down from the height.

And one from out the order of angels, having turned away with the order that was under him, conceived an impossible thought, to place his throne higher than the clouds above the earth, that he might become equal in rank to my power. And I threw him out from the height with his angels, and he was flying in the air continuously above the bottomless.

II Enoch 29:2 – 4

Even though many Christians today don’t consider books like II Enoch to be canon, their influence can be felt in a number of traditional mythologies we carry alongside our faith. Here is a perfectly encapsulated retelling of the common Satan tradition, and, if you substitute Satanail with Lucifer, it would feel right at home in Isaiah 14. (Also, Prometheus imagery again. Just saying.)

I don’t know exactly when Lucifer became synonymous with Satan. It certainly wasn’t common in the time of Augustine. However, both Calvin and Luther condemn interpreting Isaiah 14 as referring to the devil. So the name became popular sometime after Saint Augustine of Hippo but before Martin Luther’s writings. That gives us a possible window of something like a thousand years.

What’s the Point?

We Christians should be making a habit of differentiating the Bible’s teachings from popular trends and mythology. We live in a culture where we share posts and images on social media without first checking the veracity of the content, and we therefore perpetuate popular myths and urban legends without thought. We should be holding ourselves to a higher standard — even moreso in matters pertaining to faith.

Instead of simply repeating what we’ve heard from pulpits or read from others’ writings, we need to be able to separate faith from fiction. And no matter how long we have held to a certain story, belief or doctrine, if the scriptural evidence doesn’t back it up, we have to be OK with letting it go. Let’s strive to be more like the Bereans of Acts 17 who not only received the apostles’ teaching with gladness but then also researched God’s word for themselves. Then we will all have far fewer confusions like this.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

I John 4:1

Partisan Spirituality


Have you ever been part of a congregation that began to internally debate a matter of scripture? I’m not talking about a few people discussing a small disagreement. I mean speakers representing different sides of an issue actually standing before the congregation having a moderated debate. I’m talking about the type of setting where supporters of each idea will sit on the opposite sides of the auditorium.

It’s been years now, but I have. And it’s not pretty. Worse, it’s not productive.

I recently touched on this topic in a sermon I gave at my congregation about doctrinal integrity (which reminds me that I should be better about posting my sermons here):

When dealing with doctrinal matters, we have to avoid partisan mindsets like the plague. By this, I mean we must avoid drawing lines, taking sides, and forming teams. The only side any of us should be on is that of the truth. Remember Paul’s first letter to Corinth where he accuses them of this very thing — lining up behind the teachings of specific individuals and being more loyal to that person than to God? We can’t let our congregation become a debate club. Debates change no one’s mind, for the participants and their supporters have come armored up and oppositional, with their minds already convinced the other side is wrong.

Once we begin treating our spiritual differences like a presidential debate or the Ham/Nye debate, we create an environment where reconciliation is all but impossible. How often have you watched a political debate that convinced you to vote for the other party’s candidate? Never? Me too. Instead, we observe the debate through a filter that automatically casts a more favorable light on our side while being more likely to fact-check, criticize, and otherwise marginalize the other. The very setting inhibits objectivity and fairness.

So how do we prevent disagreements from rolling out of control?

  • Keep it small. The more people get involved, the more heel-digging will occur. How do you think the conversation between Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos would have gone if teams had been involved in Acts 18?
  • Keep it Personal.  Make sure you both know this is an issue between yourselves. Think of how Matthew 18:15 begins with addressing an offense. “Some people” don’t have to be brought into the discussion. (As in: “Some people would disagree with…”)
  • Assume Sincerity. Assume the person with whom you have a disagreement wants to do God’s work. Assume they want to be with you in Heaven. Christian love is supposed to “hope all things'” and that applies to brothers and sister with whom we disagree as well.
  • Escalate wisely. If the disagreement does affect salvation, and if it cannot be resolved personally, then involve the shepherds or minister in the discussion. Again, keep things small. A personal discussion does not need to become a congregational circus.

In all of this, we should be keeping Proverbs 3:30 in mind: “Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm.” Are you really disagreeing over a matter of doctrine, or did the other person just step on an opinion? Will the issue at hand affect anyone’s salvation, or are we just splitting hairs? Yes, there are a few examples of doctrinal issues escalating to the congregation in the New Testament, but that should not be our first course of action.

Our exclusive motivators should be to do God’s work and to care for each others souls. It should not be our goal to feel vindicated on an issue. It should not be our goal to score a victory. Our goal is to be more like Christ and to help the world see His love in us — in our conduct, in our attitudes, in our generosity, in our relationships. If that love comes first, there is no room for partisanship.



The pilot episode of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report gave me one of the biggest a-ha moments I can remember having while watching a television program.  In the pilot, Colbert introduced the idea of truthiness in a segment called The Wørd (a parody of a certain someone else’s Talking Points segment) and described it as something that feels right – regardless of whether or not actual facts support it. We see truthiness around us every day.

  • It may not be true that the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit was a million-dollar jackpot for an old lady who carelessly spilled her coffee while speeding down the highway. But doesn’t that narrative feel right? It’s truthy.
  • It may not be true that President Obama has missed more Arlington Memorial Day ceremonies than any president in recent history (and therefore is anti-American), but it sure feels right. Again, it’s truthy.
  • Al Gore never claimed to have invented the Internet, but doesn’t it feel good to mock him for it? We’ve accepted truthiness.
  • Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin may have never said, “I can see Russia from my house,” but doesn’t it feel like something she would have said? Truthiness strikes again.

Truthiness is something we in Christ’s body have to guard against like crazy. Faith is a deeply personal thing. It’s fundamentally emotional. It appeals to the heart.  Yet Jesus speaks of his words being objectively true. Paul appeals to our rational minds several times in his writings. Think about Galatians 1:6-12, where Paul appeals to his readers to be careful of the doctrine they accept. Think about Jesus speaking about worship in terms of spirit and truth in John 4:19-24. Think of John writing about testing every word from every spirit in I John 4:1-6. As Christians, we have to be concerned with our practices and our beliefs. Do they adhere to the truth of Christ’s word, or have I morphed them into something that feels good to me.

I once saw a quote asserting that worship is a feeling. I’d agree to an extent, but I think this misses the mark in a way that encourages truthiness. Worship is more than a feeling. It’s a way of life. It’s a complete giving of myself over to God and what He wants me to be. This includes worshiping Him within the truth of His word – not relying on what feels right to me but rather doing what God has shown me is right in His word. The same goes for social issues, for issues of morality, of kindness, of charity, and a number of other topics. It may feel right to me to take a “get what you deserve” approach in this life, but that is not the pattern God wants me to follow. He wants me to be forgiving and charitable, even when it doesn’t feel right to my sense of justice.

When we succumb to truthiness in the way we divide scripture, we are putting self before God; just like we put self before facts when we succumb to truthiness in science, in politics, or in any other topic we can grow emotional about. As children of Christ, our concern is with truth, and truth doesn’t always feel good. Sometimes truth is hard, but we have to accept it. We cannot shape truth. We have to let it shape us.

Hearing the Voice of God

And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no frequent vision. And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place (now his eyes had begun to wax dim, so that he could not see), and the lamp of God was not yet gone out, and Samuel was laid down to sleep, in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was; that the LORD called Samuel;  and he said, “Here am I.”

And he ran unto Eli, and said, “Here am I; for thou calledst me.”

And he said, “I called not; lie down again.” And he went and lay down.

And the LORD called yet again, “Samuel.”

And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here am I; for thou calledst me.”

And he answered, “I called not, my son; lie down again.”  Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him. And the LORD called Samuel again the third time.

And he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here am I; for thou calledst me.”

And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child. Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, “Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, ‘Speak, O LORD; for thy servant heareth.'”

So Samuel went and lay down in his place.  And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, “Samuel, Samuel.”

Then Samuel said, “Speak; for thy servant heareth.”

– 1 Samuel 3:1-10

The days of Eli and Samuel were difficult days for Israel. Whereas in times past there were some prophets or prophetesses who heard the voice of the LORD and provided Israel with His guidance, such was now rare. That changes here in 1 Samuel 3 when God begins to speak with Samuel, the prophet who will now guide Israel for many years.

The example here of Samuel’s call is very instructive for us in the early twenty-first century. We live in a world where many people deny that there even is a God who would speak to humans, let alone to believe that He has definitively spoken in ways that we should all be able to hear. It is common for us to hear today that people who lived so long ago were in the “darkness” of “ignorance” and “superstition,” with the implicit belief that we are so much more superior today because of all of our discoveries and insights. Indeed, the word of the LORD seems quite rare these days.

Yet is Samuel so completely superstitious and ignorant as a young boy? Consider what happens – he hears his name called three times, and three times he goes and asks Eli what he wants. He assumes what we would all likely assume if we heard someone call our name – some other human near us is trying to get our attention. Samuel does not seem to even begin to connect the voice he is hearing with God.

For that matter, Eli, who is in God’s service as priest (cf. 1 Samuel 1:9), does not automatically connect the voice with God, either. It takes Eli being awoken three times by Samuel for him to even begin to wonder if perhaps it was the voice of God calling Samuel.

Yet, when Eli has that recognition – when he perceives that God is calling the child – everything seems to change. Yet, in reality, nothing has changed but Eli’s and Samuel’s perceptions.

God is a consistent God. Just as He does not compel or coerce anyone into believing in Him or serving Him, so He does not compel or coerce anyone into hearing Him. If we want to hear God’s voice, we must be open to the possibility of hearing His voice, else we will just interpret the voice of God according to our existing presuppositions and worldview, just as Eli and Samuel did.

This is true in terms of the creation. We can see the hand of God in the creation and hear His voice speaking through it, but only if we seek to understand in that way. If we are not open to seeing God’s hand or hearing His voice in the creation, we will just interpret the creation in terms of our own darkened presuppositions and worldview (cf. Romans 1:18-25).

This is quite powerfully true in terms of the Scriptures themselves, the revealed Word of God, and the message they contain about Jesus of Nazareth, the Incarnate Word of God. Consider Samuel again – God calls him, and he thinks he hears the voice of Eli. God’s message often comes through a human vehicle – His voice sounds like that of a human, and He has used His chosen people to communicate His message throughout time (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2). It is easy for people to act as Samuel did at the beginning – believing the voice of God in Scripture to just be the voice of some human beings, perhaps interesting, but not convicting. But if we are open to hearing God’s voice through Scripture, the message becomes quite powerful, very convicting, and life-changing. When we are willing to hear the voice of God in Scripture, we have found all we need in order to live the lives God intends for us to lead (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). We learn about Jesus the Incarnate Word after whom we are to pattern our own lives (John 1:1-18, 1 John 2:6).

At that moment, everything seems to change. And yet, in reality, nothing has changed but our perspectives.

The word of the LORD is precious in these days. Far too many seem deaf to His call. And yet He continues to call out through the message of Scripture for all men to repent and to follow His Son (Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Timothy 2:4). Let us perceive the voice of God and follow after Him!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Instruments in the Worship

We can’t read many psalms without seeing God’s worshipers encouraged to play upon instruments like cymbals and harps. When Solomon brings the ark to the temple, the people play upon instruments in praise of God. Why, then, do we not use instruments in our own worship? It seems contradictory with what we see in the history of God’s people and their worship of Him.

A Short History of Instruments in Worship

A cappella singing is often considered a modern Church of Christ tradition or doctrine. The term a capella literally means “in chapel style.” The use of a capella singing worship is nothing new. Even the New Catholic Encyclopedia recognizes that the New Testament church worshiped without instruments for nearly a thousand years, and the rejections of instrumental worship was universal among early influential theologians. Organs were introduced into worship around 950 CE. They did not become universally accepted until the 1300s.

Martin Luther equated instrumental worship with idolatry. John Calvin called it a foolish carryover from the Old Testament. John Wesley said instruments should be neither seen nor heard in a place of worship. A cappella singing is not the younger trend. Saints blending their voices predates the tradition of bringing instruments into worship.

The New Testament on Worship

The history is intriguing and informative, but it does not provide scriptural authority one way of the other. Ephesians 5:19 tells us to speak to one another in psalms and hymns, making melody in our hearts. Colossians 3:16 tells us to teach and admonish one another in song, singing in thankfulness to God.

The structure of these verses directly parallels wording we find in the psalms. Look at Psalm 33:2, Psalm 144:9, Psalm 98:5, and Psalm 147:7. These verses and more contain a specific structure of function, object, and means. For example:

“(Function) Sing praises (Object) to the Lord (Means) with the ten-stringed harp.” – Psalm 33:2

Contrast this with:

“(Function) Singing (Object) to the Lord (Means) with your heart.” – Ephesians 5:19

Remember that Paul is educated as a Pharisee. He has an intimate knowledge of God’s word, and he is very intentional with his wording when instructing Christians in New Testament worship. Man-made instruments are replaced with those made by God.

Types and Shadows

Hebrews 8:5 refers to the Old Testament as a shadow of heavenly things, going so far as having physical representations for spiritual realities. Hebrews 9:11 calls the old law a law made with human hands and contrasts that with Christ’s spiritual covenant. Hebrews 9:9 calls those things symbolic, and chapter 10:1 refers to the Old Testament as a shadow of things to come. The Levitical code served as a precursor for a spiritual kingdom as illustrated in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Everything would change, including the way God’s people would worship Him.

Colossians 2:14 says Jesus has removed this old covenant to the cross, and Galatians 3:25 bluntly says we are no longer under that law. Hebrews 10:9 simply states that Jesus has removed the first covenant to provide a second that gives sanctification. We cannot use the Old Testament as a source of authority for our worship and practices. The outward forms of the Old Testament have been removed. Again, those things made by man are replaced by those made by God.

Remember the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4:20-24 regarding the proper place of worship. Jesus states that the place of worship will no longer matter, just that God’s followers come to Him with true hearts. Hebrews 12:18 says our mountain of worship cannot be touched by hands. It is spiritual and heavenly. These concepts are also related to Romans 2:29, I Corinthians 10:1-4, I Peter 2:5, and Hebrews 13:15. The focus is no longer on the physical. Rather it is on the spiritual and the heart.


When David wants to build God a temple, God, in I Kings 8:18, recognizes David’s intentions are good. II Samuel 7:6-7, however, records that God forbids David from going through with the construction of that temple despite those intentions. We can no more supersede God’s will in our worship that David could in constructing the temple. Setting all intentions aside, it comes down to what God has asked for.

We should no more want to use the Old Testament to justify instruments in our worship than we should want to include sacrificing lambs, burning incense, or requiring circumcision. The few verses that address worshiping God in congregational music specifically instruct us to sing from our hearts, making melody with the voices God made for us. According to Psalm 22:3, God has historically been enthroned upon the praises of His people. Do we enthrone Him with praises on our terms or His – worshiping Him with the melodies of our heart?

lesson by Tim Smelser