The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, The Surprise of Judgment, The Hope of Holy War (Review)

The Skeleton in God's closet I’m a fan of The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War, Joshua Ryan Butler does a fantastic job of leading the reader on a journey exploring three of the controversial doctrines of the Bible. Butler writes to open up a dialogue with contemporary culture and it’s broadly popular misunderstanding of these key doctrines. His writing style is engaging, witty, humble and personable. He has a way of inviting his readers to investigate their own biases, what the bible really says, and how people have understood or misunderstood these doctrines in the past. This is a well written book that could easily have been turned into a shorter three book series. (You get your money’s worth).

Once you understand Butler aims his book at a postmodern mindset it comes into focus. There were a few moments where I pondered, “Why is he going here?” and “What is he about to say?” because he came seemingly close to a different understanding of a doctrinal issue. Thankfully at each point he clarifies his understanding and leads the reader to a biblical appreciation for the doctrine in question.

Over all I thought this was a great book. The author has a brilliant writing style that at times is very poetic. I purchased my copy from who has it on sale right now for $12.84 in paperback.

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Amazing Book that Clarifies the real issues at Stake in Palestine

Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices is the autobiography of Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of one of the primary founders of Hamas.  The book is face paced, action packed, and full of real life drama.  I am not greatly familiar with the Israeli – Palestinian conflict, but became familiar through this book. I am deeply greatful to Mosab Hassan Yousef for his courage in writing such a book.  His heart bleeds for peace and unity in a place where their is violence and chaos.  He truly has a unique perspective to be able to see multiple sides of the conflict.

I don’t want to give the contents of the book away, so I’ll keep this review short. Son of Hamas reads like a spy novel only the accounts are real, first hand accounts of a young man who has already lived a unique and adventure filled life.  Through the book Mosab shares his journey as a good Palestinian Muslim, to understanding the Israeli side of the issue, to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ.  In the post script of his book, Mosab reminds readers that while he may be an expert in understanding the Middle-Eastern conflict, he is still young in his faith (a very mature statement).


Mossab hassan Yousef has a blog, you can check it out at

If you are looking to understand the Palestinian side of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict,  This book is for you.  The retail price of Son of Hamas is $26.99 (Hardcover), and is available around the web in places like for $17.04. I gave it five stars (its one of the best biographies I’ve read in a while).

You may also be interested in checking out these books.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book free from Tyndale House Publishers as part of their Tyndale Blog Network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Stone the Builder’s Rejected (Sermon Brief)

Pastor was out of town on Sunday and I had a chance to fill the pulpit and preach in his absence.  As soon as I have access to the video file we will figure a way to get it up here.  In the meantime here is copy of my sermon brief.  If you are unfamiliar with a sermon brief, it is a strange creature that is more or less a cross between an outline and a manuscript.  Sometimes I use sermon briefs to make sure I have a grasp on the context and message of a passage. You can also get a PDF of the Sermon Brief by clicking here: The Stone the Builders Rejected

Luke 20:9-19 (ESV)


The setting for this parable takes place in the larger context of the Jesus’ preaching and teaching ministry in the temple the week of his crucifixion.  In the previous chapter Jesus cleansed the temple of money changers.  This action immediately draws the attention of “the elders, chief priests and the scribes” often a designation for the ruling body known as the Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin sends a delegation to ask Jesus, “under what authority are you doing these things” (Luke 20:2)?  Jesus in return asks them about the baptism of John and where he got his authority.  The refusal of the scribes and chief priests to acknowledge that John was acting as an agent of God ensures that they would not recognize his authority as their master.

Jesus then picks up with the parable of the wicked tenants in which the central issue is authority.  The question arises in this parable, who has the authority?  Is it the tenants or is it the land owner?  The obvious answer is the land owner and the implications are clear for all who are involved.

The Son the Tenants Rejected

Many of Jesus’ parables are set in the agricultural context of Palestine.  Farmers generally filled one of three stations; Landowners, tenants, and day laborers.  The difference between tenant farmers and day laborers, “Tenant farmers leased the land and sharecropped with the owner, while poorer people hired out as day laborers” (Brisco, 219).

The parable begins with a wealthy land owner who builds and cultivates a vineyard.  Historically the vine has been a symbol for the nation of Israel.  Indeed the temple in Jerusalem, where the whole dialogue was taking place between Jesus and his questioners, had a large golden grape vine displayed in a prominent location.  Many wealthy families contributed great deals of money to add a grape or a cluster of grapes to the vine.  Perhaps some of the men who stood there questioning Jesus had given money to purchase their own grape or cluster to add to the vine.

The scene of a wealthy land owner extending the use of his property to tenants and leaving for an extended period of time was common.  “The upper Jordan Valley, the western and northern shores of the Sea of Galilee, and even a considerable portion of Galilee itself, contained vast estates owned by foreigners, men who lived far away from their holdings” (Hendrickson, 891).  The financial aspect of the relationship between the land owner and tenants would settled at harvest time when a percentage or set amount of the vineyards fruit would be given to the land owner as payment (Straus, 472).

The land owner had a right to expect a portion of fruit “when the time came” (Luke 20:10).  However the tenants beat the servant sent to receive the fruit and they sent him away “empty handed” (Luke 20:10).  There is no indication as to why the tenants treated the servants so harshly other than, “they simply rejected the messengers” (Morris, 311).

At this point in the parable the tenants are in violation of a contract and have added insult to injury by mistreating three servants who have come on the landowner’s behalf.  The master has every right to send a hit squad after the tenants.  As the land owner he is operating out of a position of power, yet the tenants seem to think they can gain power over the master.

The sending of the son by the master is an exercise in self control and patience beyond the scope of expectation.  The sending of the son causes the landowner to appear extremely kind and generous. “Rich or poor, all hearers at this point would agree that the land owner is in the right, and that he was benevolent-indeed, strikingly, foolishly benevolent” (Keener, 244).

When they see the son coming they plot to kill the son.  The tenants murder the son, perhaps thinking they will gain the rights to the property (Luke 20:14). One commentator writes, “according to a then existing law, under certain conditions if the owner died, leaving no heir, whoever were the first to claim the estate, particularly the occupants, were allowed to have it” (Hendrickson, 892).  The Talmud notes, “Tenants were known to claim possession of land they worked for absentee landlords” (Morris, 311-312).  They simply presumed that either the landowner was dead or that with all the trouble they had caused, he would not press the issue.  The covetousness and lust for full possession of the land that has lead the tenants to mistreat the servants of the master comes to its climax in the murder of the heir.  This is an insult to the master that cannot be overlooked.

At this point the story escalates as Luke records that the people respond in terror, recognizing the aim of Christ’s parable.  The team sent forth from the Sanhedrin is amazed at the notion that the tenants will have to pay for what they have done to the master’s son.  They are quick to understand that this parable has been told against them and they are represented by the wicked tenants in this parable.  The notion that these religious men who have labored for the betterment of national Israel would be punished for their rebellion against God must have been a foreign concept to them.

The tenant’s motive for mistreatment and murder in the parable seems to be the prospect of gaining the property rights to the vineyard (Luke 20:14).  In a sense they wanted sole control over who enjoyed the pleasures of the vine.  Before this passage when Jesus cleanses out the temple he quotes a passage from Isaiah that mentions the prospect of the temple becoming a house of prayer for people from all nations (Luke 19:46, Isaiah 56:7).  After the parable Jesus makes a symbolic switch from talking in terms of the vine (national Israel) to the corner stone or foundation of a great building which is associated with church (Acts 4:11, Ephesians 2:20, I Peter 2:6-7).

Just as the wealthy land owner is patient to send messenger after messenger to receive the fruit of the vineyard so God had been patient with the leaders of Israel.  However, just as the wicked tenant reign of terror will be brought to an end by a vengeful father, so to was nation of Israel’s leadership expelled from their position a few decades later in 70 A.D. when Rome sacked Jerusalem and the temple was destroyed.  Israel ceased to exist and the vineyard had been handed over to a new group of tenants called the apostles.

The Stone the Builders Rejected

Jesus craftily turns the symbolism from a vine representing a national Israel to a stone representing the true temple of God.  Jesus changes the picture from a vineyard to a cornerstone.  He reminds the Sanhedrin that not only does he have the right as the founder but he also has the right of a judge.  ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’?  (18) Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Luke 20:17-18).

It is not the value to be places on the stone that is in mind, but the destructive nature of the stone against flesh and blood.  To fall on the stone or have the stone fall one in either case means destruction.  People may reject and oppose Jesus but it is they, not he, who will suffer.  The second part of the saying will refer to the future judgment.  IT will be their attitude to Jesus that will mean the final destruction of the people of his day.  The imagery here is derived from Isaiah 8:14 (Morris, 313).

The stone is also a stone of judgment.  It is not susceptible to destruction by its enemies.  All efforts against the stone shatter to pieces.  Furthermore, it falls in judgment on those who reject it.  The verb rendered crush means primarily to winnow, but early versions support the RSV translation (Tolbert, 154).


The theme for Luke 20:9-19 is the authority of Christ to save Israel and the whole world.  The parable enters in context of the inability of the scribes and chief priests to recognize the authority of Christ.  In the parable the vineyard will be taken away from the wicked tenants, who killed the son and given to other tenants.  This represents Christ taking the light away from the nation Israel and temple worship and expanding it to the living temple of believers who place their faith in Christ.

Hear today the word’s of Christ.  Have you rejected the son?  God has a right to your life.  Are you glorifying God in your existence or have you rejected the authority of God in your life?


I took the liberty of Hyper-linking to all the books in my Bibliography.  I linked to the newest editions of the books while leaving the reference information from the older versions (The page numbers in the new editions are likely to be different because of updated content and more/ less comments throughout the book).

Brisco, Thomas V. Holman Bible Atlas (affiliate link). Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1998.

Carson, D. A., Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris. Introduction to the New Testament(affiliate link). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

Hendriksen, William. New Testament Commentary (affiliate link): The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (affiliate link). DownersGrove:  Inter Varsity Press, 1993.

Lea, Thomas D., The New Testament: Its Background and Message (affiliate link), Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1996).

Morris, C. Leon., ed, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Luke (affiliate link), vol.3, Revised Ed., Luke, by Leon Morris. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.

A Little Background on Sennacherib

So I said I wasn’t blogging for a while.  This doesn’t count.  I wrote this a few years ago to assert my position given the historical evidences on if Sennacherib campaigned twice in Judah.  This part of the paper provided a great background for the passage we studied today following along with Chris Aiken’s Blog and I thought I would share it here.

You can also find pictures and descriptions of Assyrian Wall Reliefs of Sennacherib’s campaign against Lachish here and photographs of the dig at Lachish here.

I admit I am a little bit of a Biblical Archaeology nerd.

A Little Background on Sennacherib and Judah

The ancient Hebrews witnessed many geopolitical changes in late eighth-century B.C. Palestine.  According to the writer of II Kings, idolatry was rampant throughout the land of Israel.  God had been patient with the Israelites, however, the patience of the Lord had come to an end and he released the Assyrian army against the populace of the Northern Kingdom. [1]

Hoshea, the king of Israel, had come to power in the Northern Kingdom as a vassal to an already powerful Assyria under the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III.  However, in 727 B.C., Tiglath-Pileser III died and Hoshea, along with several other vassals, revolted by not paying tribute.  The new Assyrian King, Shalmaneser V, proved mightier than first suspected and Israel was brought back into submission.  Hoshea remained desperate to remove the yoke of servitude and made an alliance with Egypt. Once again, tribute was withheld.  Shalamanser V marched on Israel and Assyria eventually claimed victory in 722 B.C. under a new king known as Sargon II.  The people of Israel were removed from the land and troubled inhabitants from all over the Assyrian empire were transplanted to Samaria.[2]

Judah, to the South, fared much better.  King Uziah had ushered in a time of stability in the Southern Kingdom.  After Uziah’s death, his son Jortham reigned briefly before being succeeded by Ahaz. After much pressure from Israel and Syria to form an alliance against Assyria, Ahaz closed the temple, stripped it of everything of value, and sent the temple goods to Tigalath-Pileser III as an appeal for help against Israel and Syria.  Tigalath-Pileser III obliged and marched on Israel and Syria, effectively making Judah a vassal state to Assyria in the process.[3]

In 1988, Iraqi archeologists excavating in the Northwest Palace of Assurnasirpal (Nimrud) uncovered a tomb with startling implications.  The palace that was also used by Tigalath-Pileser and Sargon held tombs of female consorts who are believed to be of Hebrew descent.[4] One consort in particular was Tigalath-Pileser III’s chief consort and the Queen Mother of Shalamanser V.[5] This made many leading members of the Assyrian royal family and the Judean royal family cousins.[6] Some scholars presume this extra-biblical evidence explains why Judah was inclined to favor Assyria at a time when Israel was in the throes of rebellion.[7]

Hezekiah became king of Judah in 727 B.C. [8] Just five years later he would witness the fall of Israel into the hands of the Assyrians and the subsequent removal of the northern tribes from their land. Hezekiah sought to restore Judah to the Lord and reopened Solomon’s temple.  He led religious reforms to remove idolatry from Judah and instigated the tearing down of the high places and idols, including the bronze serpent that Moses had set up in the wilderness.  He was successful in conquering some of the neighboring Philistine garrisons and was thus able to expand the kingdom of Judah[9] However, Hezekiah became involved in a local dispute in which a loyal vassal of Assyria known as Padi was deposed from his throne in Ekron and Hezekiah imprisoned him in Jerusalem.[10] Hezekiah also decided at this time to withhold tribute and actively cast his lot against the king of Assyria.[11]

The change in Hezekiah’s foreign policy seems to flow from his religious reforms and the changing political landscape in Assyria.  Stephanie Dalley comments:

“To Hezekiah in Jerusalem it must have looked as if the balance of power was weighed against Assyria.  Embassies from Babylon and Nubia each came to persuade him to turn against his erstwhile ally and join them…Normally a vassal king or client king would have sworn oaths of loyalty to the Assyrian king, in a ceremony accompanied by horrifying rituals of sympathetic magic.  Perjury would be punished by the gods.  But when Sargon in 705 died an unexpected death in battle far from home, it was clear, according to the thinking of the time, that he gods no longer supported the Assyrian dynasty, so its vassals were automatically excused from their oaths of loyalty.  This gave Hezekiah an excuse to turn against Assyria.”[12]

In 705 B.C. following Sargon II’s assassination, Sennacherib had to act quickly to take the throne and affirm his rightful place as the head of the Assyrian empire.  His name, “Sennacherib,” literally means, “Sin has increased (or replaced) the (lost) brothers,”[13]indicating that Sennacherib was not the eldest son of Sargon, but was nonetheless affirmed for his leadership and battle skills.[14] After two immediate and successful campaigns to Tarsus and Babylon, Sennacherib set his sights on an alliance formed against him by Judah, Egypt, and the coastal Philistine cities.[15] Hezekiah’s actions had drawn the attention of Assyria’s newest king.

Sennacherib’s campaign into Judah is a well-documented event in history.  Three books of the Bible (II Kings, II Chronicles, Isaiah), Sennacherib’s annuals, archaeological evidence from the wall reliefs of Sennacherib’s palace, and current archaeological evidences from the dig at Lachish all bear testimony to Sennacherib’s campaign into Judah.[16]

[1] II Kings 17, ESV.

[2] Alfred Hoereth, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 335.

[3] Ibid., 336-338.

[4] Stephanie Dalley, “Recent Evidene from Assyrian Sources for Jeudaean History from Uzziah to Manasseh,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 28, no.4 (Jun 2004), 394-395.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 396.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Hershel Shanks, “Destruction of Judean Fortress Portrayed in Dramatic Eighth-Century B.C. Pictures: Stunning New Book Assembles Evidence of the Conquest of Lachish,” Biblical Archaeology Review 10, no.2 (March/April 1984).

[9] II Kings 18:1-8, ESV.

[10] Alfred Hoerth, “Archaeology,”343.

[11] II Kings 18:7, ESV.

[12] Stephanie Dalley, “Recent Evidence from Assyrian Sources,” 391.

[13] D.J. Wiseman, “Sennacherib,” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 338-339.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 339.

[16] Shanks, “Destruction of a Judean Fortress.”