The Day Israel Conquered Hell

It’s been a while since I really wrote on spiritual warfare, and that’s not because my life has lacked it. I’ve actually been frustrated with how subtle the battle tends to be. It’d be much easier if the demons would just pop out in full manifestation so that they could be driven out in the Name of Yeshua–which is, of course, why they try to avoid that around Yeshua’s true disciples.

In fact, when the battle goes from spiritual cloak-and-dagger to open and aggressive warfare, it’s most often the Holy One who has pushed it into the open. When God’s people are walking blameless, they win every time; it takes sin in the camp, like that of Achan (Jos. 7), to turn an otherwise certain victory in the Lord into a rout. Therefore, the Adversary has every reason to hide his presence while he probes, digs, tempts, angers, and subverts God’s people.

Today’s post isn’t really about that: It’s about what happens when the Holy One takes off the gloves and leads his people into war–and why he picks the battlegrounds that he does. Let’s talk about Bashan:

They turned and went up by the way of Bashan: and Og the king of Bashan went out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. The LORD said to Moses, “Don’t fear him: for I have delivered him into your hand, and all his people, and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” So they struck him, and his sons and all his people, until there was none left him remaining: and they possessed his land. (Num. 21:33-35)

For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the Rephaim; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; isn’t it in Rabbah of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, after the cubit of a man. (Deu. 3:11)

This little incident seems tucked away in an innocuous place in your Bible–some have never read it before. It’s mostly famous among Christians who study the Nephilim (usually connecting them to the hybrids of UFO lore), due to the fact that Rephaim and Nephilim are connected in the Scriptures (cf. Num. 13:33 and Deu. 2:11). However, it’s absolutely crucial to understanding some events in Yeshua’s ministry over a thousand years later.

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Let’s start by explaining how the Canaanites saw the land of Bashan. In their own language, it was called Bathan, which means “serpent.” Where Mt. Hermon, whose melting snows kept Bashan green, fertile, and perfect for raising cattle (cf. Num. 32:1ff), was one of the two sacred mountains of the Canaanites (the other being Tsaphon/Tsaphanu in the northwestern corner of modern Syria, overlooking the ancient city of Ugarit), Bashan was clearly identified by the Ugaritic texts as being the underworld:

“For the ‘Canaanites’ of Ugarit, the Bashan region, or a part of it, clearly represented ‘Hell,’ the celestial and infernal abode of their deified dead kings, Olympus and Hades at the same time. It is possible that this localization of the Canaanite Hell is linked to the ancient tradition of the place as the ancestral home of their dynasty, the rpum [the Biblical Rephaim].” (The Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd Ed. (Eerdmans, 1999), “Bashan,” p. 162)

The Rephaim/Rapum are the subject of an entire set of tablets retrieved from the ruins of Ugarit, where they are described as “the gods” (tablet 1, line 1), and “the divine ones . . . the warriors of Baal and the warriors of Anat [Baal’s consort]” (tablet 3, lines 6-7). In Kirta, they are called “the Rephaim of the underworld . . . the assembly of Ditan’s company” (tablet 2, column 3). In the Baal Cycle, we are told that “Sun rules the Rephaim, Sun rules the divine ones: Your company are the gods, see, the dead are your company” (tablet 6, column 6). (All quotes are from Mark S. Smith and Michael D. Coogan’s Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition.)  These descriptions are consistent with those of the Bible, which uses rephaim to denote not only several tribes of giants in Canaan (e.g., Gen. 14:15ff, 1Sa. 17, 2Sa. 21:16ff), but also the spirits of the dead (e.g., Psa. 88:10; Pro. 2:18; Isa. 14:9, 26:14 & 19), including at least some that were slain in the Flood (Job 26:5).

I’ll do a whole study connecting the Nephilim of the Antediluvian world to the post-Flood Rephaim at some future date, but suffice to say there is complete a complete agreement between the Ugaritic texts, the Biblical texts, pagan Greek tradition (specifically Hesiod, as noted in Dic. of Deities, p. 235), the ancient Jewish tradition (e.g., Enoch 15:8ff, Jubilees 10:5ff) and the ancient Church tradition (e.g., Justin Martyr, Athenagoras) that the demons were the souls of a race of “heroes” (in the Greek term), “gods” (the Ugaritic texts), or hybrid human-angelic race (the Biblical, Jewish, and Christian tradition) who once walked the earth, died, but whose spirits remained and could be contacted by mortals now.

Suddenly, the terror shown by the Midianites (Num. 22) and the Canaanites (Jos. 2:9) makes perfect sense. It wasn’t just a general sense of dread that Hashem sent to paralyze them. They were confronting a mysterious people who walked under the visible Presence of the Holy One, a God who had destroyed Egypt to take his people out, and who had just marched that people through Canaanite Hell and killed its king, Og of Bashan–as the warm up to the conquest of the Land!

Fast-forward some thirteen centuries to two events in the Messiah’s earthly ministry. The first is the exorcism of a “Legion” of demons from a man in “the country of the Gerasenes” (Luke 8:26, cf. Mark 5:1). When confronted by the Son of God, the demons initially resist being cast out, begging not to be sent “away into the Abyss” (Luke 8:31) or even “out of the country” (Mark 5:10). Why?

What if I were to tell you that the country of the Geresenes was within the ancient boundaries of Bashan? Don’t take my word for it. Take a look at the maps in the back of your Bible and compare the locations of Old Testament Bashan with New Testament Khersa/Gergesa.

The demons begged not to be sent from that particular plot of real-estate because they were the spirits of the Rephaim, who had dwelt there for thousands of years, being alternately sought-after and feared by the mortal inhabitants.

Not actually the gate of Hell, but definitely a sign-post along the way
Not actually the gate of Hell, but definitely a sign-post along the way

Nor would this be the last time Yeshua would reference the land of Bashan. The following year, Yeshua would bring his disciples to a place called Caesarea Philippi. The Arabs today call the place Banyas, but in Yeshua’s time, it was named by the Greeks as Panias, the place of the goat-god Pan. Even today, you can see the remnants of an ancient Greek temple built into a shallow cave–and the Greeks were just the latest pagans to have built a worship-center there.

It was in the midst of that pagan place that Yeshua asked a question on which all of history would turn:

“Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” They said, “Some say Yochanan the Immerser, some, Elijah, and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Yeshua answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. I also tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of Sheol will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven; and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.” (Mat. 16:13-19)

It was not the simple affirmation of his Messiahship that Yeshua was after–they had, after all, started recognizing him as the Messiah from their very first encounters with him (John 1:41). Rather, there is something significant about Peter’s declaration: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” that Yeshua links to his declaration, “I will build my assembly, and the gates of Sheol [Gr. Hades, Lat. Hell] will not prevail against it.”

What if I told you that Caesarea Phillipi was right on the border of ancient Bashan–that it was very literally at “the gates of [Canaanite] Hell”?

And what if I told you that some eight days later, when Yeshua’s transfiguration took place, it was most likely on Mt. Hermon, showing Yeshua’s dominion not only over Canaanite Hell, but Canaanite Olympus as well–and that his ascent there was prophesied in Psalm 68?

But that’s another story and will be told another time.

When I teach someone on spiritual warfare, this is one of the two books that I consider required reading
When I teach someone on spiritual warfare, this is one of the two books that I consider required reading

So what’s the point of all this? The point is that the Bible presents spiritual warfare to take place on specific geographical grounds on earth. We are called not only to redeem people, but to redeem sacred space. I remember reading in George Otis’ Twilight Labyrinth: Why Spiritual Darkness Lingers Where It Does (which I can’t quote from directly due to having loaned it out, so I’ll have to get the quote later) that missionaries often find themselves stymied in their efforts until they make a point of praying along the pagan pilgrimage routes and right before the pagan holy days.

Unfortunately, all too often we have failed to redeem those sacred places, and let the demons of the past linger among us. I’m not talking about destroying historical sites (if we were in the habit of doing that, we wouldn’t have all of the wonderful contextual information from Ugarit that I’ve used above), but re-sanctifying them. I’m not talking about military conquest and seizing other peoples’ property, but spiritual conquest and taking authority over our own property.

Those of a Pentecostal or charismatic persuation are used to this idea already, but I’ve known enough who are skeptical that the practices of dedicating a home with oil or walking the boundary line of a piece of property in prayer is really Biblical. I’m hoping to show in this series of posts that not only are such practices Biblically permissible, but that they are Biblically commanded.


Just What Is An Apostle, Anyway?

One of my favourite blogs to follow lately is Cryptotheology (recently added to my blogroll here). Matthew Malcomb does a fantastic job at posting short, informative, eminently readable posts that frequently delve into how the original readers of the New Testament may have read certain terms differently than we.

Case in point, he recently published a short post titled, “What does ‘apostolos’ mean?” in which he quotes Benjamin Edsall’s Paul’s Witness to Formative Early Christian Instruction:

[There is an] absence of an analogous use of the term [that is, analogous to Paul’s use] in Greek literature, where it is used with a variety of meanings and only rarely in reference to a messenger of any kind. (p123)

As in Herodotus Hist. 1.21.4; 5.38.8; Plutarch Phoc. 11.1. Other meanings include an expedition (military and naval), a list of colonists and a colony in Dionysius of Halicarnassus Ant. rom. 7.5.3, 9.59.2; and 7.13.3 respectively. Note also the ‘sending’ of Jewish emissaries: Josephus A.J. 17.300. See Regstorf 1964, 407-408. (p123, n.7)

“Perhaps, then, it might have meant something like ‘delegation’??” Malcomb asks.

Actually, the definition of expeditionaries and colonists make perfect sense. Apostles aren’t just messengers who go out, deliver the message, and come back–they are going forth to colonize the world in the name of the Kingdom of Heaven, to conquer the local “gods” and demons in the name of the Messiah.

Which means that we do still have apostles today (in the general sense, not the The Twelve sense). We just call them missionaries. Having grown up around missionaries who received their calling in literal visions and who saw Acts-of-the-Apostles-level miracles and spiritual warfare on the field, that makes perfect sense to me.


A Word of Praise

Sorry for the slow updates lately. Just a quick note for my readers: I’ve been in an extensive interview process for what would be my dream job in the secular world, and today I passed the last hurdle and got an offer that suits us both. While not quite as high as I’d hoped for, it’s an excellent starting salary and much better than I’ve ever earned before, with some good opportunities for advancement. So basically, Baruch Hashem! (Praise the Lord! for you Sunday folk.)

I’ve been working on a few things that I’ve not had the time to turn into blog posts, but rest assured that I’ll be getting back into the swing of things soon. Once I get the family resettled in a place a bit closer to work, I’ll have a subway ride to and from work to do my reading and writing on. Until then, I’m in for some long days so please bear with me.

Shalom u’vrekha (peace and blessings)

Iron Show Back On Tonight

IronShowLogoAfter taking a week off due to Iron Johnny sustaining yet another injury (what’s with that guy?), the Iron Show is back, with Johnny, Matthew Millar, and myself hammering away on the book of Judges again. More cool stuff on the prophetess Deborah to satisfy your classical (i.e., non-man-hating) feminist side! We’ll be starting about five minutes late (that’s 10:05 pm EST) while Johnny takes a remedial course in podcasting.

Our Usual Warning: The Iron Show is not recommended for listeners who like their Bible teaching quiet and inoffensive. Side effects of listening to the Iron Show include conviction, repentance, obsession with ancient texts, a desire to learn Hebrew, loss of sleep for those on the East Coast, reverence, irreverence, being on the fringe, wearing fringes, rocking out, irritating your pastor with weird questions, loving sinners, hating sin, tipping better, sharing the Gospel, philo-Semitism, a craving for matzah, the sudden desire to make a pilgrimage to Israel, believing in Yeshua the Messiah, being born again, receiving the Holy Spirit, and a changed life. Women who may be pregnant should not listen to The Iron Show unless they want their sons to have hair on their chests. If you experience sudden bleeding from the ears, turn down the volume and consult your doctor after you finish listening to the show.

Replacement Theology by Any Other Name

There’s a Golden Rule of scholarship: “Understand thy opponent’s position as well as you would have him understand yours.” Since I’m currently working on a book that deals with both Supersessionism (Replacement Theology) and Dispensationalism, I’ve been looking for books and articles on both to make sure that I present them fairly.

Dispensationalism is easy. I grew up in a Dispensationalist church, have a few dozen books on prophecy from a Dispensationalist position, and  you can find thousands of websites written from those who happily and without reservation identify themselves as Dispensationalist standpoint.

You’d think that finding the same on the Supersessionist side would be just as easy. Alas, no one seems to want to be identified as Supersessionist or Replacement Theology for some reason–even if what they actually present falls exactly into that category.

Case in point is this article from Reformedontheweb’s Blog.  The author starts out arguing that applying the term “Replacement Theology” to his own Reformed Covenant Theology is incorrect, going so far as to state, “I am sure that there are some who hold to the erroneous position known as ‘replacement theology,’ yet I do not know of any. Therefore I believe that the reason this term is used against covenant theology is not so much an ignorance of what covenant theology teaches, but instead is used to discredit covenant theology and build prejudices against it.”

Okay, this got my interest. I’ve debated subjects with those of a Covenant Theology persuasion before, but this is the first time that I’ve heard someone claim that Supersessionism (their preferred term) isn’t what they believe in. So what does the author believe?

‘Expansion theology’ basically states that God, while initiating his new covenant towards Israel in the person and work of Jesus Christ, is also expanding the house of Israel unto the uttermost parts of the earth, by bringing Gentiles into the fold. This view is clearly taught throughout the Old and New Testament. Most dispensationalists will state that the mystery hid throughout the ages was that God would start a church during which time he would quit dealing with Israel and deal primarily with the Gentiles. But does scripture teach that? or Does scripture teach that the mystery that was hid throughout the ages, but is now revealed, was that God would make the Gentiles fellow heirs and partakers of the same body of Israelites?

At first I found this interesting, since it bore some resemblance to my own Adoption Theology. Since part of my purpose in developing Adoption Theology was the hope of providing some middle ground between the extremes of Supersessionism and Dispensationalism, finding a similar theological thread in the Reform tradition would be exciting.

The next few paragraphs of the article fit well enough, demonstrating from Ephesians 2-3 that the Gentiles of the Ekklesia are “fellow-heirs” and “citizens” of “the same body” as the Jewish followers of Yeshua. So far so good, and the author rightly points out that these passages completely undermine the Dispensational paradigm in which the Church and Israel are completely separate bodies.

Paul is plain in these verses that Gentiles were at one time alienated from the citizenship of Israel, from the covenants, and from Christ. But now God is taking two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, and making one body of people out of them. Is this not what Christ declared in “John 10:16 and other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” Did you get what Christ is saying? Jesus declared that he had sheep that were not of the fold of Israel, namely the Gentiles, which he would bring in and there would be one fold and one Shepherd.

Absolutely correct. But where the rubber hits the road is in answering the question, “What then happens to national Israel?” And this is where the author falls right back into what everyone else in the world understands to be Replacement Theology:

Under the Old Testament administration of the people of God, God commanded that every Israelite that would not keep his commands should be cut off. So it is clear that the promises, even under the Old Covenant of Moses were only to the faithful. Can we find evidence in scripture that plainly states that God has cut off natural Israel and is engrafting Gentiles into Israel in order to fulfill the Abrahamic promise of a seed as numerous as the stars? Absolutely. (emphasis mine)

DSC_0442Look at that key phrase: “God has cut off natural Israel.” All of it, apparently. Not a single thought given to the Messianic Jews who still identify with national Israel, as Paul did (Rom. 11:1). And to fulfill the promise, God has replaced, superseded, or, as the author puts it “engrafted Gentiles into Israel.” Now, we have no problem with the concept of “engrafting,” but there is a difference between grafting new branches onto a tree and replacing every single branch in the tree! One will enrich the tree, giving it a longer life, while the other will certainly kill it!

They key element of Supersessionism is the belief that Israel as a body–meaning the Jewish people as a whole–have been cut off from God’s promises and replaced with (superseded by) the Church, which then takes over as a “new” or “spiritual Israel.” Likewise, the Torah is seen as being superseded by (depending on the flavor) either a “new law” or by “grace” and “faith.”

Supersessionism’s deficiency is two-fold: First, not recognizing that there are many Jews throughout history who have believed in Yeshua, but who have rejected the Church’s demands that they give up being Jews in order to be “saved.” As David Rudolph writes, “Often I come across books and articles that assume the non-existence of Messianic Jews or reflect disregard for how a particular reading of a text, if translated into practice, would impact a twenty-first century Messianic synagogue. Having said this, I have also observed that awareness of Messianic Judaism is increasing . . .” (Rudolph, “Messianic Jews and Christian Theology: Restoring an Historical Voice to the Contemporary Discussion,” Pro Ecclesia VOL. XIV, NO. 1, retrieved from on May 12, 2015 pp. 1-2).

Second, Reformed on the Web mistakes God’s punishment of Israel with an eternal rejection of Israel when in fact the exile of twenty centuries, when “among the nations” the Jew found “no resting place for the sole of your foot” and they had “no assurance of [their] life” (Deu. 28:65, 66) demonstrates that the Eternal One has never released Israel from her covenant with him–a covenant that ends not in disgrace, but in restoration (Deu. 30:1-10).

So, does Reformed on the Web fall into the category of Replacement Theology? Absolutely. And he does so by failing to read his proof-texts in their original context.

Let’s examine some scripture from Hosea:

Hos 1:6-9 And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And God said unto him, Call her name Loruhamah: for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away.

But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen. Now when she had weaned Loruhamah, she conceived, and bare a son. Then said God, Call his name Loammi: for ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.

Listen to what God states here. God plainly declares that natural Israel is no longer his people. God cuts off all the unbelievers because Israel failed to weed them out.

The author recognizes that the prophecy does not end there, but interprets verse 10 exactly backwards: “God tells Hosea that natural Israel shall be cut off, but God will still keep the promises to Abraham of being blessed with a people that is numerous as the sand of the sea, because God is going to bring the Gentiles into the nation of Israel. Paul quotes this portion of Hosea in Romans 9:25-26 while discussing who true Israel consists of.”

My Reformed brother oversteps and misinterprets. Paul does rightly point out that simply being born Jewish doesn’t make one “of Israel” and that God reserves the right to prune his tree. However, what Paul emphatically does not say is that “Israel” ceases to be Jewish, or indeed that all Jews who do not believe in Yeshua cease to be Israel. As I pointed out in “Is the Church an Enemy of the Gospel For Its Own Sake?” if we are to assume that in Paul’s theology “Israel” now means the Church, that would mean that the Church is partially blinded until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and that the Church is an enemy of the Gospel because of itself. That makes no sense at all. Therefore, it must follow that by “Israel” here, Paul is speaking of the same Israel of which the majority were blinded in vv. 8-10, the same Israel that he starts chapter 9 by describing:

For I could wish that myself were accursed from the Messiah for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Torah, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Messiah came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (vv. 3-5)

As I wrote then: “It is not the Gentile believers who are beloved of God because of the patriarchs–we are beloved solely because of our adoption in Yeshua–but Israel, who received the covenants that God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is Israel who received the Torah, the service of God, and the promises. Sha’ul starts chapters 9-11 by defining Israel in such a way that nobody could mistake him for meaning the Ekklesia, and he ends his argument the same way. How then can some read Romans and suppose that God has forever rejected ‘Israel according to the flesh’?”

At no time does Paul say that the Gentiles become Israel, meaning the Jewish people, but rather that they are “citizens” of Israel the same way that he himself was a citizen of Rome. They are children of Abraham by adoption through Yeshua, yes, but Ishmael, Esau, and the children of Keturah were all children of Abraham–and yet none of them were Israel.

Getting back to Hosea, it take violently tearing the prophecy out of its context to interpret, “Where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it will be said to them, ‘[You are] sons of the living God” (1:10). First, the very next verse makes it clear that the “sons of the living God” are “sons of Judah and sons of Israel”–that is, the two kingdoms. Secondly, in the narrative of Hosea’s life, he is ultimately reconciled with his wife (ch. 3), and thereby with his children–he doesn’t go out and get a new wife and new children, which is what Covenant Theology claims the Holy Father did!

Let’s look at another example of Reformed on the Web’s error:

Jesus stated in Mat 21:42-43:

Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.

Notice that natural Israel is again in the context of those of whom shall be cut off.

Context is key. Who was Yeshua speaking to? The “chief priests and elders of the people” (v. 23), not all “national Israel.” Yeshua claims that the tax-collectors would enter into the Kingdom before them–but the tax-collectors, like Levi-Matthew, are also Jews! Moreover, in the parable of the landowner in vv. 33-41, the vineyard represents Israel (see Isa. 5) while the vine-dressers represent the leaders. And again, Yeshua quotes Psalm 118:22-23, “The stone the builders rejected, this became the chief corner-stone.” Peter expressly points to the Sanhedrin as being Israel’s “builders” in Acts 4:11.

And if all that were not enough, the Jewish leadership knew darn well who Yeshua was addressing, and it wasn’t the masses: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they understood that he was speaking about them” (Mat. 24:45)–not “them” as in Israel, but “them” as in the leaders.

So then, the point is not that God was replacing Israel with the Gentiles, but that Yeshua was replacing Israel’s spiritual leadership with that of his Twelve, to whom he had given the power of binding and loosing (Mat. 16:19, 18:18)–that is, to give authoritative rulings on God’s commandments.

I’m picking on Reformed on the Web not because his thoughts are badly written, and certainly not because I’m looking for a strawman to pick apart. On the contrary, I find his posts to be thoughtful, well-written, and generally a good representation of mainline Protestant Christianity. And that’s precisely what makes them so sad: He claims that Replacement Theology is a boogyman of Dispensationalism, but then goes right on to defend its worst qualities under another name.

replacement-theology-no-thanks1I believe that most Christians have shied away from the term “Replacement” because of a gut-check issue: As many authors have pointed out, if God could replace Israel so blithely with another body because of her disobedience, why couldn’t he do the same to the Church? Is the Church so pure that it can honestly claim to have held to its covenant with the Almighty better than Israel? And if not, then how can those who claim that the Holy One replaced one people–despite all of the Biblical promises not to (e.g., Gen. 13:15)–be assured that he hasn’t replaced them with the Muslims or the Mormons or pick-your-favorite cult?

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them, and became partaker with them of the root and of the richness of the olive tree; don’t boast over the branches. But if you boast, it is not you who support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.” Fine. By their unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by your faith. Don’t be conceited, but fear; for if God didn’t spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. (Rom. 11:17-21)