Category archives: History

Rosa Parks: A Woman of Quiet Strength and Faith Who Galvanized the Civil Rights Movement

by Molly Carman

March 31, 2021

Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to commemorate the contributions of God-fearing women in American history. Women have played an important role in our nation’s history and the women in this series represent those who have faithfully, courageously, and humbly served their families, communities, and our nation. Don’t miss our previous installment on Abigail Adams, Fanny Crosby, Harriet Tubman, and Clara Barton.

Born and raised during the Jim Crow era, Rosa Parks became known as “The Mother of the Modern-Day Civil Rights Movement.” Although she is best remembered for refusing to give up her seat on a bus, she also believed that taking a stand for equal rights was invaluable. Rosa had a tenacious and fiery disposition, but she believed that her strength was not her own, once declaring, “God has always given me the strength to say what is right.” Her endurance and faith spurred her on through the darkest nights and the lowest valleys, and her legacy continues to inspire today.

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her parents separated when Rosa was only two years old, shortly after her brother Sylvester was born. She and her mother and brother moved to live with her maternal grandparents on their farm outside Montgomery. Rosa’s grandparents were former slaves and early advocates of the civil rights movement. She recalled her grandfather standing by the front door with a gun as the Ku Klux Klan marched down their street.

Rosa’s life with her grandparents was extremely formative. In her autobiography, she reflected:

Every day before supper and before we went to services on Sundays, my grandmother would read the Bible to me, and my grandfather would pray. We even had devotions before going to pick cotton in the fields. Prayer and the Bible became a part of my everyday thoughts and beliefs. I learned to put my trust in God and to seek Him as my strength.

Rosa would continue to attend church her whole life. She was greatly inspired by the stories of other Christians who took a stand for their rights as she considered how she would stand up for her own.

When Rosa was 11, she began attending Miss White’s Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, a private Christian school. Her education continued at Booker T. Washington Junior High and Alabama State Teachers College, a high school. However, Rosa returned home before graduating to care for her dying grandmother and ill mother. Because she had not finished her education, Rosa took a position as a seamstress.

When Rosa was 19, she met Raymond Parks, a barber, who proposed to Rosa on their second date. They were married on December 18, 1932, and never had any children together.

Raymond encouraged Rosa to go back to school the following year and earn her high school diploma. After graduation, she worked as a secretary at Maxwell Air Force base, which was going through desegregation. Rosa and Raymond both became members of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1934. As chapter secretary, Rosa documented the most violent acts committed against blacks. The Racy Taylor case became national news because of Rosa’s work. In 1947, her reputation as a fiery activist grew, and she was asked to speak at the NAACP convention, where she received a standing ovation.

However, the civil rights movement began to change when Brown v. Board of Education was decided on May 17, 1954. As desegregation began in the schools, the NAACP believed it was time for the buses to desegregate as well. Rosa Parks was not the first black woman to refuse to give up her seat, but her story lit the flame.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa boarded a Montgomery city bus after a long day of work and sat in the middle section next to three black men. The bus driver, James Blake, was notorious for harassing black passengers. When a white man boarded the bus, Blake approached Rosa’s row and asked her and the other three black passengers to move to the back to make room for the white passenger. They all refused at first, but after the harassment continued, the other three all moved. Rosa did not move and remained seated alone. Blake threatened to call the police, to which she calmly replied, “You may do that.” Rosa later recalled:

I instantly felt God give me the strength to endure whatever would happen next, God’s peace flooded my soul, and my fear melted away. All people were equal in the eyes of God, and I was going to live like a free person.

Rosa was arrested and taken into police custody but was released on bail that same evening. She was later fined $14 but never paid the fine. Martin Luther King Jr. heard what happened and initiated plans for a bus boycott in Montgomery. Thirty-five thousand flyers were distributed, and the boycott began on the morning of Rosa’s trial. The boycott lasted for 381 days and was nearly 100 percent successful.

Although in many ways Rosa was the spark of the boycott, she was ignored and abandoned by many of her fellow black friends who said she was just stirring up trouble for them. She also lost her second job as a seamstress in January 1956. Rosa and Raymond’s reputations began to be slandered, and they received numerous death threats. Her husband was so overwhelmed that he suffered a nervous breakdown. In November 1956, a federal court ruled in favor of desegregating buses in Montgomery. After the law was first implemented, Rosa was photographed riding the bus next to reporter Nicholas C. Chriss, a white man, on December 21, 1956 (see image above).

Due to their continued harassment and financial struggles, Rosa and her husband moved to Hampton, Virginia and then Detroit, Michigan in 1957 to live with her brother and his family. While there, her health declined and she developed stomach ulcers, but struggled to afford the necessary medication. Thankfully, Raymond found employment and they became more financially stable for a time. The civil rights movement that Rosa helped spark led to the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race.  

Between 1977 and 1979, Rosa’s husband, brother, and mother all died of cancer. Rosa dedicated herself to civil rights advocacy and continued to receive death threats for most of her life. President Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996. In 1999, she was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Rosa Parks died on October 24, 2005 in Detroit, Michigan. She was the first woman and the second African American to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. On February 4, 2013, on the centennial of her birth, her statue was unveiled in the Capitol. In life, Rosa saw it as her duty to stand strong in the face of grave injustice but also realized that the strength she needed could only come from God.

Clara Barton: Red Cross Founder and Civil War’s “Angel of the Battlefield”

by Molly Carman

March 26, 2021

Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to commemorate the contributions of God-fearing women in American history. Women have played an important role in our nation’s history and the women in this series represent those who have faithfully, courageously, and humbly served their families, communities, and our nation. Periodically throughout the month of March, we will be sharing some of these inspiring stories. Don’t miss our previous installments on Abigail Adams, Fanny Crosby, and Harriet Tubman.

Clara Barton is primarily known for being the founder of the American Red Cross. However, she was also a pioneer for women working in the fields of nursing, government, and humanitarian aid. Throughout her long life, Clara was deeply dedicated to serving those in need. She wasted no time waiting to be told what needed to be done; instead, she took the initiative and saw to the needs of others herself. Today, she is remembered as one of the greatest humanitarians our country has ever known.

Clarissa (“Clara”) Harlowe Barton was born on Christmas Day 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts, the youngest of five children by 10 years. Her two older brothers, Stephen and David, taught her mathematics and how to ride bareback and climb trees. Her two older sisters, Sarah (“Sally”) and Dorothea (“Dolly”), taught her to read and write. Sadly, the Barton home was not a happy one. Mrs. Barton suffered from a mental illness (most likely bipolar disorder) and was unkind to Clara as a child. Older sister Dolly spent most of her life locked away in an upstairs bedroom after suffering a mental breakdown when Clara was six. However, Clara’s father, Captain Stephen Barton, loved Clara and gave her an example of hard work, persistence, and compassion. This example provided a foundation for the humanitarian efforts for which she would later become famous. Clara was raised in the Universalist church, and her autobiography gives testimony to the role her faith took in her work.

When Clara was 11, her older brother David fell off the roof of the family barn. His injuries rendered him bedridden, and doctors believed that he would not survive. Clara refused to accept their prognosis and spent the next two years nursing her brother back to full health. This was her first exposure to nursing, but it would not be her last.

Clara did not initially pursue a career in nursing, as it was a predominately male profession at the time. Instead, she acquired a teaching license and worked as an educator for 12 years before furthering her education at the Clinton Liberal Institute in New York. In 1852, she founded the first free school in the state of New Jersey. The school was successful, so much so that when it expanded and a new building was built, the board hired a male principal to run the school instead of Clara. She continued to teach at the school but suffered from health problems and her first of many mental breakdowns, and eventually resigned.

In 1855, Clara moved to Washington, D.C., and was the first female clerk in the U.S. Patent Office, earning a salary equal to that of her male peers. The adjustment was difficult, and some of her male coworkers harassed and slandered her on account of her being a woman. Her position was later reduced to a copyist, and then her job was terminated altogether with the election of President James Buchanan in 1857. She moved home to Massachusetts but later returned to D.C. when Abraham Lincoln took office, resuming her position at the Patent Office.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Clara was extremely aggravated by the lack of care given to Union soldiers traveling from the northern states to the southern battlegrounds. Many of these men were packed into train cars and not given food, water, or shelter when they stopped in the capital. Clara went to work acquiring supplies and helping in whatever way she could when the trains stopped at the station. She became particularly concerned with the number of wounded men who had been on the battlefield for days before receiving medical attention once on the train to a hospital. Because women were not allowed on the battlefield, she worked diligently to receive permission to transport supplies and medical care herself to the front lines.

Many women served as volunteer nurses during the Civil War, but their services were generally relegated to military hospitals, not the battlefield itself. On August 9, 1862, at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Clara Barton performed her first field duty. As she carried supplies to the wounded, comforted the dying, and stayed calm and collected through it all, the male nurses and surgeons working alongside her marveled at her instincts and gentleness. Clara’s service at the Battle of Antietam earned her the nickname “Angel of the Battlefield,” and her fame began to grow. She would go on to serve on a total of 16 battlefields, including every major battle in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. General Benjamin Butler named her head nurse of his unit in 1864, even though she had no formal medical training. She would go on to instruct other female nurses as the war continued.

After the war, Clara coordinated efforts to locate lost soldiers. She and her colleagues received over 63,000 inquiries and were able to locate 22,000 soldiers, bringing closure to their families. The D.C. boarding house that she lived in is now home to the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum.

The stress of the war and recoveries of missing persons caused Clara to suffer a second mental breakdown, and she traveled to Europe for rest. While in Europe, she was exposed to the work of the organization that would become known as the International Committee of the Red Cross. Determined to provide similar humanitarian relief in the United States, Clara would later found the American Red Cross on May 21, 1881. The organization’s first relief operation was in response to the Great Michigan Fire of 1881, and it received its first congressional charter in 1900. Clara remained president of the Red Cross until 1904. She would then go on to found the National First Aid Society.

Clara Barton died of pneumonia on April 12, 1912, in Glen Echo, Maryland. Despite suffering from depression and physical and mental illnesses for most of her life, her pioneering work as a nurse and the immense compassion she showed for those in need inspired a wounded nation and continues to be a shining example of selfless love.

Harriet Tubman: A Leader to Freedom and a Servant of God

by Molly Carman

March 19, 2021

Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to commemorate the contributions of God-fearing women in American history. Women have played an important role in our nation’s history and the women in this series represent those who have faithfully, courageously, and humbly served their families, communities, and our nation. Periodically throughout the month of March, we will be sharing some of these inspiring stories. Don’t miss our previous installment on Abigail Adams and Fanny Crosby.

Harriet Tubman, the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, has been called “the Moses of her people.” Born into slavery, she started with nothing—no freedom, no education, and no riches. However, despite these deficiencies, she eventually acquired her freedom and led others to theirs. Abolitionist William Still said, “in point of courage, shrewdness and disinterested exertions to rescue her fellow-men, by making personal visits to Maryland among the enslaved, she was without her equal.” Harriet’s life and legacy were marked by her trust in God to guide and protect her.

Araminta “Minty” Ross, the woman who would eventually become known as Harriet Tubman, was born in Dorchester County, Maryland, to Benjamin Ross and Harriet “Rit” Green. She was the fifth of nine children. The exact date of her birth is unknown, but it is estimated to be around 1822. Three of Minty’s sisters were sold away from the family unit, two of them having to leave young children behind.

She experienced one of her worst beatings after getting caught with her finger in a sugar bowl and hiding for several days. Life on the plantation was hard, but Minty was taught spirituals from childhood that kept her spirits up. She attended church and believed that God was good no matter her circumstances.

Minty suffered a traumatic head injury as an adolescent when an overseer aimed a metal weight at a runaway boy and hit Minty instead. She would suffer from seizures and headaches for the rest of her life. This event likely played a role in igniting Minty’s fierce desire to be free.

Around 1844, Minty married John Tubman, a free man about five years her senior. Their marriage, though genuine, had no legal standing on account of Minty’s enslaved status. Minty still had to live on her enslaver’s land, apart from her free husband, and any children they would have had together would have been considered the property of her master. It was around this time that Minty changed her name to Harriet Tubman.

In 1849, Harriet’s master died suddenly and left the estate in considerable debt. Knowing that she would likely be sold away from her husband and family, Harriet resolved to escape to freedom. She later recounted, “I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.” Harriet wanted her husband to go north with her, but he did not share her dreams and refused to go threatening to report her, but Harriet was determined.

Harriet made her first contact with the Underground Railroad when a Quaker woman visited the plantation and told Harriet that if she ever needed help—wanted to escape—then she could come to her house. On the night of September 17, 1849, Harriet ran away with two of her siblings, Ben and Henry. However, her brothers had second thoughts and turned back while Harriet continued on alone. Several historians believe that Harriet first took refuge on the farm of Jacob and Hannah Leverton.

Harriet was given assistance and provisions by members of the Underground Railroad, who advised her to chart her course by the North Star. She traveled over 100 miles before reaching Philadelphia—and freedom. She later recounted, “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.” Harriet got a job as a maid, and while she loved her newfound freedom, she desired that her family could be free, too. “I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land; and my home after all, was down in Maryland; because my father, my mother, my brothers, and sisters, and friends were there. But I was free, and they should be free.”

Harriet began to make plans for the dangerous journey back to Maryland. Although highly discouraged to take the trip, she believed that God would protect her. The following quote has been attributed to Harriet: “Twasn’t me, ‘twas the Lord! I always told Him, ‘I trust to you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect You to lead me,’ an’ He always did.” After bringing her sister and her sister’s children safely north, Harriet knew she wanted to help others. Eventually, she helped most of her family to freedom. She had wanted to bring her husband John north as well but was heartbroken to discover that he had remarried in her absence.

In 1850, the second Fugitive Slave Act was enacted, which allowed anyone to capture runaway slaves anywhere, even in the north—and there were hefty rewards. Free men resorted to fleeing to Canada to maintain their freedom. Harriet was scared, so she turned to her faith: “I prayed to God to make me strong and able to fight, and that’s what I’ve always prayed for ever since.” Harriet used her savings to buy a house in Canada for fugitive slaves, and in the winter months, she traveled back to Maryland in order to guide others to freedom. She never traveled the same route twice and depended on the Quaker farms along the way to assist her. Legend says slave owners despised her so much that they posted a $40,000 reward for her arrest, although this figure is disputed by some modern historians.

Harriet may have taken as many as 19 trips and rescued or otherwise helped upwards of 300 slaves. She recounted her stories and life events to her friend Sarah Bradford, who published her memoir, Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People. Of her rescue efforts, Harriet said, “I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say—I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”

During the Civil War, Harriet worked for the Union army as a nurse, scout, cook, and spy and became the first woman to lead a military operation in the United States. She rejoiced when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed on January 1, 1863. After the war, she returned to New York, married her second husband, Union veteran Nelson Davis, and adopted a daughter named Gertie. She would go on to work as a humanitarian and suffragist alongside the likes of Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and Thomas Garret. The latter said of Harriet, “I never met with any person, of any color, who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul … her faith in a Supreme Power truly was great.”

When Harriet’s husband died in 1888, she received a widow’s pension. She also received a nurse’s pension but was denied a scout’s pension. She struggled financially for the rest of her life but continued to be thankful and serve others. Together with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, she established the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged in 1908. Harriet died on March 10, 1913, at approximately 90 years of age. She was laid to rest with military honors in Fort Hill Cemetery in New York. Her gravestone is inscribed with the words, “Servant of God, Well Done.”

Harriet was a servant her whole life—first to her enslavers, then as a free woman to her fellow men and country. But ultimately, she was a servant of God.

Fanny Crosby: One of History’s Most Prolific Poets and Songwriters

by Molly Carman

March 16, 2021

Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to commemorate the contributions of God-fearing women in American history. Women have played an important role in our nation’s history and the women in this series represent those who have faithfully, courageously, and humbly served their families, communities, and our nation. Periodically throughout the month of March, we will be sharing some of these inspiring stories. Don’t miss our previous installment on Abigail Adams.

On March 24, 1820, Francis “Fanny” Jane Crosby, one of the most accomplished, well known, and sung poets and songwriters in history, was born. Her parents, John and Mercy Crosby, were devastated when at just six weeks old, Fanny developed a cold that caused her eyes to swell and a local country doctor prescribed a hot mustard poultice that rendered their daughter completely blind. Fanny Crosby never resented her blindness, but later in life she wrote, “In more than eighty-five years, I have not for a moment felt a spark of resentment against him [the doctor], for I have always believed from my youth up that the good Lord, in His infinite mercy, by this means consecrated me to the work that I am still permitted to do.”

Fanny Crosby’s childhood was not easy, but she was determined to find joy and live life to the fullest. Tragically, her father died before her first birthday. She was not allowed to attend school because of her blindness, and at age five, after visiting an eye doctor in New York, she learned that her blindness was irreversible. Crosby’s grandmother took it upon herself “to be her eyes” and teach her Scripture and how to navigate life without her sight. As a child, she memorized large passages of the psalms and proverbs which would later be the foundation for writing many of her hymns.

In 1835, the New York school for the blind opened its doors and Fanny Crosby was one of the first students. Over time, she was considered one of their best students. When guests came to the school, Crosby was frequently asked to recite poetry. During her time as a student, 22 of the men that she met would serve, or had served, as America’s presidents, from John Quincy Adams to Woodrow Wilson. But her favorite guest was the poet William Colon Bryant who encouraged her poetry.

Upon graduation, she was offered a teaching position at the school. Crosby would go on to teach for 11 years during which time she mastered several instruments, learned musical techniques, and practiced her poetry. In 1843 the school asked Crosby and other faculty members to go to Washington, D.C. to ask for more financial assistant to further the work of the school. Crosby was the first woman to ever testify before the Senate and Congress. Her presentation and poetry moved many to tears, and her testimony increased awareness for citizens with disabilities.

Tragedy struck New York in the Autumn of 1848 when the Asiatic Cholera pandemic reached its shores. Crosby cared for the students in the blind school, even when ill herself. She lost her favorite student to the disease one night while rocking her to sleep, and in the morning carried her to the church for burial. This disease drew many to the church, including Crosby. Her new friend Theodore Camp inspired her to reconsider the gospel and examine her own life. She later had a dream where a friend was dying and asked if he would see her again in heaven. From this experience she realized, “I was trying to hold the world in one hand and the Lord in another.” At age 30, Fanny Crosby gave her life to Christ.

She married Alexander van Alstyne in 1858, a fellow blind teacher at the school in New York. They were married for 44 years. She became Fanny van Alstyne legally, but was known publicly as Fanny Crosby her whole life. Their only child suddenly died as an infant. In her grieving she wrote, “Safe in the arms of Jesus,” originally a poem that was later put to music.

Crosby worked for the famous composer Mr. William B. Bradberry for four years before he died, at which point she was hired on by L. H. Brigalow and Sylvester Maine at their publishing firm, where she remained for 34 years. Brigalow and Maine became the largest publishing company of hymns and gospel music. Philip Philips approached Crosby in 1866 with 40 hymn titles in need of lyrics for his new hymnal. She composed and memorized all of them in her mind before dictating them in one setting. One of her most famous hymns, “Blessed Assurance,” was written in just five minutes and debuted at the crusades of Dwight L. Moody and Iris Sanky.

In her lifetime, Crosby contributed to “Gospel Hymns” and “Sacred Songs” hymnals which sold over 15 million copies worldwide before her death, and she donated all of her royalties to charities. She was such a prolific songwriter, often writing up to six hymns in a day, that she acquired over 200 pen names to give author variety in publications. By age 43 she had written over 10,000 poems (most of which are now hymns).

Her husband passed away in 1902 and Crosby continued to write and serve for the rest of her life. Even the night before she died, she wrote to a friend who had just lost her daughter, thinking of others to the very end. Fanny Crosby saw her savior on February 12, 1915, and on her epitaph is the chorus of “Blessed Assurance.” Today, a hymnal is often considered incomplete without one of her hymns. Her final hymn points to the testimony of her life, “To God be the glory, great things He has done; so loved He the world that He gave us His Son, who yielded His life an atonement for sin, and opened the life-gate that all may go in.”

Abigail Adams: A Force for Women’s Rights and Abolition

by Molly Carman

March 11, 2021

Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to commemorate the contributions of God-fearing women in American history. Women have played an important role in our nation’s history and the women in this series represent those who have faithfully, courageously, and humbly served their families, communities, and our nation. Periodically throughout the month of March, we will be sharing some of these inspiring stories.

Abigail Smith Adams is best known as the wife of our nation’s second president, John Adams, and the mother of our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. She served as the close advisor and confidant of her husband and the first teacher of her son. But Abigail was also a formidable public figure in her own right. She was among the first to advocate for equal rights for American women. She also promoted formal education for girls and staunchly opposed slavery.

Abigail was born on November 11, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Her father was a Congregationalist minister, and her mother was the daughter of John Quincy, who served as Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly for over 40 years. Abigail was the second oldest of five children and stood barely over five feet tall. She did not receive a formal education as a young woman (this was common at the time); however, she was taught to read and write by her mother at home and availed herself of the family library, where she learned philosophy, theology, government, and law. She also read the classics and Shakespeare’s plays. Abigail was raised on the family farm, but her poor health as a child relegated her to spending most of her days indoors, writing letters and reading books.

On October 25, 1764, 19-year-old Abigail Smith married 28-year-old lawyer John Adams, who is said to have greatly admired her for her intellect and opinionated nature. They had six children together (one was stillborn). The oldest, Abigail (“Nabby”), was born nine months after their marriage. Her second oldest and most famous child, John Quincy Adams, was born in 1767. Sadly, Abigail buried four of her children over the course of her life—only John Quincy and Thomas, her second youngest, outlived her. Aside from the large task of raising and educating her children, Abigail also worked closely with her husband to run the series of farms they rented before finally buying their own farm, “Peacefield,” in 1787.

In 1774, John headed to Philadelphia to join the First Continental Congress. The couple began a long correspondence, wherein John would ask his wife’s advice and opinions on various political matters. They also provided each other with updates on the family farm, Congress, the war for independence, and personal matters. In one letter, Abigail expressed her disdain for the institution of slavery:

I wish most sincerely there was not a Slave in the province. It allways appeard a most iniquitious Scheme to me-fight ourselfs for what we are daily robbing and plundering from those who have as good a right to freedom as we have. You know my mind upon this Subject.

In 1775, Abigail was appointed to serve as a judge of Tory ladies by the Massachusetts Colony General Court. The governor’s wife, Hannah Winthrop, and poet and playwright Mercy Warren were other prominent appointees. During this time, Abigail also worked alongside Judith Sargent Murray, who wrote one of the earliest books on women’s equality, On the Equality of the Sexes. Adams and Murray both wanted women to have the opportunity for formal education, property rights, and control of their earnings.

In July of 1776, the Continental Congress agreed upon the Declaration of Independence, and freedom from Britain was on the horizon. It was at this time that Abigail wrote her most famous piece of correspondence to her husband, a letter that has since been referred to as “Remember the Ladies.” In this letter, she pleads with John to do what he can to allow women equal opportunity to participate in the new union. She notes, “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.” Although Abigail’s wishes were not immediately realized, her words of wisdom encouraged the creation of public policies to protect women’s rights down the road.

From 1778-88, John served as a U.S. ambassador to England and France. During the first five years of his time abroad, Abigail kept her husband informed of the young country’s new policies and progress while he confided in her on international affairs. She joined her husband in London in 1783, and they remained there until shortly before John was elected to serve as the first vice president under George Washington, from 1789-1797. John greatly respected his wife, and when he was elected the second president of the United States (1797-1801), he wrote her these words, “I never wanted your Advice and assistance more in my life.” John and Abigail Adams were the first presidential family to occupy the White House, although it was later burned down by the British during the War of 1812 and had to be rebuilt.

Although her husband was the president, the public was equally familiar with Abigail, due to her nature of speaking her mind on any and every matter. Her support for her husband’s positions, bills, and opinions on various political issues resulted in her own reputation being criticized in public. While serving as first lady, she went as her husband’s proxy and inspected a military regiment, continued to advance women’s rights to education, and promoted the abolition of slavery. In a particularly memorable incident, Abigail sought to have a free black boy named James admitted to an evening school to learn cyphering. She recounted the story in a letter to John:

The Boy is a Freeman as much as any of the young Men, and merely because his Face is Black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? Is this the Christian principle of doing to others, as we would have others do to us?

Throughout her letters to her husband during their 54 years of marriage, Abigail frequently referenced Scripture to encourage him and as a reminder of the Lord’s grace and sovereignty to guide the country. Her devotion to her husband and her country is commendable, but her true loyalty was to God, who guided her through the toils of life and enabled her to stand strong. Abigail Adams died at the age of 73 on October 28, 1818, at her home in Quincy, Massachusetts.

90 Years Ago Today, a Rousing Poem Became Our National Anthem

by Molly Carman

March 3, 2021

Ninety years ago today, on March 3, 1931, Congress officially designated “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key as the national anthem of the United States of America. Key’s song is a reminder of the fight for freedom and the patriots who gave their lives during the founding of our country. Key wrote this poem as a tribute to our flag as a beacon of hope and liberty for all American citizens and the world. On the anniversary of this poem becoming our national anthem, it is appropriate to remember the price so many have paid throughout our history to secure our rights and liberty.

Francis Scott Key did not anticipate that his poem would one day become the anthem and make him famous, but his poetic words and reputation proceeded him. He was born to a wealthy family in Frederick County, Maryland on August 1, 1779. He attended St. John’s College in Annapolis. After finishing his studies, he learned and practiced law under his uncle for several years. In 1802 he married Mary Tayloe “Polly” Lloyd and the couple moved to Georgetown where he practiced law. Key gained notoriety when he defended Justus Eric Bollman and Samuel Swartwout who had been charged with treason. He would go on to serve as the District Attorney for the District of Columbia and even an advisor to President Andrew Jackson in the 1860s.

During the War of 1812, the British attacked Fort McHenry on September 13, 1814. For over 25 hours, cannon fire, bombs, and militia tested the resilience of the fort. The British attacked the fort after successfully marching through Washington, D.C. where they burned the Capitol and the White House. During the assault, Key made an agreement with the British and boarded one of their ships to rescue his friend who was a prisoner of war. As the battle continued into the night, the British forced Key to remain on the ship to prevent him from aiding his countrymen. From the ship it seemed as though all hope was lost for America. However, it was the sight at dawn that inspired Key to pen the famous words to his short poem, originally titled, “Defense of Fort M’Henry.”

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight

O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The poem describes the beautiful sight of liberty overcoming tyranny as the United States flag soared over the fort at dawn declaring an American victory. The banner was specifically commissioned by Major Armistead who was in command of Fort McHenry. Mary Pickersgill along with her daughter, two nieces, and servant all worked for over six weeks to complete the flag. They made two flags, one to charge the garrison that was 17 by 25 feet, and another to fly over the fort that was 30 by 42 feet. Both had 15 red and white stripes and 15 stars to represent the 15 states at the time. It is estimated that they used over 300 yards of wool; she was paid nearly $600 when it was complete. When it was clear that America had claimed the victory, the larger of the flags was raised. This flag was passed down through the Armistead family. Over time, pieces were cut off and shared with veterans, family friends, historians, and political figures. Today what is left of the flag is preserved in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Within a week, the poem that Key wrote describing the victory at Fort McHenry was published in the Baltimore Patriot, a local newspaper, and its popularity soon spread. Key’s brother-in-law set the poem to music and took the tune from a men’s social club song called, “To Anacreon to Heaven.” After the poem was put to music it was renamed, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Because of the vulgar connotation of the tune as a “drinking song” and its association with the social club, Congress rejected it when the song was first proposed as the national anthem in 1930. Its leaders wanted the national anthem to have more wholesome and honorable origins. Further some members did not agree with adopting the song because it was difficult to march or dance to the rhythm. Other well-known patriotic songs such as “America the Beautiful,” “Hail, Columbia,” and “My Country, Tis of Thee” where all close contenders in the debate for America’s anthem. Finally, in 1931 they came to a consensus and “The Star-Spangled Banner” was declared the national anthem.

Our national anthem is a testimony of our nation’s history and founding. As we sing the words together before a ball game, in our schools, on Independence Day, and at political events, it’s a great opportunity to take the time to remember that freedom is never free. It is our sacred duty to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness so that the next generation might benefit from the freedom that we have because of the sacrifice of the generations before us.

Holy Boldness: The Uncommon Courage of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

by Worth Loving

March 2, 2021

Even though George Orwell’s 1984 is a work of fiction, the last two years might lead one to believe that it is a true story—just with the wrong title. In his book, Orwell writes of a government that dictates its own version of the truth and silences anyone who dares to challenge their approved groupthink.

Mere days after the major networks called the 2020 presidential race for Joe Biden, many who questioned the integrity of the election were quickly banned from major social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. What started with former President Trump being banned turned into much more. Even groups like Focus on the Family have been banned by Twitter for proclaiming biblical truth about gender and sexuality, not to mention the many Christians and Catholics who have been persecuted in America over the past decade for running their businesses and ministries according to their deeply held religious convictions. For example, take Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, the Little Sisters of the Poor, or dozens of others. None of these people wanted the battle they were given, but they were not willing to sacrifice truth and justice on the altar of political correctness.

In the midst of a raging “cancel culture,” it might be tempting for many Bible-believing Christians to keep their faith to themselves and not speak up against governmental policies that are antithetical to biblical teaching. But, throughout history, God has called His people to stand up against the rising tide of antibiblical teaching and policies, no matter the consequences. One of the greatest modern examples of this kind of courage and heroism is the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I recently finished Eric Metaxas’ brilliant biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. If you’ve never read any of Eric Metaxas’ works, I cannot recommend him enough. His biographies read like novels, and it’s hard to put them down. Ironically, I finished this incredible biography on what would have been Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s 115th birthday, February 4, 1906.

Born into an affluent German family, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a prominent and well-respected theologian of his time. He graduated from the University of Berlin in 1927 and went on to receive a doctorate in theology for his influential thesis, Sanctorum Communio (Communion of Saints). After graduating, Bonhoeffer spent time in Spain and America, broadening his horizons and allowing him multiple opportunities to observe worship practices of other denominations. He spent a year in Barcelona, serving as a pastor to a German congregation. He then traveled to New York to complete a fellowship at Union Theological Seminary. During this time, he met an African-American student named Frank Fisher who invited Bonhoeffer to attend church services in Harlem. Bonhoeffer was greatly affected by this and spent much time interacting with the congregation and listening to Negro spirituals. In particular, Bonhoeffer was greatly displeased with the racism against African-Americans in the United States at that time, which further influenced his hatred of Hitler’s atrocities against the Jews in Germany.

The early 1930s were especially tumultuous for Germany. After World War I, the League of Nations had imposed crushing economic penalties on the country, leading to mass unemployment. Coupled with the instability of the Weimar Republic and the lack of leadership from Kaiser Wilhelm II, Germany was ripe for a charismatic leader to take over. Bonhoeffer returned to Berlin in 1931 and was ordained as a pastor in the German Evangelical Church at age 25. Ironically, Bonhoeffer came to prominence at the very time another leader was rising to power—the infamous Adolf Hitler. At noon, on January 30, 1933, Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany.

Hitler’s election was widely praised by the German population, who were desperate for hope of an economic turnaround. Even a majority of the German Evangelical Church supported Hitler. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not one of them. In fact, two days after Hitler was elected chancellor, Bonhoeffer delivered a radio address criticizing “The Fuhrer” concept. In his address, Bonhoeffer said the following before his broadcast was cut off mid-air, a tell-tale sign of Hitler’s intent to silence any opposition to the Third Reich:

The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority…we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him…The church has only one altar, the altar of the Almighty…before which all creatures must kneel. Whoever seeks something other than this must keep away; he cannot join us in the house of God…The church has only one pulpit, and from that pulpit, faith in God will be preached, and no other faith, and no other will than the will of God, however well-intentioned.

Mere days after Hitler became chancellor, he began planning his takeover of Germany. His first step was to take over the government. The Nazi Party held a fraction of the seats in the Reichstag, but Hitler knew his opponents were divided and unable to unite against him. A few days after assuming the chancellorship, Hitler and the Nazis staged a burning of the Reichstag building and blamed it on the Communists. It was a perfect plan. Now, the German people, who were already in a desperate situation, would give up just about anything to preserve their nation. The next day, Hitler convinced President Hindenburg to sign the Reichstag Fire Edict. It decreed: “Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications; and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.” Within days, Nazi storm troopers were storming the streets, beating and arresting their political opponents. A month later, Hitler convinced the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Act, effectively abolishing its lawmaking power. In less than two months, Hitler had become a dictator.

In April, Hitler’s merciless persecution of the Jews had begun with the boycotting of Jewish businesses. Bonhoeffer spoke up against these atrocities and urged leaders of the German Evangelical Church to reject the infiltration of Nazi philosophies. But his cries fell on deaf ears as most Germain Evangelical Churches capitulated to every single one of Hitler’s demands, including barring “non-Aryans” from becoming ministers and replacing the Bible with Mein Kampf, Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto. As a result, Bonhoeffer joined forces with another prominent Berlin pastor, Martin Neimoller, to form the Confessing Church. The Confessing Church held true to the doctrine that Jesus Christ was supreme over the Church, not Der Fuhrer.

Later that year, Bonhoeffer took a bit of a sabbatical and accepted a two-year appointment to serve as the pastor of a German-speaking Protestant church in London. But he soon felt the call to return to his native Germany and returned to Berlin in 1935. By this time, Hitler’s persecution of the Confessing Church had begun. One leader had already been arrested, and another had fled to Switzerland. The next year, Bonhoeffer had his teaching credentials revoked upon being accused of being a pacifist and an enemy of the state.

In 1937, Nazi occupation of Germany intensified. The SS shut down the seminary of the Confessing Church. As a result, Bonhoeffer began to travel throughout the country, leading private seminaries for his students. It was during this time that he wrote one of his most famous works, “The Cost of Discipleship.” In it, Bonhoeffer gives the following challenge:

It is high time we broke with our theologically based restraint towards the state’s actions—which, after all, is only fear. ‘Speak out for those who cannot speak.’ Who in the church today realizes that this is the very least that the Bible requires of us? The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time has come to gather people together to do this.

In June 1939, fearing he would be required to swear an oath to Hitler, Bonhoeffer fled to the United States. But, once again, he soon felt a call to return to his beleaguered country. After less than two years in the U.S., he returned to Germany.

Upon returning to Germany, Bonhoeffer’s rights to speak and publish were revoked. He soon joined forces with the Abwehr, the German military intelligence agency. Within this agency, he found many military officers who were opposed to Hitler’s regime and learned of numerous assassination plots. During the next few years, Bonhoeffer actively worked undercover for the German resistance movement and helped smuggle Jews to neutral Switzerland.

In April 1943, the Gestapo learned of Bonhoeffer’s involvement with the resistance and arrested him. He was confined to Tegel Military Prison for the next year and a half but was treated well compared to many other prisoners who were in concentration camps. Sympathetic guards helped to smuggle his writings out, including his magnum opus, Ethics. A few months before his arrest, we catch a glimpse of Bonhoeffer’s courage in his essay entitled “After Ten Years: A Reckoning Made at New Year 1943.” In it, he boldly declared the following:

Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God—the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God.

On July 20, 1944, the most famous attempt to assassinate Hitler—“Valkyrie”—failed when the Fuhrer escaped with only minor injuries. Coupled with the Allied victory at Normandy a month earlier, Hitler felt his grasp on power slipping and subsequently mounted a ruthless campaign to rid Germany of anyone working to undermine the Reich. As a result, Bonhoeffer’s involvement in other attempts to assassinate Hitler were uncovered. He was later transferred from Tegel prison to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Bonhoeffer spent the next eight months at Buchenwald. But rather than being overcome with despair at his misfortune, he continued to minister to his fellow prisoners through prayer and Bible studies.

On Easter Sunday, April 7, 1945, Bonhoeffer was transferred to Flossenburg and given a court martial. The next morning, he was hung by his Nazi captors, likely ordered directly by the Fuhrer himself. Just before his execution, Bonhoeffer told his cellmate, “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.” The camp doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s execution later wrote, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer … kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

A month later, the Allies liberated Germany and its concentration camps. Hitler committed suicide with his wife Eva Braun in their underground bunker. It was Victory in Europe Day. Four months later, World War II was over.

Bonhoeffer did not fear death. In a sermon delivered in London in November 1933, he said: “No one has yet believed in God and the kingdom of God, no one has yet heard about the realm of the resurrected, and not been homesick from that hour, waiting and looking forward joyfully to being released from bodily existence…Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.”

II Timothy 3:12 (KJV) tells us that “all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” As I have studied this passage recently, two distinct points have captured my attention. First, Paul writes of those who “will live godly.” I do not believe Paul is speaking here of a private faith, one that allows for a comfortable Christian life. No, Paul is referring to Christians who will take a stand for Christ, risking relationships, jobs, incarceration, or even death. Second, Paul writes of persecution at the end of the verse, not as a possibility but as a certainty for all who choose to take a public stand for Christ. It is not a question of “if” but “when.”

Like Paul, Dietrich Bonhoeffer realized the weight of this verse and accepted it. Bonhoeffer knew the consequences that he, his family, his friends, and his colleagues might face if he chose to speak up against the Nazis. But his desire to speak truth against injustice was greater than his fear of the repercussions. In the end, he faced death as boldly as he had spoken out against the Nazis for the past 12 years. And while Bonhoeffer did pay the ultimate price for standing up for justice, his sacrifice and example live on. A month after his death, Germany and the Jewish people were liberated from Nazi oppression. Many today are still learning about his life, reading his works, and gaining inspiration.

The day may be coming in the United States when Christians who dare to speak up will be persecuted for their faith. In fact, a number of Christian-owned businesses and ministries are already being targeted and harassed. And while I pray we never have to give our lives, we may face broken relationships, lost jobs, and even prison time. God has given each of us a choice. We can either cower to the demands of a tyrannical government or we can risk everything for the cause of the truth.

May we all remember the remarkable life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the days, weeks, and years to come as we each are faced with similar decisions. And may we all be reminded that no matter what persecution we face, it is only temporary compared to an eternity in Heaven: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NKJV).

Christmas Prophecies (Part 6): How the Servant’s Death Brings the Light of Life

by David Closson

December 25, 2020

This is the final part of a 6-part series. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

 

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see[the light of life] and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10-12)

Christmas, the day when Christians celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ, is joyful precisely because Jesus succeeded in His earthly mission, namely, securing salvation for all who trust in His saving work. Our study of Isaiah 53 concludes with verses 10-12, which direct our attention to the meaning and significance of the Servant’s suffering and death and help us understand the depth of God’s love for His children.

Verse 10 reveals a startling truth—God willed the terrible death of this innocent Servant. Verse 11 explains why—His death made it possible for many to be accounted righteous. Verse 12 returns to the theme of Isaiah 52:13 and glories in the Servant’s exaltation. Together, these verses marvel at the work accomplished by the Servant and foreshadow Christ’s work on the cross.

Verse 10 opens the stanza with the disjunctive “Yet,” signaling a clear contrast with the content of the previous verse. The focus shifts from man’s sensory experience to God’s perspective on what has unfolded so far. In light of the horrifying miscarriage of justice perpetrated against the Servant, Isaiah’s readers expect God to avenge and vindicate the Servant. Thus, when God’s sovereign purpose is at last revealed in verse 10a, the truth is startling— “it was the will of the Lord to crush him.”

The natural response to this statement is disbelief and perhaps even anger. Why would God want to crush this man? Why would God want an innocent person to suffer? On these questions, theologian John Oswalt’s reflections are illuminating:

The faithful God of the Bible would certainly not visit bad things on innocent people, would he? Yes, he would if some greater good would be served. Is it possible there is some greater good than all the terrible things the Servant has endured will procure?… [Yes,] what God wants to come out of the Servant’s suffering is of monumental proportions. He wants human beings to be able to offer this man up on the altar of their sins so that he can be a “full and sufficient sacrifice” for them, satisfying all the unpaid debts of their behavior.[1]

God’s sovereign purpose behind all the suffering of the Servant was to make Him a guilt offering, not for His own sins (He had none), but for the sins of others.

An important note must be made concerning English translations that render verse 10a: “But the Lord was pleased to crush him” (NASB) or “Though the Lord desired to crush him” (NET). Unfortunately, these translations contribute to the faulty understanding that somehow, God took delight in making the Servant suffer. Peter Gentry helpfully clarifies this point: “Here, ‘delighted’ is being used in the context of sacrifice. God is delighted or pleased with the sacrifice in the sense that he accepts it as sufficient to wipe away his indignation, his offense and his outrage at our sin.”[2] Thus, it was not God’s sadistic will to punish an innocent man. Rather, it was God’s redemptive will. This notion is further clarified in the second part of verse 10 with the mention of “guilt offering.” 

The guilt or “reparation” offering in 10b refers to the fifth offering described in Leviticus. Of all the Old Testament offerings, this one covered guilt that had been knowingly incurred by the individual and had to be offered by the individual responsible.[3] Three important benefits of this offering are highlighted in verse 10c: “he shall see his offspring,” “he shall prolong his days,” and “the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” In view of fulfilling God’s glorious plan, the Servant will be successful; he will enjoy offspring and length of days. These should be interpreted figuratively to indicate that despite the bleak future forecasted in previous stanzas, the Servant’s life will be marked by blessing and fruitfulness. This thought is continued in verse 11a with the phrase, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see [the light of life] and be satisfied.” Despite not appearing in some English translations, the phrase “light of life” in verse 11 is supported by textual witnesses.[4] Taken together, verses 10c and 11a point to another significant reality—resurrection.

Although the Servant’s death is communicated in stanza four (verses 7-9), stanza five indicates that the Servant is alive. How is this possible? Verse 11a, with its contrast of “guilt offering” and “light,” strongly suggests resurrection, which is implied by the idea of seeing offspring and prolonging days.[5] Faithfully reconciling stanza four and five requires the Servant’s resurrection (taking place between the realities described by each). The reference to “light” in 11a is another clue to resurrection.

Verses 11b-12 conclude stanza five by describing the benefits of the Servant’s death given to the “many.” The use of “knowledge” in 11b should be understood as experiential knowledge of faith.[6] In context, this accurately captures Isaiah’s understanding of the Servant’s accomplishment. People do not benefit by what the Servant knows, but by knowing and believing in what the Servant did.  

Verse 12 explains that the benefits of the Servant’s success will be “divided… with the many.” This highlights the breadth of the Servant’s work. Because the Servant “poured out his soul to death” and “bore the sins of many,” he effectively has provided a way for men to have a right relationship with God. Gentry notes this “corporate solidarity” between the one and the many and explains it in terms of the Ancient Near East context of the relationship between a king and his people.[7] In this case, because the Servant represents the people, the rewards and benefits He secured through His suffering and death are transferred to the people. It is striking to discern that all the major words used for sin— “transgressions,” “iniquities,” and “sin”—are in the plural, indicating that the Servant’s sacrificial death is holistic, covering the guilt of the “many.” This is a magnificent picture of substitutionary atonement and points to what Christ did on the cross.

Conclusion

Isaiah 53 is one of the most magnificent messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. In a way that is striking and sobering, this passage blazes forth the glory of Christ and the hope of eternal salvation by teaching that God loved the world so much that He sent His Son as a humble Servant who willingly substituted Himself in our place and bore the full wrath of God for our sin that we might be forgiven.

Thus, at Christmas, it is fitting to read and study Isaiah 53, which clearly captures the meaning and significance of Christ’s work on the cross. Examining the intricacies of this text is not easy, but the reward is worth it. Seeing Christ’s person and work thus depicted—exalted (52:13-15), despised (1-3), rejected (4-6), killed (7-10), and resurrected (10-12)—prompts reverent worship and a profound sense of gratitude. Indeed, praise God for this Servant, this man of sorrows, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).



[1]  John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 400.

[2]  Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT), June 12, 2007, http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 35.

[3] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 402.

[4] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 37.

[5]  Allen P. Ross et al., Proverbs–Isaiah, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Revised ed. edition (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2008), 802.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 41.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 5): The Lamb of God Is Sacrificed for Our Transgressions

by David Closson

December 24, 2020

This is Part 5 of a 6-part series. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

 

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7-9)

Our study of Isaiah 53 continues in verses 7-9, which contain the shocking climax of the chapter: the Servant suffers to the point of death. Because the parallels between the Servant’s death and the final events of Jesus Christ’s life are so striking, ever since the first century, Christians have acknowledged Christ’s death on the cross as the fulfillment of this passage. Verses 7-9 are quoted no less than 15 times by New Testament authors.[1]

The two comparisons with sheep (in verse 6 of the previous stanza and in verse 7) are noteworthy and most likely intentional. On this point, John Oswalt comments: “It is difficult to escape the conclusion that it is not accidental that the only extended metaphor in this poem involves sheep, the primary animals of sacrifice.”[2] While “we” the people are likened to sheep that have gone astray, the Servant is likened to a sheep led to slaughter. Amid His ongoing oppression and suffering, the Servant is silent, like a sheep before its shearers. Rather than objecting to the injustice of the proceedings, the Servant accepts his role and does not protest. In the same way, Christ was silent before His own accusers (Pilate, Herod, etc.), in fulfillment of this text.

The phrase “by oppression and judgment” in verse 8a presents an interpretive challenge. Professor Gay V. Smith understands “oppression” to mean “restrained,” suggesting that the Servant was arrested and imprisoned. He understands “judgment” as referring to a court or place of judgment.[3] Smith concurs with Peter Gentry, who thinks that a lack of justice in the judicial process (no fair trial) is most likely being implied.[4]

Verse 8 continues by noting that the Servant was “cut off” out of the land of the living, indicating death. Professor Geoffrey Grogan comments, “The phrase ‘cut off’ strongly suggests not only a violent, premature death, but also the just judgment of God, not simply the oppressive judgment of human beings.”[5] Although His death is somewhat expected, given the progression of the text, the fact that the innocent Servant is finally killed hits the reader with force. The miscarriage of justice is infuriating and cries out for retribution. However, the final phrase adds a shocking, revelatory detail that clarifies the motive of the Servant— he was killed “for the transgression of my people.” Oswalt notes that this reveals that the Servant was not killed because of a corrupt legal system: “It is not legal injustice that condemns him but the transgression of my people. If he is treated unjustly, and he is, the author wants us to know that this injustice is not an expression of that all-too-common custom of mistreating innocent people. The Servant was doing this on purpose.”[6] Despite the rejection, sorrow, grief, and shame, the Servant’s death was ultimately the result of an intentional and purposeful plan. This is a staggering statement that will be developed in the final stanza.

Briefly, verse 9 adds details concerning the Servant’s death and place of burial. Gentry argues that the verse should be rendered, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, but his tomb was with the rich.”[7]This means that although the Servant was killed with criminals, he was buried amongst the rich. This is exactly what happened at Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus was crucified with criminals but buried in the tomb of a rich man. Once again, Christ perfectly fulfills Isaiah’s description of the Servant.



[1] NIV Zondervan Study Bible, Hardcover: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message (Harper Collins, 2015), 1427. Some of these verses include Matt. 26:63; 27:12, 14; Mark 14:60-61; Acts 8:32-33; 1 Cor. 15:3, and 1 John 3:5.

[2] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 391–392.

[3] Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, (Vol. 15) (The New American Commentary), (Nashville, B&H Academic, 2009), 453.

[4] Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT), June 12, 2007, http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 33. Oswalt concurs with Smith and Gentry on p. 393 of The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66.

[5] Allen P. Ross et al., Proverbs–Isaiah, ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, Revised ed. edition (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2008), 801.

[6] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 394.

[7] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 34.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 4): The Suffering Servant Is Rejected by Mankind

by David Closson

December 23, 2020

This is Part 4 of a 6-part series. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

 

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Our continuing study of Isaiah 53 brings us to verses 4-6, which foreshadow Jesus Christ’s suffering on the cross. By invoking sacrificial imagery that would have been familiar to Isaiah’s readers, these verses shed light on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.

Verse 4 signals a dramatic shift in Isaiah’s narrative. The focus is now on the Servant’s intense suffering. But the reason for His suffering is shocking. Note the 10 first-person plural pronouns (“we,” “our,” and “us”) in these three verses. The “griefs” and “sorrows” borne by the Servant were not on account of his own deficiencies or sin. Rather, He substituted Himself for and was punished on behalf of the very same people who had previously ridiculed and rejected Him! John Calvin relates this shocking exchange to Christ: “Isaiah complains of the wicked judgment of men, in not considering the cause of Christ’s heavy afflictions; and especially he deplores the dullness of his own nation because they thought that God was a deadly enemy of Christ, and took no account of their own sins, which were to be expiated in this manner.”[1]

The degradations described in verse 5 escalate in severity—from sickness and physiological suffering to physical injuries and, ultimately, the bearing of spiritual wrath. Verse 5 is unequivocal that “we” are the beneficiaries of the Servant’s suffering. Although many liberal theologians categorically reject the concept of the transference of guilt, there is an important biblical antecedent that informs Isaiah’s prophecy—the Old Testament sacrificial system, particularly the scapegoat ceremony.

In Leviticus 16:7-10, the priests are instructed to designate a goat that, despite its innocence, would symbolically take the Israelites’ place and carry their sins into the wilderness (this is where the term “scapegoat” comes from). The goat would eventually die in the wilderness, while the people remained alive in the camp. Professor Gary V. Smith cautions against reading too much into this connection but affirms the correlation: “Chapter 53 does illustrate substitutionary action drawn from sacrificial concepts.”[2]

Isaiah clearly states that the Servant is not suffering with the people—He is suffering for them. Verse 5 concludes with an incredible statement: “upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” The result of the substitutionary action of the Servant is peace and healing—the same remarkable spiritual benefits New Testament believers receive when they trust in Christ for their salvation. Verse 5 prefigures Christ’s substitutionary work on the cross.

Verse 6 concludes this stanza by comparing the people to a flock of sheep, a simile that will continue in later verses. Isaiah’s point is that people wander aimlessly in their sin, completely unaware of its magnitude and wickedness, much like sheep are prone to wandering from their shepherd’s care. People blissfully unconcerned about their sin are also equally oblivious to the incredible lengths the Servant has gone to secure payment and forgiveness on their behalf. Surely the apostle Paul had Isaiah 53 in mind when he reminded the Philippians of the great lengths Christ has gone for their—and our—salvation: 

though he [Christ] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 6-8).

At Christmas time, we Christians should celebrate and remind ourselves and others of the great lengths Christ went to for our salvation. Being fully God, Christ humbled Himself and became also fully man. And not just any man, but one who was despised and rejected, bearing the punishment that we justly deserved. As one Christmas hymn so beautifully puts it:

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
All for love’s sake becomes poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man.

- “Thou Who Was Rich Beyond All Splendor” (words by Frank Houghton, 1894–1972)



[1] John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries - Volume 8 - Isaiah 33-66 (Baker, 1999), 115.

[2] Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, (Vol. 15) (The New American Commentary), (B&H Academic, Nashville), 2009, 449.

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