Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

by Kathy Pollard

No one came to see me.  No one called me. No one sent me a card.  
It seems like I’m doing all the work. No one is helping me.
I’m tired of being the one always making the first move. Let someone else make the effort for once.
I give and give and give, but never get anything back. I’m sick of it.
If I didn’t go out of my way to talk to people, then no one would talk to me. From now on I’m just going to sit back and see who cares enough to come speak to me.

I realize that sometimes we make statements like these in order to vent in moments of frustration, weariness or loneliness. But sometimes we’re just being self-absorbed.  Discontentment sets in when we think we’ve been overlooked or neglected, or when we start comparing our good efforts to the seemingly nonexistent ones of others.  What a dangerous and unattractive mindset!

When we are tempted to accuse others of neglect, we need to ask ourselves, “How many visits have I made this past week? This past month? How many people have I called to encourage?” Could it be that we expect from others what we aren’t willing to do ourselves? “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3).

When we are tempted to give up because we feel like we’re the only ones making any effort, we need to inspect our motives. We shouldn’t serve for recognition or gratitude.  We should serve in humility because Jesus commanded it (John 13:14, 15). We shouldn’t put forth only as much effort as we see others putting forth. We should only compare ourselves to Christ, which means we’ll keep on giving it our all (Phil. 2:5-8). Let’s not fall into the world’s mindset of selfish entitlement. Instead, let’s prayerfully and earnestly consider how we will answer when Jesus asks, “What have you done for Me lately?”

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:9,10).

Prayer for Today:  Help me, Lord, fight the blinding trap of selfishness.  May I always have the mindset of Your Son who was motivated by love to serve others.

Used by permission.
Life and Favor
February 16, 2012

Our guest writer is Kathy Pollard, wife of Neal Pollard, minister for the Bear Valley Church of Christ in Denver.
Kathy's book Return To Me sold out at the first printing. Contact Fortify Your Faith/Christian Courier

Publications to order your copy. Phone: (209) 472-2475.

Recommended Reading:

Jackson, Jill. Has Someone You Love Turned Her Back on God?
Jackson, Jill. Does God Desire Positive Self-Esteem. http://holy-women-of-hope.blogspot.com/2014/04/does-god-desire-positive-self-esteem.html
Jackson, Wayne. The Bible and Self Esteem. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/42-the-bible-and-self-esteem 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Let Me Tell You A Story

by Betty Jackson

This title is that of an article in the May 5, 1996 issue of Parade Magazine about Thomas L. Harken. At the time the article was written he was a fifty-nine year old millionaire. He has been described as an “entrepreneur of the highest order and in the strictest sense of the word, with little formal education.” His was an amazing story.

Tom was stricken with polio when he was eleven years old. He was placed in a hospital ward in an iron lung with numerous other polio stricken children. He recalls crying and laying all night in his own vomit when no one came to his aide. Tom recalled, “I just needed a hug, real, real bad.” Finally a kind-hearted doctor found him, took him out of the iron lung, cleaned him up, and hugged him.  

At last he was well enough to go home. Then he came down with tuberculosis and was quarantined for another long year. By the time Tom was able to return to school, his classroom peers were small children.  Being humiliated by the age difference and taunting by the young children, he quit school in the 7th grade, without learning to read.

In spite of Tom’s illiteracy, his burning work ethic and love of people brought him success in the sales work he pursued. His devoted wife, Melba, helped him keep his secret. He made excuses so he would not have to take his turn in a Sunday Bible class to read. Though he was a successful businessman, he could not even read to his own children. That saddened Tom, yet motivated him. It was a painstaking effort, but Melba taught him to read. He was delighted when he was able read to his grandchildren. Mr. Harken died on July 10, 2013. During his lifetime he was an outspoken activist for literacy.

This wonderful story is an illustration of how a determined person who was handicapped by illiteracy became successful. He overcame his problem long after he had established himself in the business world. What an example some people are of determination and self-discipline. We need to have the ambition to set and accomplish some goals in our lives, especially in service to the Lord.

As Christian parents we must do everything within our power to see to it that our children learn to read. If we fail them, what valuable service by them might be lost. What rich knowledge of God's word will be unknown because of illiteracy.

You can teach your child to read.  Begin early to read books to your babies.  My nephew’s six month old baby boy was read to since his first days. One night on vacation they attempted to put Ethan to bed without reading to him. A normally easy-going baby, he became upset. They remembered they had not read to him, did so, and put him to bed with no further problems.  

Reading to your children simply must include reading Bible story books and the Bible. Emphasis upon the wonderful message of God will be absorbed early, if we expose our children daily. Some families make Bible reading their family devotional time. 

I remember one of my elementary teachers read stories to our class after lunch or recess. She was a beloved teacher, and demonstrated a love for written words. I read to my own children after they were older. Our daughter did so as well.  All of our children and grandchildren have a love for reading and learning. It is a priceless gift to teach children to read, and show them a passion for learning.

If your children learn to love books from the first days of their lives, they will learn to read! There are tools you can use on your own. (See: http://www.icanteachmychild.com/10-steps-to-teaching-your-child-to-read/.) Your public library may offer literacy programs for children and adults.

We must be cautioned concerning the influence of the so-called educational circles. We may be impressed with some folks that are so far from God, simply because they are learned. Education should be a tool with which to serve God, and not for impressing the world with our monetary success or some other vision of greatness. Instead, any wealth or prestige we may gain resulting from the educational blessings should be used to further the kingdom. After all, many poor souls are lost in the poverty of ignorance and starvation for spiritual nourishment, as well as physical.

Children should be taught that the learning and material gain they receive are blessings to be used in the service of God. Seeking the righteousness of the kingdom must be the foremost mission statement for all we do (Mt. 6:33).

Recommended Reading

Jackson, Jason. Building Character Before the Concrete Sets. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1233-building-character-before-the-concrete-sets


Monday, May 18, 2015

Sibling Rivalry—Part 2

by Betty Jackson

Jesus is the Prince of Peace

There is no substitute for the Bible to educate the consciences of our children in how they are to treat others. Failing to teach our children what God wants in our homes, by neglecting the Scriptures, or by failing to live it, is a woeful error. Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6).  We are to be a peaceable people (Matt. 5:9; Rom.12:18; Heb.12:14). Yet, we need to realize that the disposition of putting others before oneself is a learned behavior (cf. Phil. 2:1-4).  We surely will never master this virtue perfectly

By design babies are self-centered for survival. Gradually, with deliberate effort during formative years a child can be properly led to have concern for his fellows. Children who learn early in life to think of others, to have a servant's heart, will be more apt to become God's servant. 

Parents need to be examples of self-control, courtesy, and mercy. Parents who are more concerned with training, than control, will not be unnecessarily harsh. Anger and power will be effective only as long as parents are bigger and stronger. Parents who are always mad and mean when they discipline (or in their disagreements with one another) are teaching the false idea that might makes right. Parents who crave complete control of their children may be creating in their children a lust for power, or the opposite—rebellion to throw off overbearing control. How can we be recipients of the Lord's long-suffering, mercy and goodness, yet fail to extend tender mercy and patience toward our children? A wonderful passage of scripture for parents to think about is Lamentations 3:22-23:

"It is of Jehovah's loving-kindnesses that we are not consumed because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness."

Children should be encouraged, taught, and allowed to work things out on their own. Don't encourage tattling by responding as an umpire for every incident. Lay some ground rules for settling differences.These rules are not necessarily laid out by preaching a long list, but are learned from what is acceptable and explained as needed. Make suggestions for how they might compromise with each other. When necessary, separate children with some "time out" for thinking about resolutions.

When children are embroiled in an ugly disagreement, understand that you usually cannot find out who the innocent party may be—likely there is none! However, if you know that one child is consistently criticizing or bullying another, the situation needs to be remedied by age appropriate, strong and consistent disciplinary measures. Bullying can come in various styles. Hitting or tattling, criticizing, taunting, loud crying to get one's way, pretending to be innocent—can be methods of a little power-thirsty child!

 It Is Never Right To Do Wrong

Fussing that escalates into verbal abuse or blows must be stopped. Simply do not allow it, regardless of who started it. It is wrong, period. Self-control must be taught. Angry screaming and hitting is not right. It must be corrected even if the screamer has been the victim of selfishness or bullying. Do not allow wrong behavior. Disagreeing is not wrong. But differences must be settled by cooperation, or in agreement to disagree, and not by who is the loudest, meanest, or who cries the most!  

Name calling, hitting, biting, etc. need to be corrected the same way you would discipline any other behavior that you are trying to eliminate. Children who are allowed to use their fists, hateful words or pouting to solve their problems or to get their way may grow up into belligerent, manipulative or mean adults. Rules of behavior need to be understood. Both positive and negative re-enforcement have their places in teaching children to live peaceably with one another. In extreme cases, that may include a good old-fashioned, biblical spanking (Prov. 13:24; 22:15; 23:13; 29:15,17). Though this is an unacceptable method of discipline in many circles today, it is an effective and right tool. We admit that many parents who practice corporal punishment do not know how to use it effectively. It should be an "event," used with careful measure, for deliberate rebelliousness or repetitive disobedience, and not as an outburst of parental anger.  

Teach children to genuinely apologize to one another. When you have violated principles of right conduct with your spouse before them, let them hear you apologize. When you treat your child badly, apologize and make it right. But do not be over-indulgent just because you have been too harsh. They will learn to be more sincere as their consciences mature, and they witness your sincerity over your own poor behaviors. At first, this may be foreign to them, but habitually expecting each family member to become sorry for wrong actions will reap great rewards, eventually. Never be prideful, refusing to correct your own wrong-doings.

Be sure that you are giving enough attention to your children. It seems that when parents are sidetracked with other responsibilities, war breaks out! If other tasks are unavoidably demanding attention, give them something to do (nap, work, reading, well chosen media. etc.) before trouble begins. Spend individual time with each child. Your child may open up and talk when he has your undivided attention.These are wonderful informal opportunities for teaching our children about the way God wants us to behave.

Be cautious about the kind of entertainment your children have. Studies have shown that youngsters who watch violent programs, exhibit more aggressive, hateful behaviors. Media games are not wrong per se, providing they are carefully chosen for content, as well as time limited.  A steady diet of the fast moving action can thwart the desire for reading and calmer activities, and may heighten tensions. (See: The Psychological Effects of Violent Media on Children. Dr. Christopher L. Heffner. http://allpsych.com/journal/violentmedia/#.VUqXXc7yegE.)

Consider the possibility that crabby kids may simply be hungry. Though they must learn, as they mature, that it is never right to do wrong, small children may need healthy snacks to hold them over until meal time to keep them in a happy disposition. Be sure that each day starts with a healthy breakfast. Just because you are not hungry does not mean that your children do not need something to eat. Eating at least a light breakfast should be encouraged for good metabolism for the day. Have you noticed that most of the ready-to-serve cereals have a considerable amount of sugar and corn syrup added? A bowl of sweet "air" will not last long in an active youngster. Do a little boning up on nutrition and what it takes to be healthy at any age.  And don't forget to have meals together as a family at least once a day.

Provide structure for daily activities. Most of us function better with some routines This does not mean you must have a rigid lifestyle. But regular bedtimes, scheduled times for dinner, or other activities, will go a long way towards establishing a peaceful home life.

Pray As A Family

It is important to pray as a family. Pray before your children for a peaceful happy family. Be earnest in your prayers and in your living for the heavenly Father. Seek his righteousness in every day life (Mt. 6:33). Be faithful in your worship attendance (Heb. 10:25). Children learn from what they see and experience, as well as what they hear.

May you be blessed as you meet the challenges of rearing your children in the Lord (Duet. 6:5-7; Eph. 6:4). The rewards will be great when you succeed at the most important responsibility that you have (Prov. 31:28-31). Your young children will be the church of tomorrow—or not.

Recommended Reading

Jason Jackson. Who's Boss? https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1194-whos-the-boss
Wayne Jackson.The Destiny of Our Children: Nature or Nurture. 
Wayne Jackson.Television and Our Children.  https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/864-television-and-your-children

Picture copyright: http://www.123rf.com/profile_tatyanagl


Monday, May 11, 2015

Sibling Rivalry —Part 1

by Betty Jackson

With summer coming, school will be out for most home and public schooled children. More challenges for a peaceful environment are no doubt in store! Sibling rivalry or fussing can be one of the most frustrating parts of child rearing. Observation, experience, prayer, and much study of the Scripture will help parents cope with this stressful, yet typical behavior of children. We pray that these suggestions may be helpful.

A Peaceful Environment Begins With Parents

First of all, parents need to love and respect each other. When a couple has significant problems, the family is out of sync. Children who sense or witness serious problems between the parents will have a tough time feeling loved and secure. Although a peaceful home begins with parents, no family is going to be without conflict all the time. There will be differences of opinion. But the environment must be conducive to teaching children how to live in harmony with others, and how to deal with strongly-felt differences. When adult family members disagree, children need to witness them talking kindly and civilly to one another.  

Most conflicts between husbands and wives are best quietly settled in private. But minor matters can be discussed before the children to help them learn how to properly work through differences. Remember: Children learn what they live. Parents who deal with their own disagreements in a godly manner, are already on the road to teaching their offspring how to get along with others. 

We need to be contented people. God's children need to learn, as Paul did (Phil. 4:11-13), how to be happy, in spite of problems. Granted this is a learned response to life's circumstances; but it is crucial that our children do not perceive us as grumpy, whining, self-pitying or always down-and-out people. (We know that some families have serious problems. Here we are not addressing those kinds of severe situations.) How can children learn to be happy and to get along with others if the home atmosphere is heavy with unhappiness and tension?

As you attempt to solve the problem of sibling rivalry, think about the way you talk. Speech is a great revealer of attitudes. Sharp or demeaning tones surely reveal the heart-felt emotions.

The Lord taught that our words come from the heart, whether good or evil (Matthew 15:18-19, Luke 6:45). Paul urged the Ephesians to speak things that are “…good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear” (4:29). How do you speak to your spouse and your children? 

There is some truth to the saying that “if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Learn to be content by studying the word of God on this topic. Be grateful every day for what you have, instead of being overwhelmed by what you don’t have. Set the tone for your family. Read what Paul went through in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33. In spite of his suffering, the apostle taught that we are to rejoice in the Lord. Maturation in the Lord will bring us greater happiness and joy. Let that inner peace and joy spill over into every day life, so that your example will impact the lives of your children for greater peace in your household.

Take some time to read Philippians 4:4-9. 

More suggestions will be forthcoming in Part 2. May the Lord bless us each day to be greater examples for those children whom we must train in the Lord (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:21; Prov. 31:26). 

Recommended Reading

Jason Jackson. Parents Obey Your Father. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1190-parents-obey-your-father

Wayne Jackson. Loving Life; Seeing Good Days. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1346-loving-life-seeing-good-days

Picture copyright: 123rf Nagy-Bagoly Ilona.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What I Learned From My Mother...

by Betty Jackson

My mother, Irene Redden, obeyed the gospel a few months after the birth of our first-born, Joy. My childhood was not in an idyllic home. Some may look back at the good ole’ days, as portrayed on old shows such as Father Knows Best. But trouble abounds when the gospel is not present. Yet, my parents loved me and taught values that prepared me for gospel obedience when it came to my young ears.

My mother’s work ethic was honest and earnest. She did not allow slothful work, or dishonesty in her children. She taught me that any task worth doing, was worth doing well, including ironing and washing dishes.

Forgiveness was another characteristic of my mother. Have you ever disobeyed your mother, or cast an eye of disrespect? Motherly love covers a multitude of sins! She loved her children with the passion of a mother bear. 

She taught me that marriage was forever. In spite of her personal struggles in her early years as a wife, she “stuck it out.” Eventually, my father obeyed the gospel. Her example as a godly woman showed him there was a right way to live.

When Joy was born I was still a babe in Christ, with so much to learn. Yet those virtues learned from my mother were core to my mothering. Now as a mature woman, I realize more than ever their value, for this is the teaching of our Lord. In the parable of the sower, our Master Teacher said the good soil was “the honest and good heart” (Lk. 8:15). This is the only kind of heart that will hold onto God’s word and be productive in his kingdom. 

What did the Lord mean by the word “heart”? It is the soul, the conscience, the character and the will. The conscience is that innate moral quality that makes mankind different from beasts. Everyone knows that some things are right, some are wrong. But the conscience must be educated to know what is right or wrong (cf. Prov. 14:12; 16:25; 21:2).  

Parents must realize the seriousness of shepherding the hearts of their progeny. Failure to to provide the necessities of life is considered worse than the infidel by the Lord (1 Timothy 5:8). Parental responsibilities include spiritual leadership. A mother and father must lead by example to be effective molders of their offspring. Children are astute in spotting phoniness. Unless we are truly honest and good servants of God, we will be fettered in training our children.

How can honest and good hearts be created in our children? The fact that all human beings develop a conscience is an advantage. Gradually, a child will experience a conscience either “accusing or excusing” him (Rom. 2:15). Repetition is the mother of learning. This is true of educating the consciences of our youth. One teachable moment cannot accomplish the end product of an honest heart. But all those moments, hours and years together can. 

We can only summarize a few suggestions in a short article. But there are some key elements to producing honest and good hearts in our children.

First, for the wellbeing of the heart of any child, unconditional love is paramount. The nurturing process prepares the very young heart to trust his parents. Trustworthy parents are equipped to bring their children to belief in God.

Second, a child must learn to obey. Eventually a child should become aware that it is God’s will that he obeys his parents (Eph. 6:1-2). Your own respectful obedience of God’s word is key. Discipline must not be haphazard, for a child “let go” may develop a seared and self-centered heart (cf. 1 Tim. 4:2). Discipline must be age appropriate, respectful, and careful. Emotional (verbal) and physical abuse can destroy inclinations towards honesty. An abused child will likely become skilled at manipulation (deceit) for his own protection.

Third, truthfulness is crucial. A parent, whose word cannot be trusted, will have a difficult time teaching a child much of anything spiritual. Some seem to habitually lie so as not to look bad. Children pick up on this and will emulate.

Fourth, children must learn to tell the truth. The toddler doesn’t understand what lying really is at first. But verbal instruction in the beginning, to punishment when he understands, will underscore the importance of being honest. 

Fifth, forgiveness, with prayer, should always characterize the home. We must not expect perfection in our children. If we do, we are expecting what we ourselves cannot do. Be willing to ask for forgiveness from your child when you have erred toward him. And be ever ready to hold and hug a penitent child. 

Parenting is a precious opportunity to bless the world with wonderful Christians. But it doesn’t just happen.


Today is my mother's birthday. She loved flowers. A special day we shared was a view of a meadow bathed with California poppies sprinkled with blue lupines. 
She died four years ago. I miss her. But those last days were hard for her. Heaven is best. Our last moments of prayer together are still precious. She was a great encourager. Perhaps I will one day finish a project she asked me to write.

Recommended Reading

Jackson, Jason. Parents, Obey Your Father.
Jackson, Jason. Will Our Children Trust In The Lord?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What's Your Motive For Serving God?

by Jill Jackson

Christ said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). In an ideal world, those in the Lord’s body would be people who are drawn to worship the Creator because they love Him and want to please Him. If all people loved God with all their hearts and souls, then all who wear the name of Christ would obey His commands without reluctance or hesitation. In an ideal world, all Christians would serve God because they treasure the relationship they share with the Father, value the gift of life they have received through Christ, and cling to the hope of heaven.

But sadly, the reality is people are motivated to “serve” God for a lot of reasons, many of which are the wrong reasons. People can attend every worship service yet be spiritually empty. Many “serve” God for a lot of reasons, yet have no genuine love for Him or intention of obeying His commands. Presence of body in the house of God truly doesn’t equate presence of heart.

Some people “serve” God because they recognize the alternative. They’re not without belief. They believe there’s a Creator of the world (Genesis 1:1, Hebrews 3:4). They recognize there is an eternal life to come. They know they’ll be judged for their actions (2 Corinthians 5:10). And they fear eternal punishment, so they serve God. Avoiding eternity in hell is the motive behind their service instead of, as the Psalmist said, a delight to do His will because God’s law is within the heart (Psalm 40:8).

Some people “serve” God because of family associations. They have generations of Christians in their family, and they merely follow suit. They’ve always gone to church. Perhaps they can’t imagine not going to church and feel they benefit from it to some degree, but the driving force behind going is simply a routine. The church environment affects them in the church building, but after exiting through the doors they fail to stand out from the world (Romans 12:2). Church is what they do, but it’s not necessarily who they are. Habit is the motive behind their service instead of, as Paul said, one who is walking “in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him” (Colossians 1:10).

Some people “serve” God because of obligation. Some people have family who do in fact have a deep devotion to God. Because of their love for their family, and perhaps the blessings they receive from those familial relationships, they walk in line so as not to upset the apple cart. Serving God is not motivated from a pureness in heart, but from a selfishness of what could be lost if they don’t keep their family happy (1 Peter 1:22).

Some “serve” God because attending worship services is their means of relieving their guilt for their transgressions—many of which they’ll plan ahead of time. “Guilt-goers” make little effort to live a righteous life. Sermons don’t penetrate the heart. But showing up and feeling sorry for whatever at that moment, wipes the slate clean in their mind, despite the fact there’s no intent to change. Showing up for worship services is not the Lord’s Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Assembling with the saints is not equal to repentance. When John the baptist preached in the wilderness of Judea he said, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Repentance requires more than a fleeting thought of sorrow. It requires a genuine change of heart that reflects willful change following—to bear fruit or actions that demonstrate a recognition of wrong and a desire to change one’s life in such a way to live for God and not self.

Presence of body truly doesn’t equate presence of heart. Christ said love for God should engage our emotions, intellect and dominate our lives (Deuteronomy 6:4). The next time you walk through the doors of your congregation and take a seat on the pew, check your motives for being in the house of God. Are you serving Him for the wrong reasons? When it comes to serving God, the only motive we should have within our hearts, is to please the Father. We should be compelled to live according to His purpose and laws because He loved us like no other could—because that love compelled Him to send his Son for us. Because in the blood of His precious Son, we have life (1 John 1:7).

Recommended Reading

Jackson, Jason. Psalm 139 — A Magnificent Portrait of God. www.christiancourier.com.
Jackson, Wayne. Why Humanity Should Serve God. www.christiancourier.com.

Note: Purchased photo: please honor copyright laws. Copyright: <a href='http://www.123rf.com/profile_shsphotography'> / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Circle of the Earth

by Betty Jackson

What does “the circle of the earth” mean in Isaiah 40:22? To be a questioner is a good thing. However, one must begin answering biblical questions with the foremost questions:

1. Does God exist?
2. Is the Bible inspired?
3. Is the Bible verbally inspired?
4. Can the Bible be trusted?

Is there evidence for the existence of God? To honest seekers there is overwhelming evidence (Romans 1:20). Is the Bible inspired of God? One must be careful when accepting the “yes” answers by certain “theologians” for what that question may mean to them is that it “contains” inspired ideas, but the words are not necessarily inspired. Thus there will be evidence of erroneous information or superstition of ancient people.

Is the Bible verbally inspired? Paul answers the question in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All scripture is God breathed.” As the Word came from God, it is verbally inspired. That does not mean that every “translation” is a good one. When there are problems with certain texts, it requires some effort to ferret out the truth. 

Can the Bible be trusted? Can we believe the biblical account of creation—that it took place in six days? (Exodus 20:11.) Can we believe the Bible when it records that Jesus was a miracle worker–even raising the dead and was himself resurrected after three days in the tomb? Absolutely! Evidence for its inspiration abounds. If one does not trust the Bible, finding out what it teaches on any subject is going to be a confusing effort. Neither will approaching it with dark glasses of bias help one professing to be a truth seeker.

Now, what does the “circle of the earth” mean in Isaiah 40:22? Does it refer to the shape of the earth? If not, what does it mean?

What sources are available to determine what the phrase means? Indeed, some sources are totally unreliable (e.g. Dan Bratcher, a Nazarene, whose own church has disciplined him by “stripping him of his Phd.” and those among us who have similar liberal leanings of discounting scientific accuracy or foreknowledge in the Bible). Once you determine that a “scholar” has no respect for the miraculous or the verbally inspired Word, you will be quick to recognize the motive behind his interpretation or so-called translation of a passage such as Isaiah 40:22. Adding to the difficulty is the common practice of some commentators of lifting “interpretations” from one another. 

The Hebrew word for “circle” can be looked up on the internet by the most inexperienced student of biblical words (Cf. http://www.studylight.org/lex/heb/view.cgi?number=02329). Specialists in the Hebrew language say there are only a few passages that contain a form of this word: Job 22:14; Proverbs 8:27; Isaiah 40:22; Isaiah 44:13 and a verbal form in Job 26:10.  

One must recognize that the recording of the events in Job’s life was by inspiration, but not everything said by various people in that book is inspired. Eliphaz was not inspired when he berated Job, accusing him of all kinds of sin, thus bringing suffering upon himself and his family. So one must be very careful when making arguments from the book of Job for support. The question must be asked when quoting from the narrative about Job: who was speaking, and was that person an inspired prophet? Obviously all the statements made by God to Job are right and scientifically accurate. It is important in understanding what the word “circle” means that we not look to a statement made by Eliphaz (an uninspired man) to define the phrase “circle of the earth,” by “vault of heaven” in Job 22:14. Those two phrases do not necessarily mean the same thing, though the word “vault” and the word “circle” are from the same Hebrew word.

Upon what sources then can we rely to understand the phrase “circle of the earth” in Isaiah 40:22? First the translators of most English versions translated the Hebrew word (gwx - transliterated to chuwg) by the word “circle” (rather than “vault” [arch] as some commentators ascribe to it). The number of scholars involved in those works is great. It is obvious that they agreed upon the meaning of the word. The same word or form of it is translated circuit or compass. The last considered translation possible is the word “vault.”

Some argue that the word “circle” does not have reference to the sphericity of Earth, but to the horizon. They cite Proverbs 8:27 which seems describe the horizon. The statement in Isaiah 40:22 does not speak of the horizon over the deep (ocean), but instead the “circle of the earth.” However, even if this should be true, ancient scientists surmised that the earth was round because of the horizon! (e.g. Stabo and Ptolemy at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spherical_Earth.

Others interpret the verse as having to do with the hemisphere or “vault of the heavens” around the earth. The response has been made that that is a possibility “though not so good” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, ed. J. Skinner. 1906. London, UK: Cambridge University Press. p.11). 

Some translate “circle” by the word “dome.”  What does the word “dome” imply? Certainly, a curvature. It is interesting that many of the more liberal minded commentators choose to interpret the Hebrew word as vault and/or dome. Brother Coffman rightly stated, “Certainly the passage is compatible with the fact of the roundness of the earth” (James Burton Coffman Commentaries, Isaiah, James B. Coffman. 1990. Abilene, Texas:ACU Press, Abilene University. p. 380-381).

Arguments are even made that “circle” cannot reference the shape of the earth because it suggests roundness instead of sphericity. Isaac Asimov, an atheist/humanist, wrote a booklet that apparently was designed for young people, titled: How We Found Out The Earth Is Round. He used the word "sphere" interchangeably with the word "round."  (Cf.  http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/arvindgupta/earthpix.pdf) Mr. Asimov, a biochemist professor, who wrote textbooks, had no problem with describing the world as "round.” There is no need for Christians to be apologetic for Isaiah’s use of the word “circle.”

Renowned creationist, Henry M. Morris wrote, “The word ‘compass’ in Proverbs 8:27 and the word ‘circle’ in Isaiah 40:22 are both translations of the same Hebrew chuwg, an excellent rendering of which is ‘circle.” It could well be used also for ‘sphere,’ since there seems to have been no other ancient Hebrew word with this explicit meaning (a sphere is simply the figure formed by a circle turning about its diameter.” (The Biblical Basis for Modern Science.1984. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. p. 274.)

Paul Steidl, who holds an M.S. degree in astronomy, considered Isaiah’s description of the shape of the earth to be accurate. (Cf. The Earth, The Stars and The Bible. 1979, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. p. 19.)

 Brother Coffman also stated, “We are somewhat annoyed by some writers who hasten to explain to us that this has no reference to the earth’s being a sphere, because Isaiah, of course, could not have known that. Do such writers not know that it was not Isaiah who declared this, but God gave the words through Isaiah?” (Ibid.) 

The argument that Isaiah’s statement for “the circle of the earth” as a reference to the roundness (sphericity) of the earth stands as credible. It is valid regardless of whether it is translated circle, dome, horizon, or vault. 

Critics of the Bible are eager to take issue with any passage that shows scientific accuracy or foreknowledge. Isaiah 40:22 is one of those verses that the atheistic community ridicules. One such atheist, Dawn Huxley, states,“Earth is not a circle but a sphere.” She says, “Isaiah is actually describing the Earth as flat and circular, with a dome-shaped tent (sky) covering the land. 

Note the specific definition by Wikipedia: “A sphere is an object shaped like a ball” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sphere_(disambiguation). Again, another source defines the word as “a round object; geometry: a three-dimensional shape that looks like a ball”

The fact is the earth is an “oblate spheroid.” According to Thomas Elkins, an Earth Science teacher, “One of the most important things to remember about the Earth's shape is that it is only very slightly oblate.” (emphasis mine) He further points out that, “The Earth is so close to being a perfect sphere that when viewed from any point in space the Earth appears spherical.” 

 The idea that since the Hebrew word translated “circle” does not give the technical information about the exact shape and size of the earth, thus cannot be used to show the scientific accuracy of the Bible is pressing the word beyond its purpose. 

Pictures taken of Earth from space show that it certainly can be described as a circle, round or a sphere. When we view that beautiful harvest moon, it appears to be a golden ball, though it is not an exact circle. We don’t say, “Look at the moon, that beautiful yellow lemon!” In fact, what we see looks more like a circle than a sphere. 

Let us not be afraid of the atheists who demean the Bible. We can be assured that Isaiah’s statement did reference, in general, the shape of the earth.

Recommended Reading

Elkins, Thomas. Earth Science High School teacher

The Blue Marble – Nasa Image