When I turn to the topic of archaeology, I often ponder the hows and whys of God's plan and use of tangible history in the form of artifacts, manuscripts, and other such things buried in the sand, hidden in ancient ruins, or tucked away in some secret cave...
This article was first published in the October 2005 ABR Electronic Newsletter.
Recently I led a Bible study with a group of senior high and college students with our focus being on chapter 9 of Romans and the issue of Divine Election. Anyone who has waded into this subject knows it is complex and a veritable mine-field of theological opinion and spiritual/intellectual struggle for younger believers (let alone for us older believers!). This doctrine, among others, creates theological tension as subjects like free will, predestination, foreknowledge and election are discussed and an attempt is made to understand the relationship between these important concepts. But I must confess, even after my best presentation on the subject, and the most astute observations from my students are offered, we all come away with a sense of awe and mystery... often with more questions than answers! The more we think we understand, the more its mystery surfaces. And I believe God intended it that way.
When I turn to the topic of archaeology, I often ponder the hows and whys of God's plan and use of tangible history in the form of artifacts, manuscripts, and other such things buried in the sand, hidden in ancient ruins, or tucked away in some secret cave. Did God hide these things from us just so we might discover them? Has He kept the best for last? Who hasn't savored the idea of discovering Noah's Ark or the Ark of the Covenant? If the Ark of the Covenant was discovered, could we peer inside and find the two tablets, Aaron's staff that budded, and the gold jar of manna (Hebrews 9:4)? Would you even dare to do so? Even film director Steven Spielberg imagined the result in the film "Raiders of the Lost Ark" with a frightening scene filled with his own speculation and theological confusion. We may even ask, "Does God want us to find such wonderful things that are hidden?' My answer is: maybe. It all revolves around His holy purposes for our lives and His intentions for speaking historical affirmations through archaeology. One thing is for sure: nothing under heaven happens by accident, and we can be sure that if the Ark of the Covenant is to be found, God will point the way to its location.
You see, God's sovereignty and divine plan rules over the science of archaeology. Do you think it was an accident that caused the Dead Sea Scrolls to come to light? Was it just luck that caused F.A. Klein to discover the Moabite Stone in 1868, or the Mari Letters to come to light in the 1930's? No, God has led people to these discoveries; for approximately 200 years now He has unveiled one discovery after another, after another. The theological and historical liberals have hoped to break the back of the written Word of God by finding some glaring anachronism or discrepancy between the Biblical account and their conceived historical constructions. But God will never be mocked. Every railing accusation this cadre of doubters has raised up through superficial scholarship, premature conclusions, or blatant bias has come out into the light of truth. This is why we as believers should always wait for the other shoe to drop when we hear of some supposed discovery that 'proves' the Biblical record is historically inaccurate. Indeed, it was the work of Dr. Bryant Wood, Director of Research with ABR, that brought the truth to bear on the proper dating of the ancient city of Jericho. His work, led by the sovereign hand of God, set the record straight and affirmed once again that the Biblical record is true! At the time, even Time magazine had to admit that the work of Dr. Wood had scored one for the Bible... a begrudging admission, I'm sure.
I believe that God has artifacts ready to be revealed, not because He needs to prove anything to anyone, but to display His glory in the historical record, confirmed through archaeological discovery. We call God's work in history heilsgeschicte - 'salvation history' - and since it is written down in the Bible, it is important that we do all we can to affirm that the record in Scripture is indeed true. Should we not pray for God to show us where the Ark of the Covenant is? Or where Noah's Ark is located? Does He have yet another cave in which some glorious manuscripts will be found? I believe that God will continue to use archaeological discovery as a means of rebuke and testimony to keep the historical record clear, and to uphold His revelation in Holy Scripture. For our part, it is important and exciting to ask God to lead us to greater discoveries. As believers and as seekers of God's heart and His truth, we must not see the archaeological task as one of "accidental finds" based on our own sweat and effort. Indeed, the revealing of archaeological evidence is a sovereign matter, and we would do well to join God as He leads us in this endeavor.
The great irony today is that many world-renowned archaeologists, who have no interest in affirming the truthfulness of the Biblical text, are involved in some of the most amazing finds. I can't help but wonder if God has chosen these unwitting souls to mock their unbelief by using them to make discoveries that directly affirm His Word!
Let me conclude by affirming the mystery and awe of our God. He saves us by His marvelous grace and calls us to do work for his kingdom, to contend for the faith, and to take every thought captive to His truth. Surely he goes before us in the archaeological task in order to bless His people and confound His critics. Praise be to our awesome God and His marvelous ways. We can only look forward with anticipation in these Last Days to many exciting discoveries and God reveals and affirms His truthful word.