|“Real-time fMRI” is a new technique that teaches people how to manipulate the level of electrical activation in their brains. Such training is being used to control pain, fight obesity, and treat PTSD, depression, and anxiety. In a world as challenging and chaotic as ours, such progress is welcome.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noted, “We must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”
Yesterday, our Israel study tour took us to Masada. After the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple in AD 70, they turned their attention to this desert fortress near the Dead Sea. Here, 967 Jewish men, women, and children retreated from the Empire, barricading themselves in a massive enclosure designed by Herod the Great.
They had enough food and water to withstand years of Roman siege. However, the Romans built a siege ramp, battered down the wooden gate to the fortress, and prepared to assault the rebel stronghold. On the evening of April 16, AD 73, the leader of the Jewish rebels stood before his people. Eleazar ben Ya’ir exhorted them:
“My loyal followers, long ago we resolved to serve neither the Romans nor anyone else but only God, who alone is the true and righteous Lord of men. Now the time has come for us to prove our determination by our deeds.
“We were the first to revolt, and we shall be the last to break off the struggle. And I think it is God who has given us this privilege, that we can die nobly as free men, unlike others who were unexpectedly defeated.
“So let our wives die unabused and our children without knowledge of slavery. After that, let us do each other a great kindness, preserving our freedom as a glorious tribute to ourselves. But first let our possessions and the whole fortress go up in flames, as this will be a bitter blow to the Romans to find our persons beyond their reach and nothing left for them to loot.
“One thing only: let us spare our store of food. This will bear witness when we are dead to the fact that we perished, not through want but because, as we resolved at the beginning, we chose death rather than slavery.”
Since suicide is forbidden in Judaism, the people could not kill themselves. Instead, the men drew lots. Ten were chosen; the others lay on the ground beside their wives and children. The ten then killed them all. They drew lots again, and one was chosen. The other nine lay down beside their families and were killed. The last survivor then killed himself. Two women and five children hid in a cistern and later reported their deaths and ben Ya’ir’s speech to the Romans.
Skeptics considered this a legend, but archaeologists have discovered clay fragments inscribed with the names of eleven men, including ben Ya’ir. Many believe these to be the actual lots used by the men of Masada.
Today you and I face the same decision as the Jews resisting Rome: death or slavery. We can be enslaved to this fallen world, or we can die to ourselves and be liberated by our Lord’s grace. We can conform to our culture, or we can surrender to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:1–2).
But we cannot do both.