Judgement Versus Discernment: Reading the Bible Righteously

judging bathshebaIt is very rare that I ever hear a good word spoken about BathSheba, except by some Rabbis, who declare David and BathSheba’s association as the greatest love story in the Bible. That may be because King Solomon came from their union.

When pressed to answer what I think about her, the only response I have is, “I don’t know the lady. I have no idea what she was like, so I really don’t think it’s my place to judge her. She is someone’s wife and someone’s mother: so she was loved.” I honestly cannot say more than that. I try and relate to her as a fellow human, rather than a good or bad person.

David and BathSheba is the story of what happens when things get way out of hand… when you can no longer control the circumstances, then fall into shame and block out the need to repent. Both David and BathSheba could have lost their lives over their adultery. It’s a serious matter, but while I can learn a great deal from their mistakes, there is still no need for me to slide into any judgement of what they did. That’s only the Lord’s job. [See footnote about rape.]

There is a tendency to condemn and vilify those whose stories grace the pages of our Bibles. We have blurred the line between discerning a lesson and personal criticism, based on our own opinions. Jacob is another example of someone who is pulled to pieces. He is a controversial figure and we tend to remember the bad. We remember that Samson was strong… but weak when it came to women. Rahab is a heroine, despite that she was a prostitute, because she helped God’s chosen people. We look at small snapshots of long, complex lives, then we make a decision on whether that person was predominantly good or bad. As most of us fall prey to negativity biases, often the decision is damning.

Yet the Bible clearly labels Jacob and Samson as righteous and servants of the Lord. So why are we sticking the knife into their backs?

Another sobering question I was confronted by, when I was writing my Christian novels, was if I speak badly of these people or misrepresent them, when I get to heaven and actually meet them face to face, then what am I going to say? How am I going to feel when they stand there clean and forgiven, and I’ve previously assaulted them?

That issue made me think long and hard. If I behave in an insensitive and inhumane way towards BathSheba, what will I say to my beloved David when I see him, and hear how much he did love his wife; or that he wishes people had been willing to consider that perhaps the situation was much more complex and from this a brief account, we haven’t understood it?

What if I went up to him and said, “Absalom was such a rat! I don’t know how you put up with that kid, he must have driven you nuts!” Then I could be confronted with a father’s sadness over a lost son.

That would hurt. I never want to be in that situation.

img_1682Maybe we all need to reconsider the way we teach the Scriptures and talk about ‘dead’ people? As they are names on pages, we feel no connection to, or responsibility towards them. That is the exact same psychological phenomenon that drives bullying and trolls on the internet. We can’t see the faces of the real people, so what we do just doesn’t matter. Yet it does. The Bible says, don’t judge. It doesn’t make any distinction on whether or not that responsibility stops with someone’s death. Orthodox Jews call people who have died, “… of blessed memory.” The person, regardless of whether they are family or not, are treated with respect. That is excellent role modelling.

People who died in right relationship with the Lord are not with us, but it doesn’t mean they have been deleted from existence. It doesn’t mean we will never squirm when we realise how badly we treated them. It doesn’t mean the Lord won’t rebuke us for our unrighteousness, for wielding swords of justice which are only, rightfully His.

So I have striven to err on the side of mercy and fairness when studying and writing about David, and that is, at times, quite a challenge. I have no respect for Saul, Joab or Absalom, but I do not want to stand before the Lord and have to explain why I acted with such harshness when the Father has been so merciful and tender with me. So I try and state the facts about them without including my personal opinion, name calling, or other derogatory low blows.

I have found, that another benefit has sprung up from me being more aware of how I treat David and his family. Amending my attitude has led to a greater awareness of how I judge and speak about the people in my immediate, real life, vicinity. That involves my family, my problematic neighbours and the people I meet in every day life, some of who annoy me.

Learning not to judge is a life skill that is necessary. Scripture tells us directly not to do it. We know we should act with the fruit of the Spirit, we know the standards. Even if we see others pulling apart people, we must resist the impulse to do the same. Judging others in teaching been done through many generations, and it will take some serious work to change our habits. However, for the sake of our character, it’s worth doing.
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Footnotes:
a) Scriptures on Judging: Luke 6:37Matthew 7:2Hebrews 10:30
b) Did David Rape BathSheba?
No, he didn’t. Why? Well, the Bible calls rape, rape and that is not what we see here. It is more likely that as he was a king, she was flattered or awed by him and he may have offered her an incentive such as wealth, land, a promotion for her husband: anything that would enable him to fulfil his desire. Who wouldn’t want to be more popular with the King and attain a higher position in life? Many people would take an opportunity like that and she may have seen it as an honour. [Ref. 2 Samuel 11-12]

Why do I think that?
1. As I said above, the Bible calls rape, rape. It pulls no punches about where David went wrong, so why would it here?
2. When David and BathSheba’s first child dies, David is able to comfort her. There is no indication of a fractured relationship, such as the one he had with Michal. A raped woman would be traumatised. David and BathSheba went on to have four other sons together and she became Queen, which we know as the succession of all her sons is listed.
3. David is such an overtly honest person, he would have confessed it in the Psalms.
4. David was so guilt-ridden over what he had done, had he raped her, it is possible he would have arranged for her to live, well cared for and safe somewhere.
5. It did not appear to be within David’s nature to be so violent outside of war. One example is the number of times the head of his army, Joab, wanted to assassinate a direct threat to his life and kingship. Each time, David said no, even though his refusal flew in the face of common sense. Violence was not his first choice. He looked to the Lord for deliverance. [Ref. 2 Samuel 2 Samuel 15-18]


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Creative Commons License
The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://cateartios.wixsite.com/kingdavidproject.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

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What the Torah Taught David About the Love of God

yhwhIt’s not easy to keep your faith level high while experiencing this kind of chaotic stress:
“O LORD, how long will You forget me? Forever?
How long will You look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Turn and answer me, O LORD my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.
But I trust in Your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because You have rescued me.
I will sing to the LORD
because He is good to me.” Psalm 13

Like all of us, David struggled with his relationship with the Lord when the heat was turned up. Through a haze of stress and fear, he wondered where the Lord had gotten to. At times, as was the culture of the era, he took God’s silence as possible rejection and fretted over what would become of him. Had he been judged as so sinful that God had walked away? Thankfully, his problems always end with God’s hoped for deliverance arriving, and a deeper, richer understanding of God’s love and character.

David didn’t have the entire Old Testament and the New Testament to teach him what we know about God. All he had was the written laws of Moses and the stories of Isra’el’s history (Torah), yet he had an incredible, dynamic faith that has stood the test of time as a powerful example to others. So without Jesus as the prime example, how did he know about the full character of God?

I have made the mistake of thinking of the Torah as a historical reference. Until I began to write this article, I hadn’t properly looked at what those books tell us about the character of God. I prefer to read about the love and gentleness of Jesus, rather than about battles and plagues. I enjoy reading Paul’s letters: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39.

As I began to search for clues about God’s character in the Torah, I Googled Scriptures about the love of God. The Open Bible.info gave me a list of 59, with only one coming from the Torah. [Ref. Exodus 19:5] With the exception of a few Psalms, which were written by David so they don’t count, the rest of the love Scriptures came into being well after David’s time. They are the ones I am familiar with and rely on, so no wonder I hadn’t dug back further.

The answer is God’s loving kindness has been repeatedly, clearly displayed since Genesis 1. The Torah is as rich in references to God’s amazing love as the New Testament. Here are some examples:

  • Despite the catastrophe, God physically looked after Adam and Eve after they had sinned. [Ref. Genesis 3:21]
  • Noah was saved from the flood and God made a covenant with him, because God’s people are too important to be left behind. [Ref. Genesis chapters 6-9]
  • Abraham was a friend of God. He was saved from being childless and “God had blessed him in every way,” by the time he was an old man. [Ref. Genesis 12-24]
  • God dried tears and generously provided basic needs in life for his people, such as wives and He reversed barrenness in faithful women such as Rebecca, in Genesis 25. God’s kindness to a grieving Hagar is another beautiful picture of compassion combined with a practical solution. [Ref. Genesis 21]
  • The deliverance and blessing of Joseph speaks volumes about God’s kindness and guard, not to mention his plan for us as individuals. No matter how awful life got, he never left Joseph down on his luck for long. [Ref. Genesis 37-50]
  • a8a6bacac7c86b28314c4f4616891a59In *Exodus, God delivered Isra’el from Egypt because He heard their pain. In the wilderness they were supplied with every spiritual and physical need, despite their rebellion, and they were promised that God would delight in them. [Ref. Deuteronomy 30:9-10] This includes food, water, healing, **conquering their enemies miraculously multiple times, being physically present with them and more. Even the ten commandments are loving safety guidelines for a people who’d been subject only to pagan gods and rituals, and needed to learn how to live better lives. [Ref. Exodus 20] Deuteronomy 4:31: “For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.”
  • In Leviticus 26:1-13 God promises to live among His people and walk among them. He isn’t in Heaven looking down, He lived and moved alongside man. At this time in history, every other nation was trying to placate their gods, who they were terrified of.
  • Moses’ close friendship with God is a beautiful example of God’s willingness to form a bond with His people. This is highlighted in Exodus 33:33:12-23. In Exodus 34:5-7, God describes Himself to Moses including, “I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.”
  • God’s patience is shown in the book of Judges again and again, and again, as Isra’el repeatedly rebels. In Deuteronomy 28, God sets out the curses of disobedience and gives the people five massive, staged warnings to turn back to Him; then even when they have completely rejected God and have been torn away from their birthright, He says, “But despite all this, I will not utterly reject or despise them while they are in exile in the land of their enemies. I will not cancel my covenant with them by wiping them out, for I am the LORD their God. For their sakes I will remember my ancient covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of all the nations, that I might be their God. I am the LORD.” Leviticus 26:44-45 and Deuteronomy 4:29-31 “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey Him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which He confirmed to them by oath.”

As I said above, this is not an exhaustive list. How can David have known all these stories and not known the love of God? He can’t and he didn’t.
“Remember, O LORD, your compassion and unfailing love,
which you have shown from long ages past.” Psalm 25:6

“Let all that I am praise the LORD;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the LORD;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
…He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:1-5 and 10-12

That Psalm repeats the entire message of the Torah, which is that God was in an active, covenant relationship with His people which He will never discard. That relationship is still not complete and never will be. God will always fight for and provide for His people with a fierce, jealous love and David knew he was wanted, treasured, provided for and sought after; the problems with his walk with God only showed up… when his judgement was smothered by pain.

So next time you feel discouraged, or like God has abandoned you, don’t beat yourself up over your lack of faith. We all go through it, including spiritual giants like David. Fear and grief take over and dominate our thoughts, and we don’t reason straight. However, like David, we will also get through it. He always has been there for His people and He is not about to leave us now, no matter what…

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Notes:
*Exodus 19:1-6: “On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

**The battles God fought for Isra’el, up until David’s time, which would have served as an example to him.
– Crossing the Red Sea – Exodus 14
– Victory over the Amalekites – Exodus 17:8-16
– Promise to fight for the people – Exodus 23:27-31 and Deuteronomy 7:7-8
– Jordan River dry crossing – Joshua 3:15-16
– Fall of Jericho – Joshua 6:20-21
– Ai – Joshua 8
– Amonites – Joshua 10:11
– North captured for Isra’el – Joshua 11:16-20, especially verse 23
– South captured for Isra’el – Joshua 10:40-42
– Deborah and Barak – Judges 4:14-15
– Gideon – Judges 7
– Samson – Judges 16, especially verse 30
– Ark of the Covenant against the Philistines – 1 Samuel 7
– Saul’s first battle, against King Nahash of Ammon – 1 Samuel 11
– Jonathan against the Philistines – 1 Samuel 14

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The inspiration for this post came from ‘Fierce,’ by Jesus Culture
Before I call
Before I ever cry
You answer me
From where the thunder hides
I can’t outrun
This heart I’m tethered to
When every step
I collide with You

Like a tidal wave
Crashing over me
Rushing in to meet me here
Your love is fierce
Like a hurricane
That I can’t escape
Tearing through the atmosphere
Your love is fierce

You cannot fail
The only thing I’ve found
Is through it all
You never let me down
You don’t hold back
Relentless in pursuit
At every turn
I come face to face with You

Like a tidal wave
Crashing over me
Rushing in to meet me here
Your love is fierce
Like a hurricane
That I can’t escape
Tearing through the atmosphere

Your love is fierce
You surround me
You chase me down
You seek me out
How can I be lost
When You have called me found
You chase me down
You seek…


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Creative Commons License
The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://cateartios.wixsite.com/kingdavidproject.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

Mercy In The Middle

40297092_m“I am praying to You because I know You will answer, O God.
Bend down and listen as I pray.
Show me Your unfailing love in wonderful ways.” Psalm 17:6-7a

There has been a great deal of upheaval in my life which has resulted in a lot of hurt, and grief. In the middle of this, it’s been hard to trust God. At times I have clung to Him, and at other times, I have been very angry that He allowed me to get into a situation where I would be so badly damaged and disillusioned. I completely went to pieces one night, and God finally got through to me that He was still there, I just hadn’t been able to reach Him as I have been stuck in my own pain and couldn’t see straight.

I felt awful. It is the same as when you accuse someone of something they haven’t done, then find out you were wrong. What could I do but apologise? The greatest thing was He responded with, “That’s what I am here for.” No offence was taken. He could handle the assault on His character, and it didn’t in any way harm our relationship. That’s pretty special. I don’t know too many people who could do that so easily, and with so much love.

When I taught Sunday School, we sang songs with the children about God’s love being so high you can’t climb over it, so low you can’t climb under it and so wide you can’t get around it. They were action songs, and they were a lot of fun. The basic message was, you just can’t dent God enough for Him to stop loving you. What I have learned in the meantime is, I cannot comprehend just how great God’s love for me is. I get little glimpses every so often that blow my mind, but the full size, is way beyond me. I know He treats me better than any person has or will and that is as much as I can get my head around for now.

The trouble with really understanding where we stand with God is, He is so different. I know there are lots of Scriptures that teach us about how He thinks and feels about us, but it is not the same as seeing a smile on His face when He sees me, or giving me a hug when I need it. It takes longer for me to learn to trust Him, and believe how special I am because of that. I like some evidence, and due to His patience and great mercy over the years, He has given me some when needed. It never seems to be enough though, when I am walking through the blackest periods of my life.

One of the songs which has helped me is written by Amy Grant and talks about a little girl, who is now grown up, who was sexually abused. The lyrics are:
“Ask me how I know there’s a God up in the heavens,
Where did He go, in the middle of her shame?
Ask me how I know there’s a God up in the heavens,
She says His mercy is bringing her life againshe’s coming to life again.
He’s in the middle of her pain,
In the middle of her shame He’s in the middle,
Mercy in the middle”

It’s that one line I cling to. “Mercy in the middle.” That is what He gives me. No lectures when things go wrong, no screaming or blaming, no control and manipulation. Love and mercy. It’s so precious to me. It is one hundred percent acceptance, and no one has given me that before.

There are many Scriptures that talk of grace, but I have never understood what it means. So many of the words in the Bible I skim over, and never go looking for the real meaning, but last weekend I looked up grace, and the meaning touched me. Grace is so simple. I’ve heard it called “God’s riches at Christ’s expense” and know all about how it relates to God forgiving our sins etc. Grace is just simply love. Loving-kindness and goodwill. That is how God treats us, with love, and kindness. He wants the best for us (goodwill), so He gives us the best in how He heals, provides for, and forgives us.

Don’t we all long so much for love? It is there, if we reach out to Him and receive it. For me, it means in the middle of my anger and pain and frustration, God pushed aside the wrong things I thought and said, and was just there for me. We’re loved so much. He won’t leave us, He just doesn’t want to. He is completely absorbed in our care.

I don’t think I will ever understand God’s love, because my human mind is just not built to take in something so wonderful. All I can do is regard Him in awe and express my gratitude. Guaranteed, even with this lesson learnt, at some stage in the future I will get angry and do the wrong thing again. However, every time something goes wrong and the Lord reaches out to me, I slowly get stronger and more secure in His love. It is a process, and a great journey of discovery. I am so grateful He has never given up on me, no matter what.

“But let all who take refuge in You rejoice;
let them sing joyful praises forever.
Spread Your protection over them,
that all who love Your name may be filled with joy.
For You bless the godly, O LORD;
you surround them with Your shield of love.” Psalm 5:11-12


Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

Epic Fail: When Compassion and Fairness Seem Beyond Me

I always use this image to represent Joab. It's a negative bias, I know it.

I always use this image to represent Joab. It’s a negative bias, I know it. Plus the era is wrong…

I am an obvious King David fan – yes, I own it. However, I try and be fair. I spend a lot of my time debunking myths about his life and working to represent him in a balanced, positive manner, but I am aware that too much of that borders on favouritism. After writing about polygamy, my head is stuck solidly in the mode of “favouritism is bad.”

So I did something which has been on my heart to do for months, I wrote about Michal and what led her to become the bitter woman she is depicted as. Then the Lord challenged me. If I wanted to treat everyone as fairly as David, then what about Joab?

Joab – the villain – the heartless murderer – the bad guy – the one even David felt defeated by. [Ref. 2 Samuel 3:6 and especially verse 39] I needed to be fair to him?

OK, if God challenges, He challenges. Game on!

As I said in the article about Michal: “One of the biggest problems we have with understanding people in the Bible, is that we often only receive a quick, isolated snapshot of their lives. We are not presented with a well rounded image of their personality, spiritual views or life experience. Thus it becomes very easy to label people as entirely good or bad, based on what we see and without taking into account, possible reasons why they came to be at the place and attitude they have reached. If one of these snapshots is negative and it’s the first one we see, then that person is branded.”

So I tried to un-brand Joab. I looked at the fact that he had three brothers, all of who had joined David in the wilderness at a young age. They were all excessively aggressive perhaps they had been abused as kids? Maybe their father had died when they were too young to lose him? Somehow, something is obviously wrong there, my social worker instincts are screaming at me that this must be so. I have no Scriptural evidence, but for three kids to be that far off the rails, something has gone wrong.

So there is room for compassion there, right?

This is the point where I admit failure. I have struggled with this for weeks, talked to Christian friends and the take home message is, I just can’t feel sorry for Joab. Michal was kicked around like an old potato sack, and as a woman, I can feel bad for her, but Joab? He didn’t have a mental illness. If David had fired him, he would have created a serious enemy; and to kill him at the wrong time, would have made David an equally unrighteous criminal. It’s a sticky, nasty situation.

Joab was an uncontrollable, but sadly, useful menace. When harsh action had to be taken and fast, he was the right man for the job and Isra’el’s security did benefit from his presence. However, there is no excuse for an adult who committed the inappropriate murders, and acted in the unrighteous manner that he did. Joab’s life path was not beyond his control. He had a choice and at the point of realising that, my compassion began to walk away.

Actually, that is the root of Joab’s whole problem: a need for control. He wasn’t a man of faith, he just played the game. Joab had no respect for David’s position at all and could not comprehend David’s reliance on the Lord.

He would not even smother his dislike of David’s approach by saluting the rank, if not the man. “But just after David had sent Abner away in safety, Joab and some of David’s troops returned from a raid, bringing much plunder with them. When Joab arrived, he was told that Abner had just been there visiting the king and had been sent away in safety. Joab rushed to the king and demanded, “What have you done? What do you mean by letting Abner get away? You know perfectly well that he came to spy on you and find out everything you’re doing!” [2 Samuel 3:22-25]

Joab was a man of action, who leaned on his sword and his wits to get him through. I just can’t find something to feel empathy towards.

So I feel like I failed. I can write up an article about the problems with poor parenting at the developmental stages of a child’s life, but at the end of the day, I am relying on instinct, not the Word of God, so I don’t feel I can do that. I can only write an article on aggression and how it motivated Joab and that doesn’t feel like enough. It hasn’t produced mercy, just judgement and I am supposed to be laying very, very light on the judgement!

All I can do is say, “Lord, sorry, but this is an epic fail on my part.” I know that whatever there is to be compassionate about with Joab, the Lord knows what it is and He would have judged Joab in complete fairness. But I can’t.

This is like understanding BathSheba for me: I don’t know either her or Joab, so I can’t be either objective or righteously subjective. If I could sit down with them to talk, and hear their view and what they feel, I would definitely see them completely differently but this is impossible.

So that is my final word on Joab: I don’t have enough information. I wish I had more, but I don’t. I won’t make up facts when I have no proof and I have to accept that sometimes it’s fine just to say,”I don’t have the answers and it’s OK not to know everything.”Just as long as I don’t harden my heart against the possibility that he was a hurting, misled person, that is the best I can give. It is the best I can give anybody. I hope that one day I find a way to give more.

What would you do, in my place?


Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.