Revelation 18 – Get Away

Read Revelation 18

When the first Gulf War erupted in 1990, there was considerable speculation from a number of Christian groups that thought these events hailed the coming of Jesus Christ.  They pointed to the destruction of Babylon, recorded here in chapter 18, as proof that we were witnessing the final events of the world as we know it.  Babylon, as a Biblical nation, was located in modern day Iraq, its capital located in the central portion of the country between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  The coalition attack on Iraq and subsequent speedy victory over the country, for some, became further proof that Jesus’ coming was right around the corner.

As we have talked about several times now, however, it is very difficult to make links like this between modern day events and what is written in Revelation.  Sadly, a large number of failed predictions like this have led to a great deal of confusion and even apathy among believers when it comes to “end times” discussions.

John is taken by an angel to see the destruction of “Babylon,” which is described as “the great prostitute.”  Remember that in Scripture, those people and nations who commit idolatry against the Lord by worshiping false Gods are often described by the prophets as having “prostituted” themselves to these idols.  There is a considerable amount of sexual language and reference that is included in these references pointing to the intimacy of the relationship that God desires with us and the abundance of pain and betrayal that comes with idolatry.  This language is no accident; even Paul writes that, in talking about the relationship between husband and wife he is also talking about Christ and the church.

Babylon, as a city and a nation, is used here to describe the seat of the resistance against God and His people. Babylon was, in the Old Testament, the second “Egypt experience” that God’s people had after Jerusalem was conquered and the people forced into exile in 587 B.C.  In exile, the people of God were forced into idol worship, breaking the law by the foods that they were made to eat, and were completely cut off from their homeland and the Temple.  This civilization was given considerable power by God to dominate the world at that time, punishing both Israel and the surrounding nations for the sins that they had committed.

Daniel, however, also records God’s punishment of the sins Babylon as well in the story of the writing on the wall in Daniel 5.  At the peak of her power (and incidentally her idolatry as well) King Belshazzar holds a feast and uses many of the items from the Temple of the Lord.  In the middle of the feast, a hand appears and writes on the wall something only Daniel could interpret: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN.”  He translates it for the king: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed and found wanting; and PERES, the kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

A similar fate is sealed for Revelation’s Babylon as well, though the Kingdom will not be divided but rather redeemed and restored to its rightful state and ruler, Jesus Christ.

A warning is issued to God’s people living in Babylon, they must leave or not even they will be spared the wrath of God that is about to be poured out.  This warning echoes the story of Lot who is brought out of the city of Sodom before God destroys is and Gomorrah as well.

The doom of Babylon is said to be equal to that of the judgment that Babylon imposed on the people of God.  This is, at least on some level, true of the Old Testament Babylon, losing everything just as the Jews lost everything.  In Revelation, this is also true.  As we have seen, Babylon, along with its leaders the dragon and the two beasts, have been active in their persecution of God’s people.  Scripture says she receives a “double portion” of what she poured out.  In essence, the scales are to not just going to be balanced at the end, but the weight of sin and evil will be completely eclipsed by God’s grace and love.

John records that many will mourn the loss of Babylon.  Kings, merchants, and seamen are all groups of people that had benefitted greatly from Babylon and her luxuries.  Their benefits and wealth are matched only by their grief for her loss, not because of a conviction of sins, however, but most likely a mourning of the great financial loss that they incurred because of Babylon’s fall.

There is one final point that is made about Babylon’s fall and that is the finality of it.  After all of this is shown to John, the angel shows him exactly what this end is to mean for the “great” city.  It will be like a millstone thrown into the sea; it will never be found again.  While I think that we’ve talked about this a number of times, it does bear mentioning again that this is the ultimate trajectory of Revelation and it is an eternal one.  The enemies of God will be thrown down, all opposition to God will be removed, and the earth will once again experience the full measure of love and grace with the presence of God being here with us.



Revelation 17 – Babylon

Read Revelation 17

What is Babylon?  This is a question we have to address in chapter 17.  We have seen several references to it during our journey through Revelation, but as we near the end the focus shifts onto Babylon and it’s eventual demise.

Babylon is described as a prostitute sitting by “many waters.”  In the Old Testament, those of the people of God or other nations who worship idols and followed false gods were often described as “prostituting themselves” before those gods.  This language of sexual intimacy as it relations to our relationship with God is not at all accidental.  Indeed there is nothing in the human experience that can really relate the depth of intimacy that God desires with us than that of a monogamous relationship between husband and wife.

Scripture uses such language to talk about God’s love for Israel which is described as a “bride” waiting for her groom.  In the same way, when Israel commits idolatry, it is as if she were committing adultery; the depth of the betrayal and hurt is that intense.  This, however, only further reveals the love that God has for His people as He continues to pursue them, working for their salvation.

Babylon, though, is the “great prostitute.”  The “many waters” that she sits by are the “inhabitants of the earth,” all those who have turned away from God.  When the angel takes John into the wilderness he sees this woman who is sitting on the beast, an interesting metaphor for showing that her actions and the beasts are very much related.  The beast being scarlet shows a similarity to the dragon we met earlier in chapter 12; the beast is the beast from the earth, that is the false prophet who led many astray to worship the other beast.

The women, whose name here is “Babylon the great,” is adorned with many great looking things.  Just as the things of this world often look great on the outside, so too does the great prostitute entice the people of the world to join her.  It seems also that she has partaken in the persecution and murder of God’s people again solidifying the idea that her actions and that of the beast are one and the same.

As the angel is explaining the mystery of the woman and the beast, we get a sense of imitation that is going on here.  The beast “once was, now is not, and yet will come.”  This could be a two-fold description of an imitation of Jesus who lived, died, and rose from the dead as well as perhaps being significant of a set of time periods where the beast will be present, then will not be prominent for a while, and then will return.  Evil is certainly persistent, and we can probably look back through history to see times when it seemed like evil was much more prevalent than at other times.

Following this is a series of references to seven hills, seven kings, an eighth king, and then ten more kings.  These have been interpreted in a number of different ways.  Seven hills could be an obvious reference to Rome, a city built on seven hills.  Hills and mountains, though, are also a reference to royalty and power, something that coincides with the references to kings.  The seven kings have been interpreted as seven emperors of Rome and also as rulers of some of the empires that had come before.  An eighth king comes along, a reference to the antichrist, to whom all the other kings give their power.

So, is Rome (the city or the empire) actually what is being referenced when we say “Babylon?”  Perhaps.  It is difficult to identify one specific interpretation that fits everything.  As we have seen throughout Revelation, though, these references to royal and political power that resist and stand in opposition to God could very easily be speaking to the totality of political, economic, and other worldly powers that turn from Christ and resist both God and oppress the people of God.  We can see examples of this throughout history and even in our present day governments.  Revelation could be revealing the trajectory of secular power, the governments of the world, that move away from Christian principles and even go so far as to oppress Christians.

If that is the case, it is also possible that the woman that is depicted here could be representative of the people of God.  As I said, this image of an elegantly adorned woman is one that is used in the Old Testament to describe Israel.  Perhaps what John is seeing here is not just the city of Babylon but rather, the people of God who have sold themselves out to the secular powers of politics, culture, civil religion, and anything else that promises some sort of hope but ultimately, as John records at the end of chapter 17, leaves her naked and ruined.

In this instance, perhaps Revelation is issuing a warning to the people of God not to follow the currents of the world, to stay separate and chaste from the idolatry that the world offers.  Certainly, this has implications for the church today as we have seen a dramatic shift toward cultural trends that demand we stay “relevant” and “up to date” on things.  Often times our emphasis on such things leads us away from the truths of Scripture for the sake of contemporary (here and now) significance.  When we turn toward these things as our hope and strength… perhaps we become the prostitute?

 

 



Revelation 16 – Bowl Judgments

Read Revelation 16

The last series of seven judgments makes the end of the pouring out of God’s wrath on the world as well as the final defeat of Babylon, which has become synonymous as the center for evil and opposition to God in the world.  Looking closely, we can compare the first four bowl judgments with the first four trumpet judgments.  They are both similar in nature and draw their imagery from the plagues that we called down on Egypt.  Plagues of boils and sores, blood in the water, and impacts on the sun itself.

John makes a point of recording the reactions of the people of earth, those that worship the beast and are enemies of God.  Rather than turning to God and finding refuge and salvation in Him, they curse God because of the things that are happening.  Recognizing that God has the ability to not do these things, they blame Him for their own troubles which they have brought upon themselves by their allegiance to the beast.  This, to me, is strangely reminiscent of many conversations I’ve had about the love of God vs. the wrath of God.  When people, even Christians, experience hard times in life, rather than turning to God who can help them, they blame God for what is happening.  Here, however, is a different story.  In life, God allows us to face trials and struggles, not causing them but working in them to shape and mold us into the image of His Son (a process we call sanctification).  What John is seeing here is much different; a calamity that God authorizes in a last ditched effort to see some turn to Him while also punishing sin and evil in the world.  How are these different in our lives now?  It’s hard to say.

Much of the symbolism that is present here suggests the possibility of things that happen in our lives today.  Some, however, suggests a much greater calamity down the road.  The plague of blood on the water which people then have to drink is, or at least seems to be, a punishment for the crime of the oppression and killing of God’s people.  Fire is something that is often connected to judgment in Scripture, it both burns and purifies.  One thing is for sure, though, like all else, there is a great deal of wisdom that is needed here if we are going to link people’s personal struggles with the judgment of Revelation.  We have to be very careful when doing that or when looking at massive events like natural disasters as somehow being linked to things like this too.

As I have said before, the ultimate purpose of God’s work here is two-fold: the hope of bringing people to Himself and the punishment of evil.  God’s discipline is always restorative in nature; these judgments are not simply meant to kill people for killing’s sake.  When people say things like “hurricane Catrina was God’s punishment for all the ______,” we should be quick to question whether that is true; there is very little evidence in Scripture (none if you read it all within the context of itself) that would support God punishing just one type of sin over and above others.  Sin is sin; God’s punishment of sin is exhaustive and complete.  This, I think, is why we see in Revelation, the outpouring of all these judgments on the earth, the focal point of sin in the universe.  This is symbolized also in the dragon, the beasts, and the city of Babylon.

As we near the end of these judgments, not only are we seeing God’s last-ditched effort to draw people to repentance, we also see a final effort from the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet (the other beast) to rally the enemies of God for one final battle.  C.S. Lewis describes a sort of “Armageddon” image in his book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” and it is compelling.  Though one thing that is different here is that no real battle takes place.  The armies of the opposition to God gather and then the final judgment is poured out and a voice from heaven says “It is done!”

When those words are spoken, we see many of the same images and symbols of God’s power and presence, like that of Mount Sinai; lightning, thunder, and earthquakes.  This final earthquake, though, flattens everything.  The image of this event echoes that of the words of Isaiah: “every mountain shall be made low, every valley raised up…”  These were the things that were going to happen that hailed the coming of the Lord; all obstacles would be removed.

In this event, even Babylon, the great city of evil, falls before the final judgment.  Here, we are left with the armies gathered and ready for the battle of Armageddon.  While this could be a specific geographical reference to a place known as “Megiddo,” it is more likely that this is symbolic for the final battle and overthrow of evil in the world.  Given that the entire world was flattened by the earthquake, geographical references don’t make much sense anyway.  Megiddo, however, is a place of great importance, being a very strategic location in Israel and the site of many battles throughout history.  John’s readers would have been familiar with the reference and would understand the meaning and importance behind mentioning such a place.  Suffice to say, the battle that is looming at the end of this chapter will be the last battle, a sign and symbol to us that evil’s existence in the world today does have a terminal date to it.  Of this, we can be certain.



Day 364: Revelation 17-19; The Fall of Babylon and the Marriage Supper

In many ways, today’s reading has a lot to do about sex.  At first glance this seems rather odd to us as we have been talking about the end times and all that is to come, and suddenly we are talking about a prostitute and a great beast and all the sexual immorality of the earth.  But, if we think back over the course of our reading of Scripture again we will remember that God and the prophets often refer to Israel’s idolatry as a form of spiritual prostitution, and God often relates their running after God to the same idea as adultery.  The vision we get of Israel is of a young woman that the Lord saved from her misery, pulled her out of the proverbial mud, cleaned her up and adorned her with white robes as a bride.  However, this bride was unfaithful to Him, going off and prostituting herself to other gods.  At times the prophets said that she would welcome in anyone that she encountered on the street corner.  This is how bad things had gotten in Israel, yet even in that God still welcomed her back.

We get a lot of this same vision today, however we see it on a much grander scale applying to the people of the world.  They have gone off and prostituted themselves to the beast, to the antichrist and opened themselves to him.  The reason that sexual imagery is used here, I think, is to communicate the depth of personal giving that is taking place in the hearts of those who follow the antichrist.  Not only do they sin by not listening to  God and not living in the way that He would have them live, they have given their whole selves up to the antichrist in the way that God so desires them to turn to Him.  It is this depth of knowing, this depth of giving that conjures up images of marriage and sex, the deepest self giving that we know as humans.  It is important to note here too that, as detestable as this sounds, even John marveled at the beast and the prostitute which I think goes to show how incredibly enticing this will be.  While I don’t know about what this is or could be actually pointing to, but I know that there is a sinful lifestyle out there that, though we may condemn, we also often stop to take a second look.  We too must be careful because the beast is out there seeking whom he may devour.

So from here we see an angel that is calling out and declaring the fall of Babylon.  Now, in Hebrew literature, Babylon is the symbol of all evil, idolatry, and eternally the enemy of God.  This started being true in the Exile, when the Babylonian army destroy the Temple in Jerusalem.  From then on, they were labeled as the enemies of God.  Some have taken these references to Babylon to mean that, in the last days, the antichrist will actually seek to rebuild the city of Babylon and will rule from there.  I don’t necessarily agree with this notion, though I don’t see it as being out of the realm of possibility either.  Remember that this whole time we have been talking about the fact that these Scriptures do not necessarily denote a series of events, but rather a broad brush stroke of what is to take place before all things come to their already given conclusion.  Babylon, like the beasts and much of the other vivid imagery may just be an image, a grouping of the enemies of God.  In this instance, the angel is communicating to us that the enemies of God have fallen, no longer to rise.  This could mean spiritually there is no turning back for them, or it could mean that in this instance they are truly defeated.  In any case, what we see is that “Babylon,” despite all of her good looks, fine clothing and jewelry, and all that she offers to entice the people of the earth, at some point this will come to an end, that she will not do business anymore, and that the true lie of all she does will be exposed.

For this, all those in heaven rejoice!  Not simply because the truth of Babylon has been exposed to the whole world, but because God has judged her accordingly and she is indeed fallen.  Later we see Jesus coming on a white horse and throwing down Satan, the beast, and capturing him.  All of heaven rejoices at this happening!

Finally today, we get a chance to talk about the marriage supper of the Lamb.  This is an image of a great feast that will take place in heaven with all believers, those whose names are written in the book of life.  Jesus invites everyone to His table, all those who believe in His name are welcome there.  When we celebrate communion together as a church, not only “do this in remembrance” of Jesus’ last supper, but we do it in anticipation of this event that will take place in the future as well!  There will be a time when Satan is defeated and sin is no more and all those who believe in the name of Jesus and have been saved by grace, through faith in Him, will sit down at His table and feast with Him!  What an exciting prospect to be a part of this some day!  This is what we look forward to at the end of time, being in the presence of our Savior and Lord, sitting and eating at His table, being free from sin, death and persecution forever and ever, amen!

(I would like to mention, that the articles that I am referencing as “related” are those that have been suggested by wordpress and do not necessarily support of coincide with the beliefs that I hold or write about.  I neither cast my unknowing support to them nor do I say that they are wrong, simply conversational partners in this journey through the Scriptures.)



Day 278: Malachi 1-4; The Broken Covenant

Well friends, we have come to it at last.  The end of the Old Testament.  I have to say, I’m shocked that it has taken this long.  We emphasize the New Testament so much in contemporary Christianity that I guess I thought it was larger.  But in all honesty, its taken 3/4 of a year to get through the Old Testament, leaving less than 1/4 of the year to get from Matthew to Revelation.  Today though, we come to the final writing but canonically and chronologically in the Old Testament.  Malachi is the punctuation of the Old Testament, showing the people of Israel that have returned to Jerusalem and Judah that they cannot continue to break the covenant even after returning from exile.  Whether Malachi was actually one of the returned exiles or a post-exilic child is not known, but what is known is that he spoke to the people around the time that Nehemiah was dealing with the controversy of intermarriage with other nations that was going on in Judah, many years after the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.

If you remember back to that section of Nehemiah, when he arrived in Jerusalem from Babylon, he faced a great deal of challenges from both outside and in.  People resisted as he and the returned exiles sought to rebuild the wall.  Also, he was approached many times with issues concerning their faith and practices, which included the intermarriage of Hebrews with foreign women.  It is into this climate that Malachi speaks.  To be honest though, I think that at least 90% of what he had to say is completely applicable to us today as well.

Malachi (ortodox icon)

Malachi (ortodox icon) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Malachi was facing down an already unfaithful people.  They had just endured 70 years of exile as punishment for their sins and yet upon returning to their homeland, the started right back up with their sinful actions.  The religious leaders had once again become corrupt, neglecting worship by offering sacrifices of blemished animals.  This was a direct contradiction to the Law.  The people had also become corrupt in their worship, saying they will offer their best and then bringing their worst.  Malachi points out that they brought blind and debilitated animals for sacrifice, giving to the Lord that which they didn’t want anymore.  Sound familiar?  In my dealings with Churches, I’ve found that most abide by the 80/20 rule… 80% of the giving from 20% of the people.  We don’t give out of joy or even out of gratitude, but because our pulpit has shamed us into it for another year.  This reveals not only a lack of faith and trust, but a lack of understanding the true nature of giving to which we are called.  We follow the “give when you want to, or when you can” pattern, something Jesus will address in a rather harsh manner for us in the coming days.

The message of Malachi then turns to the people.  Apart from the sacrifices that they were offering inappropriately, an act that was unfaithful to God, they were also being unfaithful to their wives.  While the intermarriage controversy was one that Nehemiah had to deal with, it seems as though the people were dealing with the problem of marriage on the whole.  Men were getting divorced whenever they wanted to, not on account of marital unfaithfulness but by reason of marital boredom.  Sound familiar?  Divorce rates both in and out of the church are hovering around 50%.  Pastors and priests are caught day after day in sexual sin and marital infidelity.  Marriage itself is a pillar of society that has fallen by the wayside.  Why?  Are people being more unfaithful?  Maybe in some cases… But for the most part people are just being more selfish.  Rather than working on a relationship, they simply throw it away and get a new one.  Much like appliances in our culture, it is just easier (and often cheaper) to get a new one rather than work to fix the old.  And what of our faith?  It seems as though, with the rise of “spirituality” and the idea that there is no absolute truth, that faith too is simply a throwaway item.  Bored with your church?  Find another one.  Bored with God?  Try Hinduism for a while.  Bored with the truth that is right for you?  Try something different on for size.  We are shaped by the things that are around us, the culture in which we live.  Rather than being strong in our faith and then addressing culture, we have settled for being strong in our culture and then addressing faith.  And then we wonder where God has gone and why He is seemingly silent in our day to day lives.

But thank goodness for the covenant.  Thank God that He does not change.  Even when we turn away and do not keep the way of the Lord He still invites us back.  “Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.  Malachi speaks to this in chapter 4:

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.  But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.  Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.  He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

Bible Timeline Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

Bible Timeline
Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

These are the last writings of the Old Testament.  From here we enter the “inter-testamental period,” a time of over 400 years when God was seemingly silent.  Much happened during this time, some of which is included in the Apocrypha, the deutero-canonical books of the Bible that the Nicene Father’s considered somewhat helpful, but not inspired in the way that the Canonical Books of the Bible are.  Some day we may work through them, but in the mean time we wait… fortunately not for 400 years but roughly 24 hours until we enter Matthew and the Word of God becomes flesh!



Day 274: Haggai 1-2; Priorities

The prophet Haggai was a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah, one of the many returned exiles from Babylon under the reign of King Darius.  In fact, Haggai and his are mentioned in the book of Ezra.  Haggai returned with the first wave of exiles from Babylon.  After a few years of being in Jerusalem, the people had rebuilt their own houses and some of the city while the Temple, God’s house, stood in ruins.  Haggai’s message to the people was that they needed to get their priorities straight.  It was by the will of God that the people even returned to their homeland and to the city of God, yet right away they started in their bad habits again, thinking of themselves first.  Unlike some of the other prophets that had come before him, well accepted  by the people living in Jerusalem and they got right to work on rebuilding God’s house.

After the people had rebuilt the temple, we read in Ezra 3, that many of the old people, those who had seen the first Temple, wept at the sight of the second one because it was not as good.  These folks didn’t weep for themselves, but because they felt as though the second Temple had done an injustice to the Lord.  However, God spoke through Haggai again to remind them that it wasn’t the physical building, nor was it the things they adorned it with that made the Temple glorious, but it was the presence of God almighty there that fills the Temple with glory.  Here too we see a promise from God of a future glory, when all things will be made right again and the House of God will be in its fullest glory.

I think that one of the main themes in this story is that of priorities.  Too often we get our priorities completely mixed up, putting the things that we want over the things that God wants for us to do.  I’m sure that there wasn’t a sinister plot to not rebuild God’s house when the people returned.  They probably just got caught up in things like… surviving.  But Haggai points out that, once they had build their own houses, they needed to refocus their priorities and get to work on the things that were important.  This was one of the main reasons why they had returned to Jerusalem in the first place!  More important that the priorities here though is the reaction of the people to Haggai’s message.  They don’t hem and haw, they don’t call a consistory meeting or a town hall meeting, they don’t hire consultants to consider costs to see whether its worth it or not… THEY RESPOND and get to work!  This is what God wants from us when He speaks to us… when He shows us where we are mixed up in our priorities… He wants us to RESPOND.  I think that too often we try to think it through and see what we need to do rather than listen and do.  A great many movements from  God have been cut down in consistory meetings due to “lack of available funds.”  If God is calling us to do something, HE WILL PROVIDE all that we need to make it happen.  It may not be glorious.  It may not even be glamorous.  It might not look like the work of the Mega-Church a couple blocks away, but it will what God wants it to be: work for His Kingdom.



Day 257: Daniel 5-6; The Writing on the Wall

While I’m not entirely sure if it is from this particular Biblical narrative that the saying “see the writing on the wall” comes from, the meaning of that particular idiom is fairly similar to that which God was communicating to king Belshazzar on that particular evening.  What strikes me as interesting in this story is that the son did not learn at all from the father.  In these last two days we have seen four instances where king Nebuchadnezzar was humbled before God; when the God of the Hebrew captives proved to be stronger than the king of the world at that time.  Yet Belshazzar comes to power and makes the same mistakes as that of his father with much more dire consequences.  Yet this isn’t something that we haven’t seen before is it?  And I think therein lies one of the themes of today’s narratives.

Belshazzar's Feast depicts a vision described ...

Belshazzar’s Feast depicts a vision described in the biblical Book of Daniel. –31&src= Daniel 5:1–31 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before we get to that though, there are two stories here about what it means to follow God and the consequences, whether good or bad, that come from our actions.  King Belshazzar inherits the grandest of all kingdoms, likely from his father, and rules for a time.  During this time it is clear by what we read here that he is certainly not a Godly king, nor does he do anything to follow the God of the Hebrews.  In fact, in this party that he throws, he orders that they take out the items from the Temple of God that they can use them for the feast, ultimately desecrating them more than they already are.  It is at this time that the “hand of God” appears and the news is given that his kingdom is about to fall and he is about to die.

Daniel's Answer to the King

Daniel’s Answer to the King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In sharp contrast to this, we are once again given the example that Daniel sets in chapter 6, refusing to pray to anyone but God.  Even when this trap is set for him, one of the most honored and trusted of King Darius‘ advisers, he does not yield and is punished by human standards.  Yet here God clearly knows the heart of Daniel and Daniel trusts that his faith and faithfulness to God will be seen and honored, whether in this life or the next.  You can almost hear the words of Paul here, “to live is Christ and to die is gain…”  Ultimately Daniel’s faithful actions lead to his being saved from the human punishment that they tried to inflict upon him.

That brings up back to Belshazzar.  He placed his trust in his own power, the might and glory of his earthly kingdom.  He did not realize that it was all given to him by God.  Yet on the night when he celebrates all of his earthly power, God shows up and writes the words:

MENE MENE TEKEL PARSIN

God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.

You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.

Your Kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

While I’m sure Belshazzar did everything he could on earth to keep his kingdom and his power, there is no amount of earthly power that can overcome that of Heaven.  The same power that saves the faithful also punishes the wicked for there is no earthly power that can overcome God.

This brings us back to the kings actions with the knowledge of his father’s humility.  There is no doubt that Belshazzar knew of the things that happened during the reign of king Nebuchadnezzar.  Indeed, those stories I’m sure were fresh in his mind on the night his kingdom was lost.  It is a shame that he didn’t learn the lessons of the people of Israel.  For hundreds of years their kings had done the same thing, not learning from the lessons of their fathers and now they were exiles, removed from their land, their kingdom taken from them.  Soon Babylon, or at least the Babylonian kings would share their same status: Exile.  It is the Lord who sets up and removes the kingdoms of the earth.  There is no power except that which is established from heaven.  I think the governments of today, caught up in their squabbling and power grabbing, need to remember the true source of their power, the only one that has allowed them to be where they are.  Its too bad that Truth isn’t as clear as the writing on the wall.



Day 255: Daniel 1-2; Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar's Dream

The life of the prophet Daniel took place concurrently with that of Ezekiel and Jeremiah.  Both Daniel and Ezekiel would have been taken with the first wave of captives that were taken around 605 B.C.  With Ezekiel being a priest and Daniel being of noble blood, it is possible that they would have even known each other.  However, unlike the other prophets that we have read so far, Daniel does not include messages of judgment against the people of Israel or the surrounding nations.  In fact, Daniel is more of an example of what it meant to live faithfully for God while in exile.  While others that had been taken captive willfully defiled themselves before God by eating food that was sacrificed to idols, Daniel and his three friends remained true to their faith and to God, and for this God blessed them.

Nebuchadnezzar's Dream of the Statue Photo Credit: http://pastorjeffdickson.blogspot.com

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of the Statue
Photo Credit: www.pastorjeffdickson.blogspot.com

As a book, Daniel also provides key prophesies about the future.  In many ways, when many people think about prophesy, they think about some of the obscure prophesies of the future that we will read in the latter part of this book.  Many of these have to do with the immediate and somewhat distant future of the region, about the change of power between nations, and the coming of the Messiah.  Sadly, there are many people that think that Daniel is actually a book to be decoded and that in some way it will give us clues and hints to the second coming of Christ and things like the Rapture and Tribulation.  While again, I do not claim to be a Biblical scholar, in studying a lot of these interpretations, their failing lies in the fact that they do not consider the whole unity of Scripture and take single verses out of context to prove their own theories.  Like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, all these writings must be considered within their greater context, historical, cultural, and Biblical, so that we can have a better picture of what God is trying to tell us through the writings of Daniel.

Fortunately for us, there are some things that come up in Daniel that are actually given interpretations on the spot.  For these, it is important for us to listen to what God reveals through Daniel so that we do not ourselves misinterpret them.  These interpretations also give us insight into other visions and dreams that come about later in the book.  The first of these dreams that we encounter is that of Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon.  For people in this day and age, dreams were a great deal more significant than they are for us.  Many considered dreams to be messages from the gods, which explains why a king would surround himself with advisers, wise men, and even magicians, to help interpret signs and dreams.  After having his dream he presents his “wise guys” with an impossible request; impossible that is for any human and the man made gods they worshiped.  However, to the God that knows all and sees all is able to reveal this to Daniel without any problem.

Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the statue Photo Credit: www.andrew.sterling.hanenkamp.com

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue
Photo Credit: www.andrew.sterling.hanenkamp.com

What Daniel reveals is that the dream Nebuchadnezzar has is about the future and about the his kingdom and those to follow.  Each of the kingdoms, it seems, decrease in splendor while increasing in strength.  Gold is one of the more malleable of metals, Iron the least.  Gold is one of the most precious metals, Iron the least.  While Daniel doesn’t give us too much of an interpretation of what nations the metals stand for, modern interpretations indicate:

  • Gold stood for the Babylonian Empire spanning 606 B.C. to 539 B.C.
  • Silver stood for the Medo-Persian Empire spanning 539 B.C. to 331 B.C.
  • Bronze stood for the Grecian Empire spanning 331 B.C. to 146 B.C.
  • Iron stood for the Roman Empire spanning 146 B.C. to 476 B.C.

Most of the disagreement comes from the meaning of the “Iron mixed with clay” that the feet of the statue were made out of.  Some would say, with good reasoning, that this stand for the “revived” Roman Empire which was actually the latter part of the Roman Empire which was divided into smaller provinces and eventually fell to the influence of multiple other nations.  Other interpretations state that the feet represent the “10 nations” of Europe that existed after the Roman empire.  Still others think it represents the current days that we are in and that somehow things like the United Nations is a clear fulfillment of this prophecy.  While I don’t think that you could say with any confidence that the U.N. is a “clear fulfillment,” I can say with marked assured that the point of the dream is not the statue at all… it is the Rock.

The Rock that is not formed by human hands comes in and smashes the statue to oblivion and then is set up on earth like a massive mountain.  The interpretation of the Rock is also very clear: “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever, just as you saw that a stone was cut from a mountain by no human hand, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold.”  Daniel speaks here of the Kingdom of God, not a kingdom set up by humans, but one that God Himself will establish here on earth.  God has revealed to Nebuchadnezzar and to all people the ultimate plan for this world and it does not involve human kingdoms, but heavenly ones.  The Lord, the only King and Head of this World, will set up His Kingdom here on earth, a process that began with the first coming of Jesus and will be completed when He comes again in His glory.



Day 241: Ezekiel 10-13; Ezekiel's Vision and the Glory of God

Today I would like to take a bit of a closer look at the vision of Ezekiel in chapter 1 that he sees again in our chapter 10 of our reading today.  This is the second time that Ezekiel sees a vision like this and describes it for us.  These visions, like many of his visions, are full of crazy imagery that seems weird to us.  It almost seems like it is something out of a messed up movie or some B-rates sci-fi, made for T.V. movie or something.  There have been some that claim that these visions of Ezekiel are actually the first recorded sightings of U.F.O’s visiting the planet and this is Ezekiel’s attempt to interpret the advanced technology that he is seeing.

While I highly doubt that Ezekiel saw any U.F.O’s during his time in Babylon, it is very clear that what he is seeing is strange and completely out of the ordinary.  Yet it is also true that when God speaks to us and reveals Himself to us, He does so in means and ways that we are capable of understanding, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first glance.  The people of Israel would have been able to recognize much of this symbolism, though its difficult to ever say that a particular part of any vision like this has a direct one-to-one correlation, especially for people in the 21st century, over 2,000 years removed from this cultural context.

Speaking of context, it is important to remember that Ezekiel is in Babylon when he is seeing these images, one of the exiles from the first wave that was brought over by King Nebuchadnezzar.  In both of Ezekiel’s visions he sees the four creatures and the four wheels.  Lets take a look at these things first.  The four creatures each have four heads with four faces, yet their bodies seem to be like those of a human.  Often times these different faces would be representative of the perfect nature of God.  Each could represent a different aspect of God’s nation like strength, intelligence, and even divinity.  It could also be though that these creatures are representative of the whole of creation in all of its majesty.  In one commentary that I read, there is a comment made about a link between each of these faces and each of the four gospels:

Matthew – The Lion; Matthew represents Christ as the Lion of Judah.

Mark – The Ox; Mark represents Christ as the Servant of God

Luke – The Human; Luke represents Christ as the perfect Human

John – The Eagle; John represents Christ as the Divine Son of God

We’ll talk more about the differences in the gospels in a couple weeks when we get there. It is also important to note that these creatures in Ezekiel’s vision are parallels to the creatures around the throne of God that John sees and records in the book of Revelation.  More to come on this as well in a couple months!

The other prominent thing that Ezekiel sees in both visions is the 4 “wheel within a wheel” apparatuses that are next to the four creatures.  Both times these wheels are covered in eyes and he even describes them as having fire within them.  This is linked heavily to the phrase “wherever the Spirit would go,” pointing towards the ability to go in any direction at any time.  This would have been contrasted with the vehicular transport of the time, mainly horse and chariot, and their slower and more awkward ability to make turns.  God’s throne, as Ezekiel sees it, is able to go anywhere at any time in an instant, wherever the Spirit wills to go.  They are covered with eyes and contain a flame therein, representing, most likely, the ability for the Spirit of God to see all things everywhere with a sight that is both penetrating and purifying.  Though seemingly terrifying, this is actually representing a message of comfort to the people in exile, showing them that God both sees them in their foreign land and is with them while they are there.  If they believed that the throne of God was somehow limited to being in Jerusalem in the Temple, Ezekiel’s vision is letting them know that it is able to be anywhere and everywhere all the time.

There are some more familiar images in both visions too.  Ezekiel sees a throne with one sitting on it.  There is a rainbow above Him, something instantly recognizable by anyone, especially the Hebrews.  The second vision is like the first, except that it is set in the Temple, which is considered to be the throne of God by the Hebrew people.  It is here that Ezekiel recognizes the creatures as Cherubim, the angels that are present in the throne room of God.

All of this, everything that Ezekiel describes to us, is representative of the glory of God translated into images that are manageable and meaningful to us as humans.  The Divine is so wholly other, so incomprehensible to us as finite humans, that there is no way for us to see it as it really is, much less understand it.  Ezekiel is seeing and describing for us the human translation of the presence and glory of God Almighty.  The vision ends abruptly at the end of chapter 10 though, as the glory of the Lord ascends from the Temple in Jerusalem and departs from that place… something that we will pick up on tomorrow…



Day 240: Ezekiel 5-9; A Watchman for Israel

As I said yesterday, today we are going to talk more about the call of Ezekiel and the vision that he has.  Moreover, I would like to talk about some of the meanings of the vision, not all though because he actually has this vision again in chapter 10, which we’ll talk about tomorrow.  Ezekiel’s life is also full of symbolic actions and is itself part of the message that he is delivering to the people of Israel.  His actions, words, and visions all coalesce into what the Word of the Lord is for the people of Israel living in exile in Babylon.

Ezekiel’s call and vision happen concurrently, one right after another, and are very much related to each other.  As a priest of Israel, Ezekiel was responsible for being the mediator between God and His people.  Under normal circumstances, Ezekiel would have been working in the Temple of God in Jerusalem performing sacrifices for the people of Israel, worshiping God and mediating between the divine and the terrestrial.  In Babylon however, the people of God were cut off, or so they thought, from their theological center, 500 or so miles from Jerusalem (actually it was about 1,000 miles by way of caravan as they would have meandered through the land for trade and safety).  The Temple represented the presence of God to the Israelites and being disconnected from it meant being disconnected from God.  I can’t imagine the confusion and sense of loss that Ezekiel and the exiles were feeling when this vision came to him.

Ezekliel's Vision Photo Credit: www.flickr.com

Ezekliel’s Vision
Photo Credit: www.flickr.com

The vision itself is overflowing with imagery in an apocalyptic genre of Biblical literature.  Ezekiel sees beings with different faces that have wings able to take them anywhere.  These beings were next to “a wheel within a wheel” that is covered in eyes.  Finally, all of this is under a throne “and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance.  And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Ezekiel's Vision Photo Credit: www.julian.spazaspace.com

Ezekiel’s Vision
Photo Credit: www.julian.spazaspace.com

While these images, like many others we encounter in prophetic literature, seem rather strange to us, they would not have necessarily been completely off the wall to Ezekiel or his contemporaries.  These things were representative of the One who is giving the vision, namely God almighty.  We will talk more about the meanings of the different things when we talk more about the vision of Ezekiel tomorrow, but suffice to say now that in seeing this Ezekiel got the message that God was not limited by time or space and was with Him and the rest of His people in exile just as much as He was with them in Jerusalem and the promised land.

Interestingly, and somewhat of a revelation to me today, is the fact that it isn’t just this imagery that carries with it representation from God.  Ezekiel’s life is in many ways a representation of the very message that God is communicating to the people of Israel.  Even the call of Ezekiel is representative of God’s call to His people knowing that they have been rebellious and haven’t listened to Him.  He even says it to Ezekiel, telling him that when he hears the message he should not be rebellious like the people of Israel had been.  Not only was Ezekiel to listen though, he was also to take it in, to “eat the scroll” and take it inside of himself.  Eating means making it a part of you that it may nourish and fill you, which is exactly what the Word of the Lord is supposed to do.  This very line has echos all the way back to the giving of the Law and the Shema.

As far as the revelation I had today about this and about Ezekiel, I realized when I noticed that God was calling him “Son of man” and that Ezekiel’s life and actions were representative of Israel, that in many ways Ezekiel himself is a foreshadowing of the coming of Christ.  Jesus refers to Himself as “The Son of man” and is representative of what Israel was supposed to be as the people of God.  Some of the actions of Ezekiel as similar to that of Jesus and, what I found to be most interesting, Ezekiel does things to represent the punishment of Israel and Judah whereas Jesus actually takes that punishment on Himself at the cross!  What a genius foreshadowing that we see here and will continue to see throughout this book.

Finally, though what has been said here is quite a bit, I want to just address the section of Ezekiel 3 where God says to Ezekiel, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel.”  I think this is a very interesting image that God gives Ezekiel about his duty to the people he has been called to speak to.  God says that whatever He tells Ezekiel to say, it is Ezekiel’s responsibility to say it to them.  If there is a warning, Ezekiel is responsible for warning them.  Furthermore, if Ezekiel doesn’t speak what the Lord says, not only will the “wicked person” die, but his blood will be on Ezekiel’s hands.  Ultimately the responsibility for turning from evil lies with “the wicked person,” but the responsibility for warning him/her is on the one whom God has appointed, namely Ezekiel.

As a seminary student feeling called to potentially lead a congregation and be a leader of the Church, I think that this warning and appointment as a “Watchman” is very important for us to hear.  Pastors and church leaders are called to be these Watchman for their congregations and for the Church as well.  I think that too often we don’t say what we know God is telling us to say, to our own members or the greater Church either.  Perhaps we get bogged down in procedure, or maybe we think that it is none of our business.  It could be that Pastors don’t want to “get up in people’s faces” or are more concerned about keeping their job and speaking the Word of God.  I wonder if in this day an age is might simply be people getting caught up in moral relativism?  However, God is saying here that, like Ezekiel, we are called to speak God’s Word, even if is the unpopular message, because it is the Word of God.  If we don’t, their “blood” may be on our hands as well…  I know I’m just as guilty as the next guy…  but this is a wake-up call for me and for the leadership of the Church and even the leadership of Christian families:  We need to be alert.  We need to be listening for the Word of God.  We need to be willing to speak God’s Word.  We are called to be Watchmen.