Revelation 11 – The Witnesses

Read Revelation 11

Chapter 11 opens with a rather confusing series of events and numbers that jump out at us with very little context.  John is told to measure the Temple of God, though we are not told the results of such a measurement.  He is also told to not include the outer court where the Gentiles would be.  Given the Old Testament understanding of how the Temple functioned, “outsiders” were not allowed to the inner parts of the temple because they were both unclean and not God’s people.

Ezekiel is asked to do a much similar thing in a vision he has of the restoration of the Temple.  In Ezekiel’s vision, God is communicating to Him that eventually, their exile will be over and the Temple, as well as the city of Jerusalem, will be restored.  For the people of Israel, this meant that their connection to God would also be restored.  John is seeing a similar series of events, however, in the book of Revelation, this is happening on a much greater scale, perhaps as a foreshadowing to the end of Revelation when everything is restored and the dwelling of God is here on earth with humankind.  Not including the court of the Gentiles, then, is an indicator that in this time, sadly, there will be those who refuse to acknowledge God.  As such, they are excluded from God’s presence.

We are told, however, that the Gentiles (which is a metaphor for anyone who is not included in the people of God) will be loosed on the “holy city” for a period of time.  Much of the timeframe imagery comes from the book of Daniel, chapters 7 and 12.  In these visions, which are similar in nature and recorded in the same literary style as Revelation, there is a period of time in which the enemies of God will be given a sort of greater liberty to oppress the people of God.  Some interpretations indicate that this is a very specific time known as the tribulation and there is speculation about whether or not the church would even be present during it (depending on your view of the rapture).  However, Scripture is fairly clear that this time will involve the oppression of God’s people so any interpretation that involves the absence of God’s people is suspect, at best.

There have been many periods of time throughout history where God’s people, whether Israel or the Church, have faced increased persecution and oppression.  At the time of John’s writing, persecution of the Church (and of the Jews) was wildly out of control.  Scripture does, however, put a time limit on this.  While this (or these) period(s) of time are unpleasant, they are also a herald of greater things to come and draw our attention to a greater hope and peace in Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest questions of this chapter is “who are the two witnesses” and “what do they represent?”  These two have often been characterized as being similar to the two pillars of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah.  For some, this carries with it the representation of both the Law and the Prophets, a summary of the Old Testament.  It is also possible that these two represent God’s people both before and after Christ, a sort of Israel and the Church witnessing to God’s love and power.  A bit more of a stretch could be Jesus’ testimony to the two greatest commandments, love God and love your neighbor, against which no testimony or blasphemy can stand.

The fire that comes from their mouths is reminiscent of the fire which God used on several occasions in both the story of Moses and that of Elijah, to lead and guide as well as to show power and destroy the enemy.  Perhaps this is indicative of the power of the true Gospel testimony that they carry, whoever they are.  These two are also given power over creation similar to that carried by Moses (the 10 plagues) and Elijah (drought for many years).  Whether or not this means that the two witnesses are indeed Moses and Elijah, I don’t know.  Perhaps this imagery is signaling the power of their testimony and God’s power over all things.

Here we are also introduced to the beast for the first time.  We will talk about this character more in later chapters, however, it is the first time that we see a major opponent to God’s people, an antichrist figurehead if you will.  The beast comes from the Abyss, the same place the demonic legion came from a couple of chapters ago, indicating and confirming its demonic origin.  After a given time of protected witnessing, the two witnesses are killed by the beast.  Their deaths, however, are not permanent as they experience resurrection by God’s power and then are taken up into God’s presence.

Finally, returning to the trumpet judgments, the seventh and final trumpet is blown and with it comes an announcement that Jesus Christ will reign on the earth forever and ever.  At this point, the doors of the Temple that John was measuring swung open and we see the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of the very presence of God.  This draws its meaning and imagery not only from the Old Testament tabernacle and temple but also in the event of the Temple curtain being torn in two at the moment of Jesus death.  This event indicates that there is no longer a divide between God and humanity because Jesus has bridged that gap through His death and resurrection.  He, now, is Lord of all and is the mediator of the covenant of God.



Day 362: Revelation 8-12; Trumpets, Witnesses, and a Great Battle

We talked a bit about judgment and wrath yesterday, however we did not speak of one important aspect to God’s wrath and God’s judgment, something that I think needs to be mentioned here as we continue in our journey to the end of all things.  If we think back to the prophets, we see the warnings of the impending doom that come from the mouths of the prophets, warnings of the judgment AND a call to turn to God, to repentance so that the judgment may be averted.  While many of these images are unique to the book of revelation, they do hold similarities to those warnings spoken by many of the prophets about the judgment that would take place on Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem.  Here too we see God working to get the attention of all people, working to call them to repentance that they may turn to Him and be saved.  The image of the trumpets then, is not one that is so strange as trumpets and horns have been used throughout the ages to communicate with and get peoples’ attention.

I’m kind of at a loss for words in what to write next.  As we are walked through the judgments we see a great number of people dying and horrible natural disasters.  There is this meteor that falls into the water of the earth called “wormwood” which is the  name of a very bitter plant.  It could be representative of the bitterness of God’s judgment.  We also see that only a portion of the world’s population was killed, which means that there are limits to the judgments that are being poured out, at least for the time being.

There is really so much to write about here in these five chapters, we see a number of angels and demons working in different ways.  The demons seem to be working to torture and tempt those still on earth, working against God to continue to keep humanity on its destructive and sinful paths.  The Angels also seem to be at work, warning humanity of its impending judgment, carrying out the work of the Lord.  We also see that there are “witnesses” that show up as well.  In the “Left Behind” series these witnesses are Elijah and Moses who come back to earth with supernatural powers.  Actually, many of the signs that they do are indicative of the things that both did while they lived on this earth.  They were also present at the transfiguration of Christ before He journeyed to Jerusalem and to His death.  It could also be symbolic of the witness of the Word of God to the people, the two could simply represent the Old and New Testaments.  In any case, these join with the work of the Angels and that of the believers in declaring the Word of the Lord and warning humanity of the impending judgments and encouraging them to believe in Jesus.

Finally today we come to a somewhat extended narrative in this vision about “the woman and the dragon.”  There is a lot that takes place in chapter 12 and we will be revisiting it in further chapters as well.  John says that “a great sign appeared in heaven.”  This sign was that of a woman that was dressed like the sun, and had a great deal of imagery about her that is similar to one of the dreams of Joseph way back in Genesis 37.  It is enough to say that with this imagery, most people think that she is representative of the people of God.  In fact, we have talked about Israel being represented in the Bible as a woman adorned for her bridegroom, who is God.  Here she is pregnant and gives birth to a Son, another image of Jesus present in Revelation.

The dragon is also there, ready to snatch up the baby, who we are told is “the one who is to rule all the nations…”  Many people associate this dragon with Satan, with the different heads and crowns and horns to represent his earthly rule over the kingdoms of the world.  Some have also seen this as an image of the Roman empire, or perhaps corrupt world governments in general throughout history.  However, what we see is that the powers of evil were working against the plan of God, trying to prevent the coming of Jesus and the salvation that He brings.  We saw this with Herod at Jesus birth and we tend to see it often in our lives with those that persecute Christians and repress the freedom to worship God.

The deeper imagery here is revealed in verse seven of chapter seven, of a great war that is going on between the angels of God and the dragon, the evil powers that would seek to enslave and destroy all things.  While we may be naive as to what is going on all around us, there is a great war that is being waged between good and evil, between God and Satan.  This is something we tend to dramatize, glorify, and even over emphasize.  I think though that the point here really is that we need to make sure that we are aware of what is going on around us in our world today.  Satan would have us believe that he doesn’t exist, that demons don’t exist, and that he is not working against us to bring about our destruction.  What John is showing us here is that there is definitely more to this world than what we see with our eyes.  This doesn’t necessarily give us the right to start attacking corrupt governments, destruction groups, or evil people, but rather to pray against them, pray for them, and ultimately trust that God is on our side and that He is fighting for us.

We see clearly that the dragon is defeated here.  He has been thrown out of heaven and though he is still on the earth seeking those that he may devour, his doom has been sealed and his final defeat assured.  It is only a matter of time really, which is yet another thing that John is communicating here.  Has he had been encouraging the churches with his letters, so to does he encourage them now by laying out this vision that we might persevere with the assurance that the end of this story has already been told, and that our victory is assured in Jesus Christ the only true King and ruler of this world.

(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 292: Mark 7-9; Transfiguration

Today we read about the ministry that Jesus continues to do as He moves from Galilee to other parts of the region of Canaan as He begins to make His way towards Jerusalem.  There are a lot of familiar narratives that take place in today’s reading, much of which we read in the Gospel of Matthew and will read again in the Gospel of Luke.  There is a noticeable shift in Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark over that of the Gospel of Matthew in that Jesus is interacting with many Gentiles and healing people outside of the Jewish heritage more so than he did in Matthew.  Some people might consider this a discrepancy in the Gospels, but the reality of the matter still has to do with the audience that these writers are writing to.  Matthew’s goal was to show that Jesus was the Messiah that the Jews were waiting for, therefore he focused a great deal on the like and ministry of Jesus with the Jews.  Mark’s purpose of writing was to show the events of Jesus’ life as they pertained to all people, therefore he isn’t so concerned with who Jesus is interacting with as much as He is concerned with the content of the interactions.

In light of the repetitive nature of today’s reading, not that repeating things like this is bad, I would really like to take a moments to talk through something that we didn’t have a chance to talk about in the book of Matthew, that is Jesus transfiguration.  We are presented with a narrative that contains within it images that are similar to those of the prophets and even the book of Revelation.  Jesus, while on the mountain with His three closest disciples, is “transfigured” before them.  This word ‘transfigured’ comes from the Greek word μεταμορφόω (pronounced metamorphoō – from which we get the word metamorphosis) and literally means to undergo a change in physical or external form or a spiritual transformation.  For me, this conjures up images of the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, something that is rather commonplace turning into something of extraordinary beauty.  Yet the text tells us that this was like nothing they had ever seen before.  Jesus’ clothes were whiter than any garment could be bleached.  John Calvin, in his commentary on the transfiguration says this about what the disciples saw:

“His transfiguration did not altogether enable his disciples to see Christ, as he now is in heaven, but gave them a taste of his boundless glory, such as they were able to comprehend… Thus in ancient times God appeared to the holy fathers, not as He was in Himself, but so far as they could endure the raise of His infinite brightness… There is no necessity for entering here into ingenious inquiries as to the whiteness of his garments, or the brightness of his countenance; for this was not a complete exhibition of the heavenly glory of Christ, but, under symbols which were adapted to the capacity of the flesh, he enabled them to taste in part what could not be fully comprehended.”  -John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke; Vol. 1.

Every commentary that I have read talks about the Transfiguration as being a very particular revealing of Jesus divinity in a life in which His humanity is often emphasized.  Sometimes I think we forget this contrast, this paradox of Jesus being both completely human and completely divine at the same time.  Calvin points out here that what the disciples are seeing is a “translated” image of the true glory of Jesus, seen in a way that the mortal disciples would be able to comprehend.  God’s true glory is like a completely foreign language to us, so foreign in fact that we have absolutely no way of comprehending it.  In every vision that we see recorded of God, we get a description of human(ish) features and are so much more real, more glorified than we are, and yet this is still just a translation of the true glory and nature of God, something we will never know truly on this earth.  The Transfiguration is an in-breaking of the heavenly, divine aspect of Jesus into this reality.  Jesus divinity is confirmed by the voice of God here, in the same Words that were used at Jesus’ baptism: “This is My Son whom I Love.  Listen to Him!

Some commentaries on this event talk about the significance of Elijah and Moses appearing and talking with Jesus in this time.  Moses and Elijah were two of the greatest figures of the Hebrew Scriptures, both of which were taken away.  There are suggestions that this happens for the disciples benefit, to prove to them that Jesus is not a reincarnation of either one, but is exalted above both of them.  Another suggestion is that Elijah represented the prophets while Moses represented the Law.  Both of these could be true, or at the very least can help to color our reading of this passage.  However, I think that we would be remiss if we thought that those things were more important than what is happening with Jesus in this time.  We are seeing the true Divine, Son of God in the fullness of His glory, or at least what our human minds can understand.  One other thing is very true about this reading in all three Gospels in which it is recorded, from this point on Jesus sets His face towards Jerusalem, to His eventual death, and never looks back.



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 267: Obadiah; Prophecy against Edom

Today and tomorrow we are going to branch off from the original reading plan that we set up at the beginning of the year.  I have decided to split up Obadiah and Jonah into two separate posts as they are two rather different books.  So today’s reading is simply the book of Obadiah, the shortest book in the Old Testament.  There is not much that is known about the prophet Obadiah.  In some Christian traditions, Obadiah is the same person who shows up briefly in 1 Kings 18 as the man who is hiding the prophets of God from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.  In this tradition, Obadiah is given the gift of prophecy as a sort of “reward” for being faithful to God and hiding the prophets during this time.  That would place Obadiah’s ministry somewhere in the 800’s B.C.  Others hold that Obadiah was a prophet during the fall of Israel and many of the surrounding nations (including Edom) to Assyria.  In any case, it is clear that the judgment of the Lord will also come to Edom for their antagonistic relationship with Israel.

Obadiah the prophet (Овдий in Russian), Russia...

This issue animosity between these two nations was as old as the nations themselves.  The nation of Edom is descended from Esau, the twin brother of Jacob who sold his birthright and basically lost everything to his conniving “little” brother.  Even though the story of Jacob’s return to his brother being full of love and happy tears, the two settle in different places and, as far as we are told, only reunite because of Isaac’s death.  Other than that, we hear very little from Esau except through the nation of Edom.  Their feud is long standing, like one of those family arguments where no one can remember what brought it about… but in this case it seems as though everyone remembers.

Russian Icon XVIII century. Prophets Amos-and-...

Russian Icon XVIII century. Prophets Amos-and-Obadiah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to this prophecy, the main reason that judgment was coming to Israel was because of this relationship.  Edom was rejoicing over the troubles that had fallen on Israel.  In fact, there are many times when the Edomites attacked Israel, or didn’t come to their aid when they needed help.  More over, when the people of Israel and Judah were taken into exile, some sources say that the land of Edom plundered what was left of the land.  It was because of their contempt, because of their rejoicing at the difficulties of God’s people that Edom was the only nation that was not promised any mercy from God.

Like Judah, the nation of Edom actually survived the time of exile and the kingdoms of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and even Greece for a time.  It seemed as though the prophecy of God wasn’t going to come to pass.  However, in the mid 160’s B.C. during the Jewish revolt from the Greek Empire, Judas Maccabeaus routed the Edomites signaling the beginning of the end of their nation.  By the first century A.D. the nation of Edom no longer existed.  While it may take a while for God’s judgments to become reality in what we know as the physical world, the Word of the Lord is as sure as the breath that you took a moment ago.  When God spoke, the universe was made, when God judges it will come to pass.



Day 128: 2 Chronicles 17-19; King Jehoshaphat

King Jehoshaphat was arguably the first of the great kings of Judah.  As we have read throughout the books of 1 and 2 Kings, the spiritual state of Israel goes up and down based on the king that is reigning at the time.  We saw how the actions of Rehoboam and Abijah lead that Southern Kingdom wars and even servitude to other nations, and now with Asa and Jehoshaphat we see the flip side of the coin.  When the people follow God, worship Him, and do not go after other gods, the blessings shower down once again.  We see this very clearly with Jehoshaphat and the wealth and fame that is given him and how the “fear of the Lord” descended on the nations around Judah.

Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Joram Photo Credit: www.chinaoilpaintinggallery.com

Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Joram
Photo Credit: www.chinaoilpaintinggallery.com

We read today about the many reforms that took place during the time of Jehoshaphat as well.  Interestingly, he does, in some ways, exactly what our Deuteronomy 17 passage about the Kings of Israel says he should do.  I think that this is the first time I have said this since we started reading about the Kings of Israel.  For us, this has been one of the laws that has guided our vision of what the kings shouldn’t be doing when they are walking in the ways of sin… kind of a “see, I told you so” thing from the Law.  However, there is a section in this chapter that also talks about what the king should do, and this is kind of what Jehoshapaht does, with a little extra on the side!

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests.  And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them,  that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

Not only does Jehoshapaht follow the laws of God, he appoints people to take the book of the law with them out to the people of Israel, to teach them the ways of the Lord.  Some of these names might be familiar to you as they were people mentioned in 1 & 2 Kings.  People like Obadiah, Micaiah, and Adonijah were also prophets that were mentioned as folks that talked to the King’s of the Northern Kingdom, particularly Ahab.  While he isn’t named here, this is also the time of Elijah and Elisha, who would be making appearances before Ahab and trying to bring back the ways of the Lord in Israel.

Ahab Killed in Battle Photo Credit: www.jesusfootprints.wordpress.com/

Ahab Killed in Battle
Photo Credit: www.jesusfootprints.wordpress.com

Speaking of Ahab, we encounter once again, the deviousness of the Northern Kingdom under king Ahab.  The narrative of Ahab and Jehoshapaht going up against the army of Ramoth-gilead is ultimately the culmination one of the worst kings in the Northern Kingdom.  Why it is that Jehoshapaht decides to go up with Ahab we will not know.  However, what is primarily pointed out here is how the leader and the people of the Kingdom of Israel have indeed fallen away from the way of the Lord.  Again, this is a narrative of contrasts, seeing Jehoshapaht’s desire to seek the way of the Lord in the face of Ahab’s false prophets.

Ultimately, given the context and the audience that is being spoken to here, the writer is pointing out the dangers of taking counsel with sinners.  There are many echoes in this narrative to Psalm 1.  Jehoshapaht is clearly a king that is living for God, but even so he finds himself in a situation where he must stand for his beliefs in the face of one who certainly doesn’t want to hear it.  Yet the King of Judah stands up for his beliefs and seeks the face of God in spite of Ahab’s displeasure, and it winds up saving his life.

PSALM 1

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.



Day 109: 2 Kings 12-14; Joash, Jehoash, Jehoahaz, Jeroboam II, and Amaziah

I was trying to come up with some sort of a witty name for today’s reading as it is much more of the same stuff that we have been reading, but I failed in my efforts.  So, today is simply more narratives about the kings of Israel and Judah.  Some of these kings are good, and others are not so good…

English: Amasias was the king of Judah, the so...

English: Amasias was the king of Judah, the son and successor of Joash. Русский: Амасия — царь Иудеи (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joash, king of Judah, we read, does good in the eyes of the Lord.  He seeks to repair the temple of the Lord.  Yet he doesn’t turn completely to the Lord and tear down the high places and stuff.  The same goes for Amaziah, the son of Joash, king of Judah.  Both were relatively good kings, but not so much so that they follow God completely.  There is a segment in the narrative of Amaziah in which we see him adhering to the law, not taking revenge on the sons of those who killed his father which is another example of how they followed the Lord and sought to do what was good in His eyes.  God’s response to this is to bless them, for the most part, and grant them victory of their enemies and peace for a majority of their reigns.

English: Jehoahaz of Israel was king of Israel...

English: Jehoahaz of Israel was king of Israel and the son of Jehu (2 Kings 10:35). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In sharp contrast to this, the kings of Israel are not so great.  Jehoahaz, Jehoash, and Jeroboam II, were all wicked kings in the sight of the Lord.  They are all the decedents of Jehu, which we read yesterday were promised to reign on the throne for a total of four generations because of the work that Jehu did for the Lord.  There is a bit of a bright side to these kings in that at times they seek after the Lord and the Lord grants them favor through victories and the like.  Ultimately, we read that God doesn’t wipe out Israel on account of the evil of any of these kings because of His covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  I find the reference of these particular people to be quite interesting because it skips past more recent “versions” of the covenant with David and with Moses at Sinai, and references the original covenant that was put in place.  While I don’t know if it is abundantly relevant in this passage, it is a unique diversion from the norm of talking about the covenant and the promise in general and not necessarily naming names.

Another thing of importance in this story is the death of Elisha.  Though it comes with quite a bit less pomp and circumstance than that of his master Elijah, none the less, even this great prophet succumbs to mortality.  Yet even in death, it seems, God’s work through Elisha wasn’t quite finished.  There is a brief narrative of a dead man touching the bones of Elisha and being instantly revived.  You might be thinking, “great, another miracle from a prophet…” but I think there is something a bit deeper in this.  Remember back to the “holiness codes” when we talked about how people were not allowed to touch the dead lest they become unclean.  An event like this seems to call a Law like that into question in some ways.  Interestingly, as prophet who serves as the mouthpiece of God in that time and place, calling people to repentance and speaking for God (sometimes we refer to them as heralds of the Kingdom), acts even in death in a way contrary to the world of sin and death in which he lived.  We see here once again a dramatic foreshadowing of death bringing life in a very little way.  Without discounting the narrative at hand, anytime we see someone raised to life we ought to keep in the back of our minds the resurrection of Jesus!

P.S.  Did you notice the brief mention of Jonah here?  It is the only other place in the Old Testament where Jonah is mentioned outside of the book that bears his name.



Day 107: 2 Kings 6-8; Elisha, Israel, and Syria

There are a variety of smaller narratives within the continuing meta-narrative of Elisha and God’s work through Elisha.  Today, however, we are going to look at Scripture from a bit of a different perspective: enactment.  The narratives of Scripture, especially the Old Testament, were passed down from generation to generation through Oral transmission.  Most were likely performed as a way of communicating the message and truth of God’s Word to continuing generations.  Seeing Scripture come to life in a physical way also draws our attention away from simply seeing words on a page, but clues us in to the human factor of what is happening, and also tends to also give us new insight as to what God is doing in the narrative that is being read.

So, our first enactment is called “The Bands of Aram,” and comes from 2 Kings 6:8-23.  This comes from the “WTSHebrewPlayers,” groups that perform Scripture at Western Theological Seminary in both English and Hebrew.  Remember, in watching this, to continually hold before you the question of how we see God in this Scripture.  All of Scripture is ultimately a testament to God, His work, His love, His Faithfulness, etc.  How is God at work in this narrative?

The reading for today contains a great deal of other narratives about the great works of God.  The other one that we are going to focus on today has to do with the transfer of power from Ben-Hadad, whom we have known as the King of Syria (aka. Aram), to Hazael.  Remember a couple days ago, when Elijah had gone to the mountain of God, He is commanded to go and anoint Hazael as “King over Aram.”  We never read that this physically takes place, but we do see here the faithfulness of God to His promise in making Hazael the king.

This narrative does leave a bit of discomfort in our hearts when we read it.  God has anointed and brought Hazael to power in Aram, yet Elisha has made it clear that this guy has nothing good in mind for the people of Israel.  Why is it that God appoints him then?  I think that we could come up with a variety of answers that would seek to… help us ignore the tension that we may feel here.  Yet, I think that there are some things that we just won’t understand.  Of course God is always true to God’s self.  God is always faithful to His people and always works in line with the Covenant relationship that He has with Israel and Judah.  And we see, as we read on from here, that the people of Israel, and now the Kings and people of Judah are not faithful to the Covenant, and for that God will punish them (even though we see once again that God will not wipe out Judah for the sake of David).  However, this thing that God knows is going to happen is awful, horrific even, but He still allows it to happen.  Perhaps this is just one of these times that we cannot have a simple answer for.  Maybe this is a time that we have to live in the uncomfortable nature of the narrative and trust that God is God and knows what He is doing.  God is always working out His will in His way… even if we don’t understand it… or approve of it…



Day 106: 2 Kings 4-5; Elisha's Ministry Begins

Elisha raises the Shunammite's Son Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ElishaRaisingShunammitesSon.jpg

Elisha raises the Shunammite’s Son
Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ElishaRaisingShunammitesSon.jpg

Elisha’s ministry begins with work that is much like the work of his predecessor Elijah.  When Elijah was in the wilderness, through the power of God he provides for a widow and her son making her flour and oil last during the drought that had come on Israel in that time.  Her resources do not run out for as long as the drought persisted.  We see Elisha do somewhat of the same, by the power of God, in helping a widow with her debts and to save her family.

Later in Elijah’s ministry, he raises a boy from the dead.  He does it in a rather peculiar way, by laying on him three times, at which time the boy wakes up and is raised to life again.  Elisha does much of the same with the young boy that he raises from the dead.  Though, instead of laying on him three times, it is only once and the boy wakes up, sneezes seven times, and then goes about his life.

In many ways, the prophets are at type of foreshadowing as well, heralds of the kingdom of God and of God himself to His people.  They are also shadows of what is to come in the life of Christ.  They often mirror the miracles of Jesus, like the feeding of a multitude, the raising of the dead, and the healing of diseases.  All these are symbolic of the work of the Lord, the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.  We see it in some ways with the prophets, and in numerous ways in the life of Jesus.  It isn’t simply a random thing, but almost like a direct attack on the brokenness of the world.  It is clear that things aren’t as they should be in this world, and we see here glimpses of what the Kingdom of God looks like: no more death, no more disease, no more hunger, etc.

The other major narrative in today’s reading is that of the healing of Naaman’s leprosy.  This is a very interesting story about a man from Syria, a nation that has been constantly at war with Israel, coming to Elisha, the man of God, for healing.  As we talked about yesterday and is times past, this narrative has a very specific baptism motif in it.  Naaman has to bathe himself in the waters of the Jordan River in order to be cleansed from his illness.  What is so also amazing about this story is the reversal of roles that takes place in this narrative.  Again, as we talked about yesterday, the people of Israel, especially the Northern Kingdom in this case, have abandoned God and turned to the gods and idols of all the nations around them.  Yet in the midst of Israel’s turning towards the nations for their faith, we see the nations turning to the God of Israel for their healing.  In some ways, this is what it looks like for Israel to be a light to the nations, a blessing to the Gentiles, and yet even the people of the nation of the Covenant and blessing do not even see it.

Sometimes this story makes me think about the people of God today, the Church, and the light that it is to be to the nations.  I wonder if we were to look at the Church, especially the Church in North America, if we were to see ourselves and turning to God for healing, for growth, for faith, or if we have turned to our own devices.  We often hear a great deal of talk about the Church becoming more relevant so that we can reach more people.  We talk about hot button topics to attracted an audience.  We surrender our ideals and our beliefs to the movements of culture.  We focus on making things more modern, more up beat, more this and more that.  We turn to these things because we think that those will be the things that make us better and make us more marketable, ways that we will reach more people.  Yet in this we often abandon our core message, the center of all that we are as a faith community and as believers.  It may seem cliche’ to say, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most relevant, most necessary, and most needed message of hope that our world needs today.  All else may be helpful, but it is only a means to an end.  The end is Christ, our Savior is Christ, and He (not media, lights, music, bands, art, pictures, etc.) is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.



Day 105: 2 Kings 1-3; Elisha Succeeds Elijah

English: Ahaziah of Israel was king of Israel ...

English: Ahaziah of Israel was king of Israel and the son of Ahab and Jezebel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We open the book of 2nd Kings right where we left off in 1st Kings.  These books, as you can imagine, are completely linked.  Really, it is just the book of Kings, yet they are divided up into two volumes.  2 Kings opens just after the death of Ahab, which we read about yesterday.  Ahaziah takes the throne after his father and we read that he is apparently clumsy or something and fell through the “lattice” and probably injured himself somehow.  In any case, rather than going to God with his concern about his injury, he decides to go to one of the gods of the philistines, Baal-zebub (interestingly sounding a lot like “Beelzebub”).  Elijah meets the messengers on the road and delivers the message that God has given him.  Ahaziah will die from his injury because he did not seek the Lord.  I wonder what would have happened if he had sought the Lord…

This act and the the narrative surrounding it brings forth one of the primary issues that plagues both Israel and Judah in this book, and really during most of the time of the kings: Idolatry and a lack of spiritual center.  The people of Israel, both the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms are children of the Covenant, living with the promise that God as made.  God is very present among them and has revealed Himself in a very special way to these people.  Yet it seems that whenever there is trouble, the people of Israel go off looking to other gods for help.  Israel was meant to be the light of God to the nations.  They were THE nation through which all nations would be blessed.  Yet, instead of turning to their light in times of need, they look to the gods of the nations that surround them.  Ahaziah is a prime example of this.

The other narrative that we read about today has to do with the succession of Elisha as the Prophet of God.  There are many things that we can glean from this narrative.  Elisha is persistent and loyal, never refusing to leave his master’s side, even after being commanded three times.  I suppose there could be an interesting correlation to Peter’s Denial of Jesus here.  Elijah asks his faithful protegee what he can do for him before he leaves and Elisha’s request is bold!  “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me” he says.  What a request!  And it is granted by his seeing Elijah being taken away, or so Elijah says.  Isn’t it interesting that it takes two strikes for Elisha before the waters part for him.  I think it is important to see here that when he strikes the first time he doesn’t just give up, but he questions the Lord, asking where He is and why he hasn’t yet granted the request.  He is given no sign, no message that he had the power of the Spirit, but he strikes again in faith and the waters part.

Speaking of water, as we close for today, it was suggested the other day by a professor or mine that at any time in the Bible that we talk about water, especially when we talk about going through the water, our minds should move toward the idea of baptism.  We touched on this when we talked about Israel crossing the Red Sea and again when Israel crossed the Jordan River.  Baptism, a washing and cleansing with water, a foreshadowing of Christ’s baptism and His atoning death on the cross, a dying to the old self and rising in the new self, a fundamental re-identification of the person.  This motif, this idea of identity and baptism persists throughout the Bible.  When Israel Crosses the Red Sea they enter as a group of slaves and emerge as a chosen, rescued people of God.  When they cross the Jordan they go down as a Nomadic group of wanderers and emerge as a the nation of God.  Elijah passes through the waters and is taken away and Elisha does the same and takes on the role of his now departed master.  All these events happen though because of the power and will of God alone.  It is God’s might that holds back the sea, it is God’s will, call, and promise that makes someone His… and it will be God’s grace and love which bring Jesus to the cross as atonement for our sins and ultimately the way to be found truly in Him as members of His body.