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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Last Day ("The" Wedding)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 28-31 readings]

A fairly common metaphor throughout the prophets, including Revelation, is that of the people being the bride of Christ or YHWH. From today's readings, Malachi offers, this in noting Israel's failing, "Judah has broken faith. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the LORD loves, by marrying the daughter of a foreign god." And of course, the glorious conclusion to John's Revelation prominently features the church as the bride of Christ.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. . . . One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. . . . “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life."
There is much wrapped up in this idea. Committment, fidelity, mutual support, consideration. Of course, that is just my modern idea of marriage, right? Well, not so fast. Proverbs ends with a list of characteristics of a good wife. It begins, "A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies." And, she is not just kept in the kitchen: "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night." It closes with, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." Entire poem here.

This is a good place to end my reading. The end of Revelation completes the notion that the early Christians had. Yes, their world was full of torment, but they had faith in what Jesus taught them that it would be better some day. Likewise, the ending of Proverbs reminds me us of the role Judaism was to play in everyday life, no just theological and abstract questions.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Day 112 (Connections)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 25-27 readings]

I've been paying attention to the Old Testament references found in Revelation that connect it to the old prophets. However, in chpater 16 we have some verses that are reminds us of phrases that would later be included in the Gospels.
They are demonic spirits who work miracles and go out to all the rulers of the world to gather them for battle against the Lord on that great judgment day of God the Almighty. “Look, I will come as unexpectedly as a thief! Blessed are all who are watching for me, who keep their clothing ready so they will not have to walk around naked and ashamed.” And the demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place with the Hebrew name Armageddon. Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air. And a mighty shout came from the throne in the Temple, saying, “It is finished!”
Interestingly, one of the final Psalms also includes some end of the world stuff. Psalm 144
5 Open the heavens, Lord, and come down.
Touch the mountains so they billow smoke.
6 Hurl your lightning bolts and scatter your enemies!
Shoot your arrows and confuse them!
7 Reach down from heaven and rescue me;
rescue me from deep waters,
from the power of my enemies.
8 Their mouths are full of lies;
they swear to tell the truth, but they lie instead.
Also, we get some more cities are whores metaphors that we've all come to know and love. The prostitute metaphor in Revelation is actually pretty tame by comparison to that in Isaiah and Ezekiel. Of course, here the whore is Rome not Jerusalem. And, we learn in chapter 18 that not only Rome, but all the leaders that worked with Rome will be destroyed before it is all over.

Day 111 (Dueling Revelations)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 21-24 readings]

The prophet Zechariah is writing during the time of Darius of Persia, which is after the Hebrew exiles have returned and are rebuilding the temple. John the Revelator is writing during the time of Nero of Rome, which is after that temple has been destroyed and lots of people are being killed for being Christian. Their revelations, thus have a different tone. Here are two examples. They both talk about four colored horses. In Zechariah the horses are pulling chariots and bringing the Spirit of God to the four directions of the compass, while in Revelation the four horses are carrying riders who bring misery to the earth. (And then they end up in Notre Dame's backfield which seems weird.)

They also both predict the coming of the God to live with us, or God's son to live with us. Here is what Zechariah has to say in chapter 2.
10 “Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the LORD. 11 “Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. 12 The LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. 13 Be still before the LORD, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”
Revelation 12 has a slightly darker take on things.

In which world do modern Christians live? Is it the world that is filled with hope and possibility, or one with hope tempered by the reality of trial and tribulation directly before us?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Maps and Timelines

I think Matt Dick provided this link to me first. It is interesting to review having just read about Israel's various exiles, but it is also important to consider when we talk about how the fighting in the Middle East has been going on forever. It seems the biggest reason for that is that it is in, you know, the middle. Click and below and come back to comment on how crazy this illustration is.

Maps of War.

And here is a timeline of the Books of the Bible that is pretty cool.


Day 110 (Sad Songs of Zion)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 17-20 readings]

Minor prophets in today's readings include Nahum (anti-Nineveh); Habakkuk (anti-Babylon); Zephaniah (anti-world); and Haggai (pro-Temple rebuild). I describe the first three as "anti" because they basically contain poetic verse envision the destruction by God of the indicated entity. I found this from Habakkuk interesting. He described Babylon thusly:
6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwellings not their own.
7 They are a feared and dreaded people;
they are a law to themselves
and promote their own honor.
8 Their horses are swifter than leopards,
fiercer than wolves at dusk.
Their cavalry gallops headlong;
their horsemen come from afar.
They fly like an eagle swooping to devour;
9 they all come intent on violence.
Their hordes advance like a desert wind
and gather prisoners like sand.
10 They mock kings
and scoff at rulers.
They laugh at all fortified cities;
by building earthen ramps they capture them.
11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
guilty people, whose own strength is their god.”
How much differently would those occupied by U.S. forces describe us? Even dow to a people whose own strength is their god, it seems like it may fit us. I think the dispair associated with being the target of such forces explains much of the deep longing for a God of righteous anger to come and settle scores. The psalmist put it more gently with,
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
One of my favorite songs from Godspell uses this Psalm. On the Willows.

It is really interesting coming back to Revelation after having read the rest of the Bible so recently. I made a run at Revelation a few years ago. The link sends you to my posts on it and the later posts on other end times scriptures. I basically concluded it just didn't speak to me. But now, I first off see it as something of a triumph of the art form. The imagery is even more compelling than that in Ezekiel. Also, the prediction isn't about individual nations, but about the whole world. You destroy our temple and hunt us down? Fine, says the Revelator, our God will take over the whole world! I don't know, some points for chutzpah, yes?

Here is what I read this morning from Revelation.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 109 (Deja Vu Again)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 13-16 readings]

In OT I covered Obadiah, Jonah and Micah this morning. Obadiah is like a mini-Jermiah that only deals with Edom and Israel/Judah, in other words the nations descended from Isaac. It is just an interesting grouping. Jonah is out of place. It is a fable like Job; it just has a prophet as a main character. Nonetheless, it has some interesting stuff about fairness in it. I recommend clicking on the link and giving it a quick read. Finally, we get to Michah. Here's what I use Micah for: And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. It is a fair quote that includes most of Micah 6:8. And indeed Micah has other nice scriptures, such as this description of the last days.
He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Compare with Joel 3:10 ("Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears. Let the weakling say, 'I am strong!'") The thing about Micah, and frankly all the prophets, is that while they absolutely do talk about justice for the poor and doing what is right, and that is more important than giving sacrifices or acting holy, they also are really concerned with worshiping only YHWH. Sometimes political liberals can get carried away with emphasizing only the former. Or at least one political liberal can.

As for Revelation, I noticed significant similaries between Isaiah & Ezekiel and Revelation. Consider this first Ezekiel 1:10, then Isaiah 6:2-3. Their faces looked like this:
Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.|| Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy
is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Now consider Revelation 4:7-8.
The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,'
who was, and is, and is to come.”
Revelation, is a New Testament Prophesy. And in case you didn't get it, he kicks the trippy parts off with some pretty direct citations to the old masters. Nice.

Day 108 (Status Update)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 9-12 readings]

We cover two prophets in today's readings. First Joel, and then Amos. Joel seems to take place while in exile. Chapter 1, verse six says, "A nation has invaded my land," past tense. (Emphasis mine) So, Joel is all about how God has not given up on the people, and if they return to him, he will have their back.

Amos, contains many versus like 2:7 explaining that God has not turned back God's wrath because Israel has "trample[d] on the heads of the poor." But it also has plenty of condemnation for worshiping false gods. Chapter 5:21-24 jumps out at me, but that is because my daughter read in during the last children's Sunday. I worked with her on intonation and gesturing and she did a marvelous job. The tip that really worked for her was this. I said, the thing is, Israel has been unfaithful to God. So imagine a Taylor Swift song about a boy he cheats on her, but then tries to make it better by bringer her gifts. With that inspiration, Kate nailed it. Imagine God as a 13 year old girl, speaking with head bobs and dismissive hand gestures.
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

I'm realizing this post is getting long, but I want to really look at the boring beginning to Revelation. It begins by characterizing the different churches. Ephesus is a fundamentally good church, but not as good as it once was. Get back to your former glory says John the Revelator. Smyrna is a good church that John recognizes is made up of poor folks. Keep the faith, he says. Pergamum, on the other hand, is not really doing so great. Although, note that John is so upset about eat food given to idols given Paul's decision that such behavior is okay as long as it doesn't become a stumbling block for others. Thyatira, well, not so good. Evidently men are committing adultery with this so-called prophetess. [fn1] The folks at Sardis are a bunch of fakers, and John the Revelator knows it. Wake up! If Sardis is lazy, Philadelphia appears to be overly timid. Finally, reminiscent of King's letter from a Birmingham jail, the worst of all it appears are those who are lukewarm. In Laodicea, they evidently stand for nothing, perhaps because they are too comfortable.

I go through this in part to demonstrate that Revelation had a specific audience, just like Paul's letters. When coupled when Rev. 1:1 noting that this is the revelation of would soon take place, it seems to really challenge the idea that this is a book about the end of the world in a literal fashion. It seems much more likely that it is just like the book it mimics--Ezekiel--in predicting political doom and gloom, but at the same time encouraging folks to keep the faith.

[fn1] Interesting that this use of adultery is not the property crime of adultery that some have speculated was used in Biblical time. That is, that adultery is the crime of having sex with another man's wife because that woman belongs to the other man. If a man has sex with a single women, therefore, it can't be adultery. Here it seems to match the modern understanding of the word.

Day 107 (Not Rev. Yet)

[reaction to OYB's Dec. 5-8 readings]

This is basically the interlude before we start Revelation. Today's readings contain all of Hosea. Hosea is unique in that it kicks off with a discussion of Hosea's personal life. God tells Hosea to, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the LORD.” He does so, and then names his children after the all the crap that was about to be unleashed on Israel. Much of Hosea is like other prophets, although I would say you get to hope quicker.

The letter of John contain more of the same from the Epistles. That is, don't be immoral, but don't hate anyone either. And if you hate someone, you have missed the point of the gospel. We also get to the very short letter of Jude. It comes off a little paranoid with this: [C]ertain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (1:4) I think it also reveals the tension between leaving the law of Moses, but not wanting to become completely unrestrained. Today, we all know lots of nonreligious people that are moral; then, perhaps it was different.