One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Friday, October 31, 2014

TOMS: Hosea 5-8

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 31, 2006

Here we find a message of judgment for both Israel and Judah. They have gone so far away from God in their sin that they are unable or unwilling to respond when He calls. Chapter 5 is an announcement of coming judgment. The last verse in the chapter reveals a sorrowful God forced to abandon His unfaithful people:
I will return again to my place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me. (5:15)

Chapter 6 is an appeal for Israel to return. But God acknowledges that their spiritual leaders are turning more people away than toward the Lord:
As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem, they commit villainy. (6:9, ESV)
I had never really studied Hosea before, but now I am finally picking up on why God had Hosea do such strange things as marry a prostitute and then buy her back. Israel could not see that they were just like Gomer. These particular chapters are full of God's pleading with His people and comparing their sin to spiritual adultery against Him. Apparently, Hosea's life was one of the biggest things going on in Israel at the time. Everyone wanted to know the latest news on how Gomer had left and that Hosea remained faithful in spite of her sin. And Hosea is telling them to look beyond the gossip and the sensationalism and look at their own hearts. They have been just like Gomer, and are too proud, stubborn or blind to realize it. God is grieving over His people, even when He knows they will not return and He will be forced to punish them.

This reminds me of the NT passage which tells us to "grieve not the Spirit." I do not want to go as far as some do and assert that Christ is suffering or is reminded of His pain on the cross when we sin. That is faulty theology at best and blasphemy at worst. Yet still, at some level, God is grieved when we sin. We limit His plan for our lives by our sin. Hosea is a challenge to me to take a new look at the God who loves me more than I could possibly understand. He is so good, and yet often times I take His gifts for granted and forge ahead without Him. Lord help me to rely on you more.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

TOMS Movies: King Kong (1933)

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 30, 2006

Photo Credit
This is the best ever Halloween movie, in my humble opinion, but I'm going to be working tomorrow night, so I decided to watch it and comment on it tonight. I hate horror movies, so I don't like all that gross stuff. This is exactly my speed.

This is has to be among my top 5 favorite movies of all time. I am so glad they finally put this out on DVD last year. It is one of the most iconic films of all time. Even if you've never seen the movie, you know the scene where the natives tie Ann up on that frame and then Kong comes and gets her, you know the scene where Kong climbs the Empire State Building with Ann and then is shot down by double-decker airplanes.

The special effects in this movie are stunning. There was never a man in a suit: it was all animation with a model. The special features on the second disc go into a lot of detail about how the movie was made. The movie was shot one frame at a time, similar to claymation. That's why Kong seems to jerk at times, and his hair moves in strange ways. The puppet was covered in rabbit fur, and there was no way the crew could manipulate the puppet without messing up the fur. It also uses amazing visual effects, such as miniatures and projection. That is how they could have an 18-inch tall model reaching down the side of a cliff to get a full-grown man and have it look realistic. What's really sad to think about is that this movie was made in 1933 and 40 years later special effects in even the biggest Hollywood movies were not as good as this.

I could go on and on about the effects in this movie, but if you didn't already know that stuff you could read about it on Wikipedia. The reason this movie is great is because it is about people: people who are motivated by greed, people who don't respect nature for what it is, and about people who are just trying to get out of a bad situation. Also, Kong himself is imbued with a pathos that makes you feel sorry for him before he dies.

If you have not seen this movie, you need to go see it very soon. One word of warning: this movie is not for little kids, especially the unedited version found in this DVD. Almost 20 years after its release, the powers that were (isn't that the past tense of the powers that be?) cut some controversial scenes from the movie, including several shots in which Kong eats people and a scene where Kong partially disrobes Ann. There is no nudity - the disrobing is more implied than explicitly shown. But the shots of Kong eating people would be quite disturbing for little kids. These scenes were not shown in theaters or on TV for about 30 years. That goes against what we think is the natural progression of things: that society's tastes get more and more crude. Guess that goes to show you these things come in cycles. I, for one, would be in favor of a more restrained cycle. Maybe it will happen someday.

TOMS Movies: Saints and Soldiers

I noticed going back through my blog archives that I missed a couple of movies I wrote about that I would like to revisit. So even though it is a few days off from exactly eight years ago, here is one of them:

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 24, 2006
Photo Credit

I love WWII movies, and tonight I saw an interesting one that tells a tale that I have never seen before, anyway. A group of four American soldiers from different units and an English pilot who bailed from his plane are trapped behind German lines during the Battle of the Bulge. The pilot has some important intelligence that could help the Allies turn back the German advance. They have to get back to a friendly base.

The two most intriguing characters are a cynical medic and a "goody two shoes" everyone calls "Deacon." The medic is convinced that God is not real, because of some of the terrible things that he has seen. "Deacon" is a missionary kid who lived in Germany before the war and speaks German fluently. I read on a web site that he was an LDS missionary, but that wasn't obvious to me seeing the movie. Anyway, when the group captures a German soldier who was a boyhood friend of Deacon, Deacon's comrades assume he is a German sympathizer, especially when the German sneaks away while everyone is asleep, including the medic, who was supposed to be on watch. But that German soldier comes back at a critical time at the end of the movie, and saves the lives of the medic and the pilot because they were good to him.

This was a very inspirational movie. It was not made by one of the mainstream studios, and it almost seems like a Christian movie, but the violence is too strong for a Christian movie, at least it is inconsistent with the other Christian movies I have seen. The violence is not extreme, but it does justly earn a PG-13 rating. This one is definitely worth your time, especially since it does not take much of it. It tells a good story in just over an hour and a half. I will try to see "Flags of our Fathers" very soon. Looking forward to it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

TOMS: Hosea 1-4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 29, 2006

Hosea is another strange prophetic book. I'm certainly not the most qualified person to speak on them, but I'm here, and I need to wrap my mind around these things somehow.

God tells Hosea to do a very strange thing: to go find a prostitute and marry her. Think about that for a second... OK. That sounds crazy, and it was. This is certainly not the ideal life course for most people, but that's the point. Hosea finds a woman of the night, marries her, and stays with her for several years.

When they have children, God tells him to give them awful names, at least the second and third: No Mercy and Not My People. Most translations soften the blow in English by approximating what their names sounded like in Hebrew into English letters, but to the people living around Hosea, those were not merely interesting sounds. They mean No Mercy and Not My People. God was telling the Jews that they were about to be destroyed in a very blatant way.

Then the prostitute, Gomer, leaves Hosea and goes back to her pimp, but she ends up on the slave market. God tells Hosea to go buy her back to be his wife as a sign that one day God would redeem Israel from its rejected state. Yes, this a strange story, one that even today makes us uncomfortable. I don't exactly recall making paper cut-outs of Hosea, Gomer and her pimp in kiddie Sunday School.

God's prophets were often forced to become very painful and public object lessons for His people, and Hosea is one of the most extreme examples. It's hard for me not to think of Michael Card's song "The Prophet" when I read through these books. (See the video below.) It's an attempt on his part to try to make sense of some of the strange things God told the prophets to do. He wrote, "I am the prophet and I smolder and burn. I scream and cry and wonder why you never seem to learn. To hear with your own ears, with your own eyes to see. I am the prophet, won't you listen to me?"

In an unrelated note, it is very important to note that the prophets are not in chronological order. Daniel and Ezekiel prophesy in the midst of the captivity of Judah, but Hosea is prophesying in Israel, the northern kingdom, possibly 300 years before Daniel and Ezekiel. Hosea was not writing to people who knew what it meant for God to forsake them. He was writing to people who had heard multiple warnings but had no idea what forsaking God would cost them.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

TOMS: Daniel 11-12

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 26, 2006

Here we have another example of prophecy jumping ahead from the near future to the far away future. Most of Daniel 11 is about the defeat of the Persians by the Greeks and the division of the Greek empire after the death of Alexander. The last part of chapter 11 predicts the rise of Antiochus, the Ptolemaic ruler who desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem. The end of chapter 11 predicts his fall to the Jews, led by the Maccabees. But then in Chapter 12 we are transported ahead to the Beast who will once again apparently desecrate or destroy the Temple in Jerusalem.

At least that's the way it seems to me. I could be completely wrong. The prophets show us that God views things differently than we do. He takes things that we don't seem to think are a big deal very personally, and things that we view as very important He is seemingly oblivious to. His designs and plans for our world are so perfectly formed that we can't comprehend them. That's the main lesson I learn as I study the prophets. Our place is not to debate over the little details. Our place is to humble ourselves before the great God of the universe who knows all of history, knows everything about us, yet still loves us enough to have a relationship with Him forever.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

TOMS: Daniel 9-10

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 25, 2006

The first part of chapter 9 is one of the most profound prayers found in the Bible. Daniel learns that Jeremiah has prophesied that Israel is to be captive 70 years. He comes before God and begs forgiveness for his people's sin. Here is a sample:
"O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolation, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy." (9:18)

Then Gabriel comes to Daniel and gives him the prophecy of the seventy weeks. I don't pretend to understand all of it, but I have learned from others' work who have researched this passage. It predicts seven weeks, or 49 years, until Jerusalem is rebuilt, and 62 weeks, for a total of 483 years, until "an anointed one shall be cut off." Practically all dispensational and even some covenant Christian scholars point to this as a prophecy of Christ's death, and I believe that as well. The dispensationalist and the covenantalist view diverge on what the last week means.I'm sure it exists, but I would like to see some Jewish scholars' interpretation of this passage. In fact, Jewish perspective on the entire Old Testament is something I would be fascinated to read. 

Anyway, during the last week another prince will deceive the Jews into a peace agreement, but he will turn and persecute the Jews. Then at the end of the week of years, he will be punished for his sin. Dispensationalists, of which I am one, view this as a prophecy concerning the tribulation period, in which the Beast will rule the world and set up a world religion. One of the few groups of people who will not be either be fully deceived or go through the motions of the religion set up by the Beast will be the Jews, which will give the Beast an excuse to try to fulfill Satan's dream of wiping out the Jews.

In chapter 10, Daniel sees a vision of a mighty angel. This is not Gabriel, whom Daniel describes as having the appearance of a man in chapters 8 and 9. The very sight of this angel puts Daniel on his face at his feet and Daniel is unable to speak. Those who were with Daniel did not see the vision, but they knew something was up because "a great trembling fell upon them, and they fled and hid themselves." (10:7, ESV) The angel tells Daniel that he had been trying to get to Daniel to deliver the message for 21 days, but he was deterred by "the prince of the kingdom of Persia." This is not a reference to Cyrus, who was king when Daniel saw the vision. This has to refer to a demonic spirit, whether it is Satan himself or one of his lieutenants. The angel was only able to defeat the prince of Persia with the help of "Michael, one of the chief princes." This has to be a reference to the angelic warrior in Jude who contended with Satan over the body of Moses. We'll get to that later.

A lot of people use this passage to say that Satan has a demon in charge of every nation or every city or whatever. That could be true, and I have no doubts of Satan's and his minions' power. But this could be a reference to Satan himself. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel, when they speak of the fall of Satan, speak of him as either the king of Babylon or the king of Tyrus. I'm certainly not going to make a definitive statement. I hate to even speculate on what actually goes on in the unseen spirit world. I do know that if we were to catch a glimpse of what goes on, it would scare us to death.

Friday, October 24, 2014

TOMS: Daniel 7-8

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 24, 2006

The book of Daniel is divided into two halves. The first half is a series of episodes in the life of Daniel. That is the part most of us are familiar with. The second half has to do with prophetic visions of the future. Of course the Catholic version adds two chapters at the end of Daniel. They are not recognized by the Protestant churches of today or by the Jews as authentically a part of the Old Testament. But they are interesting, and there is no doubt that some of the historical events described actually did take place pretty much as written. I have a copy of the King James Apocrypha (yes, the original KJV did include it) at my house in Poplar Bluff. I wish I had picked it up when I was down there Saturday. The story in Chapter 14 about Daniel killing the dragon is cool, but I don't know if it actually happened.

Chapters 7-12 are the visions of Daniel. This part is the most controversial part of Daniel. I guess the skeptics don't have a problem with God allowing men to go through a blaze of fire unharmed, but they do have a problem with Him revealing the future to Daniel. Many skeptics will say this portion of Daniel was written much later, as late as 90 B.C. But traditionally Jews and Christians have held that this entire book was indeed written by Daniel in the mid-500s B.C., before any of the events described so accurately happened.

In Chapter 7, Daniel sees a vision of four beasts. They are a progression of four kingdoms, actually quite similar to Nebuchadnezzar's vision of the statue with the five parts. The fourth beast, symbolic of the Roman empire, grows 10 horns, congruous to the ten toes of the vision of Chapter 2, and a little horn that conquers three other horns and defies God. I think most dispensationalists agree that this is prophetic of the Beast who will rise during the Tribulation and set up his kingdom in opposition to God. I am not aware of any other interpretations of the 10 horns, although I am sure there are other explanations.

Chapter 8 is even more specific. Daniel sees a vision of a ram with two mighty horns that runs wild over the earth. Then a goat with one large horn subdues the ram and becomes more powerful. Yet suddenly the large horn is broken and four smaller horns rise in its stead. Then one horn in particular rises to oppress the Jews in the "glorious land."

When Daniel asks the interpretation of the dream, the angel tells him point blank that the ram is Media and Persia, which at the time of the vision were two small kingdoms to the east of Babylon. He then says, "The goat is the king of Greece. And the great horn between his eyes is the first great king." (8:21, ESV) This prophecy of Alexander the Great's rise 200 years before he was born is one of the most amazing prophecies in scripture. After Alexander died at the age of 33, his kingdom was indeed divided into four kingdoms. One of the kings of Ptolemy, which was the kingdom of which Israel was a part, was Antiochus Epiphanes. He stopped the sacrifices in the second Temple in Jerusalem and then committed a worse injustice by sacrificing a pig in the Temple. The Jewish observance of Hanukah commemmorates the Jews' victory over this evil ruler. This prophecy of events that happened 400 years later is also astounding in its accuracy.

However, there are some who see the little horn in Daniel 8 as another prophecy of the Beast as well as a prophecy of Antiochus. I am not sure. What I am sure of is that God is in control of everything. He knows what is going to happen and our job is to trust that He knows what is best. If God had already laid out the near future for the Middle East, then He is powerful enough for me to entrust my future with Him.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

TOMS: Daniel 5-6

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 23, 2006

These chapters contain two of the most familiar stories of the Bible.

In chapter 5 we have the story of King Belshazzar and the handwriting on the wall. Any scholarly discussion of this story will immediately point out that, according to the best archaeological evidence we have (which we can never be sure of anyway because new things are found all the time), Belshazzar was not a son and not an immediate heir of Nebuchadnezzar. The sources I have read either say he was a grandson or a nephew. There was another king (I cannot remember his name, I'm sure it was a long one with lots of "z's") who was N's son, but apparently he was either leading a war somewhere or did not like politics, so he let B run the capital. The notes in my Bible (these are marginal notes and not study notes- if somebody writes and asks I can explain the difference: I think most of you already know) give an alternate reading of "predecessor" or "successor" for "father" or "son" in this chapter. I would like to know if these notes are based on variances or vague words in the actual text or if they are based on the archaeological background. 

Anyway, the fact that Belshazzar offers the person who interprets the writing third place in the kingdom instead of second clearly indicates either that Belshazzar was first and that someone else was already permanently in place in second or that Belshazzar was second and that first place was not his to give. Obviously the archaeological evidence supports the second option, so that is the one I would hold to. It does not contradict the Biblical text, and it is consistent with what we know from the Scripture. Even though the Bible is not primarily a history book, it has never been proven inaccurate, even though this is one of the passages that was pointed to by critics in the past as a historical error.
I didn't want to spend that much time on that, so let's go on. 

The fact that Daniel was not immediately called to interpret the writing demonstrates how much different Belshazzar was than Nebuchadnezzar. King B (I hate typing those Chaldean names) called for his advisers and wise men, but Daniel was not among them. Apparently, he was a lot like Rehoboam, who rejected the wise counsel of his father Solomon's advisers and instead listened to his buddies. We all need someone wiser than us to point out when we are heading in a wrong direction. Taking time to listen to other people's advice is always time well spent, even if you end up disagreeing with them. If B had kept Daniel around instead of apparently sending him off into early retirement, he might not have ended up "weighed in the balances and found wanting."

Chapter 6 is the childhood favorite of Daniel in the lion's den. Why did Darius have a den of lions? We do not know. He might have had show lions, but there certainly is no evidence that the Persians used lions for public spectacles like the Romans did. Maybe he did it because he could, which is why a lot of those ancient kings did a lot of things. Anyway, it was there. Darius was not a fool like Belshazzar. Even though he conquered Babylon, he knew that there were people in Babylon who could help him rule, and Daniel was one of those people. He did allow himself to be flattered beyond all reason, but that was a weakness of all kings of that era, and sadly, not all that uncommon among people today.

Of course, the main point of this story is Daniel's faithfulness. He did not change his way just because the king made worship illegal. Just remember that the Lord could have just as easily allowed the lions to eat Daniel, and that would not have changed things on Daniel's end. That's what makes this story so amazing. I personally think Darius already planned to throw those other leaders in the den before he went to find Daniel at daybreak. I'm drifting, and this is getting too long; thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

TOMS: Daniel 3-4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 19, 2006

Wow!!!! Molina just hit a two-run homer to give the Cards a 3-1 lead in the 9th!! Now watch them blow it in the bottom of the 9th.

Chapter 3 is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego refused to bow when everyone else in the whole kingdom was bowing down to the image. There are all sorts of lessons to be derived from this story, but one observation I had was the fact that the king was furious at the refusal of these men to bow. He was "filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against S,M and A. (you know who they are) He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated." Had this man learned nothing? Maybe he wasn't aware of all that had happened, but surely he knew that these men were godly Jews who were not going to be bullied by anyone into disobeying God. I don't know, I just found that interesting.

In chapter 4, we see the king's humiliation before his people and before God. He had a dream, and Daniel interpreted it to mean that the king would be cut down, just like the tree in his dream, because of his pride. Here is another parallel between Daniel and Joseph. I hadn't really thought of that before. Both of them interpreted the king's dreams. Anyway, Daniel warns the king to follow God and not be lifted up in pride. And it stuck for a while, but about a year later, the king began to tell himself what a great king he was and what a great kingdom he had created, and immediately God caused the king to go insane. He roamed the fields and ate grass like an ox for "seven periods of time." That could be seven weeks, months or years, but it was long enough for his hair to grow like eagles' feathers and his nails to grow like birds' claws. At the end of this appointed time, God restored the king to sanity and he said,
"His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;" (4:32, ESV).

The king realized his kingdom was a gift from God, and not something he built by himself. The fact that we have this record, written apparently by the king himself, is proof of the effectiveness of Daniel and his friends as uncompromising in the service of God.

That's it!! They did it!!! WOOOOOOOOOOO! (The Cardinals won the National League pennant. Why they call it a pennant I actually have no idea. Probably has something to do with the old flags that used to hang in old Yankee Stadium.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

TOMS: Daniel 1-2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 18, 2006

The first six chapters of Daniel are so familiar that they have become commonplace. I hope I can bring them to you in a different perspective than you have seen before, but then maybe not. Anyway, here goes.

Daniel is one of the lucky ones who gets a promotion after the fall of Jerusalem. Instead of being one of many young nobles in the small country of Judah, he is now a respected member of the court of the greatest empire in the world. Unlike previous empires like the Assyrians, who conquered the Northern kingdom of Israel and with whom Hezekiah had memorable battles, Babylon was a multicultural society. They wanted contributions from the cultures they conquered, instead of assuming that they were superior because they were victorious. But the Babylonians weren't just broad-minded people - they had learned that allowing people to keep some of their traditions made the far-flung provinces easier to control.

But Daniel's life still wasn't easy. Twice in these chapters Daniel finds himself between a rock and a hard place, so to speak. He recognizes the great opportunity he has been given, and is determined to make the best of it. However, he is also determined to remain true to his Jewish culture, and that means he can only eat kosher food. Unfortunately, Babylon did not have kosher delis. Daniel and his colleagues who found favor with the king were to eat food provided by the king. Daniel has a choice to make, and he chooses not to give in like apparently most of his peers did. He acts on faith that God will bless his choice, and God does. God works it out so that the king would provide Daniel and his three friends - Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego - with kosher food.

In the second chapter, the king is suspicious of his "wise men." He gets tired of their vague and generalized answers to his dreams, so he comes up with a challenge. Tell me the dream and the interpretation, and then I will know you are for real. If not, I will kill you. Well naturally the wise men were flabbergasted. They definitely didn't see this one coming. The captain comes to Daniel's house (we don't know if he has already killed some of the other wise men) and gives him the king's pronouncement. Daniel asks for a little bit of time, and that night God gives him the dream and the interpretation.

Daniel's statement to the king is one of the key verses in the book when he says, "But there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries."  There is some evidence that thanks to Daniel and his three friends, the king became a believer. Daniel is the ultimate example of making the best of a bad situation.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

TOMS: Intro to Daniel

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 16, 2006

Let me give you a hypothetical story. An American fighter pilot is shot down in Iraq during the first Gulf War. He is captured by the Iraqi army and put in a prisoner camp. At the end of the war, he falls through the cracks in the prisoner exchange and stays in Iraq. But he adapts. He gains the confidence of his captors. Within a few years, he is second in command under Saddam Hussein. You would say that man is a traitor and probably brainwashed. But that is exactly what happened to Daniel, and God was leading him all the way.

Daniel is one of the fascinating characters in the Bible. The only other character even similar to him is Joseph. Both men found themselves taken away from their home, enslaved, and then second in command of the greatest kingdom on earth at the time.

Daniel was forcibly captured by the Babylonians and taken away from all he had ever known. He was one of thousands, but he and his three faithful friends are the only ones we know, because they remained faithful to God in spite of their circumstances.

Now, here's where the rub comes in, and I'm about to veer off in a weird direction. We like the story of Daniel. We like to think about God blessing us with wealth and power because we are faithful to Him. But think about Jeremiah. He was probably a generation older than Daniel, or at least that's what I've always assumed. Daniel, by all accounts, was likely in his teens when he was taken away to Babylon. Jeremiah was probably middle-aged, 40-50. Jeremiah suffered through a miserable existence before and after the fall of Jerusalem, while Daniel probably lived a pretty easy childhood and then became the second in command over all the Chaldean and Persian empires. Yet both were in exactly the places God wanted them to be.

I hate it when well-meaning people promise an easy life when you try to follow the Lord. And I'm not just talking about the health and wealth wackos out there, either. Life is tough, no matter who you are, and it is disingenuous to try to pretend otherwise, whether by self-delusion or by preaching or singing to others that trusting Jesus is an easy answer to all of life's problems. If God wanted us to cruise through life, He would have just taken us all to heaven, because that's where life is easy, at least it seems to be. I kind of have the idea that it may not be as simple as we like to think, but we can discuss that another time.

Our response to the troubles that come our way is the key. We can respond out of faith and trust in the Lord or we can give up, look for a quick fix, or any number of other solutions. If God didn't want us to go through trials He could set it up so that we don't. But that's not God's plan for any of us. Even those people that we think have life so easy have problems and trials we know nothing about. I'm not saying God doesn't help us and we're on our own, but, at least in my life, most of what God teaches me (if He's trying to "teach" anything) is what I pick up while I'm trying to make my way through life.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

TOMS: Ezekiel 45-48

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 15, 2006

Here we find a preview of the glory of Jerusalem in the eternal kingdom. The first two chapters deal with the prince who will judge Israel. I started to say it was David, but then it mentions the fact that the prince will have sons, so it cannot be someone with a resurrected body, since they do not reproduce. The prince will be a spiritual leader as well as a political leader.

Chapter 47 is about the river that will flow from under the Temple southward to apparently the Red Sea, through what is now a vast desert. In Ezekiel's vision, the angel who is showing him all these visions shows him the river. At first, it is just a trickle, then it is ankle deep, then knee deep, waist deep, and then too deep to stand in. The water will turn the desert into a lush forest and will even change the salt water of the ocean to fresh. This may be symbolic, but either way, it is a sign that God's presence and God's people will be a blessing to the whole world during this time. I know I am looking forward to being a part of it!

The last chapter of Ezekiel is a boring listing of the borders of the tribes of Israel in the future kingdom. I understand the significance of this passage - that God is right now miraculously overseeing a remnant of the so-called lost tribes of Israel, and that one day they will be a new people again - but it's really a tough read.

As we wrap up the book of Ezekiel, I just want to say here that the last few posts in this series demonstrate why I am really not concerned about prophecy. I can't make any sense of it, and what's worse, I can't seem to find anyone who has a real grasp of it either. Everybody has their theories, from the uber-fantastical stuff to the underwhelming "This has already happened" explanations. None of them are consistent with all the texts, as far as I can tell. So basically in the years since I first wrote this, my solution is to ignore prophecy. You can be a dispensational, covenant, partial preterist, amillenial, whatever: I don't care. As long as you affirm the cardinal doctrines of the church and are committed to living them out in your daily life, I consider you a good brother or sister in the Lord. As long as you won't bring up stuff no one understands completely anyway and try to fight over it, we can fellowship in peace.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

TOMS: Ezekiel 42-44

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 14, 2006

Chapter 42 is basically more of the same that we saw in chapters 40-41: a delineation of the dimensions of the future Temple. In chapter 43, Zeke sees God's presence fill the temple. Here we learn for sure that this Temple is the one that will be used in the eternal kingdom, because in 43:7 we read, "this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever." Yes, taken out of context that verse could be interpreted to refer to Christ in the midst of the church. But my question is, what are all the dimensions in the previous three chapters signifying in the church?

In chapter 44 God outlines the priesthood that will serve in the Temple. Only the family of Zadok, who was the faithful priest under David, will be allowed to minister in the Temple, because they were faithful to God through all the years that Israel was in sin. Whether this is the resurrected members of Zadok's family or the actual descendants of Zadok (a combination of these is also possible) they will be blessed for their faithfulness. The word to the rest of the Levites is a warning for us today, as well:

"Because they ministered to them before their idols and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel, therefore I have sworn concerning them, declares the Lord GOD, and they shall bear their punishment. They shall not come near to me, to serve me as priest, nor come near any of my holy things and the things that are most holy, but they shall bear their shame and the abominations that they have committed. Yet I will appoint them to keep charge of the temple, and to do all its service and all that is to be done in it." (44:12-14, ESV)

How does this square with the topic we talked about last week, about the fact that every man is punished for his own sins? I don't really know. As I said, some of these people could be the actual people who disobeyed in their resurrected bodies. If David is going to be God's special prince for Israel, then it naturally follows that other people will be resurrected to live in the eternal kingdom as well. That's exciting to think about: being a part of the same kingdom as David, Zadok, Ezekiel and so many more. It humbles me just to be discussing such unspeakable things. The blessings that God will pour out on His people are just amazing. I know this is way off topic, but it is reality. We are eternal beings with an eternal destiny. God calls all who will to come to Him.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What Are We Celebrating on Columbus Day?

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
In 1493, Columbus plundered all he could see.

So today is Columbus Day in the US. For most Americans, this is one of those "holidays" where everything is normal except the mail doesn't run and the banks are closed. But what are we "celebrating?" Obviously Columbus's voyage and the exploration and colonization that followed are significant events in human history. But is that worth celebrating?

I, for one, think not. First of all, from a human perspective, Columbus did not "discover" the Americas. There were already civilizations here in the Western Hemisphere before Columbus ever got here. And Columbus wasn't even the first European to set foot in the Americas. There is plenty of evidence that Norse sailors explored the eastern coasts of Canada and possibly the US, and established trading relationships with the local tribes at least three centuries before Columbus.

Secondly, the voyage of Columbus resulted in centuries of violence, oppression and exploitation as Spanish, Portuguese, English, French and other European powers invaded the land, stole resources, enslaved the locals and eventually brought in more people from Africa and other places to enslave and exploit in their colonies. We all know about the enslavement of Africans in the US by the English and Americans. Sadly, the slavery that occurred in the Caribbean islands at the hands of the Spanish and the French was likely worse than slavery in the US. And we all realize the treatment of the natives by all of the European powers was shameful and wrong.

But we can't blame all of that on Columbus. He was merely trying to please the Spanish royals by trying to find an alternate route to China that was not already controlled by the Portuguese or the Dutch. Most of the articles that sound something like mine printed today will blame Columbus for all these things, and that's really not fair. It's more fair to blame the governments responsible for all the bad things that occurred.

But we can't rewrite history, can we? Moving all people of European or African ancestry "back to where they came from" is not a realistic proposition. The fact is that a sizable portion of people living in the Americas have native ancestry. That includes me, as I have native ancestry on both sides of my family. It would be a terrible shame to punish people living now for the bad things perpetrated by their ancestors hundreds of years ago, as it would be shameful to dismantle so many of the good things that European influence has brought to the Americas. 

I'm not going to deny either the bad or the good that resulted from Columbus's voyage. It left an indelible mark upon the history of mankind. But because there is undeniably so much evil that occurred in the wake of the voyage, I don't think it's right to "celebrate" it. Not that my writing here will make much difference, but hopefully it made some difference in your mind. Thanks for reading.

TOMS: Ezekiel 40-41

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 13, 2006

I have to admit, passages like this are very difficult to read. In this passage, Ezekiel is transported to Jerusalem some time in the future, and he is given a vision of the Temple. He spends two chapters describing all its rooms and the length and height and thickness of the wall. If Ezekiel presented us with a computer model - like you see on the Discovery or the History channel of an old building - it would be more exciting. Instead we have a very rote description. This passage gets better later, but for now it's not very riveting reading.

In my opinion, passages like this are worse than genealogies. At least in those there are some names you recognize and you can make connections to other events in the Bible. But God gave us this description. It certainly will prove that Ezekiel was there, whether this is a reference to the temple of Herod or the temple in the future kingdom, which is more likely. I know this isn't much of a blog, but there really isn't much more that I can think of to say about this passage.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

TOMS: Ezekiel 37-39

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 12, 2006

Chapter 37 is the ever-popular "valley of dry bones" chapter. I've heard a couple of different versions of the song, but basically they all have to do with "your foot bone connected to your ankle bone" and so on. I believe this song may be an old Negro spiritual, but honestly it has nothing to do with the text. If you want a good song about this chapter, I suggest "Valley of Dry Bones" by Michael Card. It is true to the text and it has a very interesting rhythm that you can't get out of your head. 

Anyway, this passage is one of the great promises for the future of Israel. It is a promise that the dead bones of Israel will rise again to be blessed by God. As I read it tonight, it almost seemed like a promise to the believers living at that time. (Paul talks about the difference between the Jewish race and Jews who are truly believers. Belief in and acceptance by God has always required faith.) It seemed to say that the Jews who were following the Lord at that time should take heart because one day they will be raised up to live in Israel in a perfect kingdom. I don't know if that's the right interpretation or not, but it is certainly true that those hearing this word who had faith in God are very much alive today and will be alive when Christ establishes His kingdom, whether that be the Millennial kingdom or the eternal kingdom. So that's not really too much of a disservice to the text. Whether this passage is teaching that specifically or teaching in general that the Jews will one day be blessed by God again I leave to smarter people than I. It certainly teaches the latter.

Chapters 38-39 are a prophecy against Gog and Magog. Many dispensationalists teach that this prophecy refers to an invasion of Israel by an alliance led by Russia at the beginning of the Tribulation. However, we find terms "Gog and Magog" repeated in Revelation 20, referring to a rebellion of nearly all the people of the earth against Christ and the Jews at the end of the Millennium. I think this is the best place to peg this prophecy. Sadly the vast majority of people who will have lived all of their lives in a paradise under the reign of Christ will rebel against Him, just like unbelievers of all times. Christ will crush all outward attempts of rebellion during His reign, but not even He can erase the stain of sin on the faithless heart of man. When Satan tempts them - remember Satan will be bound during the kingdom - they will jump at the chance to rebel against Jesus. 

I need to stop. The Cardinals have lost and it's time for bed.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

TOMS: Ezekiel 34-36

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 11, 2006

This section marks the major transition section in Ezekiel's prophecy. Ezekiel's message has changed from near-term judgment for Israel to long-term blessings. But he cannot get too far without pointing out more of Israel's failures, and he does so at the beginning of chapter 34. He goes after the leaders of Israel, both political and especially spiritual, saying that they have fed themselves instead of feeding the "sheep" of Israel. Because God's flock has become sick and ill-fed, God will remove those evil shepherds and set Himself as their shepherd, with David as His assistant.

"I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them." (34:22-24, ESV)

At this point in my original article, I made a long rant about dispensationalism. I'm not as hardcore as I used to be on the topic, but I'm still dispensational in outlook, and it's passages like this one that convince me of that. This passage is very specific. Why would God promise Israel that they would one day have David ruling over them if He were planning to permanently take away Israel's place as God's chosen people? I fully acknowledge that we as Christian Gentile believers are grafted into God's tree, as Paul writes, and that we are the spiritual children of Abraham. There is a spiritual transfer from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. But I have yet to be convinced that all of God's promises to Israel such as the one above have been spiritually fulfilled in the church. Where is David in the church? Is he spiritually ruling over a portion of it somewhere? I could be wrong. I'm not going to pretend I have all the answers. But I've studied the Scripture and the theological debates enough to know that the easy answers on both the dispensational and covenental side have holes as well. All I'm basically asking is that fellow believers be willing to tolerate differences that do not affect orthodox faith and practice in this age.

Friday, October 10, 2014

TOMS: Ezekiel 32-33

For an introduction to this series, click here.

Oct. 10, 2006

Hey everybody!! If you like what you read here, or if you hate what you read here, let me know. Comment here, comment on Facebook, Google Plus, or contact me some other way if this is a blessing or if you have a problem with what I am writing. (Obviously I changed what I wrote back then. But reproducing the contact info I put in my original post would not do me or anyone else any good.)

Let's get into our text for today. Ezekiel 32 is a pronouncement of Egypt's future doom. It concludes a four-chapter section on Egypt's demise. Then in chapter 33 Ezekiel turns his attention back to Israel. Once again, God comes to him with a commission as a watchman for Israel. After this, God reminds the people that He will forgive His people if they will only turn to Him and repent, but if they do not repent, they will die. This is when God says, "Why will you die, O house of Israel?" (33:11).

Then Zeke, who is living in Babylon, receives word that Jerusalem has finally been destroyed. Remember that there were several waves of destruction and exile from Jerusalem, as the people disobeyed God's command to cooperate with the Babylonians and God allowed the Babylonians to defeat them over and over. God responds by having Ezekiel tell the Jews what only God would know- the secret sinful attitude they were harboring in their hearts.
"Your people...say to one another, each to his brother, 'Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.' And they come to you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. When this comes- and come it will!- then they will know a prophet has been among them." (33:30-33, ESV)

How many times do you and I come to a church service or come to the Word of God looking to be entertained instead of fed? I know I have, lots of times. Sadly, there are lots of churches and preachers who cater to people looking for entertainment. Tell them jokes, sing some good songs, put on a good show, and you will always attract some sort of crowd. But what is the crowd you're attracting learning? These people were not blatantly rejecting the prophet's word, they just weren't connecting it to their lives. We fall into that same trap. We hear the Word preached, and the first thing that comes into our minds is critiquing the sermon. And it doesn't matter if it's a good sermon or a bad sermon. When you've heard preaching all your life, it becomes too easy to just "appreciate" it on that level. Both preachers and listeners have to learn to cut through that and speak to people's hearts.

I also think sometimes our Bible classes, whether they be in a Christian school, Sunday School or whatever else, turns the Bible into some kind of trivia book instead of a guide for life. I was one of the thousands of kids who could rattle off whole chapters from memory and answer any sort of question about the stories, but I couldn't give you any sort of explanation as to why I believed many of the basic doctrines of the faith. I guess this is part of the reason I am not a teacher, but if I was teaching Bible, especially in a Christian school, I would skip the memorization and have the students actively outlining and defending what they believe about basic doctrines. The class could discuss the merits of all the doctrines and the objections (I can always provide better arguments for what I don't believe than for what I do - I'm not really sure why). Even in Sunday School, if you're not challenging your students to advance in their faith, then you're not doing them any good. I know you will have different people at different levels, but you can't spend all your time trying to bring the 1's up to a 2 when you have 3's and 4's in the class.