Opinions by Curmudgeon are his alone (excepting homilies). They are not the views of his parish or denomination.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Here Comes the Big One!
Run for the Hills!
Fred Sanford used to grab his chest and and say, "This is the big one! I'm comin' to join you, Elizabeth." Fred's heart attacks were funny (ironically Redd Foxx who played the character did die of a heart attack on the set of another sitcom), which is why he kept having them. There is another kind of big one that is coming. Geologists say a big one is going to happen along the New Madrid fault line where a series of significant earthquakes last occurred in 1811-12. The fault line encompasses parts of 7 states. The experts warn that the next big one most likely will center in the Memphis, TN, area and that there could be as many as 4000 casualties in the city of Memphis alone. But there is an even bigger one that concerns my favorite Internet writer. At a prayer meeting she prayed that that Jesus would come quickly because his words are being fulfilled. Two specifics are the gathering of enemies around Israel to destroy her and the increase of persecution against believers. As those who have attended prayer meetings know, prayers can become vehicles for messages to one another rather than or in addition to God. In this case another woman prayed that the Lord would protect his people from trying to decode his word and presume to know the future. This did not sit well with our writer. She points out that according to Eusebius, the fourth century church historian, when the Roman army came against Jerusalem in 70, believers decoded the Bible and headed for the hills whereby they saved their lives. But the history is a little more complicated than that. According to Eusebius, the fleeing of Christians from Jerusalem was a response, in part at least, to a contemporary revelation:
But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella.
The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella.
Our writer then points us to an Old Testament prophecy given through the prophet Zechariah to bolster her point about the Scriptures being fulfilled now:
Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when … I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken. … Then the Lord will go out and fight
against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him (Zechariah 14:1-5).
She goes on to assert that this prophecy must be literally fulfilled. The Lord summons nations to make war against Jerusalem; the city is taken by its enemies; and the Lord (presumably Jesus) goes out to fight against the armies of the nations. The Lord will stand on the Mount of Olives, and the mountain will be split, half moving north and half south with a great valley in between. Then God's people must flee for safety to the newly formed valley, even as the people had fled an earthquake in the days of King Uzziah, whereupon the Lord will come with the holy ones. She contends that the fulfillment of this has to be literal with armies attacking Jerusalem and the Lord's coming to deliver his people.
There are way too many specifics crammed in here to call the passage metaphorical. Why not follow Occam’s razor on the logical assessing of hypotheses and assume that God means what He says? (What do they teach at these schools?) And God says that there will be war between Israel and the nations; that God will fight for Israel; that He will touch down on the Mount of Olives; that we will witness the mother of all earthquakes; that radical topographical changes will result; that the valley created by the quake will reach to a place called Azal.
Our writer assumes that the application of Occam's razor favors her taking of Zechariah's prophecy literally. Occam's razor states, "Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily." What this means is that an explanation should be favored that requires the fewest assumptions. Or, put another way, of two competing theories the simpler one is the better. (This, too, is a little more complicated. It involves two theories that make the same predictions.) Our writer assumes that the literal understanding of the text is required by the use of the razor. But, I am not so sure. What are the assumptions of the literal understanding? One is that the Israel to which the prophet refers is ethnic and national Israel, not the church (Galatians 6:16). Another is that prophet means by Jerusalem the ancient capital of Old Testament Israel, not Jerusalem above, the mother of believers (Galatians 4:24-26). It further assumes that the Second Coming of our Lord is a pre-millennial one with our Lord coming again to deliver Israel and then sitting on a throne as King in Jerusalem for 1000 years. (Put another way, it assumes that both the a-millennial and post-millennial understandings are wrong.) I wonder if the simpler way of taking the prophecy is that, using the background of the Old Testament covenant nation, the prophet pictures the hostility of the world and its persecution of the church which will come to an end when the Lord intervenes to save his people and to bring them to eternal safety. That, too, involves assumptions and has its complications, but it seems to me fewer of both than the literal approach. Were we living in the Old Testament era that would not be the case, but in the light of the first coming of our Lord and the New Testament revelation about the identity of the people of God, it seems so. Our writer also argues that the number of specific details given by Zechariah make a "metaphorical" understanding untenable. Really? Consider this prophecy of Joel:
"And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire
and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls (Joel 3:28-32).
There are a lot of specific details given by Joel, including the turning of the moon into blood. Now consider the way the Apostle Peter, preaching in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, understood Joel's prophecy:
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved'" (Acts 2:17-21).
There appears to me to be a good bit of "metaphorical" understanding on the part of the Apostle. The great upheaval in the universe predicted by the Prophet in connection with the outpouring of the Spirit occurs on Pentecost. One other comment by our writer requires comment: "Jesus himself shows what predictions are for—a heads-up for living: 'I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you' (John 16:4)". To what is our Lord referring? Believers being put out of synagogues and killed by those who think doing these things is service to God. When were Christians put out of synagogues? Within the Apostolic era. Which leads to our second question: To whom was Jesus speaking? Why, to his Apostles. Our Lord is not in the first place telling us in general what use we are to make of the details of prophecies. He is telling his Apostles what to expect and that, when these things occur, to remember he warned them of these coming persecutions. Our writer asks, "Why not follow Occam’s razor on the logical assessing of hypotheses and assume that God means what He says?" If I get this right, the assumption is that understanding the prophecies to refer to modern Israel, to the city of Jerusalem in Palestine, and to a coming of our Lord to that locale to save the inhabitants of that city, means taking God to mean what he says. Those who understand the intent of the prophecy othewise prsumably don't take God to mean what he says. The the writer in an aside asks, "What do they teach at these schools?" Since the schools are not identified, it is impossible to know what schools are in mind. But one may be safe in assuming that the are the non-pre-millennial ones. Like Westminster and Reformed, perhaps.
This kind of stuff hasn't given me the big one yet. But, if it keeps up, I may be going to join Elizabeth in the Jerusalem that is above.