Friday, November 30, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Jonah and Revelation 22

Introductory Information: While there probably was a prophet by the name of Jonah – referred to in 2 Kings who lived during the reign of Jeroboam II - the Book of Jonah is not historical; it is a literary piece written probably in the 5th century BC, post-exile. My Jerusalem Bible says it is “intended to amuse and instruct; it is a didactic work and its doctrine marks one of the peaks of the Old Testament” (1141). “It rejects a too rigid interpretation of prophecy, asserting that even the most uncompromising of threats is an expression of the merciful will of God, who pardons at the first sign of repentance. Rejecting, too, the narrow racialism into which the post-exilic community was tempted to withdraw, it proclaims an astonishingly broadminded catholicity. All the characters of this story are likeable, the pagan sailors, the kind, the populace, even the animals of Nineveh, all except the only Israelite on the stage—and he a prophet. But God is merciful to all, even to rebellious Jonah. The lesson of humility and sincere repentance comes to the Chosen People from their bitterest foes” (1141).

“Jesus will cite the conversion of the Ninevites as an example of repentance, and Mt 12:40 sees Jonah inside the great fish as a prefiguring of Christ in the tomb” (1141). He is not citing the stories as “history” but as a familiar parable.

Jonah 1 – Jonah is told by God to get up and go to Nineveh, the great city, and tell them of their wickedness.


Jonah decides this is not what he wants to do. Instead he runs away and tries to hop a boat to the end of the world as they knew it then – Tarshish, at the westernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula.


But God sends a great storm. The men on the boat all turn to their gods and try to find out by lot who the guilty man on board is – there must be some man guilty for the forces of nature to have turned on them so violently. Jonah sleeps through this all. But when he is the one the “lot” reveals is guilty, he is interrogated. Surprisingly, it is Jonah who suggests to the others on the ship that they should throw him overboard. He accepts that it is his fault that the ship has come into this storm. They seem reluctant to do it, but they finally do.


The sea grows calm again and they are all “seized with dread of Yahweh” (1:16). They offer sacrifice and vows to Yahweh too.

Jonah 2 – A great fish is in the sea for the purpose of swallowing Jonah. He is in the fish for three days. In the fish, he prays to Yahweh.


‘Out of my distress I cried to Yahweh and he answered me; from the belly of Sheol I cried, and you have heard my voice” (2:2-3). And his prayer includes these lines, which I love because it is what I feel I do every time I pick up the scriptures: “The waters surrounded me right to my throat, the abyss was all around me. The seaweed was wrapped round my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down into the countries underneath the earth, to the peoples of the past” (2:6).


He swears he will return to faithfulness, and Yahweh has the fish vomit him up.

Jonah 3 – A second time, Yahweh comes to Jonah and gives him the job of going to Nineveh. This time he goes and prophesies there that they have 40 days before God will destroy them. But here, unlike the many cities prophesied about in the other prophetic books, Nineveh completely repents”[T]hey proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least” (3:5). They do it in hope that God will change his mind and “renounce his burning wrath” (3:9), and he does. He “did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened” (3:10).

Jonah 4 – Jonah gets indignant when God does in fact relent. This was why he tried to run away from the start. “I knew that you were a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, relenting from evil” (4:2). He thinks it is not just that he is made to feel humiliated.


Jonah goes out of the city and makes himself a shelter where he can sit and mope. God makes a plant grow high to give him shade, but the next day God arranges for a worm to destroy the plant and the sun to come up strong that day, causing Jonah to be angry over loss of the transient plant. God tries to use his (Jonah’s) experience with the plant to teach him a lesson. If Jonah can be so upset at the loss of a plant that he had not given any time or attention to, then he should understand that the loss of a city like Nineveh – a great and highly populated city – would be VERY UPSETTING to God. Jonah should rejoice at the salvation of the city, not worry about his own image.

Jonah is the reluctant prophet, the prophet to the foreigners of Nineveh.  Like Jonah, Jesus too will be sent to the “nations,” those people outside the Mosaic covenant with God.  He is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, the fulfillment indeed of every divine promise.  The key to responding to Jesus (as it was to Jonah) is complete and sincere repentance.  This is the door through which individuals (and nations) come to God.

Revelation 22 – Then angel shows him the “river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing crystal-clear down the middle of the city street”(22:1-2). On either side are “the trees of life” (22:2).

“It will never be night again and they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them. They will reign for ever and ever” (22:5). The angel assures the prophet that all of this will soon take place “very soon now” (22:7).

“Meanwhile let the sinner go on sinning, and the unclean continue to be unclean; let those who do good go on doing good, and those who are holy continue to be holy” (22:11). Life will go on as usual. But “Happy are those who treasure the prophetic message of this book” (22:7).

These revelations are sent for the sake of the churches. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Happy are those who will have washed their robes clean, so that they will have the right to feed on the tree of life and can come through the gates into the city” (22:13-14).

The book ends with these words: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to make these revelations to you for the sake of the churches” (22:16). “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’, Let everyone who listens answer, ‘Come’. Then let all who are thirsty come: all who want it may have the water of life, and have it free(22:17).

I do “treasure the prophetic message of this book.” While I claim no sure knowledge of anything, it ties up the narrative in a spiritually coherent way. It makes this “library of books” – this Bible [both Old and New Testament], a unified narrative/vision of what our lives ARE/CAN BE on a spiritual plane. The creation story sees us humans as created to be the beloved spouse of our creator; but the conflict that arises when we DO NOT LISTEN to his voice, a conflict which we can follow through the history of “his people,” is seen as coming to an end that will realize His original intention. And if we engage ourselves in that story, really engage ourselves in it, we can be joined with ALL OF THOSE who have done so. The narrative is not meant to be interpreted literally. It is accessible our through our imaginations and our faith in the words [Word].

The vision communicated in this book will never die in the hearts of men and women. We KNOW that we were created to live nourished by this water and to live in a “forever” we cannot really explain.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Joel 2:16 to the end and Revelation 21

Joel 2:18-27The Lord may be angry. We may feel that He is out to destroy us, but want He wants is that we SEE the reasons for His disappointment and respond with the will as a community to CHANGE OUR WAYS. There is no doubt that the prophets anthropomorphize this God. But this is understandable in the context of the biblical narrative, for we were created to be “like him”: “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).

Just as the Lord was furious with his people, so now He takes pity. I will give you what you need, He says. “Never again shall I make you a thing of shame for the nations” (2:19). There will be “plenty” again. The “pastures on the heath [will be] green again, the trees bear fruit, vine and fig tree yield abundantly” (2:22). The people are told they should “rejoice in Yahweh,” that He will bring prosperity back to them.

“[Y]ou will know that I am Yahweh your God, with none to equal me. My people will not be disappointed any more” (2:27).

Joel 3Then come these very famous words of the prophet Joel, words of huge importance to early Christians and equally to early Friends.

“’After this I will pour out my spirit on all mankind. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men see visions. Even on the slaves, men and women, will I pour out my spirit in those days” (3:1-2). Portents will appear, portents of further disaster, but all “who call on the name of Yahweh will be saved” (3:5).

Joel 4 – The nations of the world will be put on trial for what they have done to God’s people. Tyre, Sidon and Philistia will be punished for what they have done to God’s people. They must prepare for war: “Hammer your ploughshares into swords, your sickles into spears” (4:10). These words reverse the words of Isaiah 2:4 which we like so well. There will be no peace for those nations that work to undermine and destroy God’s people.

“When that day comes, the mountains will run with new wine and the hills flow with milk, and all the river beds of Judah will run with water” (4:18). “Egypt will become a desolation, Edom a desert waste on account of the violence done to the sons of Judah whose innocent blood they shed in their country. But Judah will be inhabited forever, Jerusalem from age to age” (4:19-20).

Revelation 21 – Then he sees “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1). The sea disappears – the abode of evil. And the holy city, the New Jerusalem, come down from God, “beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband” (21:2).

A voice calls out “You see this city? Here God lives among men. He will make his home among them; they shall be his people, and he will be their God; his name is God-with-them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone.” (21:2-4).

Then the One sitting on the throne spoke: ‘Now I am making the whole of creation new’ he said. ‘Write this: that what I am saying is sure and will come true.’ And then he said, ‘It is already done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water from the well of life free to anybody who is thirsty; it is the rightful inheritance of the one who proves victorious; and I will be his God and he a son to me” (21:5-7). 

What wonderful words! No wonder they live through history. Even though I admit I cannot understand or relate to a lot of the detail described by this apocalyptic writer, the pain he describes I can relate to and the hope he has, that I get too. It is not only the pain of the martyrs he describes here; it is the pain that everyone who has lived and tried to live faithfully – the pain from routine family agonies, faithfulness gone seemingly unrewarded, the efforts of human beings who have tried and tried to make this world a better place. Oh, that we might hope to see it all redeemed even if we must wait to the very end of time.

The bride of Christ is described – the bride IS the NEW JERUSALEM, the Jerusalem of Ezekiel’s vision (see Ezekiel 40-47). The dimensions of the city are pure mathematically; the twelve walls are “faced” or decorated with precious stones: diamonds, lapis lazuli, turquoise, crystal, agate, ruby, quartz, malachite, topaz, emerald, sapphire and amethyst. And the twelve gates are single pearls (21:21).

There is no Temple in the city “since the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb [are] themselves the temple, and the city did not need the sun or the moon for light, since it was lit by the radiant glory of God and the Lamb was a lighted torch for it” (21:22-23).

The pagan nations and all the kings or ruler of the earth will contribute to the treasures of the city and “the gates of it will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there” (21:25).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Joel 1:1 through 2:16 and Revelation 20

Introductory information in the Jerusalem Bible indicates that the book may have been written around 400 BC, post-exile, when there was no king, more focus on public worship and a reliance on some of the earlier prophets, especially Ezekiel and Obadiah. Joel’s contribution to the prophetic tradition is his emphasis on “outpouring of the Spirit on all God’s people in the messianic age” (1140-1141). Early Christians saw this prophesy fulfilled with the coming of the Spirit on the followers of Christ at the Pentecost gathering described in Acts 1. “Joel is the prophet of Pentecost” (1141).

Joel 1 – A plague of locusts and other vermin has invaded the land and laid it waste. “For a nation has invaded my country, mighty and innumerable; its teeth are the teeth of lions, it has the fangs of a lioness. It has laid waste my vines and torn my fig trees to pieces” (1:6-7).

“The priests, the ministers of Yahweh, are in mourning. Wasted lie the fields; the fallow is in mourning. For the corn has been laid waste, the wine fails, the fresh oil dries up” (1:9-10). And “gladness has faded among the sons of men” (1:12).

The ministers of the Lord should put on sackcloth and lament, for “the house of our God has been deprived of oblation and libation” (1:13).  The day of Yahweh is near, Joel says.

Joel 2 – The land is desolate, so the prophet cries out to Yahweh. “Sound the trumpet in Zion, give the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the country tremble, for the day of Yahweh is coming, yes, it is near” (2:1).

The Day of Yahweh will be a day of “darkness and gloom, day of cloud and blackness” (2:2). The coming of the locusts is described again, this time as if it were an invading army. “Like fighting men they press forward, like warriors scale the walls, each marching straight ahead, not turning from his path” (2:7).

But it is the Lord, Yahweh, who leads this army on. “Yahweh makes his voice heard at the head of his army, and indeed his regiments are innumerable, all-powerful is the one that carries out his orders, for great is the day of Yahweh, and very terrible—who can face it?” (2:10-11).

But, instead of urging destruction as we might expect, the voice of the Lord says this Come back! “’come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning.’ Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn; turn to Yahweh your God again, for his is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, and ready to relent” (2:12-13).

Everyone should assemble and pray to God not to make his heritage a thing of shame. Yahweh will answer this prayer. “Sound the trumpet in Zion! Order a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly . . . [let everyone say] ‘Spare your people, Yahweh! Do not make your heritage a things of shame . . . why should it be said among the nations, ‘Where is their God?’” (2:17).

Revelation 20 – An angel from heaven comes down with the “key to the Abyss” (20:1) in his hand. He overpowers the dragon (the devil and Satan) and chains them up for 1000 years. He will be released at the end of 1000 years, but only for a short time.

The martyrs come to life then too and reign with Christ for this 1000 years – the “first resurrection” (20:4), but the rest of the dead stay in the Abyss.

When the 1000 years are over, Satan will be released and will come out to deceive the nations. Armies will be mobilized for war and they will besiege the saints. They will soon be overthrown and consumed. Then the One on the great white throne will see earth and sky vanish and the book of life will be opened. Hades will be emptied of the dead and all will be judged “according to the way in which he had lived” (20:14).

Then Death and Hades will be thrown into the burning lake. This burning lake is the second death; and anybody whose name could not be found written in the book of life was thrown into the burning lake” (20:15).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Malachi 3 and Revelation 19

Malachi 3 – God says He is “going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me” (3:1). “Who will be able to resist the day of his coming? Who will remain standing when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ alkali . . . he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to Yahweh as it should be made” (3:2-3).

 They must stop sinning against the Lord – practicing sorcery, adultery and perjury, oppression of wage-earners, widows and orphans (3:5).

“Since the days of your ancestors you have evaded my statues and not observed them. Return to me and I will return to you” (3:7). They must stop imposing tithes and dues; and they must stop sending out a message of gloom and doom, about how it is fruitless to keep God’s commands.

The prophet tells them that the “day is coming now, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and the evil-doers will be like stubble” (3:19). Yahweh will send “Elijah the prophet before the day of the Lord, the Day of Yahweh, comes, “that great and terrible day“ (3:24).

The readings from Malachi continue on the theme of the creative anger of the Lord. Once again, I would say that this is an aspect of the Lord we must accept, deal with, even - if we can - learn to love.

The prophetic lesson of Malachi is directed mostly against the Levitical priests of Israel who Malachi thought had come to exercise their function in such a careless, superficial manner that they seemed to have lost all fear and respect for God.  In a kind of elaboration of prophetic marriage imagery, the priests have broken faith with the spouse God gave them, the sanctuary, and have profaned the sanctuary by their disrespectful deeds.  And their own lack of integrity seems to reflect the weakened state of the entire relationship between God and his people.

It is interesting to consider that so many of the readings at the end of “ordinary time” as we get closer to advent contain the themes we have been studying:  the failures of God’s people and their shepherds to be faithful to the substance of the old covenant, the need for us to be aware that God will not take our unfaithfulness forever, there will be a day of reckoning, a day of wrath and we need to reawaken in ourselves a fear of God’s seriousness with respect to the covenant we have entered into. 

As we come to advent and through advent we should be recognizing how we have fallen short, we should be fearful of the displeasure such unfaithfulness causes God and should be humbling ourselves so that we may be found teachable when he comes.  That he will come with the face of God’s love is not for us to know at this moment of the spiritual cycle.

Revelation 19 – A crowd in heaven yells, “Alleluia! Victory and glory and power to our God! He judges fairly, he punishes justly, and he has condemned the famous prostitute who corrupted the earth with her fornication” (19:2).

“The reign of the Lord our God Almighty has begun; let us be glad and joyful and give praise to God because this is the time for the marriage of the Lamb. His bride is ready, and she has been able to dress herself in dazzling white linen, because her linen is made of the good deeds of the saints” (19:7-8).

Heaven opens and a white horse appears – its rider is called “Faithful and True; he is a judge with integrity, a warrior for justice. His eyes were flames of fire, and his head was crowned with many coronets; the name written on him was known only to himself; his cloak was soaked in blood. He is known by the name, The Word of God” (19:12). Behind him are the “armies of heaven on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike the pagans with; he is the one who will rule them with an iron scepter, and tread out the wine of Almighty God’s fierce anger” (19:14-15).

The beast, and “the false prophet who had worked miracles on the beast’s behalf” (19:20) are “thrown alive into the fiery lake” (19:20). And the rest of the beast’s army are “killed by the sword of the rider, which came out of his mouth” (19:21) and fed to the birds.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Malachi 1-2 and Revelation 17-18

Malachi is an eponym – a “name” that is based on a meaning. The word Malachi (Gr.) means “messenger.” The oracle was written sometime between 516 BC, when the Temple was rebuilt, and 330 BC, the end of the Persian period. The content indicates probably written around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. The author is not known according to Lawrence Boadt.           

Malachi 1 - God’s people are always challenging God to show how He has loved them. God responds that he showed his love for them in his favoring of Jacob over Esau (eponym for Edomites). Malachi argues that even though Edom may seem to be building up, God will “pull down” (1:4) what they build.

God seems concerned here that his people are just not showing Him respect. They “pollute” his table by offering sacrificial animals that are not perfect.

Malachi 2 – The priests fall short too. God reminds them of the covenant he made with Levi. It was a covenant that “stood for life and peace,” for “fear and trembling” as well (awe and respect). God looks for the priests to walk with God “in integrity and virtue” (2:7).  

But these priests now have strayed from God’s way. They “have caused many to stumble by [their] teaching” (2:8). They have done this by marrying “daughter[s] of an alien god” (2:12), idolaters.

“Yahweh stands as witness between you and the wife of your youth, the wife with whom you have broken faith, even though she was your partner and your wife by covenant” (2:14-15). This “ beloved wife” that the Levitical priests have broken faith with is the “sanctuary.” 

Revelation 17 – An angel speaks to John about “the famous prostitute” who rules the Fertile Crescent area. Again, as in Daniel, the details are both symbolic and relate directly to a context that was historically vivid to the writer – the time of Nero’s persecution, his [Nero’s] death and the belief that he would indeed come again to rule Rome.

The dying, departure and anticipated return of Nero are ironically seen in light of the faith Christians had that Jesus had died, departed and would return (see verse 8).

It is true the scarlet beast [Rome? Nero?] “was and now is not (17:8), but this beast will not come again as Christ came except in the way all will come again at the very end of time; then it is true he will be raised “only to go to his destruction” (17:8).

While there will be other kings that “go to war against the Lamb” (17:14), the Lamb will eventually “defeat them and they will be defeated by his followers, the called, the chosen, the faithful” (17:14).

The waters in the vision are “all the peoples, the populations, the nations and the languages” (17:15) who will also eventually be victorious.

Revelation 18 – Another angel announces the demise of Babylon. Kings of the earth who have “fornicated with her” (18:3) will mourn. Traders who have made money from her will mourn too.

“A new voice spoke from heaven; I heard it say, ‘Come out, my people, away from her, so that you do not share in her crimes and have the same plagues to bear” (18:4). Despite her great powers, the Lord God will condemn her. The kings of the earth will weep for her destruction – the kings and traders or merchants. They too have “fornicated” with her [Babylon/Rome].

The “captains and seafaring men, sailors and all those who make a living from the sea” (18:17) will also go down with “her.” They will mourn the loss of “this great city whose lavish living has made a fortune” (18:19) for them.

The saints and apostles, however, should celebrate.  A “powerful angel” will throw a great boulder into the sea and say, “That is how the great city of Babylon is going to be hurled down, never to be seen again” (18:21).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 47-48 and Revelation 16-17

Ezekiel 47 – A stream is described coming out from under the Temple threshold, flowing eastward. Ezekiel’s guide takes him to the stream and has him wade across it at different points; it swells in size, becoming “a river impossible to cross” (47:5).

“Wherever the river flow, all living creatures teeming in it will live” (47:9).  Life will flourish along the banks of this river.

The frontiers of the lands allotted to the various tribes are described here too. “You are to divide it into inheritances for yourselves and the aliens settled among you who have begotten children with you, since you are to treat them as citizens of Israel” (47:22). The division is made according to Ezekiel’s vision – horizontal tracts for all the tribes and for the sanctuary and the prince that all extend from the Mediterranean to the eastern border.

Ezekiel 48 – The tribes are listed and the lands assigned to them. The order of the tracts that all run from the Mediterranean to the eastern frontier are as follows: Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim, Reuben and Judah; then comes the land dedicated to the sanctuary and the prince; then the tracts of Benjamin, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun and Gad.

The new name of this great city will be “Yahweh sham” [sounds a little like Jerusalem] and it means “Yahweh-is-there” (48:35).

I think it is really important to remember how important the book of Ezekiel is. It is, with Jeremiah, the first glimpse we have of the new vision of Judaism that arises from the loss of its territorial focus. The religion of Yahweh will now be an inward faith and Ezekiel believed an inward rooting of religious law.

As Lawrence Boadt points out in his book, religion was no longer to focus on what the community did externally, but was to be rooted in the heart.  Ezekiel stressed the roles of the Sabbath as a day of rest, reflective meditation on the covenant, personal uprightness, purity, and holiness. God would no longer accept people just because they were born Israelites; now they must “decide for God in order to live” (397).

This new vision would allow Israel to practice its religion no matter what happened to the land.  Building on the preaching of Ezekiel, the priests and Levites took the traditions that had been handed down through the Yahwist and Elohist and expanded them with new material gathered from other areas of Israel’s life: the liturgies, songs, family records, and especially the laws that had been worked out over the centuries (398).

Revelation 15 – Next he sees seven angels bringing the seven last plagues that will “exhaust the anger of God” (15:1-2).  The saved stand around with harps, singing a hymn of Moses and the Lamb:

How great and wonderful are all your works,
Lord God Almighty;
Just and true are all your ways,
King of nations.
Who would not revere and praise your name, O Lord?
You alone are holy,
And all the pagans will come and adore you
For the many acts of justice you have shown (15:3-4).

Then the sanctuary opens and the seven angels come out with the plagues. “The smoke from the glory and the power of God filled the temple so that no one could go into it until the seven plagues of the seven angels were completed” (15:8).

Revelation 16 – He hears a voice from the sanctuary shouting to the angels to go and empty the bowls of God’s anger on the earth:
The first empties his bowl and all those marked with the mark of the beast came down with virulent sores.
The second empties his bowl over the sea, and it turns to blood – everything dies.
The third empties his bowl, and all the rivers and waters turn to blood. He hears the alter in the sanctuary proclaim the justice of the Lord’s punishments.
The fourth empties his bowl over the sun, and the sun scorches people with flames, causing them to curse the name of God.
The fifth empties his bowl over the throne of the beast, and the empire is plunged into darkness. They do not repent despite their pain.
The sixth empties his bowl over the Euphrates, and the waters dry up. From the jaws of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet, three foul spirits come looking like frogs. Able to work miracles they go out to the worlds’ kings to call them to war at Armageddon.
Finally, the seventh angel empties his bowl into the air, and a voice shouts that the end has come. There is lightning and thunder and earthquakes. The cities of the world collapse.

All of this kind of apocalyptic rhetoric – here and also in the Book of Daniel – is so hard for me to read and penetrate. How many people have thought this opens to them the mystery of life, of death and of history. Even if one supposed that God might at some point in history have stirred the imaginations of some holy men to deep insights on the destiny of man or the basic nature of God’s plan for us, the audacity anyone might have to claim complete understanding is just too ridiculous. To us today, the thought that God might just wipe out all life as part of some salvation plan is hard for me to appreciate. But that’s just me.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 46 and Revelation 14

Ezekiel 46 – The east gate of the inner court is always to be shut for the six regular days of the week but opened on the Sabbath. It is also to be opened on the day of the New Moon. The prince must walk through on these days and the priests offer his holocaust and communion sacrifices. The animals to be offered are listed in detail.

The figure who appeared in 40-42 to show Ezekiel the exact dimensions and specifications the new Temple reappears here in verse 19. 

Revelation 14 – Next he sees Mt Zion and a Lamb with 144,000 people with his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads (14:1).

They sing a hymn only they can learn. They are virgin men to be first-fruits for God and the Lamb. “They never allowed a lie to pass their lips and no fault can be found in them” (14:5).
An angel comes announcing the Good News of eternity to all. A second announces the fall of Babylon and a third announces the fate of all who have worshipped the beast and his statue. A voice from heaven tells him to write “Happy are those who die in the Lord! Happy indeed, the Spirit says; now they can rest for ever after their work, since their good deeds go with them’” (14:13).
Then he sees a white cloud and “one like a son of man” sitting on it with a crown and a sharp sickle in his hand. He gathers the harvest of grapes in and puts them all in God’s winepress.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 45 and Revelation 13

Ezekiel 45 – In this chapter Ezekiel describes a division of the country into parallel strips. The note says this is he most hypothetical and unrealistic part of his “vision.” The idea is that the land is to be divided – a section devoted to the sanctuary (the sacred portion), a section for the priests to live in.

There is to be a portion for the prince as it was in Solomon’s time; he is exhorted to give up “violence and plundering, [to] practice justice and integrity, [and to] crush my people no more with taxation” (45:8-9). The prince is responsible for providing sacrifices for “sin, oblation, holocaust and communion” sacrifices, which will atone for the sins of the House of Israel (45:17).

On the first day of the first month a young bull without blemish is to be offered to purify the sanctuary. Blood is to be placed on the doorposts of the Temple, the corners of the altar and the doorposts of the gates of the inner court. The same offering is to be made on the seventh of the month for “anyone who has sinned through inadvertence or ignorance” (45:19).  This offering is for unintentional imperfections that we know everyone has.

On the fourteenth of the first month, the Passover offering is to be made. Everyone must eat unleavened loaves for seven days and a series of sacrifices are to be made daily. The Feast of the Tabernacles must have the same series of offerings.

Revelation 13 – John is standing by the sea and he sees a beast come out with seven heads and ten horns. It was like a leopard “with paws like a bear and a mouth like a lion” (13:2). The dragon gave its power to the beast, and the world followed him thinking he is invincible.

For 42 months, he wields power and curses God. Everyone whose name was not “written down since the foundation of the world in the book of life of the sacrificial Lamb” is destroyed.
Then a second beast comes out of the ground with two horns but making a dragon’s noise. It was the servant of the first beast and extended his authority everywhere. It was able to perform miracles and gave great power to the beast. “There is need for shrewdness here: if anyone is clever enough he may interpret the number of the beast: it is the number of a man, the number 666” (13:18).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 44 and Revelation 12

Ezekiel 44 – Meanwhile the east gate of the sanctuary is to be kept shut since the Lord Himself has passed through it. The prince may take his meals there [note says this was connected with the communion sacrifice].

He goes on to describe the rules about who are and who are not to be admitted into the sanctuary. No “rebels,” “aliens,” or those “uncircumcised in heart and body” (44:9) are to be permitted in.  The Levites, who abandoned Yahweh to follow idols, are to guard the gates and serve the Temple but never again shall “perform the priestly office in my presence, or to touch my holy things”(44:12-13).

Only the sons of Zadok, the Levitical priests who remained faithful, shall be permitted to “stand in my presence to offer me the fat and blood” (44:15). They must wear linen vestments, no wool inside the inner court. And they must wear linen caps and breeches – these vestments are to be removed when they leave the Holy Place. He describes how they shall cut their hair, those to whom they are permitted to marry, and what they should do. They may not go near a dead person unless it is a close relative. They may not inherit material things nor are they to receive a “patrimony.” They may not eat anything that has died a natural death.

Revelation 12 – He sees a vision – “a woman adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown” (12:1). She is pregnant and crying out.

A huge red dragon appears with seven heads (each crowned) and ten horns. Its tail pulls a third of all the stars to the earth. The dragon stops to await the woman’s child to eat it.

She gives birth to a child “the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron scepter, and the child was taken straight up to God” (12:5) while the woman escapes into the desert.
War breaks out in heaven. Michael and his angels attack the dragon – the “primeval serpent” – is hurled out of heaven. “’Victory and power and empire forever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ” (12:10).

“They have triumphed over [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the witness of their martyrdom, because even in the face of death they would not cling to life” (12:11).

Now the devil is down on the earth and he is angry because his days are numbered. He purses the mother of the child, but she is given eagle’s wings to flee him. He cannot catch the mother, so he goes seeking revenge on God’s loyal children.

If the author of this book is the gospel writer of John or if he was of the Johannine school, it seems very likely to me that the allegory taking place here is at least in part a reference to that very important proto-evangelium or ur-promise made in Genesis 3:15 about the “seed” of Eve winning a victory over the primal serpent/dragon/devil. Exactly how the allegory reflected the history of the time or the existential victory of Christ and his Church over the powers of evil in the world, I feel beyond my powers to understand, but the “big picture” seems obvious.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 43 and Revelation 11

Ezekiel 43 – At the eastern gate of the city, Ezekiel is given a vision of the “glory of the God of Israel approaching from the east” (43:2). It comes in towards the prophet sounding like the ocean and shining like the sun. It is exactly like the vision he had had at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction. The glory of God fills the Temple and a “man” stands beside him. He hears a voice assuring him that this presence will abide among the “sons of Israel forever” (43:7). They will become a faithful people.

The plan described in these chapters is meant to “shame” the Israelites and inspire them to reform. It is something they can “carry out” (43:11) He then goes on to describe the altar in detail. He describes the holocausts that will be offered here: “a young bull as a sacrifice for sin” (43:19), “an unblemished he-goat as the sacrifice for sin” (43:22), and an “unblemished ram” (43:23). After a week in which these are offered, on the 8th day and thereafter, the priests will off holocausts and communion sacrifices.

Looked in†o some questions I had about this Temple design we are going through here and why it was never used as the design for the Second Temple, and it was interesting. 

This Jewish site was good: 

It says that the Temple was not built according to Ezekiel’s vision because as it promises here, it was supposed to be an “everlasting edifice,” but the repentance they had at their restoration by the Persians did not suffice to assure that God would not punish them in the future.

The prophets Chaggai (Haggai),  Zechariah and Malachi said NOT to build the new Temple (the 2nd) according to Ezekiel’s vision because there was only a “partial redemption” during this time of Jewish history. They lacked the Holy Ark, for one thing. Some parts of the description were incorporated into Herod’s Temple, but the edifice remains to be built in the future.

It is sometimes called the “Third Temple,” and is seen by some as what will be built to welcome the Messianic Age. Apparently it plays an important part in some Christian groups’ eschatology. And, of course, talk of it stirs concerns over how Muslims might respond to any real attempt to construct it. The deadline for it to be constructed is the year 6000 of the Jewish calendar or 2240 AD.

Revelation 11 – The prophet is given a cane to use as a measuring rod. He is to measure God’s sanctuary, altar and the congregation gathered.

The pagans in the outer court will trample the holy city for 3 ½ years – the number is taken from Daniel and symbolized any period of persecution.

Two prophets, Joshua and Zerubbabel, the prophets led the restored community in the Old Testament restoration, are seen as olive trees. They have great powers, but the Beast [Angel – ironic] from the Abyss will make war on them and kill them. Their corpses will lie on the main street of the “Great City” where the Lord was crucified. Men from everywhere will see them and celebrate. But after 3½ days, the Lord will raise them up and bring them up to heaven. There will be an earthquake and 7,000 will be killed. This all is the second Trouble.

Then the 7th angel blows his trumpet and voices in heaven call out, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (11:15). The sanctuary of God in heaven is opened and the Ark of the Covenant can be seen in it amidst lightning, thunder, hail and an earthquake.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 41-42 and Revelation 10

Ezekiel 41 – Ezekiel describes the “Hekal” [Hall] and Debir [Sanctuary] of the new Temple  – its dimensions and place in the vision he has of Jerusalem. He mentions some side structures, the wooden altar and doors.  There are few places in the Scriptures where the writer describes what he is talking about in such excruciating detail: Noah’s ark, the building of the first Temple and now here. I love Ezekiel for his poetry and his amazing vision of what will change in his people’s faith-lives, but these parts are a little boring, and some commentators maintain that the dimensions outlined are not anything like what was built..

Ezekiel 42 – This chapter describes the various buildings outside the Temple and the measurements of the court itself. The impression is that the vision God is giving Ezekiel is precise and something that might actually be used in a building project, but the notes to various parts of the plan indicate that the dates are “obscure” and not necessarily part of the historical Temple that was actually built.

Revelation 10 – Another angel is seen “coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were pillars of fire” (10:1).

“In his hand he had a small scroll, unrolled” (10:1). He places his right foot in the sea and his left foot on the land and shouts so loud “it was like a lion roaring” (10:4). At his roar, there are seven “thunderclaps” and he is told to keep the words of the seven thunderclaps secret because it is not yet the time of their fulfillment.

He says, “The time of waiting is over; at the time when the seventh angel is heard sounding his trumpet, God’s secret intention will be fulfilled, ‘just as he announced in the Good News told to his servants the prophets’” (10:7). The prophet is told to take and eat the small scroll he is offered. It will taste sweet but turn sour in his stomach. He is told to prophesy again but this time to the nations.

The Jerusalem Bible note indicates that when the seventh angel sounds his trumpet the definitive establishment of God’s kingdom – God’s Church; but it is a victory that will still involve suffering.

I have to say I do not understand how these chapters are to be received by modern readers. The one thing that meant something to ME when I first started teaching the biblical narrative to kids at Friends in my Quakerism class, was that the entire book – the Old and New Testaments together – purported to tell the ENTIRE narrative of man’s time on earth and God’s WHOLE dedication to the project from beginning to end. I liked that feel and still do. We can differ on interpretations but the “big picture” is KEY.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 40 and Revelation 9

Ezekiel 40 – The note in my Jerusalem Bible says that this final section of Ezekiel “is a blueprint for the religious and political rehabilitation of the Israelite nation in Palestine . . . He “assumes the role of organizer intent on realizing . . . long-desired reforms . . . a founding charter for what was shortly to emerge as Judaism, and to provide a basis for all future efforts and aspiration from Ezra to the heavenly Jerusalem of the apocalypse of St John” (1411).

Twenty-five years into their captivity (573 BC), Ezekiel (in Babylon) is taken in a “divine vision” to the land of Israel, to “a very high mountain” (40:2). There he has an encounter with an angelic presence – “a man who seemed to be made of bronze” (40:3). This “man”/angel shows him the future city of Jerusalem and in great detail describes the structures – gates, outer courts and related buildings that will surround the Temple. He shows him the Temple as well but it is not described in such detail as the rest since 1 Kings 6 already has the detail.

Lawrence Boadt’s Reading the Old Testament says that chapters 40 through 48 lay out God’s new plan for the restored city. “At the center of this vision, parallel to the new heart in the first part of the plan, are life-giving waters that flow from the temple to touch every living thing in the land  . . .” (396).

Ezekiel, unlike Jeremiah, lived in exile. He came to see the key of the new covenant in its “interior-ness” (396). What the community was in external things was not so important as what it did from the heart. Those close to God were not the ones who had the priestly bloodlines but those who had decided for God and lived in the spirit of the covenant. “Ezekiel was the last of the great prophets and the first of the new priestly visionaries that would create modern Judaism . . .” (398).

Israel could practice its faith without “having” land or king or outward Temple. They created the “Book” – the Pentateuch - minus Deuteronomy. The “P” edition kept the narrative stories as they had come down but added lists that filled out important themes: census lists, genealogies, inventories, hymns and poems. They added the opening chapter 1 to Genesis, dates and calendars that permitted celebrations to go forward. Important rituals were incorporated. The “P” writers incorporated orderly “ages” and “stages”.

The “interiorization” of religious practice that Ezekiel calls for is a response to the loss of the simple idea that God was going to make of Abraham’s descendants a holy people in a holy land so fruitful they would be as many as the sands on the shore or stars in the heavens. This was GONE. So now the Promised Land would focus on the practice of the Law, the inward faithfulness of the people wherever they were. With the reestablishment of the community by the Persians, a new sense of the covenant evolved and when that was lost, the Messiah brought yet a new path.

How will this story develop over time? Where are we going? 

Revelation 9 – With the fifth trumpet, the prophet “saw a star that had fallen from heaven on to the earth, and he was given the key to the shaft leading down to the Abyss” (9:1). The Jerusalem Bible note says this “angel” is probably “Satan.” He is given a key to the Abyss where the other fallen angels are being held.

When he opens the Abyss, smoke pours out of it that blackens the sun and sky; and from the smoke locusts descend to attack men who are not marked by the seal.

These locusts have the pincers of scorpions; they are, like the “locusts” in Joel 1-1 seen as historical enemies - Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Their scorpion-like bite brings five hours of excruciating pain. This is the first of the troubles.