Monday, November 12, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 32-33 and Revelation 2-3

Ezekiel 32 – Egypt’s pharaoh is again compared to a crocodile, snorting, churning the waters and muddying its streams (32:2). God’s net will be thrown over this crocodile and its carcass will be scattered, leaving the country in darkness. The world will be shocked at the fate of Egypt.

Egypt will go down to Sheol and there meet with those who have died in battles before – Assyria, Elam [ancient civilization in SW Iran], Meshech, Tubal, Edom, the princes of the North and the Sidonians.

One is reminded of the many works of literature that also are built on the premise that there is a dark abode, beneath the earth and beyond time where the personages of the past may be encountered suffering judgment for all the bad things they did in life. 

Ezekiel 33 - God tells Ezekiel to speak to the nation and tell them that he is meant to be the sentry God has appointed to protect the people of Israel. A sentry is there to warn of coming disasters. If the sentry blows his horn and people ignore him, then they are responsible for their own fate. But if the sentry does not warn them, he is responsible for and will be held responsible for the people’s deaths. In a similar way, if the sentry God has sent – the prophet – warns the people that they are being unfaithful and bringing God’s wrath upon them, and they do not respond to the warning, then they are justly doomed; but if the prophet does not warn them, then he must bear the consequences.

The Lord also says through his prophet, “I take pleasure, not in the death of a wicked man, but in the turning back of a wicked man who changes his ways to win life” (33:11). Past integrity will not save the man who chooses to sin, and similarly, past sins will not consign a man to destruction if he uses his free will to turn from sin. We are free.

At the end of 586 BC, a “fugitive” comes from Jerusalem and tells the prophet that the city has fallen. The night before, the hand of the Lord had been upon him and he was no longer unable to speak. The Lord intends to reduce the land to desolation. People listen to the prophet but do not act on his words – “you are like a love song beautifully sung to music. They listen to your words, but no one puts them into practice” (33:32).

The relationship between God and man is dynamic, not static.  The wicked man can repent and find forgiveness and life through his repentance.  But in a similar way, the man who is righteous can forfeit his “life,” his unity with God, by turning from the path of virtue.  Nothing is settled until death – and who knows after that. 

The New Testament “take” on the Lord’s assessment of our integrity is much harsher (Matthew 5:20-26). Who can escape reproach under this very high standard?  Really, no one.  We are all under condemnation as Calvin (following Paul, I think) noted – condemnation is kind of where we start from.  In a way, the Old Testament reading is more comforting than the New, for it promises that we have a choice between life and death that is not completely unrealistic.  It is within our power to choose the good.  It is our fault when we turn away from it. Still, looking beyond these words to the larger message, our love of Jesus and our faith in his healing death (which is that joining of himself to us despite our sinfulness) can bridge the deep if invisible gap between what God expects from us and what we in our own power can achieve.

Hearing God’s voice, St Catherine of Sienna says in His name, “I will only your well-being and whatever I give, I give it so that you may reach the goal for which I created you.”  Again we see a glimpse into the idea, the reality of God’s faithfulness to His own intention, the original intention or goal He had in our creation – that we would live as His image in the creation.  In a way, we (corporately) were created to be God’s Eve, God’s spouse, God’s companion and helpmate on the earth.  We are “bone of his bone,” and “flesh of his flesh.”  And his faithfulness to us has endured from the very beginning. 

My own conviction is that most of what has been revealed to us by God’s spirit and happened to us and for us through His intervention in our history has been to fulfill this simple intention.  I see it mostly as being in the context of the creation, and in the context of time, but that of course is not to say there is no heaven, no life in some eternal dimension with God.  I believe in fact that there is a realistic hope that this may be so based on the knowledge and faith of those who have known God better than I have yet known Him.  But I do think that sometimes we wander into speculations about things we do not need and cannot in fact know with any certainty.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses and other fundamentalists wander off into speculation about the end-time; Catholics and other mainline Christians seem to me to wander into speculations about after-things too much.  The focus of the scriptures is on the fulfillment of God’s intention with respect to our corporate human life on this earth, in this history we have.  Such clarity as I feel I have relates only to that dimension.

Revelation 2 – The messages that are to go to “the angel” watching over these churches is are as follows:

To Ephesus – The beginning image here is the image of one holding the seven stars in his right hand, surrounded by seven gold lamp-stands. Ephesus was the religious capital. They are praised for their patience and discernment – they tested some who called themselves apostles but were not. They have suffered tirelessly, but the “have less love now than [they] used to” (2:4). They need to repent and be as they were at first.

They loathe what the Nicolaitans are doing, which is good. No certainty exists as to what the Nicolaitans practiced that was thought though some seem to think they were associated with promiscuity. Wikipedia says Hippolytus of Rome (170-235), disciple of Irenaeus, wrote that it was product of a deacon Nicolas, hence the name.

The Ephesians are praised for just sticking to the more ethically conservative gospel that was considered authentic.

To Smyrna: No introductory symbol in this letter unless it is just the resurrected Christ, “the First and the Last, who was dead and has come to life again” (2:8). They are poor and have had many trials. The Jews have accused them unfairly, and they will face an ordeal, but they are encouraged not to be afraid. The ordeal will be short, and “even if you have to die, keep faithful, and I will give you the crown of life for your prize” (2:11).

To Pergamum: Message from the one with the sharp, double-edged sword [judgment]: Satan is enthroned where they live but they hold firmly to Christ. Antipas [the bishop] was killed in Pergamum. Some there are “followers of Balaam” (Nicolaitans); they must repent. To “those who prove victorious I will give the hidden manna and a white stone—a stone with a new name written on it, known only to the man who receives it” (2:17).

To Thyatira: The introductory symbol here is of the burning eyes and feet like burnished bronze [divine knowledge and permanence]: The Thyatirans are charitable and devoted but they encouraged the woman Jezebel, “who claims to be a prophetess,” and she is luring people to eat food sacrificed to idols. It is “I who search heart and loins and give each one of you what your behavior deserves” (2:21).

Revelation 3 – Three other churches are addressed:

To Sardis: The opening symbol is the same as for Ephesus – the one holding the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. This church is “reputed to be alive and yet are dead” (3:1).  

“Wake up; revive what little you have left: it is dying fast” (3:2). “[R]emember how eager you were when you first heard the message. . .Hold on to that. Repent“ (3:3). Individuals from this church who have been faithful will be acknowledged (3:6).

To Philadelphia: From the holy and faithful one “who has the key of David” (3:7). They are not very strong, but have not disobeyed the commandments or “disowned my name” (3:8). “I will keep you safe in the time of trial which is going to come for the whole world, to test the people of the world (7:10).

To Laodicea: The message of “the Amen, the faithful, the true witness, the ultimate source of God’s creation” (3:14).

“You are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other, but since you are neither, but only lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth” (3:16). They are satisfied with their wealth and so not seek the “gold that has been tested in the fire to make you really rich” (3:18). “I am the one who reproves and disciples all those he loves: so repent in real earnest. Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share his mean, side by side with him” (3:19-20).

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