Gog, Magog, and Premillennialism

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In a recent conversation about events in the Middle/Near East, a question was raised as to the potential for fulfillment of prophecy, specifically concerning “Gog and Magog”.

Gog and Magog have so captured the imagination that their very mention seems clouded by mystery and ready at hand to apply to nearly any particularity in contemporary geo-politics involving the modern nation-state of Israel. However, few consider the actual texts where these terms are mentioned in Scripture. Gog (the referent to the prince of the eschatological hordes) only occurs two places in Scripture (excluding the referents which point to an genealogical figure): Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20.

In Ezekiel, Gog is the prince from Magog (meaning “place of Gog”). This ruler is brought by the will of YHWH to a restored Israel to make war. He is gathered with hordes from the corners of the known world (6th century BC). These two chapters are spent describing the hordes and their ultimate destruction and burial. Interestingly enough the valley of Hamon-Gog where the bodies are buried over 7 months immediately follows another valley filled with dead: the valley of very dry bones (Eze.37). That first valley was the slain of Israel, restored by the Spirit of YHWH and even restored as a united people in the land of promise. This latter valley becomes the resting place of all who would think to destroy the work of YHWH to live in peace in the midst of His people. While numerous people groups are included in this horde (including Persia [part of modern Iran]…a favorite current target of prophetic prognosticators) the intention is not to locate the people groups as all-encompassing. It seems to function more toward all those who are from far away (from the very boundaries of civilization) who would gather together against the work of YHWH (though brought by the “hook” of YHWH to the land). This is NOT intended as Ezekiel’s message against a restored Caliphate (something imagined by Muslim extremists and fear-mongering Westerners). Nor is it against any of these people groups. It is against all who would oppose the ultimate plan of YHWH to dwell with His redeemed people (Israel for Ezekiel, but inclusive of all of God’s people in the NT).

In the Revelation 20.8, Gog and Magog function as stock phrase for the opposing hordes from the four corners of the earth in an even more broad sense than Ezekiel. This is in contrast to “Gog” who was “from Magog” in Ezekiel.  Here (if one is following a sort of “timeline” of events in the Revelation) is the final battle to end all battles. This one follows the 1000 year imprisonment of Satan and the 1000 year reign of Christ. It immediately precedes the final judgment and the coming of the New Jerusalem and the New Heavens and New Earth.

Given the above passages (from a Premillennial eschatology) it should seem readily apparent that anyone attempting to discern “Gog and Magog” in our contemporary setting has no grounds. Not only do the passages not support such an interpretation (even if one is not Premillennial) given their prophetic/eschatological nature to depict things in more broad terms, but they also would not support such following the predominant western Evangelical approach of Premillennialism which would locate this war at the very end of the millennial reign (and distinguish it from the Battle of Armageddon immediately preceding the Second Coming). Meaning it would be a thousand years from the Second Coming. The face of the planet (and her empires) would be radically refashioned from the current geo-political make-up.

In brief, finding Gog and Magog in contemporary news and prognostications is biblically unfounded. We need look no further than locating it with all who ultimately oppose the rule of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Who Was Joseph’s Father?

JosephI was asked today about the seeming disparity between the genealogy of Matthew and Luke, both of whom provide a different father’s name for Joseph the (supposed) father of Jesus: Jacob (Matthew 1.16) and Heli (Luke 3.23).

There are two basic proposals:

1) That both genealogies refer to Joseph, with Matthew’s account intended for Jesus place as heir to the throne of David and Luke’s account intended for the actual biological lineage of Joseph.

2) Matthew is recording Joseph’s genealogy and Luke is recording Mary’s. This is supported by numerous early Fathers: Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Athanasius, and Justin Martyr.

It has been suggested (in support of the second proposal) that Mary’s genealogy is given under the name Joseph (by Luke) because (A) women were not official heads in the genealogical records of the ancient world, though they could be mentioned (such as in Matthew) it was always in connection to a husband/father, and (B) that perhaps Mary was an only child (speculation, I know) and would be the family inheritor whose husband is then adopted as the heir for her. Under the second explanation it is usually pointed out that this would make Jesus the heir of David (and Abraham) by both adoption (through Joseph) and by birth (through Mary).

What are your thoughts?

Homeless God: A Reflection from Ezekiel

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The God of Israel is not the god of philosophic speculations….a god perfect to reason. He is not a god unfeeling and unmoved. The God of Israel is a god living with His people. Their lot is his lot. It is among them that he resides as one of them though king of all.

Thus, in Ezekiel it is not simply the people removed from the holy city…it is the God of Israel, YHWH, who himself is removed. Across the Kidron Valley resting just a moment…lingering over the abandoned home…turning at last to the north…and to the River Chebar. Israel does not go into exile without her king…the king goes along because he is her husband. Israel and her God are homeless…together…though it is not by the choice of Israel. It is YHWH who has been abandoned, yet remains the faithful husband of his rescued bride. And YHWH leads the procession.

Broken walls and smoldering homes against the background. Weeping, the train of exiles depart. But YHWH is with them…the Exiled God who would not be abandoned and does not finally abandon. The Homeless God with his homeless people…awaiting the return to a home unconquerable and unending where at last it may be said, “YHWH resides here”.

On the Holy Spirit (for children)

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Cover of the 1993 update

I picked up a copy of a delightful children’s book at a rummage sale this last weekend: The Holy Spirit in Me by Carolyn Nystrom, illustrated by Wayne A. Hanna (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981).*

This small 30 page book (part of the Children’s Bible Basics) offers just about one of the finest summations of a Biblical (and practical) theology of the Spirit in succinct and simple terms. It is written about the person and work of the Holy Spirit as creator, inspirer of Scripture, anointer of Jesus, seal of sonship, the one Jesus’ baptizes his followers in, charismatic endower, indwelling keeper, sanctifier, helper, empowerer for witness to Jesus, reminder of what Jesus has done and said, enabler to love others, advocate in prayer, and producer of the life of God in us.

One example page states:

Ephesians 1:13

Ever since the day the Holy Spirit filled that room where people waited, He lives inside each person who believes in Jesus. He is God living in me. He will never leave me, and I will never leave him.

I was pleasantly surprised by this little book and think it a great introduction to small children on the role of the Spirit in the world and in their lives.

___________________

* The cover used is from the 1993 update that used Eira B. Reeves as illustrator.

The Life of Abraham Podcasts

GenesisThe final which I assigned for my Advanced Preaching students was to produce a devotional podcast on a preselected portion of Genesis concerning the life of Abraham (those doing the first two chapters did not submit so sadly I don’t have anything on Genesis 12-13). I am happy to post these ones here and welcome feedback.

Some are done with music. One as a video. And one in Spanish (by my request). Here is the total repository for all of the podcasts from my students for your listening pleasure:

Genesis 14.1-16 – Jay Crane (4:02)

Genesis 14.17-24 – Liz Gonzalez (3:54)

Genesis 15 – Ronnie Hern (5:30)

Genesis 16 – Janae Kjetland (3:10)

Genesis 17 – Paige Koch (4:10)

Genesis 18.1-15 – Daniel Lopez-Flores (en Español; 5:20)

Genesis 18.16-33 – Claudio Martinez (You-tube video; 4:16)

Genesis 19 – Thomas McComas (3:12)

Genesis 20 – Brandon Owens (3:02)

Genesis 21.1-21 – Katie Poling (5:04)

Genesis 21.22-34 – Abigail Townsend (4:36)

Genesis 22 – James Webster (4:29)

The Church for Others

serve_the_poorIn Sunday School this morning we discussed the core value of “community” as the church. We were discussing some of the ways in which our “community” turns in upon itself (sometimes in self-preservation; sometimes because it simply cannot live in the world). I was reminded that the church exists pro mundi beneficio (for the benefit of the world) because our Lord is pro nobis (for us).*

The church does not exist for its own self-preservation and its own benefit. The church (every local gathering of those following the Lord Jesus Christ) exists for the benefit of the world. The world which God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, loves. The world which Jesus gave his life to redeem. The world wandering in darkness. The world dead in sin.

The church is the light of the world. The church is life. The church is redemption. The church is love. The church exists for the benefit of the world. Let us never forget that.

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* This follows the trajectory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s several descriptions of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and exaltation “pro nobis” (several of these can be found in: “The Young Bonhoeffer: 1918-1927″ DBW 9 [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2003], p.338; “Berlin: 1932-1933″ DBW 12 [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2009], p.359)

Tattoos of Leviticus: To Mark or Not to Mark

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Perhaps my most anticipated and requested notes for a lecture was on tattoos for my Pentateuch class this Spring. While I currently do not write out manuscript notes for my classes (I am more a skeletal outline lecturer), I do hand out notes for reading and discussion. While quite delayed in posting this (it has been a draft for months), I thought I would at least share the comments of a friend (with his permission) and link to another article I provided in class that day.

Timothy McMahon writes:

First, it’s difficult to ascertain precisely what Leviticus 19:28 is prohibiting. It says “you shall not put a writing of qa’aqa on yourselves. Since qa’aqa occurs nowhere else in the Bible, its precise meaning is uncertain. The Septuagint rendered grammata stikta, ‘tattoo marks’. But that may or may not be entirely accurate.

The overall subject of the immediate context is alternative worship — the worship of idols, ancestor veneration, and occult activity. It was a widespread custom in the ancient near east to mark the body of a slave to signify his master’s ownership. Since the worshipers of a god are the god’s slaves (Scripture uses this terminology quite often to describe HaShem’s people as His servants), it was also very common for people to imprint the name or symbol of their god on their bodies to mark themselves as his worshipers. In the confluence of the literary and cultural contexts, it seems reasonable in my view to understand the prohibition here as against imprinting or branding oneself in honor of a god other than HaShem, rather than an absolute prohibition on any such markings.

The rabbis also see it this way (depending on the source). In the Tosefta to Makkot 4.15, this verse is understood to prohibit the tattooing of the name of a false god. The rabbis here cite the custom enshrined in the Torah of boring a hole through a slave’s ear (Ex. 21:6; Deut. 15:17) to understand that this prohibition is not absolute. (Interestingly, there’s an alternate understanding that Lev. 19:28 prohibits only the incision of the Name of God and permits any other sort of tattoo. I can’t track down the source on that yet.)

Support for the Tosefta‘s understanding, I believe, may be found in Isaiah 44:5 — “One will say, ‘I am HaShem’s’; another will call himself by Jacob’s name; another will write on his hand, ‘HaShem’s’ and name himself with the name Israel.” This verse appears to speak approvingly of the idea of inscribing HaShem’s name on one’s hand, just as He (figuratively, of course) has engraved His people on His hands (Isaiah 49:16). (Alternatively, 44:5 could be rendered “another will write with his hand, ‘HaShem’s’.”)

An article at Studylight.org offers a discussion along a similar line concerning the taboo of tattoos (HERE).

In sum, I would say that much of the contemporary obsession with tattoos is unrelated to the instruction concerning body marking in the Scriptures (and particularly Leviticus), unless it is for religious purposes intentionally meant for syncretistic or idolatrous worship. That doesn’t mean it is a non-issue (there are still dumb things to tattoo on your body and dumb ways to do it).

What are your thoughts in light of these several articles discussing the Scriptures on this topic?

Proverbs Gone Bad

proverbs

I was reminded recently of how proverbs (both Biblical and otherwise) are often abused: through universalizing their claims to all situations.

A proverb, by definition, is a commonly received piece of wisdom that seems to be generally true and is offering some form of advice. It is not, however, a claim to a universal form of truth that speaks to any and every situation regardless of circumstance.

Here is one recent example of a modern proverb I heard misapplied (and this is the form in which it was stated):

What parents do in moderation, their children do in excess.

This proverb was used to suggest that parents should not do things (considered inappropriate by conservative Evangelicalism) in moderation, because their children will do it in excess. While this is true in some senses, it utterly fails in others. Children do not automatically (as was suggested in this conversation) do to excess what their parents did in moderation. Children might completely avoid the issue altogether, or perhaps even themselves learn the moderation from their parents (which seems the best option for parents wanting to instill such a life skill into their children).

A Biblical example that readily comes to mind is:

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6 NIV)

I have heard far too many older folks claiming this as a universal promise that their wayward grown children will someday come back to the Faith. Many a preacher has led them into this false interpretation. As a proverb it must be remembered that it is generally true that the manner in which a child is raised determines the sort of person they will be later in life. But children (as their parents) are always choosing the paths they will take in life. Some children who have been raised by good parents simply rebel and choose their own way. This proverb is not a universal promise. It is a generally true notion. It is a reminder to bring up children properly in order to give them the best opportunity to live a full life on the right path.

So, please dear friend, listen to wisdom and do not make proverbs say what they have never said. Let proverbs be what they are and let them bring you a long and fruitful life (so long as that is your lot ;-) ).

The Wounded God

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by thy scars we know thy grace.
The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak;
They rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.
– Edward Shillito

Our God is the wounded God who bears our suffering and shame. He is our healer as he bears our stripes.

A Fairy Tale Parable

CastleI enjoy and encourage creativity in my classes and it delights my heart to witness students expressing themselves through the various gifts God has given them. One of my Advanced Preaching students (Paige Koch) shared a homespun parable told as a fairy tale for the introduction to her sermon today and I thought it was simply too good not to pass along. So I asked her if I might share it. Enjoy!

Once upon a time there was a princess who lived in a kingdom that she could not call home. See her prince had come and saved her when she was nothing but a mere peasant. She wasn’t born of royalty like snow white or sleeping beauty but she was born into filth and darkness. As she grew up she would look out her window and see the princes’ castle and dreamed that one day he might notice her. But she banished those thoughts off quickly for she knew that a girl like her would never catch the princes’ eye. For she knew the law and knew that she was dirty and so unworthy to even be allowed in his presence.

But one day the prince came down and visited the small town and as he walked the streets he noticed the girl in filthy rags and the hurt in her eyes. And as he saw her He was drawn to her and he wanted a relationship with her. He knew that she wasn’t royalty and by his laws he couldn’t even allow her to stand in his presence. But he decided that he wanted a relationship with her no matter the cost. So He paid the price the law demanded in order to have that relationship with her.

He wanted to save this girl from the world she had been born into. For he knew that there was a better world for her that he could provide. After he paid the ultimate price he began to have a relationship with this girl. He would talk with her and listen to her. He had compassion on what she had gone through and eventually he asked her to marry him. She of course said yes and was rescued from the filth and darkness that she had known her whole life.

But that’s not where the story ends though she was rescued from the darkness and filth and now lives inside the kingdom gates life wouldn’t be as easy as she thought.  For the prince had to leave for a short time. See he had to prepare a place for her in his castle.  So he bid her a far well and promised her that her new home would be like nothing she could imagine and that he would return for her quickly. He told her to be patient for his return but to be a guard for he will come swiftly to take her home.

The years passed by as she waited for her prince to come back and she lived among the kings people and learned there ways. She learned to dress like them and talk like them but as the years passed by the kingdom grew dark. Fights broke out worse then she had ever seen, the kingdom was falling apart around her, taxes were being raised, people put to death unjustly, liars were rising up and perverting the prince’s name. And the kingdom was in panic but she knew not to worry for her prince had promised her that he would be back to take her away to her new home.

She knew that this wasn’t her permanent home. She knew that her prince would be coming back to finish the job he had started so long ago. She knew he would keep his promise even if it seemed to be taking him so long. For she had faith that if he could save her from her filth and darkness she once knew  that he would finish saving her from this new trouble that had arisen. So the princess waited for the prince to rescue her again.

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