Thursday, July 20, 2017

Stumbling Through Revelation 1:15, A Layman's Commentary

I read a lot of commentaries. Everything from ridiculously long-winded 17th century devotionals like Matthew Henry to incredibly technical lectures by people like Chuck Missler. All of them have their own way of interpreting the Bible, and while I don’t agree with everything I read, I believe there is wisdom in many counselors. Besides, they say if you borrow from somebody else's work, it’s plagiarism. If you borrow from a lot of people’s work, it’s research.
I bring this up (again) because this little half of a verse sets off all sorts of speculation. It seems, when you get into the language John originally wrote this book in, the word he uses for “fine brass” (chalcolibanon) is a compound word consisting of chalcos, the Greek word for brass, and libanon, which drives everybody crazy. Libanos is the Greek word for frankincense. On the one hand, this kicks off a discussion about the color of frankincense and how it compares to the color of amber. This would make for a very pretty brass. But on the other hand,  John went on to say “as if they burned in a furnace.” Frankincense isn’t burned in a furnace, and if it did, it would burn up and be gone. I know we’re talking about a visual description here, but frankincense just seems a little out of place and makes most commentators feel weird. That includes your’s truly.
The consensus seems to be that it is actually a Hebrew word (laban) for white, or to make white. So apparently, we’re talking about a brass that is white hot, or at least feet that look like brass that is white hot. The King James version says “as if they burned in a furnace”, but it would be more accurate to say “burning”. In fact, the Greek word translated as “burned” (puroō) could even mean that they were glowing.
That brings us to his readers. Every area in the world - even today, develops their own local language. It’s generally referred to as a regionalism, or a dialect. Sometimes, it’s just plain local slang. When you consider that Ephesus and the cities around it were known for their metalwork (see Acts 19:24 and Timothy 4:14); and that there was a substantial Jewish population in Ephesus (Acts 18:19), it only makes sense that a few local industry terms that combined both languages would naturally develop. John, having been a pastor in the church at Ephesus (where he would return once he got off the island), would know these terms and would expect his audience to know what he meant.
Others had seen the form of the almighty and described the feet similarly if not exactly.
Daniel 10:6 - His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude. This really sounds like the same person,
described by a guy with a different vocabulary than John, but it matches up pretty well.

As we just noticed, Daniel described the voice as “like the voice of a multitude”. Ezekiel, in his vision of God, describes it just like John did: Ezekiel 43:2 -  And, behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east: and his voice was like a noise of many waters: and the earth shined with his glory.
  The Greek word John used for voice (phōnē) is the exact same word that is translated as “sound” in the same sentence. The same goes for the Hebrew word used by both Ezekiel and Daniel (qôl qôl) for voice, sound and noise. In both cases, the words used can be translated as any of the three words. I’m not sure at this point if that makes any difference. But I found out about it, so I’m sharing it with you.
So this voice that Daniel described as the voice of a multitude, John and Ezekiel described as the sound of many waters, and earlier in this same encounter (back in verse 10), John described it as “a great voice, as of a trumpet.” I’m thinking this voice is loud. Maybe not necessarily deafening, but definitely not a voice that is going to be ignored or interrupted, not that John had any intention of doing either.
I have often wished that God would speak to me in such a voice, or out of a cloud like He did in Exodus when the children of Israel left Egypt.
I keep falling away from serving God. I have thought of myself as the prodigal son that Jesus talks about in Luke (chapter 15, verses 11 to 24) but in the story, he only ran off once. I’ve done it so many times it’s embarrassing; and every time it’s the same: I try to serve God. I read, pray, go to church, tithe - but none of it as consistently as I know I should. The praying is particularly inconsistent.
Then, the tithing. There are a lot of different positions people take on the subject of tithing, and I’m not going to start a big discussion here. But, if you believe God wants you to give ten percent of your income to Him, and you don’t do it consistently, you are not obeying what you claim to believe is a commandment of God. That cannot be good.
Eventually, my whole walk with God just falls apart and I’m back to living as though I don’t even believe: drinking (I’m not an alcoholic, but I have been known to get drunk. My biggest weakness would be marijuana, and that would lead to:), smoking, R-rated movies (or worse), bad language, etc. - you get the idea.  
Then my whole life falls apart, and I find myself reading the Bible and praying for God to take me back into fellowship with Him. This is where the mercy of God comes in. I always believe He will take me back, and He always has. As I seek the presence of God, I find myself not fearing that He’ll forsake me this time (though I wouldn’t blame Him if He did), but desperately hoping that THIS time, I’ll get it right and not fall back into a pattern of rebellion and neglecting God again.
This brings me back to the voice of God. By the time I get back to seeking God, of course I’m in a crisis and I don’t know what to do, either in terms of getting out of the mess I’ve gotten myself into, or in terms of what God wants me to do in service to Him. I always feel the two are connected.
That’s when I find myself wishing God would speak to me from a column of smoke. But the voice of God doesn't necessarily manifest itself the way we expect.  Elijah was in a cave, praying to God and to prove a point, God sent a wind that tore mountains and broke rocks. Then there was an earthquake, but none of these were the voice of God: 1 Kings 19:12 -  And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
Thirty years ago, during one of my many self-inflicted life crises, after weeks of reading the Bible (and noticing all the things God said not to do that I had been doing), I found myself hitch-hiking across the country in the middle of the night thinking about the Children of Israel and how God had given them commands out of a pillar of fire, and how they seemed to do the opposite of those commands almost as soon as they were given. I was thinking: “I wish God would speak to me out of a pillar of fire - I’d listen.
That’s when I heard the still, small voice say to me: “No you wouldn't. You’re not listening to Me now. How could you claim that you would listen to me then?”
I’m praying and seeking for that voice to speak to me now; whatever volume He wants to use.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Stumbling Through Revelation 1:14, A Layman's Commentary

  Really, really white. I’m a big sports nut and I find myself thinking about Andre Agassi here. Up until the 1990’s, it was traditional in professional tennis for the competitors to wear white.
Then, along came Andre Agassi: A talented, charismatic young player who wore (gasp) colorful outfits on the court when he competed. He actually turned down invitations to play at Wimbledon because there, wearing white was actually a rule.
In 1991, he finally accepted an invitation to Wimbledon. For two weeks all anyone could talk about was whether Agassi would acquiesce to wearing white, or would the defiant young American challenge the imperious regulation. When he finally arrived for the tournament, his outfit was beyond white. His clothes made the other competitor’s outfits look dingy. It was so dazzling white as to make you wonder if it was powered by batteries.
John was trying to describe what he saw in the only terms he knew. I figured, having not seen Andre Agassi at Wimbledon, wool and snow were the best he could come up with.
Daniel, likewise was confronted with describing the white hair of God. Daniel 7:9 - I watched till thrones were put in place ,And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His head was like pure wool .His throne was a fiery flame, Its wheels a burning fire. While John didn’t tell us what color the garment was that the person in his vision was wearing, this verse leads me to believe it was probably white. Really, really white.
Some commentaries take the white hair as being a sign of age. “Ancient of Days”, and all that. Then, incredibly, they go into a discussion about decay and the weakness associated with age, along with the wisdom and authority that comes with experience.
Where do these people come from?
White is the color of purity. Of absolute innocence. Isaiah 1:18 - "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.”
God is not old. God is timeless. He exists in Eternity, which is outside the realms of time. God created time, therefore He cannot age, He cannot learn, He has never changed at all. Ever.
I am fascinated at the thought that white, while representing purity, is actually every color in the spectrum blended together. There is a tremendous philosophical point there somewhere.    

and His eyes like a flame of fire;
If the whiteness of His hair makes me think of Andre Agassi, this phrase makes me think of my wife. Be honest, if you are married, you’ve seen eyes like a flame of fire.
Again, I am looking at this as John describing what he actually saw. But eyes like a flame of fire makes me wonder if John is talking about actual flames swirling around in this figure’s eye sockets, or if we are talking about an intensity in His gaze that can only be described in terms of a burning.
When Jesus shows up in the second half of chapter 19, He is clothed a little different, but His eyes are the same: Revelation 19:12 - His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.
In His appearance in chapter 19, He is clearly out for vengeance. So are those eyes showing righteous anger, like my wife when I (never mind...I don’t want to talk about that), or is it really like looking into a furnace?
Once again, I am directed to the Book of Daniel for help: Daniel 10:6 - His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude. The problem here is that while the descriptions match up pretty well, the story in Daniel makes it clear that he was talking about an angel that was sent to him (and had trouble getting to him); while the person John is describing (Spoiler alert!) is clearly identified as God in verses 17 and 18. But if you take the description of both sets of eyes, it does seem we are talking about eyes that didn’t look natural, but actually looked like fire burning within the eye sockets.
Then we have 1Corinthians 3:13 - Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.
Is it this fire, described here in the eyes of God, that will reveal and test the work of every man? Hebrews 4:13 - Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. In the New King James version, it says “to whom we must give account.”
One translation that I read (EasyEnglish from the MySword app - you can get it here), had a particularly chilling rendering of this verse: “...And we will have to explain to Him everything that we have done during our lives.”
I have no doubt about the truth of this statement, but it is something I try not to think about. Then, during a Bible study, when I am confronted with statements like this, I just freeze. I am not looking forward to this interview at all, and it seems the longer I live, the more uncomfortable I get. This is going to be a long, miserable conversation. There will be lots of stuttering involved, I’m sure.
Here’s a prayer for you:
O Lord, help me to learn to do something that I can show You that I did for You. Something pure that didn’t have my own selfish motives behind it.
Don’t laugh. I cried as I wrote this prayer.



Monday, July 3, 2017

Stumbling Through Revelation 1:13, A Layman's Commentary


   
And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man,
    I’ve already talked about the seven candlesticks. It's been pointed out that most of the oldest manuscripts don't have the word “seven” here, but I don't see where that makes a whole lot of difference. John already said there were seven of them.
           So let’s talk about “one like unto the Son of man”. Why couldn’t it just say “in the midst of the candlesticks was the Son of Man”? That would have been easy. The Son of Man = Jesus. OK, let’s talk about His clothes.
    But Noooo! It was “one like unto the Son of Man”. What in the (supply your own favorite term for frustrated confusion here - but keep it clean, this is a Bible study) does that mean?

          Let me stop here and point out that when I was young, I read the King James version of the Bible. Then I discovered the New King James version and was thrilled to escape all the “thees” and “thous” that seemed to make the Bible so hard to read. The New King James version says: “One like the Son of Man”. So that version has the same problem: What do you mean “like” the Son of Man? Is it the Son of Man or isn’t it? The footnotes didn’t help. They referred me to Daniel 7:13 - I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. That verse had the same problem: Like the Son of man? How did Daniel know what the Son of Man looked like?
    In the Old Testament, I counted 107 times the term “son of man” was used. 92 of those times it was referring to the prophet Ezekiel. Did Daniel really mean that he saw someone that looked like Ezekiel coming with the clouds?
My apologies to anyone who grew up reading the NIV, English Standard, New American Standard, or any of the other handful of Bibles that translated it “‘a’ son of man.” Those folks are probably amused by my confusion.
    Turns out that little word “a” makes all the difference in the world. The Greek didn’t have any article in front of “son of man”, so I guess the translators had the choice which article to put there. (they had to put something in there or the sentence wouldn’t have made any sense at all in English.) I would say the King James translators chose poorly.
    I have been studying on what “son of man” actually means and why Jesus used the term to describe Himself so often, but there are as many opinions on this subject as there are commentaries, and after three days of trying to put together a coherent explanation for this commentary, I’ve come to the conclusion that it really isn’t germane to the subject at hand.
(That’s right: I chickened out.) Though, it is clear that “son of man” means a man, as opposed to a child, or a woman.
    Down to the foot, but not covering it. We get a description of His feet later.
Common Jews  in the first century generally wore garments that reached to the knees, or just below. This allowed for some freedom of movement. When they were working, they sometimes wore less than that: John 21:7 - Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea. There is some disagreement over just how naked Simon Peter was, but it’s pretty clear he wasn’t wearing much.
That the garment went down to His foot would seem to show that the figure John saw was not a common man. Some commentators claim that this person was dressed as the high priest, but John doesn’t tell us what color the garment was. The priest’s robe was blue: Exodus 28:31 - And thou shalt make the robe of the ephod all of blue. The high priest also wore a breastplate, and an ephod, and a robe, and a broidered coat, a mitre, and a girdle. (Exodus 28:4)  
    “Paps” (mastos) mean breasts. Young’s concordance gets a little more specific than that, but suffice it to say, this golden girdle wrapped around His chest. This is not the same kind of girdle that the high priest wore. The high priest’s girdle had gold in it, but it wasn’t pure gold. Exodus 28:8 - And the curious girdle of the ephod, which is upon it, shall be of the same, according to the work thereof; even of gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen. I love the use of the word “curious” here. Even the New King James says “ intricately woven “, but it reminds me of the billboards for Altoids® - the curiously strong mints. (No, I didn’t get paid for that)
    I’m not quite sold on the idea, put forth by many, that this is the clothing of a king either. Now, I could be wrong. Jesus is a High Priest and a king (Hebrews 6:20 - Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Hebrews 7:2 - To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace), and taking care of the menorah(s) is the job of the high priest. But just going by the text here, there being no mention of a scepter, crown or any of the other clothing associated with a king, face value speaks only of a man in a long garment with a gold band around his chest.
The closest thing I can find to match this description is in Revelation 15:6 - And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles.
    It seems to me, if we’re going to try to interpret the clothing, the best we can say is that He was dressed in the uniform of Heaven.
    There are a lot of spiritual insights that I have read in the study of this scripture alone. I almost feel guilty skipping over them, but some of the most powerful insights (for me personally anyway) came from the rabbit holes I went down while trying to find references to go with this verse. I invite you, dear reader, to disagree with me and do your own study for the sake of rebuttal. You’ll be surprised at the things you learn while studying the subject that don’t even have to do with that subject.
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