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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