One Son Two Son Bad Son Good Son

Thus sayeth the Lord:

You say, “The doom of evil ones
Will always hurt the bad ones’ sons.”
I say, “No more will this be said;
One’s doom will fall on one’s own head.”

good dadHere’s a man who’s just and good,
Who always does just what he should.
He does not worship gods of wood,
He does not eat an idol’s food,
He does not want his neighbor’s wife,
He does not wreck a helpless life,
He does not take stuff with his hand,
He does not steal another’s land,
He always feeds the hungry lunch,
He does not make them pay too much,
He always gives the naked clothes,
He does not pinch a blind man’s nose,
He keeps his hand from doing wrong,
He helps his neighbors get along.
This man keeps all the laws I give.
This righteous man will surely live.

But…

bad sonHere’s his son, who’s bad and wrong,
He does what’s evil all day long.
He always worships gods of wood,
He always eats an idol’s food,
He wants to have his neighbor’s wife,
He wants to wreck a helpless life,
He wants to take stuff with his hand,
He wants to steal another’s land,
He does not feed the hungry lunch,
He always makes them pay too much,
He never gives the naked clothes,
He likes to pinch a blind man’s nose,
He stays away from doing right,
He tries to make his neighbors fight.
This son breaks all the laws I give.
I will not let this bad son live.

But…

good sonHis son sees his neighbors’ plight
And he decides to do things right.
He does not worship gods of wood,
He does not eat an idol’s food,
He does not want his neighbor’s wife,
He does not wreck a helpless life,
He does not take stuff with his hand,
He does not steal another’s land,
He always feeds the hungry lunch,
He does not make them pay too much,
He always gives the naked clothes,
He does not pinch a blind man’s nose,
He keeps his hand from doing wrong,
He helps his neighbors get along.
This son keeps all the laws I give.
This righteous son will surely live.

You say, “The doom of evil ones
Will always hurt the bad ones’ sons.”
I say, “No more will this be said;
One’s doom will fall on one’s own head.”

Even if the father’s true
And always finds good things to do
The evil son, who makes folks cry,
This evil son will surely die.
And even if the father’s bad
And does the things that make Me mad
His righteous son, who loves to give,
His righteous son will surely live.

But…

bad son goodThis evil son just, just, just might
Turn back from sin and do what’s right.
He now won’t worship gods of wood,
He now won’t eat an idol’s food,
He does not want his neighbor’s wife,
He does not wreck a helpless life,
He does not take stuff with his hand,
He does not steal another’s land,
He always feeds the hungry lunch,
He does not make them pay too much,
He always gives the naked clothes,
He does not pinch a blind man’s nose,
He keeps his hand from doing wrong,
He helps his neighbors get along.
If he then keeps the laws I give,
This man who changed will surely live.

But…

good son badHis good son might break My code
And travel down an evil road.
He starts to worship gods of wood,
He starts to eat an idol’s food,
He wants to have his neighbor’s wife,
He wants to wreck a helpless life,
He wants to take stuff with his hand,
He wants to steal another’s land,
He does not feed the hungry lunch,
He always makes them pay too much,
He never gives the naked clothes,
He likes to pinch a blind man’s nose,
He stays away from doing right,
He tries to make his neighbors fight.
This son now breaks the laws I give.
I will not let this bad son live.

You say, “One lives a life adored?
His last bad deeds should be ignored.”
I say, “He scorned the life he had.
He gets the fate saved for the bad.”

You say, “One lives a life of rot?
His last, small good should count for naught.”
I say, “I want the bad to turn.
His great reward of life…

…I’ll earn.”

Now tell me, you, with lives like grime,
Who act out evil all the time,
But think that everything is fine:
Who’s way is better? Yours?

Or Mine?

So turn your back on hate and strife!
It’s not too late! Come get new life!
Stop always taking! Learn to give!
I so, so want to have you live!

come and join

Based on Ezekiel 18 (and Romans 5:6)
Apologies to Theodor Geisel

Next week: Jesus Died For His Own Sins

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The Curious Soldier

The word came and Zaphus hustled out with his unit. As he pounded through the torch-lit night, out of the city, down into the valley, and up the hill, he became convinced that they’d brought way too many soldiers. From his spot in the back of the pack he could see his whole temple guard company, plus elements of the Roman cohort. It was overkill.

The guy they were after had never spoken out against the Romans, or incited anyone else to violence (though he lost his cool once or twice; Zaphus had to admit that even then he might have had a point). He spoke harshly about the priests, but, honestly, all he did was talk. And the things Zaphus himself had heard him say in the temple…

It mystified him that the council would demand his execution.

Zaphus was distracted by someone young, someone familiar, sprinting by.

“Malchus? What–get back here!”

“Hey, cousin! Just tagging along to see the arrest. If he’s really a prophet, maybe he’ll do something cool to get away! I want to see it!”

“Did old Caiaphas give you permission to be away?”

“He’ll never know. He’s too busy getting ready. I’d hate to be in your guys’s sandals if you come back empty-handed…again!”

“Go back to the compound, Malchus. It could be dangerous! He’s got a ton of followers! And if he is a prophet, remember how they used to call down fire and plagues and whatnot!”

“No way. Nobody ever said this guy ever did anything like that. Heal people, make bread, walk on water, maybe. But nothing that hurts people. I’ll be fine. But maybe something awesome will happen. I gotta see!”

Malchus sped off toward the front of the crowd of soldiers, quick and unencumbered by armor or weapons. Zaphus didn’t believe his cousin was really in any danger from their quarry, but it was dark and there were soldiers and swords. Malchus was really too young to be here.

The guide led them to a walled-off part of the hill, where some gentleman farmer could process his olive harvest undisturbed. In hindsight it was actually a pretty good place to hide; out of sight but close to the city.

The crowd of soldiers–and sightseers–pushed in the gate and filled most of the space inside. They couldn’t all get in; some stood outside, craning to look. Zaphus, none too tall to begin with, had to stretch up on tiptoes and jump a little to see anything that was going on. Everyone was pretty much standing still, and the prophet–if that’s what he was–was talking. Zaphus knew what that was like. Some time ago, the head priests had sent Zaphus and his squad to arrest him in the temple. And they couldn’t bring themselves to do it, because of how he spoke.

Now something was happening; it was like a wind, or an earthquake, or a silent trumpet blast. Zaphus staggered to avoid falling over. He glimpsed soldiers in the garden, getting back on their feet, but couldn’t hear what was going on. The blast, or whatever it was, happened again, and Zaphus fell to one knee. Maybe Malchus was getting his show after all.

Zaphus had just gotten back up when he heard shouts and blows; fighting had somehow broken out. The man’s followers must be crazy; they were cornered in that walled garden and outnumbered more than ten times. He glimpsed a big, burly man with a tangled beard and a sword, slashing down. There was a scream–it sounded like Malchus! Zaphus started to push through the crowd, but the noises died down almost immediately. It was quiet for a moment. Then the command came to return to the high priest’s compound. Zaphus hung back as the Romans and the temple guards marched the prisoner away. The prisoner seemed composed and resigned, not anxious or terrified.

The last of the soldiers filed out the gate. Zaphus peered in, but the garden was just about deserted. The prisoner’s followers had apparently found a way to climb over the walls, or were hiding in outbuildings or something. A young man was sitting there, alone, in the middle of the open space.

“Malchus?”

“Zaphus!”

“What happened?”

“He–he cut off my ear!”

“He–what? No he didn’t. I can see them both right there on your head. You’re not even bleeding.”

“Yes, he did! This big guy, he pulled out a sword, and I was right up front, and wham! But the prophet–he chewed the big guy out, and stopped the fighting, and then he reached over–and my ear was healed! See?”

“Are you sure you weren’t just imagining–”

“I think I’d know if my own ear had been cut off! It hurt like crazy, there was blood all over–”

“All right, all right. Still, we’d better get you back. Your mom’s going to kill you, for real, for this stunt.”

Zaphus and Malchus made their way to the high priest’s compound. Malchus got his scolding and was ushered away. Zaphus found his unit crowded around one of the fires, fighting off the chill night air.

It was surprisingly busy in the courtyard for this late hour. People were coming and going, some apparently just to try to get a glimpse of the prisoner who people called a prophet.

Zaphus was dozing off on his feet when he heard an argument break out across the courtyard. He looked up. Then he blinked, shook his head, and looked again. It was him, it had to be. Big guy, ratty beard, swearing like a Galilean, breaking off from the people shouting at him and moving hastily across the courtyard to another fire. Grim and determined, Zaphus pulled out his big, heavy truncheon and started after him.

Then it suddenly occurred to Zaphus…who was this prophet they’d arrested? If he was such a danger, why did people flock to him? What kind of power did he have in his voice, that he could stagger platoons of soldiers, and–sometimes–talk his way out of being arrested? How could he heal a severed ear? Why did he seem furious one minute, philosophical the next, tenderhearted to the poor and sick soon after, and round it off with a barrage of insults to God’s holy priests? Zaphus was suddenly dying to know. He felt that if he did not find out, nothing would ever matter again.

And he realized that there, right in front of him, was someone who must know some answers.

Zaphus walked up as a woman was challenging the big man in front of a group of onlookers.

“Hey! I’ve seen you hanging around with him in the temple, haven’t I? Why didn’t they arrest you, too, if you’re one of his proteges?”

“What?” he replied, wild-eyed and tense. “No! What are you talking about? Who are you talking about? I don’t know him. I’ve never met him. I don’t even know his name.”

The hubbub from the house grew louder. The doors from the house were opening, and the priests were coming out, bringing the prisoner with them across the courtyard.

“No, she’s right,” Zaphus interjected. “You were with him. I saw you myself. When we went out to arrest him, I saw you right there, in the garden. You had a sword. You cut off my cousin’s ear. Get over here, I want to talk to you.”

The big guy looked at the gathering crowd, backing away. “You’re crazy. You’re all crazy. That wasn’t me. I don’t even have a sword. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Glory to God, I don’t have anything to do with that man–”

A trumpet sounded across the city, sounding the morning signal known as the “cock crow.” The night was ending, the sun was about to rise.

The big guy’s eyes and mouth opened wide, in terror. The priests and prisoner were passing near, and it seemed like a look was exchanged.

Ignoring everyone but the prisoner, the big guy stepped backward. He cried out incoherently, turned and ran, through the courtyard’s main gate and out into the city.

Zaphus ran after him. “Wait! Come back here!”

But in the street was only a sobbing, wailing cry, echoing into nothing. Then only the sounds of the city at daybreak .

“Come back here!” Zaphus bellowed, in tears.

The prophet was arrested, Zaphus thought. They’ll kill him if they can. His followers will disappear, if they have any sense at all; maybe go back to Galilee, or maybe just keep running to the ends of the earth. There’s no one left to tell me.

He pounded the stones of the wall nearby with his fist, pounded and pounded, unheedful of the bruises and the blood.

I’ll never know! He was a healer, he was a reformer, he was a teacher and he loved like no one else, and God listened to him. What was he trying to do? What were his goals? His motivations? What was he planning? What…what could have been?

Now…I’ll never know.

Based on John 7:32, 45-46; Matthew 26:47-75, Mark 14:43-72, Luke 22:47-62, John 18
with a little change in perspective
see also John 9:29

Next Week: One Son Two Son Bad Son Good Son

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The Least of You Will Become A Thousand

I’m pretty sure I’m going to get in trouble for this one. Yes, it’s one of those. But here goes anyway.

Consider these passages:

Here’s Jesus talking to some Sadducees, who, in general, did not believe in the resurrection of the dead:

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels.” (Luke 20:34-36, NIV)

Here’s Jesus after the Resurrection:

[The Disciples] were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost….And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. (Luke 24:36-43, NIV)

John writes this about himself:

When Peter saw [the Apostle John], he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (John 21:21-23, NIV)

Paul writes this:

Here is a trustworthy saying:  If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Timothy 2:11-12, NIV)

John, transcribing the words of the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders, echoes the sentiment:

“You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:10, NIV)

There’s always the danger, when picking and correlating unrelated passages from Scripture, of coming to some invalid, hare-brained conclusion. You need to let the passages reflect what they say in their own context, and in the context of everything else Scripture says. That’s probably what I’m doing in this post: coming to hare-brained conclusions. If you can come up with Scripture to invalidate my conclusions, please let me know in the comments. I’d be grateful.

Also feel free to scoff and disregard it all. The logic is hardly bulletproof. The conclusion doesn’t have to be true.

But it’s intriguing (to me) that it might be true.

What the Heck Are You Talking About Already?

Not the Heck anything; quite the opposite. I’m talking the–

What’s the opposite of Heck? Good Place? Over Jordan? Kingdom Come? What’s “soft slang” for Heaven?

So what the Kingdom Come am I talking about?

I see some points to be made from those passages I quoted above.

  1. There’s no marriage in Heaven (from Jesus’ talk with the Sadducees). Apparently, existing marriages are annulled–or better said, they are subsumed in the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, where Christ marries His Church (Revelation 21:9, among other passages). People married in this world end up even closer in the next.
  2. Post-resurrection bodies seem to be able to eat (from Jesus, after his Resurrection, talking to his disciples). Presumably that also applies to us, or so I’ve been taught, probably based on (among other passages) 1 Corinthians 13:20. As the firstfruits of those being resurrected, Christ’s post-resurrection body prefigures ours, and, I’ve also been taught, our post-resurrection body is probably similar to Adam’s from before the Fall.
  3. Jesus often says exactly what he means, no more and no less  (as John’s commentary on Jesus’ discussion with Peter shows). You can’t always infer from what Jesus says the same thing you might infer from what other people might say.
  4. Paul and John both write about the redeemed ruling with Christ.

And the conclusion my hare-brain draws from these scattered passages is this:

Could there be children born in post-Resurrection Heaven?

Ok, You’re Officially Off the Rails

I’m totally open to refutation here, and I won’t die on this hill. I just visit it from time to time and wonder. But here’s how those four points listed above come together.

Point 4: If we are ALL ruling with Christ–all the redeemed–who are we ruling? Are there more people there than just the redeemed? If so, where do they come from?

Point 2: If we have bodies with functioning digestive systems in the resurrection, as Jesus seems to demonstrate, and, more to the point, if we have Adam-like bodies, might not other bodily systems be functioning too? Like…reproductive systems? And if they are fully functional, are those systems simply going to go unused for eternity? (They could go unused. It’s not out of the question.)

Point 1: But wait! Jesus explicitly says there is no marriage in heaven! So how can there be children?

Point 3: Yes, Jesus explicitly says there is no marriage in heaven. But can one infer that no marriage must mean no children? Here on earth, certainly, God’s will is that no child be born outside a loving marriage. But there? Where we need no commandments, and every heart is pure? And every adult would be a loving parent to every child?

It’s a lot of logical leaps. But I’m failing to remember the parts of Scripture that refute it directly. And there are a few places that kind of support the idea of new children in heaven.

Isaiah’s Hints

You can infer from some of Isaiah–

–And yes, I’m completely aware my point 3, above, states that you can’t reliably infer past the plain text of God’s word–

–you can infer from some of Isaiah that in the post-Resurrection world, there could be more people than the Redeemed.

For example, in Isaiah 54, he writes:

“Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted,
    I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise,
    your foundations with lapis lazuli.
I will make your battlements of rubies,
    your gates of sparkling jewels,
    and all your walls of precious stones.
All your children will be taught by the Lord,
    and great will be their peace.” (Isaiah 54:11-13, NIV)

The easy interpretation of the “children” mentioned at the end (verse 13) is that these are the physical children of a redeemed Israel, or, more likely, the Gentiles, “grafted in” by Christ in his great act of redemption.

But verses 11 and 12 seem to echo the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:

The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. (Revelation 21:18-20, NIV)

If this is Isaiah’s intent, to prophesy about the post-Resurrection world, them maybe he means actual post-Resurrection children. And it would be easy for them to be “taught by the Lord,” since the Lord would be right there among us.

Isaiah also can be read along these lines in chapter 60:

The sun will no more be your light by day,
    nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
Your sun will never set again,
    and your moon will wane no more;
the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of sorrow will end….
The least of you will become a thousand,
    the smallest a mighty nation. (Isaiah 60:19-22, NIV)

These verses again seem to reflect the post-Resurrection world:

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. (Revelation 21:23-24, NIV)

The “kings of the earth bringing their splendor into it” also comes up in Isaiah 60 (60:3 to start with, and other verses as the chapter progresses).

So “the least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a might nation.” This could easily be referring to the Church growing out of Israel. But Isaiah’s language could also be referring to the post-Resurrection world, described using words very similar to those John uses in the Revelation. All the redeemed from this fallen world are present at the start of that new world. How then does the least of the redeemed become “a mighty nation”, unless more people are somehow added? Unless, I suppose, all of us are members of each others’ nations…

Back in Isaiah 54, he also writes this:

“Sing, barren woman,
    you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
    you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
    than of her who has a husband,”
says the Lord. (Isaiah 54:1, NIV)

This probably refers, again, to Israel giving birth to the Church–but would it not be amazing and glorious if this was able to happen to women (and men) in heaven who longed for children on earth but were unable to have them? Ok, this is a sentimental argument, but still. It would be cool.

Where Do All These “Thousands” Come From?

The “usual way” as Cat Stevens might say. But…

I’d be perfectly happy with Heaven if it were just like earth today, except no one afraid, no one greedy, no one broken in body or mind, no one rejected, and we could just get on with the business of life, glorifying God by what we do every day.

But God has this to say about the potential of a united humanity:

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” (Genesis 6:11, NIV)

One thing I look forward to in Heaven is fulfilling all that potential. “If you can dream it, you can do it” is not just a positive-thinking slogan; it’s the Word of God. What do I dream about? Personally, I dream about science-fiction-type things: Faster-than-light travel. Space habitats. Mind (soul) transfer to machine bodies. Genetic tinkering. A body at home in the vacuum of space, or on the surface of a star. Singularities, of machine minds and of hive minds. True telepathic unity of the human race, full harmony in all our individuality. All those impossible science-fiction ideas…which, historically, keep becoming possible as time goes on, even on this old world. How much more in the new world, with universal cooperation, unlimited lifespan, and unlimited resources?

So why not cloning of new people? Why not artificial intelligence–to which God, in his providence, could provide souls? (There’s precedent in fiction; In the Silmarillion, Tolkien’s dwarves were created by the smith “demigod” Aule, then granted sapience and sentience by Illuvatar, the “God” character.) Why not the guided evolution of alien races, if only to see if it were really possible? If the new heavens and new earth will be anything like the current ones, there will be a preposterous amount of space for far, far more people than ever lived on our dear planet Earth.

Maybe subcreation has happened already? I mean, who are the angels, anyway?

And then, when we exhaust the potential of the new universe, God will lead us onward and upward into His real purpose for us…

Just rambling here. I have no way of knowing if I’m right about any of this. Apparently it’s not important that we know for sure. Yet. It’d probably distract too much from where we are now and what we are to be doing now. Which, clearly, is writing ridiculous blog posts.

But, if you’ll “tolerate me just as you would a fool” (2 Corinthians 11:16) for a little longer, there’s one more possible source of new people, and I mention it because my heart breaks for it to be true.

Again from Isaiah, in chapter 66, his very last words:

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord“And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (Isaiah 66: 22-24, NIV)

This seems to be set on the new world. The bodies of those who rebelled against the Lord are visible, being eaten by worms and burned in fire. Who is watching them? “All mankind.”

Does it–and I don’t know that it does–mean that “all mankind” is “all mankind”? That those who come to bow before the Lord are everyone who ever lived? That among them are also those who were in rebellion, and whose bodies are worm-eaten and burning? Are they themselves looking at, and loathing, the destruction of their own bodies?

Are the damned somehow reborn to worship the Lord? Are these the ones who the redeemed are ruling over? Are these part of the “thousands” and the “nations” that Isaiah says each of the redeemed becomes?

I certainly can’t say for sure, and it’s not clearly spelled out in Scripture, and the Church has never, ever taught it. So I can’t, either.

But it would be nice.

Next week: The Curious Soldier

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The LORD is There

God is real good at shiny.

Whenever God ordains a place for His people to worship, He apparently marks it, with light and glory, in an unmistakeable way, as special, dedicated, or “holy” (“holy” means “special and dedicated”). There are multiple instances in Scripture. Such as…

The Tabernacle

The Tabernacle is finished! Worship is ready to go! and then…

Then Moses set up the courtyard around the tabernacle and altar and put up the curtain at the entrance to the courtyard. And so Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:33-35, NIV)

This is the place. No mistake. The LORD is here. Of all the places in the world, this place is the one where God chooses to call “the Place where He is,” in a way different than all other places. Nowhere else gets the shiny treatment.

Solomon’s Temple

Same deal for when Solomon built the first permanent structure for the worship of God. He brings in all the furnishings, and, finally, the Ark, and then…

When all the work King Solomon had done for the temple of the Lord was finished….King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David….The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim…When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LordAnd the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple. (1 Kings 7:51-8:11, NIV)

Again, this is the place. As much as the Samaritans might want to worship at Mount Gerizim, for adequate political reasons (see The Wrong Mountain), light and glory filling the temple makes it official. God has chosen to be here, and is to be worshiped here.

Ezekiel’s Temple

Starting in chapter 40, at a time when the people of Jerusalem are going/have gone into exile, the book of Ezekiel describes another temple, giving even more detail than Solomon’s temple is given. Sure enough, after verbally “building” that temple,

The glory of the Lord entered the temple through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. (Ezekiel 43:4-5, NIV)

But it doesn’t stop there. The rest of Ezekiel describes the furnishings of the temple, the duties of the priesthood, the regulations regarding sacrifices, and a reallotment of the land of Israel among the tribes, the priests, and the Prince–in rather abstract geometry of perfect rectangles and squares, centered exactly on the Temple. At the end of the book, it zooms back to the City, and says:

And the name of the city from that time on will be:

THE LORD IS THERE.

(Ezekiel 48:35, NIV)

(Yes, in the NIV it is actually centered on the page and in ALL CAPS.)

As I seem to remember from somewhere, the rabbis of old saw Ezekiel’s temple as a prophetic symbol rather than a physical temple that would one day be built. Whatever it is symbolic of–probably the people of God–the Glory of God once more enters it, and then God labels the city itself as the place where He is. This is likely meant to encourage the Jews, who have been utterly defeated and exiled from their city.  “This is not the end,” it seems to say. “God will once more live among you, and you will serve Him.”

The New Jerusalem

Finally, in the book of Revelation, the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven. The chapter that describes its coming is full of words of joy, peace, and rest that always bring tears to my eyes.

But there is no temple in that city.

I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. (Revelation 21:22-23, NIV)

There’s no need for a building to represent God’s presence, because God Himself will be present immediately (that is, without mediation. We’ll see Him directly!) The Light–the blinding glory that kept Moses and the priests out–will always be there, but in our glorified state we will be able to see and endure His presence. In the most literal sense, and in a more direct way than any of His previous temples, the LORD will be there.

And that’s how it is. God, in a miraculous way, marks with glory all the temples He chooses as the Place Where He Is. Every time He chooses a place, He–

What?

There’s another place in the Bible where God puts His Name? Another temple?

Zerubbabel’s Temple

Oh. Right. That one.

The Jews, after Ezekiel’s time, returned to Jerusalem from exile led by the governor Zerubbabel. At God’s instruction they built a second temple there. And after they finish, what do you suppose happens?

They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia. Then the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles—celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy….And they installed the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their groups for the service of God at Jerusalem, according to what is written in the Book of Moses….On the fourteenth day of the first month, the exiles celebrated the Passover. (Ezra 6:14-19, NIV)

They…celebrate, and…observe the Passover.

Huh.

No glory shows up. The priests go right on working.

Haggai, the prophet-on-the-spot, says this of the newly rebuilt temple:

“Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?'” (Haggai 2:2-3, NIV)

Apparently Zerubbabel’s temple is pretty lackluster in comparison. And when it’s complete: no light, no glory.

But there’s some hope to come; a light, as it were, at the end of the tunnel.

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while….I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Haggai 2:6-9, NIV)

Glory is promised for this temple; more even than the Temple of Solomon.

And all through the time of this new Persian province of Judah, the brilliant light of God’s glory never comes. After being conquered by Alexander the Great–as, apparently the Jews were expecting, it having been prophesied by Daniel (Daniel 8:21 and 11:3)–and after gaining their independence from the Syrian successor kingdom under the Maccabees, the glory never comes. After being conquered again by Rome, the glory never comes. And in 70AD, Zerubbabel’s temple, splendidly remodeled by Herod the Great, is demolished. It has not been rebuilt to this day.

Did God forget?

Real Glory

What does the presence of the brilliant light of God’s glory signify? It signifies that God is there, that He has chosen this place as the place He will call His dwelling (although even Solomon was fully aware that no building can contain God (1 Kings 8:27)).

Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament, explains it this way (and clarifies what Haggai meant by “what is desired by all nations”):

“Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:1, NIV)

Malachi is pointing to a person.

Once that gets put together, the answer to how the glory shows up in Zerubbabel’s temple is obvious.

Simeon gives us a clue:

Simeon took [the baby Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:28-32, NIV)

Here is the Light. Here is the Glory. Here is the Lord, come to His temple, as promised. Here is God saying, I am here, this is the place of My Name. Here is Jesus, in His temple.

It’s a little ironic that He has come to abolish it.

He Himself says this:

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem….a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21-24, NIV)

At Jesus’ crucifixion, the curtain dividing the sanctuary from the Most Holy Place is torn in two (Matthew 27:51). Some say it symbolizes open access to God for all, instead of just for priests. Or could it be that God has broken out of the temple? Could it be He has abandoned it, making it no longer the Place of His Name, to be worshipped is the Spirit and truth rather than at a building?

So now there is no more temple. Today the Lord is out there, everywhere, in Spirit, and–

What?

There’s yet another temple?

The Temple After Zerubbabel’s Temple

Yes. There is another temple. Another place where God puts His Name. A place where He says, as Ezekiel puts it, THE LORD IS THERE. A place where His glory is. A place where His light shines.

It’s not far.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16, NIV)

 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3:16-17, NIV)

It’s you. If you believe, you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and through faith Christ dwells in your heart. His Name is on you. When you worship in the Spirit and in truth, you are doing it at His temple–which is wherever you are.

What about the light and the glory that is supposed to come when God chooses a temple? Where is it?

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6, NIV)

“You are the light of the world….let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 NIV)

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18, NIV)

That’s just the results of a few minutes with a search engine; Scripture is full of the light and the glory God has in and for us. This is how God marks his temple as holy–special and dedicated–to Him. Could it be that the light we shine–our good deeds–is God’s way of saying, as he does with all His temples, “this is My place”?

And if the Spirit is in each of us individually, is He not even more in us as a whole, who are together the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23)? We are not in this alone; instead:

You are…fellow citizens with God’s people…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22, NIV)

It’s us. We are the temple God built, using more than the scarlet cloth and sea cow hides of the Tabernacle, more than the stone, cedar, and gold of Solomon’s temple, and more than the faith and expectation of Zerubbabel’s temple. We are built with His blood and His grace. We are where His light and glory come to the world. We are God’s dwelling on earth.

Look at a mirror. Look at those around you that love the Lord. Look at the believers as they gather to worship.

Look and say,

THE LORD IS THERE.

 

Next Week: The Least of You Will Become a Thousand

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What Cain Got Right

There are some significant details in last weeks story about Cain that probably deserve some explanation. So here are some behind the scenes “bonus features”, including some commentary on the overall point to the story.

ultra-primitive technology: Eve’s hand-threshing of grain and “raccoon eyes” indicate that virtually none of the labor-saving devices history takes for granted have been invented yet. I’m imagining that Adam and Eve had to work sunup to sundown just to have enough to eat. Though I did give them sabbaths off.

Cain’s nicknames: “Firstfruit” is kind of obvious; Eve is exceedingly proud of her first child, the first child ever born into the world. “Stomper” comes from Genesis 3:15, and “My great one” is left over from Eve’s astonished cry in Genesis 4:1, which I’ve heard could be translated “I have brought forth a man, the LORD”. Some say Eve thought Cain would be the one to fulfill “crushing the serpent’s head”–i.e., that Cain was the Messiah (though that word hadn’t been invented yet). Eve has probably figured out by now that that isn’t the case, but the nicknames stuck.

the killing: Genesis 4:4 shows that early man did animal sacrifices, even though they didn’t eat meat (compare Genesis 1:29 and Genesis 9:3). I focused on the need for clothing (Genesis 3:21) and shelter (tents, probably, and blankets) that could be filled by the skins of the sacrifices. I imagined that Cain worked the soil (like his father) while Abel kept flocks because the act of killing and skinning an animal revolted the elder son, but not the younger. But more on that later.

Cain’s attitude vs Abel’s attitude: I deliberately portrayed Cain as a gentle, kind, sensitive soul, and Abel as a bit bloodthirsty (at least as far as animals go). This is not the “classic” portrayal of the two sons, but I have reasons for that.

The Main Point

According to Genesis,

In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LordAnd Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. (Genesis 4:3-5, NIV)

I’ve often heard it said that Cain’s offering was unacceptable because Cain’s heart was in the wrong place. He was some kind of greedy grump, while Abel was the guy who did everything right. God says something along those lines: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” (verse 7).

But I wonder. Maybe the problem with Cain’s sacrifice is more obvious than that.

What was the purpose of all those sacrifices in the Old Testament? Ostensibly they were to cover the sins of the people, but the writer of Hebrews says:

For this reason [the Law] can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. (Hebrews 10:1b, NIV)

None of the sacrifices in the Old Testament ever really helped those who were sacrificing. Yet the Writer also writes:

…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22, NIV)

So there is some kind of shedding of blood that gives people forgiveness, though it’s not from the sacrifices in the Old Testament. The answer, of course, is that the sacrifices in the Old Testament point to Jesus’ death in the New Testament. Or, as the Writer puts it,

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.  (Hebrews 10:1a, NIV)

This understanding of animal sacrifice illuminates what was really wrong with Cain’s sacrifice. The purpose of all the blood sacrifices in the Old Testament is to foreshadow the real sacrifice of Jesus. Everything in the Old Testament points at Jesus’ saving work in the new (as Jesus himself points out in what was probably the greatest Bible Study in history on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:27).

So the problem with Cain’s sacrifice was that it wasn’t bloody. It wasn’t a killing. It didn’t point anyone down the long road of history to the Real Sacrifice that actually does forgive Cain’s sin. Instead, it’s more of a “Look what I did with the sweat of my brow. God must really be impressed with me.” (see also Don’t Strike the Rock for another example of what happens when you don’t follow God’s instructions, which were intended to foreshadow Christ.)

That’s why I made Cain a gentle soul and Abel an obnoxious one. Our attitude has virtually nothing to do with God’s acceptance of us and the sacrifice on our behalf. Paul encourages us to put aside our personal opinions of other (annoying and obnoxious) believers when he says “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand (Romans 14:4, NIV).” They are our brothers and sisters because of Christ, not because their personalities are appealing.

Where Cain is Right

I portrayed Cain as revolted by God’s demand that the only way to worship him properly is to kill living animals. Personally, I find that revolting and tragic. I’m grateful that I live in a time where I can look back to Christ in worship instead of having to foreshadow Him through actual death and blood every week.

But I think God sees His Son’s sacrifice exactly the same way.

Thank God He went through with it anyway.

Cain had (at least in my imagination) a clear and accurate understanding of how horrible animal sacrifice really is. And at least a little glimpse of the horror and tragedy of the Real Sacrifice. He saw it, and it (properly) horrified him, but he turned away from it instead of turning toward it.

Final Trivia

I made Adam’s family sacrifice goats instead of sheep. 2 Chronicle 35:7 indicates the Israelites sometimes used goats for Passover, and somewhere I heard that “lamb” in Exodus could also mean “young goat”. Also I found it interesting that one could think of Jesus not just as the “Lamb of God” but also as the “Kid of God”.

Next week: The LORD is There

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The Gentle Brother

Mom sat there rubbing heads of grain between her hands. He loved to watch the chaff fall down into her lap, and then she’d open her hands and pour out the grains in a pile next to her. Then she’d grab another handful and keep rubbing. She worked with darkened eyes (like a raccoon, he thought) until eventually she’d start nodding, and the sun would go down, and it was time to sleep.

Today, though, he leapt onto her lap, scattering the chaff and making her drop the heads.

“Pretty!” he said. His fist held out three flowers, bright red and blue and yellow.

Mom’s eyes narrowed in irritation, but then she noticed the blossoms. “They are pretty, my little firstfruit,” she said, and she smiled a little. The smile made her son’s heart glow with joy.

“I suppose it’s time to stop anyway,” she continued, and hauled herself to her feet. “Tomorrow we rest, but before that we need to do the killing.”

The boy reached up to take her calloused hand. “Awwwww. I don’t like the killing. Do we have to?”

“Well, do you always do kind things?”

“Yeah!”

“Even to your brother?”

“…well…”

“Doing the killing is how we know the unkind things won’t stick to us.”

“Why?”

“I don’t understand completely. But that’s how it is. Also, it’s how we get the skins we wear and sleep in to stay warm.”

“I don’t like it! It’s mean! It makes me sad!”

“I know, Stomper. Me too. But today, watch your Dad. Maybe you’ll learn something.”

This time the boy didn’t hide. His father brought the young goat with the innocent eyes to the stone. He stood over it and grasped its head. The boy held his breath. With a sudden twist and a dull snap, the goat fell dead. The boy remembered his mother’s words and looked up into his father’s eyes. Teardrops fell freely from them, just like the tears in his own eyes.

This mother held the goat spread out while his father grabbed the sharp rock. Watching the blood spill and the skin peel back made the boy recoil, sick to his stomach. But his little brother crouched close and watched intently. He dipped his hand in the bloody mess and pulled it out, and started fingerpainting on his belly, squealing with delight. The older boy couldn’t watch anymore.

Later, as the stars came out, he asked his Mom.

“Did you and Dad always do the killing?”

She hesitated, then spoke quietly. “No, my great one. We didn’t. Once upon a time we didn’t need to.” But she didn’t elaborate.

+  +  +

As he grew, he began participating in the killing, holding the animal down as it was skinned and gutted. Once he broke its neck himself, and later vomited into the goat’s bowels. When his brother grew old enough, he gave up doing the actual kill and stuck to burning the bones and innards and burying the blood.

He became strong and intelligent, and joined his father in the fields. After a sharp disagreement, his father relented and gave him a small plot to “play with”. Using sturdy sticks and sharpened stones he made tools which eventually tripled the harvest–just in time for the new babies that had come. From then on his father let him follow his instincts.

One rest day he struck up a conversation with his mother.

“Isn’t there something other than skins to wear?”

“Other than skins? What do you mean?”

“I mean…isn’t there a way to, I don’t know, grow something to wear? Leaves can be pretty broad and flexible, for example.”

His mother rolled her eyes. “Wearing leaves is a terrible idea. We tried it. Take my word for it.”

“There has to be a better way though. There has to.”

“I know the killing bothers you. But it’s a fact of life. Our unkindnesses need to be washed away. You don’t want them sticking to you. And besides, you’ve even started wearing skin sandals when you go out to the field. Wasn’t that a great idea your brother had?”

“Eh. Maybe.” But his mind was working.

+  +  +

“Mom! Mom! Look what I made!”

His mother’s eyes widened. “Wow! What is it?”

“Here, let me.” He put the thing on his mother’s head, much to her confusion.

“But what is it?”

“Come out into the sun.”

She looked around, puzzled. Then understanding dawned.

“Oh my! It’s like I’m standing under a tree! Out here in the sun! This must be wonderful out in the fields.”

“It’ll keep the rain off your head too! Mostly. And it’s made of leaves and the stalks of the grain that are left after we pluck the heads off.”

“Ah! No skins. I see. Good for you!”

He beamed.

+  +  +

“You’re old enough now, son.”

Father looked grimmer than usual.

“The Lord has shown me that you need to do your own killing. To cover your own unkindness.”

“But I can’t! I can’t kill an animal that never did anything to me. Why do they have to die? It’s cruel!”

“It’s how God says is has to be. You’ll do it.”

“Why does God want us to kill? What does he get from it? It makes no sense!”

“That’s how it’s–”

“Why can’t I give something important to me instead? There’s a lot I’ve done that I’m proud of! Giving God something important, something I’m contributing to the family, would mean a lot more than killing some helpless animal who doesn’t deserve it!”

Father glared at him. “It’s tomorrow. You will be there. It will go as planned.”

The father’s younger son ran up. “Whatcha talkin’ about? Is he going to do the killing?”

“Yes. Yes he is.”

“Can I, too? Can I?”

Father considered. “Very well. You’re a little young, but I’ll allow it.” He glared at his older son. “Maybe you’ll set a good example.”

+  +  +

Today was the day. The family gathered around. Father, mother, his brother, and many more younger brothers and sisters. All staring with anticipation.

The second son was practically hopping with excitement. “Me first!”

He rushed to the rock. The older son had to admit the goat he saw led to the rock was healthy and strong. Its hair was glossy and nearly white. The animals of today were much bigger, hairier and healthier that they had been, years ago, when he was a child. Mostly due to his brother’s work.

But it still sickened and disgusted him, as his brother eagerly snapped the goat’s neck, then buried his hands elbow-deep into the guts. He pulled out his blood-covered arms and laughed, and continued the skinning and the disposal of the internal organs.

“Excellent!” father said. “I am proud of you today, and God is too!”

After his brother finished the disembowlment and folded the skin to be scraped and cured later, he turned to his older brother. So did father and mother.

He took a deep breath. He lifted his bundle to the rock and opened it.

The kernels were plump and golden and heavier than anything ever seen before. Rubbing some heads between his hands, he smelled the delicious aroma of the ripe grain. He opened a straw basket and brought out the brightest, roundest fruit and the darkest, meatiest roots he had ever bred.

He laid them on the rock, and crushed them with a flat chunk of slate.

Then he scraped the remains into the fire pit, and set them on fire, proud that he was giving the best he had.

Then he turned to his family. His father just stared, then shook his head and walked away. His brother said, “What…what was that?” The other children stared quietly.

His mother looked at him with shocked sadness. “I didn’t think you’d go through with it. I really didn’t.”

He tore his basket in two and left, furious, wandering far out into the fields. He slept that night alone, cold, under an inadequate bush.

+  +  +

When he woke he was no longer in the same place. It was dark. The horizon stretched around a featureless, dim plain.

“Don’t be angry,” said a voice. He turned. There was a figure there, dark, but he could hardly stand to look at it.

“Don’t be angry,” the voice repeated. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be upset. Do right. Your father knows what’s right. He hears it from Me. Do it the right way, and you will be accepted. But if you keep resisting, keep going the wrong way, unkindness is ready to ambush you and take control. Instead, you must take control yourself. Do the hard thing, the thing you don’t want to do, and all will be well. I promise.”

+  +  +

He woke again, shivering and not just with the cold. Was that the Lord? Who father so often talked about? What was all that about unkindness taking control?

Could he go back and face everyone? Could he steel himself and do the killings that were demanded of him? Over and over, rest day after rest day? It made no sense, though apparently God demanded it. It was cruel and pointless and made no sense. How did killing have anything to do with removing unkindness? If anything, it added even more unkindness to the world!

There had to be something just as good as skins, if he thought and experimented enough with his plants. Then would never have to kill again. Over and over in his mind, he wrestled with it, and couldn’t make it add up. The killing accomplished nothing. Why was the Lord demanding it?

He sighed, and wandered, and discovered that he had returned to the family. His mother saw him and ran to meet him.

“I was so worried! What happened to you? You look freezing! Come and warm up!”

He let himself be led into the family area.

“Hey, you’re back. What was that yesterday?” It was the voice of his younger brother, coming from behind.

“Was that supposed to be a killing? You didn’t kill anything. It didn’t count. You know that, right? You didn’t kill anything, it didn’t count. Why didn’t you do it right?” He knew the signs. This harangue was not going to end anytime soon. He turned to face his brother.

“Shut up a second. I found something out there in the field I want to show you.”

“I hope it’s an animal.” They began heading out, their mother watching anxiously. “I can get you some animals. I know the good ones. I can show you how. How to jerk the head around so it snaps quick, the goat doesn’t feel anything. And how to cut clean, and separate the skin. It feels so good on your hands! Warm and slippery and squishy. The killing is so great! I don’t know why we can’t do it more often. But now we get to do it three times each rest day instead of once, now that we’re old enough! I can help you, too. It’s easy! Not like what you did. Squishing food on a rock? That was hardly anything. Father was really upset. Mother too. That didn’t count at all. It didn’t count.”

The anger peaked, and the roiling in the stomach. He watched himself as he reached to seize his brother’s head. His hands twisted abruptly. His brother dropped. He watched as he grabbed a nearby sharp stone and neatly sliced his chest and abdomen open, and the blood poured into the ground.

“Did that count?” he heard himself shout.

He burned the innards and buried the blood. After considering it, as if from a distance, he decided to burn the skin too.

He sat there, resting. It was rest day, after all.

+  +  +

With a start he woke. He was back on the featureless dark plain.

“Where is your brother? Where is Abel?” The dark figure must be behind him.

“How should I know? He’s grown, he doesn’t need me to watch out for him. If you like him so much, why don’t you protect him?”

“Don’t you realize what you’ve done? Didn’t I tell you unkindness would take control of you? Now your brother’s blood, which you buried, is shouting against you, and you cannot hide your guilt. Not from Me. And not from your mother and your father and your siblings. Won’t they know something is wrong when he doesn’t return? Won’t they see the smoke of the burning? What will you tell them?”

He thought of his father’s disapproval, and his strong hands breaking the goats’ necks…and how the son he approved of was now dead. It sunk in; his brother was dead. He would never babble again, never take care of his animals, never make the little ones laugh with his antics, never revel in the killings that washed away his unkindnesses…

The voice continued. “Do you know the ground is cursed for you because of your brother’s blood? Crops will not grow for you anymore, and the weeds will outnumber the grain. You will have to wander from place to place, eating what grows on its own.”

He looked at his hands. The ground would never grow its crops for him? It was what he knew, what he loved…but that was the least of his problems.

“They’ll kill me,” he said. “Father will find me, mother will hate me, they’ll be so angry, he’s so strong! They’ll come out to look for Abel, and they’ll find the burned spot, and the burial mound, and they’ll know!

“I can’t go back! Not ever! What will I do? And I can’t go, all by myself, afraid of everyone, wandering the world alone! Even…even You are disappointed in me! I can’t face You! I…I can’t take it! It’s too much! I…I know I deserve it all, but…it’s too much! They’ll kill me! I will wander and starve, and everyone will want to kill me!”

“No. They won’t.”

“What?”

“They won’t kill you. I am marking you, now, and everyone who finds you will see the mark. And they will know that whoever kills Cain will be avenged seven times over.”

“Really? But…how will I keep this terrible unkindness from sticking to me forever? What killing could wash this…murder…away? The only thing I can think of is that the one being killed…has to be me!”

“No, Cain. That’s not the way it works. But I will do the killing for you, Cain. The Serpent-Crusher will come, the one your father and mother told you about. I Myself will do the killing.”

“Does it have to be killing? Do innocent animals need to die, over and over, to keep the unkindness from sticking? Lord, help me, but it still seems wrong, and disgusting, and unnecessarily tragic.”

“It must be killing. And you are right. It is wrong, and disgusting, and tragic. It is terrifying, and cruel, and heartbreaking. You of all your family see most clearly what the reality is, and even you do not realize how deeply the pain of all that killing really goes.

“But the killings must continue, year after year, so that your siblings and nephews and nieces will know unmistakably that your father’s curse can only be undone by death and blood, and not by improving the world or by one’s best efforts or by wealth or by fame. The killings will continue until the Serpent-Crusher comes. Then the final Killing will occur, the one for which all the killings that came before are but a faint reminder. I will do it Myself. I will prepare my own Young Goat. And it will be the most wrong, disgusting, tragic, terrifying, cruel and heartbreaking Event the world will ever see.

“But after that last Killing, the killings will stop, and the unkindness will forever become unstuck, from all people. This is certain. I promise it.”

“Nevertheless, you–and all people–must constantly remember and constantly be reminded that it is blood that frees you from what has taken control of you today. Not all the good things you might do for me and bring to me, but the Blood and Death that is coming.”

Next week: What Cain Got Right

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The Ten Condemnants

“So there’s a downside to the afterlife. How does one steer clear of [hell]?”
“By obeying the 10 Commandments. Ten simple rules that are easy to live by.”
(The Simpsons, Season 2, Episode 13: Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment)

Nobody gets their theology from a cartoon series like The Simpsons. (They get it from Dan Brown movies. But that’s a different topic.) However, I expect this particular misconception is pretty common.

Technically, it’s true. You are accepted and blessed by God if you are righteous, if you keep the whole Law. But practically, we are incapable of righteousness. So Christ took our unrighteousness and gave us His righteousness instead. He suffers the wrath and punishment, and we get the blessings and eternal life.

So if our righteousness is imputed to us, is “second-hand”, why should God bother giving us commandments to tell us how to be righteous?

Did God Really Say…

One common answer is that He didn’t, that the Law is just a document made up by ancient people, that over time came to be seen as divine. After all, there are parallels in world culture.

The Code of Hammurabi is a big one. It doesn’t have the Ten Commandments in it directly, but it reads much like the laws of Exodus, with a very similar structure. It also includes similar laws, such as the eye-for-an-eye law.

If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye.
If one break a man’s bone, they shall break his bone.
If a man knock out a tooth of a man of his own rank, they shall knock out his tooth.
(Code of Hammurabi, Harper Translation, 1904, verses 196, 197, and 200, from https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Code_of_Hammurabi_(Harper_translation) )

Since the Code of Hammurabi pre-dates Moses, you could conclude Moses (or whoever) copied from Hammurabi, and God wouldn’t have to be involved at all.

Or look at the Egyptian Maat, a document on morality dating back nearly a millennium before Moses, which includes the 42 Negative Confessions, which read a lot like the Ten Commandments. For example:

3. I have not stolen.
4. I have not slain men and women.
8. I have not uttered lies.
11. I have not committed adultery.
27. I have not blasphemed.
(from The Papyrus of Ani, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maat)

Moses, the argument goes, could have known about the Maat from his time as a prince in Egypt. If (as doubters would say) there even was a Moses.

But it’s not even limited to the Near East. What about the Five Precepts of Taoism, which are meant as a guide for followers of the Tao who are just normal people and not monks or teachers?

According to The Ultra Supreme Elder Lord’s Scripture of Precepts, the five basic precepts are:

  • The first precept: No Murdering;
  • The second precept: No Stealing;
  • The third precept: No Sexual Misconduct;
  • The fourth precept: No False Speech;
  • The fifth precept: No Taking of Intoxicants.

(excerpt from Wikipedia article, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Precepts_(Taoism) )

The Five Precepts of Buddhism are similar (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Precepts).

The parallels aren’t perfect; the Sabbath day, for example, seems to be missing from the lists of laws. But some of the general principles found in the Ten Commandments pre-date Moses and were generally known.

So did God actually write the Ten Commandments? Or, like so many other cultures, did the Israelites borrow/figure them out on their own?

We Already Know This

The Bible itself says we already know right and wrong without being told.

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts…. (Romans 2:14-15, NIV)

Is this why we get precepts similar to the Ten Commandments in multiple cultures around the globe? Because we already have a natural knowledge that it’s wrong to dishonor your parents, kill, commit adultery, steal, lie, and want things that aren’t yours?

If we already know this, and God doesn’t have to tell us, then why would God write them down and give them a prominent place in his Book? I mean, it’s nothing new, really.

Why Repeat the Obvious?

God probably wouldn’t repeat the obvious unless there’s a good reason. So what might the reason be?

What if God wants us to know that He knows that we know?

What if God is not trying to teach us the Ten Commandments, but rather trying to highlight His knowledge of human nature? What if He wants us to know that He knows that we already know what being good looks like?

Then the message isn’t “Here’s some strange, onerous rituals.” It’s more “Here’s what you already know you should do.”

And then…

[Moses said,] “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are….you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall on you because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord and arouse his anger….” (Deuteronomy 31:26-29, NIV)

God knows we know how to live right. Hammurabi knew how, the Egyptians knew how, the Taoists and Buddhists knew how. Every culture that does not immediately destroy itself has some standards of conduct, and they’re similar: don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie, etc.

And God also knows we’re not going to follow those standards of conduct. In all our cultures, we never follow these rules we know are right. We dumb them down, make them only apply to “our kind”, find all kinds of excuses why we don’t have to follow them, institutionalize begging for forgiveness, don’t enforce them when it’s not practical, etc.

But God, now, is here, holding the Ten Commandments in our faces. His message is not “Here’s how to live,” but “You are not living this way and you know it.” Not living this way leaves to personal and social destruction, and God is so concerned that He will bring chapters and chapters of curses on his people (Deuteronomy 27, 28, 29, and 32 just for starters) rather than let His people bring that corruption on themselves.

“Here’s what you know to do,” He says. “And you’re not doing it now, and you’re never going to do it.”

Are We Doomed?

As it turns out, societies are iffy-to-moderately good at enforcing the Commandments on each other. Systems of Laws are set in place to punish those who violate them egregiously enough. Where I live, for example, I can park my car in a public parking space and expect it to be there, intact, when I come back (and there was only one time it didn’t work out that way). Peer pressure, cultural norms, and social enforcement work pretty ok to keep commandment-breaking somewhat under control. It’s a lot easier for me to call you on your breaking of the Commandments than for me to police myself, and it’s a lot easier for me not to hurt others if those around me frown on it or give me an example to follow.

Still, you don’t have to live very long to find we’re far from perfect at it. Human brains are constantly picking at the Law, trying to find justifiable ways not to keep it (and if they profit or get endorphins in the process, it’s all the easier to justify).

And God’s word stands: breaking the Law (which we know full well) brings the curse. Loss. Misery. Death. This goes back to Adam:

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life….
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19, NIV)

God never rescinds this curse, and continues to add to it through the Bible.

God shows us the Law. He knows we know it. He knows we can’t keep it. And He curses those who don’t keep it. And even if He didn’t, the consequences of us not keeping the Commandments are even worse than the curses.

So, yes, we are doomed.

But we already knew that. God’s just clarifying it. He didn’t really have to tell us.

The Payoff

So why tell us?

He tells us He knows we know how to live. He tells us He knows we know we don’t live that way. He tells us He knows we know the consequences. He tells us He knows we know we are constitutionally unable to avoid those consequences. So far God’s told us nothing we didn’t know.

Here’s what we didn’t know.

He also tells us this: He’s going to cheat for us.

He’s going to come Himself. He’s going to follow the Commandments. He’s going to get all the blessings He promised (in Deuteronomy 28 and elsewhere).

And then…He’ll switch places with us. He’ll transfer the blessings to us, and take the curses for Himself instead.

And He did it about 1500 years after Moses, about 2000 years ago, in Jesus Christ.

For all who rely on the works of the law [but can’t actually do them] are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”….Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus…. (Galatians 3:10-14, NIV, my comments in brackets)

God tells us how to be righteous–gives us the Commandments–to remind us that we can’t do it, and that we know we can’t. In other words, to condemn us.

Part One of Jesus’ basic message is coming face to face with this fact.

Part Two is unlocking the payoff.

Or, as Jesus put it, in His very first words in the Gospel of Mark,

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15, NIV)

Or,

  1. Repent (internalize that you are condemned by the Commandments, which you already know)
  2. Believe the Good News (internalize that God took the curse and you are free)

God teaches us the Commandments so that, if our own consciences are burnt-out by life and circumstances, we re-learn that we need to repent, and also so that we learn that God is quite aware of our circumstances. And repentance, driven by the teaching of the Commandments, is the first step toward getting away from the curses and consequences of our failure to obey what we already know to be right. It gives us access to the Life Jesus won for us.

This Life is freedom from the curses we know we deserve. It’s relief that we’ve been unlocked from the guillotine. It’s a promise that, though you still can’t keep the Commandments, you will be resurrected into a place where you can, where everyone can, where the evil consequences that are facts of life now will never be even thought of again.

And if you’ve just realized how condemned you are…what are you waiting for? You can get rid of your curse right now!

Next week: The Gentle Brother

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