Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Comfort in Times of Persecution

There is much meaning in our golden text today and all of it relevant to Christians today.  Those of us watching the world see the way the wind is blowing.  Already any who call on the name of our Lord Jesus in many parts of the world face severe persecution and even death, as is reportedly going on in Syria today.  But what about those of us in Western lands where the right to worship as we choose is traditionally respected?

Those lands are becoming increasingly secular, and just as happened under the secularism of the French Revolution those calling on the name of Christ are increasingly coming under attack.  We’re already mocked as out of touch with society and unenlightened.  As society pushes us into the margins while it celebrates the losing from all moral restraint laws are promulgated to marginalize us even further and even punish us for taking a stand for God’s standards.

On campus, Christian speech is relegated to hate speech and students taking a stand for God’s way receive failing grades or even find themselves put out of school altogether for their stand.  Hate speech laws are used to silence us, as in the case of a minister in Canada who was punished for the act of posting a billboard with a quotation from the Bible on God’s position on homosexuality.  A couple was fined in New Mexico for declining to take a job memorializing a gay commitment ceremony, something which wasn’t even legal at the time.  Yet that didn’t matter, punishing the couple for standing up for Godly morals was more important than little things like legality.  The same for another couple who refused to let an old church building they owned be used for a gay wedding, and one could go on.

The fact is that we who call upon the name of Jesus Christ, whether wheat or weeds, are now coming under a secular government intent on bringing all under its thumb and allowing none to question the new orthodoxy motivated by Christophobia.  That means one thing, persecution.  Many are in shock that this could take place in a land where freedom of religion is enshrined in its foundation document.  Others now fear this new development.  Could it happen to me?  When?  How?  Yet God’s word gives us plenty of reason to have comfort as we watch events unfold.

Our golden text at 1 Pet. 5:10 gives us assurance and explains the purpose of persecution.  We are assured that after undergoing suffering God will, “restore, confirm, strengthen and establish” us.  Yes, he will restore our equilibrium, confirm our calling in him, strengthen us through our suffering and establish us strong in his truth and way.  The thing is that we aren’t really perfect or ready at our calling for the role God has called us to.  We are nothing more than raw material needing further work before we become fit for his purpose for us in heaven.  We need to be purified and then strengthened for our job up there, which brings us to the first picture from the scriptures which comes to mind.

As the time for the writing of the Old Testament drew near the prophet Malachi was inspired to write a prophecy which is quite applicable to our subject:

"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. (Mal 3:1-3; ESV)

Fuller’s soap is a mineral which used to be used to bleach fine linen to a pure white color.  It is also kind of harsh, it had to be to get that sought after pure white.  But the one we seek here is the picture of the refiner in verses 2 and 3.  The refiner mentioned is generally recognized to be the messiah whom we know to be Jesus Christ.  The “sons of Levi,” or the tribe of Levi, was a type for the household of faith in the Gospel age.  So the picture presented to us is that of our Lord Jesus refining those of us called by God to his Church.

Recall that we wrote earlier that we are all raw material.  Even is the raw material is natural gold, it still has to be removed from what little base material which clings to it and then refined by the fire to the point that all impurities are removed and the gold is pure.  That is what persecution and sufferings are, they are the fire which our lord uses to purify us and make us into the finest of gold, fit to be members of his heavenly bride as well as co-rulers in his kingdom.  Just as gold undergoes adversity to reach its purity, so must we.  But there is another biblical picture which applies.

In Revelation chapter twenty-one we are presented with the wondrous picture of the New Jerusalem descending out of heaven.  Of course it is the Church, and one part of the awesome spectacle is drawn to our attention when it tells us “And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald…” (Rev 21:19)  We are informed that the twelve foundations of the holy city are garnished, or adorned with all sorts of precious stones, something which no picture of the scene we’ve seen really shows.  Since the foundations are the Apostles, the precious stones decorating those foundations are likely members of the church, thus we are in part likened to precious jewels of the finest of work.

In our teenage years we had the hobby of lapidary.  That means we worked and polished valuable stones.  The stones had to be cut, then ground down to their rough shape before being polished, which was done by more grinding down of the stones with finer and finer grades of material until they had that shine so smooth one could see themselves in it like a mirror.  Well does that illustrate the process of turning those called to heaven into those fines and precious jewels which adorn the City of God!

Just like the precious jewels which start out as rough stones, our Lord uses adversity to shape and polish those rare finds into the best of jewels.  In the literal process of lapidary as much as half of the stone or even more may be lost in the process.  The idea is to remove all of the extraneous material and flaws we have as imperfect human beings to reveal and accentuate the beauty within.  That means for us revealing our character flaws and grinding them away until we become ready to fit in the place in the Church which is reserved for us at our calling.  However, we must cooperate in that process if we want to be set by our Lord in that place.

Sufferings, including under persecution is that polishing process.  Far from fearing it or trying to put it off we should welcome it, as James pointed out in his letter to our ancient brethren (James 1:2-4).  Now that doesn’t mean we are to seek out extreme persecution, we are allowed to flee that if a way out is available which does not compromise our Christian principles.  We are also permitted to challenge laws which criminalize our Christian freedom, such as hate speech laws and requirements which compromise our Christian principles in lands where there still is some semblance of justice, as some are doing even now.

Even in lands where such open official persecution doesn’t exist we may still find ourselves persecuted socially.  In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his listeners:

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Mat 5:10-12)

Yes, we may undergo the suffering of having our good names slandered by those who hate the truth for our stand for our Lord.  That is no trivial matter, as anyone so slandered can tell us.  More and more right here in the United States of America secular forces are marginalizing Christians and equating them with crazy people and hateful fanatics.  We are being driven out of the public sphere and towards the underground.  The media from news to entertainment portrays us in ways which amount to lies.  Those who take a Christian stand often find themselves mocked and slanderous rumors spread about them.  While such things aren’t nearly as pervasive here as they could be, it looks like they are well on the way to getting worse.

In that last quotation we also find how the Lord wants us to react.  Just as James wrote his brethren to “count it all joy,” Jesus told his disciples and others to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad.”  Why should we do that, and how can it help us as things get worse.  Paul gave us a reason:

If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.  (Heb 12:7-11)

Remember the point in the golden text about confirming?  When we undergo our refining and polishing God confirms that we are indeed his children, a part of the household of faith with whom he is dealing.  That is a wonderful reason for rejoicing and submitting to those sufferings the same way Jesus did, without complaint.  That knowledge also helps us to endure and even use such trials as tools to help in our own molding by finding and rooting out any flaws the trials may reveal to us.  Paul acknowledges that those trials may be hard and burdening at times.  Yet he also reminds us that afterwards they bear peaceable and wonderful fruit.

So in conclusion, as we see things getting worse it is not ours to fear for the future.  Never forget that the future will get bleaker for all at this point as mankind descends further into the darkness.  As a consequence the world will hate us even more.  So persecution we are to expect persecution as even nominally Christian lands abandon any pretense of following the way of the Master and turn on those who do.  How hard and burdensome such trials may be we do not know for sure.  However, we shouldn’t let ourselves worry over it.  Everything is in God’s hands and he assures us that whatever he permits to befall us is for our good (Rom. 8:28).  So we should move forward and work in harmony with our Lord and Master secure in that fact and assured that what comes our way he will help us and comfort us in our time of trouble.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Royal Law of Love

“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture… you are doing well.”  (Jas 2:8; ESV)

Greetings again my brethren and friends!

Recent events in my life have me thinking about the matter of laws, how denominations and sects go beyond the scripture in the matter of what the scripture teaches on the matter by imposing unwieldy canon law, etc., on their flocks which God hasn’t imposed on the flock because he set in motion something better, the Royal Law of Love because it is superior to all of the “laws” men impose.

In the first century there was a controversy in the Church which centered on law, what law were the Gentile Christians to follow.  Certain brethren argued that Christianity was really a part of Judaism which meant that Gentiles were required to get circumcised as proselytes into the law covenant with Israel and observe the Law of Moses as many Jewish Christians continued to do (Acts 15: 1,2a).  Paul strenuously opposed that teaching and it was finally decided by the brethren and it was decided among the brethren in Antioch to send Paul and a few others to Jerusalem where the rest of the Apostles were and get a determination as to whether Gentile Christians had to come under Jewish law (Acts 15: 2b).  After the decision was made the following letter was sent to all of the ecclesias along the way Paul travelled back to Antioch:

"The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell."
(Act 15:23-29; ESV)

Both Christian and Jewish commentators have commented that the items listed in the letters have their origin in God’s covenant with mankind after the flood of Noah’s day and are incumbent on all.  So they have nothing to do with the Royal Law Christians are commanded to follow, though, Christians follow them as well.

So what is the Royal Law James wrote about and how is it superior to God’s law to the Jews?  It’s really a three-part law Jesus laid sown to his disciples to follow.  The first two parts came out of the Law of Moses, God’s covenant with Israel.  We know we’re to follow it because Jesus added the third law, calling it a “new command,” or law, thus linking it to the first two, which he taught those who listened to him to follow.

As we all know, Jesus was very controversial though in what way is still debated to this day.  In his day, though, more than once some of the most learned men in Israel were sent to try and catch him in some sort of impropriety where his teaching was concerned and certain folks in the crowds were primed to be offended at his words.  So Jesus was very careful with his words at times.  On one such occasion Jesus was approached by a lawyer who asked him what the greatest law within the Law of Moses was.  Jesus’ answer was:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” 
(Mat 22:37-38; ESV)

Jesus’ quoted from what is known as the Shema which is recited by devout Jews to this day at Deuteronomy 6:4.  For Christians it certainly places our priorities in their proper places.  But there is more to that simple statement than meets the eye.  Simply put a true Christian led by God’s Holy Spirit will need no rules or law to follow in that respect since he or she will be pointed in the right direction in any situation by the Spirit because they love Jehovah so much that they would desire not to displease him ever.  Sure, we have the Old Testament and I’m not saying that it would be of no use to a true Christian in this or any other regard.  The Law does help us in gaining insight, but following the first command will give us the ability to move beyond the law code and know what to do in situations not mentioned therein.  Thus we know how to please him and make our sacrifices a pleasing odor to him.

The second part of the Royal Law is much like it and James connected it directly to the Royal Law:  “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mat 22:39; ESV) “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well” (Jas 2:8).  Both quote from Lev. 19:18, which in Jesus shows the breadth and genius of his knowledge that he was able to draw from two different books of the Torah and connect them together in that way.

Once again this is something of an open-ended law, more like a statement of principle like the first one.  And once again it is superior enough that Jesus could say “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Mat 22:40).  If we really love our neighbor as ourselves, then we need no set of laws or rules to know how to treat our neighbor in any situation which could conceivably occur.  We just do the same for them as we would want done to us.  Of course if we love our neighbors in the same way that Jesus taught in his parable of the Good Samaritan at Luke 10:30-35 we would also be proactive and live our lives in such a way that we would not only live our lives in such a way that we would bring no harm to anybody if at all possible, but like the Samaritan we would be ready to do good to our neighbor, which includes stranger as in the case of the parable.  So what we learn from this consideration is that the Royal Law of love is really a law based on principles instead of rules and will guide us in all situations.

On the night before Jesus died John recorded the last of the three parts of Royal Law of Love:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
(Joh 13:34-35; ESV)

Think for a moment on the implications of this law.  How did Jesus show his love for his disciples as well as all of mankind?  He died for them, didn’t he?  And he also left them an example for them, and all true Christians to follow in the way he dealt with them under all circumstances, including the times they were quite trying.  But this law is also a statement of principle as well and if we grasp its essence we will also know how to deal with our brethren in Christ with love in any and all situations.

In ancient times not only were Christians willing to die for Christ, but they were also willing to die for their brethren as well, that no harm might come to them.  In fact there are plenty of examples of both throughout the entire Gospel age to this point.  If we follow that last law we certainly wouldn’t want to impose power or a multiplicity of “laws” or rules on our brethren.  We would speak evil of none of them.  We would readily help them is it is within our power to do so, including helping them monetarily without excuse if we can.  Yes, loving our brethren as Jesus did would move us to put up with the flaws in their characters and if me must readjust them, as “spiritual” Christians are told to do it would be tactfully, in the spirit of Galatians 6:1, where the next verse tells us that we will fulfill the Royal Law of Love if we do.  And that is the point of this discussion, isn’t it?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Israel: A Tree and a Vine and How They Help us Understand the Bible

In order to understand a number of passages in the scriptures it is necessary to understand certain symbolisms also found in God’s word.  Among those is that Israel is represented as a vine, and as a fig tree.  The last symbol is really a key to the prophetic series I just wrote since the whole point was that the fig tree, Israel, was budding, a symbol of both her restoration as a nation and the big clue that we are in the last days of this human society, or world (Matt. 24:32-35, Mark 13:28-31, Luke. 21:29-33).

There are a number of places in the Old Testament where Israel is likened to a vine, or vines in a vineyard.  The first place we are going to look at is found in Isaiah:

“Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.” (Isa 5:1-7)

This is actually a prophecy of Israel’s exile from its land as well as the negation of his covenant with them (vs. 5; Eph. 2:14-15).  So this points towards the exile of the Jews which began in 70ad.  Yet we see that Israel here is present as a vineyard which produces no fruit.  Jeremiah takes the symbol a step further, “Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (Jer 2:21), thus we see Israel identified as a vine.

This knowledge is important because it helps us to understand more fully Paul’s words to the Romans regarding Israel and the Church:

“For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree…” (Rom 11:15-17)

Thus we see as regard’s the promise to Abraham Israel couldn’t fill the number of the Church, so Gentiles were “grafted into” the vine of Israel to replace her cutting off.  That doesn’t mean that Israel was replaced in God’s plan by the church completely, Paul informs us that God will return favor to Israel:

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes.”  (Rom 11:25-28)

Now we look at some of the scriptures which refer to Israel as a Fig Tree.  We find our first on in Hosea:

“I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved.” (Hos 9:10)

Note the “grapes” reference here, evoking the symbol of the vine we already saw in the form of the fruit of the vine.  In this verse we see Israel also likened to the first fruits of the Fig, and, by extrapolation a fig tree.  However, to nail the symbolism down properly we must go to the prophet Joel:

“He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.” (Joe. I: 7)

So both the vine and the fig tree are used here as symbols of an Israel lid waste, again a reference to the exile which began in 70ad.  Knowing this helps us to recognize the significance of Jesus’ words to his disciples when he was asked about the last days to watch for the beginning of the restoration of the Jews to their homeland to know that they are in the last days, as we mentioned in the first article in our series on Israel in Prophecy (Matt. 24:32-35; Mk. 13:28-30; 21:29-33).

Thus we see how symbols relate and help us to come to a deeper understanding of important truths.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Final Battle

"And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog and say, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.
(Eze. 39:1)

Now we come around to one of the most famous prophecies in the Bible, the prophecy of the attack of Gog, the prince of Meshech and Tubal, against the people of Israel.  Now we leave the realm of the past and present and enter that of the future.  That is always fraught with problems.

It is also why it is necessary to go back into the recent past and establish as a fact that for over one hundred years the Bible’s prophecies of the restoration and establishment as a nation were not only foretold with accuracy the events, but the events not only unfolded through the years exactly as foretold, but continue unfolding right before our very eyes.  This is how we can be sure that what comes next is indeed reliable.  The problem for us is to be clear where we enter the realm of supposition and where we tread on firm ground.  Failure to do that is why many end up being called false prophets when they were nothing of the kind.  What most don’t realize is that there is a big difference between faulty predictions and false prophecy.

Now, to find out why and get a sense of how we may know the attack is coming we need to skip ahead a little bit to verses 11-14:

“and say, 'I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will fall upon the quiet people who dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having no bars or gates,' to seize spoil and carry off plunder, to turn your hand against the waste places that are now inhabited, and the people who were gathered from the nations, who have acquired livestock and goods, who dwell at the center of the earth. Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish and all its leaders will say to you, 'Have you come to seize spoil? Have you assembled your hosts to carry off plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to seize great spoil?' "Therefore, son of man, prophesy, and say to Gog, Thus says the Lord GOD: On that day when my people Israel are dwelling securely, will you not know it?”  (Eze 38:11-14)

The motive has two components.  The first is that Israel will be very profitable and have much “spoil,” that is, riches, to plunder.  Since time immemorial a Country’s wealth or riches generally consisted of its natural resources.  The Romans wiped out an entire people to get at the Gold their land had in the ground.  The same happened to a number of indigenous peoples here in the United States and elsewhere in more recent times.  Today when the most valuable commodity earth wide in an economy which depends on energy oil and gas are two such sources of wealth nations are very willing to go to war over.  Recently in Israel and off its coast it was discovered that Israel has a great abundance of both, enough to rival the Gulf Coast Arabs.  Energy poor, yet militarily powerful countries to the North, such as Russia and Turkey already look with greed on the discoveries so close and ripe for the picking to their South in a little country already loathed by the rest of the world.  Could the temptation at some point just be too much?

Well let’s go back now to the first part of the chapter:

“The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him and say, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. And I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armor, a great host, all of them with buckler and shield, wielding swords. Persia, Cush, and Put are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all his hordes; Beth-togarmah from the uttermost parts of the north with all his hordes—many peoples are with you. "Be ready and keep ready, you and all your hosts that are assembled about you, and be a guard for them.”  (Eze 38:1-7)

Take a moment and look at the photo at the top of the page.  There we find the locations of the peoples mentioned in the verses we just quoted.  Russia and Turkey in the North are quite prominent and both traditionally hate Israel.  Both are energy poor and would find the energy wealth of Israel a tempting prize indeed.  That is, if the potential pieces we see falling in place are tempting enough.  They are also joined by Iran in the attack and reinforced by the Arab states to the South and West.  But something is missing:

“After many days you will be mustered. In the latter years you will go against the land that is restored from war, the land whose people were gathered from many peoples upon the mountains of Israel, which had been a continual waste. Its people were brought out from the peoples and now dwell securely, all of them. You will advance, coming on like a storm. You will be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your hordes, and many peoples with you. "Thus says the Lord GOD: On that day, thoughts will come into your mind, and you will devise an evil scheme and say, 'I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will fall upon the quiet people who dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having no bars or gates,'” (Eze 38:8-11)

I did it this way because of something very important noted in this passage.  Missing from the list of peoples attacking Israel in this prophecy are the Arab people which immediately surround it, the ones we saw in the 83rd Psalm.  Something happened to them.  We get a clue to that in verse eight were we are told that the Jews are “restored from war,” that is, who just fought and won a war.  So somehow the long war prophesied in the 83rd Psalm comes to a successful conclusion, by some sort of victory and the people of Israel appear to be secured, secure enough that they think they can now cut back on  their military and enough the fruits of peace.  But as we see here their military vulnerability makes them easy pickings in the minds of Russia and her allies and they invade Israel intent on plundering “spoil.”

“You will come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great host, a mighty army. You will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the land. In the latter days I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. "Thus says the Lord GOD: Are you he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who in those days prophesied for years that I would bring you against them? But on that day, the day that Gog shall come against the land of Israel, declares the Lord GOD, my wrath will be roused in my anger.” (Eze 38:15-18)

So Russia will attack as the description of Gog’s force as coming from the “uttermost parts of the north” indicates.  God brings him against the land and they are “like a cloud covering the land.”  I recently listened to a discourse which proposed that Obadiah prophesied in more detail as to what will go on at the final invasion and battle.  The speaker believes that verse eleven of Obadiah predicts that the forces of Gog and his allies will successfully invade the land Israel and occupy it, setting the stage for Armageddon and God’s liberation of his people in such a way nobody will be able to deny what happened and who did it.

But where are Israel’s allies?  Well, the speaker addressed that as well.  He believes that Edom represents Israel’s “brothers,” the Christian nations who are mostly allied with God’s people.  It appears from verses ten through fourteen of Obadiah that they will stand aside and do nothing on Israel’s behalf.  That would further make the point that God alone will be Israel’s deliverer.  For those who don’t think that possible just look around us today.

There is a campaign to isolate Israel going on among the Christian nations as my dear readers read this post.  Holocaust deniers have pretty much overtaken academia and the media and they are working their magic with their propaganda blaming all the ills of the Middle East on Israel.  We see demonstrations at our universities demanding divestment of university holdings of Israeli investments and Israel is vilified on campuses.  We also see a constant stream of UN resolutions treating Israel as an invader and of “Palestine” and human rights abuser as Israel defends herself from constant attack.  All of this is designed to pry Israel’s allies away from her and will be successful if the speaker we listened to interprets Obadiah correctly.

However it finally plays out, one thing is certain; God will destroy Gog’s forces in such a way there will be no doubt who is responsible for Gog’s defeat (Eze 38:17-39:24).  It is our belief that this, on one level, will be the Battle of Armageddon mentioned in the New Testament (Rev 16:12-16).  As with many other prophecies in the Bible we believe there are often several levels to prophecies, but that is another topic for another time.

So what is the end, why should we look forward to all of this and why should we be in expectation of it?  That, my readers, is mentioned at the end of this prophecy:

“"Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name. They shall forget their shame and all the treachery they have practiced against me, when they dwell securely in their land with none to make them afraid, when I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them from their enemies' lands, and through them have vindicated my holiness in the sight of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the LORD their God, because I sent them into exile among the nations and then assembled them into their own land. I will leave none of them remaining among the nations anymore. And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD." (Eze 39:25-29)

Yes, Israel will be restored to her rightful place as the shining one among the nations.  She will stray no more because she will be the example for the nations during the millennial reign of the Lord.  Ezekiel then goes on in Chapter forty to describe the temple he saw in his famous vision and the conditions we can look forward to then.  So, dear readers, we can see why the prophecies of Israel are so important to us and why we should be familiar with them.  This series was by no means comprehensive.  There are many more prophecies of Israel’s restoration and delivery and her role in the kingdom to come.  It is our hope that this series will inspire our readers to become more familiar with these prophecies and to pay more attention to world events so that they may know where they stand in the prophetic stream of time and not be dismayed and frightened as world events play themselves out to their inevitable end.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Jacob’s Trouble

Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.
(Jer. 30:7; ASV)

Now we come to one of the most discussed prophecies regarding Israel and her restoration among Bible Students, the one we refer to as the Prophecy of Jacob’s Trouble.  The prophecy is recorded for us in the thirtieth chapter of Jeremiah, and like the 83rd Psalm is full of much for us to think about and filled with both darkness and promise.  That’s because just like the 83rd Psalm, it is being fulfilled even as my readers read this.

I know the last sentence in the foregoing paragraph will surprise some of our regular readers, but in the spirit of letting God’s word speak for itself let’s see why we believe we can make that claim.  Part of th proof starts with the very first three verses of the chapter:

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you. For behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the LORD, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it."  (Jer. 30:1-3; ISV, underlining by me)

First let’s note that this prophesy begins with the bold statement “Thus says the LORD,” so the prediction is directly from God, in his own words.  So we are assured of its fulfillment for what he declares comes true (Isaiah. 55:8-11).  The rest of the prophecy, though, doesn’t support the thought that this prophecy would see fulfillment in the tie of the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon because it tells us that it would come after a destruction so thorough that people would say that it was “incurable” (vs 11).  That didn’t happen until the destruction of Israel as a nation in 70ad.

So that places the return of the Jews to the land of Israel past that, to our time, which is what this series discussed, the many other remarkable prophecies already discussed which point the way.  So at God’s due time the Jews returned and set up their nation.  But it is not without trouble:

“Thus says the LORD: We have heard a cry of panic, of terror, and no peace.” (Jer. 30:5)

We’ve already seen how true these words are.  The 83rd Psalm predicted the trouble and lack of peace as well and Israel is in a continuous state of war, one going all the way back to its creation in 1948.  Just the weekend before which this was penned ( August 10-11, 2013) there was an announcement of an impending release of “Palestinian” prisoners, many of whom murdered Jews in their sleep with axes!  So the war never ends.  This is consistent with the next part of the prophecy:

“Ask now, and see, can a man bear a child? Why then do I see every man with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor? Why has every face turned pale?” (Jer. 30:6)

Here is where we come to the idea that “Jacob’s Trouble” is ongoing.  Any woman who ever gave birth can knows how it works out.  The pangs start out far apart and not really strong.  Then as time goes on they continue and grow closer together and stronger, more painful, until the baby is born.  Naturally fear and even terror become more pronounced, especially with those giving birth for the first time.  But the real point is that the process of giving birth takes time, lots of time.

The verse above draws that parallel for “Jacob,” or Israel, as verse seven informs us.  Jacob’s Trouble is not a sudden event, it plays out over time and we believe that time began in 1878 when the time for exile ended.  Although the Jews did begin their return then, the Ottomans continued to place roadblocks in their way.  Britain occupied the Holy land and at first tried to expedite the return of the Jews, only to later place roadblocks of its own as the creation of the modern state of Israel drew near because of politics.  However, like childbirth, Jacob’s Trouble does have an ending point:

“Alas! That day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it.” (Jer. 30:7)

We do not take this to mean that Jacob, or Israel, will be spared trouble.  Rather, we take the verse to mean that Israel will be spared what to the human mind will appear the inevitable conclusion, destruction at the hands of the enemies overwhelmingly arrayed against it.  That deliverance, though also expressed as one reads on in this chapter of Jeremiah, will be the subject of the next prophecy we plan to examine, the prophecy of Gog of Magog.