Friday, June 20, 2003

A Bit of Trivia

The Letters in Zephaniah 3:8

I am still deciding what series to start next week. In the meantime, I thought I would provide a bit of trivia.

Can you construct a 1 or 2 sentence paragraph that uses all 26 letters in the English alphabet? Could you, at the same time, make it meaningful? It can be done as shown by the following sentence. I have highlighted the use of each letter.

Esther is the providential story of young Jewish queen who reveals the zealous brutality of Haman to King Ahasuerus, known in secular history as Xerxes. 

The sentence uses half the letters in the first four words, but it is not until the very last word that the final letter appears.

There is one verse in the Hebrew Scriptures that contains all 22 letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet plus the 5 final forms used at the end of words. That verse is Zephaniah 3:8:

“Therefore wait for Me,” declares the Lord, “For the day when I rise up as a witness. Indeed, My decision is to gather nations, To assemble kingdoms, To pour out on them My indignation, All My burning anger; For all the earth will be devoured By the fire of My zeal. (Zephaniah 3:8, NASB)

Changing two words in the translation and adding one more, yields a translation that uses all 26 English letters:

Therefore wait for Me,” declares Jehovah, “For the day when I rise up as a witness. Indeed, My decision is to gather nations, To assemble kingdoms, To pour out on them My indignation, All My unquenchable anger; For all the earth will be devoured By the fire of My extreme zeal. (Zephaniah 3:8, NASB)

Would such a change in the translation have any merit? Possibly so! The Old Testament is full of letter games. The most common is the use of acrostics where each new sentence, or so, begins with the next letter in the Hebrew aleph-bet. For example, Psalm 119 is a 7 by 22 acrostic. Lamentations uses varied acrostic structures to great effect. Esther hides the Name of God using 4 acrostics. In would seem that in Hebrew literature, using all 22 letters is a way of communicating completeness. 

Now look at the message in Zephaniah 3:8. Note the two-fold statement of intent to gather the nations and kingdoms, and the two-fold proclamation of His indignation and anger, and the two-fold totality of all His anger and all the earth. The verse has a tone of a complete and final judgment. The Hebrew author underscored it by including the complete list of the 22 letters of the aleph-bet and their 5 final forms.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Fahrenheit 451: How Books Came to be Burned

Someone, who knows who, coined the term "Political Correctness" a few years back. I do not know if the term came from its proponents or its detractors. The proponents, of the concept if not the term, tend to have left leaning politics. They should know better. Their entire legacy has depended on the opposite, but now they embrace it with the fervor of the most ardent fundamentalist. The tongue-tied website documents the on-going absurdities.

In 1953, fifty years ago, Ray Bradbury published Fahrenheit 451 about a future society where the firemen are those who burn books that crazy people have stashed away. In this future day, houses no longer burn. Firemen set fires, they do not put them out. The title of this novel comes from the temperature at which paper begins to burn. 

In this novel, written before most homes had small black and white televisions, Ray Bradbury created a world of ear-bud radios (he called them shells) and wall-size flat panel color televisions spewing out innocuous entertainment. He even had small battery powered color televisions. He saw our world 50 years ago.

The principle character in Fahrenheit 451 is Montag, a fireman who begins to smuggle home a few of the books he should have burned. It is not long before Beatty, his chief, comes to have a "chat" with him. I want to quote from this dialog. To appreciate what is going on, you need to know that Montag is home sick, Mildred is his wife, and it is the chief who speaks first. He is about to reveal how books disappeared from society:

Mildred's hand had frozen behind the pillow. Her fingers were tracing the book's outline and as the shape became familiar her face looked surprised and then stunned. Her mouth opened to ask a question. . . .

"Empty the theaters save for clowns and furnish the rooms with glass walls and pretty colors running up and down the walls like confetti or blood or sherry or sauterne. You like baseball, don't you, Montag?"

"Baseball's a fine game."

Now Beatty was almost invisible, a voice somewhere behind a screen of smoke.

"What's this?" asked Mildred, almost with delight. Montag heaved back against her arms. "What's this here?" 

"Sit down!" Montag shouted. She jumped away, her hands empty. "We're talking!"

Beatty went on as if nothing had happened. "You like bowling, don't you, Montag?"

"Bowling, yes."

"And golf?"

"Golf is a fine game."


"A fine game."

"Billiards, pool? Football?"

"Fine games, all of them."

“More sports for everyone, group spirit, fun, and you don’t have to think, eh? Organize and organize and super organize super-super sports. More cartoons in books. More pictures. The mind drinks less and less. Impatience. Highways full of crowds going somewhere, somewhere, somewhere, nowhere. The gasoline refugee. Towns turn into motels, people in nomadic surges from place to place, following the moon tides, living tonight in the room where you slept this noon and I the night before."

Mildred went out of the room and slammed the door. The parlor "aunts" began to laugh at the parlor "uncles."

"Now let's take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog-lovers, the cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals."

"Yes, but what about the firemen, then?" asked Montag.

"Ah." Beatty leaned forward in the faint mist of smoke from his pipe. "What more easily explained and natural? With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word `intellectual,' of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally `bright,' did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn't it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man's mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? Me? I won't stomach them for a minute. And so when houses were finally fireproofed completely, all over the world (you were correct in your assumption the other night) there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes. They were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges, and executors. That's you, Montag, and that's me."

The door to the parlor opened and Mildred stood there looking in at them, looking at Beatty and then at Montag. Behind her the walls of the room were flooded with green and yellow and orange fireworks sizzling and bursting to some music composed almost completely of trap drums, tom-toms, and cymbals. Her mouth moved and she was saying something but the sound covered it.

Beatty knocked his pipe into the palm of his pink hand, studied the ashes as if they were a symbol to be diagnosed and searched for meaning.

"You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can't have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn't that right? Haven't you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren't they? Don't we keep them moving, don't we give them fun? That's all we live for, isn't it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these."


Montag could lip-read what Mildred was saying in the doorway. He tried not to look at her mouth, because then Beatty might turn and read what was there, too.

"Colored people don't like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Burn it. Someone's written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, into the incinerator. Funerals are unhappy and pagan? Eliminate them, too. Five minutes after a person is dead he's on his way to the Big Flue, the Incinerators serviced by helicopters all over the country. Ten minutes after death a man's a speck of black dust. Let's not quibble over individuals with memoriams. Forget them. Burn all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean."

The fireworks died in the parlor behind Mildred. She had stopped talking at the same time; a miraculous coincidence. Montag held his breath. [Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451 - 40th Anniversary Edition (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993) 86-89]

Ray Bradbury nailed today's entertainment technology. He foresaw extreme sports. He foresaw Political Correctness. It is time that we look to our historical and literary and spiritual legacies and fight to preserve them. If the tide will not stop, we may need to take the advice of this work and begin to commit these things to memory.

Friday: Some random meditation

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

All Things Made New

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series on the book of Revelation, click here.

Here is a quick review of the structure of Revelation:

  • John's Vision of the Son of Man
  • Seven Letters to Seven Churches
  • The Throne of God in Heaven
    • Seven Seals
    • Seven Trumpets
    • Seven Persons
    • Seven Bowls
    • Destruction of Babylon
    • The Return of the King
    • The New Creation
  • The Throne of God with Men

This post, which concludes this briefest of Revelation studies, will look at this New Creation. Here are the essential elements:

  1. The New Creation--"And the one seated on the throne said: “Look! I am making all things new!” Then he said to me, “Write it down, because these words are reliable and true.” He also said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the one who is thirsty I will give water free of charge from the spring of the water of life. The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son. (Revelation 21:5-7)"
  2. The New Jerusalem--"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven final plagues came and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb!” So he took me away in the Spirit to a huge, majestic mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. The city possesses the glory of God; its brilliance is like a precious jewel, like a stone of crystal-clear jasper. (Revelation 21:9-11)"
  3. The River and Trees of Life--"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life—water as clear as crystal—pouring out from the throne of God and of the Lamb, flowing down the middle of the city’s main street. On each side of the river is the tree of life producing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month of the year. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)"
  4. Attestation of the Truth of this Prophecy--"Then the angel said to me, “These words are reliable and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must happen soon.” (Look! I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy expressed in this book.) I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things, and when I heard and saw them I threw myself down to worship at the feet of the angel who was showing them to me. But he said to me, “Do not do this! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets, and with those who obey the words of this book. Worship God!” Then he said to me, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy contained in this book, because the time is near. (Revelation 22:6-10)"
  5. The Time is Near--"(Look! I am coming soon, and my reward is with me to pay each one according to what he has done! (Revelation 22:12)"
  6. The Alpha and the Omega--"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end!) (Revelation 22:13)"
  7. Blessings and Curses--"Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can have access to the tree of life and can enter into the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral, and the murderers, and the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood! “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendent of David, the bright morning star!” And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say: “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge. I testify to the one who hears the words of the prophecy contained in this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book. (Revelation 22:14-19)"

This entire section of Revelation, at a minimum, begs us to make two comparisons. The first is to compare Babylon and the New Jerusalem. The second is to compare the Garden of Eden with the New Jerusalem.

That we are to compare Babylon and the New Jerusalem can be gleaned from the parallel invitations of the angel:

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke to me. “Come,” he said, “I will show you the condemnation and punishment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters, (Revelation 17:1)

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven final plagues came and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb!” (Revelation 21:9)

Whether it is the same angel or not, we do not know. But the very structure of these two calls to "Come, I will show you..." tells us that laying these two cities side by side is appropriate. Here is what we can see:

Babylon Jerusalem
  • A Prostitute
  • Dressed in Scarlet
  • Sitting on the Beast and Waters
  • Kills the Saints
  • Corrupts the Nations
  • A Bride
  • Dressed in White
  • Descending from Heaven
  • Is the Home of the Saints
  • Heals the Nations

 Simply put, we are looking at the fact that the entire world system will one day change hands. It will be new and completely different from what we face today. This is a matter of rejoicing and hope. The will not be the corrupting influences that we fight against day in and day out. The influence that threatens us and our children will be no more. Instead of death and fear there will be life and hope.

The Garden of Eden and the New Jerusalem have many parallel elements:

Eden Jerusalem
  • A river flows out of it.
  • Contains a Tree of Life and a Tree of Knowledge.
  • The curse begins.
  • Gold and gems are outside.
  • The Lord visits.
  • The river of life flows out of it.
  • Contains two Trees of Life bearing fruit.
  • The curse ends
  • The gold and gems are inside.
  • The Lord inhabits.

In Eden and Jerusalem there exist two trees. In Eden they were two different kinds. In Jerusalem they bear the same fruit. In Eden the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was the object of commandment and disobedience. We failed and the way to the Tree of Life was blocked, less we eat and live forever as people who sin. The trees in New Jerusalem both heal and grant life.

The mercy of God is such that the restored has more glory than that which had not yet fallen. It cost Him dearly to do this. The Lion became the Lamb and died to purchase this restored glory.

This is what we set out eyes on. To fully apprehend this end and our place in it is motivation to press on and overcome.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up. You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin. (Hebrews 12:1-4)

Jesus endured because of the joy set before Him. The New Jerusalem and the New Heavens and the New Earth are the joy that is set before us. Surely we can overcome and triumph:

But remember the former days when you endured a harsh conflict of suffering after you were enlightened. At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and afflictions, and at other times you came to share with others who were treated in that way. For in fact you shared the sufferings of those in prison, and you accepted the confiscation of your belongings with joy, because you knew that you certainly had a better and lasting possession. So do not throw away your confidence, because it has great reward. (Hebrews 10:32-35)

Again, this better and lasting possession provides motivation and perspective so that we can overcome and press on in the face of great difficulty. This is what Revelation is to inspire and build in us. Think back to the seven letters and how each one ended with a reward for overcoming. Each reward pointed to this new beginning.   

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendent of David, the bright morning star!” And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say: “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge. (Revelation 22:16-17)

Indeed! Come Lord Jesus!

Thursday: Fahrenheit 451: How Books Came to be Burned 

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Springtime and Harvest

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series on the book of Revelation, click here.

Before I write about the New Heavens and the New Earth, I want to write briefly about the relationship between some biblical holidays and the first and second coming of Jesus Christ. You can find a much fuller treatment in a paper of mine called The Lord's Appointed Times.

The purposes of Jesus first coming to this earth all centered around certain biblical holidays that come in the spring. The New Testament makes direct associations to Jesus "our Passover lamb" and Jesus being the "first fruits." How all this relates to the spring holidays is in this table:

Passover and the Passover Lamb (Lev. 23:4-8) The Last Supper and Jesus' Death
First Fruits (Lev. 23:9-14) Jesus' Resurrection
Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-20) The Coming of the Holy Spirit

What is interesting to see is that Jesus' second coming centers around the fall holidays, as this table shows:

Trumpets (Lev. 23:23-25) Warnings on the Earth
Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:26-32) The Return of the King, the Salvation of Israel, Wrath
Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-36) The Messianic Kingdom
Simcha Torah The New Creation

The last row in the table is not a biblical holiday, but it is a Jewish holiday that is celebrated soon after Tabernacles. Simcha Torah means the Joy of Torah. It celebrates the start of a new annual cycle that reads through the Torah in the synagogue services. Of course, the new cycle begins, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." 

Historically, Jesus came and provided salvation. Then came the summer of this current period of church history. When the time is ready, the trumpets will sound and this age will move towards its close in the Messianic Kingdom before the final end and a new beginning.

Wednesday: All Things Made New

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Monday, June 16, 2003

The Revelation of Jesus Christ

Before the Judgment Seat

For those who would like to start at the very beginning of this series on the book of Revelation, click here.

A short post today on these verses from Revelation:

Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened—the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death—the lake of fire. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15, The Net Bible)

Earth and heaven fled from His presence. I am struck with the two interpretations that are possible here. The first is that the physical heavens and earth flee from His presence. That is: there is an underlying evil (or curse) that is part of creation and at this point in future history, those elements are destroyed. According to Peter:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; when it comes, the heavens will disappear with a horrific noise, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare. Since all these things are to melt away in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God? Because of this day, the heavens will be burned up and dissolve, and the heavenly bodies will melt away in a blaze! But, according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness truly resides. (2 Peter 3:10-13)

The second interpretation is that the creatures in the heavens and the earth flee and find nowhere to run, because no thing can escape from the Presence of God. They are, therefore, brought to judgment. It is possible that both are intended. Speaking in computer operating system terms, Universe Version 1.0 crashes, because it became infected with the Sin-Rebellion virus. It's time to reboot, defragment, and cleanup.

All the people who have ever and will ever live will come before the Lord. There are two types of books. The first type, of which there are many, contain a record of our deeds--good and bad. You and I need to live our lives in light of this day: as Peter says, "what sort of people must we be?" You and I will face this judge, and the books of our lives will be read, and we will be judged according to our deeds. We will see the damage our small lies have done. We will see the wounds of our careless and thoughtless words, our adulteries, our selfishness, our pride, and our murders. We will also see the good things, especially those done by the power of the Holy Spirit. We will see those times of God directed and God pleasing choices.

But as for entering the new heavens and the new earth, "in which righteousness truly resides," our deeds are too haphazard and random. Everlasting time means that the effect of my small indiscretion, small self-centered choices, small (really really small) slips of the tongue, etc. can add up to quite of bit of damage. We have already been there. The thousands of years that has seen humanity occupy this earth have not been good years. What might it be like after 1,000,000 years of my choices alone. Like Richard Wagner's The Merry Prankster, heaven would eventually have to get a noose and hang me by the neck--just to get some peace.

Which brings me to the second type of book. There is only one--no deeds are recorded--only names--purchased by the Lamb--purchased by His own blood. This is the Book of Life. Your entire future, once you appear before this throne, rests on whether your name is listed in that book or not. It will not be what you did or why, it will be what He did. I know that for me, the turning of the last page in the books of my deeds will show that the new heavens and the new earth cannot risk my entering. I will then wait for the Book of Life to be referenced and there my name will be. I have been bought preciously and my old body and my old ways will be blasted away, but I will have a new body:

For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:19-23)

It seems to me that this day, when my name is read from the Book of Life, is the day of my final adoption and the redemption of my body. My salvation, which began 33 years ago and has continued to this day, will be complete. I trust and hope that it will be the same for you. If you are not sure, and you think that a life with the living God and His ways is a good thing, you must do two things:

  1. Forget about getting there by writing better pages in the books of your deeds and actions. Your final story will not make it. Try to appreciate the damage that years of your kind of choices and actions would do to a truly good world. Use this picture: a beautiful mountain reflected on a lake--and your litter strewn across the meadow path leading to the lake.
  2. Talk to God. Ask Him to listen to you and ask Him to write your Name in the Book of Life. Ask His Holy Spirit to enter your life and begin the process of your salvation.

Tuesday: Springtime and Harvest

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>