Thursday, June 4, 2020

Apocalyptic? #6: The Divorce of God (7 Seals)

Thus says the Lord: “Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, with which I have put her away?

 (Isaiah 50:1—See also Jeremiah 3:6-10)

Have world events caught your attention lately?  A world-wide COVID19 pandemic, the resulting shut down of the world’s economies, riots, looting, burning, and anarchy in the streets of American cities, the impeachment of an American president based on an interpretation of a phone call, earthquakes all over the globe, massively destructive hurricanes?  Even within the past century:  two World Wars, a genocidal holocaust, wars and rumors of wars surrounding the newly established State of Israel, the use of atomic weapons, 911, and other Islamic Terrorist Attacks? 

Catching the attention of the Egyptian pharaoh was the goal of the Ten Plagues brought by Moses.  God wanted to warn Egypt that He was taking Israel away to the Promised Land, to give the Pharaoh the chance to repent and let His people go.  Catching the attention of Israel was the goal of the Seven Seals of Revelation.  He wanted to warn Israel that she was in the process of being DIVORCED, to give her the chance to repent.  
J. Massyngberde Ford observes:
The Hebrew document which resembles the apocalyptic scroll most closely is the get mequssar, the tied (folded and sealed) deed.
. . . .
It is said that the folded get originated with priests who wished to divorce their wives, as in Baba Bathra 160b (Epstein):
What is the reason why the Rabbis instituted a folded (deed)?—They were [in] a place [inhabited] by priests, who were very hot-tempered and they divorced their wives (for the slightest provocation). Consequently the Rabbis made [this] provision, so that in the meantime they might cool down.
. . . . [T]he Lamb's biblion . . . might easily be a bill of divorce . . . .
Biblion is used for a bill of divorce in LXX Deut 24:1,3, Isa 50:1, Jer 3:8, Mark 10:4, Matt 19:7 . . . .  Although the Greek biblion is usually qualified by apostasion, the Semitic word get is often used without qualification when it means "bill of divorce." (J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, vol. 38 of The Anchor Bible [Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1975], 92-94.)
In Deuteronomy 24:1 and 3, the very same term for “bill” of divorce (biblion) is used when God gave Israel the law concerning divorce as when in Isaiah 50:1 and Jeremiah 3:8 prophesied that God would divorce Israel—would give her a bill of divorcement.  The term biblion is the Greek word translated “scroll” in Revelation 5:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, and 9.  The document actually resembled a pamphlet or brochure, rather than a scroll.  It was sealed at every fold.  Jesus (the Lamb) was the only Israelite deemed “worthy” to break the seals and open the biblion.  Jesus was the victim of Israel’s greatest sin—demanding his crucifixion.  Each time a seal was broken, there was an opportunity for God’s wife—Israel—to repent and be forgiven. 
Since we are “Reading Revelation through the Mirror” (See Apocalyptic? #2), John has now moved two steps away from the mirror, in the following steps:
1.      The church in dispersion (to whom John is writing) was informed largely through the “epistles” of Paul and others.  There, in Revelation 1-3, John began his book exactly where the church was at the time, sending “epistles/letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor.”


2.      The Gospels’ presentation of a mortal Jesus, the servant of God, was updated with John’s picture of the exaltation of the Lamb in Heaven (Revelation 4-5).


3.       The Jewish prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea) presented Israel/Zion as the wife of God who played the “harlot” and who was, therefore, threatened with “divorce.” John precedes his “plagues” with the telos of this divorce threat--the “divorce” scroll with seven seals, as seen by J. Massyngberde Ford (Revelation 6-11).
With the number 7 operative in the divorce scroll, one is reminded of Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness-based-upon-repentance in Luke 17:3-4: “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times . . . and turns again to you saying ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”  Matthew 18:21-22 reports that Peter asked Jesus, “Lord how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”  Jesus answers: “Seventy times seven.”  What seems clear is that Jesus and God encourage forgiveness, so long as there is repentance.  In opening the seven seals of the divorce biblion in Revelation, God is trying to capture the attention of his wife, Israel, to give her the opportunity to repent.  The bottom line, however, is stated in Revelation 9:20-21: 
“And the rest of mankind, who were not killed with these plagues, repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood which can neither see nor hear nor walk, and they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
So, what were the warnings that God gave to Israel?  What are the Seven Seals?
THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE:  The first four seals are described as horsemen.  Israel has seen these warnings for years.
Seal #1:  Conquest.  Beginning with the Jews being carried away into Babylon, Israel had been subdued by a constant progression of World Empires:  The Babylonian Empire, followed by the Medo-Persian Empire, followed by the Greek Empire, and now finally followed by the Roman Empire.  John, in Revelation, changes the meaning of “Conqueror” from its typical meaning of “one who kills and destroys” to the meaning of a martyr—"one who is willingly killed and destroyed.”  Jesus, who willingly allowed himself to be crucified, serves as the paradigm of a true Conqueror.  But in this passage, John reverts to the original, typical meaning.  The Jews were sent into captivity in Babylon to catch their attention—to enable them to repent and avoid Divorce.  In the 7 years from 66 to 73 AD, the Jews are facing the worst of the Roman conquest.  The Jewish state declared independence from Rome in 66, and Rome promptly responded, crushing-killing-enslaving the Jews, looting and burning the Temple, and destroying Jerusalem.  This “conquest” should, most surely, have caught the attention of Israel, right?
Seal #2:  War.  Beginning with the declaration of independence in 66 AD, the war began.  Josephus, the Jewish writer from that period, wrote the gory details in his book, The Wars of the Jews.  One of the most cruel tactics used by the Romans in this war is described by Josephus in War 5, Chapter 11:
So now Titus . . . sent a party of horsemen, and ordered they should lay ambushes for those that went out into the valleys to gather food. . . . [T]he greater part of them were poor people, who . . . could not hope to escape away, together with their wives and children. . . . [T]hey were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. . . . they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more . . . .  So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies.
This “war” should, most surely, have caught the attention of Israel, right?
Seal #3:  Famine.  “Those that went out into the valleys to gather food,” as described by Josephus, did so because “the severity of the famine made them bold in thus going out; so nothing remained but that . . . they should be taken by the enemy.”  The Romans had destroyed the crops as they invaded the land of Israel.  This “famine” should, most surely, have caught the attention of Israel, right?
Seal #4:  Death.  According to Wikipedia: 
Josephus claims that 1.1 million people were killed during the siege, of which a majority were Jewish. Josephus attributes this to the celebration of Passover which he uses as rationale for the vast number of people present among the death toll. Armed rebels, as well as the frail citizens, were put to death. All of Jerusalem's remaining citizens became Roman prisoners. After the Romans killed the armed and elder people, 97,000 were still enslaved . . . .  Of the 97,000, thousands were forced to become gladiators and eventually expired in the arena. Many others were forced to assist in the building of the Forum of Peace and the Colosseum. Those under 17 years of age were sold into servitude.  . . . Titus and his soldiers celebrated victory upon their return to Rome by parading the Menorah and Table of the Bread of God's Presence through the streets. Up until this parading, these items had only ever been seen by the high priest of the Temple. This event was memorialized in the Arch of Titus.

This number of “deaths” should, most surely, have caught the attention of Israel, right?

THE MARTYRS UNDER THE ALTAR:  The fifth seal is also something Israel has witnessed for years.
Seal #5:  Martyrs’ Prayers.  Revelation 6:9-11 (NIV) states: 
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the [land]?
11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
Jesus was not the only one who was slain in Jerusalem for the word of God.  Matthew 23:7 (NIV) quotes Jesus as saying:  Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (See also Luke 13.34). Matthew 23:35 (NIV) expands:   And so upon you [Jerusalem] will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (See also Luke 11:51).  John the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod.  The deacon Stephen became the first Christian martyr, whose death-by-stoning was approved by Saul of Tarsus.  The Apostle James, the brother of the Apostle John, was the first Apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:2).  These “martyrs” should, most surely, have caught the attention of Israel, right?  Just as the police stood by silently while George Floyd was killed by a fellow police officer, would not the guilt of silently aiding and abetting in these killings have gripped their conscience?  It certainly gripped the conscience of Saul of Tarsus as he silently aided and abetted the killing of Stephen.  It caused him to REPENT.  Acts 22:20 (NIV) records his repentant confession: “And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.”  God accepts repentance.  On the first Christian Pentecost, Peter tells the Jerusalem crowds (Acts 2:36-38 NIV): 

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Repentance is the proper response for being confronted with each seal in the divorce scroll.  Some of Israel actually DID REPENT, as Saul of Tarsus and the Jews at Pentecost did.  NOT ALL OF ISRAEL was to be divorced.  John the author of Revelation is a Jew, himself.  As mentioned in Apocalyptic? #5:
The part of Israel who is the HARLOT is the woman dressed in scarlet in Revelation 17, Mystery Babylon.  The part of the woman who is the remnant and represents true Israel is the 144,000 “VIRGINS” referred to in Revelation 14:4:  These are they which were not defiled among women; for they are VIRGINS. These are they which follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.  Technically, the HARLOT is being divorced, but the VIRGINS are the bride of Christ in the [third] woman.
ASTROLOGICAL, METEOROLOGICAL, AND GEOLOGICAL EVENTS:  The sixth seal is also something Israel has witnessed for years.
Seal #6:  Earthquakes and Heavenly Signs.  Revelation 6:12-14 (NIV) states: 
12 I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, 13 and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. 14 The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
In the enlightened age of the 21st Century, do you ever stand in awe of astrological, meteorological, and geological events?  I was astounded by the vast devastation of Hurricane Michael, in 2018, as it came on shore in the vicinity of the Panama City Campus of Florida State University, where I teach.  It flattened virtually all of Mexico Beach, Florida, destroyed much of Panama City, itself, closed the campus for a semester, and made it impossible for me to return to the city from the shelter I had taken in—Orlando.  When I did make the trip, stretches of Interstate 10, fifty miles to the north, were closed because of forests snapped off like toothpicks and littering the roadway.  The devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017 as it struck Puerto Rico and other islands also captured the attention of Americans, as did Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, slightly more than a decade earlier.  The San Francisco Earthquake (during the World Series of 1989) was astounding.  So, why would we be surprised that the Jews might have noticed the earthquake in Jerusalem as Jesus was being crucified, accompanied by the darkening of the skies.  Small wonder that Josephus noticed that, during the War for Jerusalem, “there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, and continual lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth that were in an earthquake . . . that . . . forshewed some grand calamities that were coming” (Wars, IV,4,5).  Solar and lunar eclipses, and meteorite showers are common occurrences that were witnessed from time to time.
These “natural signs” should, most surely, have caught the attention of Israel, right?  So, did some repent?  Yes.  144,000 of them, to be exact.  But those 144,000 are the subject of my next post, as we approach the 7th and final seal.  Meanwhile, do you think there is any tendency to repent on the minds of people in America in 2020, in light of the many “warnings” we have been receiving?

No comments:

Post a Comment