Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Bible Challenge: Day 279

The scriptures read are Ezekiel 21-22, Psalm 79 and Revelation 2.

Ezekiel 21. The Lord has pulled his sword. It's judgment time.

There are two paths. One leads to Jerusalem. One leads to Ammon. Both will face judgment.

Ezekiel 22. The reasons for God's judgement: idolatry, killing, mistreatment of parents, cheating immigrants, oppressing the fatherless and widows, incest, murder for hire, usury, extortion. Also priests ignoring God's teaching (which would tell people how wrong this stuff is) and covering up for corrupt politicians with blood on their hands. Not much different from today.

Nobody was willing to stand in the breach and defend the city. It sounds like he is referring to someone like Abraham who pleaded for Sodom when God was considering destroying it. But no one stepped up for Jerusalem.

Psalm 79. A familiar hymn supplies the tune for this metrical version of this psalm asking God to avenge the horrific slaughter of God's people.

Revelation 2. The first church addressed is the one at Ephesus, which, if you remember, is a very important city. "I know your ____" will become a refrain boding good or ill to the church addressed. The report on Ephesus sounds good. They are hard working and don't let false apostles take over. But they have lost their first love. What could that be? If they are zealous about heresy, which would cover loving God, then perhaps it is loving other people which they have lost. They have become so zealous about doctrine they forgot to love their neighbors as themselves or perhaps their enemies. Are they displaying a lack of love for those who have bad doctrine? It is so hard for human beings to love the sinner while hating the sin. We tend to either enable the person or reject them rather than help them with their problem.

Not sure who the Nicolaitans are but they are probably the false apostles mentioned earlier. The tree of life reference is clever, referring to the tree in the Garden of Eden which was not touched, the "tree" on which Christ was crucified (it may have been a literal tree trunk to which the crossbar was affixed, saving the Romans having to erect a new upright each time they crucified someone), and a mocking nod to the tree of Artemus, the deity whose temple in Ephesus was renowned all over the Empire.

Smyrna is up next, a suffering and poor church that is rich in faith. The city had been destroyed and rebuilt and the phoenix was its symbol. This may explain the designation of Christ as the one who was dead but came back to life. They are given encouragement for an intense but brief imprisonment that is coming up. Still after the imprisonment comes a verdict and punishment. They could be sentenced to the salt mines, exile or death. Which explains why it is said that the victor is safe from the second death. After physical death there is the possibility of spiritual death, exile from God. But that is not the fate of those who trust God to the end.

Pergamum is next. Good news: they haven't denied Christ despite living under the shadow of Satan's throne. This could refer to the altar to Zeus or the fact that his city boasted the first temple to the divine emperor.  Bad news: they have succumbed to the heresy of the Nicolaitans which is likened to Balaam's heresy, which was apparently idolatry coupled with sexual immorality. The church needs to repent. If they do they will receive manna, a reference to what the Israelites ate after being freed and while on their way to the promised land. The white stone could be a reference to the stone given the accused with an "acquitted" verdict or an invitation to a party engraved on a stone. That could mean the wedding supper of the Lamb. Either it means freedom or acceptance by Christ, both good.

Thyatira was a city dominated by guilds, each with a patron god. This could make doing business difficult for Christians. But the church has a lot going for it. Their big problem was tolerating a prophetess (nicknamed Jezebel after Ahab's notorious wife) who taught the same combination of idolatry and immorality that is rife in the region. She will be punished and her "children" (followers) as well. But not all of the church is enthralled by her so they are safe. The deep secrets of Satan may be an indication that this is an early version of Gnosticism that they are dealing with. The reward for those who hold out is authority and the morning star which is probably a reference to Jesus (Rev. 22:16).

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