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Thursday, May 16, 2019
“For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien,
"Sorry...we didn't see that coming!"
One of the hallmark traits of most Fundamentalist Christians is their obsession with Bible Prophecy. Prophecy has a rather mystical draw to it and implies that the future is not so unknowable after all. Most humans spend their waking time either in the past feeling angry or in speculation of the future feeling anxious. It goes with not having the ability to live the real day one is currently experiencing. Many Christians have raised knowing the future to an art form and have learned that it is also quit profitable for the church in keeping members in line with fear, anxiety and a perverse kind of hope.
Bible prophecy and making it the center of one's life, reading the Bible as if it were a Newspaper, is a slippery slope and a very negative way to live one's life.
With enough study, one can learn that there are other explanations for that which many hold so near and dear as predictions of things that will happen "shortly" in the future. No one seems to think that "shortly" for whoever really wrote Revelation has now been over Two Thousand Years! I hate to think what "I'll be back later" would mean.
We have learned to develop the bad habit of reading Paul's predications of "time is short" with the same generous deference to the fact that short for Paul never really quite worked out for him either. We all know the cycle Paul went through of telling the Church to be ready, act as if you had no family and support the Church, to his final realization that "oh well, I fought a good fight, it was fun while it lasted, I was wrong... I still win... see ya."
On the other hand, we have areas of scripture that have always been used as prophecy which, to me, are simply not and never were intended to be by the original authors.
Isaiah 7 is an example of such a use of OT scripture by NT authors. This virgin birth prophecy ranks as one of the most questionable uses of scripture Matthew used to tell his story of Jesus birth. Matthew had a habit of mining the OT for anything that seemed like it fit the story he wanted to tell about Jesus. When one examines the OT context, we have to conclude that, that at least in its original meaning, it was never meant to have the meaning Matthew assigned it.
In fact, in its original context, it has absolutely nothing to do with prophecy but is merely a historical account of events going on at the time. It was never viewed as a prophecy of the birth circumstances of either the Jewish Messiah or Jesus until Matthew mined it for its story telling value to his perspective. Matthew took the parts that fit his story but left out parts of that same story in Isaiah that obviously made no sense to his perspective on Jesus. If you simply look at Matthew's accounts of Jesus birth story, it is easy to see he cobbled it together in the style of the day from OT scriptures and not real events that he knew of. It is not my point to explain all this here, and I have touched on it in past columns.
Another aspect of "prophecy" we miss is that much of what the COGs [Churches of God] use to promote their urgency upon the membership is probably prophecy written after the fact, which makes it really non-prophecy.
Either the book of Daniel was written during the time of the events recorded, 585 BC, or as many scholars now feel, it was written much later in the 160's BC to encourage the Maccabeans in their revolt against Rome. It was written AFTER all the events prophesied took place, which is why Daniel 11 is so specific. Daniel 12 then becomes rather generic because after the rise of Rome, the authors didn't really know the rest of the story much after the specifics of the 160's ended.
The point is that we all know that OUR lives were lived, and many still live their lives out, linking Daniel to Matthew 24, which also was written to address issues now long past from our times.
Again it is not my purpose to prove that to you, but I have accepted that much of what we call history prophesied is really "prophecy" historicized, or the conforming of later writings to fit events as they had already occurred. If the detail of Daniel 11 is the kind of thing that is able to be locked in stone for future fulfillment, then we as humans have no choice in the part we have to play in the game as it is already decided for us evidently down to the details. It's a philosophical problem to me about choices and free will.
Other problem with prophecy is that they simply didn't come true. We all were groomed with the fantastic story of the fall of Tyre and how it would be scraped bare never to be inhabited etc. The problem is it wasn't and the city of Tyre existed in NT times and does to this day. The Tyranians rebuffed Nebuchadnezzar and only succumbed to Alexander the Great, yet still exists. It's a cop out to point out ancient ruins in the water as proof of prophecy fulfilled when the city called Tyre is just over your shoulder. These facts are easily found in a simple search on the topic.
Ezekiel's Failed Prophecies on Tyre and Egypt
Ezekiel made a prophecy that, at the time he wrote, seems most likely to be fulfilled. The prophet was writing, in 587 BC, at the time when Nebuchadnezzar was laying siege on Tyre. With such a powerful army like Nebuchadnezzar's, it was not surprising that Ezekiel prophesied the fall of Tyre to the Babylonian king.
Ezekiel 26:7-14: For thus says the Lord: "Behold I will bring upon Tyre from the north Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a hosts of many soldiers. He will slay with the sword your daughters on the mainland; he will set up a siege wall against you. He will direct the shock of his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers...With the hoofs of his horses he will trample all your streets; he will slay your people with the sword and your mighty pillar will fall to the ground...they will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses... I will make you a bare rock...you shall never be rebuilt, for I have spoken," says the Lord God. Personally it seems that "say the Lord God" was really "says Ezekiel" a prophet who also showed many classic signs of schizophrenia.
The whole passage clearly prophesied the sack and complete destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar. However, the vivid description of the sack and fall of Tyre never happened. After a siege of thirteen years, until 573 BC, Nebuchadnezzar lifted his siege on Tyre and had to arrive at a compromised agreement. Thus Nebuchadnezzar did not destroy Tyre. Tyre was destroyed by Alexander the Great, 240 years later. And furthermore, despite the prophet, the city of Tyre was eventually rebuilt.
When Nebuchadnezzar broke the gates down he found the city almost empty. The majority of the people had moved by ship to an island about one half mile off the coast and fortified the city there. The mainland city was destroyed in 573, but the city of Tyre on the island remained a powerful city for several hundred years.
The implication of this paragraph is clear: that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed a major portion of Tyre. Tyre's main city was always on the island. The part of the city on the mainland is nothing more than a suburb. In other words, Nebuchadnezzar could achieve no more than take over a relatively minor part of the city. Furthermore it is obvious from the passage in Ezekiel that the complete destruction of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar was prophesized. Ezekiel himself admitted that this prophecy was a mistake!
Ezekiel 29:17-20: ...the Lord God came to me: "Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon made his army labor hard against Tyre; every head was made bald and every shoulder was rubbed bare; yet neither he nor his army got anything from Tyre to pay for the labor that he had performed against it... (Website: Rejection of Pascal's Wager)
The prophecies of both Isaiah and Ezekiel against Egypt also fell far short of reality in their "fulfillment."
"The prophet Isaiah, for instance, foretold the drying up of all the waters of the Egypt, and the destruction of all land used for plantation due to this drying up of the River Nile.
Isaiah 19:5-7: And the waters of the Nile will be dried up, and the river will be parched and dry; and its canal will become foul, and the branches of Egypt's Nile will diminish and dry up, reeds and rushes will rot away. There will be bare places by the Nile, on the brink of the Nile, and all that is sown by the Nile will dry up, be driven away, and be no more.
This part of Isaiah, widely accepted by scholars to be written around the eighth century BC, is about 2750 years old. And in all this period of two and three quarters millennia, this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled! Moreover it is clear from the context that Isaiah prophecy was meant for the Egypt of his time. For it was with that Egypt that Isaiah and his people had a grievance against, and the prophecy was a warning to them. Obviously this is a clear example of an unfulfilled prophecy." (Website: Rejection of Pascal's Wager)
I only point these out because so many would NEVER entertain the idea that any prophecy of the Bible didn't come true and will launch any number and kind of apologetic to defend what was said would be from what really occurred in history. Some of you are doing that right now.. :)
And now we again live in a time where "prophecy" can manipulate real lives. There are any number of those who just know how it will all be. The kings of all directions are doing this and that..."just read my article and see for yourself." Every world news event, like in the 60's or 70's or 80's, is worthy of note. The last Pope would be the last Pope and now this Pope will be the last Pope and I expect the next Pope will also be the last Pope. Meanwhile we get older but not the wiser for the experience. What we'll end up with is drawing every imagined prophetic event to ourselves in reality as some government leaders even seem to base policy on "what the Bible says." It is very possible to cause things to happen because one expects them to happen. The problem is you end up with all the damage and none of the salvation. In short, an end of the world scenario can be acted out based on false subconscious beliefs and yet still you end up with no Second Coming, World Tomorrow or Kingdom of God.
So why might it be better not to LIVE your actual life around the alleged reality and truth of prophecy and the "imminent" return of Jesus which has been imminent now for a couple thousand years?
I've been there, I've done this. I've lived my real life ahead of my actual life while it quietly slipped by. I've made life decisions in the past based on a preoccupation with the future. I've also let a lot of precious life time go by thinking about things that proved to be untrue and teaching things that weren't. I thought they were, but when one realizes they aren't, it would be hoped one would stop that. I did.
Basing a life on what may or may not happen in the future, and Bible types did it all the time and were wrong too, is to miss the present. And whether one admits it or not, the present is all we ever actually really have to work with. Your kids really are their ages they are NOW and one does not postpone making memories with them now because the future is a more serious consideration. They will NEVER again be kids, and you and I will never again be any younger.
For Paul, to live might be loss and to die gain, but that's theological rhetoric and let's face it, Paul never, from what we can note, ever had to enjoy his children, mate or life in the now. He was in the imminent future right up until it bit him in the ass. He may have had the power to have a wife, great word there, "power", but I bet he was basically not one the women would flock to, to begin with.
If you are still in a COG, does your Sabbath experience, weekends that your kids also have to call their free time, only consist for them of coming, sitting and going? How often we forget that the parents generally got to make their life decisions but then deny them to their children. I know, "raise up your child in the way he should go..." Problem I have is with the "should go."
I used to take my kids to the local zoo on Sabbaths after church. This was in the 1970's. I have never regretted spending MANY a Friday night with them when little, swimming at the YMCA and stopping at Dunkin Donuts on the way home. That ritual of the "now" is far more remembered than any sermon I may have given that day. But for some, depending on their prophecy laden pastor, life is just one big "around the corner", "just a little longer" and never ending "gun lap." I had kidded for years that we have been in the gun lap so often, we run the risk of running out of bullets. Little did I know that was a prophecy that would come true!
Prophecy means little to me at this point in my life. Actually I believe there is no such thing as prophecy. Bible prophecy that seems to have taken place is, as I have said, prophecy historized not history prophecied. Humans don't and can't know the future. How many Apostle Paul's and Dave Packs does it take to prove that!
It may mean a lot to some of you depending on who is feeding the need to know what I don't think we can know in this world. We can hid behind the idea that we know God is doing this or that, but that's pretty iffy knowing.
Whatever your position, at least know that even the Bible got it wrong at times, no matter what your pastor says or how your church motivates you with prophecy to live on the edge of your chair, just a bit ahead of the now, in somewhat a fearful or at least anxious, "what's going to happen" state.
Isaiah was mistaken, Ezekiel was mistaken, Paul was wrong and yes, even Jesus was mistaken in his own perceptions of his own experience. That's another story.
If we can be wise enough to see that even Bible prophecies indeed have failed, that some prophecies are not really prophecies, and that reading the newspaper as if it were the Bible come to life is not wise, we might actually have a life in the now we can say was a real life. A life lived in anticipation of some alleged future is not a real life. It's disillusionment in the making.