How many trees (of life)?

Fundamental to the Genesis narrative are ‘two’ trees: the tree of life that was barred to the first couple after that initial fall (hence immortality of the soul has a major uphill battle ever since to get any traction from then on, and never makes it into biblical theology – phew for that!) and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the eventual ‘tree’ that Jesus is nailed to (‘they do not know what they are doing’). However, due to the generoisty of God they were allowed to eat of all the trees of the garden except that one that was off-limits.

Fast-forward and keep on going to the end of the story and we come to Rev. 22:2

On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

καὶ ἐκεῖθεν ξύλον ζωῆς ποιοῦν καρποὺς δώδεκα, κατὰ μῆνα ἕκαστον – yes a little bit of strange letters… but more than strange letters… ‘a tree of life’ (no definite article, though it might be implied, for the moment let me suggest ‘a’) maybe one tree on both sides, maybe two trees, maybe a tree here and there and over there all around the river… really hard to envision and to translate, but I like the idea that all trees have become a / the tree of life… now where would that go?

Trees – God’s gracious creation – that which appeals to the eye and gives good fruit (trees being the first explicit reference to ‘aesthetic’ goodness); trees that represent people (‘I see people as trees’)… maybe trees then representing all that is good in creation, all that is mutually beneficial relationally, when connected with becomes a source of LIFE, true life for one and all.

There might have been two trees by way of contrast in the Garden, but the purpose of eating of all the trees was that in so doing life would be received and enhanced from any tree that was eaten from.

The New Jerusalem does not destroy creation, but brings it all to a new level. Maybe there are only trees of life in the NJ. And Paul says when we are in Christ already there is new creation. Every tree that was good to look at and had fruit that was healthy was to be eaten. In Christ transforms everything. The ordinary becomes sacred. The future is now; no need to look for the sacred, find a tree, and the tree that looks good to the eyes that see ‘new creation’ will become a source of and an enhancement of life.

More than meets the eye

The eye… what one looks at, or more precisely ‘how’ one looks at ‘someone’ is important for us all. A central element in Paul seems to be that something has already happened, for

… if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Cor. 4:17).

That is pretty comprehensive: ‘there is… everything… everything.’ The preceding verse states that ‘we regard no one from a human point of view’. Sight has changed, how we view everyone. That is a challenge beyond a challenge. Vladimir Putin is included? I guess so, for when Paul said no one, he had to be including Caesar and that particular one who raised the sword against him – Nero, the person who sparked the ‘antiChrist’ theme of Revelation (666 / 616 both being how his name was numerised).

Now to a Jesus’ text on how we see.

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:28).

Sight…

In John 8 we read of the woman ‘caught in adultery’ and of course we do not read of ‘the man caught in adultery’. Patriarchal world-view, let’s pin the blame where it belongs… and enough in Proverbs to back this up biblically. So Jesus saying ‘but I say to you’ is not simply going from action to the heart (via the eyes) but is also going against the flow of biblical patriarchy (yes I did write that). If we only had Jesus we would be reading the ‘man, and only the man is guilty’.

We have then a wonderful correction to patriarchy. We see the same thing with his statements with regard to divorce where he (unlike the culture of his day) gives equal rights to women as to men.

The purpose of the ‘look’ is central to what Jesus is saying, interestingly the word ‘lustfully’ does not actually appear. It is the Greek word, epithumeo, the same word that Jesus said when he spoke to his disciples that he desired to eat the Passover with them (Lk. 22:15), and is the word used to translate the 10th commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife (Exod. 20:17, LXX).

The text is a whole lot deeper than ‘control your sexual desires’, for that 10th commandment includes coveting donkeys and animals. When we combine it with Paul I think it is informing us that our sight is important. Whether that concerns sexual boundaries, or other boundaries, but essentially it is to do with our desires of possession. If there is a new creation we can have our sight changed. Old (patriarchal) definitions have gone, indeed old creational definitions have gone. We do not ‘see’ anyone that way. Ticking the box concerning sexual ‘lust’ gets us so far, but there is much further to go. No-one is here to meet our expectations, nor to be the fulfilment of our desires. They are first seen as living in this new creation and so cannot be classified nor objectivised.

Happy Christmas

Whether it was the 25th or not seems irrelevant. The incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us: almost too good to be true, but the investment (understatement) of God into creation opens a future that takes away all the limitations. I like that it is a week before our new year… a kind of breathe in and then breathe out as we hit that Jan. 1 date.

Here are a few of my Christmas texts:

Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen. 3:23,24).

The Adam (male and female) leave the original temple travelling Eastward. God also leaves the original temple, the place where they could hear ‘the sound of the presence of God in the evening hour’. His/ her sound now muffled but never silent outside that original temple.

Then he brought me to the gate, the gate facing east. And there, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east; the sound was like the sound of mighty waters; and the earth shone with his glory (Ezek. 43:1,2).

Glory returning… manifest in the humanity of Jesus… manifest in a vulnerable baby. But a shining earth.

Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar (Ezek. 47:1).

Water leaving the temple… the temple is not the goal, the ‘wherever the river goes’ until…

Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes… On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing (Ezek. 47:9, 12).

Healing leaves… for the nations.

Pray (what) for Israel

Glad to read of people praying for Israel, and in these days of resurgent violence to be praying for peace. Individuals and families being thrown into pain and suffering.

Something happens though that seems so predictable with a Scripture pulled out to defend whatever ‘Israel’ does. So here I go into a little turbulent waters.

What is meant by ‘Israel’? There are many answers to that question – dependent on what theology shapes the reading. And when I write theology, we also have to include Jewish theologies. Not all Jews (now, nor in biblical times) accept that ‘all Israel is Israel’. Even Jewish theologies differ on their perspective of the ‘land’.

Never speak a negative word about Israel… really? That seems so far from being in line with the biblical prophets. They spoke into the life of other nations but mainly spoke into the life of Israel. And given the various streams in the Scriptures if we let the streams of conflict to influence each other it would be very difficult to jump on a bandwagon of ‘support Israel at all costs’. In all situations, support can also mean challenge… don’t let me get away with whatever path I choose.

I am not actually convinced that God promised the land to Israel. Of course there are many, many Scriptures that suggest that… but then again there are some Scriptures that suggest God ‘ordained’ monarchy (Deut. 17:14-16)… whereas I much prefer 1 Sam. 8 as being God’s response to monarchy (for Israel). Oh and the land… I think Paul agrees with me in Romans. And if Paul does not then I think there is a Paul somewhere in the world who does! (Of course the first sentence above is a little provocative… but I appeal to Paul of Tarsus, Jeremiah, and to Stephen; to the original promise to a certain gentleman from Ur and to his ‘seed’.)

I am not interested in replacement, but am interested in fulfilment; I am interested in calling, and calling for the sake of the entire world (book #2 on ‘Significant Other’ tracks the downward trajectory of Israel as royal priesthood so that it opens the understanding of Jesus dying for the Jew (first)).

There is one incredibly strong Scripture concerning Israel… and I do not think that an appeal to the host of Scriptures that are often appealed to cut it… after all someone on the throne of David forever, priesthood for ever… for ever… for ever…

‘Because of the patriarchs’. Now that is strong. Says a lot about God… gives me a lot of hope for all peoples.

Inaccurate?

Inaccurate prophecy - an issue?

Prophecy, prophecy, prophecy and some more prophecy. Predictions…

Alongside getting blessed and helped, ever get troubled by what is / has been prophesied?

Maybe you are blessed when someone puts their hands up and apologises for getting it wrong? Well a big honour to anyone who walks in integrity and humility when that takes place… And yet, and yet there is something much deeper than accuracy that is often involved.

To compound issues there are inaccurate predictions recorded in Scripture. [There is in some charismatic circles a teaching that the prophets of the Old Testament spoke the ‘very words of God’, those in the New did not speak in such a way (Agabus is quoted). This approach was essentially formulated to back up a view of the inerrancy of Scripture, the New Testament being ‘apostolic’ and so the ‘very words of God’. Seems that whenever we start with a ‘this must be the case’ and then impose it on Scripture that we come to find out it does not stack up!]

So to the inaccuracies. There are a number of examples, and I am not thinking of ones such as Jonah and the ‘reversal’ of the word due to repentance. Here is one example:

Jeremiah prophesied that (king) Jehoiakim would die a death without any honour. No one would mourn for him, his corpse would be dragged around and thrown outside the gates of Jerusalem; unburied his body would decompose in the sun (Jer. 22:18-19, cf. 36:30). Jeremiah also prophesied that no descendent of his would sit on the throne (Jer. 36:30-31). As it turned out, however, Jehoiakim received a proper burial and his son succeeded him as king (2 Kings 24:6).

The predictions and the (non-)fulfilments are both recorded in Scripture.

Accuracy is important… but there is always something deeper that is more important.

There is an interesting passage in Luke 9 when Jesus and the disciples were on the way to Jerusalem. They were not welcome in some of the Samaritan villages and so the disciples asked if they should call down fire on them! Jesus turned and rebuked them (Luke 9:54-56).

In some Manuscripts (and rightly rejected) there are a couple of additions, the disciples say, ‘should we do what Elijah did’ (1 Kings 1 we read that Elijah twice called down fire on a group of 50 people), and we also read that in Jesus’ rebuke he added that they ‘did not know what spirit they were of’. Both additions are almost certainly not original, but seem to be from a scribe / scribes who are trying to make sense of what was written. I like the sense they make of the rebuke.

The problem is not their appeal to Scripture, perhaps even the problem is not their discernment / revelation, the problem was their spirit.

If the (additional to the text) explanation is deemed a good one it is very telling. We can be right but wrong. We can be right at a level but wrong at a fundamental level. Certainly this is where the weight of Scripture lies. It is not a simple judgement of ‘right / wrong’ but of the effect, and the effect runs along the ‘life / death’ paradigm.

Prophesying from our expectation causes all kinds of problems. Peter (and most of his compatriots) had an expectation about the coming Messiah. He received revelation that Jesus was the Messiah… had Jesus not rebuked him and he would have posted on some famous prophetic word internet site he would have prophesied ‘be ready, Jesus is about to come and kick those Romans out, restore all us nice people to tell them what do’. The revelation was affirmed by Jesus, and the expectation came from the ‘dark side’.

In the final days within Jerusalem before the fall of the city hope was kept alive by prophetic utterances that knew of the deliverance of God, after all remember our roots, God is the God of the Exodus. Imagine how the hopes rose in 68AD when the Roman general had to return to Rome in the year of the ‘four emperors’… And within 2 years all collapsed, at great cost.

Vested interest. Interest tied in the case of Peter and Jerusalem to national interests and a strong ‘dominion’ theology that the people of faith will rise to the top, vindicated visibly from on high.

Yes I am disturbed when predictive prophecy does not come to pass… but am more disturbed by some deeper issues.

The tallest mountain?

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. (Isaiah 2).

Back in the day this was one of the proof texts that God would raise up the church in all her perfection and the peoples would stream in, hence restore the church to the biblical pattern and hey ho off we all go. And look – there it is ‘in the last days’. A nice one to tuck in to the armoury to show that restoration was the pattern – and how important we are!

Now with teaching on ‘x mountains of influence’ it becomes a Scripture to show the exaltation of the church mountain. (Mountains of influence being a ‘restorationism on steroids’, with a vision for the reconstructionism of the whole of society, sadly with an inevitable nationalism embedded within it.)

To push the Scripture to the millennium could at least make sense, but that whole system likewise is embedded in a nationalism (Jewish) that the opening pages, and all the ensuing pages, of the New Testament seem to put a very strong road block to journeying in that direction.

A few verses – and only a few – later we read that

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

It is interesting that for those who take the ‘in the last days the church…’ approach these verses don’t really feature… and when the reconstruction-type teaching is strongly propagated from the nation that has the most weapons of mass destruction, it kinda leaves a gap for me that I think would need one of the most creative bridges to cross!

No I don’t think there is going to be a ‘tallest mountain’, particularly when Jesus came to bring the mountains down.

Sent out blind

Apostle coming our way… is the caption for the above image!

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi,who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing (John 9:1-7).

Another crazy story with a sweet confrontation with the religious world at the end. The Pharisees claimed sight and Jesus, ever so gently, and ever so firmly, told them ‘hey just claim a lack of sight and you might just be allowed a little leeway.’ It starts with Jesus commissioning a blind man, maybe John is hinting that this is an apostolic sending (‘Go’; the pool means ‘sent’).

Those commissioned by God claimed sight and Jesus advised them to go easy with the claim! The blind man is sent, and is sent blind, not healed and then sent. After going, blind, he comes home seeing.

That was not an easy journey for the gentleman in question. Where are you going? ‘To the sent pool’. Who sent you… Jesus. How much easier if Jesus had just given him his sight first then imagine how more effective he could have been in his witness. He could have told so many along the way, he could have arrived at the ‘sent’ pool with all the credentials that he had indeed been sent, but no, that is not the way it happenned.

When we push out, the issue we will either ‘see in part’ or be blind. Sight is not the first element – obedience is. As with Abraham – go… and I will show you. Go leads to sight. Paul had an inward journey to make, through his three days of blindness, until he could get some sight. Three internal days. Always three, the three days of grave type experience.

I guess that there are a bunch of people who have not received sight within the religious scenario, but have tentatively heard something of a commissioning, are stumbling along without too much sight, but there is a pool, a ‘sent’ pool that has water in it. Don’t stop now.

And a little footnote… neither his parents nor he had sinned, and I do not think this was also done so that God’s power could be revealed. The clause here is a probably an ‘imperatival hina’ clause… ‘but let the works of God be displayed…’ The response to Jesus is don’t look for fault, here is an example of God’s sending!

Seriously?

“Neither,” he replied

We know the story well. ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ Makes a good sermon foundation (rightly so). But yesterday on reading this again it hit me hard. My God gives the answer – for you of course, never for your enemies though I love them… But the God representative that Joshua encountered did not pad out the answer. And it is the not-padded out answer that I object to!

We can be so clear who God is for, and where s/he stands. We can in theory hold that the God path is above us all, but we so often reduce everything down to ‘my perspective is right’.

God is so for justice, my perspective on justice. And what I have to learn is s/he is not about to come down on my side, just because it is my side.

OK… that’s the post for today. Not long, but.

And how do you ‘read’ that

Reading anything is interesting. Back in the day I was told ‘authorial intention’ had to be adhered to, and as a semi-writer I would be a little put out if people read what I wrote in whatever way (‘reader response’) that they wished. But…

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit (Judg. 21: 25).

At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing (The Message).

Author’s intended meaning. I strongly suspect he (and pretty sure this one is a ‘he’) is we need a king, then everything is sorted, enough of all this independence-caused chaos. Yet how challenging Scripture can be. Yesterday I was reading:

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,”  be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite (Deut. 17: 14,15).

A bit cheeky! Written as if it was written by Moses and looking way ahead, yet almost certainly written in the form we have many centuries after the people had asked for a king to be like the other nations (1 Sam. 8). So if Scripture can be cheeky, maybe we can follow suit with our interpretation, particularly if we also consider that there are two authors – a human one (or ‘ones’, perhaps a number of post-exilic editors?) and a God breathing author. I am pretty sure that the human author in Judges is writing as a monarchist, but I am also pretty sure that the divine author intends us to be king-free and for the people are to do ‘what is right in their own eyes’.

It has so much to do with what we see. If we see God and see people in the image of God then to do what is right is a necessity. If we see ourselves at the centre of all things, the world revolving around me then whenever I do what is right in my own eyes will be idolatrous, disastrous and full of greed. Greed, that which desires more than my share, consumerism gone mad, Paul ties to idolatry (Col. 3:5).

So I have my reading of those monarchic comments, and do not see the establishment of authority as the way forward but the opening of eyes. My eyes, and to hopefully live as if I see something different, so that others too might gain some sight.

Chips in hand

So thousands of Swedes are getting chips inserted in their hand, through which they purchase goods, gain access where they are authorised. This has been covered in so many national papers that it is probably not news. Here is a faith based site reporting:

https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/mark-of-the-beast-thousands-of-swedes-become-microchipped

My response… OK cut right to the chase. I do not see Revelation as predicting this. The book is far too incisive and insightful to do that. Yet I accept this could indeed be (a sign of) the mark of the beast, and yet again I consider that the euro, the dollar, the yen… or at least our relationship to them could also be a mark.

Before writing about ‘the mark’, maybe we should consider what precedes that in Revelation. The sealing of the servants of God, who were numbered as both 144,000 (the number heard) and a multitude that could not be numbered (the people seen). Is the seal literal? Is the mark literal?

Well the seal could be considered literal, but only in the sense of being so marked that we belong to God, that we are indeed his servants, that there is a visibility. That kind of visibility is normally seen when there is the very real threat of persecution as was the increasing case as the first century ended. In that sense the mark (of the beast) can also be literal… sold out so that there is no restriction on buying and selling.

I consider a couple of aspects are so key here. 1) the original sin is couched in consumerist language (saw… desired… took… gave… all focused on what was beyond a legitimate boundary); 2) Jesus set the polar opposites as mammon and God. (We might add to this the issue of trade, with the king of Tyre, and the trade / economic theme that runs through the book of Revelation.)

Chips in hand could be a sign of the mark of the beast, but is not the mark of the beast. There are many, many signs now and right through the ages of the mark of the beast. The mark has always been present, and always will be. AntiChrist has always been present, in plural forms and at times focused more in one person than others. The era of the one world government was the time when the Gospel was birthed, the ‘fullness of times’.

Avoiding a chip will not mean I am clean! Following Jesus bites a little deeper than that for sure!

The issue is there are signs everywhere, and there will always be a push of society toward a dominating centre (Revelation again!). In the midst of it all though Babylon / Babel will never be complete, it will always be an unfinished tower seeking to reach to the heavens, determining one’s own destiny – hence 666, humanity tripled, or as one manuscript has it 616 – a clear reference to the manifestation in the NT era in and through the emperor Nero.

If offered a chip in the hand we might think twice. But really I need to think deeper about my commitments, my relationship to the Babylonish aspects that are nearer to home offering whatever might appeal to my desires.

Better put the apple back on the tree, I guess!!

Perspectives