Viewing entries tagged
Poetry

Sunspots

Do you know what would happen if a single star fell to the earth?  The very notion is absurd.  Most stars (like our sun) are millions of times larger - and thus more massive - than the earth.  So a star wouldn't "fall" to earth in the first place.  The earth would have to "fall" into a star, and the effect would be something like a huge whale swallowing up a microscopic plankton.  I doubt that our planet would even make much of a ripple across the surface of an enormous star.  And, of course, it would then be instantly destroyed by heat. If that is the case, though, then why do popular passages in the Bible like Revelation 6:13 talk about all of the stars falling to earth as if they are only as big as they appear to us in the night sky?  Clearly, if a verse like Revelation 6:13 is not meant to be the absolute end of human history (and there's quite a bit more in Revelation after chapter 6), then what we have in verse 13 is a figurative statement.

In fact, we find this same picture of judgment on heavenly lights repeated over and over again throughout the Scriptures.  Just take a look at passages like Isaiah 13:10, 24:21-23, Ezekiel 32:7, Joel 2:10, Amos 8:9, and Micah 3:6.  In other words, God has promised this kind of judgment before on nations like Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, and Tyre.  When we get to Matthew 24:29 and Revelation 6:12-13, the judgment is being directed at apostate Israel, but just as in previous times and previous judgments, what is being described concerning the sun, moon, and stars is not a permanent destruction of celestial bodies, but rather a removal of authority, influence, power, and leadership.

Heavenly lights often represent ruling authority like that of nations or individual rulers, and therefore the failing of those lights represents the collapse of that leadership (see for example Isaiah 14:12-15).  So in a passage like Revelation 6 (or Matthew 24), the lights are failing in the judgment of Jerusalem, which points to the removal of its power and authority.

But we find the opposite of this failing light effect in Isaiah 30:26, when the prophet, speaking of the renewal of the people in Zion (New Covenant) says, "Moreover, the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day when the LORD binds up the brokenness of His people, and heals the wounds inflicted by His blow."

Now if that verse is meant to be taken literally, then something that is clearly supposed to be a good thing: the brightening of sun and moon versus the darkening of them as seen in so many judgment oracles, would become a horror.  Even now we stress over the amount of sunlight that touches our skin.  Imagine if it was seven times stronger!  It would burn every living thing on the earth to a crisp!  And a moon shining like the sun?  Is that good?  I suppose a better question is: has this happened?  We understand from reading Isaiah 30 that this is a New Covenant blessing, so we should be living in the time of super-sun and sunny-moon even now.

It ought to be apparent that what is being referred to in Isaiah 30 is the reverse of what was being referred to in all of the failing light oracles.  As the other passages indicated a collapse of authority and rule, this intensifying of the light represents an increase in the authority and rule of the New Covenant people of God.  In other words, what would start as a tiny mustard seed in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost would grow and intensify until it spread around the globe.  As the church of the Lord Jesus Christ grows and conquers by the power of the gospel, its influence in the world will brighten.

This is a fantastic message of hope for Christians.  This world is not something to fear and withdraw from - waiting for the day when Jesus will come back to rescue you.  It is a Promised Land to conquer in the name of Jesus Christ with the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God) and in the power of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God.  So get out there and shine like the stars in the heavens (Philippians 2:15)!

Poetry Is Hard

Bible scholars used to think that the Song of Songs/Solomon was some sort of theological treatise concerning Christ and the church.  John Gill was one of those scholars, and his commentary on the Song would make you think you are reading a different book entirely.  A statement like, "I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases" (Song of Solomon 3:5), he takes to mean is an instruction for believers not to make Christ angry with their bickering and lack of unity in the church. As much as I personally respect John Gill (and others who share this view), I think that he's missed the easy point here.  This is a love poem, even if it is about Christ and the church, and the instruction to "not rush the love" is one that we naturally understand in that context.

On the other hand, it has become rather vogue in today's Christian climate to think that the Song of Songs is really just a love song between human lovers that pictures the rapturous joy of human sexuality, and that the only lessons that we can learn about Christ and the church from it are learned by proxy as we think of Ephesians 5.  In other words, we know that this man in the Song is totally wrapped up in his wife (and she in him), and we know that in Ephesians 5 husbands are told to love their wives like Christ loved the church; and so we conclude that if Christ's love for the church is anything like what we see in the Song, then He is really wrapped up in His church and she ought also to be wrapped up in Him.

Well, just as much as the first view seemed really complicated, this view seems overly simple, and other respectable Bible scholars have gone too far down this path and turned the Song of Songs into a sex manual for human couples.

I don't think we ought to separate the two.  There is much here that makes us think of human sexuality.  The man saying that his wife's breasts are like the fruit on a tree and that he is going to climb the tree and grab the fruit (Song of Solomon 7:7-8) is unmistakeably sexual, but at the same time it is also a statement of Christ's pleasure with the fruitfulness of His New Covenant bride.  He was very angry with the Old Covenant people of Israel for being a barren tree (remember the time he cursed the fig tree?).  He even told the religious leaders that He was going to remove the Kingdom from Israel and give it to a people producing its fruits (Matthew 21:43).

Ultimately, it seems that the problem most of us suffer from (and I definitely include myself in this category) is that we don't really know what to do with poetry.  It's deep and there are layers of meaning, but there are not very many solid parts.  It's kind of slippery - it resists being formed into structures.  It is meant to give us impressions and feelings, not precise instructions.  And yet, a good deal of the Bible is written in poetic form.  We need to train ourselves better on how to see what we're meant to see and feel what we're meant to feel as we read books like the Song of Solomon, or the Psalms, or the prophets.  If we think too analytically about them, we're going to fall off one side of the slope, and if we simplify them too much, we'll fall off the other.