Monday, February 18, 2013

Matt 24 watch, 194: Taking a "Sci Fi" look at Rev chs 8 & 9 (with an eye to the recent Chelyabinsk, Russia meteor impact and asteroid fly-by)

A Dashcam shot of the Feb 15 Chelyabinsk meteor
(HT: Youtube video, still as the main explosion fades)
On Friday last (cf. round-up here), we had a cosmological wake up call with an asteroid impact in Russia that hurt over 1,000 people, on the same day that an asteroid swept by our planet at scrapingly close range, 17,000 miles. That evening as well, another meteoric fireball was visible on the US West coast.

All of this eerily brings to mind the discussion in Revelations 8 & 9, with the prophetic trumpet judgements. 

While these puzzling texts have been the subject of much speculation over the ages,  and of varying suggested interpretations, the fact remains, that the first four judgements seem pretty directly linked to meteoric impact imagery, and the fifth is plainly related. 

While I make no pretence of being any great exegete or commenter on Scripture, that excites my curiosity. Why the emphasis on meteoric judgements?

First, let us look, first observing the initial cluster of four trumpets that seem to be blown in rapid succession. Clipping [ESV]:
Rev 8: 1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them . . . .  7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.

 8 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. 9 A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

 10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Wormwood.2  A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.

 12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.

 13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
We can see a definite cluster here, and -- on a fairly "literal" and "Sci Fi" reading (do, humour me for the moment) -- it looks rather like plagues on nature that parallel those of Egypt at the time of the Exodus (which targetted and exposed the Egyptian gods as powerless):
1: a hail with fire and smoke, leading to massive though limited destruction of vegetation.

2: An oceanic impact of an asteroid moving slow enough to appear as a burning mountain, leading to destruction of shipping (tidal waves?) and to what sounds a lot like massive red tide infestation.

3: A meteor fall leading to what seems to be an airburst damaging 1/3 of the waters. That suggests the Eurasian and possibly the African land mass -- which are the bulk of land on Earth, and heavy metal and/or radioactive poisoning.

4: Darkening the atmosphere through dust, leading to a meteoric "autumn" in which as the light moves through that much more atmosphere when the sun or moon are low in the sky [which BTW is why the rising or setting sun look reddened, the other colours of light being scattered by the dust in the atmosphere], they would be darkened out as behind a cloud. [NIV '84]
This first is a bit puzzling, but would perhaps be consistent with a cluster of smaller bodies falling and somehow triggering hail storms.

But the above looks to me like a possible natural catastrophe, maybe with some sort of asteroid that breaks up as it comes. (Sci Fi stories about using asteroid bombardments as weapons of war may have a -- but obviously not their only -- root in this text, BTW.)

And lo and behold in Chapter 9 following, the next trumpet -- no five -- is about "a star that had fallen from the skies" that opens the keys of the pit and lets out an army of locust demons that sting and plague for 5 months.

(I have once or twice thought -- Sci Fi style -- about someone really nasty and expert creating a host of locusts with genetically engineered capacities to plague and debilitate, paving the way for an invasion to follow. Which is the next judgement, an army of 200 millions. Of course, this is my Sci Fi imagination at work, not an exegesis. [BTW, to my mind the New Jerusalem sounds like a satellite station portal parked in orbit above the Earth . . . ] However, the context is now decidedly supernatural-spiritual so let us go easy on this one.)

There is then a definite pause at v 12 of Ch 9, and the next woe -- no 6 -- is invasion by the vast army just mentioned. An army on a scale BTW, that has only really become feasible in very recent decades, where we have 6 - 7 billion people on Earth. And only an Asian coalition could field such, which makes sense of the issue of "drying up" the Euphrates.

Then at the end of the chapter there is this remark:

Rev 9:20 The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk.21 Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts. [NIV '84]
Would it astonish you to learn that the worship of Diana at Ephesus -- among other things a fertility goddess -- was associated with temple prostitution? [As in, maybe we now have a sad clue as to what some of those mysterious classes of temple priestesses were about?]

My interest here is that the passage has to have in it cultural memories of meteor impacts with consequences, and has to be speaking to the pagan worldview that has twisted this into support for myths of the gods and goddesses

It should be no surprise, that we do not have to look too far.

For, there is another allusion to such in the NT, in Ac 19. The focal location is Ephesus. As in, the same city that is the pivotal city in the cluster to which the Epistle of Revelations is directed. 
A city, where Paul had settled for two years, teaching daily in a rented school hall, with the effect that the gospel spread to the whole province. Leading, to an infamous riot stirred up by silver smiths angry over loss of trade as Paul's preaching was breaking up the lucrative trades connected tot he pagan temple. [BTW, so much for the notion that Paul paganised an originally Jewish faith to attract pagans!] 
 So, in the Arena -- for two solid hours -- a crowd gathered, shouting, Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.

Then, the City Clerk, in seeking to palliate the riotous assembly,  says that the image of Diana/Artemis (appar, = Astarte or Ashtoreth/Asherah) -- remember, a Moon goddess [the Latin form literally means heavenly or divine] -- fell from the skies:
Acts 19:35 The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Men of Ephesus, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven?

36 Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. 38 If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges.  
39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly.  
40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today’s events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.”  
41 After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly. [NIV '84]
Bingo, we have here paganism connected to superstitous awe of some sort of meteorite that had fallen within memory of a tradition. Probably nearly a thousand years before, judging by references to the succession of shrines set up in an unusual, flood-prone location.

It seems that there was something that fell from the skies and had probably looked enough like a statue to be used and doubtless helped along a bit.  By the time we get to C1, it seems, the story had morphed into something impossible -- that a wooden (Ebony?) statue of Artemis had fallen from the heavens. So, let us think about what it is like to try to communicate the gospel to people caught up in such myths.
A natural phenomenon, turned into a snare to enmesh men's souls.
As Romans 1 warned against, even as it implicitly pleads with us to turn from false images and deceitful stories made to look like the things of nature, and repent, to serve the One True Living God:
Rom 1:14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians,4  both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.  
 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,  as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 
[--> In the old days, idols in temples with stories that "everybody knows," as we have seen. Nowadays, too often, artistically created images in science museums, or textbooks, or on television, or the Internet etc., which are too often presented as if they were practically certain fact about the past. This leads to the Climbing Mars Hill challenge.]
 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.  
 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 
[--> Cf. here (and onwards, here) on the now popular and widely promoted "my genes made me do it" myth. Here, offers help in addressing addictive or habituating, life-dominating sin, through the 12-step type recovery process pioneered by alcoholics.]
 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 
29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 
32 Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.  [ESV]
What is significant then is that just as the idol of Artemis/ Diana/ Astarte/ Ishtar/ Asherah was based on some sort of meteoric fragment, the judgement being announced in part therefore duly comes from the same skies.  (And, it is noteworthy that meteorites as alleged holy objects and other troubling connexions may -- just, possibly, may -- be a bit closer as an issue today than we may be inclined to think. [I stand to be corrected on this, of course, but the admittedly ticklish matter should not be simply dismissed or angrily brushed aside.])

Against all this, I am not about to try to assign such trumpets to current events or the past of the last century or to the history of the past 2,000 years; all of which wee can see in various commentaries.  Similarly, I would view the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe of 1986 -- Chernobyl, apparently, means "Wormwood" --  as a representation of what can happen if we become careless with very dangerous technologies, rather than any particular manifestation of the prophecy.

One onward interest is of course also ecological, and I am pondering on the implications of such impacts.
There is no doubt that we are vulnerable to asteroid impacts, and that these can potentially have devastating impact. Worse, we can do little to address such. But, we must be sensitive to the possibilities for catastrophe and we need to become far more aware of our environment. 
Including things like, what happens if we poison our land, air and waters more and more in the name of unbridled technological progress?

But also, including, concerns like: what happens in a world where ecological devastation has debilitated nations and there are those only too willing to pounce like armies of jackals to take away what others have?

Then also, let us think about the spiritual side of such plagues and depredations. 

What if, behind the scenes of day to day events, there are demonic hordes of deceptions only too willing to let loose legions of deluded followers with poisonous deceptions? 
Or, to whip up such followers into being predatory armies pouncing on the vulnerable?

So, as a civilisation, are we fatally weakening ourselves through spreading deceptions and foolish, unsustainable policies that set us up for debilitating disasters?

And, could we be setting ourselves up for yet another demonic false messiah at the head of a massive army of invaders, such as Hitler's Nazis envisioned in this demonic bomber-bird parody of the Descent of the Spirit at Jesus' baptism, with an army following him like a river of locust-demons?

In short, something like the Apocalypse, can and should speak to us in many ways that go far beyond the often futile debates over the "correct" interpretations of Bible Prophecy.

Ways, that sound disturbingly relevant to me. END