The Prophet, The Skeptic, & the Fulfilled Event (Pt. 1)

Understanding our Times by considering Sam Harris’s Challenge

In my last post I commented on how Ariel Sharon’s funeral making global headlines is eerie when considered from the perspective of the Blessings and Curses on the Jews in the Torah – the Law of Moses.  And prior to that I looked at Ezekiel’s (ca. 580 BC) Valley of Dry Bones vision of zombies coming to life as another thread in this theme of the Jewish dispersion and return that cuts continuously through both the Old and New Testaments.  The dispersion has happened and the return is happening – the global media is reporting facets of it daily now.  Hearing Canadian news coverage this week about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s state visit to Israel is another example of this playing out on the modern-day global stage.

Well-known skeptic Sam Harris takes issue with this claim of predictive ability of the Biblical writers.  Here is his take on the curses/blessings on the Jews given in the Torah:

Christians regularly assert that the bible predicts future historical events, For instance Deuteronomy 28:64 says “And the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other” …  We are meant to believe that these utterances predict the subsequent history of the Jews with such uncanny specificity so as to admit of only a supernatural explanation.

He minimizes the Blessings&Curses by referring to only one phrase in that long discourse and then points out that this one phrase is so vague and unspecific that it hardly merits a supernatural explanation.  He then throws out what he thinks is an impossible challenge.:

“But just imagine how breathtakingly specific a work of prophecy would be, if it were actually the product of omniscience.  If the Bible were such a book, it would make perfectly accurate predictions about human events.  You would expect it to contain a passage such as ‘In the latter half of the 20th century, humankind will develop a globally linked system of computers-the principles of which I set forth in Leviticus-and this system shall be called the internet”  The Bible contains nothing like this.  In fact, it does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century.  This should trouble you.”  Sam Harris. Letter to a Christian Nation.  p.60

Let’s consider this challenge from Harris by unpacking a rather bizarre prophetic foretelling given by Ezekiel around 587 BC.  Perhaps also we can understand a little better the times we are living in.  Some background in the history of that period may be helpful (link here).

Ezekiel in Old Testament historical timeline

Ezekiel in Old Testament historical timeline (contemporaneous with Jeremiah)

Ezekiel’s Bizarre Drama of the Siege

We have seen how some prophecies, like the Passover and the Sacrifice of Abraham, are riddles that are acted out rather than spoken.  Those two point to the death of Jesus by remarkably foretelling both the location and the time of year of that pivotal event.  Ezekiel likewise acts a bizarre drama while giving the explanation for it.  Here is what he is commanded to do as a prophetic utterance:

4 “Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. 5 I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel.

6 “After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. 7 Turn your face toward the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. 8 I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.  (Ezekiel 4: 4-8)

Ezekiel was commanded to remain bound on one side and then on the other for over a year!  To give a little background, Ezekiel is writing from Babylon just before the Babylonians besiege Jerusalem (thus the reference to a siege).  This siege lasted many months but finally Jerusalem was conquered in 586 BC by the Babylonians, the city was burned, the temple destroyed and the Jewish people sent to exile in Babylon.  Ezekiel was destined to soon meet the captives brought from the siege of Jerusalem after he had acted out this prophecy.

But why were the Babylonians besieging Jerusalem?  They had defeated the Jewish nation in a war in 606 BC and so the Jewish people had, in effect lost their independence that year.  Most were permitted to remain in Judah, but some, like Daniel, were sent to Babylon in this first wave of deportation that occurred in 606 BC.  The Jews in Jerusalem grudgingly swore allegiance and paid tribute to the Babylonians but then revolted against them.  So the Babylonians came and laid siege to Jerusalem, mercilessly crushing it in 586 BC.  The kings of David have never reigned again since that day!

Note how Ezekiel referred to the ‘House of Israel’ and the ‘House of Judah’.  The Jews after Solomon, around 900 BC, had split into two political countries – Judah and Israel.  This was a similar situation to Korea of today, which is one people group that is divided politically into the two countries of North and South Korea.  The ‘House of Israel’ had already been conquered as a political entity around 722 BC by the Assyrians.

Unpacking Ezekiel’s Prophecy

In this acted drama, Ezekiel specified that there would be a period of 390 days + 40 days = 430 days, with each day representing a year (v. 5 & 6).  So this is explicitly talking about 430 years to pay ‘for sin’.  But where does that idea that such a payment for sin is required?  The parting Blessings and Curses of Moses had said that if they sinned they would pay for their sin in being exiled from their land.  This was the one sentence that Harris quoted.  So Ezekiel was now prophesying from this principle rooted in Deuteronomy that they were to enter 430 years of exile.

The 360 day year

While we commonly use the 365.244 day solar year (the Gregorian calendar) there are other ways to denominate a year.  Today the Muslim calendar is based on 12 lunar cycles resulting in a 354-day year.  In ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian and Greek civilizations a 360-day calendar was common, and it was the year length that Ezekiel’s contemporary, Daniel, used and is the basis of the prophetic year used through the books of the Bible. We will need to convert Ezekiel’s years to our solar years to understand his prophecy with respect to our calendar.  But there is another twist to consider first.

Jeremiah’s 70 year prophecy

While Ezekiel was in Babylon prophesying 430 years his contemporary living through the siege in far-away Jerusalem, Jeremiah, had said:

8 Therefore the LORD Almighty says this: “… 11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years12 “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD,  (Jeremiah 25:8-12)

Jeremiah said 70 years … not 430.  So which was it – 70 or 430?  It turns out that in 539 BC the Babylonians were conquered by a Medo-Persian alliance.  This was headed up by King Cyrus of Persia who founded the Persian Empire.

So the exiles of Jerusalem were allowed to return by a famous 538 BC edict of Cyrus, arriving back in 537 BC.  From the initial deportation in 606 BC to 537 BC – Jeremiah’s prophecy of destruction of the Babylonians and return to Jerusalem in 70 years was fulfilled.  Now this is precise, but not impressive.  It would have been easy for editors of Jeremiah after the return from exile, to insert the ‘prophecy’ in his book to make sure a ‘fulfillment’ occurred.  Since the earliest existing copies of these books are from the Dead Sea Scrolls from 200-100 BC we can never be sure that it did not happen this way.  If this were all we had we would have to concur with Harris that it would be poor evidence of omniscient foretelling.

The Leviticus Principle

But do we not now also have a contradiction between Jeremiah and Ezekiel?  They seem to be predicting mutually exclusive things – one an exile of 70 years and the other an exile of 430 years.  It would be impossible for both to be right.  Or is it?  Because if you go to the ‘principles in Leviticus’ that Harris had asked for you will see the following:

if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: … 17 I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.

18If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. 19 I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze…

21 ” ‘If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve…

23 ” ‘If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, 24 I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over….

27 ” ‘If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over

40 ” ‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers—their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, 41 which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, 42 I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees.  (Leviticus 26: 14-43)

Here the LORD was saying, like in the Curses of Deuteronomy, that if they did not obey the Law they would be defeated by their enemies who would rule over them (v. 17).  These provided the context for Jeremiah’s declaration of a 70 year exile which started with the first Babylonian deportation (606 BC) and ended when a Jewish remnant returned back to their land in 537 BC.

Then v 18 says ‘If after all this…’ (i.e. the chain of events from disobedience, conquest, exile and return) they still remained ‘hostile’ to God and did not ‘listen’ to his commands the punishment for sins would be multiplied seven times over.  It is repeated explicitly in v. 21, 23 and 28.  Events unfolded just that way.  The Jewish people were supposed to return to renew their hearts which they never really did.  Only a small remnant returned … they struggled for years to be motivated to rebuild the Temple which they grudgingly accomplished but few were interested in putting out the effort … Nehemiah brought another group 80 years later when the edict to rebuild Jerusalem was issued (which started the clock ticking to the coming of the Messiah).  But as a people they continued to basically pursue their own interests, and are castigated by Nehemiah for the exploitation of the poor and intermarriage while Malachi (the last Old Testament book) is an impassioned plea for them to remain faithful in their marriage covenants and in their offerings to God, which they did not do.  They remained hostile to Him.

So their punishment, according to the principle in Leviticus, was to be multiplied seven times over.  Only after the full seven-times payment is made would God remember the covenant he had made with Isaac, Abraham and the land (v.42).  What was that covenant?  God had promised Abraham and Isaac that he would give them the land.  In other words, only after the full seven-fold payment was made would they be allowed to claim and rule that land that God had originally promised to the Jewish patriarchs.  When they returned by Cyrus’s Edict they only did so as a small vassal province in the Persian Empire.  The Persians still ruled the land.

Leviticus, Jeremiah & Ezekiel Converge – in Modern Day History

With the insight gained from our ‘principle in Leviticus’ we can understand Ezekiel’s prophecy.  He had predicted 430 years of exile for their sin.  They paid 70 years (as per Jeremiah) which brought the ‘debt’ down to 430 – 70 = 360 years.  This remainder was multiplied by seven (as per Leviticus) to get: 360 * 7 = 2520 years.

Let us now convert these to our solar years and put it on a timeline.

The Babylonian exile lasted from 606 BC -> 537 BC = 69 years.  This was exactly as specified by Jeremiah if we convert his timeframe into solar years (70 years * 360/365.2422 = 69 Gregorian solar years of Jeremiah’s exile).

Ezekiel’s remaining seven-fold years would be:

2520 years * 360/365.2422 = 2484 Gregorian solar years of Ezekiel’s exile

Adding 2484 years to 537 BC (when the exiles returned and this seven-fold period started) we come to 1948 AD.[1]

ezekiels exile to 1948

Historical Timeline of Jews from Moses to Present-Day, showing Ezekiel & his Exile Prophecy

So what happened in 1948?  That was the year Israel was re-born as a modern nation – an independent and self-ruled Jewish country.  For the first time in 2500 years Jews had claim to their own country again.  When Israel declared independence in 1948 it was immediately attacked by five surrounding nations.  I know of no other nation in history surviving such a multi-front war within days of its birth.  Ariel Sharon, whose funeral was marked just last week was one whose brazen military exploits were instrumental ensuring that it did survive.  But even more remarkable, Ezekiel, with some ‘principles from Leviticus’, saw it 2500 years ago!

So let’s reflect. Sam Harris challenged the Bible to predict something for “the latter half of the 20th century”, using “principles from Leviticus”, and doing so would show it to be a “product of omniscience”.  Harris leveled a prophetic challenge because he figured it was so impossible to meet that he never actually did his homework to check it.  He thought that ‘within half a century’ was impossible enough to stymie all attempts.  Ezekiel, with some principles from Leviticus, was bang on to the year starting about 2500 years ago, in predicting the re-birth of Israel in 1948, and in the process, managed to resolve a seemingly intractable contradiction with Jeremiah.  I’d say that is pretty good.  At the very least, whether we are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist or something else this is something worth being informed about even as we all weigh the implications of this differently.  In my next post I’d like to consider the confessions of Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, as someone worth hearing out as you weigh the implications of Ezekiel’s (with some principles from Leviticus) uncanny abilities.

[1] 537 BC is like -537.  So -537 + 2484 + 1 = 1948 (the +1 is because there is no 0 on this number line, it goes from -1 to +1 (1 BC –> 1 AD) – in an interval of 1

Bones, Skeletons & Zombies come alive: Prophetic Halloween before our eyes


Sam Harris vs. the Valley of Dry Bones

We are now in the time of year where the stores are full of costumes of the dead, of spirits, of witches and the like. Yes, Halloween is coming and for many it’s the time to have cheeky fun at parties with role-plays or costumes of skeletons coming to life, or dead bodies walking around, all in good fun. Michael Jackson’s Thriller will be played, watched and danced to around the globe, because it’s perfect for Halloween.

But long before Thriller was conceived, and even long before Halloween itself was celebrated, an eccentric man penned some vivid images that fit perfectly for Halloween of today. One can’t help but wonder if Michael Jackson had not read these lines as he  choreographed Thriller – yet they were written about 2500 years ago!

The Valley of Dry Bones (with skeletons and corpses too)

This eccentric man was given a tour in a valley ‘filled with bones’. Read how he described it:

… the bones covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out. … Suddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them…. Then he said … “Come, O breath, from the four winds” … They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.

A man whisked away to a valley full of bones which start to rattle and hum as they join together forming skeletons … and then dead flesh and skin starts to envelope the lifeless skeletons so that they become corpses. Then the wind blows wildly from all directions and the bodies all come to life and they stand up to become a great army.

This sounds like a script from a horror movie ready to open up at Halloween!

The Valley of Dry Bones – the Eternal Spirit’s prophetic message through Ezekiel

But the man who wrote this script was not interested in sending shivers down our spines. He was engaged in something much more serious. He claimed that this script was a message from God Himself. And remarkably, the events of history have played out such that this message was meant for us who are living today! How so?

The man in question is Ezekiel who lived ca. 550 BC and along with this vision (from Ezekiel 37 – read complete chapter here) he explicitly provided its meaning. He wrote:

Then [God] said to me, “… these bones represent the people of Israel. … I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel…. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!’”

… I will gather the people of Israel from among the nations. I will bring them home to their own land from the places where they have been scattered. I will unify them into one nation on the mountains of Israel. One king will rule them all; no longer will they be divided into two nations or into two kingdoms. They will never again pollute themselves with their idols and vile images and rebellion, for I will save them from their sinful backsliding. I will cleanse them. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 37:11-23)

In other words these bones that Ezekiel saw in a vision 2500 years ago represented the Jewish people. This is not my interpretation – Ezekiel explicitly said so himself. When Ezekiel wrote these words the Jews had previously been divided into two political nations but had now gone into exile to Babylon as a conquered and ruined people. Just as every bone, by definition, has previously been a living organ in a living body, but is now ‘dead’, the Jews of that day saw themselves as formerly alive but now ‘dead bones’. Then Ezekiel had this vision of their eventual return to life. The Jews in his day did return from the Babylonian exile a few decades after his vision, but he was not writing of that since it was a return only from Babylon, and they returned only as a province dominated within a vast Empire. They did not come alive as a nation.

The Return of the Jews

In his vision Ezekiel foresaw a return from the ‘nations’ and ‘places where they had been scattered’ back to that same land that they had been ejected from, where they would be ‘one nation’ with their own ‘king’ or ruler. That did not happen until thousands of years later when the modern state of Israel was forged from a United Nations resolution in 1948. Only then did the Jews finally get a self-governing nation with their own ruler. In the intervening decades Jews have literally been returning (which they call aliyah) from ‘nations’ all over the world where they have lived since being sent into their second exile beginning when the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70 AD. Since 1948 more than 3 million Jews from over 90 countries (which is almost half of all the countries in the world) have arrived in Israel. For a nation of 7 million people, having 40% of the population immigrate from almost half the countries of our globe in the span of 65 years, after an exile of 1900 years, is nothing short of remarkable. What is even more remarkable is that Ezekiel ‘saw’ it in his vision 2500 years ago.

The Return – in context of Jewish History

The timeline below showing the last 3500 years of Jewish history illustrates this. Starting from the time of Moses the Jews have alternated between three different national dispensations indicated by the different color coding.

Historical Timeline of the Jews - featuring Ezekiel & Isaiah

Historical Timeline of the Jews – featuring Ezekiel & Isaiah

In the yellow periods, the Jews lived in the land promised to Abraham, but were not self-ruled from Jerusalem, their traditional capital. The first yellow period, that of the Judges, saw the Jewish people live independent from foreign powers, but without centralized rule, and with no Jerusalem.

This was followed by the green period, the golden age of Jewish history, where the dynasty of kings descending from David ruled from Jerusalem. But this ended in disaster when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and forced the Jews into exile in Babylon – the first red period. This is the time that Ezekiel lived (as well as Jeremiah and Daniel), and the time when the Jewish people saw themselves as ‘dead bones’. Though they did return after a 70 year exile, they were not self-ruled from an independent Jerusalem. Rather they were provinces dominated within the successive Persian, Greek and Roman Empires. They were back to ‘yellow’.

This continued for over 500 years and ended when the Jews revolted against Roman rule but lost the revolt. Jerusalem was once again burned and destroyed, and the Romans this time exiled the survivors across the many nations in the larger Roman world. They were back to ‘red’ and they lived this way for almost 1900 years.

‘Dead Bones’ Coming Alive in Front of our Eyes

Until our day! With the re-birth in 1948 the dead bones started to rattle together into skeletons. With the subsequent gain of Jerusalem in 1967 as their capital, flesh and skin started to envelope the skeletons. And now every year thousands of Jews are returning from all the nations around the world. They are returning and making deserts bloom into lush farmland; they are returning and rebuilding ruined cities; they are learning Hebrew their ancient tongue; and more and more are considering again their ancient God revealed in the Hebrew Old Testament as Elohim and as YHWH. We can see the dead zombie coming back to life in front of our eyes, in the stages envisioned by Ezekiel those thousands of years ago.  And just like Ezekiel described, it is happening with all the confusion, splitting and dividing between peoples, like the violence caused by the rushing of the ‘four winds’ of the compass.  If you doubt me, just listen to the world news.

Isaiah predicts the Jewish renaissance too

It was not just Ezekiel who predicted this. Another Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, about two hundred years before Ezekiel saw that same day when (as he put it):

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to bring back the remnant of his people— those who remain in Assyria and northern Egypt; in southern Egypt, Ethiopia, and Elam; in Babylonia, Hamath, and all the distant coastlands.

He will raise a flag among the nations and assemble the exiles of Israel. He will gather the scattered people of Judah from the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 11:12-13)

Notice how Isaiah (see where he sits on the timeline) saw past the first time the remnant of exiles came back (the end of the first short red period) and predicted specifically of a second time when the remnants would be regathered “from the end of the earth”.  He saw the end of the second ‘red’ period – the very period in which you and I are now living and can see unfolding with our own eyes.

So how did Ezekiel and Isaiah foresee this so spot on? How did Isaiah even know there was going to be a ‘second’ regathering? How could they foreknow that the Jewish people would survive as a distinct people group while living as exiles in these nations around the world? After all, I see here in Canada how the many immigrants lose their ethnic and language identity after only about three generations. The Jews kept theirs for millennia. Against those odds, the promise of an enduring people which was given to Abraham should long ago have been snuffed out.

Perhaps it really is true that this Elohim or YHWH, who, according to Ezekiel, gave this vision of dry bones, really is there, watching, working, and willing that things will unfold as He promised, even as it seems so impossible. The thought that that Spirit may really be working in our midst in just this way is almost spooky.

Sam Harris objects

But some of those who have reflected on this are unconvinced. Prominent among them is Sam Harris. Here is how he phrases his objection:

“But just imagine how breathtakingly specific a work of prophecy would be, if it were actually the product of omniscience. If the Bible were such a book, it would make perfectly accurate predictions about human events. You would expect it to contain a passage such as ‘In the latter half of the 20th century, humankind will develop a globally linked system of computers-the principles of which I set forth in Leviticus-and this system shall be called the internet” The Bible contains nothing like this. In fact, it does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a man or woman living in the first century. This should trouble you.” Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation. p.60

Harris derides the prophetic foretelling in the Bible as being merely coincidental. In his view, if you ‘predict’ something vague enough (regathering of Jews to Abraham’s Promised Land), eventually it will happen. He would be impressed if Ezekiel had predicted by timing it in the 20th century and linked that prediction back to Leviticus. That would be a Sign of Real Omniscience!

Unfortunately for Harris, he has not done his homework. Because Ezekiel, in another really bizarre setting, does make a timing prediction – to the 20th century – and, almost as if there is some Divine humor in addressing Harris’s taunt, links it back to … you guessed it – Leviticus. How? What kind of timing? We pick it up in a later post, and when you see it, it’ll send a shiver down your spine better than any scary Halloween spectacle can.

The Final Countdown – Embedded in the Beginning

In my last few posts I have looked at how mankind and Lucifer fell from their initial created state. I then used the story of Pinocchio that has helped me to visualize and understand what God was hoping for His creation. But hope is one thing, an executed plan is another.  Jepetto (the creator in Pinocchio) did not have a plan to redeem Pinocchio (it happened apart from him), and here the Pinocchio analogy falls short. In the Biblical account, God has a plan that He will execute. This plan has two parts: A Promise and a Curse. Here I look at the Promise and later I look at the Curse.

The Bible – Really a Library

To appreciate the significance of this Promise we must know some basic things about the Bible. Though it is a book, and we think of it as such, it is actually more accurate to think of it as a mobile library. This is because it is a collection of books, written by a diverse set of authors, over a time span that exceeds 1500 years, which today is bound up into one volume. This fact alone makes the Bible unique among the Great Books of the world. The different books of the Bible make statements, declarations and predictions that later books pick up on. If the Bible was written by just one author, or a group of authors that knew each other that should not cause us to take note. But the authors of the Bible are separated by hundreds and even thousands of years, writing in different civilizations, languages, social strata, and literary genres – yet their messages, allusions and predictions are picked up seamlessly by later authors or are fulfilled through facts of history verifiable outside the Bible. This makes the Bible unique on a whole different level – and knowing that we should take note. Existing manuscript copies of these books are dated to about 200 BC so the textual base of the Bible is better, by far, than all other ancient books of the world.

I gave a public presentation recently entitled Does God Exist? at McMaster University and will upload the whole presentation shortly. But I have included the first 10 minutes in the video clip below which covers the diversity of authors and the manuscript texts of the books in the Bible. View it to better appreciate the points I am making above.

The Gospel Promise in the Garden

We see this foreshadowing ability clearly in the Creation and Fall account right at the beginning of the book of Genesis in the Bible. In other words, though it is recounting the Beginning, it was written with the End in view.  Here we see a Promise when God confronts Satan (Lucifer) and speaks to him in a riddle:

“… and I (God) will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman and between your offspring and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

This is a Promise in riddle form – but it is understandable. Reading carefully you will see that there are five different characters mentioned and that this is prophetic in that it is looking forward-in-time (seen by the repeated use of ‘will’ as in future tense). The characters are:

  1. God
  2. Satan (or Lucifer)
  3. The woman
  4. The offspring of the woman
  5. The offspring of Satan

And the riddle predicts how these characters will relate to each other in the future. This is shown below

Relationships between the characters depicted in the Promise

God will orchestrate that both Satan and the woman will have an ‘offspring’. There will be ‘enmity’ or hatred between these offspring and between the woman and Satan. Satan will ‘strike the heel’ of the offspring of the woman while the offspring of the woman will ‘crush the head’ of Satan.

Deductions on the Offspring – a ‘he’

So far we have just made observations directly from the text. Now for some reasoned deductions. Because the ‘offspring’ of the woman is referred to as a ‘he’ and a ‘his’ we know that it is a single male human – a man. With that we can discard some possible interpretations. As a ‘he’ the offspring is not a ‘she’ and thus cannot be a woman – but the ‘he’ comes from a woman. As a ‘he’ the offspring is not a ‘they’, which it could have plausibly been, perhaps a group of people, or a race, or a team, or a nation. At various times and in various ways people have thought that a ‘they’ would be the answer. But the offspring, being a ‘he’ is NOT a group of people whether that refers to a nation or those of a certain religion as in Jews, Christians or Muslims etc. As a ‘he’ the offspring is not an ‘it’ (the offspring is a person). This eliminates the possibility that the offspring is a particular philosophy, teaching, technology, political system, or religion. An ‘it’ of these kinds would probably have been, and still is, our preferred choice to fix the world. We think that what will fix our situation is some kind of ‘it’, so the best of human thinkers through the centuries have advocated different political systems, educational systems, technologies, religions etc. But in this Promise the compass is pointed in a totally different direction. God had something else in mind – a ‘he’. And this ‘he’ would crush the head of the serpent.

Another interesting observation comes from what is not said. God does not promise the man an offspring like he promises the woman (we will see further what He promises there in the Curse). This is quite extraordinary especially given the emphasis of sons coming through fathers throughout the Bible. In fact, one criticism of the genealogies in the Bible by modern Westerners is that they ignore the blood lines that go through women. It is ‘sexist’ in our eyes because it just considers sons of men. But in this case here it is different – there is no promise of an offspring (a ‘he’) coming from a man. It says only that there will be an offspring coming from the woman, without mentioning a man.

Out of all the humans that have ever existed that I can think of, historically or mythically, only two have never had a physical father (this includes the Greek demi-gods who were sired by ‘gods’ like Zeus being with mortal women). The first was Adam, created directly by God. The second was Jesus who (the New Testament claim goes) was born of a virgin – thus no human father. Is Jesus being foreshadowed here in this riddle? This fits with the observation that the offspring is a ‘he’, not a ‘she’, ‘they’ or ‘it’. With that perspective, if you read the riddle some pieces fall into place.

‘Strike his Heel’??

But what does it mean that the serpent would strike ‘his heel’? I could never see it until I worked in the jungles of Cameroon. We had to wear thick rubber boots even in the humid heat – because the snakes there lay in the long grass and would strike your foot – i.e. your heel – and that would kill you. My first day there I almost stepped on a snake, and could have died from it. The riddle made sense to me after that. The ‘he’ would destroy the serpent, but the price he would have to pay, would be that he would be killed.  That does foreshadow the victory achieved through the death of Jesus.

The offspring of the Serpent?

But who is his other protagonist, this offspring of Satan? Though we do not have space here to trace it out exhaustively, the later books speak of a coming person. Note the descriptions:

“… when their sin is at its height, a fierce king, a master of intrigue, will rise to power. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause a shocking amount of destruction and succeed in everything he does. He will destroy powerful leaders and devastate the holy people.  He will be a master of deception and will become arrogant; he will destroy many without warning. He will even take on the Prince of princes in battle, but he will be broken, though not by human power. (Daniel 8: 23-25; written by Daniel in Babylon ca 550 BC)

A man, with an invisible power behind him will challenge the ‘Prince of princes’ but his head too ‘will be crushed’.

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him … Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4; written by Paul in Greece ca 50 AD)

Hmm … sounds like an echo of Lucifer’s challenge at the dawn of time. The old saying, ‘the apple does not fall far from the tree’ may apply here. And the last book in the Bible, many pages and thousands of years removed from the Promise in Genesis, predicts:

The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come. This calls for a mind with wisdom. (Revelation 17:8-9; written by John on an island off Turkey ca 90 AD)

These later books (again note the diversity of authors, settings and eras they were written in) more explicitly speak of a countdown to a clash between the offspring of the woman and Satan’s offspring. But it is first mentioned in embryo-like form in this Promise of Genesis, at the very beginning of Biblical History, with details waiting to be filled in. So the climax of history, the countdown to a final contest between Satan and God, started long ago in the Garden is foreseen at that same beginning – the earliest Book.  It could almost make one think that history is really His-Story.

Click here to see & hear a video presentation on this in a Christmas context.

The Irony and Paradox at Jesus’ Trial

In our modern information age we are rather inundated every day by so many ‘facts’ that we have difficulty in keeping track of them.  So when is a ‘fact’ something significant that we should pay attention to, and when is it just trivial information?  In Session 8: The Return of the King I mention the many facts that are used by scientists, through reason and observation, to make forecasts and predictions about the future. But sometimes, the significance of the facts escapes even the experts. I read not long ago that there are about 10 000 fully qualified (i.e. PhD and Dr.) economists who advise all the rest of the world (governments, banks, investors, your retirement funds) using economic facts to gain insight into future trends. Yet in spite of this impressive array of educated people who ask us to trust them with our economic well-being barely a handful of them ‘saw’ the housing market crash coming in the US in 2008. And even fewer ‘saw’ it coming like a crash. And very few ‘saw’ the glaring contradictions buried in the Euro when the currency was launched with such fanfare and confidence inspired by the best of human wisdom only a decade ago. The meanings of facts are often missed even by the best of us.

Puzzles at Jesus’ Trial

So it is with the trial of Jesus. Many people have seen the trial depicted in a film or read it in one of the gospel accounts. Yet very few seem to have noticed the paradoxes embedded in his trial, let alone grasped the meaning of them. There are several, but for now I would like to draw our attention to one in particular. Here is the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Jewish court in that day) recorded in the Gospel of Luke.

At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. “If you are the Christ,‖they said, “tell us.”

Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You are right in saying I am.”

Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.” (Luke 22: 66-71)

Notice how in this exchange Jesus does not answer their question about his being the ‘Christ’.  Instead, he refers to his being something totally different – the ‘Son of Man’.  But his accusers don’t seem puzzled by that abrupt change of topic.  For some reason they seem to understand him, though opposed, even though he does not answer their question about being the ‘Christ’.  So why?  And where does the ‘Son of Man’ expression come from and what does it mean?

The ‘Son of Man’

The Timeline of Daniel's prophecy of 'sevens' culminating in Jesus Triumphant entry

Daniel lived ca 550 BC, long before Jesus

Some digging through biblical history reveals the answer.  ‘Son of man’ comes from Daniel in the Old Testament who records a vision explicitly about the future, referencing a ‘son of man’.  Here is how Daniel (ca 550 BC) recorded his vision:

As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat.  His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool.  His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.   A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him.  Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.  The court was seated, and the books were opened…

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:9-14)

In other words, the son of man depicted by Daniel was a powerful figure from heaven who would establish an eternal Kingdom that would encompass all peoples.  Now reflect for a moment on the irony of the situation at Jesus’ trial.  Here is Jesus, a peasant carpenter living in the backwater of the Roman Empire, with a ragtag following of lowly fishermen who at his recent arrest had just deserted him in terror, and he is now on a trial for his life. By referring to himself as the son of man he is calmly claiming before Caiaphas (High Priest back then) and his other accusers to be that person Daniel predicted. But Daniel wrote of the son of man ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’, taking world-wide authority and establishing a kingdom that would never end! That could not be more different from the actual situation that Jesus found himself in at his trial. It would seem almost ludicrous to bring up that title with him being in that situation.

Luke is guilty too

And yet it is not only Jesus doing this because Luke also does not shy away from recording this claim even though even at the time of his writing the prospects for Jesus and his fledgling movement would have appeared laughable to any knowledgeable reader of that day.  In the decade of the 60’s in the first century when the Gospel of Luke was written, the movement was ridiculed by the elite, disdained by the Jews, and ruthlessly persecuted by the insane Roman Emperor Nero.  Nero had the Apostle Peter crucified upside-down and Paul beheaded.  It should seem beyond sane reason that Luke would keep that fantastic reference in the mouth of Jesus – and by writing it make it public for all their detractors to scoff at.  But Luke was confident that Jesus of Nazareth was this same son of man of Daniel 7, and so, against all seeming odds, he records Jesus’ irrational (if it were not true) exchange with his accusers.

‘Son of Man’ – being fulfilled in our time

Now consider something. After Jesus gave his reply, and centuries after Luke recorded it in writing, some significant parts of the Daniel 7 son of man have clearly and identifiably been fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth.  Notice how Daniel 7 states of the son of man that “all peoples, nations, and men of every language worshiped him”. Though that was not true of Jesus two thousand years ago – look around now! Peoples from every nation and practically every language (and there are thousands of these) do worship him today.  This includes former animists from the Amazon to Papua New Guinea, the jungles of India to Cambodia; Inuit in Greenland and the Arctic; from East to West and North to South this is happening right now on a global scale.  For no one in all of recorded history is this even remotely plausible – except that very same Jesus of Nazareth. One may dismiss this with a ‘yes well that is due to the spread of Christianity’.  Sure, hindsight is 20-20 but Luke would have had no human way to know how things were going to unfold in the centuries after 62 AD when he authored his book.

And worship, to be real worship, can only be given by a free will, not under coercion or by bribery. If Jesus was the son of man with Heaven at his command then he would have had the power back then to pick up rule by force, but by force he would never have been able to get true worship out of people. For that to happen people must be freely won over; wooed like a maiden by her lover. Thus for the complete prediction of Daniel 7 to even conceivably be fulfilled it requires a time of free and open invitation. This explains the period we now live in, between the First Coming and the Return of the King. This is a time when people can learn about and then freely choose whether they will worship him or not, and its partial fulfillment in our recent times is an indicator or sign that there is a basis to trust that the rest of it will also be fulfilled someday.  At the very least it should raise our curiosity to see how the complete picture of the Coming King is woven through the Bible

And this is so relevant for you and me. Because if the rest of it does come true it will, in effect, smash our lives – in such a bigger way than the economic crash 2008 and its aftermath that is now concerning so many.  So for the next while I hope you will join with me in tracing the development of the themes that Jesus referenced in the Old Testament, that pointed to his First Coming and also to his Return as a King.  These themes are fascinating, are not difficult to follow, and in understanding them could open your eyes to see Jesus differently than you may ever have seen him.

8. Hope Birthed: The Return of the King

One of the great themes of the gospel is the Kingdom of God – that is the rule of God in the world as well as in the lives of people.  Many of Jesus’ parables were directly about the Kingdom of God.  The overall trajectory of these stories is that the Kingdom starts very small – so small that it seems insignificant and destined for oblivion.  Yet it grows and permeates itself through humanity and established itself as the central order in the entire universe.  This is a mystery of the Kingdom.

Thought the Kingdom of God grows quietly (Jesus illustrated it like yeast working its way through the dough) there are two epoch-changing crises that abruptly transfigure the Kingdom.  Both crises focus on the King of the Kingdom.  As the King completes a mission the Kingdom transforms into another order.

The first crisis that forever changed the Kingdom of God occurred at the Cross.  The death and resurrection of the King – the Messiah – forever altered the Kingdom.  This crisis has already occurred and set the Kingdom on a different trajectory.  It is now alive and growing almost in a subversive, bottoms-up manner.  Every person is invited – but the invitation can be freely declined – to enter and participate in the Kingdom.  Session 7 and the posts in that session look at this epoch changing event.

The second crisis has not yet occurred.  But the Gospel is replete with descriptions and parables about it.  This crisis will be the Return of the King – Jesus Christ – to don the mantle of rule on earth.  And this event will also so transform the Kingdom of God that its course will be again radically alter.

Some would perhaps question whether this is an important event since it has not yet occurred.  They fear that an undo emphasis on future (and uncertain in their minds) things leaves us unable to deal with present issues.  But even from a secular perspective we focus on future (and uncertain) events such as rising sea levels, global warming, pandemics, and potential economic collapses presented in a myriad of scenarios.  These issues are of interest to us precisely because our actions in the present may affect these outcomes in the future.  And though one cannot know with certainty about these outcomes the rationale behind the deliberations of these things is that present-day signs are indicators of their coming to pass in the future.  Thus wondering about rising sea levels is not simply some newly garbed astrology.  With present-day observations, coupled with some understanding of how things work, the claim is that these are calculations about the future – not speculations.

It is the same with the coming again of Christ.  This event, properly understood, will greatly affect how we live our lives in the present-day.  And observations made in the present-day can also be interpreted as signs or indicators of how imminent the events surrounding Christ’s return are.  In fact, Paul writing in 2 Thessalonians about the signs leading up to the return of Christ, told his readers that “Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things” (2 Thessalonians 2:5). Cross-referencing this with his time in Thessaloniki in the historical book of Acts it says that “on three Sabbaths he (Paul) reasoned with them from the scriptures…” (Acts 17:2).  And then it records how he was run out of the city.  So in the very short time we know that he had there, Paul thought this topic worth investing time to teach about.  It is central to the fulfilling of the Good News.

So the posts of this session will help us consider the promised Return of the King.  And one need not have a prior belief in order to consider it.  One can simply look from a detached point-of-view at the ‘signs’ and see if they match up, just like scientists can look at sea levels, climatologists can look at global temperatures, and economists can look at debt and deficit levels as signs of what will happen in the future.

We start the first post in this session at the trial of Jesus.  Yes, at the very place and time of his humiliation he gave echoes of his future return.  And in doing so he drew from even further back, into deep history, at a time before Socrates taught, when the Buddha was living in India, and the empires of Mesopotamia seemed destined to be permanently ascendant.  At that time, almost unnoticed, seeds of the Kingdom and its King were planted by Daniel.

Blog Posts Related to this Session

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  • September 23, 2015 - The Feast of Tabernacles: layered like an onion … with meaning

  • March 21, 2015 - Prudence in the rising wake of an ancient Apocalyptic Speech

  • October 30, 2014 - Halloween II: The zombie coming to life before our ears as well as our eyes

  • July 25, 2014 - MH17 fallout & Gaza conflict today! A maverick seer’s rumblings of long ago?

  • February 7, 2014 - The Prophet, The Skeptic, & the Fulfilled Event (Pt. 2)

  • January 24, 2014 - The Prophet, The Skeptic, & the Fulfilled Event (Pt. 1)

  • October 17, 2012 - The Final Countdown – Embedded in the Beginning

  • August 3, 2012 - The Irony and Paradox at Jesus’ Trial