Day 364 (Dec. 30): Seven angels standing at Temple hold bowls of seven plagues, those victorious over evil sang song of Moses, plagues caused flowing blood, darkness, earthquakes, hailstorms, prostitute rides beast, beast has fallen, Lamb of God victorious over beast and kings, voice warns to stay away from the wickedness of Babylon, believers rejoice over judgment of Babylon

Welcome to Bible Bum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Revelation 15-18:24

Questions & Observations

Q.  Rob, this is still John’s vision, but we have no idea if this is how the end of days will actually be, right?  And, what about those who see a white light when they are passing, but then come back to earth?  The Bible doesn’t seem to address that.

A. The rest of Revelation after John is told to enter the door is his vision, so yes, this remains a record of what he is seeing.  There are many who see Revelation as some sort of code to be deciphered that would give Christians an “insider” knowledge about what will happen in the last days — which no one even knows when that will be, let alone how it will unfold — but I do not buy that.  People who make such claims don’t really understand the genre of the writing: it was written in code, not for people living centuries later, but for the original audience, persecuted Christians in the seven churches of the first few chapters and beyond.  That it has any benefit to us is, in my mind, incidental to John — though I freely offer that the Spirit desired this book to be for our benefit as well.  But I simply do not think you can “unravel” the code and be given special information: God simply does not work that way with any part of the Bible — the message is always clear and up front.  Hidden knowledge is not part of Christianity — all the “cards” are on the table.  The Bible does not address the near death experiences you are describing, probably because there was no such thing as “near death” in ancient times: you were either dead or alive.

Q. (15:7): There a lot of dishes used in the Bible that hold important things.  Here we have bowls holding plagues, cups that runneth over, and I remember the Tabernacle had some holy dishes, right?  Is that for a reason?

A. I don’t think there is anything special about the use of dishes or cups, they are simply delivery devices for liquids, and there’s just no other way to do that.  Though some of the dishes represent powerful images, such as wrath or healing, the dishes are not the important part of the image: it is what they contain that matters.

Q. (16:4): And here is the blood again.  Blood signifies cleansing of sins.  Here it is more of a payback?

A. The plague of blood serves two purposes: it harkens back to the first plague of Egypt, in which the Nile was turned to blood thanks to Moses’ staff.  But the other purpose for this punishment is described in verses 5 and 6: the blood is a “punishment fits the crime” plague for shedding the blood of those faithful to God.

Q. (16:11): After all of that wrath, the people still refuse to acknowledge God.  They don’t know God so they don’t know they’ve sinned?  And, they are still being called to repent to God and they are still refusing.  Would you say there hearts are hardened?  It doesn’t say anything about that here and why would God harden them because he did this in the past to magnify evil showing the Israelites His power.  These people sound so wicked that their hearts could not be softened ever.  Anyway, just curious.

A. This vision is black and white, like a lot of John’s writings: there is no one who crosses to the other side during this torment: no one repents, and confesses the evil of their ways.  For the Christians who suffered under persecution and likely lost their possessions, if not their lives to the whims of evil men who placed themselves as enemy’s of God’s church, however, this is a just punishment.  It is only a vision after all, but one with a clear purpose: to remind the faithful what they are fighting for and what happens if they are victorious.  Those who persevere through this tribulation — and do keep in mind that in more than 60 countries around the world RIGHT NOW, the tribulation goes on to this day! — they will be rewarded and see those who have punished them punished.

I won’t lie to you, there is an element of blood lust in this that I’m not completely comfortable with, but we must not forget that God does not wink at sin, and some of the greatest sins are to persecute and kill those who are on the side of God.  Personally, I would desire for God to extend grace, but in this vision at least, the time of grace has passed.  Victory is coming for those who remained faithful!

Q. (17:15-18): I don’t understand the dynamic between the beasts and the prostitute.  They are enemies here, but I thought they were on the same Team Evil.

A. This is a complex analogy.  The woman/prostitute is Rome, not the actual city of Babylon, which has long been known as the city on seven hills.  The vision of the kings/crowns on the beast is clear enough, and the beast in this analogy is the Antichrist, the great enemy of God.  It appears that the beast will come to rule over the woman (that is, rule Rome, at least symbolically), and that is why there is animosity between them.  This makes the 8th king (verse 11) the ruler, but they will turn on the “woman” for reasons that I don’t really know.  It appears that even among “team evil,” there is division.  The ultimate point John is making is that Rome has become a prostitute of all kinds of things that are evil in God’s sight, and that many rulers, merchants, and sailors have “slept” with her in order to gain wealth.  Since the woman will die, it will be bad for all those who “sleep” with her.

Q. (18:10): The prostitute is the city of Babylon, right?  It sounds like the NT’s version   of Sodom and Gomorra.  I would think that Babylon is metaphorical for all who fall prey to the temptations of this world.

A. It’s Rome, as I discussed above, but the rest of what you write has it exactly.  Rome is powerful, which is why she is so tempting for those who desire power or control, but in the end, she will die (the Roman Empire will fall) and God still remains.

Day 280 (Oct. 7): Jesus cast out demon but scares people, Jesus heals woman with faith

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Mark 5:1-20

Matthew 8:28-34

Luke 8:26-39

Mark 5:21-43

Matthew 9:18-26

Luke 8:40-56

Questions & Observations

Q. (Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34, Luke 8:26-39): Here are three accounts of Legion, the man with many demons, of which Jesus cast into a herd of pigs.  Why does it say there are two men in Matthew’s version?  Other than that, they are basically the same story.  After seeing 2,000 pigs drown, the people of the region wanted Jesus to leave because they didn’t want to see anymore of their livestock die.  Right?  I’m sure Jesus didn’t want to upset them by killing their livestock.  From his ability to cast out the demons, they should see that Jesus wasn’t an ordinary man and the fact that He healed a man is more important than 2,000 pigs.  But, would the people know enough about the Messiah to know that if they were short on food, he would give them provisions?

A. I don’t know why Matthew’s version lists two healings, there’s some sort of quirk in the text.  As to your other questions, it’s important to note where we are when Jesus and his men cross over.  Across the Sea of Galilee, they were no longer in Jewish territory, but we are near the Gentile area of the Decapolis (Ten cities).  The key to telling this is the very pigs you mentioned: no Jew would herd pigs, only a Gentile would.  So the residents were probably concerned that Jesus was some sort of powerful magician or someone that they should fear.  It is unlikely any of them would have had any idea of what the Messiah was, but they will after this incident — Jesus left a man behind to see to that.

Q. (Mark 5:21-43, Matthew 9:18-26, Luke 8:40-56): We have seen that Jesus has lots of respect for those with pure, genuine, undeniable faith.  Why didn’t Jesus want the parents to tell anyone about His healing power?

A. Probably because He did not want any more publicity from these healings.  It is also in keeping with a major theme of Mark: the secret Messiah.  Jesus does not want to become too well known as the Messiah before His mission is complete for reasons that will become clear later.

Day 155 (June 4): A woman and man write of their intimate love for one another

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Song of Solomon 1-8

Questions & Observations

Q.  I can’t help asking what the purpose of this song is?  One footnote said something about the man and woman’s relationship being an allegory to God and the church.  But, why use such intimate or sexual language?

A. That’s life.  Despite our modern Puritan almost obsession with not talking about sexuality in healthy terms — we discuss it plenty in unhealthy terms — the Bible does not shy away from talking about healthy sexuality between a (married) man and woman.  Song of Solomon presents sexuality as God desires it.  This offends our modern sensibilities that say you don’t talk about such things — there was some of this in Jewish culture as well: Jewish children weren’t allowed to read/hear this book until they had reached a certain age — but there is no reason that the love between this man and woman cannot be shared for our benefit.  No doubt it is a unique book in the canon, but I for one think the Bible is better for having it than not.  Regarding the idea that it’s not talking about human sexuality (i.e. its really about God and church), that idea is usually presented from people who don’t really want the Bible to discuss sexuality, frankly, in positive terms.  The idea that the explicit descriptions of sexual adventures are somehow metaphor is a bit ridiculous to me.

Q. Then, let’s talk about the characters.  The man is Solomon?  And, the woman strongly desires Solomon and he desires her?  What role do the Women of Jerusalem have?  Just to elevate his attractiveness by them talking about him?

A. The text appears to discuss Solomon and one of his (many) wives — there might be portions of the text that discuss their courtship before they are married — but the general consensus is that it is talking about their married romantic relationship.  The women appear to fill the role of “chorus” in Greek drama- as some sort of narrator who “responds” to the story.

Q. (Song of Songs 1:5): Why mention her dark skin?  It sounds like that it’s something he desires and that he may like the fact that she works the fields?

A. She is concerned about it because in those days, many with dark skin got it from working out in the sun, which she thinks makes her less desirable.  Generally, only the wealthy, who didn’t have to work, were pail, which made pail skin more desirable in that society.  Little does she know that he apparently likes her that way.

Q. (1:7): It seems that the woman is doing most of the chasing here.

A. She’s looking for him, no doubt.

Q. (1:17): There are a lot of references to scents and vegetation.  Why?

A. Most of the pleasant smells and scents came from natural extracts came from flowers, plants, or other vegetation.  In a society without regular bathing or deodorant, it makes sense that such good smells would be highly desirable.

Q. (2:7, 3:5): This is a refrain?  I do like the reference to not awakening love until it’s ready.  I don’t know if “the time is right” means age-wise or just couples spending enough time together until they are sure of their love?  Of course, waiting for the right person to come along is so hard for many because of loneliness, sexual desires, self-esteem, etc.  So, this is a wise verse to wait for the right person to come along to marry.  If not, it can give you loads of heartache and disappointment.  I can wait a very long time to see my kids go through that!

A. The idea of when “the time was right” would have been very different in that society than in ours.  Women got married in their late teens in ancient society, and women today average 29 years old for their first marriage.  That’s a 10-year difference.

But regardless of the “drawbacks” of waiting, the advice is sound: this entire book points to the passion found in true love.  If the man and woman didn’t really love each other, most of the emotional effect would have been lost.

Q. (3:1-4): It seems the woman is doing most of the chasing.  This indicates how desirable Solomon was?
A. Sure, he was the king, and apparently handsome.

Q. (6:11-12): I don’t understand this, do you?

A. Nope.  This is the most obscure set of verses in the text, and no one really knows what it means.

Q. (7:10-13): Is checking the vegetation a symbol used to describe if the lovers are ready to bloom and be together?

A. Nope.  It’s a bit more explicit than that.  It’s a double entendre that is used by the woman both to describe both their meeting place — in a garden — and her, um, personal garden.  Aren’t you glad you know that now?

Q. (8:12): What is the woman saying here about caring for its vines?

A. We don’t really know.  There are a number of verses of this text where the meanings are simply lost to history.