Sunday, June 24, 2012

Figuratively and metaphorical heavens and earth

Suppose you are the Apostle John and you are suddenly taken from the first century and found yourself in the 21st Century. The year is 2012 and it is the election year. There are two big political party rallies going on. At one political rallies there are representatives from the Democrats party on one side of the street waving flags with the symbol of a donkey, on it. On the other side of the street there are Republicans representatives waving flags with the symbol of an elephant, on it.

We know these political symbols identify two political parties, but what would John think? Would the Apostle John immediately know what these symbols represent? Or would he think these two symbols represent a literal donkey and elephant? The point is, John would have to do a little study of our culture to find out their true meaning. The same applies to us. We need to also spend time studying the figurative and metaphorical language that is so often used in the culture of those in the Bible.

To help you understand how the Jews communicated in terms of symbolic language, open your Bible and turn to (Genesis 37:9-10). This is the way symbolical language is used in the Old Testament. It was adopted for like use later in the New Testament.

This is the story of the family of Jacob. * When Joseph was seventeen years old, he was tending the flocks with his brothers; he was an assistant to the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah, and Joseph brought their father bad reports about them.

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age. When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his brothers, they hated him so much that they could not say a kind word to him. Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers, they hated him even more. He said, "Listen,"I had another dream, and this time the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me."

His brothers said to him, “Are you really going to make yourself king over us? Will you rule over us?” So they hated him all the more because of his dreams and his reports. Then he had another dream, and told it to his brothers. “Look, I had another dream,” he said; “this time, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told it to his father and his brothers, his father reproved him and asked, “What is the meaning of this dream of yours? Can it be that I and your mother and your (brothers are to come and bow to the ground before you)?” emphasis, added.

So his brothers were furious at him, but his father kept the matter in mind. As you can see, Joseph dream was related to his father, mother, and brothers, not the universe. Any Jewish readers were certainly well versed in the sort of symbolic language and imagery and understood their meaning.

Since the writers of the Old Testament used such highly symbolic language to picture the actions of God, the writers of the New Testament, and Jesus in particular would use the same kind of imagery to describe the events of historic proportions? The problem is we are not accustomed to dealing with such symbolic language like a new heaven and new earth the sun being darkened and the stars falling, etc., without thinking literally. However to the Jews, using this type of language figuratively and metaphorically was natural as we see in Genesis 37:9-10.

Let explore more definition of the prophetic language of heaven and earth. A good example of how this symbolic language is used and applies to the "de-creation of heaven and earth" is used in Psalm 18:5-16 to describe the downfall of Saul's Kingdom. And in Isaiah 13:6-13 we see that destruction of the heavens and earth pertain to when the Medes broke up the Babylonian empire.

Nahum applies this earth-shattering metaphor to Yahweh's judgment of Nineveh (Nahum 1:1-5). Isaiah applies this language to Edom of 703 BC (Isa 34:3-8). Ezekiel applies this language to Babylon's victory over Egypt (572 BC) in Ezekiel 32:7-11. There is no question about when these things would happen. The Jewish readers were certainly well versed in this symbolic language and imagery.

It was a very special historical occasion when God chose Israel from all of the nations of the earth to be His own people. Deuteronomy7: 6 "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.

Not only did God make them His own, people in addition, He created for them a world of their own; and covenant called “heavens and earth.” “But I am the Lord thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: The Lord of hosts is his name. And I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people (Isaiah. 51:15,16).”

Clearly Jehovah could not be talking about the formation of the literal heaven and earth, for that had taken place more than 3,000 years before! The verse explains itself. Jehovah is talking about “Zion, my people.” God was speaking of the time when He created Israel’s heavens and the earth. The material creation existed long before Yahweh spoke these words. The Mosaic Covenant was thought of as the heaven and earth.

This form of address is sometimes used when Yahweh is speaking to and admonishing the people of Israel. In this instance, as in other places, the words are being addressed to the rulers and the people of Israel. The following is another example of where the nation of Israel is being addressed by Moses and metaphorical language is used, with the rulers depicted as the heavens and the people as the earth.

Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them. For I know that after my death you will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands. And Moses spake in the ears of all the congregation of Israel the words of this song, until they were ended. (Deuteronomy 31: 28-30)

In Deuteronomy 32:1, Moses said, “Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; And let the earth hear the words of my mouth.” ” Moses was not speaking to the literal heavens and rocks on earth he was speaking to the people of Israel. In figurative language, the "heavens and earth here are simply the covenant, religious/political authorities in the land of Palestine and the people who lived there. With these things in mind, lets dig a little deeper.

During the ancient times of Israel the Temple signified the presence of God (the Shekinah of glory) and Israel’s place in election etc. Josephus a Pharisee kept track of the biblical, historical records of Israel. Josephus portrays the first century Jewish understanding of "heaven and earth" in his writings.

He describes how the Jews looked upon their place of worship in the Mosaic Tabernacle and later in the Temple as "a heaven and earth." They believed that their Temple was at the very center of the earth, and saw it as the place where heaven and earth came together, and where God met man.

In a quote Josephus, calls the outer part of the tabernacle "an imitation of the system of the world" and the "sea and land, on which men live." By contrast, the inner Holy of Holies, he terms "heaven peculiar to God." There was a fabric veil that separated these two compartments in the Tabernacle and the Temple, which he describes as being "very ornamental, and embroidered with all sorts of flowers which the earth produces." This last quote is found in Antiquities, Book 3, Chapter 6, Paragraph 4, Section 126.

Moses was told by God to patterned the Tabernacle after heavenly-things (Hebrews 8:5) This clearly illustrates how the Temple was seen as a meeting point between heaven and earth, its service being an earthly representation of heavenly reality. This is why the 1st century Jews saw the destruction of the Temple in 70AD representing Heaven/Earth passing away? (Matthew 24)

In 2 Peter 3:10–13 we must pay close attention to the Greek words that Peter uses as they are of utmost importance in understanding what it is he is saying. Let's look closely at the Greek word he uses which is translated "new." "Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for “new heavens and a new earth,” wherein dwelleth righteousness."

There are two words translated "new" in the New Testament. Those words are "neos" and "kainos." "Neos" means new in time, something that has never been before, or that which has recently come into existence/what has only just now arisen or appeared. "Kainos" means new in quality/nature, not in time, different from what is old/distinctive as compared with other things different from the usual, better than the old, superior in value or attraction. The word Peter uses in this verse is "kainos." If Peter meant that God was going to physically destroy the physical heavens and earth and create a replacement, Peter would have used the word "neos!"

The new heavens and new earth Peter write about are an echo from Isaiah 65:17-18. "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, And her people a joy.

In this chapter we read where God will create a new heaven and a new earth (spiritually, not physically) new heavens and new earth along with a new Jerusalem. This is the very same spiritual Jerusalem, which Paul says is the Jerusalem above and mother of us all. (Galatians 4:26)

And John says is descending out of heaven out from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2; 10) More on the heaven and earth later.