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New Testament Eschatology -- Old Testament Background Continued

Some Prophets
'Prophecy is of the nature of poetry, and depicts events, not in the prosaic style of the historian, but in the glowing imagery of the poet.' -- J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia, pg. 81.

Last time we took a brief look at poetic language and how it's used. We saw how celestial images can be used for terrestrial authorities. With that in mind, we now turn our attention to some prophetic passages.
Isaiah 13.9-13. For see, the day of the Lord is coming—the terrible day of his fury and fierce anger. The land will be made desolate, and all the sinners destroyed with it. The heavens will be black above them; the stars will give no light. The sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will provide no light.

“I, the Lord, will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sin. I will crush the arrogance of the proud and humble the pride of the mighty. I will make people scarcer than gold—more rare than the fine gold of Ophir. For I will shake the heavens. The earth will move from its place when the Lord of Heaven’s Armies displays his wrath in the day of his fierce anger.”

Some of this language should be familiar to us. It is peppered throughout the New Testament. Specifically, notice that this passage talks about the 'day of the Lord'; the desolation of the land; the heavenly luminaries are darkened; the 'world', 'sinners', and 'wicked' will all be punished for sin; the heavens will be shaken and the earth will be moved from its place. All of this sounds so very much like what we might read about in the book of Revelation. And we do read some of it. However, the first part of this passage might not be as familiar.
Isaiah 13.1-3. Isaiah son of Amoz received this message concerning the destruction of Babylon:

“Raise a signal flag on a bare hilltop. Call up an army against Babylon. Wave your hand to encourage them as they march into the palaces of the high and mighty. I, the Lord, have dedicated these soldiers for this task. Yes, I have called mighty warriors to express my anger, and they will rejoice when I am exalted.”

As we can see, this was a prophecy 'concerning the destruction of Babylon'. Babylon was destroyed in 539 BCE. There is nothing within the history books that even remotely comes close to what was described here. There was no cataclysmic event of the magnitude described in verses 9-13. In other words, the language used here is not about the destruction of this planet and cosmos. It is poetic language depicting the destruction of Babylon in 539 BCE.

Another example:
Micah 1.3-4. Look! The Lord is coming! He leaves his throne in heaven and tramples the heights of the earth. The mountains melt beneath his feet and flow into the valleys like wax in a fire, like water pouring down a hill.

Again we see the Lord coming from heaven and trampling the 'heights of the earth'. It appears that this 'coming' depicts some kind of thermonuclear scenario as the 'mountains melt' and ' wax in a fire' or 'water pouring down a hill'. The astonishing thing is that this is a prediction of the fall of Samaria and Jerusalem!
Micah 1.1, 5. The Lord gave this message to Micah of Moresheth during the years when Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were kings of Judah. The visions he saw concerned both Samaria and Jerusalem...And why is this happening? Because of the rebellion of Israel - yes, the sins of the whole nation. Who is to blame for Israel’s rebellion? Samaria, its capital city! Where is the center of idolatry in Judah? In Jerusalem, its capital!

So, once more, we see that while this passage depicts 'global destruction' it is really poetic language telling us about the fall of Jerusalem.

Now, something to remember is that, for the inhabitants of those cities or countries, their destruction would amount to a global crises. In their minds, the universe would seem to be completely destroyed. We say similar language today, 'My world is crashing down around me!' someone might exclaim. She doesn't mean that the very fabric of the cosmos is unraveling but that there are some big problems in her own life, her own 'world'. The same is being said in these prophetic passages. So, while the destruction of those cities/countries may not have 'literally' taken place in the way they have been depicted, nevertheless they were 'literally' destroyed. Their judgment was this worldly and not other worldly. In other words, these poetic images were about things that would take place within history in the 'natural' realm, not at the end of history or in the 'spiritual' realm.

That's it for this time. Until next time...

Peace be with you.



Pinball said…
Hear, hear!

Excellent work. You've demonstrated that we have ample evidence in the Old Testament that prophecies weren't literal visions, but symbolism for what would -- and did -- happen in the real world.

I love how you're constructing one single arguement that is laying low both the liberal and conservative interepretations of apocolyptic scriptures. Now can you do this for politics?
Ted M. Gossard said…
Good. Yes, we seem to easily accept that this kind of language is figurative in the way you well describe here, but then in Revelation and Jesus' Olivet discourse (Mt 24, etc.) popular interpretations make cosmic disturbances a routine part of their interpretation.

Thanks. You helped make it clearer for me.
Odysseus said…

Concerning politics: I am trying as best I can to get a handle on it. But, as you know, I'm pretty much a novice when it comes to that field. So it will take some time. And remember, I've been doing biblical studies for over twenty years. You would HOPE I get the hang of it by now! :)


Yep. You're right. And that is the part that 'don't make no sense'. However, to be honest, some people will point to these OT passages as 'proof' for 'cosmic disturbances'. That is why a good historical context needs to be learned along with a biblical context. Most people just aren't aware of what happened in the history of the biblical stories. It's like these things happened in a vacuum or something.

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