I participate in something that started long before. The dream of returning to a simpler faith without all the added folderol and misguided restrictions has been around since shortly after the last apostle died, around AD 100. The only complication in John’s Apocalypse is the necessity of thinking like a Hebrew Mystic in order to grasp the meaning, because that’s the kind of mind John had when he wrote it. I seek a mind like that.
Scripture isn’t magical with powers of its own. It’s just ink on paper, electrons lighting up a screen. It’s just words until the Holy Spirit incarnates it in your soul. It is the chosen tool of God, produced by people who knew Him, uniquely imprinted with His divine character, but still powerless without His living touch.
So I’m not starting anything, nor defining it’s passage. I’m simply another contributor to a long process that ends with The End. The primary task is communication. Right now I’m still trying to keep track of the front edge of human communications. I don’t have a savvy estimate of what’s coming next, nor some divine vision of what to expect. All I have is a sense of calling, a drive to participate with one single goal: to share my experience with God.
My life is simply one more narrative, unfolding something of God that may not be visible through any other means. While I possess a flaming compassion for those who need more of Him, I confess I am driven more by a desire to bathe myself in His glory. I want as much as He will allow me to have. I don’t want to miss a thing.
At some point the means to communication must inevitably leave me behind. I’ll keep doing what I do best until it no longer matters to God. Then I’ll be gone. All the things I taste here and there in the barest glimmers of His glory will become my new reality, face to face with the God who gave so very much for me.
Care to join in?
In the Hebrew mind, the highest good was shalom. More than simple absence of distress or conflict, it was much broader. Perhaps a better term would be “social stability” — a combination of salient factors working together to provide a stable life for the community. It was tied to the idea of moral justice; if you live by the Laws of God, you should expect life to be as tolerable as can be, given our fallen state. In David’s mind, it didn’t get any better than this. It was possible to have too much stuff, too much fun and excitement, too much learning and thinking, too much of a lot of things not so bad by themselves. But the whole picture depended on trusting God and obeying His moral demands and executing His divine justice.
This is what David has in mind very specifically here. He accepts whatever shelter comes with taking refuge in Jehovah’s feudal lordship. The concept of protection is an aspect of shalom. In rather literal terms, David notes that nothing good for him is available outside God’s will. By comparison, David notes a significant portion of his nation is given to idolatry. The language here is hard to translate with any precision, but it’s easy enough to see where it points. Even as king, David knew that enforcing covenant provisions against idolatry with too much vigor would be oppressive. He is aware that people are pursuing it, but there is only so much he can do to stop it. So at the very least, he is faithful himself and refuses to participate at all. He is careful to remain ritually circumspect.
Again, David asserts that it is Jehovah who provides all the things these other people believe they can obtain by idolatry. It would be fair to say that shalom means stability, prosperity and security. He equates it with a rich inheritance of fertile lands that no one can take from him. He commits himself to testifying of God’s goodness and investing in frequent periods of meditation — this is not something you can make into simple ritual. Sincere commitment brings a sense of peace and contentment that offers clear thinking in turmoil. If you give yourself to the joy of serving God, there won’t be room for worry or agitation, and thus, fewer miscalculations when things go bad.
The business about Sheol and the Pit (fairly literal translations) is a standard Hebrew parallelism. Both terms are roughly equivalent in the symbolic sense of pervasive corruption. Our fallen existence is bad enough and we seek God’s justice to make the best of a bad situation. Wallowing in it is to embrace corruption and death rather as an idol. Whether you are physically alive won’t matter; you serve Death and belong to Death. The use of this particular verse by Peter and Paul is not an unreasonable semantic stretch. Who walks in justice need not fear the end of this life; death is more a friend than a ruler. Literal applications do not violate the underlying symbolism. Jesus was not in the tomb long enough to stink, so the symbolism continues with the His literal resurrection. His human body died but did not decompose. David’s choice of words were particularly apt and prophetic.
All the more so in the final verse, giving us the feel that you simply cannot afford to miss a moment in feudal service to God here on earth.
The bride continues conferring with her support network. The maidens ask if the bride knows where her man went. The question refers more to the kind of place, rather than some specific location. The bride answers that he is downright picky, and would have only the best of everything. In her mind, this high standard is justified, and her previous reluctance was not. Then she renews her commitment to him, and we note there is some significance now to reversing the previous similar statement. She puts first the most important fact about her existence, that she belongs to him.
So the groom returns to the scene and announces that there is no one more lovely to him than his bride. Here is why we might suppose this is not Solomon writing about himself, but someone in his court council. It was horrible bad politics to play favorites with the harem, since most of them were political marriages. But for an official of the court to suggest his bride is better to him than the king’s whole harem is altogether appropriate. He praises her beauty as overwhelming like a mighty army or a dazzling and unassailable fortress. It wouldn’t matter how many of the finest feminine treasures the king might have, they don’t compare with his one bride.
So despite whatever flaws she might be hiding, she was still more valuable and delightful than any other human pleasure in this world. He uses the imagery of a vineyard to indicate building a family and all the joy anticipation it all brings. The good times have just begun.
She responds with two lines. There are some ambiguities in how they should be translated. Since we know of no town or village named Shulam, it would appear more useful to take the meaning of the word itself as someone who is so perfect as to be untouchable. And we aren’t quite sure whether it is two lines of dancers or two armies camped against each other, but the whole point is rather obvious: Don’t just stand there slobbering like a fool! Grab me and let’s make love.
I’ve been asked to put this in terms a bright juvenile can follow. Apparently there is at least one who sees some of my blog posts. I’ve done a lot of teaching to that age group (teaching in both public and private high schools), so I am comfortable writing up a review on their level.
Typical philosophical or theological debates presume a certain common ground, a set of rules, precedents, and so forth. The most common form of such debate takes place in courtrooms. To some degree, the stuff dramatized on TV and in movies is more entertaining than the real thing, but tends to reflect all the kinds of arguments people make and how they win or lose. In most debates here this blog, the judge is whomever pays attention, and their decision affects only themselves and their actions.
So the objective is to prove and persuade, to sway opinion in one way or another. On a blog like this one, you don’t have all of the gesturing and tone of voice, and whatever human charisma there might be is very hard to discern. One reader sees a set of arguments as abusive and angry, while another reader sees careful reasoning. Only a fool pretends that charisma has no bearing on the results. That’s what charisma means in our society, and people are frequently moved more by style than by substance. We see the same thing in politics.
So it’s not just a matter of convincing people your side is correct or better, but you have to convince them to listen in the first place. Do they even care about the issue? Then, you have to encourage them to keep listening. If the issue is connected to religious belief in any way, you also have the added factor of morality. Not just whether something is reasonable and consistent, but you have a question of righteousness and holiness. One man’s good idea becomes another man’s blasphemy. It gets really nasty, really fast, when you put up religious ideas for debate. It’s just too important to treat as a common intellectual query.
All of this assumes a common ground of legal proof. That is, we have a whole raft of assumptions about what constitutes proof and what sort of things are allowed to enter the debate. Too often the people involved may have radically different ideas about what constitutes proof and valid evidence. Some debates quickly become absurd political demonstrations simply because there is an awful lot of unspoken assumptions, things which haven’t been agreed upon by both sides. Even if they start off using the same words and phrases, it’s not too hard to realize the underlying meaning is quite different. So religious debate is often nothing more than politics in disguise.
Sometimes people will try to engage me in debate here and present some kind of argument. Most of the time, such debate starts with a large body of assumptions and I do my best to point out that we need to discuss those assumptions first. Too often, that is rejected by the other person. Maybe they aren’t used to dealing with people who think differently. The motives vary with the people, so I can’t characterize them all, not even with a simple list. Indeed, there are a lot of people who aren’t entirely conscious of their own motives, which can make things very confused.
When we discuss things like Creation and the doctrine of The Fall, we have yet another complication in our discussion: Such things took place before our current human existence. And if you want to argue about God and His choices, you really are outside the realm of things we can debate as if in a courtroom. Law courts in particular are using what we call “historical proof” — we are trying to prove this or that happened. You cannot use the logic of historical proof when discussing Creation and anything in the first few chapters of Genesis because those events are before human awareness existed, at least awareness as we think of it. And once we have humans in the story, almost everything else in the Bible tells us it was a different situation than we have now, radically different. There is no sensible way to use historical proof for things that took place in Eden.
It is reasonable to argue about what the Bible has to say about such things, but you most certainly cannot pin God down as you would a historical character. You cannot apply courtroom logic and arguments to Him and His actions. You cannot define God; that is, you cannot use human language to precisely limit His character. We can characterize Him in various ways, but it’s always a contextual figure of speech. This isn’t suitable for building legal arguments.
The question of whether or not the doctrine of The Fall is valid is a very old argument. The Bible itself doesn’t use that term in that way. Instead, it refers to being kicked out of Eden, of having a sinful nature from birth, of having a dire need of redemption from sin. The Apostle Paul wrote a good bit about how human death became a fact of our existence because of sin in the Garden of Eden, because the Eden story in Genesis talks about the Tree of Life and how we lost access to it.
I take the position that the language of the story of Eden is mostly symbolic. That’s not to say things didn’t happen precisely as described, but it’s unlikely. That’s because such precision was never the intent of Moses when he wrote it down. Such a concept would never have occurred to Moses because nobody else in his day and time thought like that. Nobody. Of course, proving that takes an awful lot of study and combing through huge collections of ancient literature and artifacts and all the stuff people wrote about those things. You and I are hardly expert enough to study those things on our own; it requires many years of study just to get started. And while it’s possible all the people who are experts might be wrong about some of it, or even most of it, we don’t have anything else to work with. Their work is something we can debate legally, though. Most of what is written about it is in form of debate over what it means.
Since this is a matter of our religious belief in the first place, you get to the point where legal proof simply isn’t all that important. Your life isn’t going to last forever, and if the call of God is on your soul, there are priorities that may not include years of study about some issues. You go as far as you can in that direction, but in the final analysis, you simply have to have a sense of where you believe God wants you to go with it. Without that, none of it really means very much in the first place. I tend to avoid debate in the first place, because it’s not a matter of proving my case, but a matter of letting God take care of that. You are the judge and it doesn’t require someone arguing with me for something I say to be useful.