Monday, May 25, 2015

Beware the Flying Fiery Serpents

Isaiah 14:29 is an oracle given by Yahweh to Isaiah, concerning the impending judgment upon Philistia. In the first half of the oracle, an ominous image appears:

Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you,
that the rod that struck you is broken,
for from the serpent's root will come for an adder,
and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent.

There are three different Hebrew words here: serpent (nā-ḥāš), adder, or cockatrice (ṣe-p̄a‘), and flying serpent (śā-rāp̄ mə-‘ō-w-p̄êp̄). The last word is the same word from which Seraphim is derived, the angelic figures whom Isaiah meets in his vision in Isaiah 6. While the image in Isaiah 14:29 is referring to particular kings who will attack Philistia, it is not inconceivable that a spiritual reality lies behind them, as in Daniel 10:13. Understanding the spiritual reality behind such ancient powers, moved by the Sovereign hand of God, is a awful reminder to us that the physical enemies we face in our own day are both empowered by ministers of evil and the Providence of God--to either punish or discipline (depending upon the recipient).

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Updated Hymnology #1: Be Not Far Off for Grief is Near

The words of Scripture have long provided comfort for the Church militant. Sometimes it is hard for the Church to see how God's Word speaks to all ages of her life, and so I'm inclined to offer some explicit applications of metrical psalms which have contemporary significance. I don't claim that my applications are exhaustive, or even the most acute or penetrating. I claim only relevance, and I beg for a measure of sympathy in such lamentations. (n.b. - my words are italicized, while the original hymn is not).

Be not far off, for grief is near, and none to help is found;
For bulls of Bashan in their strength now circle me around.
Their lion jaws they open wide, and roar to tear their prey.
My heart is wax, my bones unknit, my life is poured away.

Stay not Thy might, to offer help, while a few brave souls still stand,
For Sodom’s dogs our blood have smelled and gather as a band.
From foaming jaws they spit forth lies, and bark to back us down.
Our hearts like wax melt in our pride, our zeal nowhere is found.

My strength is only broken clay; my mouth and tongue are dry,
For in the very dust of death You there make me to lie.
For see how dogs encircle me! On every side there stands
A brotherhood of cruelty; they pierce my feet and hands.

Our words are mealy-mouthéd spoke, their edge is blunted steel,
To idols we have bowed our heads, as slaves we’ve dropped to kneel.
O see the beds in which we lie, filthy adulteries!
Cleanse out Thy temple, O my God! Give ear unto my pleas!

My bones are plain for me to count; men see me and they stare.
My clothers among them they divide, and gamble for their share.
Now hurry, O my Strength, to help! Do not be far, O Lord!
But snatch my soul from raging dogs, and spare me from the sword.

Our numbers dwindle in their midst; they plunder all our shares.
Vain comforts in the goods of earth; we’re taken unawares.
Now hurry, O my Strength, to help! Do not be far, O Lord!

But snatch our souls from Sodom’s sons, and spare us from their sword.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Religious Liberty, not Toleration

In the recent Supreme Court hearing of homosexual marriage, many have noted the threat gay marriage offers to religious liberty. R.J. Rushdoony recognized over thirty years ago the threat that homosexuals offered to religious liberty.

As an historian, Rushdoony was well versed in the history of religious liberty and religious toleration. Ironically, threats to religious liberty are not limited to pagans and secularists, as he notes. In his brief essay, Rushdoony references Isaac Backus, an 18th century baptist minister who lamented the loss of religious liberty under the State-supported religious denominations of his own day. Two anecdotes from Backus show that Christians were at least as severe as contemporary secular analogues:

These evils cleaved so close to the first fathers of Massachusetts, as to move them to imprison, whip and banish men, only for denying infant baptism, and refusing to join in worship that was supported by violent methods: yet the were so much blinded as to declare, That there was this vast difference between these proceedings and the coercive measures which were taken against themselves in England, viz. We compel men to "God's instructions"; they in England compelled to "mens inventions." 
In 1644 the court at Boston passed an act to punish men with banishment, if they opposed infant baptism; or departed from any of their congregations when it was going to be administered. 

The point is not that Christians are as bad as pagans and secularists (sometimes they are), but that if Christians, who are like minded in most areas, were willing to resort to such methods of enforcement over their differences, then one might expect pagans and secularists to have few qualms at using equal or more severe measures to ensure conformity to the legal requirements of today, should they shift in the direction of homosexual claims. No doubt earlier congregationalists and Presbyterians would have liked to stamp out Baptist "errors" and see all baptists embrace paedobaptism and presbyterian ecclesiology. But they would have seen Christian orthodoxy, defined in Nicene terms, perpetuated. No doubt present day pagans and secularists would like to stamp out Christian "errors" and see all Christians embrace homosexuality and homosexual marriage. But they also have no interest in seeing Christian orthodoxy, defined in Nicene terms, perpetuated. The only Christianity pagan and secularists are committed to see perpetuated is one thoroughly stripped of all but the most general moral ideals.

Another of Backus' observations seems perfectly suited to today's climate. Following upon his reference to the 1644 act in Boston, he notes:

And after they had acted upon this law, one of their chief magistrates observed, that such methods tended to make hypocrites. To which a noted minister replied, that if it did so, yet such were better than profane persons, because said he, "Hypocrites give God part of his due, the outward man, but the profane person giveth God neither outward nor inward man."

The same logic that would happily deny the necessity of wedding of inward and outward fidelity to God applies to the pagan and secular position on Christians who will be forced to comply to legislation that forces them to act against their conscience: what difference does it make whether Christians really accept homosexuality and its marriages as sanctioned by God? So long as they give their outward obedience, the due owed to homosexuals will have been paid in part, which is better than having it not paid at all.

Christians have been known to dig their own graves. We've been doing it since the times of Abraham, when we were but families, and not yet a nation among nations, nor yet a nation of all nations. But thanks be to God who is able to resurrect from the dead.