Wednesday, January 11, 2017

God’s Foreign Exchange Program

Biblegems #292

Question: I have read many versions and several commentaries on Isaiah 43:4, and what a wide variety of interpretations there are!! Some seemed trivial, some missed the point (I felt), and some were just bizarre.

The immediate context makes it clear that God is talking directly to Israel:
         Is. 43:1  But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

The broader context (Is. 42:18-25) reveals why God tells Israel not to fear—the nation is about to be ravaged by war because of her rebelliousness against Him. Historically, we know this devastating attack refers to the Babylonian invasion and seventy-years exile of the Jewish population.
Even so, God assures His people beforehand that His covenant love and promises still stand:
         Is. 43:2  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

In other words, Israel will suffer the consequences of her sinfulness but she will not be utterly destroyed. Then, in striking historical accuracy before the fact, Isaiah 43:3b-4 details how Israel will be redeemed from exile (v. 3b; 4b):
         I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. …I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.

Then in verse 4a God explains why He will deliver His rebellious people:
         Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you

Through Isaiah, God promised Israel that her return to her homeland would not be accomplished purely out of the goodness of the Babylonian king’s heart. Rather, Cyrus—and later his son Darius I—would be lured by God to expand their empire to the Mediterranean Sea, invading Egypt, Cush and Seba. Transplanting the powerless descendants of the Jewish captivity—second and third generations growing up in Babylon—back into Palestine would provide a friendly stepping stone for such an invasion.

So when God declares in Isaiah 43:4 that He is willing to sacrifice three people groups for the sake of Israel’s return to Palestine He is making a very clear announcement to mankind as a whole: It is far better to be among God’s covenant people (even if temporarily out of favor with Him) than to be outside His covenant.

Those who belong to God by covenant are “precious” to Him. Think of it! God, the Creator and Lord of the universe, loves us and holds us in great honor! Only to His own does He say, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you” (Is. 43:5). All others have every reason to be terrified, for God is in the process of creating a Kingdom people and will not hesitate to eliminate those who refuse Him. As Jesus taught centuries after Isaiah,
         Matt. 13:41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas, And Signs In The Sky—Part 3

Biblegems #291

Question: Does Revelation 12:1-2 refer to a literal astronomical “sign” in the heavens and, if so, what does the sign mean and how would people recognize it? (The reader would do well to read Bible Gems #116, “Christmas in the Stars” as background for this present article.)

As we saw in Part 1 & 2, the imagery in Rev. 12:1-2 accurately depicts an astronomical alignment of stars and planets, and also represents an astronomical “sign.” Further, the interpretation of the passage itself portrays Satan’s desperate and failed attempt to claim God’s throne by killing Jesus, the Son of God, and destroying Israel and all of Jesus’ followers.

The final question, therefore, is: What does God want to convey to mankind through this periodically recurring sign in the stars? Does it have any significance for us today and, if so, how are people expected to recognize it?

Let's review the astronomical event itself described in Revelation 12:1-2.

At the writing od this article, the planet Jupiter can be found in the “womb” of the constellation Virgo (Latin for “Virgin”), from which it exits, after 9 ½ months, on September 23rd, 2017. During this nine-month period the sun rises directly behind the “head” of Virgo, and the moon is located at Virgo’s feet. Crowning Virgo’s “head” at this time are "twelve “stars”—the normal nine stars of the constellation Leo, plus three planets: Mercury, Venus and Mars. All this is easily verified at any number of astronomy sites online.[i]

Who is it in today’s world that will be paying any attention to the changing alignment of stars and planets? Typically, it will be astronomers (professional and hobbyists), and astrology enthusiasts (who incorrectly believe the heavenly bodies influence human events) who are most interested. A few others who study the Bible on such matters will sense that God is communicating something, but most will not understand what that something is.

Jesus pointed this out after highlighting the future events that would precede His Second Coming:
         Mark 13:28-29  “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.”

This recurring “sign” in the sky depicted in Revelation 12:1-2 that portrays God’s victories throughout history over Satan’s attempts to destroy Israel, the Messiah and the followers of Jesus is the Gospel in the stars. It is a continual reminder to all who will take notice that the baby born of the virgin—Jesus Christ—has overcome the world. It may even be “the sign” that appears one last time immediately before Christ’s Return:
         Matt. 24:30  “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.”

In any case, such signs are intended to keeps us alert to God’s calendar:
         Matt. 24:42, 44 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. …So also you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

[i] See:;; etc.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas, And Signs In The Sky — Part 2

Biblegems #290

As we saw in Part 1, the imagery in Rev. 12:1-2 accurately depicts an astronomical alignment of stars and planets, and also represents an astronomical “sign”:
         Rev. 12:1-2  A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.

To understand the “sign” it is essential to understand the meaning of the passage itself.

John’s vision of the woman and the dragon in Revelation 12 is the story of Satan’s failed war designed to destroy the Messiah and the people of God. Here is a brief interpretation of the text:

The pregnant “woman” (v.1) represents Israel, the "mother" of the Messiah. “Clothed with the sun”(1) represents Israel and the child-Messiah she carries as the light of the world. The “moon under her feet “(v.1) demonstrates how the Messiah triumphs over darkness (evil). The “twelve stars on her head (v.1) are Israel’s twelve tribes or twelve patriarchs, as seen in Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9-10. The labor pains (v.2) describe Israel’s agony under foreign rule in waiting for the Messiah.

The “dragon” (vv. 3-4) represents Satan, his demons, and world governments under his control. This blood-red, seven-headed dragon sweeps a third of the stars (angels—and, perhaps an astronomical display as well) from the sky to the earth, revealing Satan’s power and influence over human affairs. The dragon’s “seven heads” represent a future confederacy of world governments under the authority of the Antichrist in the Last Days. Likewise, the “ten horns” represent ten nations during this same time frame, three of which will work in cooperation with this confederacy until the Antichrist overpowers them and absorbs them into it. The “seven crowns,” therefore, are the seven leaders of those governments.

The prophet Daniel called this powerful alliance of world governments a “beast”—the world’s final superpower—under the control of the “little horn,” the Antichrist. John’s vision is another view of Daniel’s vision of these “Last Days” events (Dan. 7:7-8, 23-24: 8:9-10).

In Revelation 12:5 Jesus is born, and Satan’s effort to have him destroyed as a child is unsuccessful. Verse five then skips ahead to Jesus’ Millennial reign, following His ascension (“snatched up”) into heaven.

In response, Satan seeks to destroy God’s Chosen People Israel during the Great Tribulation (1,2060 days / 31/2 years), but God protects her (Rev. 12: 6-17; Dan. 12:11).

The point of John’s vision is that Satan truly believes that he belongs on God’s throne and has committed himself to that hopeless cause, destroying all who oppose him.

That’s why it is imperative that we put our faith in Jesus. This is war, where people get injured, maimed and killed. But Jesus has already won, and He offers us eternal life and a place in His eternal Kingdom where we will enjoy an eternity of peace, security, joy and perfect health after the war is over.

         John 16:33 “I have told you these things (Jesus said), so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”