Celestial and Earthly Events
Wonders and Signs – Part 2
Joshua 10:1-15, A Mysterious Solar Event (10/5/17)
Joshua 10:1-15, A Mysterious Solar Event
Isaiah 38:1-8, Another mysterious Solar Event
Matthew 2:1-18, A mysterious Star
Acts 19:23-41, A Meteorite – the “stone that fell from the sky” of Ephesus
More Wonders and Signs
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When Joshua and the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, the people of Gibeon tricked them into signing a peace treaty. When the other cities found out about it, they attacked Gibeon, who called Joshua, who marched on the massed armies of the other cities, who were defeated. During the battle, “the sun stood still, and the moon stopped.” Really? Even the writer of the book of Joshua says, “Is this not written in the Book of Jashar?” and “There has been no day like it before or since,” as if he doesn’t want to take responsibility for the literal interpretation of this account. The Book of Jashar isn’t available to us, so we can’t even check what it says.
Certainly God could do this kind of a miracle if he wanted to, but we have no other record of a case in which God broke his own rules about the orderly progress of the sun, moon, and stars. Sometimes when I’ve been busy and stressed out all day, I’ll say, “It’s been a long day,” but I don’t actually mean that there were any more hours than usual. I have always wondered if this was the Book of Jashar’s way of saying, “It was a long day for Joshua and his troops!”
If you don’t wonder the same thing, that’s okay with me. It could have been some sort of mysterious solar event. Either way, it’s not worth breaking communion over.
Isaiah 38:1-8, Another mysterious Solar Event (10/6/17)
Do you remember all the “songs of ascents” or “songs of degrees” that we read during our study of the psalms
? That word “ascents” or “degrees” is the same word in Hebrew, mahalaw
, that in Isaiah 38:8 is translated various ways in various translations. Notice especially that most translations give two different meanings in the same verse!
- King James: the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.
- International Standard: shadow on the steps of the upper dial of Ahaz that marks the sun go ten steps backwards. Then the sunlight turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had gone down.
- Good News: On the stairway built by King Ahaz, the LORD will make the shadow go back ten steps." And the shadow moved back ten steps. [Note that Good News omits two occurrences of mahalaw.]
For the record, I have no clue what’s going on, and I suspect the translators are in the same boat. Hebrew writers, especially prophets, love puns. Maybe there’s some sort of pun that I just don’t get, and mahalaw
really means two different things in the same verse? Maybe there was the shadow (which apparently really does mean shadow
) of a cloud or an eclipse, and then the sun came back out?
My favorite idea (because I thought it up) is that the shadow was a shadow band or shadow snake (which you can see on YouTube
) associated with a solar eclipse. Shadow bands don’t always show up, and they can be hard to see. One reason I like this idea is that there is no suggestion that anyone but Isaiah and King Hezekiah saw this event, suggesting that it was localized, like an ordinary shadow or shadow band. You’d think that if the sun reversed its course, everybody would have noticed.
Or possibly God took an opportunity to suspend all of his own rules about the orderly running of the universe, you never know.
Matthew 2:1-18, A mysterious Star (10/9/17)
This morning in Sunday School I remarked that “my life seems to be getting back to normal.” About half the class said, “Oh, don’t say that! You’ll jinx yourself!” Most of us – whether we admit it or not – believe in the supernatural. We think that if we wash the car or the windows, it will rain. If we wish on the very first star or our birthday candles, it will come true. If something happens that we personally cannot explain, it’s either “bad karma” or “a miracle.”
Now, I certainly do believe in miracles
, on account of having had one performed on me. But I also think that God gives us good gifts on a regular basis with no special miracle involved. This leads me to the Star of Bethlehem. There are three primary “explanations” for this event:
- It was a planetary conjunction that appeared to be an exceptionally bright star.
- It was a miraculously created star.
- Matthew made it up.
My own feeling is that God went to a lot of trouble to create the heavenly bodies and set down rules for their behavior, and now maintains an active role in human history. Why wouldn’t God arrange for really important events that we’re supposed to take special note of to occur at the time of special celestial events? Just as an example, a planetary conjunction
occurred right around the time Jesus was born, and it happened to be visible in the constellation of Pisces, which was associated with the Jews. The eastern astrologers would have immediately associated it with a new king for the Jewish nation. That seems to me to be a good candidate of the Star of Bethlehem.
Acts 19:23-41, A Meteorite – the “stone that fell from the sky” of Ephesus (10/10/17)
A couple of months ago, my granddaughter and I visited Meteor Crater
in Arizona. We agreed that the crater exceeded our (admittedly low) expectations. It’s a great big hole in the ground, about 1.2 km (0.74 mi) in diameter and 170 m (560 ft) deep. It was created when a meteorite about 50 meters (160 feet) across hit the earth, breaking into pieces. The largest piece that has been found is a couple of feet across. The important point here is that the size of the crater greatly exceeds the size of the meteorite.
The only meteorite mentioned in the Bible – which is well documented in other sources, by the way – is the one that was kept in Ephesus at the temple of the goddess Artemis, also known as Diana. The people knew that it had fallen from the sky, so clearly this happened within their historical memory, but no crater is mentioned. Therefore the stone couldn’t have been very big, and certainly either the meteorite or a fragment of it was small enough for the worshipers to get it into the temple. The people of Ephesus took this totally natural stone and made it into object of worship. We need to make sure we don’t do the same thing.
The most interesting thing about the riot is that “most of them did not even know why they had come together.”
Genesis 9:1-17, Only miraculous Rainbows are reported individually (10/11/17)
Yesterday we saw that the Ephesians took a natural object and made it into an idol. God took one of his natural occurrences, the rainbow, and made it into a sign of a covenant. We don’t worship the rainbow, but when we see it, we remember the covenant that God made with Noah.
Reader Comment: I have always found it interesting that in this passage, the narrative seems to suggest that the purpose of the rainbow is to help God remember the covenant. There's no mention of it being there to remind us. What are your thoughts on this?
Ezekiel 1:22 – 2:1, Only miraculous Rainbows are reported individually (10/12/17)
My Thoughts: Same as yours: whut?? (Ha!) Two possibilities spring to mind:
- God is old, so he needs to write things down to remember them. (MWAHahaha!)
- God knows that we need a reminder that he remembers what he said, which is more likely.
I didn’t mention this part of the story because of the “whut?” factor. When I first started this, my then-pastor remarked that he had noticed that I always address the easy questions in a passage, not the difficult parts. My response was basically, “Yeah, so what’s your point?”
But as a matter of fact, my teaching experience has shown that most people are having enough trouble with the “easy” part that they don't want to hear about the “hard” part! If you have a question, easy or hard, use the contact form on the home page, and I'll see what I can do.
In planning this study I was surprised to find only the one mention of a rainbow in clouds (as we read yesterday). The only other two rainbows that I could find anywhere are in prophetic visions. Ezekiel’s vision was difficult for him to describe. Notice that above the creature’s head is something that was “like” a dome, or firmament. Their wings sounded “like” something. Above the dome is something that looked “like” a throne, and on the throne a figure that looked “like” a person. The figure “seemed” to be shining. So I suspect that the bright light “with all the colors” of the rainbow wasn’t a rainbow at all – it just looked more like a rainbow than anything else Ezekiel could think of.
Revelation 4:1-8, 10:1-7, Only miraculous Rainbows are reported individually (10/13/2017)
The third and final rainbow in the Bible also occurs in a vision. I am interested that all three rainbows are seen in the immediate presence of God.
Job 27:13-23; Isaiah 21:1, Whirlwinds: Literal (10/16/2017)
Do you remember I said that I could only find three rainbows, and that all of them seem to be miraculous? There are sixteen whirlwinds (also translated tempest, east wind, storm, etc.), and several of them are plain old literal whirlwinds. Remember, not everything is a sign. Sometimes a whirlwind is just a whirlwind, like these two.
Isaiah 5:26-30; Hosea 8:1-7, Whirlwinds: Figurative (10/17/2017)
Sometimes my grandkids come through the house “like a whirlwind.” There’s no real wind, and it’s not a sign of anything; it’s just a figure of speech that compares the wild rush of the children to the wild rush of the wind. Some of the whirlwinds in the Bible are exactly like this. Isaiah compares the wheel of the enemy chariots to a whirlwind. Hosea compares the consequences that we bring on ourselves by our own sin to the whirlwind: we sow the seed of sin, and we reap destruction.
Job 38:1-11, 40:6-14, Whirlwinds: Of the LORD (10/18/2017)
Chapters 3 to 37 of the book of Job
consist of a debate between Job, who insists that he has done no wrong, and his friends, who insist that his punishment is evidence that he sinned. In the course of this debate, Job demands answers from God. God never provides answers; instead he informs Job that he – Job – isn’t capable of understanding the answers! God speaks to Job from a whirlwind. This whirlwind isn’t like the ones we’ve read about in the past couple of days, because it isn’t natural, and it isn’t figurative. It is of the LORD.
Nahum 1:1-15, Whirlwinds: Of the LORD (10/19/2017)
When you and I think of great, powerful things, they are probably things like electric-power plants, or airplanes, or giant dams across rivers. We might think of hurricanes (especially this year) or earthquakes, but for the most part we are industrial people, and we think of the constructions of industry. Only natural phenomena make it into the vision of the ancient prophet Nahum. When he imagines God’s great power, he starts with the whirlwind.
It strikes me as ironic that the beloved verse, “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace,” comes at the end of a vision of destruction.
Ezekiel 1:1-21, Whirlwinds: What do you suppose Ezekiel saw? (10/20/2017)
Ezekiel’s vision is one of the most mysterious records in the Bible. What he saw was so strange that he had trouble describing it: look at all the times he says “like,” “appearance,” or “as it were.” I’m including the vision in our study of signs and wonders because of the stormy wind and lightning that accompany wheels and wheels within wheels.
Sometimes the prophets have a vision of an ordinary thing, like a “basket of summer fruit” (Amos 8:1-2a), that God gives a special meaning, “The end has come upon my people Israel” (Amos 8:2b). So I have occasionally wondered if Ezekiel’s vision is the special meaning that God gave to a whirlwind. I’m not sure, though, so if you think something else, it’s okay.
More Wonders and Signs
Wonders and Signs – Part 1
Wonders and Signs – Part 2
Wonders and Signs – Part 3
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