Thursday, February 26, 2004

Sun, Moon and Stars

In Isaiah 13 we read of God's judgement of the very literal city of ancient Babylon by raising up the Medes to conquer them. We know that this event did happen in history. In 539 BC the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon destroyed the Babylonian Empire. In Isaiah 13:10 we read about the conquest of this historic city of Babylon by the Medes and Persians. Isaiah writes of this event “For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.”

This is not some event yet future to us that Isaiah is talking about. No; he is speaking of a time that is now long in the past, the destruction for the ancient Babylonian Empire. We can study this event in history. The prophecy of God's judgement against Babylon was literally fulfilled, but the "stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine" were not literal and these things did not literally happen then. The stars, sun and moon all still continued to shine when Babylon fell to the Medes. So what did the prophet mean by this prophesy?

In Isaiah 34 we read another interesting statement about God's judgement against the descendants of Esau (Idumea or Edom): Isaiah says “And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling fig from the fig tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven: behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment.”

The descendants of Esau were very severely judged by God and they became a conquered and defeated people, but the apocryphal, prophetic language used by Isaiah was not to be understood as literal. The heavens were not literally rolled up as a scroll, and their host (stars) did not literally fall when Edom was destroyed.

The following quote is an excerpt from the Commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown. They write "When Judah was captive in Babylon, Edom, in every way, insulted over her fallen mistress, killed many of those Jews whom the Chaldeans had left, and hence was held guilty of fratricide by God (Esau, their ancestor, having been brother to Jacob): this was the cause of the denunciations of the prophets against Edom ( Isa. 63:1 &c; Jer 49:7; Eze 25:12-14; 35:3-15; Joe. 1:19; Am 1:11,12; Ob 8,10,12-18; Mal 1:3,4) Nebuchadnezzar humbled Idumea accordingly."

We find in the prophesies of Isaiah very literal event: The judgement of Edom (Idumea) by another nation - Babylon, under the command of Nebuchadnezzar. In this event we find language about the heavens being effected by the earthly collapse of a pagan kingdom.

When read this kind of thing in Scripture we have to ask ourselves an important question. Were the heavens actually rolled together as a scroll when Edom fell to Nebuchadnezzar? The answer to our question is No! The reason is this is symbolic language used in the Scriptures to express the calamity involved in the fall of earthly kingdoms and powers.

If you recall ancient pagan kings were usually seen as the son of a pagan god. To the ancient pagans of the Middle East the sun, moon and stars were god’s themselves and the king and his princes were related to them. So when a kingdom fell it was as though the heavenly host of that pagan people were falling.

In Ezekiel 32 we read of God's judgement on Egypt by Babylon. The Babylonians defeated the Egyptians and ruled over them. We know this, it is well documented. From the prophet writings we find that this conquest is an act of divine judgement. This is what God says about His judgement on Egypt. “And when I shall put thee out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord GOD.” (Eze. 32:7-8)

We know the Egyptians were judged by God and in this judgement we read that the sun, moon and stars are said to go dark and no longer shine on the land. This is hyperbolic, apocryphal language used when the powers that be are shaken to the point of collapse, as Egypt was by the Babylonians and the Babylonians were by the Medes and Persians.

There are other examples like these in the Old Testament. The reason I bring them up is to make a point. This kind of language is found many times in the writings of the Old Testament prophets, but they are not literal and were not meant to be understood literally, yet the prophecies were literally fulfilled in time and history. The nations prophesied against were judged and defeated by their enemies that God raised up to judge them, but the imagery of the stars, sun and moon being darkened, and the sky rolling up like a scroll were not to be understood literally in the modern sense.

These things were symbolic (hyperbolic) language used to express the magnitude of God's judgement on these peoples.

Now lets look at a VERY important rule that must be used when we study God's Word "Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture," i.e. Scripture interprets Scripture. We are not to read into God's Word what we "think" it means. We are to look to God's Word and draw from it what it means to say. We must be careful to look and see if and how the Scriptures interpret themselves.

When we read in the New Testament the very same kind of apocryphal language that we find in the Old Testament we MUST allow the Old to direct us in how we are to understand what the New Testament writer is trying to say. So when we read about the sun, moon and stars being darkened in the New Testament it is than not to be understood literally in the New if it was not used literally in the Old.

We read in Matt. 24, Luke 21 and Revelation examples of this same type of judgement where the stars fall from the heavens etc… Simplistic literalism will only cause us to wrongly divide God's Word of Truth. We must let the Scriptures interpret the Scripture and we must not the nightly news, the latest book by Hal Lindsey or some other “prophecy expert” interpret the Scriptures for us. I fear there is a lot of this going on when it comes to "prophecy" in our day.

Soli Deo Gloria,

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