In our study in Psalm 119, we’ve seen the psalmist use several terms to indicate the revelation of God. One of those words translates as “testimony” — a record of something that actually happened as reported by eye witnesses. If you seek with your heart to see the consistency in the Bible, you’ll find it. Your heart will affirm it for your brain; the brain’s job is working out how to live according to that conviction. A critical element in understanding the Scriptures is precedent: You need to see what God says about various events, to discern His judgment of things. What does this narrative indicate about how God works?
There’s Job. His time was well before Israel, and probably before Abraham. His testimony indicates something about how we know God regardless of the trappings of the Covenant of Moses. Before his calling, Abraham knew of Our Lord by a different name, and was called to leave behind the other deities he knew. That was a tall order, given that Abraham seems to have been a member of the priestly noble class of pagan scholars in the Mesopotamian Valley. It was a scholarship that is buried in myth and legend for us, but it’s clear that Jehovah by another name was never completely forgotten once we were expelled from Eden.
To support that theme is Balaam, the scholar hired from Babylon by Balak to curse Israel during her time passing through on the way to Canaan Land. Balaam knew how to address Jehovah and got very explicit answers of what God intended to do. He also knew enough to teach Balak how to get Israel in trouble with her God. So when Balaam couldn’t curse Israel directly, it was simple matter of incurring God’s wrath on Israel by way of suborning to sin. It worked quite well, we are told. It had to do with an ancient heathen rite that involved an annual offering, wherein the women all offered their bodies for ritual sex. And you thought modern politics was dirty.
Israel was led by Moses on that Exodus and we know that his father-in-law was a high priest who served the same God. Jethro served to restore to Moses a sense of awareness of the Semitic lore of faith and religion, something that seems to have grown dim in the minds of Israel after several generations in Egypt. They got into Egypt because God sent Joseph there to become a prominent figure in Pharaoh’s court. We know that required Joseph to engage in pagan rituals, and that Moses as an adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter was schooled in the same Egyptian background. So Jethro helped to restore Moses to his nomadic Semite heritage, including that peculiar way of knowing God.
Far down the road, we see Daniel thrust into a much later Babylonian imperial court with an obligation to learn another big wad of pagan stuff, including much of what Abraham had known, and a lot more. Babylon was famous for preserving all the ancient literature it could find, and most of that was a matter of copying sacred texts from every temple library they encountered during their imperial expansion. Daniel remained in contact with the Hebrew leadership as they were sometimes under his authority as he served in the imperial bureaucracy. Among all the other stuff he revealed, his chief contribution to the Hebrew heritage was a prophecy of how God intended to do things on a broad scale, and what place Israel served in all of that. He also introduced a very firm concept of the Messiah.
Let’s not forget that God used Paul, steeped as that man was in the Hellenized perversions of Hebrew religion. If there was anyone prepared to help the churches discern the fatal flaw in Judaism, it was the man who had once stood in line to become a senior figure in the Sanhedrin. It was Paul who knew precisely how the Judaizers would work to subvert the churches, though he had plenty of help from the writer of Hebrews. While Paul insisted that Jews had a great advantage in their ancient Hebrew heritage, he also bluntly pointed out their national covenant was dead, thanks to their choice to jettison the core of that ancient heritage. The Jews no longer knew God; they rejected His Son. In effect, Judaism has become a pagan religion, and Paul was an expert on that.
I don’t amount to a callus on the foot of any of those men. The only way I can see anything at all is by standing on their shoulders. There is ample precedent from their lives to show that some of the things I write about do matter, despite the appearance of a secular interest. Take a moment consider: Is not our postmodern secular world just another brand of paganism? I’ve spent my adult life soaked in studying that secularism from different angles. By no means a real expert, I believe I know enough about it to be useful to God. In the midst of this, I have this burning desire to warn you of some dangers that apparently aren’t too obvious.
I don’t see too many other folks warning about the particular dangers I see. And maybe what I see doesn’t apply to you, but it certainly applies to me. It’s not possible to be silent (Ezekiel 33). Jesus in Matthew 24-25 warned His disciples to be aware of cues in the world around them so they’d know when it was God’s timing for them to scatter away from the incubator of faith in Jerusalem and take their message to a wider world. Paul was hardly the only missionary; there were churches planted all the way to modern India, places in Africa, across Central Asia, and into Europe. We really don’t even know all the places they went, but we do know that these former Jews-now-Christians went even farther with the faith itself, never mind starting actual churches.
It’s not for me to decide how this imagery applies to you, dear readers, but it should indicate something. At least for those of you living with me in the US, there’s a lot to watch for as God pulls this world into a new reality. This isn’t about fear any more than was Jesus trying to scare His disciples. It was all about having confidence in how God the Father does things in a world that chooses not to know Him. And just a little bit like Daniel, I have been granted some limited vision of God’s plans regarding that herding of cattle. It means passing through some troubling times, but His glory shines bright on the horizon.