Summarizing the Old Testament as a demonstration of how selfishness fails in families, neighborhoods, cultures and nations. Despite our failings, the Most High remains constant in his love. Inspired by the loyalty and courage of the Lamb, the angels also struggle along with us. While love sometimes feels distant, the prophetic writings of Revelation teach us that it will win through in the end.
One of the challenges I face in reaching the faithful is that they already know so much about the Bible when they read Revelation. They want to treat Revelation as the next part of the Bible – as a story about people. They become confused when I suggest that Revelation is a story about angels. Worse, it’s a story told several times from different perspectives. Revelation 4-7 was the story as experienced in heaven; Revelation 9-11 tells the story again as the history of God’s work to create loving creatures. When the seventh trumpet sounds, the story shifts again.
It shifts to human history, but only to tell how the serpent tried to defeat God through us. We don’t see any of the details recorded in the Bible, except maybe the birth of Jesus. But the Bible is part of that story – it is the story of how the Most High redeemed us from captivity to selfishness. The Old Testament tells it from the human side; Revelation tells the serpent’s side. Since the second story is more familiar, before starting the serpent’s story next week, I want to tell it again this week to avoid conflicts with the teachings heard in church.
Let’s start by summing up what we’ve learned so far.
If God is Unconditional Love, then the Most High must wish for the angels to have wonderful relationships. But being no dummy, the Most High knows that the power that comes from love can be misused by selfish creatures. Angels can be selfish. Even the highest angels – the twenty-four “elders” sitting proudly on their thrones in heaven – have this problem. For protection, the Most High sits on his throne alone.
To teach the angels to put aside selfishness and receive love, in Revelation 5 the Most High created the Lamb out of himself.
The Lamb breaks open the scroll of seven seals, releasing the most selfish angels upon the world. 144,000 faithful angels follow to do the work of the Most High.
Now a sort of competition starts, which is refereed by the last of the selfish angels: the angel of destruction. Both sides raise up forms of life.
The life raised up by the Most High is given gifts that allow it to become more interesting.
The earliest cells escaped the dark ocean floor on the first day of creation. Today – during the seventh day of creation – we are creators ourselves, design buildings and machines.
The life raised up by selfishness tries to capture the gifts given by the Most High. When selfishness succeeds, life stops evolving, and is boring for millions of years until destruction kills most of it.
This seems like a stupid strategy on the part of selfishness. Why would destruction undo the success of its six brothers? Well, because it is selfish. It just wants to break things.
You know: “Hulk smash!” Destruction doesn’t care about domination or vengeance or death. Destruction is selfish, it wants only itself.
Although death is probably OK with everything dying.
We can see how this is going to end: selfishness can’t win because it can’t be loyal. The best that selfishness can do is to prevent love from winning. Its only hope is to keep the Most High isolated on its throne in heaven.
John was worried about the suffering of the early Christians, and by Revelation Book 11 he has seen twice that love will win. The first time, love wins because of the perfect courage and loyalty of the Lamb that inspires the 144,000 angels. The second time love wins because selfishness isn’t loyal: destruction keeps on undoing the work of his brothers.
For selfishness, the best era was the age of the dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs were big, stupid machines that the more powerful angels loved to drive around. Poor lizards! They didn’t teach each other. They didn’t work together. They couldn’t organize to save themselves from destruction.
After the dinosaurs came the social creatures: insects have colonies, birds have flocks, fish have schools, mammals have herds and packs, and people have families.
From the teachings of the Torah and Jesus, John knows that man has a special role to play in the struggle for love. Love came down to Adam and Eve, offering them stewardship of the world. Though that gift was betrayed, Still Jesus came down from heaven to prove love’s constancy.
In between a great struggle was fought for the soul of humanity. The Hebrews recorded their part in the Old Testament. The problem with that record is that it doesn’t explain the spiritual struggle between the Most High and the spirits released from the scroll of seven seals. This leads us to believe that it is a struggle between the Most High and humanity. Revelation 12-14 corrects that error.
At this point, though, we have gained much by thinking of the Plan of Creation as a struggle between love and selfishness. We might benefit by seeing how our view of the Old Testament changes when with look at it the same way.
We have already seen that Adam and Eve were tempted with the promise that they could be like God. They were chosen out of all the world to receive perfect love, and decided that it wasn’t good enough. They wanted more. They were selfish.
If the Most High was going to create anything from the ruin of that relationship, it had to start with the family – a baby’s first relationship. Now if you’ve had more than one child, you know the problems faced by the second child. The first child doesn’t want to give up his parents.
This struggle with selfishness looms large in the stories of Genesis. Cain won’t make way for Abel. God warns him “Sin crouches at your door; you must master it,” but Cain succumbs to his selfishness, slaying his brother. This challenge is repeated among the early descendants of Abraham. The second child gains God’s favor – Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau. That isn’t easy for either brother. And then we have Joseph! Poor Joseph, twelfth of his father’s sons!
The story of Joseph’s rise to greatness also touches on another problem: selfish women. Sara was a proud mother, and forces Ishmael from her household when Isaac is born. Rebekkah is Isaac’s comfort, and rules his inheritance. Leah and Rachel fight for Jacob’s attentions. Women seek power and control through their men, and it is only the motherless Joseph that comes under the tutelage of his father, and rises to greatness.
But Joseph succumbs, leading his people into submission to the great culture of Egypt. Why? Because Pharaoh offers him power and riches. Joseph could have returned to his home and built a righteous people. Instead, the Hebrews disappear for five hundred years into Egypt. In frustration or disgust, God turned his attentions elsewhere.
But – surprise, surprise – the people don’t forget him. Hebrew Fathers invested in their sons, and the Hebrews survived as a distinct people, even among the culture of Egypt. When God hears their cries of suffering, he returns to them, and raises up Moses to bring freedom.
Thus from the family, God had raised up a tribe. The next step is to make that tribe into a culture with records that collect and share the people’s wisdom. Raised as an Egyptian prince, Moses understood the power of writing and law in moderating male passions. The books from Exodus to Deuteronomy tell how God supported Moses as he taught them to the Hebrews.
That schooling added reason to righteousness. It began with the ten commandments, and continued through the rest of the Pentateuch.
The final count is 613 written laws, and the designation of an entire tribe for their study and administration.
However, we hear the first rumblings of selfishness: the people call themselves “Chosen” and think of God as their husband. Within the culture, women are written out of power and the history.
God sees the stain of selfishness in the people, but knows that his work cannot spread unless a land is given to them so that others may see the benefit of his guidance. To prevent the people from settling power on Moses’s family, another is given authority to conquer the Promised Land. When the work is done, the people live as equals. When trouble arises, God raises up a leader to protect the land.
But the tribes squabble among themselves, each selfishly seeking advantage over their neighbors. Eventually the people demand a king to rule over them.
In the meantime, the priesthood has also become corrupted. As before with Joseph, Moses and eventually Jesus, God brings a righteous man into the world through a grateful woman. Hannah bears Samuel, who is given to the temple. Samuel becomes high priest, and counsels that the people continue to trust in God for protection. But they insist, and selfishly settle all of their problems on Saul.
God does give the Israelites a chance to redeem their error, raising up David as a savior against the Philistines.
But David himself is not immune to royal perks, even sending his best friend to die on the battlefield so that the widow can become his queen.
The battle between the Holy Men and kings rages for four books. Among the holy men, Samuel and Elijah are true servants of God, but Elisha selfishly asks for twice of Elijah’s power, and ultimately does not even honor God when performing great works. As a rebuke, God uses Ezekiel to destroy Jerusalem, and the elite of Zion are led to Babylon as captives.
Now it may seem as though we’re not making any progress, but in Babylon, freed from the burden of property, the Hebrews through Daniel and others cause their captors to recognize the greatness of the God of Israel.
Contrast this with Egypt, and we see that the people are stronger, not weaker.
Having gained the patronage of the Persian court, Zion returns to the Holy Land – and promptly establishes a kingdom. Oh well. It is up to Jesus to restore the prophets to prominence in his show-down with Pilate, Herod and the temple priests.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus demonstrates again and again his surrender of self. Satan cannot turn him with temptation. Jesus credits faith when the afflicted are healed, and teaches us to pray “Our Father.” While suggesting in parables that he is a prince, Jesus proclaims again and again that he has come to serve – even to the point of dying on the cross to be the “last sacrifice” that frees the Israelites from the extortion that the elite had built around the Law.
Jesus redeemed God’s faith in Mankind. The serpent had turned Adam and Eve in Eden, and we should see selfishness at work in all the failings of the Old Testament. But Christ redeemed us, and through him the work enters a new stage, against the desperate resistance of the serpent.
That is recounted in Revelation 12-14.
Let’s summarize this week’s study.
We’ve stepped back from Revelation to see how the struggle between Love and Selfishness plays out in the Old Testament. It is the story of God using his Chosen People to advertise the virtues of love. It starts with a broken family, but grows as a tribe, culture and nation. Eventually this landless people is able to convert mighty kings to faith in God.
But full faith in love was not found until Jesus came to die on the cross. Selfishness did not go down easily. In Revelation 12, we’ll see just how it went about organizing its resistance – and find cause to celebrate the courage and service of women in the service of the Most High.