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Q&A on December Readings

Note: The questions alone (with a link to their answers) are listed above the line in the opposite order that they were received, which means the most recent questions are at the top of the page. Below the line, questions and answers are given in the readings' order of the verses that prompted the question.

Q: My wife and I were watching a movie that had a unicorn in it, and she said unicorns were mentioned in the Bible. Can you tell us where and what to make of it? Answer

Q: In discussing Psalm 16:4, you reported the view of an anonymous commentator who objected to the offerings mentioned actually consisting of blood. I don’t see why the commentator would have a problem with 16:4 as it is written (at least in five translations we are most likely to use). The heathen gods at that time demanded blood sacrifice, and the people frequently killed their children to propitiate their gods! Answer

Q: If Revelation 22:2 is giving a picture of heaven where only the redeemed are in their glorified bodies, why do the nations need a tree that provides leaves for their healing? Answer

Q: As I read Mark 1:8, I wondered, did the people who were baptized by John receive the Holy Spirit? Explanation? I somewhat remember this being discussed already, so feel free to point me to where you covered this before. Answer

Q: As I was reading Mark 1:1-13, I assumed Jesus and John grew up together, since they were close in age and their mothers knew each other. Just out of curiosity, do we know if John and Jesus spent much time together growing up and before John baptized Jesus or before John was killed? Were they close friends? Or, was John mainly linked to Jesus through his calling as the baptizer? Answer

Q: In the December 18, 2006 Biblog post on Isaiah 28:16, you said a “cornerstone” is sometimes, as in Psalm 118:22, called a “capstone”, which people stumble over, as in Isaiah 8:14. I’ve checked three English translations of Psalm 118 other than the KJV and don’t see it. Will you please explain what you mean? Answer

Q: Not that I know much about the Bible at all—although I went to catechism every Saturday when I was younger (we were raised Roman Catholic ), whatever I may have learned I have since forgotten—but my “general” outlook on God has always been that He is good, loving, forgiving, etc. However, it seems that what I’m reading in Isaiah is all about death, destruction, vengefulness, anger, etc. (on God’s part). It’s such a “shock” to what I’ve always thought that it is somewhat disturbing to read. Does this make sense? I’m sure it shows how ignorant I am when it comes to the Bible, etc. Anyway, I find that reading this bothers me, as it shows a different side to God than I have ever considered. I find it difficult to consider all the war and destruction and death that came from God. Or, perhaps I’m not reading this correctly. Answer

Q: Comparing Isaiah 19:24-25 and Isaiah 20:4 is confusing! In chapter 19 we have three “special people”, and in chapter 20, one is taking another captive. Are the descriptions (prophecies?) out of chronological order? Or, what am I missing? Does 20:6 refer to Judah/Israel? Answer

Q: Revelation 12:11 in the King James Version puzzled me: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Is the CEV a good translation? The CEV reads: “Our people defeated Satan because of the blood of the Lamb and the message of God. They were willing to give up their lives.” Answer

Q: Mark 1:21-28 speaks of Jesus driving out evil spirits. Were these “evil spirits” more like disease and sickness or were they like someone being “possessed” by the devil? In Mark 1:32 the people being brought to Jesus are referred to as separate groups, one being diseased and another being possessed. What is the LCMS’ position on persons being possessed by evil spirits in today’s times? What about exorcisms being performed on “haunted” places and “possessed” persons? Answer

Q: Why was John put in prison (Mark 1:14)? Was this because he was preaching of Jesus’ coming? Did he end up dying in prison or was he released? Was he in prison while Jesus was being crucified? Answer

Q: In Isaiah 19:23-24, The Living Bible refers to Assyria as Iraq. How interesting! Could this be the future of Iraq’s independence that we are so fighting for? At that time this area will be worshipping the one true God? Or, am I getting confused between what has already happened and what will happen? Answer

Q: Isaiah 19:18 says that at this time these five cities in Egypt will all begin speaking Hebrew and swear allegiance to the Lord Almighty, which I would read to mean they all come together. What is meant by the second part of that verse: “one shall be called, The city of destruction” (KJV, “City of Destruction” NIV, “Heliopolis, ‘The City of the Sun’” Living). Is there some significance to mentioning this one city as one of the five? Answer

Q: In Isaiah 14:29, my KJV Bible notes suggest Philistia is equal to Palestina. Is that accurate, or is it a late model slap against the current (about to be non) residents of the Land of Israel? Answer

Q: In Isaiah 14:12, it refers to Lucifer falling from heaven. Is it true as I have read elsewhere that Lucifer is another name for Satan? The marginal notes in my latest edition of the KJV equate Lucifer and Day Star. If that is true, the name of another of our liberal organizations is in “very bad taste” (to put it mildly.) Answer

Q: In Isaiah 13:3-5, are the Medes (Persian armies) God’s people? They are called his “sanctified ones”. And, if they are His people, then it seems strange to me that God would send His own people to perform the terrible acts of murder and destruction that are described in Isaiah 13:15-18. Answer

Q: I am not clear on what scripture says happens to the dead, believers and unbelievers, before the day of Judgment?  Do believers go to heaven, just not to the full extent in its full glory?  Do the unbelievers go to hell, just not to the full agony of hell?  Or is everyone just “dead” waiting for Christ's return and Judgment?  Are we semi-judged when we die and then there is full Judgment when Christ returns?  But the Bible says there is only one Judgment, as appears to be the case in Revelation 20:12. Answer

Q: At what period are we in relation to the “thousand years” of Revelation 20:2 (knowing that the thousand years are not literal). Reading Revelation and keeping in mind that it is about the end times, I would take it to mean that the “thousand years” would not begin until the final Judgment day. In Revelation 20:3, the devil is locked up “that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.” Since the devil will be locked up and not be able to deceive the nations any more, I would again understand this to mean the “thousand years” starts at Judgment.  But, then I read in Revelation 20:7 that the devil is released and goes out to deceive the nations, and it seems that is what is happening now.  So is the “thousand years” period something in the past, present or future? Answer

Q: Can you please help me better understand Revelation 17:8, which reads: “The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.” Answer

Q: Can you please give me a short definition of what, where or who “Babylon” (first mentioned in Revelation 14:8) is/was?  Is it the devil’s place/works? Answer

Q: If I understand Revelations 6 correctly, the four creatures that ride out on the horses are sent out to wreak damnation on the world. Is this correct? I don’t really understand Revelations 6:5-6. What is meaning of the “balances” or “scales” of the third seal and rider. And v.6 “...a measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine”. In Revelations 6:8, only a “fourth part of the earth” is given to Death and Hell. So only a fourth part of the earth will be destroyed by killing, hunger, death and beasts of the earth? Or again, is this all symbolism? But then in Chapter 8 it refers to a “third part” of everything. Why only parts of the world in thirds? Or is this symbolizing that it won’t all be destroyed at once? Will not the whole world be destroyed? Answer

Q: Revelation 3:8 talks about the open door, which no one can shut, and Revelation 3:20 talks about people opening the door to Jesus. Since the Greek word for “door” can also mean “gate”, I wonder if there could be any relationship between the two and to Ezekiel 44:1-2, which talks about the east gate of the Temple that was always shut, except, in Jewish tradition, at the Passover for the Messiah. I don’t think the Scriptures say, but Jesus could have entered through the east gate, since it faces the direction Jesus came, which entrance certainly would have stirred up the city (Matthew 21:10)! Also, what do you think about the use of the Ezekiel passage to support the perpetual virginity of Mary? Answer

Q: In Revelation 2:6, 15, the deeds and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans are mentioned. Is there any information about what this sect believed, beyond the statements in the text, that is, that they were wrong? Answer

Q: What is the significance of the "seven" churches and the "seven" candlesticks in Revelation 1:20 and further as it discusses them? I know these seven churches are named, but I'm not really understanding what they were/are/signify. Answer


Q: What is the significance of the "seven" churches and the "seven" candlesticks in Revelation 1:20 and further as it discusses them? I know these seven churches are named, but I'm not really understanding what they were/are/signify.
A: The first part of your question and this answer has much bearing on all of Revelation, not just the first couple of chapters. Especially in Revelation and other apocalyptic literature, numbers are highly symbolic. Seven (used 52 times in Revelation, and possibly an organizing scheme for the whole book) is usually a number of completeness or perfection, the union of God and human beings, as 7 is the sum of God's number (3, for the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity) plus humanity's number (4, for the four ends of the earth, or, put another way, the four compass directions). Half of seven (three and one-half) is connected with brokenness and evil (as is the number "666", in a sense three times one less than "777"). More specifically, however, in the case of the seven churches (first mentioned in 1:4) and seven candlesticks (first mentioned in 1:12), the usually symbolic number is connected with seven literal congregations (which together serve to represent the "whole" church, though there were other congregations in the area). The congregations, said to have been located about 50 miles apart on that part of the peninsula in Asia Minor, form a rough circle and may have been postal centers for seven different regions. In v.20 Jesus identifies the candlesticks (or lampstands) as the churches, and the seven stars as their angels (messengers or pastors, ones who were sent). We can properly think of ourselves as recipients of the letters, members, as it were, of the seven churches that together are symbolic of the Church. God knew their circumstances, as He does ours, and He addressed His message of law and Gospel (call to repentance and promise) directly to each of the congregations through its "angel", as He does to us. With one each, as it were, of the seven-fold Spirit, God spoke to them and speaks to us through these words-that's why we want to "Be in" them. Back to top

Q: In Revelation 2:6, 15, the deeds and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans are mentioned. Is there any information about what this sect believed, beyond the statements in the text, that is, that they were wrong?
A: One of the things for which the Lord praises the Church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:6 is its hate of the "the deeds (works or practices) of the Nicolaitans", and, according to Revelation 2:15, the Lord calls the Church in Pergamum to repent of having in its midst those who held to the "doctrine (or teaching) of the Nicolaitans". The Nicolaitans apparently were an heretical sect that believed, taught, and practiced that their spiritual freedom allowed them to practice idolatry and immorality. (The connection to idolatry and its compromise of the faith with false worship screams out pretty loudly to me.) Early church fathers Irenaeus and Eusebius both mention the Nicolaitans. Tradition holds, reportedly on the basis of circumstantial evidence, that these groups were linked to "Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch" mentioned in Acts 6:5, but the recent Revelation commentary by the Rev. Dr. Louis A Brighton calls this link "unlikely". Probably most important for us to observe today is the close relationship between false doctrine and false practice: either one can lead to the other. God hates both-and so should we! Back to top

Q: Revelation 3:8 talks about the open door, which no one can shut, and Revelation 3:20 talks about people opening the door to Jesus. Since the Greek word for “door” can also mean “gate”, I wonder if there could be any relationship between the two and to Ezekiel 44:1-2, which talks about the east gate of the Temple that was always shut, except, in Jewish tradition, at the Passover for the Messiah. I don’t think the Scriptures say, but Jesus could have entered through the east gate, since it faces the direction Jesus came, which entrance certainly would have stirred up the city (Matthew 21:10)! Also, what do you think about the use of the Ezekiel passage to support the perpetual virginity of Mary?
A: You certainly have a good knowledge of the Bible to raise the possibility of these passages all being connected! When Jesus writes to the church in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13), the open/closed door imagery in v.8 seems to relate to the key of David just mentioned in v.7, which key(s) would make the door be open for believers to enter the Kingdom or be closed for unbelievers to stay outside for eternal judgment (see also Matthew 25:10 and it as the origin for “closed communion”). When Jesus writes to the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22), however, His standing at the door ready to enter in v.20 has more to do with the nearness of Jesus’ return and the repentant readiness of His followers (see Luke 12:37, even though a door is not explicitly mentioned there). So, I do not think it likely the two Revelation images are connected, other than by the use of the same word. In Ezekiel’s also apocalyptic vision, the east gate of the sanctuary was to be shut because the Lord had entered through it. I am ignorant of the Jewish tradition you mention, though see Ezekiel 46 for what could be Biblical exceptions to the gate rule. I think you are right that Holy Scripture does not say by which gate Jesus came into the city or Temple, though, as you say, He did come from east of the city, and such an entrance would have been notable. As for the use of the Ezekiel passage to support the perpetual virginity of Mary, I think there is more compelling Scriptural evidence for the position. Moreover, though in connection with Jesus’ nativity we can refer to Mary in some sense as a temple for the Lord, once Jesus is born His own flesh is more likely to be seen as the Temple (for example, John 2:19, which words came back to “haunt” Jesus, as in Matthew 26:61). Back to top

Q: If I understand Revelations 6 correctly, the four creatures that ride out on the horses are sent out to wreak damnation on the world.  Is this correct? I don’t really understand Revelations 6:5-6. What is meaning of the “balances” or “scales” of the third seal and rider. And v.6 “...a measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine”. In Revelations 6:8, only a “fourth part of the earth” is given to Death and Hell. So only a fourth part of the earth will be destroyed by killing, hunger, death and beasts of the earth? Or again, is this all symbolism? But then in Chapter 8 it refers to a “third part” of everything. Why only parts of the world in thirds? Or is this symbolizing that it won’t all be destroyed at once? Will not the whole world be destroyed?
A: The teaching of Revelation is definitely more difficult to grasp than the clear words of our Lord in the Gospel accounts (such as those in Luke 21, for example), so sometimes it helps to take a step back and keep the clearer things in mind. Revelation 6 gives a highly symbolic account of one aspect of all of New Testament times. I do not think I would say the four horsemen are wreaking damnation on the world; bloodshed, famine, and death are the consequences of sin and bring suffering in the world but also serve God’s purposes of leading us to repent and to have eternal life. The balances or scales in the hand of the black horse suggest the careful weighing out of food commodities because prices are so high one can just afford to eat. The voice indicates that price controls are in effect. (The Old Testament has similar references to such “inflated” prices when, for example, Jerusalem is under siege from her enemies.) Food is available, but, at ten-fold inflation, it goes for a day’s wages. There are a couple different ways of understanding the reference to the oil and wine, the end product of the more deeply rooted plants producing olives and grapes. We cannot be sure, but a possible implication is that the third horseman’s impact has its limits. Similarly, the “fourth part” in 6:8 is likely to be taken as symbolic of the limits on Death and Hell and not literally as one-quarter of the earth. (We probably interpret the “third part” in such places as Revelation 8:7 similarly, though there the larger fraction suggests broader power.) In this view, full destruction does eventually come, but the limits make it clear that the time of full destruction does not come until the end. Back to top

Q: Revelation 12:11 in the King James Version puzzled me: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.” Is the CEV a good translation? The CEV reads: “Our people defeated Satan because of the blood of the Lamb and the message of God. They were willing to give up their lives.”
A: You are right that the second clause as translated in the KJV is confusing or unclear at best. Let’s look at the big picture before focusing on that more puzzling part of the verse. The context of this verse is the proclamation of the voice in heaven declaring the victory of the believers (literally “brothers”) over the accuser, Satan or the devil. The believers won this victory “because of” (in this case a better translation than “by” of the Greek dia) the blood of the Lamb and by the Word of God, the Gospel, which they proclaimed and to which they gave testimony, some even to the point of death (martyrs in what may be the most narrow sense). The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the grave conquered the devil, and faithful believers who receive and thereby benefit from that blood and who confess His Name (including Baptism) are therefore also victorious. The word for “Word” is singular, which is surprising given the plural believers (that is, one almost expects “words” of their testimony), but the Gospel may be in view (confer 1 John 5:10, where the word translated “record” is the same Greek word marturia, related to our English word “martyrs”). If not the Gospel, then the meaning at least seems to be the one witness of the martyrs to it. The blood alone cleanses us from sin, but apart from our confession of the faith, which the blood brings about, it does us as individuals no good. In the second clause (what the CEV translates as a separate sentence), we again find a singular object—in this case their “life” that they did not love until death. Of this second part of verse 11, one commentator, taking it with Revelation 11:7-12 (which describes the death of the two witnesses on account of their testimony), says, “They conquered though they died”. I think more is in view in verse 11, though. We see in Revelation 2:10 and Acts 22:4 that “unto death” is a particular expression that in the context of verse 11 means that in the face of death they did not love their earthly life so much as to deny the faith, which would be to suffer eternal death (see John 12:25; and confer Matthew 10:39 and Mark 8:35). I would think that by now you could anticipate my answer to your question: the CEV does not translate the passage literally but generally catches its sense and adequately paraphrases it. Back to top

Q: Can you please give me a short definition of what, where or who “Babylon” (first mentioned in Revelation 14:8) is/was?  Is it the devil’s place/works?
A: In the Old Testament, Babylon was an actual city in Mesopotamia that served as the center of the empire of that day. Under its leader Nebuchadnezzar, two large groups of people from Judah were taken into captivity (2 Kings 24:14-16; 25:11). In Isaiah 21:9 and Jeremiah 51:8 God prophesied of Babylon’s fall. Ezra 1-2 tells how Cyrus, ruler of Persia, captured Babylon and gave the exiles permission to return, but Nehemiah reports that many of the exiles stayed in Babylon until some time later. Daniel 4:30 calls Babylon the Great (as in Revelation 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2). The city once destroyed was not rebuilt, but its characteristics (such as unfaithful, proud head of the heathen world, and persecutors of the children of God) lived on. Thus, in Revelation the reference seems to be to Rome and its role in opposing God and His people, and we do well when Babylon represents for us all of the Church’s enemies of all times. Those forces may win an odd skirmish, but the outcome of the war is already determined, and Christ has won it for His Church (the figurative Babylon’s fall is described in Revelation 18:1-24). At the last day the figurative Babylon will be laid waste as is its ancient namesake. Back to top

Q: Can you please help me better understand Revelation 17:8, which reads: “The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.”
A: The description of the beast at the beginning of this verse is perhaps in one sense more literal and in another more symbolic. In the more literal sense, the beast “was” (Revelation 13:1-8), then “is not” (Revelation 13:3), and then it “ascends” (Revelation 13:3), though ultimately is destroyed. For the more symbolic sense, take a closer look at the descriptions of the Lamb in 1:18 and 2:8 and of God in 1:4, 8; 4:8, and remember the hymn I mentioned “which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be”. The beast’s description imperfectly imitates that of the Lamb and God, as the beast wants their divinity (no, not their candy, but their divine nature). Before the beast’s end, it will have a large number of followers, but, unlike the elect who follow the Lamb (Revelation 3:5), the names of the beast’s followers “were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world”. Back to top

Q: At what period are we in relation to the “thousand years” of Revelation 20:2 (knowing that the thousand years are not literal). Reading Revelation and keeping in mind that it is about the end times, I would take it to mean that the “thousand years” would not begin until the final Judgment day. In Revelation 20:3, the devil is locked up “that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.” Since the devil will be locked up and not be able to deceive the nations any more, I would again understand this to mean the “thousand years” starts at Judgment.  But, then I read in Revelation 20:7 that the devil is released and goes out to deceive the nations, and it seems that is what is happening now.  So is the “thousand years” period something in the past, present or future?
A: I am sorry I tried to deal with the issue of the “thousand years” in such a short and concise way in the Biblog that yet was not more clear, but the shorter and clearer answer to your question is “present”—we are in the “thousand years” now, as it refers to the whole New Testament age (from Christ’s Incarnation to His final Enthronement). What is contributing to your confusion is that the chaining up of Satan at the beginning of Revelation 20 does not completely keep Satan from tempting us; think of it more as a vicious animal being chained up and only harming those who come within its reach. (Satan does not personally and directly deceive us as he did the woman in the garden, but he can still work through others.) What is also contributing to your confusion is that the release of Satan in full force mentioned in Revelation 20:7 (also 20:3, commonly called “Satan’s little season”) can be understood to come near the close of the “thousand years” (if one insists that it comes after, then the millennium could be over already, and we could be in the “little season” now). I know that sometimes it is hard to grasp, but we are in the latter (or last) days, as were the earliest people in the New Testament (see, for example, Hebrews 1:2). In all of this, remember that God never relinquishes total control and that even the release of the devil is part of God’s plan and serves to benefit His Church: the persecution of the Church gives her members occasion to witness to and reflect the crucifixion and resurrection of Her Lord. Back to top

Q: I am not clear on what scripture says happens to the dead, believers and unbelievers, before the day of Judgment?  Do believers go to heaven, just not to the full extent in its full glory?  Do the unbelievers go to hell, just not to the full agony of hell?  Or is everyone just “dead” waiting for Christ's return and Judgment?  Are we semi-judged when we dieand then there is full Judgment when Christ returns?  But the Bible says there is only one Judgment, as appears to be the case in Revelation 20:12.
A: Your desire for clarity on what happens to believers and unbelievers between their deaths and the one Judgment is admirable; I’m sorry it is not necessarily going to be helped by Revelation (especially with all its “second resurrection” and “second death” stuff)! After believers die, their souls go directly to heaven, and after unbelievers die, their souls go directly to hell. There is neither what is called “soul sleep” or purgatory. So, you are correct in saying we are judged when we die; you might even say we are judged already now, as Jesus talks that way (for example, John 3:18). When someone dies, however, we do not immediately see where his or her soul went; so, the final Judgment reveals to the world where everyone went (or, in the case of those still in their bodies at that time, is going): the sheep are over here, and the goats are over there (Matthew 25:31-33). (If you remember, this delay in publicly declaring the verdict is like when the judge in the Rodney King beating trial received the verdict from the jury but waited until the next day to announce it to the public.) After the Judgment and concurrent resurrection, then believers, at that point in their bodies, can more fully experience the joys (or glory, as you said) of heaven, and unbelievers, at that point in their bodies, can more fully experience the sorrows (or agony, as you said) of hell. Back to top

Q: If Revelation 22:2 is giving a picture of heaven where only the redeemed are in their glorified bodies, why do the nations need a tree that provides leaves for their healing?
A: You are right to recognize that Revelation is at that point in the book giving a picture of heaven where only the redeemed are in their glorified bodies. The use of the particular Greek word for “nations” reminds us that salvation extends not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles, individual people of all ethnicities. Of course, the vision may or may not be literal in its description of the Tree of Life and its healing leaves. (With the church in its earliest days, you may think of the cross as the Tree of Life and of the Sacraments that flow from the cross, as pictured in John 19:34.) The at least symbolic point seems to be heaven’s perfection. Luther Poellot, in his explanation of the book of Revelation, writes the following: “‘The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations’ (Rev. 22:2; cf. Ezek. 47:12), not for the lost, for whom there is no healing after the end of their temporal life, but ‘the nations of them which are saved’ (Rev. 21:24, 26), the saints in heaven, who are forever free from sin and sickness. There is no hunger or thirst in heaven (Rev. 7:16), yet food and drink are provided in the fruit of the tree of life (Rev. 22:2, cf. v.14) and in the water of life (Rev. 22:17). So though there is no sickness for the saints, yet healing, or health, is provided by the leaves of the tree of life. All of this emphasizes the perfection of heaven.” Similarly, Louis Brighton, in his more-recent commentary on Revelation, notes, “As Ezekiel prophetically saw in the end-time temple, so John now sees fulfilled in the new Jerusalem ‘the tree of life’ with its various fruits and the healing ability of its leaves. God will abundantly furnish all that is necessary for the sustaining of life in the new heaven and earth. ‘The healing leaves indicate the complete absence of physical and spiritual want.’ [Brighton is quoting R. Mounce’s commentary on Revelation.] ‘The tree of life’ is for all people of all nations who are written in the Lamb’s ‘book of life’ (Rev 20:12; 21:27), that is, all the redeemed people of God. Never again will God ever have to guard the tree with cherubim to keep it from people (cf. Gen 3:24).” Back to top

Q: In Isaiah 13:3-5, are the Medes (Persian armies) God’s people? They are called his “sanctified ones”. And, if they are His people, then it seems strange to me that God would send His own people to perform the terrible acts of murder and destruction that are described in Isaiah 13:15-18.
A: The sanctified (holy or consecrated) ones are set apart by God to carry out His will. Yes, in Isaiah 13:3-5 the reference is to the Medes and other forces that God will command to execute His wrath. While these forces are a tool in God’s hand, I do not think we necessarily want to call them “His people” since they do not trust in Him. Nevertheless, do not think God’s people cannot perform terrible deeds; God often commanded His people to totally destroy the people of a conquered land (they were not, however, to turn its women into prostitutes, as in 13:16). Such was the nature of a Holy War. Back to top

Q: In Isaiah 14:12, it refers to Lucifer falling from heaven. Is it true as I have read elsewhere that Lucifer is another name for Satan? The marginal notes in my latest edition of the KJV equate Lucifer and Day Star. If that is true, the name of another of our liberal organizations is in “very bad taste” (to put it mildly.)
A: Yes, the Hebrew heylel in Isaiah 14:12 is translated into the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible as “Lucifer”, which means “Light Bearer”. Thus, we also have it in the King James, though other versions translate “day-star” (ASV, ESV), “morning star” (NIV), “star of the morning” (NASB). The early church's use of Lucifer for Satan is said to be derived from Isaiah 14:12 and Luke 10:18, though in this context "Lucifer" refers to the King of Babylon. As for the LCMS group by the name of Day Star, one website calls the group “moderate”, though I agree with you. (Others can judge for themselves with just a quick glance at content on its site.) For more on the "Morning Star" see the December 15, 2005 Biblog post. Back to top

Q: In Isaiah 14:29, my KJV Bible notes suggest Philistia is equal to Palestina. Is that accurate, or is it a late model slap against the current (about to be non) residents of the Land of Israel?
A: Isaiah 14:29 in the KJV does read “Palestina”, where other versions have “Philistia” (ASV, NASB, ESV) or “Philistines” (NIV), which translations of the Hebrew Palesheth the KJV also uses in other places. The primary reference can be to the area on the west coast of Canaan or to the land we used to think of as Palestine. The territory was particularly subject to attacks since it lay between competing empires, such as Egypt and Assyria. David and some of his descendants had kept the Philistines as subjects, and Isaiah said they would be subjected again. I cannot say what your KJV Bible’s editors had in mind, but some sort of slap may be intended if the editors are of the modern evangelical sort who think the Temple must be restored before Jesus can come again. I will not take the side of the modern State of Israel, however; the Jews lost their claim to the land with their unfaithfulness in New Testament times, and the takeover of Palestine in the late 20 th century is in my mind a crime calling out for vengeance. Back to top

Q: Isaiah 19:18 says that at this time these five cities in Egypt will all begin speaking Hebrew and swear allegiance to the Lord Almighty, which I would read to mean they all come together. What is meant by the second part of that verse: “one shall be called, The city of destruction” (KJV, “City of Destruction” NIV, “Heliopolis, ‘The City of the Sun’” Living). Is there some significance to mentioning this one city as one of the five?
A: As you might suspect, the number five can be symbolic, perhaps here meaning “many”. What is notable is that the cities speaking the language of Canaan and swearing allegiance to the Lord are Egyptian. Your reading that “they all come together” is on target in the sense that they all join in confessing and worshiping the one true God (as in 19:21-25). Some manuscripts of Isaiah have a slightly different reading for the name of the city in 19:18 than do other manuscripts. And, the difference is slight in Hebrew, where the word for “destruction” (heres) and “sun” (cheres) are similar (the difference between two lines in the first letter touching or not touching). “Heliopolis” means “City of the Sun”, and that was the name of an old Egyptian city. An intended play on words might account for the variation in the manuscripts: the city where the sun-god was worshiped becomes a city where idolatry is destroyed. Back to top

Q: In Isaiah 19:23-24, The Living Bible refers to Assyria as Iraq. How interesting! Could this be the future of Iraq’s independence that we are so fighting for? At that time this area will be worshipping the one true God? Or, am I getting confused between what has already happened and what will happen?
A: None of the Bible versions I have at hand translate Assyria as Iraq in this verse, though maps suggest that at least part of what is modern-day Iraq would have been in the Assyrian Empire. (Translating “ Iraq” is a bit misleading, however, as is referring to Martin Luther’s “Germany”, since “Germany” did not really exist in the 16th century as it does now.) I do not know that the prophecy in vv.23-24 had a past fulfillment or that we should expect it to have one this side of Christ’s return. The “In that day” expression (v.23) usually refers to the final, triumphant day. While it is possible that the present war in Iraq and freedoms that might result could give an opening to the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word to convert the region to faith so that Egypt, Israel, and “Iraq” are joined by common faith in the Lord before the end, other more controlling prophecies of the end would suggest such a possibility is overly optimistic. (For more on this question and answer, see here.) Back to top

Q: Comparing Isaiah 19:24-25 and Isaiah 20:4 is confusing! In chapter 19 we have three “special people”, and in chapter 20, one is taking another captive. Are the descriptions (prophecies?) out of chronological order? Or, what am I missing? Does 20:6 refer to Judah/Israel?
A: Isaiah 19:24-25, part of a prophecy about Egypt, prophetically describes the last, great day of the Lord, where the three nations— Egypt, Assyria, and Israel—will be united not only in friendship but in faith and worship. The prophecy in Isaiah 20 is similarly about Egypt, as well as Cush, but the particular verse on which you focused is telling of Assyria’s more-immediate hostility toward those two nations. While the prophecy of chapter 20 is dated (see 20:1), the prophecy of chapter 19 is undated (see 19:1). Isaiah may well have given the prophecies in the order we have them, but the order that is confusing is not the order the prophecies were given but the order of the events prophesied. The particular events you compared are out of sequence: the captivity of chapter 20 will occur long before the eternal peace of chapter 19. What I may have failed to explain well enough along the way to help you make sense of all of this is that, after Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, people in Judah pressured their leaders, particularly King Hezekiah, to make an alliance with Egypt against Assyria. Isaiah spoke against such an alliance, calling instead for the people to humbly and repentantly submit to God and thus to the Assyrians. Prophecies such as those in chapters 19-20 helped make his points by indicating that Assyria would conquer Egypt itself. So, yes, 20:6 appears to refer to Judah, although in a more strict sense the people living on the coast were Phoenicians and Philistines. Still, the expression can refer to a larger piece of land on which also dwelt the Judeans, so mixed up with the others as to deny its character as the people of God. Verse 6 not only makes a rhetorical point, but it serves as a warning to those in Judah that their time is coming, and, less directly, prophesies of Judah’s eventual captivity. Back to top

Q: Not that I know much about the Bible at all—although I went to catechism every Saturday when I was younger (we were raised Roman Catholic ), whatever I may have learned I have since forgotten—but my “general” outlook on God has always been that He is good, loving, forgiving, etc. However, it seems that what I’m reading in Isaiah is all about death, destruction, vengefulness, anger, etc. (on God’s part). It’s such a “shock” to what I’ve always thought that it is somewhat disturbing to read. Does this make sense? I’m sure it shows how ignorant I am when it comes to the Bible, etc. Anyway, I find that reading this bothers me, as it shows a different side to God than I have ever considered. I find it difficult to consider all the war and destruction and death that came from God. Or, perhaps I’m not reading this correctly.
A: First let me say how great I think it is that you are persevering with the reading of God’s Word despite your discomfort; not everyone does. I know of others participating in the Daily Lectionary who are having reactions to the reading that are similar to those you described, so you are definitely not alone in that regard. Second, no matter our level of formal education or degrees of experience in the so-called school of hard knocks, we can all benefit from lifelong study of God’s Word. (And, as we get older, we increasingly seem to relearn “new” things we may have forgotten that we’ve forgotten.) Third, I know I had to adjust my thinking on some things when I got to seminary, and I continue to learn a great deal through my study and by way of answering questions from people like you! One of the benefits of being in the Word is that the Holy Spirit can more-directly speak to us than when we just go with our own or others’ general impressions of Who God is, what He does, and how He works. Now, more to your point: I’m certainly not saying that God is all or only “about death, destruction, vengefulness, anger, etc.”, although those things do occur when people reject God’s gifts of life, restoration, forgiveness, love, and the like. This year of reading we have not yet gotten to the full historical accounts of the Old Testament people, but, if you stick with it, eventually you will see how much and how repeatedly God forgave the people, calling them, through the prophets like Isaiah, to repent and warning them about the consequences if they did not. Through the daily comments in the Biblog, I have been trying to highlight the passages of Isaiah that more-obviously speak words of Gospel, but I probably could do a better job explaining how even the judgment on the unbelieving nations are, in effect, words of Gospel to God’s faithful people. Remember that God created a perfect world, free from war, destruction, and death. Fallen people themselves brought on such consequences and complications. (Because we cannot fully understand God, especially those aspects of Himself He does not reveal to us, we sometimes make the distinction between God’s first or antecedent will and His second or consequent will—what He wills initially and what He wills as a result of how people respond to His antecedent will; see, for example, John 3:17-18.) Indeed, as Scripture says elsewhere, God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), but our loving, forgiving, and (perhaps in this case more importantly) holy God is also just and righteous to condemn the unholy ones who refuse to accept the love He offers them in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Our fear of God’s wrath over what we have done plays a role in leading us to repent and believe, but ultimately our appreciation of God’s love and what He has done for us in Christ leads us to worship Him, in Zechariah’s words of the Benedictus, without fear in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives (Luke 1:74-75). Back to top

Q: In discussing Psalm 16:4, you reported the view of an anonymous commentator who objected to the offerings mentioned actually consisting of blood. I don’t see why the commentator would have a problem with 16:4 as it is written (at least in five translations we are most likely to use). The heathen gods at that time demanded blood sacrifice, and the people frequently killed their children to propitiate their gods!
A: One of the shortfalls both of the approach I have taken in commenting on the Daily Lectionary readings and of the tone or range that I try to write in or for is that I don’t always specify from where statements come or the precise reasoning behind them. In this case, I can tell you both that the generally-reliable Keil-Delitzsch commentary was the source of the objection and that the reason for, in this case, Delitzsch’s objection was what he called, based in part on the Hebrew prefix used for the grammatical construction, “the min of derivation”, and he refers to Amos 4:5 and Hosea 6:8 as similar passages. One of the Hebrew grammar references I have does not refer to that min construction, which is not to say that it does not exist, however. As allowed by my original comments, I do think that the apparent reading as the offerings actually consisting of blood is more likely. One of the standard Hebrew lexicons specifically lists Psalm 16:4 in reference to swine blood, as in Isaiah 66:3. Dr. Luther’s first lectures on the Psalms are not particularly helpful to us, but more-modern commentator Mitchell Dahood says the sense of the verse is that the psalmist will not worship or swear by false gods. Regarding the earlier part of the verse, Dahood interestingly makes a connection back to Genesis 3:16 and the lust shortly after the beginning that started travail pains. And, Dahood makes a connection to the verse that follows by pointing out that “raise their names” relates to a figure of speech of drinking from a chalice. (Thanks to one of my cast of thousands for checking out what Dahood said.)
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Q: In the December 18, 2006 Biblog post on Isaiah 28:16, you said a “cornerstone” is sometimes, as in Psalm 118:22, called a “capstone”, which people stumble over, as in Isaiah 8:14. I’ve checked three English translations of Psalm 118 other than the KJV and don’t see it. Will you please explain what you mean?
A: Based on your question, I certainly could have made my original statement more clear. While at least one translation of Psalm 118:22 merges the “cornerstone” concept into the “capstone” concept (and another does the opposite), not all do. Moreover, I was also thinking of the New Testament amalgamation of these ideas (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7; and see Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Peter 2:6, 8). Perhaps the following details will help explain. In Isaiah 28:16 (confer Romans 9:33) the Hebrew word pinnaw for “corner” has “stone” acceptably added to it by most translators, but the word also can figuratively mean a person who is “ruler” or “chief”. In Isaiah 8:14 two relevant words are used: “stone” (ehben, as in “Ebenezer” or “stone of help” in 1 Kings 4:1) and “rock” (tsoor, among the meanings of which is a figurative one for God, as in Isaiah 17:10). In Psalm 118:22 “the stone the builders rejected” is said to become, depending on the translation, “the head (roshe) of the corner” (KJV, ASV), “the capstone” (NIV), “the cornerstone” (AAT, ESV, the latter with “head of the corner” in the margin), “the chief corner stone” (NASB, NEB, NKJV), or “the corner and headstone” (a commentator’s translation). Incidentally, any other mentions of “stone” in Psalm 118:22, beyond “the stone the builders rejected”, are translator additions, although not without some justification (see, for example, Zechariah 4:7 where ehben and roshe are used together). Roshe not only can mean “head” but also has among its meanings “chief”, “captain”, and “ruler”. The Hebrew of Psalm 118:22 goes into the Greek of the Old Testament as kephalain gonias or “head of the corner”, which is how the New Testament writers quote it, although some see “head of the corner” in at least some of the New Testament verses as the final stone in the building and not first stone laid (which is more likely to be the one over which someone trips; see Isaiah 8:14 and 1 Peter 2:8’s quotation of it). Similarly, Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Peter 2:6 seem to refer to the final stone that tops off the wall, with an apparent reference to Isaiah 28:16, which in the Greek Old Testament uses a word that could mean “top” or “highest” cornerstone where the foundation stone seems to be meant. In many of these verses we are dancing between literal and figurative meanings for these relevant words, but confusion also comes in because roshe in reference to a cornerstone is variously understood as modifying the foundation’s cornerstone (as in “chief” cornerstone) or as referring to the stone that “caps” or “tops off” the corner of the wall. In some ways precisely which is in view doesn’t matter, as a stone that builders have rejected is unlikely to be used for either a cornerstone, which is used to align the foundation and walls, or for a capstone, which tops off a wall. Perhaps one commentator put it best, writing, “By extension, in the New Testament, Christ is both the foundation on which the church is built, and He is the coping stone or keystone which crowns the church.” (“Coping” in such reference to the top, usually sloping, course of brickwork is archaic.) We might also recall that Christ is the stone or rock Who dispenses the water of life to the believers, as in Holy Baptism. Back to top

Q: My wife and I were watching a movie that had a unicorn in it, and she said unicorns were mentioned in the Bible. Can you tell us where and what to make of it?
A: Your wife is right, at least in the King James Version of the Bible. The Hebrew word re’em is used nine times in the Old Testament, and the KJV translates each use with “unicorn”; the ASV, NIV, and NASB translate “wild ox”. A standard Hebrew dictionary says “wild ox” is the preferred translation, and another standard reference says the animal is “probably the great aurochs or wild bulls [that] are now extinct”, although the same reference admits that “the exact meaning is not known”. The Bible’s general references to “unicorns” are in Job 39:9, 10; Psalm 29:6; and Isaiah 34:7. The “unicorn” is specifically mentioned for its strength in Numbers 23:22 and 24:8, and it is likewise mentioned for its horns, a symbol of strength, in Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalm 22:21; and 92:10 (where the horn is implicit). In our time, we usually picture unicorns as an horse with an horn on its forehead, that picture has not always been how unicorns were understood. In fact, what were thought to be one-horned animals may simply have been bulls pictured in profile so that there only appeared to be only one horn. People in the Bible’s times are said to have thought of these animals as untamable, and later the animals were said to be tamable only by a young maiden. So, an allegory of the unicorn popular in medieval times took the unicorn trapped by a maiden as the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus in the Virgin Mary; when the unicorn falls asleep in the maiden’s lap, that was said to be the passion and death of Christ. I don’t think we want to go that far with the Bible’s references to the animal, especially since in Psalm 22:21, for example, we would say Christ is speaking. (There are other issues with the reference in Psalm 22:21, but none that would make it easier to identify Christ with the “unicorn”.) We probably do best not to take the animal as a warm, fuzzy, magical, fairy-tale-like creature but to take the animal as a strong, fierce, and ferocious wild ox, frequently used as a figure of speech for strong princes or powerful foes. Back to top

Q: As I was reading Mark 1:1-13, I assumed Jesus and John grew up together, since they were close in age and their mothers knew each other. Just out of curiosity, do we know if John and Jesus spent much time together growing up and before John baptized Jesus or before John was killed? Were they close friends? Or, was John mainly linked to Jesus through his calling as the baptizer?
A: Especially St. Mark’s Divinely-inspired Gospel account does not tell us much about Jesus and John before their public ministry converged at the Baptism of our Lord. We know from St. Luke’s account that their mothers Mary and Elizabeth were related (Luke 1:36; see also vv. 39-56), but the Gospel accounts do not give us any idea of whether they grew up together, spent much time together, or were close friends. There are non-authoritative writings that purport to give details about the childhoods of Jesus and John, although I am not aware that any describe any relationship between the two. Those writings could be taken to suggest the two did not have any relationship. One says Herod tried to kill John, whom God with Elizabeth allegedly had taken into a mountain cave, and it says that, when Zacharias would not turn John over to Herod, Herod killed Zacharias. Others detail Jesus’ childhood with no mention (that I saw) of John. I would not put too much stock in such writings, however; we do best to stick to what we know is true from God’s authoritative Word. Jesus’ and John’s link through their respective callings is certain, and John’s Baptism of Jesus and pointing to Him as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world are what are most important. Back to top

Q: As I read Mark 1:8, I wondered, did the people who were baptized by John receive the Holy Spirit? Explanation? I somewhat remember this being discussed already, so feel free to point me to where you covered this before.
A: Indeed, I commented on John the Baptizer’s baptism in Year 1 in connection with Acts 19:1-7, and that reading prompted this question and answer and this later comment. Nevertheless, I am happy both to redirect you to those places and to answer your question in connection with Mark 1, especially for those who were not reading along in Year 1. Anytime we find repentance and faith, I think we want to see the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, so, I think we ought to find the Holy Spirit even in the water of John’s Baptism. Having said that, the Gospel account of St. Mark (1:8) and those accounts of the other evangelists (Matthew 3:11; John 1:33; Luke 3:16 and Acts 1:5) do record words of John the Baptizer that can be taken as making a distinction, somehow based on the involvement of the Holy Spirit, between John’s Baptism and Jesus’ Christian Baptism. Scripture is not immediately clear as to what that distinction is, although theologians do attempt to mark out the distinction without separating the two baptisms. One suggestion is that the Holy Spirit does more in Christian Baptism than He did in John’s Baptism. Nevertheless, the two baptisms, in the words of one writer, “constitute one reality”, even if Jesus’ death and resurrection to some extent transformed John’s Baptism. In the final analysis, we remember that the correct understanding of John’s Baptism is no longer relevant in a practical sense, since no one we know of is receiving that Baptism. (We also do not know who all received it in the past; perhaps the malefactor on the cross had!) Back to top

Q: Why was John put in prison (Mark 1:14)? Was this because he was preaching of Jesus’ coming? Did he end up dying in prison or was he released? Was he in prison while Jesus was being crucified?
A: John the Baptizer was imprisoned because he condemned the adulterous remarriage of Herod, the king, after his divorce. John was beheaded at the prompting of Herod’s new wife, Herodias, through her daughter, and that execution took place while Jesus was still alive and ministering. For the Biblical account, see especially Matthew 14:3-13 and Mark 6:14-29, but also see Matthew 4:12, 11:2-24, Luke 3:20, 7:19-35, and John 3:22-36. Back to top

Q: Mark 1:21-28 speaks of Jesus driving out evil spirits. Were these “evil spirits” more like disease and sickness or were they like someone being “possessed” by the devil? In Mark 1:32 the people being brought to Jesus are referred to as separate groups, one being diseased and another being possessed. What is the LCMS’ position on persons being possessed by evil spirits in today’s times? What about exorcisms being performed on “haunted” places and “possessed” persons?
A: This is a good question, and you are right to notice that Mark 1:32 refers to two groups and to use that as an indication that the demon possessed were indeed “possessed” by an evil or unclean spirit (if not the devil himself, then at least a servant of the devil). We do not want to minimize the power of Jesus by simply dismissing those described as possessed then as suffering some form of mania or other physical malady—especially since that makes Jesus into someone who just plays along with popular thinking instead of reacting to the real needs of the people so afflicted. (We must, however, make a distinction between those who deliberately ally themselves with Satan or unwittingly cooperate with him and those who are his victims.) What is especially important to notice in accounts such as this one is how Jesus reacts to evil with compassion on the afflicted and not only authority to do something about the situation but the actual exorcism itself. Jews of Jesus’ day are said to have been familiar with exorcisms, but what made Jesus’ exorcisms unique was that He did them with simple words (note how the people react to His authority) and not with magical incantations or props of any kind. In the early days of the Church, there were exorcisms like those described in the Bible, but reportedly by the 4 th century these were reduced to a part of the Baptismal rite, “not for its original purpose, but to emphasize the depth of the human depravity and the great power of divine grace” (John H.C. Fritz). Dr. Martin Luther continued the practice of two exorcisms within his Baptismal rite, though in later days of Lutheranism the exorcisms had dropped out. Dr. David P. Scaer, a well-respected Ft. Wayne seminary professor who wrote recently at length about Baptism, noted the frequent reference to demonic possession and exorcism in St. Mark’s Gospel account, commenting that “By driving out Satan through exorcisms, Jesus brought God’s kingdom” and suggesting an integral relationship between exorcisms and baptisms, as evidenced even by Jesus’ baptism before doing battle with the devil. Dr. Scaer also called for future Baptismal rites to again include exorcisms, but Lutheran Service Book did not follow his suggestion. I was previously aware of at least one Lutheran pastor who practiced exorcisms on places and people. If you still are hungry for more, the LCMS has its own FAQ answer about demonic influence that you might read with due discernment. Back to top

 


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