Saturday, December 24, 2011

Close Encounters of the Lethal Kind

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It was a universal fear for the people of God during Old Testament times to behold the face of God. God warned Moses and the children of Israel about this in Exodus 19 where He commanded them to “Put limits for the people around the mountain” and telling them to “Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it” (verse 12). Moses then had to consecrate the people (verse 14), common man or priest (verse 22), and warn them not to “force their way through to see the Lord [or] many of them [will] perish” (verse 21). Yet to the people God designated to come up to Him—Aaron (verse 24); his sons Nadab and Abihu (Exodus 24:9); and the seventy elders of Israel (verse 10)—no harm came to them. Exodus 24:9 to 11 says:

“Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.”
The incident was very different in 2 Samuel 6:6 to 7 when a man named Uzzah “reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled.” In this story, it has been some forty years that the Ark of God’s covenant had been absent from Jerusalem; how this came to be is told in 1 Samuel 4:1 to 11. After wreaking havoc in Philistine territory for seven months (1 Samuel 6:1), the Ark was set on an ox-drawn cart and sent to meander toward the border of Judah. The Israelites of the town of Beth Shemesh alerted their nearby brethren in the city of Kiriath-Jearim, some ten miles away, regarding the precise handling of the ark after seventy of the men of Beth Shemesh had been struck dead “because they had looked into the ark of the Lord” (verse 19). It turned out that the handling experience of those from the city only brought the ark as far as the home of a Levite named Abinadab in Kiriath-Jearim.'s__Death_1193_100
For almost half a century, the Ark was sheltered in Abinadab’s house. Abinadab’s son Eleazar was consecrated to guard it. When King David came into power, one of his first objectives was to bring the Ark into Jerusalem. In 2 Samuel 6:3, the king prepared a new cart and set the Ark upon it in the same manner the men of Kiriath-Jearim decades before managed to transport the
holy artifact. This is when it happened. Uzzah, one of Abinadab’s sons, who grew up considering the Ark as some trifling furniture that had been in his house all his childhood days, disrespectfully grabbed the Ark when the cart threatened to rock it off. The Bible says that, “The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he
died there beside the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:7).

While it was prevalent in the Old Testament that looking at the face of God or being exposed to His Presence would kill a man, it seems in our examples that God was rather selective on those who would die and those who would not. Was it God playing favorites?
Concerning the Ark of the Covenant, it was a major rule that no one was allowed to touch it except for God’s authorized personnel. In the Third Chapter of Numbers, it was not the High Priest Aaron who was given charge of the Ark’s care but his tribe folk, the Levites; indicated in Deuteronomy 31:25, they were also the ones to officially convey the Ark when the entire Israelite nation headed out in the desert or when the fighters went out for war. Anyone else that touched the Ark was dead flesh.

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In the New Testament, the Presence of God traveled all around Israel preaching, teaching, and healing and nobody died; in fact, people lived with total pardon of their sins. This was because the Presence of God was housed in a specially designed device called a human body that facilitated Jesus to function harmoniously in the material world. And even after His resurrection when He rose with a body imperishable—that can suddenly materialize in a locked room (John 20:19,26), disappear into thin air (Luke 24:31), and get lifted up to the sky in plain sight (Acts 1:9)—no living human being was reported to have been struck down for too much of His Presence. Except for two people: the Apostle John in Revelation 1:17, whom we will deal with in a moment; and Saul of Tarsus, later known as the Apostle Paul.
There are those who say it was the "Light of God" that shown around Saul that got him blind. There are also those who don't sell out to this proposition. When God showed Himself in a burning bush, Moses noted that "though the bush was on fire it did not burn up" (Exodus 3:2), a phenomenon that prompted Moses to "go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up" (verse 3). It would make no sense, therefore, why God, who is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), would want to scar Saul of Tarsus with blindness when He showed Himself on the road to Damascus. It would make more sense to speculate that he lost his sight through an accident.

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In Acts 9:4, it says that "he fell to the ground." Some people believe that his blindness came as a result of him falling off his ride. It would be more logical, they say, that Saul hit his head on a rock and lost his sight, instead of saying that the Light of God blinded him. I heard this taught by a faith advocacy group that held that a Perfect God will never be the source of sickness, disease, or infirmity. Instead, they believe that all infirmity among His children can result out of the several factors: their own doing, the Devil—who certainly comes to "steal, kill and destroy" (John 10:10)—and natural laws. As a backgrounder, this faith group was once composed of members who had in their habit to blame God for every sickness or misfortune that befell them. To curb this attitude, their leaders ingeniously developed the sub-doctrine of an unscourging God, who merely allows misfortune to befall His people in times of obstinate disobedience instead of directly causing it. And I must admit, the doctrine has great merits. I agree that we live in a world where physical corruption affects the righteous and the unrighteous in the same way as the rain falls upon the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). The difference standing between the righteous and the unrighteous is God who rewards each man according to the good works he performs (Matthew 6:2,4,6,16,18; 10:41,42; 16:27; Mark 9:41; Luke 6:23,35; 23:41); and then, of course, there's the mercy of God that silences both the righteous and the unrighteous on whomever He wants to bless or not to bless (Exodus 9:16; Matthew 20:13 to 16; Romans 9:15 to 16, verse 18). I also believe that there is an ugly Devil running around the face of the earth casting dirty and serious tricks on the righteous and the unrighteous (1 Peter 5:8). And I also believe that you and I ain't perfect, that at some point of our lives we get to let go of good judgment and we just pay for it!

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For years I believed the proposition promoted by the particular faith group I mention above, of which also I was affiliated with. I myself have lost my sense of smell through a road accident ten years ago, when I got side-swiped by two motorbikes. Oftenly complaining about it, the doctor one day asked me, "Would you have rather lost your sight than your power to smell?"

Well, I still tell my 7-year-old daughter that the flowers smell great, based on what I remember of how they smell. Then I'd tell her that Daddy can no longer smell; does that stop her? No. She just drives that flower at my nose and says, "C'mon, Daddy, just try!"

So this personal experience reinforced my understanding of Saul's blindness as something acquired from falling off his horse. Or his carriage. And I don't mean he was drinking, in case some reader would seriously consider that! There are, however, some passages in the Bible that the Unscourging God doctrine comes diametrically in conflict with. One of them is in the Fourth Chapter of Exodus, where God stated:
"Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or dumb? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?" 

This was said in the time of Moses' calling when God appeared to him in a burning bush. Here, Moses' hand turned leprous after plunging it into his cloak at God's command (Exodus 4:6 to 7). In addition to this, we can find great men in the Bible who were afflicted with impairment or great physical debility when bleached in the manifest Presence of God.

In Luke 1:20 we find the priest Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, being stricken dumb until the eighth day after his son's birth for doubting the message of the Angel Gabriel.

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In the Tenth Chapter of Daniel in the Old Testament, the Prophet Daniel fell extremely weak—"I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then...I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground" (Daniel 10:8,9).

The same was experienced by the Apostle John in Revelation 1:17 when, upon beholding Jesus in all His heavenly glory, "fell" at His feet "as though dead."

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The power that surrounds God's heavenly Presence has been said to be so strong that man's earthly body could not withstand being around Him. Later in Saul's life, by then his name changed to Paul, he wrote a study on the principle of why the human flesh falls infirmed before God. He said in 1 Corinthians 15:50, "...flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." If interpreted with the lens of 2 Corinthians 6:14 to 18, we begin to understand that the basic absence of fellowship between a corrupt flesh and the heavenly incorruptible Presence of God causes the first one to crumble before the latter:

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"For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you" (2 Corinthians 6:14–16,17).

Like oil is to water, the latter recoils in the presence of the first one.

Writing in the context of the resurrection, Paul taught that there are "earthly bodies" and there are "heavenly bodies" (1 Corinthians 15:40). "But," he continues, "the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another." The earthly body of man, he further remarked in 2 Corinthians 4:16, is "wasting away"; it is a part of the visible world which is merely "temporary," as opposed to the "unseen" which is "eternal" (verse 18). The only way, therefore, for flesh and blood to withstand the subduing power of God's Presence is to be in fellowship with Him:

"For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory'" (1 Corinthians 15:53,54).

In other words, flesh and blood has to die, to "come out...and be separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17), to be clothed with the imperishable. Years before Paul, Jesus alluded to the same principle when He told of the parable of the wedding banquet, the "imperishable" of Paul here represented by His "wedding clothes":

"But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding clothes?' The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth'" (Matthew 22:11–13).

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The purpose of God's visitation upon the great men of the Bible, ironically however, had nothing to do with their deaths. He did not appear before Moses, for instance, and informed him that his time had come; or to Saul of Tarsus to tell him that it was payback time for the lives that he made suffer! He, instead, told the Prophet Daniel to "stand up" (Daniel 10:11); to "write" (Revelation 1:19) in commanding John; to "go and tell" (Isaiah 6:9) to the Prophet Isaiah; to "stand up on your feet" (Ezekiel 2:1), when He spoke to the Prophet Ezekiel. Each of the people mentioned here experienced the touch of God. It was as if God, through His touch, returned the life that was ebbing away from the prophets' physical bodies. It was as if God plugged a bit of His imperishable nature upon perishing flesh to save the life from hemorrhaging away.

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 With the Prophet Ezekiel the Spirit of God came into him and raised him to his feet (Ezekiel 2:2). The glorified Jesus came and placed His hand upon the Apostle John (Revelation 1:17). The Prophet Daniel received his strength back through the touch of the man he saw in a vision:

"So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision: I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell in to a deep sleep, my face to the ground. A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. Then one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, 'Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength" (Daniel 10:8–10, 15–16, 18, 19).
This reminds us of the blood of the spotless lamb God prescribed the people of Israel to smear on the doorposts of their homes during the first Passover night, to spare them the death of the firstborn when the Angel of Death came prowling the land of Egypt.

In the New Testament things got a little different in that Jesus, through His Spirit, empowers His people to advance His purpose. In this principle, He appeared in a vision to the disciple Ananias and told him to head for the blinded Saul and restore his sight (Acts 9:10 to 12). Ananias obeyed, went to the house God singled out—“the house of Judas on Straight Street” (verse 11)—placed his hands on Saul, and “Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again” (verse 18).

Only a handful of men in the Bible had experienced the lethal close encounter with God. God, however, made sure all of them lived to tell about it, and in perfect health! Because of the fatal nature of the encounter, we may be tempted to question the integrity of the beholders—what was it about them that led God to bleach them alive in His Presence? Was it because of Isaiah’s unclean lips, or Saul’s misplaced zeal against the believers? If such were the case, what problem of character did the Prophet Daniel have that we can read about?
A close look into the accounts of these powerful manifestations reveals that they ultimately introduced a call in the beholder’s life, a call of monumental proportions. Moses, for example, was designated to lead the children of Israel out of their 430-year Egyptian bondage. The prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah were sent on a life-long and life-threatening mission of prophesying—almost preaching—God’s mercy for the rebellious Kingdom of Judah as its years neared judgment. The Prophet Daniel, on the other hand, was called to a ministry of prayer in that his people would face extraordinary ordeal and spiritual decline when he saw the events unfolding after the Jews return to Jerusalem until the birth of the Messiah. Then in the years after Jesus ascended into heaven, it was the Apostle John’s turn to do a Prophet Daniel when he witnessed the events from the apostolic years of Christianity to the return of the Messiah. Paul was given the task to surgically cleave the Church away from Judaism, in the same way as God used Moses to extract the Israelites away from Egypt, to facilitate the survival and growth of the Christians in a hostile world they would nonetheless be reaching out for Jesus.

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God had designated the people whom He believed were cut out for job. In Jeremiah 1:4, God said to the prophet:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

He also understood that it would not be easy for these individuals to accept the mere verbal assurance, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). Continuing the account of the Prophet Jeremiah, he replied: “Ah, Sovereign Lord…I do not know how to speak; I am only a child” (verse 6). It can be recalled that even the Prophet Moses made a somewhat similar reply in his inclination to dodge his calling:

“O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 3:10).

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We know what God’s response to Moses was. At least with Jeremiah, there was not so much display of anger, though the reader today can imagine some smoke rising when God answered, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (Jeremiah 1:7 to 8).

Donatello's Habakkuk

For this reason, He unclothes Himself in all His awesome glory to show His chosen who is really the one to fear. Jesus pointed this out in Matthew 10:28 where He taught:

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

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To some of His beholders, like the Prophet Daniel and the Apostle John, He allowed them to experience what it was like to be close to being dead probably to remove their fear of death. It can be recalled that the prophet had been through a brush with death when he was thrown into the lion’s den (Daniel 6:16), an experience which, though ending in God’s supernatural deliverance, had sent unforgettable shivers up and down his spine. The Apostle John, some time in the span of 60 to 96 A.D., was known to have survived execution and exiled to the isle of Patmos. For such experiences, God may have found it necessary to reach out to them with His touch and comfort the terror away from their souls. It might be in this context that prompted how the glorified Jesus introduced Himself to His former disciple:

“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17 to 18).

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The Apostle John was afraid and the Prophet Daniel could not stop trembling that it took several times for the man in his vision to touch him and calm him down, gradually.

God had it in His agenda of meeting to comfort His beholders with His touch perhaps to make it clear that He wished no death to come to them. When God purposed to show Himself a second time to Moses, He chose to cover His prophet’s eyes with His hand, and not with any other device like a dark cloud or some heavenly blanket, to keep Moses’ gaze away from His holy face lest he dies.

“And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you…. But…you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33: 19,20,22).

With Paul, God’s agenda did not change. After striking him with blindness, the Bible showed a man headed for death. In Acts 9:9, it stated that “For three days, he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” In those three days, God informed Ananias that Saul was praying and having a vision of a man named Ananias placing his hands on him to restore his sight (verse 11). When the obedient Ananias came to the exact location God had given him, he laid his hands on Saul as he said these words:

“Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (verse 17).

It was almost similar to when the risen Jesus visited His disciples and “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). It was the New Testament way of touching those who came to God. With “Brother Saul,” something like scales fell from his eyes immediately, and he could see again (Acts 9:18). And just like the Prophet Daniel gradually felt his vigor restored, Saul ate and “regained his strength” (Ibid.).

[Hey, I didn't know it would go this long! But I'm glad it did! Another thing: MERRY CHRISTMAS! Manila time—well, at least it's 12:26 am on my PC. MERRY CHRISTMAS! Next up: a longer one! MERRY CHRISTMAS!]

1 comment:

  1. What assurance, encouragement Blessed Redeemer, G_d Almighty.