Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Day the Rocks Cried Out

©Lebrecht Music & Arts/Corbis

In light of the destruction of Jerusalem in the hands of the Romans can we also glean the main truth to Jesus’ ever-famous verse quoted today almost solely in the context of the importance of praising God. The verse is Luke 19:40, which takes place moments after His triumphal entry in Jerusalem when “the whole crowd of [His] disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen” (verse 37). In verse 39, however, “some”—not all—of the Pharisees in the crowd hated it—hated what? The singing? The singers? The songs? Why the disciples were singing at all?  Let us remember that this is the very Jerusalem that stood clueless on the night its King was born, when the wise men from the East came marching down its streets straight to Herod’s palace doors. Now for the second time, Jerusalem is once again clueless that its very King, whose birth they never knew came to pass some thirty years ago, is now marching down its streets on a colt of a donkey—a detail, again, prophesied in the Scriptures (Zechariah 9:9), which should have struck them like lightning in an evening sky if the God’s Spirit-breathed Scriptures still mattered to them. But no. Though “a very large crowd” rejoiced at Jesus’ entry in the City of David, Matthew 21:10 says that “the whole city was stirred and asked, ’Who is this?’” In answering this question, the eleventh verse provides that it was “the crowds” that “answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’” This perspective by Matthew’s gospel, coupled with the account in the gospel of Luke, then gives us an understanding that this “very large crowd” in the first one, which “spread their cloaks on the road… cut branches from trees and spread them on the road… went ahead of him [Jesus] and those that followed [and] shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ [and] ‘Hosanna in the highest!’ (Matt. 21:7–9),” was “the whole crowd of disciples” who were magnifying Jesus as He was on His way down the road that led to the Mount of Olives (Luke 19:37). The idea, therefore, that the entire city of Jerusalem burst into blessed elation when Jesus strode into its gates is completely out of the question. Instead, it was thrown into turmoil and its people agitated out of their daily business. And their question “Who is this?” had nothing of the wonderment exclaimed by such an inquiry as, “Who is that masked man?” or even in the statement, “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…!”

Then some Pharisees which were swept into the crowd out of curiosity began to draw out whatever armaments they had in stock to examine the cause of this ruckus, as to who this one is “who comes in the name of the Lord,” this one who has gathered for Himself a mighty throng of disciples to surround Him, to come before and after Him through the Holy City. And as they squeezed through the marching group of disciples to make it to Jesus, they had this demand: “Teacher, rebuke your followers for  saying things like that” (Luke 19:39)!

These Pharisees should have been listening when Jesus slapped them with a prophetic rebuttal. But then again, judging by Him relating praising to the rocks, it seemed like He was on a parable mode, a mode that clearly conveys the intentions of His teachings to His believers but at the same time enshrouding them to those who chose not to believe, like these Pharisees. Jesus did explain to His disciples the spiritual fact of looking but not really seeing and hearing but not really understanding (Matthew 13:13). It is a principle based on the words of the Lord through the Prophet Isaiah: 

“When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend” (Matthew 13:14–15, New Living Translation).

And then He explains why: “For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes—so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me hear them” (Matthew 13:15, New Living Translation).

It is interesting to note that when this principle came to Isaiah in a vision it was in the context of the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians. It foretold of the irrevocable destruction of the nation because of the hardened state of the people’s conscience. It was no different centuries later after the remnant from the Babylonian captivity returned to Palestine and rebuild the Israelite culture in but a shard of a formerly vast Davidic/Solomonic kingdom. Here, Isaiah referred to the destruction of this very generation that Jesus visited, the remnant that survived the Babylonian exile:

"If even a tenth—a remnant—survive, it will be invaded again and burned” (Isaiah 6:13, New Living Translation).

© Reynold Mainse/Design Pics/Design Pics/Corbis
Jesus prophesied that “the rocks will cry out” when the singing ceases. Was He really talking about praising? How do stones cry out, how do they sing? When it’s sitting there in the Middle Eastern midday heat, can it suddenly bounce up and down and start singing, “O, when the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream…”? What sound does a lump of hardened earth make? When it’s just sitting there, it’ll make you look stupid if you tell it to sing. But when you hurl it and it hits something as hard or harder than it, you hear something audible. What if you got a more massive lump of solid dirt then let it tumble down a slope? I believe you can imagine the sound it will make from the time it gets rolling down its path, crushing anything that crosses it, until it comes to a shattering halt. Ah, now we’re getting somewhere!

Jesus was talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, the tragedy that would occur some forty years after He had gone up to heaven. A time when songs will cease but in their stead the screams of death will be heard. It would be the fulfillment of a more detailed prophetic warning from which Jesus wanted all Israel to be spared:

© Yin Dongxun/Xinhua Press/Corbis
“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword an will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:20–24, New International Version).

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The account of this prophecy in Matthew 24:16–21 gives this scenario: “…let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled now—and never to be equaled again.”

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The act that sparked that fatefully led to the collapse of Jerusalem came one Passover when Roman procurator Florus seized the vestments of the high priest and violated with obscenities the most sacred observance of the Jews and plundered seventeen gold talents (around $350,000) of Temple money (Max I. Dimont, pp.105–106). In May 66 A.D., Jewish Zealots, backed by a solidarity of Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and even Jewish Christians who chose to remain in Jerusalem, massacred a Roman legion stationed in the outskirts Jerusalem. The nation, Jews from every belief, every city, every village, immediately exploded into open rebellion against the Romans. Israel that time came so close to winning the war that Rome was forced to use the full weight of its ruthless military to contain the fury of this postage-stamp-sized nation. Aside from redeeming her pride, which was a great and pressing matter for the mighty empire, one other critical reason why Rome wanted the Jews suppressed was that a Jewish victory will electrify the entire Roman Empire with the spirit of revolt. For the first year, the only way it seemed, judging by the approach Rome took to recapture Palestine, was to meet the Jews with merciless slaughter in open combat. It will be this costly mistake that Rome will continue to make protracting the Jewish insurrection into a four-year campaign.

© Michael Nicholson/Corbis
It will not be on the second year, under General Vespasian, when the Romans would make any progress. In 68 A.D., the general penetrated Galilee and slowly fought his way into Judea. While Judea had fallen into his hands, Jerusalem was enclosed in a powerful defense that made a mockery of the numerous assaults Vespasian attempted to make. The general acknowledged the futility of the attacks and sat down to resort to a siege in the estimation that starving the population in Jerusalem will force a surrender. The siege stood for two years around the city failing to extract the surrender Vespasian had anticipated. Thus was fulfilled the prophecy Jesus spoke of in Luke 21:20: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near” (NIV).

In the same prophecy, Jesus lamented on the desperation in Jerusalem during the siege—“Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city"(verses 21 to 22 NIV)—because in actuality no one could get in or out of a siege. A siege is designed to cut off all vital supply going into a city. In Jerusalem people were dying of starvation and pestilence; fleeing was met with death, either from the Roman snipers outside or the Zealots inside who maintained a tight grip not only on the city’s external defense, but also over the city’s population for fear of infiltrators, like those who would sue for peace and surrender to the Romans. At this point, Zealot Jerusalem would maintain a defiant stand against Rome to the end.

Vespasian, however, would not be there to witness the end in that at 69 A.D., the following year, the Roman Senate offered him the throne. He then leaves matters to his son Titus. By this time the mass of Roman legions around Jerusalem had swelled to 80,000 to match—or mismatch—an armed Jewish force of a little less than 24,000 weakened by hunger and plague (Dimont, p.109). Pestered with impetuosity and hungry for action after one more year, Jewish taunts being thrown from the ramparts of the besieged city finally hurl the Roman armies swooping down into Jerusalem. Hundreds of battering rams drawn by the gates of Jerusalem, 70,000 foot soldiers and 10,000 (Ibid, p.110) in the cavalry crashed into the city. Jerusalem was bathed with the blood of its defenders slaughtered; its women were raped, their infants thrown into the fire. The Temple came to its fiery end. It was the day that horrified Jesus to tears that even on His way to be crucified, under the pain of open torture wounds and severe weight of the cross on His back, He still found a surge of strength to warn the “daughters of Jerusalem” not to “weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed’” (Luke 23:28 to 29, NIV). In the aftermath, history estimates a total of 600,000 of Jerusalem’s defenders and inhabitants were slain (Ibid, p.111).

After Jesus spoke of what would happen to Jerusalem on the day appointed, He ended with a great encouragement.  He turns His disciples’ attention to the fig tree, the fig tree being one of the symbols of Israel then says, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (Luke 21:32, NIV).

When Jesus came to Israel, He could well be pictured like a Noah inviting people to His virtual ark, wanting people to “escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (verse 36, NIV).

© Torbj√∂rn Arvidson/Matton Collection/Corbis
From the times more ancient, the earth was a symbol of death, a symbol of corruption. Adam was born out of the earth, he was just a lump of dirt until God blew the Holy Spirit into his nostrils so that he comes alive.  Unfortunately the role of the earth did not end there in the life of Adam. When he sinned, he virtually condemned all humanity—him first—into an existence of corruption until all flesh sank back to the earth: “For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19, NLT).

© Ralph A. Clevenger/CORBIS
Even the serpent that led Adam and Eve into sinning against God was sentenced to live its life close to the earth, close to death. Without any limbs to lift its soft belly clear off the earth, all its affairs will be endlessly bothered with the bitter taste of the earth—death—till the day it rejoins the dust and dies. In this light, Adam lived no different from the serpent. While the latter was doomed to “eat dust” all the days of its life (Genesis 3:14), the first one was compelled to till the ground so he can raise the produce from the dirt for sustenance and live. Adam drew from a corrupt ground to feed his corrupt body, for a corrupt body can never partake of the holiness of Eden, the Garden of God. For this reason, Eden was taken away from Adam and his wife.

© Historical Picture Archive/CORBIS
Because of its basic association to death, God sternly forbade any image to be fashioned out of the earth or out of any of its produce like wood or metal. He allowed man, however, to take advantage of the other benefits he can draw out of the earth, like baking the earth to form bricks to build monumental structures which was what man used in erecting the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1 to 9. Using this newfound technology, man ventured to form an idol in the form of a tower “that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (verse 4), a slap to the face of God. With the very symbol of death rising up from the ground, like that finger.  Thousands of years later in the time of Jesus, the remnant whom God restored from Babylonian judgment were once again giving Him the finger: unbelieving, hypocritical, death-plotting Pharisees; robbers headquartering themselves in the Temple of God; a High Priest who had nothing to do with Aaron, David, or anyone holy; and a people who knew not the time of the Lord’s visitation. And the hallmark of this culture was a vast shiny white-walled edifice known as Herod’s Temple, a restored version of Solomon’s Temple finished in 516 B.C. Then one day, a group of Galileans started marveling at the great and skillfully hewn lumps of hardened earth that made up the walls of the Temple complex. Jesus, their Master, took this opportunity to confide a secret plan to “completely demolish” all the buildings they were gazing upon in awe (Matthew 24:1, NLT) and “not one stone will be left on top of another,” not one beautifully adorning stone  would be spared (Luke 21:5, NIV). Aside from the immediate fact that Jesus was referring to the destruction of Jerusalem that would take place forty years after His ascension, this meant that death and corruption, down to their very symbols, were about to lose their grip on mankind.

Additional reference:

Max I. Dimont, Jews, God and History (Mentor: New York, 1994).


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