Read Through the Bible in 2020

Reading the bible gives us God’s perspective on life to both explain and remedy our predicament. However, to understand the bible accurately, the text has to be taken as a whole; that is, all sixty six books need to be accepted by the reader. This acceptance does not mean human interpretations need to be believed about controversial passages. What I mean is, the reader bringing preconceived ideas to the text. Instead, the reader should let the text speak for itself.

All sixty six books cohere together since the themes interconnect. Also, the N.T. writers of scripture and Jesus quote earlier texts to show fulfillment of promises. 2 Tim. 3.16 affirms all scripture is God-breathed and is advantageous for teaching, for conviction, for rectification, and for training in righteousness.

Of course, not all of the bible is equally important or relevant in itself. For instance, Christians today do not perform pilgrimages or invest a priest with Aaron’s garments. Instead, Christians are pilgrims and priests, intrinsically, since they are under The New Covenant. Also, Jesus stated that some matters were more important than others in the bible when disputing with the Pharisees: but you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness (Mt. 23.23 NIV). God disclosed His word in many portions, and in various ways (Heb. 1.1), but the whole of it is profitable to us today.


The Key to the Olivet Discourse

The prophetic part of the Olivet Discourse is found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. From these accounts, it is clear that Matthew agrees with Mark in substance. Luke’s account is the one which gives supplementary material that helps us decipher the various elements. Jesus used the phrase “pregnant women and nursing mothers” twice in giving this discourse to His disciples. In this view, neither Matthew or Luke are complete in reproducing fully what Jesus said to His disciples.

Luke 21.20-24 records the first use of the phrase (vs. 23) referring to the distress of the fall of Jerusalem during the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 C.E. This is clearly indicated by vs. 24: They will fall by the sword and 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. 

The second usage of “pregnant women and nursing mothers” is given in Matthew and Mark and refers to the time of the “end” of the age. This key phrase is often conflated by students of scripture. Recognizing its two usages, referring to both 70 C.E. and the consummation of the age, will clarify about when the various events transpire.

Did Jesus Teach Annihilation?

And you should not fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, you should fear the One who is able to annihilate (apollumi) both body and soul in Gehenna. -Mt. 10.28

This contrasting phrase explicitly teaches that God will destroy human souls in the final judgment. This is just punishment for sins committed during earthly life. Here is another post I wrote about terminal punishment:

Clearly, the bible teaches that both the righteous and the wicked will be resurrected and have bodies to respectively experience blessedness or punishment. Acts records Paul’s confession at trial before the Roman governor Felix: and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked (24.15 NIV). However, there is a distinct order of the resurrection since Christ rose three days after His crucifixion. 1 Cor. 15 gives the sequence of the various entities: But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. (vs. 23 NIV). The resurrection of the wicked occurs after the thousand-year reign of Christ (see Rev. 20.5). It seems the wicked will be given a temporary resurrected body in order to experience torment for the offenses committed during their time on earth before they are destroyed.


The Prophecy of Tyre’s Destruction

Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves. (Ez. 26.3)

Every surfer and coastal dweller knows that waves arrive in sets. Except for extraordinary events, such as Tsunamis, the usually prominent waves come in repeatable series with lulls separating the wave events. So, when Ezekiel’s prophecy mentions “many nations” and “like the sea casting up its waves”(26.3), the informed reader would know that Tyre’s destruction would be accomplished by different forces and not all at one time during the campaign of Nebuchadnezzar. Also, the subject of the destruction is specific: the independent political entity who grew rich and haughty from the monopoly of maritime trade. So, even if a city named Tyre exists in the country of Lebanon today, and shares the same location, it doesn’t have any of its namesake’s advantages of independent sovereignty, monopoly, and power.

Phoenician Trade Network (Akigka)

Thus, Nebuchadnezzar’s campaign was the first set of waves to afflict haughty Tyre. He destroyed or subjugated the island’s support system on the Lebanon Mainland. Tyre, during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege, had to have fresh water (and other necessities) supplied by sea. A Mainland Tyre existed as a supply depot for the island fortress which could, normally, easily barge out what the islanders needed. Though the city state survived, it was greatly afflicted by the Babylonian tyrant.

The independent city state of the island fortress of Tyre was razed by Alexander who built a causeway out from the mainland in 332 B.C.E. Still, Antigonus needed to lay siege against a revived Tyre in 315 B.C.E. to subject it again. In 126 B.C.E., it received independence from the Seleucids (Greek) in it’s desperate attempt to regain the glory and power it once enjoyed. Since the island became a peninsula, however, after Alexander’s engineering feat, no natural advantage remained where it could support itself against siege, and so, by Roman times it was administered by regional powers and independence disappeared.

Siege of Tyre (public domain)

The strength of Tyre derived from its wealth, which was a product of it’s virtual monopoly of trade to the lands west of the Fertile Crescent. The Tyrians were expert sailors who controlled commerce in the Mediterranean, generally. Natural land barriers and hostile kingdoms prevented traders from exploiting all the overland routes, and so, The Tyrians filled this lucrative gap and reaped the spoils.

The ancient Fertile Crescent, as it is called by some, was not a crescent at all and the idea misinforms a salient point. The Promised Land of Israel was “beautiful,” not because it was more scenic or filled with wonders. It was “beautiful” because of how it was situated in a sort of choke point between the two fertile areas in what, today, we term The Mideast. If we were to represent it pictorially, a bent dumbbell comes to mind instead of a crescent which is fat in the center. Geographical Israel constitutes a land bridge in the narrow area between the two fertile river valleys of both Egypt and Mesopotamia. This fact informs what Ezekiel wrote which cartographers and commentators often get wrong.

Cartographers (map makers) in the medieval era usually centered Israel and its capitol Jerusalem in the center of their charts following what is stated in Ezekiel 5.5: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. This probably speaks to God’s originally calling Abram to this area as a way to display His power and redemption in the midst of outside nations as sort of a witness to them.

Also, this “beautiful land” had certain other advantages besides being center stage. Trade routes crisscrossed Israel since each of the separate fertile regions enjoyed different products of commerce. Israel would have been exposed to other languages, peoples, and products. They could also act as middlemen dealing with these entities. Not only could God’s working in Israel be on display but also Israel could act as gatekeepers to others in areas of commerce. The Tyrians were jealous and greedy when they said: ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper’ (Ezekiel 26.2). Tyre was not satisfied to rule the Mediterranean Sea trade, she wanted the land routes too.

“David’s Fallen Tent”

After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.

Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,

that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,

even all the Gentiles who bear my name,

says the Lord, who does these things’  —

things known from long ago. (Acts 15. 16-18)

The number of commentators who regard this clause as referring to a pilgrimage tent is surprising. Some think it refers to eschatological Israel. Perhaps I do not have access to more cogent works. Never the less, an alert bible reader is attuned to the concepts of the text and not merely its overt terms.

James obviously saw Jesus as the fulfilled inheritor of the Davidic Covenant since Amos is saying that as a result of the covenant’s completion (rebuilding its ruins and restoring it) would result in the Gentiles trusting the Messiah and be joined to God’s community. Isaiah says the same thing: I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles (49.6). When David’s Son appears he would give His blood in the New Covenant for both Jews and Gentiles.

“Tent” a cipher for “house” which originally was used and understood in an ambiguous manner itself. 2 Samuel 7 and 1Chron. 17 gives the account of David receiving what became known as the Davidic Covenant and is universally recognized by believers in referring to the Messiah as its ultimate fulfillment.

The ambiguity in the promise is that the word “house” can refer to a structure or dynasty. In the account when David speaks to Nathan the prophet, he wanted to build a more permanent structure than the existing tabernacle (which was essentially a tent). When God used the term “house” He meant a dynasty that continued forever through one of David’s descendants. This word-play is typical of how important, if cryptic, promises are often given. The parable is another example of cryptic revelation and used extensively in both testaments. I am suggesting that the term “tent” in Amos 9. 11-12, and quoted by James in Acts 15.15-18, refer to this same “dynasty” that “house” means when originally given in 2 Samuel 7 that speaks to the promise of the Messiah and the fulfillment of His work.

James (the half-brother of Jesus) was a descendant of David also through both his father and mother (Lk. 3 gives Mary’s line through David’s son Nathan). James would have undoubtedly recognized the “tent” reference in Amos. The language God gives is unusual (perhaps a clue): How can a tent have “ruins” and be “restored?” A tent collapses when fallen; it doesn’t consist of any permanent structures. Obviously, the Amos text signals elements when the promise was given that God said he moved around in a tent all those years (the Mosaic Tabernacle) and this figure is equated with the promised “house” (dynasty) when David received the prophecy recorded in 2 Samuel 7.