t f p g+ YouTube icon

The Collapsing Universe in the Bible, Part 2

Bookmark and Share

August 28, 2011 Tags: Christ & New Creation

Today's entry was written by Brian Godawa. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

The Collapsing Universe in the Bible, Part 2

This is the second in an ongoing series about the language of "de-creation" in the Bible. For Godawa's introductory comments to the series, please see part 1 (sidebar).

Sun, Moon and Stars

First, let’s take a look at the usage of sun, moon and stars in the Old Testament. In the ancient Near East, there is often a conceptual equivalency or link between stars, heavenly bodies, and deities.1 The Encyclopedia Judaica notes that, “in many cultures the sky, the sun, the moon, and the known planets were conceived as personal gods. These gods were responsible for all or some aspects of existence. Prayers were addressed to them, offerings were made to them, and their opinions on important matters were sought through divination.”2

But it was not merely the pagans who made this connection of heavenly physical bodies with heavenly spiritual powers. The Old Testament itself equates the sun, moon, and stars with the angelic “sons of God” who surround God’s throne, calling them both the “host of heaven” (Deut 4:19; 32:8-9).3 Jewish commentator Jeffrey Tigay writes, “[These passages] seem to reflect a biblical view that… as punishment for man’s repeated spurning of His authority in primordial times (Gen. 3-11), God deprived mankind at large of true knowledge of Himself and ordained that it should worship idols and subordinate celestial beings.”4

There is more than just a symbolic connection between the physical heavens and the spiritual heavens in the Bible. In some passages, the stars of heaven are linked interchangeably with angelic heavenly beings, also referred to as “holy ones” or “sons of God” (Psa 89:5-7; Job 1:6)5. Consider the following passages that equate the host of heaven with both astronomical bodies and angelic spirits simultaneously:

  • “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?...when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7).
  • “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you” (Neh. 9:6).
  • “It grew great, even to the host of heaven. And some of the host and some of the stars it threw down to the ground and trampled on them. It became great, even as great as the Prince of the host [Michael]” (Dan 8:10-11; Dan 10).

In the passages above, we see the equivocation of sun, moon, and stars with heavenly angelic powers. But there is another symbolic connection made in the Old Testament of the sun, moon, and stars with earthly human authorities such as kings and rulers. It is as if these earthly principalities are empowered by or represent images of those spiritual beings and principalities.

In the passages below, notice that the destruction of earthly powers is expressed through the figurative language of a collapsing universe: The sky rolling up and the sun, moon, and stars being darkened or falling. Another way to describe this discourse is the language of “de-creation.”

  • Kings at war early 13th Century B.C.
    “The kings came, they fought… From heaven the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera” (Jud 5:19-20).

  • The destruction of Babylon in 539 B.C.
    “the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises, And the moon will not shed its light” (Isa 13:10).

  • The destruction of Edom in 586 B.C.
    “all the host of heaven will wear away, And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; All their hosts will also wither away” (Isa 34:4).

  • The destruction of Egypt in 587 B.C.
    “When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens and make their stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over you, and put darkness on your land, declares the Lord GOD” (Ezek 32:7).

  • The destruction of Edom in 586 B.C.
    “For the LORD is enraged against all the nations, and furious against all their host; he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter…All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall (Isa 34:2-5).

During none of these historical events did the sky “literally” roll up or the stars fall or the sun and moon turn dark. These passages correlate the collapsing universe figuratively with the fall of earthly regimes and the spiritual powers behind them.

And this figurative understanding is not a new invention. Eschatology expert Gary DeMar writes, “Before the advent of speculative exegesis, most Bible commentators who studied the whole Bible understood the relationship of collapsing universe language with the destruction of the religious and civil state.”6 Scholar Kenneth L. Gentry adds, “In Scripture, prophets often express national catastrophes in terms of cosmic destruction. The famed twelfth-century Jewish theologian Maimonides notes that such language ‘is a proverbial expression, importing the destruction and utter ruin of a nation.’”7

Perhaps some clarity can now be brought to the New Testament usage of the same exact imagery when describing the last days and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matt 24:29).

“When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place” (Revelation 6:12-14).

Within the Church, there are several interpretations of when these prophesies are fulfilled, past, present, or future. But that does not concern us here. My main point is that these passages are so often used to look for a series of astronomical or geophysical catastrophes in creation, but now we see that they are actually a figurative expression rooted in Old Testament imagery of the fall of ruling powers.

What I will argue next is that in the New Testament, the usage of these images denotes more than just ruling powers being vanquished; it figuratively depicts the end of the old covenant order itself.

Notes

1. Some examples of orthodox scholars who hold to this view are Sproul, R.C. The Last Days According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998; and Gentry, Kenneth L. Jr. Navigating the Book of Revelation. Fountain Inn: SC, Goodbirth Ministries, 2009.
2. I. Zatelli, “Constellations.” Toorn, K. van der, Bob Becking, and Pieter Willem van der Horst. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. 2nd extensively rev. ed. Leiden; Boston; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999.,. 202-204; “Astrology and the Worship of the Stars in the Bible,” ZAW 103 (1991): 86-99.
3. “Astrology”, Berenbaum, Michael and Fred Skolnik, eds. 2nd ed. Encyclopaedia Judaica. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007, p. 8424.
4. See also Deut 4:19; Deut 17:3; 2King 23:4-5; 1King 22:19; Neh 9:6.
5. Tigay, Jeffrey. JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1996): 435; as quoted in Heiser, Michael S. “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” Bibliotheca Sacra 158 (January-March 2001): 72; Copyright © 2001 Dallas Theological Seminary; online: http://thedivinecouncil.com/
6. See also Psa 148:2-3, 1King 22:29 & 2King 21:5. In Isa 14:12-14 the king of Babylon is likened to the planet Venus (Morningstar) seeking to reign above the other stars of heaven, which are equivalent to the sons of God who surround God’s throne on the “mount of assembly” or “divine council” (see Psa 89:5-7 and Psa 82).
7. DeMar, Gary. Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church. Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999, p. 144.
8. Ice, Thomas and Kenneth L. Gentry Jr. The Great Tribulation Debate: Past or Future? Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999, p. 55.


Brian Godawa is the screenwriter of To End All Wars and other feature films. He has written and directed documentaries on church-state relations, stem cell research and higher education politics. He is the author of Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (InterVarsity Press) and Chronicles of the Nephilim, a series of fantasy novels about Biblical heroes within their ancient Near Eastern mythological context. He speaks around the country to churches, high schools and colleges on movies, worldviews and faith. His movie blog can be found at godawa.com/movieblog/.

< Previous post in series Next post in series >


View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Loading...
Page 1 of 1   1
Norman - #64374

August 30th 2011

Brian,

Thanks for having the fortitude to present a subject that the modern church whether evangelical, reformed or whatever, do not like to encounter. Some who have delved into eschatology and examined these subjects have uncovered a dirty little secret that the church at large suppresses. Even our best and brightest scholars fail to pay heed to the area that you are presenting. It answers everything from Genesis to Revelation with a consistency that is absolutely amazing.

I will dare to say that you will be ignored by the scholars when you present these issues because they are simply not there yet and are fearful of being alienated if they pursue it. It’s the backbone of biblical understanding yet it’s avoided like the plaque.

I agree with much that DeMar and Gentry present until they start wrapping their pet Reformed tradition into the equation. Almost all of these folks are fairly good at eschatology yet they haven’t crossed the bridge yet and applied them consistently to Genesis. You will find that almost all people who embrace what you have presented will have their blind sides. In other words like DeMar and Gentry they are staunch YEC proponents (perhaps DeMar is a closet OEC). What I’m saying is that their eschatology is pretty good up to a point but then out of thin air they revert back to literal applications when push comes to shove. They do the same thing in the OT until they encounter Genesis. Typically it’s because they have developed worldviews that can’t fully accomadate an old Earth and evolution and also their audience for books would shrink if they came out of the YEC closet.

Typically people like Pete Enns will mock these folks and for good reasons in many areas but they could learn something from them on how to read biblical symbolism more effectively. That would enhance and make more robust their Genesis analysis which should be explored from the same vantage point as Revelation, as the author of Revelation ties his imagery completely back to Genesis and the Garden. It’s the same with many NT writers especially Hebrews.

Heb 1:10-12  And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands;  they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment,  like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. …

I might further add that in the early church the idea of Genesis 1 was considered as a prophetic overview statement of the entirety of the Old Covenant period that would find its rest and fulfillment through the coming messiah. When Gen 2:1 says that the H & E were finished and the host of them, it is prophetic toward the day of Messiah in which God’s Host or Army would be encamped around His victorious Throne.  

Gen 2:1-2  And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.  And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

Walton gets very close when he projects that Gen 1 is a Temple creation account but he stops short because he doesn’t realize that Revelation is describing the battles and scenes occurring through the messianic period of time when the Temple will be complete. He misses the symbolic language and doesn’t follow it to its conclusion. Most all Christians default to the idea that Genesis 1 is a prelude to Adam’s creation but nothing could be further from the truth. Gen 1 is the big picture view of the entirety of the Old Covenant world called the Heavens and Earth which will be changed and made new as Paul in Romans 8 states.  Adam’s story is the beginning details and Revelation is the ending details of Gen 1-2:3 in which God is surrounded by His Host Army.


If I could merge DeMar’s eschatology and Enns Genesis work into one scholar then we might really have something. Alas though I’m still looking for that Great Scholar Hope who can put it all together.  


Brian G - #64380

August 31st 2011

Thanks for your comments, Norman. I have been helped most by DeMar and Gentry, but I do not agree with all of their views. But my respect runs deep because they changed my worldview. I do believe that there are certain logical conclusions that preterism leads one to, but each person in their own time. For me, it helped me to realize the non-concordist view of Genesis, which opened me up to Old Earth and Evolutionary Creation. 


I am surprised that more ANE scholars are not preterists, it fits too perfectly with their claims of a priority of cultural context, and is founded on understanding symbolic discourse.

Also, Gentry is coming out with a mutlivolume Revelation commentary soon that argues Revelation is the divorce decree of Yahweh with Israel that was sealed in the destruction of AD 70. It was basically prophecying the destruction of the Temple and the finality of the New Covenant. That is pretty radical for many Reformed to even accept.

My desire in this series of posts is to show how the preterist view is most congenial to the BioLogos non-concordist approach. 

I would agree with your desire to meld Enns and DeMar.

Donald Byron Johnson - #64384

August 31st 2011

Wow!  Pretty impressive.


micahmartin5 - #64397

August 31st 2011

Brian,


I too, have often wondered how Enn’s perspective would change a little bit if he imported a “covenant creation” context onto his ideas. Since I have adopted this framework and listened to others that have adopted it, Romans and Paul’s theology have absolutely exploded into 3D! Amazing stuff… Keep it up.

Blessings,
Micah

JimFisherHome - #64559

September 7th 2011

I was taught that the Revelation is all about the Covenant just like every other book of the Bible is.I was taught all the traditional views: full preterist, futurist, historicist, symbolist and shown that none of those hold up—they all have serious flaws. The only one that works is preterist up to Rev 19:11 and then futurist beyond that. Up to 19:11 everything is in sevens (the Old Covenant number) and with 19:11 we start with eight (the number of the Messiah in Jewish numerology). Verse by verse, things match up with history up to that point: 666 being Nero, etc., and there is internal evidence to when the Revelation was written (Rev 17:9-11) if you know anything about the Roman emperors of the first century.. Thank you so much for this rational approach to a poorly misunderstood part of our theology.


Page 1 of 1   1