May 21, 2011

Time, times and half a time

CNN: Netanyahu to Obama, "No return to 1967 lines."
Wikipedia: The Six-Day War website

When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent's reach.
---Revelation 12:13-14

For two thousand years Christian theologians have been arguing over the role of the Jewish people. During World War Two, a pope and a broad spectrum of Christian leaders argued persuasively that the role of the Jewish Sanhedrin in the crucifixtion of Christ was sure proof that Adonai Elohei Yisrael had abandoned his people. Some didn't. Among those that opposed the prevailing theology was Dietrich Bonhoeffer and he paid for his dissent with his life.

My journey to faith began as a child bored to death in the pews of Presbyterian and Reformed Mehodist churches. If it had stayed there, I would not be the man I am today. I am never surprised when boredom leads children raised in Christian homes to abandon religion entirely. I've been there. I know exactly how it feels.

My exposure to the Southern Baptist church in my hometown changed all that. The pastor was vibrant, the youth ministry was me and the pastor's two daughters which meant the church was wide open to my suggestions. Never before had I encountered a minister who both approached the Bible as worthy of lifelong study and who took me seriously when I asked questions. Pastor Fred Harms gave life to a dead book and always inspired me to look deeper, so I did. At sixteen I gave my life to Christ and although it has been a bumpy road with periods of doubt and disbelief, I have never regretted the time I spent learning theology under his tutelage.

That inspiration to look deeper has been at the root of some of the most painful moments in my spiritual life. After I left the small Southern Baptist church in my hometown behind me I found more and more Sunday Christians, rainy-day Christians, and narcissistic Christians than genuine believers. It was a cold shock to realize that most American Christians have never read more of their Bible than what they covered in childhood Sunday School lessons. They talk of faith and the power of God, but they worship at the altar of consumerism and social status.

Do not misunderstand me! Hard work, discipline, and material success are not evil in and of themselves. There is nothing sinful about working hard and enjoying the fruits of your labors. On the other hand, there is something very wrong with using your success as an excuse for depravity, condescension, and disdain. But the ethics of success is not the purpose of this post, so I'm going to leave that discussion unfinished.

The important item today is the passage from Revelation quoted above. The very first time I read that passage I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that America was the patron of the modern Israel and the day we abandoned her would be the beginning of the end. Great Britain did much to secure territory for the newly created Nation of Israel, but without American financial and logistical support she never would have lasted beyond the first decade. Ironic though it seems, it was the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty during the Six-Day War that secured for Israel the political and material support which has carried her through the past four and a half decades. America, to me, has always been the "two wings of a great eagle" that made it possible for Israel to enjoy the season of prosperity covering "time, times, and half a time."

Next month (June 10, 2011) will mark forty-four years since the conclusion of the Six-Day War and the real beginning of the season of prosperity that Israel has enjoyed as a nation. Securing the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the Old City of Jerusalem gave the young nation the breathing room she needed. Her alliance with the United States and the corresponding promise of military aid should the surrounding nations attack her again secured those borders and helped make them strong enough to resist encroachment by the nations who hated her.

I no longer run Biblical numbers trying to ascertain the schedule for the end times. I do, however, remain sensitive to the signs and signals which the Bible clearly lists as preludes to the end of Satan's reign and the beginning of the new world. I also realize that these kinds of events are common to any great transition of political power. It is entirely possible that Biblically these events stand more as metaphors than literal truths. Nonetheless, there are six days in a Jewish week with a seventh day added on for rest and worship. Is it mere coincidence that the war which gave birth to the modern nation lasted a perfect week?

Now, here we are forty-four years later (a natural generation by Old Testament reckoning) and thanks to the most Marxist president in American history, America has effectively withdrawn support for her most important ally in the Middle East. This year has also seen the rise of "popular" revolts throughout the Arab nations, the death of Osama bin Laden, and the ascendance of a theocratic Iran as a major player in the region. Are all these mere coincidences as well?

It looks to me like someone is setting the stage for the Biblical Armageddon and then daring the main star to make his appearance. A very dangerous gambit indeed to my way of thinking.

When I was young, I preached the end of the world was at hand and meant every word of it. Now I am old and I see unfolding before my very eyes the exact timeline that I proposed all those decades ago. I have to say, I am not at all happy to see how things are unfolding. I was supposed to be wrong about all this. I was told over and over again by people who had studied longer and harder and under better teachers that my eschatology was delusional and logically flawed. After awhile, I learned to believe my critics.

Ever since a fruit vendor in Tunisia ignited a flame that spread through the Middle East I am no longer certain my critics were as wise as they appeared. There have been too many coincidences over the past five months, the timeline is too exact for me to ignore. If two men show up outside the Wailing Wall preaching the coming of the Jewish Messiah only to be stoned to death by the crowds, I'm pulling my bets and going back to my original position.

History is pretty clear, any nation that challenges Adonai Elohei Yisrael reaps the whirlwind of his judgement. The Assyrians, the Medes, the Hittites, and the Babylonians all challenged his authority. Every last one of them was wiped from the pages of history until the only place they appeared was on the pages of the Tanakh. It was only in the past century and a half that humanity "rediscovered" these proud, defiant nations. I do NOT want to see my nation follow their example.

Update on June 20, 2011:

So I was checking over my stats today and discovered that someone, somewhere had stumbled across this post while searching for an explanation of "time, times, and half a time". Curious, I ran the search myself. It turns out that according to some theologians (both Jewish and Christian), "time, times, and half a time" is equal to forty-two months.