27 March 2016

The Sky is NOT Falling: A Brief Survey of Apocalyptic Symbolism - Pt 3

Coming on the clouds
We pick up in this, part 3, with continuing to examine additional Scriptures that use world-ending symbolic language that is actually speaking of  national/political judgment by using cosmological terms to represent the powers.

As discussed originally, this kind of symbolic language of the Old Testament seems to get all but lost on many modern readers when it comes to their understanding of the same usage by Jesus and the Apostles in the  New Testament. We start this part looking at Jeremiah.


Moving on to Jeremiah 4 we find a prophecy against Jerusalem at the time, a prophecy that was fulfilled not too long afterwards when Nebuchadnezzar II took over in 586 BC. I will touch on just the highlighted versus from this section:

Behold, he comes up like clouds; his chariots like the whirlwind; his horses are swifter than eagles-- woe to us, for we are ruined! (Jeremiah 4:13 ESV)

Here again, as we just saw in Isaiah 19, we find more of the symbolism of God coming on the clouds in judgment. As we continue we find mountains trembling (v. 24), the heavens above becoming dark (v. 28), and the symbolism of a woman crying out in labor pains (v. 31).Actually, if you read verse 23-26 you find Jeremiah taking imagery from the Genesis 1:2 creation account and using it in poetic form to describe a reversal of creation. 

This language is used to basically say that all that they thought was consistent in life is now falling apart for them. This type of language is commonly used in prophetic literature in connection with the Day of the Lord and coming judgment. 

Taking a very brief look at Zephaniah 1, we get another prophecy of the same coming judgment of Jerusalem, and of course we find similar language from a different prophet:

The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there.  A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness… (Zephaniah 1:14-16 ESV)

Again, we find darkness and clouds mentioned here. All of this language is wrapped tightly in the symbolism surrounding the national judgment coming from God. This is how the original Hebrews would have understood it. 
Jumping now into Ezekiel 30-32, we find the prophecy of judgment against Egypt. I have read some who say this was accomplished when Cambyses of Persia conquers Egypt in 525 B.C., while I have heard others say based on Josephus, it was fulfilled in B.C. 587 when Babylon destroyed them. 
The emphasis for us here does not require us to delve too deeply into the actual date of occurrence, but simply to understand that this event did occur in the past, and this language was not literally a reality. Here in Ezekiel, as expected, we find the same language is used:
For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near; it will be a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.  (Ezekiel 30:3 ESV)

Here we find clouds again in the story of judgment as has become common we now see. It is the day of the Lord, a day he has set for national judgment. And later in the same chapter:

At Tehaphnehes the day shall be dark, when I break there the yoke bars of Egypt, and her proud might shall come to an end in her; she shall be covered by a cloud, and her daughters shall go into captivity.  (Ezekiel 30:18 ESV)

Now, I will state that not every time we see clouds mentioned are we to assume it is a reference to Yahweh riding them in judgment. Oftentimes it is used poetically to mean that a calamity is falling on them, like in this verse here. For instance, the Targum, which is the Aramaic version of the Hebrew Scriptures that was used in the first century by many a Rabbi, puts this verse like this:

a king with his army shall cover her as a cloud ascends and covers the earth:

So, while this is not a reference to God riding the cloud, it is a reference to clouds involved in the judgment from God still, as we repeatedly see. And then moving into Ezekiel 32, we see language that we find later in the New Testament, and that may be related to verse that are often misunderstood.

And I will cast you on the ground; on the open field I will fling you, and will cause all the birds of the heavens to settle on you, and I will gorge the beasts of the whole earth with you.  (Ezekiel 32:4 ESV)

And the same language is used later in the book when speaking of the fall of Gog:

You shall fall on the mountains of Israel, you and all your hordes and the peoples who are with you. I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field to be devoured. (Ezekiel 39:4 ESV)

As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord GOD: Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field, 'Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood.

You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth--of rams, of lambs, and of he-goats, of bulls, all of them fat beasts of Bashan. (Ezekiel 39:17-18 ESV)

Obviously there is no denying the connection that is used Rev. 19:

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, "Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great. (Revelation 19:17-18 ESV)

But while I did not delve into depth to determine if this is a necessary connection, I was immediately struck by the similarities with what we are told in Luke 17:

I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left." And they said to him, "Where, Lord?" He said to them, "Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather." (Luke 17:34-37 ESV)

This verse is often misused as some kind of view of a rapture of Christians being carried off of the Earth, but in reality it is not. I like the way Reformed John Gill states it:

the one shall be taken - not by the preaching of the Gospel, into the kingdom of God, or Gospel dispensation; though such a distinction God makes, by the ministry of the word, accompanied by his Spirit and power; nor by angels, to meet Christ in the air, and to be introduced into his kingdom and glory; but by the eagles, the Roman army, and either killed or carried captive by them. (John Gill)

The idea of the post judgment dead being eaten by the bird of the air seems to be a common thread as we have seen on occasion, and is usually understood as an ultimate shameful end, to not have a decent burial, but instead to food for the fowl of the air.

Now continuing on in Ezekiel 32:

I will drench the land even to the mountains with your flowing blood, and the ravines will be full of you. 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.  (Ezekiel 32:6-8 ESV)

Again, notice here we have similar events as mentioned earlier in Isaiah 34, where mountains are flowing with blood, so we can see how it is becoming a common piece of the apocalyptic symbolic language used.

Likewise we again find here the celestial darkening as before, and hopefully everyone can see the pattern of symbolic language that continues throughout this study. This is not the language of literal world ending events happening over and over again, these are all national judgments.


Now, most people are familiar already with what is said in Joel, but sadly they still see this as physical too. It is as if they are oblivious to, or simply seek to ignore all of the uses in the verses we’ve covered, and from Joel on into the New Testament they start thinking literally for some reason.

Since we are clearly told that these words from Joel began to be accomplished in the book of Acts (2:16 - this is THAT which was spoken of in Joel), we know they were not literal happenings. However, as before, we find the same types of language here:

Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains a great and powerful people; their like has never been before, nor will be again after them through the years of all generations. (Joel 2:1-2 ESV)

Note that here we have the blowing of a trumpet at the Day of the Lord, a day of darkness, gloom, and clouds. All things we have seen before and shall see again as we get into the New Testament writings.

The earth quakes before them; the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. (Joel 2:10)

Now of course, it could be that at times this language of the sun and moon being darkened could be referring to an actual eclipse. We are not ruling out this possibility. Knowing that God controls the celestial bodies, and knowing he gave them for signs and seasons, it is not out of the realm of possibility that these disastrous events were accompanied by an eclipse as a sign.

And some commentators say that judgment scenarios like this may have been so intense and large, and therefore could have produced so much fire and smoke that it could have filled the sky and covered the light of the sun, moon and stars from the sight of those experiencing it.While these ideas are not an impossible scenario, it must not a considered a necessity to have gone down that way in order to fulfill the symbolism of the language used.

Since the usage of sun, moon and stars has already be established as symbolic language used of national judgment, even if these natural occurrences did occur, the thrust of this language is not necessarily leaning to that physical understanding.And while some may use this angle to get around the idea of these celestial entities becoming dark, it in no way can be used in the places where the stars fall to the Earth, or other such occurrences.

The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. (Joel 2:31)

While some may want to simply see this as a solar eclipse and a blood moon eclipse, it must not be ignored that it is often understood as a symbolic blotting out of the powers and rulers of the nation being judged, and as mentioned, may be directed at the deities of a nation. And we find similar language continuing on into chapter three.

Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. The LORD roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. (Joel 3:14-16 ESV)

That is all for now, and in the final part, we will look at a couple more Scriptural example and then tie it all up with an examination of New Testament connections.

View the other parts of the topic

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4