When looking to Scripture it is clear that many historical events are being recounted. And while parts of the Scripture recount that history in the “strict” and modern sense of history, yet, many different genres are also used: poem, drama, moral tale, epic saga, wisdom saying, parable, apocalyptic, gospel, and so forth.
But all the Scripture amounts to a kind of sacred history where God, through his prophets, and apostles, his sages and scribes, gives us a prophetic interpretation of reality. As if to say, “What ever you think is going on, this is what is REALLY going on.”
In Scripture, God the Holy Spirit, does not just tell us what happens, but interprets its meaning. Events are not simply locked in ancient history but speak to us today. These are not just stories about what they (the people of old) did, they are stories about what us and what WE do, and what it means. I am Peter, Moses, Elijah, Mary, the Woman at the Well, and so forth. We are the ancient Israelites and their story is our story.
As such, Scripture prophetically interprets reality for us. It explains what is really going on, as God sees it, and as God gives it to his sacred authors to set forth. For us who believe that God the Holy Spirit is the Supplier of this perspective, it makes Scripture an invaluable source as a prophetic interpretation of reality.
With this brief (and perhaps inadequate) background in mind, it may be of some value to look at a passage from the Book of Judges that we are reading in the Office of Readings. And as we look at we ought to ask, “How is this a prophetic interpretation of reality? What does it have to say to us of the reality in which we are currently living? How does a passage like this explain to us what is really happening in our times?
The passage is at the beginning of the Book of Judges (2:6-3:4) and serves as a bridge text between the Book of Joshua, and the time of the Judges which followed. Lets read it and see how it prophetically interprets reality for our times. (My Comments are in red):
When Joshua dismissed the people, each Israelite went to take possession of his own hereditary land. The people served the Lord during the entire lifetime of Joshua, and of those elders who outlived Joshua and who had seen all the great work which the Lord had done for Israel.
Joshua, son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, was a hundred and ten years old when he died; and they buried him within the borders of his heritage at Timnath-heres in the mountain region of Ephraim north of Mount Gaash.
It was Joshua who had warned the people to put away strange gods from among them and wholly serve the Lord God and carefully keep his precepts. If not disaster would befall them.
And here is the first interpretative key to reality for us in this passage: that we were made to know God, to serve Him and love Him. And in so doing, and seeking to base our life on his instructive and saving precepts, we will see long life, and as many blessings as this exile can provide. But if we do not follow that for which were made, burdens will multiply, blessings diminish and disaster will follow.
But once the rest of that generation were gathered to their fathers, and a later generation arose that did not know the Lord, or what he had done for Israel, the Israelites offended the Lord by serving the Baals. Abandoning the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had led them out of the land of Egypt, they followed the other gods of the various nations around them, and by their worship of these gods provoked the Lord.
Note the beginnings of the problem: a generation arose that did not “know the Lord.” In the Scripture, “know” almost never means a merely intellectual knowing, but, rather, an experiential knowing. Thus, troubles begin when the next generation turns away from the primary reason for which they were made: “to know the Lord.” That is, to be deeply rooted in the experience of God in their lives; to keep an open door in their hearts for God; to seek His face, as their hearts admonish (1 Chron 16:11; Psalm 105:4) and to strive to know his ways.
This is our glory and our calling. And trouble begins when we turn from this to other and lesser “gods.”For ancient Israel, the lesser gods were the “Baals.” For us, the lesser gods are the things, people and thoughts of this world.
Some turn from God to idolize money, or things, or popular “idols” in the latest celebs or gurus. Some idolize the latest “movements” of the world. Some idolize “scientism,” the error that subordinates everything to the judgment of the merely physical sciences. Others embrace materialism, the error that says only physical matter is real. Yet others embrace pseudo-Christian heresies and syncretist versions of faith. Still others cling to agnosticism and atheism in a sinful way, never seeking to overcome their doubts or difficulties.
In all these ways there is a turn from what, and Who we were truly made for: God, and his truth. Many today will turn to anything and anyone but the one true God, and they dispense with the One of whom their heart says “Seek the face of the Lord.”
Note the second problem, they did recall “what God had done for Israel.” For God had delivered them, fed them, given his law, led them, and set them in a good land.
Yet so easily and quickly we forget the blessings that God has given. One day the Lord asked the disciples, “Do you realize what I have done for you?” (Jn 13:12) So easily we forget that we have been delivered from the futile ways our fathers handed on to us (cf 1 Peter 1:18), and forget that we have been given lives filled with hope at the glory that lies ahead. So easily we walk from the God who has given us every good thing, and who even makes the difficult things work ultimately for our good (Rom 8:28).
Yet, forgetful, and thus ungrateful, we grow sour, demanding and grasping. Lacking gratitude we become fearful, we hoard, we buy things we cannot afford, we become greedy, and are afraid to help the poor. Being more rooted in the world, we become enslaved to it, and give it our loyalty. We turn from God and even become hostile to his reminder that we were not made for the world.
And herein lies the second interpretive key to reality for us: that Gratitude, the disciplining of our minds to count our blessings and daily recall the enormous and immense blessings of God, is essential to our well-being and freedom. Forgetting to root our praises and gratitude in God we become enslaved to the world and mistake its passing blessings, as the true meaning of our lives.
And the cruel “Baal” of this world feeds us just enough to keep us alive, but still hungry and increasingly enslaved; so enslaved that we are literally willing to sacrifice our children, our families and our very lives on the altar of this cruel “Baal.”
Among the central ways that God will save us from the cruel enslaving world is gratitude. It is no accident that the central act of Catholic worship is called the “Eucharist” (the great Thanksgiving).
Because they had thus abandoned him and served Baal and the Ashtaroth, the anger of the Lord flared up against Israel, and he delivered them over to plunderers who despoiled them. He allowed them to fall into the power of their enemies round about whom they were no longer able to withstand. Whatever they undertook, the Lord turned into disaster for them, as in his warning he had sworn he would do, till they were in great distress.
Even when the Lord raised up judges to deliver them from the power of their despoilers, they did not listen to their judges, but abandoned themselves to the worship of other gods. They were quick to stray from the way their fathers had taken, and did not follow their example of obedience to the commandments of the Lord. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, he would be with the judge and save them from the power of their enemies as long as the judge lived; it was thus the Lord took pity on their distressful cries of affliction under their oppressors. But when the judge died, they would relapse and do worse than their fathers, following other gods in service and worship, relinquishing none of their evil practices or stubborn conduct
And here we encounter and often misunderstood concept in Scripture: the wrath of God. Fundamentally the “wrath of God” is His passion to set things right. It does not mean God has anger like we have anger, that he is a moody God who looses his temper from time to time. Since God is love, we must understand his anger in this light. We must also understand his punishments in this manner.
The Book of Hebrews reminds us that God disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son (Hebrews 12:6). It further states that God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness (Heb 12:10), and that this discipline produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12:11).
God’s wrath, His anger, is his passion to set things right for us and for others. And thus we see in this passage that God used various means to draw his people back on the right path. the sending of warnings, judges (charismatic, prophet-like and military leaders), and finally delivering them for a time into the hands of their enemies.
And here we see the heart of sacred history, the keynote of the prophetic interpretation of reality: that unfaithfulness, ingratitude, and stubbornness are disastrous and at the heart of most of our suffering. It is our failure to heed God’s warnings, to hear his prophets, and to return to knowledge of Him and His ways, that is the deepest source of our problems.
Put more positively, our only true hope is to collectively return to God, to know Him, Love Him, and Serve Him. Our only real solution is to turn from our “Baals” and seek mercy and grace from the One True God. Our only hope, and it remains a standing promise, is God’s tender mercy, his abiding grace and his saving Love.
As an interpretive key to reality, this passage tells us why we are in the mess we’re in. Why are our worldwide economies devastated? Is it not because we have yielded to greed, and spent money for years on things we cannot afford? Is it not become we have become enslaved to our desires and that, even when we know we cannot go like this, we still do it? And are we not slaves because we have worshiped the creature rather than the creator who is blessed forever (Rom 1:25)? Is it not because we seek our joy and meaning in passing things rather than God? And have we not heard the warnings of the gospel against amassing wealth and of not seeking first the Kingdom of God?
And now God, after many warnings, has handed us over to our own stubbornness. And what are the “nations” that now trample despoil and plunder us? Is it not the crushing burden of our own debt, and the disgraceful and embarrassing bill we leave our children?
If you want to name a nation call it China, but in the end, China is not the problem, we are. We just can’t stop our addictive spending, our demands for more and more benefits, and our demands that “someone else” pay for it all. We can’t stop it would seem, unless God allows it all to crash.
The judgment of God is on us as never regarding our collective greed, our insatiable appetite for more. I offer this (humbly) as a prophetic interpretation of reality, not in the same sense that Scripture can, but in the sense of applying what Scripture says of God’s ways when we stubbornly refuse to repent. What is clearly scriptural is that our problem is our sin.
The same could be said of the grave sexual confusion of our times and the increasing dissolution of our families. After decades of reckless sexual misbehavior through fornication, adultery, homosexual activity and pornography, our families are in disarray and a host of social problems beset us; problems that are so deep, it is hard to image anything but a total collapse can return us to our senses. Problem after problem mounts: AIDS, Sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, single mothers, divorce, abortion, broken homes, broken hearts and children raised in messy and confused situations. There are also declining birthrates and the social dynamite that implies.
And what are the nations that will surely despoil and plunder us. At one level it is the Muslims are are set to simply replace the Europeans whose birthrate implies they have decided to abort and contracept themselves right out of existence. In effect God’s judgement is on the sterile West: If you do not love life, there are others who do and they will replace you and populate your cities and, (as we have seen in increasing ways), oppress you.
God then concludes his prophetic interpretation of reality in this way:
In his anger toward Israel the Lord said, “Inasmuch as this nation has violated my covenant which I enjoined on their fathers, and has disobeyed me, I for my part will not clear away for them any more of the nations which Joshua left when he died.” Through these nations the Israelites were to be made to prove whether or not they would keep to the way of the Lord and continue in it as their fathers had done; therefore the Lord allowed them to remain instead of expelling them immediately, or delivering them into the power of Israel.
In other words: “This is a Test.” Will we choose to follow God and see an end to many of the disasters that have befallen our culture, or will we persist in our stubborn disobedience and see things worsen? The decision is ours.
Now again, this is a prophetic interpretation of reality. In other words, the passage, and others like it tell us what is really going on. We, in the West like to analyze our problems in worldly ways. Hence some say our problem is a lack of resources, or the wrong political party in power, or the International Monetary Commission, or some fictional Trilateral commission, or the wrong credit to cash ratio, or not enough AIDS medicine, or contraceptives in the “third world” or, or, or….
But God says our problem is a sinful stubbornness, our mistaken and sinful priorities, our idols, our greed, our lust and our refusal to repent. This is a prophetic interpretation of reality and we may go on ignoring it, and this sinful and unbelieving world may even ridicule such an interpretation. But we ignore it to our peril and ultimate demise as a nation and culture.The enemy is within and the blame is ours.
Pay attention, this is a prophetic interpretation of reality. Are we listening?
Here’s a little call to conversion I put together last year: