the angry, bloody God of the Bible? part 4


You might think I'm the brilliant kind of writer who knows the end from the beginning when composing pieces. If you thought so, you are mistaken, and that's why I'm only a blogger with a day job. This weekend, I think I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. But this post is still in the dark tunnel. I chose not to finish surveying the synoptics, because I did not expect much from the effort.

The same style of violent language shows up again in John the Beloved's Revelation. It's a little different in that the heavenly armies are doing the butchering. In the Apocalypse, nothing is clear and simple, so much of it is symbolic. This is from the end of chapter 14.
Rev. 14:17 Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18 Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” 19 The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. 20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.
Uggh. That's more blood than I can imagine. I'm assuming that the blood is human, and represents the deadly effect of God's judgment on humanity, consistent with the other judgments in the chapter. Much of the latter half of the book consists of graphic, hyperbolic and symbolic depictions of God's judgment on humanity, not unlike the 10 plagues Moses brought on the Egyptians. But more of them. In Moses' story, he turned the Nile and every container of water in Egypt into blood. When I re-read Exodus during Lent, I noted internal inconsistencies with the plagues that indicate them to also be symbolic and hyperbolic rather than literal.

Back to John's vision. At the end, Jesus defeats his physical and spiritual enemies. It's quite rousing, if you are into even more blood and gore. It starts off with an adoring picture of Jesus, the conquering hero. His bloody robe could be colored with his own blood, but it gets mixed by the end of the battle with that of his opponents. Again, the winepress metaphor is used, which is pretty graphic when you think about it. People used to pour their harvest of grapes in big stone basins and stomp on the grapes with their bare feet to separate the juice from the skin and flesh. Then the birds are invited to the anticipated slaughter of his opponents, and they do. It's not very different from Psalm 68:23, which originally bothered me this morning.
Revelation 19
11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords.
17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, great and small.” 19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. 21 The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.
What are my options with this passage? I think they are the same as Psalm 68.

  1. David John was wrong to attribute this to God.
  2. This is symbolic language, not to be understood literally.
In this case, we know with a great degree of certainty the language is symbolic. Not even my fundamentalist friends are on the watch for dragons to appear, signaling the end times. They also do not think Jesus has a sword in his mouth instead of a tongue.

But even if this is symbolic and hyperbolic, I still feel uneasy with the violent God/Jesus portrayed by John and David and Joshua. It's not just the gore, but the approval of the treatment of the enemies, after their deaths. Dogs will lap up their blood. Birds will gorge on their bodies. Yayyyyyyy!!!!!......????????

I'm slowly reading, between other books, Killing Enmity: Violence and the New Testament by Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld on my Kindle. He offers some ideas on processing these images. But I'm only halfway through, and I can't apply anything yet. I'm open to any suggestions from my readers on who to read and learn from in regards to my issues with these passages and their tone.

I think John the Beloved might be the way out of this tunnel. He was the last living apostle and he had one message, as summarized by this Russian Orthodox priest.
During the last years of his life the Apostle preached only one precept: "children, love one another" His disciples asked : "Why do you repeat yourself?" Apostle John answered: "This is the most important commandment. If you will fulfil it, then you wil fulfil all of Christ's commandment."

Comments

The birds feasting on flesh, like the sword from the mouth that kills the nations, would also be symbolic. As the "killing" is words of judgment from Christ, so the "feasting" (again with mouths) would include the witness of "birds" (heavenly creatures, angels or saints) as part of that final judgment. (In Mt. 13, in Jesus' parable about the sower, the "birds" who eat the seed in 13:4 are identified by Jesus in 13:19 as "the evil one." In Rev. 19, they would be the "good ones" coming with Jesus.)

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