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The Ryle justification

Humility is essential when addressing one such as J.C. Ryle, first bishop of Liverpool and beacon of 19th century Anglican Evangelicalism, and I am sure there will be those who suggest that humility is not my strong point.

In his book ‘Are You Ready for the End of Time’ Ryle claims that Christians have taken literally the biblical condemnations – and applied them to the Jews – and taken spiritually the promises – and applied them to the church. There is a deal of truth in his warning, and much that he writes to which we should pay attention, even 150 years after he published. If he is correct in diagnosing a problem, he is wrong in identifying the treatment; seriously mistaken in his understanding of how the prophetic works. Ryle insists that, whether for the first or second advent, (and his direct concern is of the Second), our interpretation of prophecy must be literal and exact. If only scripture were that straightforward. As a beginning example, not of prophecy but of God’s direct word, we have the flood story. In Genesis chapter 6, to himself God says, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created, people together with animals…”. Then to Noah,

“I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth… I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy it from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.”

Sounds fairly straightforward, especially if we take it literally and exactly, ‘but Noah found favour in God’s sight’. Taken literally and exactly as Ryle wants involves a literal and exact contradiction. The problem isn’t God’s; it is Ryle’s, and ours. The ancient peoples of Israel would have understood. Here is a relatively simple example of how paradox is used to create tension in a story. God will destroy: God will destroy utterly: but grace is present, if faith can be found.

Ryle, in his book, demands that we speak to ‘the Jew’ as literally about the Second Coming as we do about Christ’s first; that we are as exact with Isaiah 11 as we are with Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 is clearly understood by Christians as referring to Jesus, see for example Acts 8: 26-39. Yet even here there is paradox. The one who was “despised and rejected by others”, the one who had “nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” was so undesirable that – paradoxically to spell it out – he attracted hundreds to hear his words and feel his healing touch. Some even thought he might be Messiah. If there is paradox here then try reading Isaiah 53 in the context of chapters 48 onwards (noting, perhaps especially in this context, chapter 49 verses five and six).

Ryle wants his readers, including presumably those who promote the modern state of Israel by quoting him in their publicity, to pay as exact and literal attention to Isaiah 11 as to Isaiah 53. Let us see what happens when we do. The first problem is where to begin. The chapter and verse divisions so familiar to us are a relatively late development: chapter divisions from the 13th century and verses from the 16th. (Complicating matters, The Masoretic text, so I understand, is in some places divided differently).

We could begin for example in chapter 8 where is prophesied that the king of Assyria will take the spoil of Samaria’ and ‘Sweep on into Judah as a flood’ with the strange ascriptions ‘Immanu el’ ‘God is with us’. Exactitude here is problematic, for, whilst Assyria took Samaria, and, one presumes, it’s ‘spoil’, in 722 BC., it was another Empire and a different century before Judah was overtaken: by Babylon in the period 597 to 585 BC.  Does it need a ‘nod’ toward that ‘failed prophet’, Jonah, for us to understand that prophecy often foretells a future that will happen unless we change. The paradox, present from Moses onwards (read Deuteronomy) is that even when people change, as with, for example, Hezekiah, it won’t be sustained, see Manasseh (2 Chron. 29 & 33).

Moving on into chapter 9 we meet an early ‘fulfilment’ reference from Matthew’s Gospel ‘so that what has been spoken…’ (Matt 4: 13-17 referencing Isaiah 9:1-2). Chapter 9 has the verse, ‘For a child has been born for us …’ clearly: even exactly: a first Advent reference. That being said Chapter 10 verse 1 on could stand for the Israel of today,

‘Ah, you, who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice … what will you do on the day of punishment …?’

In the same chapter we read of ‘a remnant of Israel’, ‘a remnant of Jacob’ and we are told:

For though your people Israel were like the sand of the sea only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness. For the Lord God will make a full end, as decreed in all the earth. Isa 10:22-23).

the text could indeed signify the second advent beginning as it does ‘on that day’ (v.20) but not without difficulty. If we are looking for literal exactitude we must ask when were the people of Israel even ‘like the sand of the sea’. Also, is ‘that day’ at verse 20 the same day as ‘that day’ at verse 27, a problem that extends into Chapter 11 at verses 10 and 11, and on into chapter 12 at verse one.

If these chapters speak exactly and only of the second Advent then Chapter 11, set in the middle of them, raises further problems for Bishop Ryle. Is the ‘shoot’ and ‘branch’ of verse 2 the same as the ‘root of Jesse’ at verse 10; and, if not, why, and what determines the difference? If verses 1 to 3 are clearly first advent where do we locate the subsequent verses? They seem to be both now, verse 5, but not yet, verse 6. For Bishop Ryle and those who use his writing in support of Israel, the modern nation state, problems multiply from verse 10. These verses, given as evidence for a Jewish pre-second-coming ‘restoration to their land’, are actually evidence to the contrary. Only ‘on that day’ will ‘the Lord… extend his hand… and assemble (them) from the four corners of the earth’. Taking this text literally and exactly, if it is ‘second Advent’, then the assembling of Israel and Judah takes place on that day and not before. (All of which raises important questions as to the meaning of ‘on that day’. Questions which cannot be dealt with here).

Another text put forward by Bishop Ryle, and used by Balfour ‘celebrationists’ as justifying belief in the restoration of Jews to their land before the second Advent, is Jeremiah 30: 10-11. Once again these verses, placed in their context, are far from straightforward, especially given Ryle’s insistence on a literal and exact understanding. Verse 11 for instance concludes, ‘… I will chastise you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished,’ which, when compared with the fate of ‘all the nations’ seems good until we read on into verses 12 and 13: ‘… Your hurt is incurable and your wound is grievous. There is no one to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you.’ This continues into verse 15, ‘why do you cry out over your hurt? Your pain is incurable. Because your guilt is great…’ . But, ‘for I will restore health to you…’ in verse 17. Could it not be more evident that we are in the realm of metaphor and paradox. However much we may desire helpful literalism, scripture denies us; there is work to be done.

Here, again we have ‘that day’ in verses 7 and 8 and ‘the days’ in verse 3. Whichever way we read these verses, if they refer to a nation of Jacob returning to Palestine that event must be post-second Advent. If the attempt is made to locate verse 8 in the events 1947-9, we are required to make a biblically unjustifiable separation from verse 9, ‘they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, who I will raise up for them’. In any case verse 8 depends on the action of ‘the Lord of hosts’, on that day’. There is a clear indication of an event that is Righteous, and completed with an identified individual about whom there can be no doubt, by contrast with a wholly human, and heavily unrighteous, series of events which began before 1948 and continue to this day.

Ryle’s use of Daniel chapter 12 verse 1, I find particularly odd. To be sure, Michael is identified as ‘the protector of your people’ but there is nothing here about restoration to the land. Taken as literally as possible ‘your people shall be delivered’ is not to land but to judgement. Christians believe that Jesus will return for the final judgement. Daniel writes ‘many shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt’ . There is nothing here to justify belief in the restoration of Jews to Palestine (on the assumption – unproven and unprovable – that Jews are the ethnic descendents of Jacob-Israel and sole inheritors of the land promises to Abraham and Jacob).

Balfour Centenary -96 Days

The latest from my count-down blog on the Balfour Centenary. To return to ‘Malc’ and his comment. Of course it is possible that God can use heathen pagan’s to carry out his will.  That’s clearly the case in some of the Old Testament writings.  But who does what is not the point at issue, which is, how can we discern God’s will in these matters?

In many of the books I’ve read – pro and con – the writers, if Christian, tell of an incident or an experience pointing in a direction. Then, following prayer and Bible study they understand God to be calling them in a particular direction. That is my story. I didn’t choose to be spending my time fighting for justice for the Middle East. It was an entirely unexpected direction from God, ‘well he would say that, wouldn’t he?’, which is precisely the point. How can we tell when many apparently Godly men and women hold opposing views of what God is doing?

Both sides will assert, rightly, that Bible study and prayer are crucial. Are there other clues or hints that will point us in the right direction? I believe there are, for starters:

First, never assume that our understanding of ‘the Word’ is the right or only one. I may be wrong or only partly right, and I can often learn, even from people with whom I fundamentally disagree.

Second, look for the bigger picture, starting from the Bible. Many of our sectarian problems began when people, especially in Britain, gained access to God’s word in English and read it bit by bit and literally. Stand back, read whole chunks, then read them again, and again in a different version.

Third, and always, try to see what God has done, is doing and will do. What is the story of the Bible; the over-arching narrative that underpins all else.

Fourth, what are the things that contradict or get in the way of our Spirit-enabled mission to the ends of the earth?

Returning to ‘Malc’ and Balfour inspired, No, I don’t see how it fits. Given our Jewish Messiah and given the gospel and our ambassadorial mandate (Acts 2 following Matthew and Luke), if Balfour was inspired it was not from God.

Zion’s treasure

The State of Israel, based on the ideology of Zionism, has made ‘security’ its treasure. Based on militarism, the ‘glue’ that holds together the structure of the state and community, Israel sells peace through power. It is a phantom. Peace based on CCTV, on teargas, on overwhelming force is no peace; no people constantly subjected will remain so for ever. If/when they react, it solves nothing to call them ‘terrorist’.

And we may not use the Word of God as justification. The modern state of Israel has nothing to do with Israel in the Bible. Believing so does not just ignore Jesus, what He said and did, it ignores the Hebrew Bible. This is what Isaiah said:

‘The Lord is exalted, he dwells on high; he filled Zion with justice and righteousness; he will be the stablity of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.

‘Listen! the valient cry in the streets; the envoys of peace weep bitterly. The highways are  deserted, travellers have quit the road. The treaty is broken, its oaths are despised, its obligation is disregarded … ‘ (Isa 33)

There is no fear of the Lord among Israel’s leaders and never has been.There is no righteousness, no justice, no stability and no wisdom.  Israel is Jewry without Judaism, Samaria without Jerusalem. If we have any love for Jewish people we will call out Zionist Israel; and we will call out our leaders who – out of 19th century Militaristic Romanticism – defend Israel as if it were especially blessed by God. Israel is a self-created nation that disregards its obligations; a people whose ‘breath is a fire that will consume you’.

There is little point in praying for the ‘peace of Jerusalem’ while putting fire in the hands of those who oppress the poor, the weak, the helpless; especially those living in the land of the holy one.

100 days to Balfour

Well, not quite. But, from 26th July I plan a new blog focussed on those 100 days u7p to 2nd November.

There’ll be some comment, but mostly I’ll be putting infront of people archival material to show something of the true nature of British diplomacy and Zionist attitudes during them period up to Balfour’s letter and to the declaration of the ‘Jewish State’.

It’s not publishhed yet, so, what this space…

Make Wales Great Again!

We have noted that the population of Wales is only 6-7 million and that there is much open, uncultivated land.  We believe that there is space for a further 15 million souls and that we can solve the refugee problem and fulfil our dream at the same time. The proposal/plan is to bring in to Wales over the next two years up to fifteen million refugees and asylum seekers.

We have been advised that some of the refugees are already safe and settled and that others would prefer to go to America, Germany, or to Scandinavia. Those claims must be regarded as insignificant compared with our plan to fulfil the dream of filling the empty, uncultivated spaces and making Wales once again a Great Nation.

(confused? the clue is in the tags)

Remembering 100

Why are centenaries so important?  Few remember what happened 100 years ago; some of us have difficulty recalling what we were doing 100 minutes ago, let alone 100 days or years. Even those who years exceed 100 were probably too young to notice much that was happening in 1917.  So, why remember?

For every family, community, people; memory is important. Our relationships are constructed from memories – good or bad. Whether as a family, a nation or a faith group it is memories that form our history and it is our shared history that binds each to the other. Most written history has been that which the rich and powerful wish to be remembered. The weak and powerless have been ‘dust’ swept aside to make space for the strong.

Ours may be the first generation in which the voice of ordinary people has been heard and, to a limited degree, noted. It’s only a limited degree. Children are still abused, enslaved to provide cheap goods, or trafficked as cheap bodies. Women in too many places, even in supposedly modern civilised nations, are still regarded as second-class, subservient, available playthings. And those with disabilities are praised for a month and ignored for 47, until the next Olympics.

So, why remember 1917; why would the UK government want to ‘celebrate’; why count down to November 2nd; why focus attention on a letter of fewer than 70 words?

Alongside the ‘good’ memories, the bad ones we remember most easily are those that hurt us most: when we are lied to, made promises that are broken, when we are treated ‘like dirt’. The letter from Alfred James Balfour to Lord Rothschild (the ‘Balfour Declaration’), dated 2nd November 1917 broke promises already made in secret to Sharif Hussein and to the French. (Subsequently further incompatible promises were made to the US and to the League of Nations).  Broken promises have a habit of coming back and hurting us. That is the case in the Middle East today. Ask why Britain and the US are not trusted by the nations of that region and you need look no further than the promise of democracy. One Hundred Years on from those broken promises, the only democracies we in the ‘moral West’ are prepared to tolerate are those who kow-tow to our commercial wishes. Whether in South America, Asia or the Orient, it is only acceptable if it fits our capitalist-militarist model.

So, Yes, I will be remembering, and I’ll be counting down to 2nd November; to the opportunities lost for peace with justice in Palestine and the Middle East. I will be mourning the moral failure of church and state in providing Zionism with a nation state at the expense of the people who were already there. I shall be sad at the ongoing persecution of a people whose only wrong-doing was to be at home, in the place where another, stronger and more violent people, wanted to be.

But, I shall also be celebrating. I will cheer for those Jews – some of whom I am privileged to count as friends – who stand up for the historic values of Judaism and who confront Zionism with passion and intellect. And I shall celebrate the Palestinian Church, the ‘Living Stones’, who refuse to be moved. I shall also hope. Hope that more and more Christians in UK and US will become aware of the evils that have been done in our name and in the name of our Lord, and who will stand up and speak out.

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