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 4.3.4 Accessories: Details, Details


Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 3.4

Accessories: Details, Details


So far, we have established that clothing in scripture represents “how God sees us,” in symbolic terms. We have seen that God uses the clothing we wear to signify such concepts as salvation, status, covering (i.e., atonement), and modesty. Our clothing teaches us something about defilement and cleansing, provision, and is even occasionally used as a “prophecy-prop.” Then we considered what our clothing (or lack of it) is made of, and what it represents: nakedness (symbolic of innocence with vulnerability), fig leaves (religion), animal skins (the sacrifice of innocence to cover the guilty), linen (assigned moral purity), wool (works-based morality), and sackcloth (mourning). 

We took a detour through the symbology of colors, though not all colors mentioned in scripture could be used to dye garments or fabrics. We began with the rainbow (the sign of Yahweh’s covenant with man), and then considered blue (heavenly holiness), purple (the hue of royalty), and red (blood and bloodshed). Blue, purple, and scarlet together symbolize Yahshua the Messiah, to the exclusion of any other person or concept. Green, we learned, is Biblical shorthand for the transient nature of living things—a good news-bad news story. White means cleansed and pure, gray indicates the experience of old age, and black speaks of darkness, obscurity, and judgment—not skin color. 

And yet it seems we have barely scratched the surface of what God has to say about what we put on our bodies—and what it all means. In this chapter, we shall explore the sartorial outliers mentioned in scripture—the accessories that take on symbolic significance: jewelry and ornamentation, the signet ring and the concept of being “sealed,” gemstones and their assigned significance, crowns or diadems, the Israelite’s tsitzit or tassels, footwear, belts or waistbands, the veil, and tattoos. Our fifth and final chapter in this unit will explore “the Wardrobe of Holiness,” that is, how clothing is used in scripture to define and exemplify how God protects us, communicates with us, and reveals His own glory. 

If nothing else, the sheer volume of scripture using sartorial “accessories” as metaphors for a wide variety of spiritual concepts should teach us that God is vitally interested in every detail and nuance of our lives, no matter how trivial or ordinary these things might seem on the surface. I am convinced that there is virtually nothing accidental or incidental in scripture: it is all there for our edification, if only we will take the time and make the effort to sort it all out. After all, Yahweh is love personified. He is the only deity, real or imagined, who is said to take such a Personal interest in the otherwise mundane affairs of His creation. But remember: these “accessories” are not magical talismans—or worse, objects to be valued for their own sake: idols. They are, rather, symbols, and should be taken as such: as a springboard for deeper spiritual understanding and insight into the mind of God.


Jewelry: Pride, Joy, and Honor 

Isaiah sets the tone for us: “I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh. My soul shall be joyful in my God. For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation. He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10) The “garments of salvation” and the “robe of righteousness” were quite literally introduced in the Garden of Eden, when Yahweh clothed the recently fallen Adam and Eve in the skins of an innocent animal, slain for their atonement. It was their acceptance of these garments that signaled their grateful recognition of Yahweh’s remedy for their sin, even though they doubtless had no idea how far the symbol would go as God’s plan of salvation unfolded. 

Why does a bridegroom “deck himself with ornaments,” and a bride “adorn herself with jewels” on their wedding day? It’s an expression of honor and hope, of respect and affection. On this day, above all others, past or future, they wish to present themselves to each other at their very best—to “put their best foot forward,” as the expression goes. But they’re not doing it to deceive each other; it isn’t a ruse. They’re under no illusions: by this time, they should know each other quite well. The wedding finery, rather, is an unspoken vow of their intention to make their entire married life together as special as that first day. 

But note who is doing the “covering” here, and who is providing the jewelry: it is Yahweh Himself—the Father of the Bride, as it were. Isaiah is reminding us that our salvation isn’t some cheap, insignificant trinket, but is in every way imaginable as wonderful as God knows how to make it—which, considering the rest of His creation, must be spectacular. Our natural response, therefore, is unrestrained joy. 

We Believers grow accustomed to thinking in these terms, of course. So it may be helpful to compare this revelation to the hopes and dreams of religious traditions other than Judeo-Christianity. (1) Islam’s idea of “salvation” is to die as a martyr for the cause of Allah and his one-and-only “apostle.” The promised reward? Rivers of wine, low hanging fruit, and endless debauchery with dozens of sex-starved virgins—the sort of thing that Muhammad thought of as “heavenly.” In truth, the only “good” thing about it is that Allah isn’t there—he is in hell, we’re told, tormenting the lost souls that he personally predestined to go there. (2) In Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, and a plethora of spin-offs) salvation (“nirvana”) is envisioned as release from the endless cycle of reincarnation—in other words, becoming nothing. Life itself is seen, in the final analysis, as a bad thing. (3) Atheistic secular humanism presumes that there is no such thing as sin—nothing requiring forgiveness—because there is no god (they pray) to set the standards of behavior. They think we’re just animals, without moral culpability, so there is no salvation to rejoice about in this life, nor is there an afterlife to look forward to. Basically, they’re willing to forego the prospect of heaven itself to rid themselves of their fear of hell. 

It all sounds awfully depressing, if you ask me. The only ornament unredeemed mankind has is a ball and chain—the “jewelry” of despair and servitude. Contrast this with the joy, optimism, and unrestrained mutual attraction of the Messiah with His Bride, the church—as viewed through the highly symbolic lens of the Song of Solomon. The beloved (the reigning Christ) says to the Shulamite (His bride), “Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with chains of gold.” The daughters of Jerusalem (that is, belatedly reawakened Israel) agree: “We will make you ornaments of gold with studs of silver.” (Song of Solomon 1:10) And the blushing bride—the church, the called out assembly of King Yahshua—describes her beloved bridegroom: “His hands are rods of gold set with beryl. His body is carved ivory inlaid with sapphires.” (Song of Solomon 5:14) All of this purple poetry says one thing: The Messiah-King can see only good, positive, highly prized attributes in the one He has chosen. His beloved bride, the church, is utterly smitten with His majesty. And Israel—she whom God has used to bring them together—is delighted to have finally discovered what she missed for so long: that her Messiah and our Christ are One and the same. Hallelujah!

***

Personally, I don’t really “get” the world’s fascination with jewelry. I have only one “ornament” that I value—not for its intrinsic worth, but for what it means. I’m speaking, of course of my wedding ring. I own a wristwatch, but I seldom wear it; it’s the cheapest thing I can find that will keep reasonably good time. If you’re not impressed with blue jeans and flannel shirts, there is nothing about my sartorial presence that might lead you to the conclusion that I am financially secure. It’s not that I’m trying to hide it—it’s merely that I just don’t care. 

That being said, jewelry has been a part of human civilization for as far back as anyone can remember. The whole idea was well entrenched by the time of the oldest writings in the Bible—the book of Job (who was a near-contemporary of Abraham). But Job (who was a wealthy man) was far less impressed with gold and jewels than he was with wisdom: “Where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its value, nor is it found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’ It cannot be purchased for gold, nor can silver be weighed for its price. It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Neither gold nor crystal can equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewelry of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral or quartz, for the price of wisdom is above rubies. The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.” (Job 28:12-19) It’s question of tangible riches vs. intangible treasure. In Job’s mind, there is no question which is more valuable: wisdom. 

But his observations reveal what substances were considered “valuable” in his day: gold and silver, onyx, sapphire, crystal, coral, quartz, rubies, and topaz. Real wealth was measured by the size of your flocks and herds, but these jewels and minerals were portable: they could be worn to signal one’s status, or traded—an early form of currency. Note that all of these things were products of the earth God created as man’s home. They could be obtained only through strenuous labor, either digging in the earth or, in the case of coral, exploring the seas. And even then, the gems and ore had to be processed: creative artistry (an attribute we inherited from our Creator) had to be skillfully brought to bear. Then tradesmen had to bring the trinkets from far-flung lands, adding to their price, if not their value. Jewelry, in short, is more than the sum of its parts. It is the result of labor, skill, and imagination—the creation of something beautiful and costly out of what to the untrained eye might seem worthless dirt. 

But is this not what we are? Adam was created from the dust of the earth. (In fact, his name is related to the Hebrew ’adamah, which means: “Dirt, ground, earth, clay… the inhabited earth…. The first man, Adam, both came from the ground and was assigned the task of tending the ground.”—Baker and Carpenter.) The Psalmist reminds us, “Yahweh pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14) 

And beyond the raw materials, we are God’s handiwork, His masterpiece—or at least, we can be: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for [the purpose of doing] good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) Before submitting ourselves to Christ’s “workbench,” we were nothing but lumps of coal buried in the dirt. But if we trust Him—if we submit ourselves to His will—He digs us out of the earth, cuts, shapes, and polishes us into magnificent diamonds to be set in His crown. Granted, the process involves pressure, heat, and time. Making us beautiful is not easy. But if I may stretch this metaphor past the breaking point, we can become the “Hope” Diamond—for in this world, hope is what makes us sparkle. It boggles the mind, but yes: we are God’s jewels—His pride and joy. 

Solomon was the richest man of his age, but he too, like Job, valued wisdom far above jewels: “There is gold and a multitude of rubies, but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.” (Proverbs 20:15) Don’t let the poetic language obscure the truth: a word of wisdom is more valuable than any trinket a person might normally find desirable. How sad it is that in modern academia, any truth revealed in the Bible is automatically dismissed out of hand—because it is from God’s word, not the mind of man. But it seems to me, you will never learning anything worth knowing without respect for the source of it all—Yahweh. 

“Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her. Length of days is in her right hand, in her left hand riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her.” (Proverbs 3:13-18) Here Solomon points out that wisdom, understanding, and knowledge will (or at least can) deliver to a man every good thing that riches cannot—including riches themselves. His list includes happiness, longevity, wealth, honor, pleasure, peace, and life itself. But remember: Solomon (in Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10), Job (in Job 28:28), and David (in Psalm 111:10) all defined wisdom as having its origins in the reverence for Yahweh. In other words, you can’t really use obedience to God as a strategy for obtaining all these benefits via the application of knowledge. Reverence for God must come first, resulting in wisdom, leading in turn to happiness and all the rest.

***

Our most direct insights with many scriptural symbols are often hidden in plain sight, in what look like offhand references to the literal subject matter—in this case, jewelry. Sometimes history is just history, but if we find history in scripture, we would be wise to be on the lookout for God’s metaphors. As I said, there is very little in God’s word that is accidental, incidental, or beside the point. 

So we read of Abraham’s quest to find a suitable bride for his son (Isaac, the son of promise). He sent his trusted steward back to the land of his family—the city of Nahor in Aram, modern-day Syria—where he knew the true and living God was worshiped, even if they didn’t know much about Him. (This was near where Job lived, as well.) Yahweh had specifically instructed Abraham to settle in Canaan, so sending Isaac personally back to Aram to start a family was a non-starter. Thus the servant was “stuck” with a seemingly impossible situation: how does one (1) find a godly girl in a place unknown to him, who is (2) willing to travel to a foreign land with a complete stranger, to (3) marry another stranger? 

This was going to take a miracle, so Abraham’s steward simply asked Yahweh to provide one: “When I ask a girl for a drink of water, and she volunteers to water my camels also, let her be the one.” Before the words had even left his lips, young Rebekah showed up at the well. “And the servant ran to meet her and said, ‘Please let me drink a little water from your pitcher.’ So she said, ‘Drink, my lord.’ Then she quickly let her pitcher down to her hand, and gave him a drink. And when she had finished giving him a drink, she said, ‘I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.’ Then she quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough, ran back to the well to draw water, and drew for all his camels.” There were ten of them—that’s a lot of water. “And the man, wondering at her, remained silent so as to know whether Yahweh had made his journey prosperous or not….” The girl had spontaneously and enthusiastically done fifty times the work he had asked her to do. She certainly looked like an answer to his prayer. It remained only for Abraham’s servant to meet Rebekah’s family to ascertain her spiritual status and willingness to go with him to marry Isaac. 

This is where jewelry enters the picture. “So it was, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a golden nose ring weighing half a shekel, and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels of gold, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you? Tell me, please, is there room in your father’s house for us to lodge?’” (Genesis 24:17-23) Rebekah had not asked to be paid for her services, and besides, this was way beyond the going rate for an hour’s work. According to the Open Bible, a shekel weighed 0.364 troy ounces. At $1,500 per ounce (and I realize that gold prices can vary widely—it’s over $1,800 as I write these words), one gold shekel was worth about $546. So Abraham’s servant had given her jewelry worth the equivalent of $11,193 (that is, if each of the two bracelets weighed ten shekels) to water his camels. 

This explains the gushing hospitality shown by Rebekah’s brother Laban. “When [Laban] saw the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s wrists, and when he heard the words of his sister Rebekah, saying, ‘Thus the man spoke to me,’ that he went to the man. And there he stood by the camels at the well. And he said, ‘Come in, O blessed of Yahweh! Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house, and a place for the camels.’” (Genesis 24:30-31) Try to contain your enthusiasm, Laban. We’ll meet him again in the story of Jacob/Israel—the son later born to Isaac and Rebekah. Laban, it would appear, always had a thing for money. 

Rebekah’s brother Laban then introduced the steward to their father, Bethuel—who, it transpired, was Abraham’s brother. It can be a small world, if Yahweh is guiding your steps. Note that this was still over half a millennium prior to the Torah’s prohibitions against marrying close relatives—a practice that in more recent times tends to bring recessive genes to the surface, causing health issues or mental retardation. But this far back, even a marriage with a believing half-sister (as was Abraham’s union with Sarah) would have been much to be preferred over a marriage of convenience between Isaac and any of the local pagan women. As it turned out, “Rebekah and Isaac were closely related, as second cousins on both sides, separated by one generation through Nahor and Bethuel, or two generations through Haran, Milcah and Bethuel.” (Answers.com. See also, Genesis 22:20-24.) More to the point, they both honored the same God, Yahweh. 

The steward breathlessly recounted the story: “Then I asked her, and said, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ And she said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the nose ring on her nose and the bracelets on her wrists.” The close family connection had confirmed the steward’s initial positive reaction concerning Rebekah. “And I bowed my head and worshiped Yahweh, and blessed Yahweh, God of my master Abraham, who had led me in the way of truth to take the daughter of my master’s brother for his son. Now if you will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me. And if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.’ Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, ‘The thing comes from Yahweh; we cannot speak to you either bad or good. Here is Rebekah before you; take her and go, and let her be your master’s son’s wife, as Yahweh has spoken….’” When Yahweh is honored, “chance meetings” are more like appointments kept, and “coincidences” seem orchestrated by God. There is no point in over-thinking them. 

“And it came to pass, when Abraham’s servant heard their words, that he worshiped Yahweh, bowing himself to the earth. Then the servant brought out jewelry of silver, jewelry of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother.” (Genesis 24:47-53) Traditionally, a dowry was paid by the bride’s family to the groom. (In more recent times, the practice survives in the custom that the bride’s father is supposed to pay for the wedding—but today, even this tradition is fraying around the edges.) The ancient dowry custom is backwards here—the groom (or his father, but they are seen as one entity) has showered gifts upon the bride’s family. 

The spiritual symbolism here is plain to see: the Father (Yahweh) is delighted that His son (Yahshua) has found a bride—especially one who is willing to marry Him “sight unseen,” on the basis of faith (see Genesis 24:58), evidence, and testimony. So He has showered her and her family with precious gifts. The twist here is that the most precious gift of all is the very life-blood of the bridegroom Himself: Yahshua would lay down His life so that the bride (the church) might live. The metaphor comes full circle when we realize that some thirty years prior to this, father Abraham had, at God’s command, been willing to slay his promised son Isaac, who was himself a willing participant. (See Genesis 22:1-19.) In response to Abraham’s and Isaac’s obedience, Yahweh had repeated His earlier promise: “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 22:18) That “blessing” now depended on Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah. 

And let us not gloss over this: “He also gave precious things [‘jewelry of silver, jewelry of gold, and clothing’] to her brother and to her mother.” Rebekah’s mother and Laban her brother represent those who, while not the bride, are related to her—that is, the human race: “all the nations of the earth.” There are prophetic ramifications to this as well. Since Rebekah is the promised son’s “bride” (thus representative of the church), then her trip to Canaan with Abraham’s servant (read: God’s prophets and apostles) to meet Isaac is a picture of the rapture, an event of which “Laban and Mom” are not participants. But they have received Abraham’s and Isaac’s “precious things,” leading me to the conclusion that they symbolize the Church of Repentant Laodicea, those who will come to faith only after the rapture, having received “gold tried in the fire,” that is, heavenly riches, and the “white garments [of imputed righteousness], that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed.” (Revelation 3:18) 

And you thought this was just “history.” 

Fast forward a generation, and we read of the adventures of the son of Isaac and Rebekah—Jacob (a.k.a. Israel). Jacob fled to his mother’s homeland because his twin brother Esau was threatening to kill him over the whole stolen-birthright issue. It’s a long story. He ended up falling in love with Rachel, the daughter of Laban (that’s right, his uncle—Rebekah’s brother—making Rachel his cousin), who promptly tricked him into marrying Rachel’s older sister Leah first. Before he knew what had happened, Jacob had spent a couple of decades in Padan-Aram, had collected two wives, two concubines, eleven sons, who-knows-how-many daughters, enough flocks and herds to define him as a wealthy man, and a small army of servants and employees. Then, under God’s direction, he finally moved back to Canaan, settling near the city of Shechem. 

“Then God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.’ And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way which I have gone.’ So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.” (Genesis 35:1-4) It was time for Jacob’s entire household to “get right” with Yahweh. Getting rid of idols is always a good idea, of course. And purifying oneself by washing in water and changing one’s clothing are symbolically significant acts that we’ve discussed elsewhere. But what’s of interest in our present context is the mention of earrings. 

Today, there doesn’t seem to be any “religious” significance to wearing earrings. Ladies wear them strictly as ornamentation, as far as I can tell, to accentuate their femininity. When biological males wear them—also to accent their femininity—it is an indicator of profound gender confusion. Indeed, back in the 1980s, when a man wore a single earring in his pierced left ear, it was taken as a clear advertisement of his homosexual proclivities. But fashions in jewelry shift with the wind. I have no idea what (if anything) such sartorial statements declare in today’s world. I think I’m happier not knowing. 

That being said, several commentaries I consulted connected earrings in scripture to foreign (i.e., pagan) gods. “Earrings seem to have been worn not so much for ornament as for superstitious purposes, being regarded as talismans or amulets. Hence it was from their earrings that Aaron made the golden calf.”—Ellicott. “Divers heathen nations did wear ear-rings for the honour of their idols, and with the representations or ensigns of their idols engraven upon them, such as the rings and vessels mentioned by Maimonides, marked with the image of the sun and moon.”—Benson. “Earrings of various forms, sizes, and materials… are universally worn in the East, and, then as now, connected with incantation and idolatry.”—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown. The Pulpit Commentary adds that the earrings were “employed for purposes of idolatrous worship, which were often covered with allegorical figures and mysterious sentences, and supposed to be endowed with a talismanic virtue.” 

So when Jacob asked his staff to put aside their idols, they included their earrings, and Jacob buried all of it under a big terebinth tree. (If you’ll recall, in Chapter 3.3.13 of this work, we learned that terebinth or oak trees are symbolic of death or dormancy.) Alas, the connection of earrings with false gods in Israel was still an issue in the final years of the Northern Kingdom. The prophet Hosea, a near contemporary of Amos, Isaiah, and Micah, wrote: “‘I will punish her for the days of the Baals to which she burned incense. She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry, and went after her lovers, but Me she forgot,’ says Yahweh.” (Hosea 2:13) And Jeremiah (who witnessed the fall of the Southern Kingdom a century and a half later) agrees: “Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number.” (Jeremiah 2:32) 

Apparently, “forgetting Yahweh” came naturally to Israel. When camped out at Mount Horeb (a.k.a. Sinai) shortly after the exodus, they lost focus when Moses didn’t return from the mountain in a timely fashion. “Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him….’” The “Golden Calf” incident came directly on the heels of Moses’ delivery of the Ten Commandments, the second of which prohibited the making of images of any sort for the purpose of worshiping them. Somebody wasn’t paying attention. 

So Aaron (who should have simply said “No!”) did what the people demanded of him. He used as “raw materials” the very pieces of jewelry that had been used as talismans or amulets—good-luck charms—back in Egypt. “And Aaron said to them, ‘Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’” This is ironic because they had just spent four hundred years in bondage: there hadn’t been a whole lot of “good luck” in evidence for Israel in centuries. “So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’” (Exodus 32:1-4) 

I get the distinct impression that until his brother Moses came down from the mountain and “read him the riot act,” the clueless Aaron didn’t even realize he had done anything wrong. But Moses’ furious reaction open his eyes—and that of the nation. He ground their idol to powder, sprinkled the gold dust on the water, and made them drink it. Then, in short order, they were told to pack up and leave Horeb (a proven source of fresh water and pasture for their flocks), and head for the Promised Land—via the wilderness. And they were told that Yahweh would no longer “go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” He would instead assign an angel to go before them (32:34). “And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments.” Again, we see that the wearing of jewelry indicated rejoicing, and vice versa. “For Yahweh had said to Moses, ‘Say to the children of Israel, “You are a stiff-necked people. I could come up into your midst in one moment and consume you. Now therefore, take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do to you.”’ So the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by Mount Horeb.” (Exodus 33:4-6) 

We should look into why the Israelites had this jewelry in the first place. They had been slaves, after all—not exactly the most upwardly mobile class in Egypt. Ironically (again) it had been Yahweh Himself who arranged for their sudden windfall. When He first recruited Moses, He told him, “I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:20-22) And in the wake of the tenth plague, that very thing happened: “Speak now in the hearing of the people, and let every man ask from his neighbor and every woman from her neighbor, articles of silver and articles of gold.” And Yahweh gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 11:2-3) 

The “favor” or grace (Hebrew: chen) that the Egyptians showed the departing Israelites—if I may read between the lines—seems to have been a case of “What good is our jewelry to us now? We are in mourning, and there is no ‘getting over’ the death of your firstborn son. No hard feelings, though. It’s not your fault your God Yahweh killed our firstborn. Six months ago, you didn’t even know His name. He is obviously more powerful than the gods of Egypt. So take it; go in peace, and never come back.” Don’t look now, but this too is a prophecy, of sorts. When God’s people are ultimately separated from His enemies (at the commencement of Christ’s Millennial kingdom) all of the world’s wealth will be “inherited” by the godly. Yahshua wasn’t kidding when He declared “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5; cf. Psalm 37:10-11) 

Of course, the scriptural principle that “the gifts God gives us are to be used for His glory, not to bolster our own pride,” was only dimly understood this far back. Ironically, those (relatively few) who had “donated” to the golden calf building fund had had the right idea—though expressed in completely the wrong way. Yes, they wanted to honor “the God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt” (see Exodus 32:4), but how they went about it was in total violation of what Yahweh Himself had instructed. So we must ask ourselves: why did God arrange for the departing Israelite slaves to be given such a windfall just before heading out to the desert, where it could serve no logical cultural or financial function? 

Once they left Mt. Horeb (which Moses had ascended several times to receive instruction from Yahweh) he set up a tent far outside the camp, calling it the “tabernacle of meeting.” Henceforth, when he inquired of God, he would enter this tent, and the Shekinah of Yahweh—the pillar of cloud—would come to rest at its entrance. (See Exodus 33:7-11.) But up on the mountain, Yahweh had given Moses explicit and detailed instructions about what the ongoing tabernacle of meeting was to be like—its layout, dimensions, furnishings, materials, construction, and orientation, down to the smallest detail. So He told Moses to ask the Children of Israel for a free-will offering, supplying the broad range of materials that would be needed for the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings. 

And, recently chastised by the golden-calf debacle, they responded generously and enthusiastically. The part of the narrative germane to our present subject says, “Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and they brought Yahweh’s offering for the work of the tabernacle of meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments. They came, both men and women, as many as had a willing heart, and brought earrings and nose rings, rings and necklaces, all jewelry of gold, that is, every man who made an offering of gold to Yahweh.” (Exodus 35:21-22) If you do the math, Exodus 38 reveals that the people contributed about 2,800 pounds of gold to the project. Another 9,600 pounds of silver was raised through a nominal half-shekel ransom-tax on every man in the nation (see Exodus 30:11-16), establishing the symbolic connection between silver and redemption. 

Obviously, there was still plenty of gold left over among the populace after their stupid false start with the golden calf. And as far as we’re told, the bulk of it came from the re-tasking of jewelry—specifically, the jewelry that had been practically thrown at the departing Israelites by their Egyptian neighbors as they left Goshen. What has always struck me as ironic is that nobody at this stage knew they would be spending the next 38 years or so wandering around in the desert—the failure of the ten spies was still in the future. So those who chose to keep their treasures for themselves were doomed to lugging it around with them until they dropped dead of exhaustion. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

***

In one Torah precept, jewelry (an earring) is implied without actually being mentioned. “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself….” There was no actual “slavery” among the Israelites—a Jew couldn’t own another Jew, his brother. However, a person could sell his services to another Hebrew for a set time—until the next Sabbatical Year’s release. We’d call this “indentured servitude,” as when a professional athlete signs a contract with one team or another. The servant was paid up front for his term of service—up to six years. From that point on, the master provided him room and board, but no salary. Then, when his term was up, the master was required to “stake him” so he needn’t fall into debt again. 

“But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.” (Exodus 21:2-6, cf. Deuteronomy 15:16-17) You’d have to be a great employer for your contract-laborer to declare, “I’d rather work for you for nothing for the rest of my life, with the conditions under which I’ve been working for the past six years, than go free and take my chances with somebody else. Beside food and a roof over my head, you have given me honest, meaningful work to do, respect, dignity, and a family to call my own. I don’t want to leave your service—ever.” This is obviously a picture of what it means to become a genuine servant of God—in reality, His son or daughter. The pay may not be so hot sometimes, but you are absolutely secure, loved, and valued, and the benefits are “to die for.” This “deal” is unique in the annals of employer-employee relationships: the “boss” has no say in the matter: if the servant wants to stay, he may. The boss (in this case, Yahweh or His Messiah) can’t say, “I don’t want you. You made a mistake six months ago. So go away.” The choice is entirely up to the servant. 

So where does jewelry come into the picture? The sign of the servant’s new status is a pierced ear. But the text doesn’t say anything about an earring. That being said, my wife, who used to wear pierced earrings in her youth, informs me that if you merely get your earlobe pierced with an awl, the body will consider it a wound, and it will heal almost immediately. That’s how God designed us. However, if you “plug the hole” with the stud of an earring for a few years, the “wound” will stay open forever. Gold is the preferred material for the earring, for it won’t corrode or react with the body’s flesh or blood, which is one reason why it symbolizes “immutable purity.” 

And that is exactly what God gives us when we ask to become His servants forever. Yes, it involves pain: we are wounded with Christ in the process of attaining this new status. And that wound will never heal back to how we were originally, for we have “taken up our crosses to follow Him” (see Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). But those wounds, and the immutable purity with which they are sealed, are evidence to the world that we are now the property and responsibility of the Eternal and Almighty God. Ironically, it is just as in ancient pagan worship practices: the symbolic earring announces to the world our association and relationship with our Master, Yahweh. 

Moving on, then. 

In the Book of Numbers, the terms “Midianite,” “Moabite,” and “Ishmaelite” are used somewhat interchangeably, though technically, the homeland of Midian (in northern Arabia), was about 150 miles south of Moab (which was directly east of the Dead Sea). At the time of the Conquest, and on into the era of the Judges, the Midianites had colonized much of what is now called Jordan. Our next “jewelry” episode grew out of the seduction of some Israelite men by Moabite women when Israel was camped at Shittim (a.k.a. Acacia Grove), on the eastern side of the Jordan River, directly across from Jericho—i.e., shortly before they entered the Promised Land. The story is recounted in Numbers 25. 

The whole debacle had been the brainchild of Balaam, the prophet-for-hire who, finding he couldn’t curse Israel (as his employer Balak wanted him to), figured out a way to get Israel to curse Yahweh instead: ritual sex with the women of Moab, in effect joining them to their pagan “god,” known as Ba’al of Peor. As a direct result, 24,000 Israelite men were slain. So although neither Moab nor Midian were slated for destruction or exile in God’s instructions for the conquest of Canaan, they had managed to make themselves permanent enemies of Yahweh and His people: “Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Harass the Midianites, and attack them, for they harassed you with their schemes by which they seduced you in the matter of Peor.” (Numbers 25:16-17) And God said, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel. So Moses spoke to the people, saying, ‘Arm some of yourselves for war, and let them go against the Midianites to take vengeance for Yahweh on Midian.’” (Numbers 31:2-3) One thousand men from each of the twelve tribes (i.e., far short of Israel’s entire 600,000-man fighting force) were recruited to go out and attack the Midianites. 

Because Yahweh Himself had ordered the attack (in retribution for Balaam’s nasty little stunt), the battle was stunningly one-sided. Not a single Israelite soldier was lost. But the amount of booty they took—split evenly between the fighters and the congregation, with a portion set aside for Yahweh, given to the priests—was truly prodigious. A comprehensive list of the plunder is recounted in Numbers 31—leading me to believe that there is once again a spiritual lesson in view here, the same one we noticed a few pages back: “the meek shall inherit the earth.” But note: this will happen only by God’s direction and on His schedule. 

Here in Numbers, everything that had (or could) become a future problem was destroyed. All of the males (i.e., current or future warriors) were slain, along with every female who was not a virgin—who (let’s face it) had been the weapon in Balaam’s arsenal in the first place. 32,000 virgin female slaves were taken, leading me to roughly calculate that Israel’s 12,000-man fighting force had defeated a Midianite army three to four times that size—without suffering a single casualty. All of the precious metals were to be melted down, removing any pagan-religious baggage they might have carried. I expect something quite similar (at least symbolically) to occur during the Millennial reign of Christ: everything of intrinsic value that’s left standing at the end of the Tribulation will be retasked, while anything and everything formerly “dedicated to Satan” (a concept that goes by the scriptural code-word “Babylon”) will be utterly destroyed. 

And above all, Yahweh was (and will be) honored. After Israel’s God-given victory, “Then the officers who were over thousands of the army, the captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, came near to Moses, and they said to Moses, ‘Your servants have taken a count of the men of war who are under our command, and not a man of us is missing.” Again, this was unheard of: iron-clad proof that Yahweh had fought the battle for them. “Therefore we have brought an offering for Yahweh, what every man found of ornaments of gold: armlets and bracelets and signet rings and earrings and necklaces, to make atonement for ourselves before Yahweh.’ So Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from them, all the fashioned ornaments. And all the gold of the offering that they offered to Yahweh, from the captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, was sixteen thousand seven hundred and fifty shekels. (The men of war had taken spoil, every man for himself.)…” That’s a total of 6,097 troy ounces of gold—over $750 (at today’s prices) from each of the twelve thousand grateful soldiers. This isn’t specifically called a “tithe,” (i.e., a tenth), but if 10% is what the soldiers offered to Yahweh through the priests, the spoils taken from the Midianites would average over $7,500 per man. The lesson is clear: if you attack God or His people, be prepared to lose everything you own—including your life. 

“And Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from the captains of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tabernacle of meeting as a memorial for the children of Israel before Yahweh.” (Numbers 31:48-54) Remember, this was decades after the tabernacle had been built—that project was complete. How this new influx of capital was to be used was left unspecified. Suffice it to say that the work of the priesthood (symbolic of service to Yahweh and intercession between God and man) would not languish on a shoestring budget as the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land. Nor will the Millennial-Kingdom immortals lack the resources they’ll need to serve the Messiah-King during His thousand-year reign of peace. 

Wiping out that one Midianite clan did not erase the nation, however. Fast forward about 230 years, and we see Israel now settled in the Land of Promise—and once again doing evil in the sight of God. Ironically, Yahweh chose to allow Midianite raiders to chastise His wayward people. Eventually, they got the hint and cried out to Him for relief. After sending a prophet to explain why Israel was being oppressed, God recruited a man named Gideon as a “Judge,” with a mandate to return Israel to the worship of Yahweh and drive out the Midianites. The first thing he did was to tear down an altar and idol of Baal that his own father maintained, building an altar dedicated to Yahweh in its place. When the townspeople came to Baal’s defense, Gideon’s repentant father Joash wisely pointed out that if Baal was really a god, he ought to be able to take care of his own affairs. 

So the next time the Midianites gathered to harass Israel, Gideon issued a call to arms, and raised an army of 32,000 men—which Yahweh promptly pared down to a mere three hundred: stating ever so eloquently that He was able to look after His own affairs. In the familiar Bible story, Gideon’s little band of commandoes then proceeded to make lots of noise outside the enemy camp in the middle of the night, causing mass confusion, panic, and fratricide in the Midianite ranks. Gideon’s three hundred then chased the remaining Midianites eastward across the country. By the time they caught up with their kings, Zebah and Zalmunna, 120,000 of the invading horde had fallen, leaving “only” 15,000 remaining, whom Gideon’s little 300-man force also miraculously routed. 

“So Gideon arose and killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments that were on their camels’ necks. Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.’ But Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you. Yahweh shall rule over you….’” So far so good. Gideon refused to take credit for a battle that had obviously been fought and won by Yahweh Himself. Note also the significance of the camels’ ornamentation: the crescent-shaped “jewelry” they wore was an indication that even this far back, moon worship was an established pagan religion in Arabia (Midian’s homeland). Muhammad’s seventh century AD choice of Allah was no fluke. Allah was a popular local “moon god” in Mecca, identified with a black meteorite kept at a local shrine called the Qa’aba. Muhammad’s only innovation was throwing out most of the other pagan gods in the Arabian pantheon. 

“Then Gideon said to them, ‘I would like to make a request of you, that each of you would give me the earrings from his plunder.’ For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.” Remember what we noted a few pages back about earrings being considered talismans or good-luck charms associated with pagan worship. “So they answered, ‘We will gladly give them.’ And they spread out a garment, and each man threw into it the earrings from his plunder….” Collecting booty from a vanquished foe (instead of the modern practice of taxing the victors) was common practice in that age, and Yahweh didn’t seem to have a problem with it, as long as plunder was not the point of going to war. In this case, it was clearly a case of self-defense. Furthermore, General Gideon was not out of line asking for a “bonus,” since it had been his faithfulness to Yahweh’s call and instructions that had given Israel such a spectacular victory in the first place. 

That being said, the disposition of the Midianite jewelry was where Gideon got into trouble: “Now the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments, pendants, and purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the chains that were around their camels’ necks. Then Gideon made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house.” (Judges 8:21-27) He may have been thinking, this could be a great patriotic focal point, like the Americans’ Liberty Bell or Declaration of Independence—a reminder of God’s deliverance. Instead, it became an object of worship in its own right. At the very least, it tended to throw the spotlight on Gideon’s valor, rather than on Yahweh’s mercy. Gideon lived another forty years and died at a ripe old age, but before his body was even cold, Israel had once again forsaken Yahweh in favor of Ba’al. Sigh.

***

Gideon had wisely declined to be Israel’s ruler, recognizing (rather prophetically) that Yahweh Himself was supposed to be their King. Eventually, however, Israel’s recurring wish of having a human king like the surrounding nations was granted: Yahweh told His prophet Samuel to anoint Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, who looked exactly like what the people said they wanted—a tall, handsome, muscular warrior who would lead them in battle. It was apparently a badly needed lesson intended to teach Israel wisdom through bitter experience—by giving them what they wanted, instead of what they needed. Then again, Yahweh’s actual choice for Israel’s king (described as “a man after God’s own heart”) probably hadn’t even been born yet when Saul was made king. But about halfway through Saul’s checkered career, Samuel also anointed David, the youngest son of Jesse (a descendant of Boaz and Ruth, of the royal tribe of Judah—see Genesis 49:10). 

Though David had been anointed as king while a teenager by Yahweh’s prophet, he honored Saul as “God’s anointed” for as long as he lived—even when Saul went a little crazy with jealousy and tried to kill David. Indeed, David’s best friend was Saul’s son and heir, Jonathan. Alas, the Philistines killed Saul, Jonathan, and two of his brothers (in other words, the entire apparent line of royal succession) in one day—setting up David and his progeny as Yahweh’s chosen royal dynasty, leading straight to Yahshua the Messiah a thousand years later. 

When Saul died, David (by now recognized as a mighty warrior in his own right) freely acknowledged that Saul had indeed done exactly what Israel had expected of their king—he had made them rich through plundering their enemies (whom, we must remember, Yahweh had instructed Israel to evict from the Land of Promise, one way or another). So David lamented: “O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.” (II Samuel 1:24) Though David was quite correct to honor Saul like this, it would transpire that Israel’s real golden age would take place on his watch and that of his son Solomon, whose successes in war and peace were to make Israel wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice—as long as they honored Yahweh, the God of their salvation. 

This had been God’s plan all along: to bless Israel materially in response to their observance of His Instructions—which in turn would cause the gentile nations to honor Israel’s God and enquire as to the nature of His character and plan—all of which had been revealed to Israel (whether they knew it or not) within the pages of the Torah. It was just as Moses had prophesied in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28: Israel would receive blessings for obedience, or curses for disobedience. 

Yahweh recounts, through His prophet Ezekiel, what He had done for His chosen people and city: “‘I adorned you [Jerusalem] with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,’ says the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 16:11–14) This amounts to a precise description of the transformation of Israel that had been wrought through the godly reigns (for all their flaws) of David and Solomon—a far cry from young Gideon threshing his wheat in a winepress to keep the Midianites from stealing it. It was all Yahweh’s doing—the jewelry, the ornamentation, the luxury, whether symbolic or literal—it was all but a reflection of Yahweh’s splendor. 

These blessings could have—and should have—continued throughout Israel’s generations. But alas, both Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 also list curses for forsaking God’s Law—and both “cursings” lists are over twice as long as the corresponding description of the blessings the nation would experience for being faithful. (By the way, the blessings and cursings are national, not personal, in nature and scope. It is possible for an individual to be blessed within a cursed nation, and vice versa.) 

I also noticed with interest that although both passages are clearly meant primarily for the children of Israel (because Torah observance is the issue), “Israel” per se is not mentioned by name in either of them. So my conclusion is that any nation that honored Yahweh may claim His promises of blessing, and conversely, can expect to be cursed if they turned their back on Him. And I must admit with profound sadness that the post-WWII America I grew up in is a very different place than it is now. In my youth, most folks were at least “cultural” Christians: church-going, outwardly moral, and familiar with the Scriptures. But today, after decades of subtle atheist/humanist pressure, we have replaced the God of the Bible with one of our own imagination, love with tolerance, truth with politically correct rhetoric, goodness with convenience, and faith with presumption. I don’t ever recognize the place anymore. The only “positive” thing I can say is that America was slower to throw away God’s blessings than most of the rest of the world. 

This Last-Days apostasy of planet Earth was foretold, in prophetic pantomime, by the gradual but inexorable fall of Israel and Judah, and jewelry/ornamentation was used as a prop to help us understand what was going on. We have already seen how Ezekiel characterized Yahweh’s blessings upon Israel as “being adorned by God,” all the finery lavished upon her being a metaphor for “the splendor of Yahweh.” Alas, it works in both directions: when Israel (or us, for that matter) forsook the reverence for Yahweh, it was characterized as the removal of our ornamentation. The first step is exchanging the gifts that had been lavished upon us by God for “jewelry” we provided for ourselves: “Furthermore you sent for men to come from afar, to whom a messenger was sent; and there they came. And you washed yourself for them, painted your eyes, and adorned yourself with ornaments…. But righteous men will judge them after the manner of adulteresses, and after the manner of women who shed blood, because they are adulteresses, and blood is on their hands.” (Ezekiel 23:40, 45) We forsook Yahweh’s companionship for that of evil men—or worse, devils from hell. We threw away the diamonds He had lavished upon us and replaced them with cheap Cubic Zirconia, and His rubies and emeralds with broken shards of colored glass.   

Isaiah watched the fall of Israel (the northern ten tribes) with his waking eyes, but he saw the removal of Judah’s blessings just as clearly, though their captivity in Babylon was still over a century in the future. Once again, jewelry is used as an indicator of God’s mood: though He had once blessed them, this time it isn’t a pretty scene: “In that day Yahweh will take away the finery: the jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents, the pendants, the bracelets, and the veils, the headdresses, the leg ornaments, and the headbands, the perfume boxes, the charms, and the rings, the nose jewels, the festal apparel, and the mantles, the outer garments, the purses, and the mirrors, the fine linen, the turbans, and the robes.” (Isaiah 3:18–23) 

Jeremiah (a contemporary of Ezekiel) who lived to see Judah’s fall, said the same thing: “When you are plundered, what will you do? Though you clothe yourself with crimson. Though you adorn yourself with ornaments of gold, though you enlarge your eyes with paint, in vain you will make yourself fair. Your lovers will despise you. They will seek your life.” (Jeremiah 4:30) What Yahweh provides for us is of genuine value, and because His nature is love, it makes those of us who are adorned with His gifts attractive to the world around us, for we will be radiating His love. (Okay, some will react with satanic jealousy—craving God’s bounty, but not God Himself.) But what we provide for ourselves (having rejected His love) is worthless, and our reliance on our own strength naturally makes us repulsive. 

It’s a lesson Daniel knew well. Though Daniel spent his entire adult live in Babylonian captivity, he honored Yahweh the entire time—becoming an example of one who was personally blessed at a time when his nation was enduring God’s well-deserved curse. He knew not to water down God’s message just because powerful people were willing to pay him handsomely to lie to them (or for them). He had no use for the world’s rewards, though the rewards somehow found him anyway. So when it came time to “read the writing on the wall,” he delivered the unvarnished truth, even though it spelled bad news for the recipient of the message: “The king [Belshazzar] spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, ‘Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom….’ Then Daniel answered, and said before the king, ‘Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation….’” He then proceeded to announce that Babylon was finished, weighed in the balances and found wanting. Belshazzar would die that very night at the hands of the Medes and the Persians. His last official act: “Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.” (Daniel 5:7, 17, 29) 

Free will is a funny thing. It “forced” Yahweh to honor Israel’s choice to forsake Him—costing them the freedom and blessings He had so generously bestowed upon them. And we have seen how “jewelry” and “ornaments” were recruited as metaphors for God’s gifts to His chosen people—something subsequently taken away when they turned their backs on Him. That’s the bad news. The good news is that curses are reversible. By far the most oft-repeated prophecy in the entire Old Testament is the eventual repentance, restoration, and renewal of the nation of Israel. Indeed, it is a major component of the fulfillment of the definitive Day of Atonement—precipitated by the Second Coming of Christ. 

So Isaiah describes the amazing turn of events: “Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For Yahweh has comforted His people, and will have mercy on His afflicted.” Affliction of the soul, you’ll recall, was the central requirement of the Day of Atonement. After two millennia of enduring His well-deserved cursing, His renewed blessing seems too good to be true: “But Zion said, ‘Yahweh has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.’” So Yahweh asks, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands. Your walls are continually before Me. Your sons shall make haste. Your destroyers and those who laid you waste shall go away from you….” Israel’s would-be destroyers will themselves be destroyed in the wake of the Messiah’s return. It’s called Armageddon.

And in the wake of the final battle, the newly repentant Children of Israel will return en masse to the Land of Promise: “Lift up your eyes, look around and see: all these gather together and come to you. ‘As I live,’ says Yahweh, ‘you shall surely clothe yourselves with them all as an ornament, and bind them on you as a bride does.’” (Isaiah 49:13-18) Read that again: the most beautiful jewel in Zion’s wardrobe will be her sons and daughters returning, restored and reconciled at last to their God and King: Yahshua—Emmanuel, God with us.


Signet Ring or Seal: Ownership & Authorization 

As a young graphic designer half a century ago, I was familiar with a variety of printing techniques, and had to know their strengths and weaknesses in order for my designs to run successfully on a printing press. (Yes, there was a time when you actually had to know what you were doing to get an image into print.) There was lithography (a.k.a. offset printing), letterpress and flexography, intaglio or rotogravure, screen printing, and so forth. (Digital and Xerography were after my time, and Therimage was something of a unicorn.) On some level, most of these were outgrowths of Johannes Gutenberg’s 15th century innovation of “movable type,” that is, individual-letter blocks that could be placed in a chase (a frame) and strung together to form words, inked, and used to print book pages—eventually making calligraphy manuscripts obsolete. 

But there was another form of “printing” (so to speak) that was in use as far back as the Biblical patriarchs—four thousand years ago. You couldn’t write a story with it, but you could use it to “sign your name,” authenticate a document, or verify your identity. It’s called the “signet,” or “seal.” Carpenter & Comfort, in the Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words, write, “The technology revolution of the past decades has made the use of passwords and PINs (personal identification numbers) commonplace in homes and the marketplace. Verification of one’s personal identity is now essential for both accessing and protecting computer files, bank accounts, and credit cards. The seal served the same function in the ancient world, the equivalent of a signature or similar mark of personal identification.

“The Hebrew verb hatam means to ‘affix a seal’ to a letter or a document or to ‘seal shut’ (used metaphorically in reference to chastity, or referring to God’s control of the celestial lights). The noun hotam is usually translated ‘seal’ or ‘signet ring.’ Most often the “seal” was a small cylinder of stone engraved with individual and clan symbols. Typically, a hole was bored through the stone cylinder so that it could be tied with a leather cord and worn around the neck. We read that Judah gave his ‘signet and cord’ to Tamar as a personal pledge.” “So she [Tamar] said, ‘What will you [Judah] give me, that you may come in to me?’ And he said, ‘I will send a young goat from the flock.’ So she said, ‘Will you give me a pledge till you send it?’ Then he said, ‘What pledge shall I give you?’ So she said, ‘Your signet and cord, and your staff that is in your hand.’ Then he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him.” (Genesis 38:16-18) The purpose of the “signet” was to stamp an impression into wax or wet clay to identify the owner of the thing being sealed. 

I won’t get into why Tamar (Judah’s widowed daughter-in-law) was pretending to be a prostitute. It’s a long and convoluted story that ended up having ramifications for the bloodline of Yahshua the Messiah. For our present purposes, simply note that the “signet and cord” Judah left with her as a pledge proved that he was the father of her offspring: “And it came to pass, about three months after, that Judah was told, saying, ‘Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; furthermore she is with child by harlotry.’ So Judah said, ‘Bring her out and let her be burned!’ When she was brought out, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, ‘By the man to whom these belong, I am with child.’ And she said, ‘Please determine whose these are—the signet and cord, and staff.’ So Judah acknowledged them and said, ‘She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son.’ And he never knew her again.” (Genesis 38:24-26) Tamar bore twin sons to Judah, one of whom (Perez) ended up in the geneology of both Mary, the mother of Yahshua, and Joseph, His adoptive father. This is important because Judah was later prophesied (in Genesis 49:8-12) to be the progenitor of Israel’s royal line—the one from whom “the scepter would not depart,” and through whom would come the King of kings. 

Carpenter & Comfort continue: “The book of Job describes the dawn of a new day like clay spread out and imprinted under the pressure of a cylinder seal being rolled over its surface: (‘It takes on form like clay under a seal.’ Job 38:14). Elsewhere, the seal is mentioned in connection with witnesses to a business transaction.” It was to be presumed that a document was actually from the one whose seal it bore. But this was not always the case. A seal could be entrusted to another person (in essence transferring the owner’s authority); or it could simply be used without his knowledge or permission. 

For example: “And [Ahab] lay down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food. But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said to him, ‘Why is your spirit so sullen that you eat no food?’ He said to her, ‘Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite, and said to him, “Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if it pleases you, I will give you another vineyard for it.” And he answered, “I will not give you my vineyard….”’” Ahab, like so many spoiled-brat politicians, thought his elevated status entitled him to whatever he wanted—in this case, the ancestral land of his neighbor, Naboth. The king was probably thinking, “Where are those American-style ‘eminent-domain’ laws when you need them?” The Torah was standing in his way, so he was pouting like a recalcitrant child. 

But his wife Jezebel was a bully who had no use for law, justice, or morality. She simply took what she wanted. So she appropriated Ahab’s royal seal and used it to perpetrate a plot against the hapless Naboth. “Then Jezebel his wife said to him, ‘You now exercise authority over Israel! Arise, eat food, and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.’ And she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who were dwelling in the city with Naboth. She wrote in the letters, saying, ‘Proclaim a fast [i.e., a formal public observance], and seat Naboth with high honor among the people. And seat two men, scoundrels, before him to bear witness against him, saying, “You have blasphemed God and the king.” Then take him out, and stone him, that he may die.” (I Kings 21:4-10) 

The men of Jezreel may not have obeyed the orders of a pagan Sidonian princess, even if their king had married her. But they felt they had no choice but to comply when Ahab himself “ordered the hit.” The problem was, he hadn’t. He was guilty of covetousness, greed, and poor judgment to be sure. But it was Jezebel who had committed murder, not to mention treason, through the unauthorized use of the king’s seal. That being said, take note: Yahweh promptly sent the prophet Elijah to condemn both of them for their treachery. Ahab repented. Jezebel did not. 

The signet-seal could also take the form of jewelry. Typically, the face of the signet ring was pressed into the hot wax used to seal a document or scroll, leaving its bas-relief impression. C&C again: “The ‘signet ring’ was associated with nobility and royalty in the ancient world. Like the cylinder seal, the signet was a metal or stone ring engraved with writing and personal symbols. Affixing the royal seal to an object was an official act that placed the object under the king’s jurisdiction and the legal purview of the state.” 

Thus we read in the story of Esther, “Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws.” Yeah, Haman; they don’t keep Yahweh’s laws either, which explains why they’re living here in exile. “Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain. If it pleases the king, let a decree be written that they be destroyed….’” In truth, the only Jew Haman really wanted to kill was Queen Esther’s cousin (and adoptive father) Mordecai, but his hatred was so intense, he was willing to commit genocide against an entire nation to achieve that goal. 

“And I will pay ten thousand talents of silver [that’s about $320 million at today’s prices] into the hands of those who do the work, to bring it into the king’s treasuries. So the king took his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. And the king said to Haman, ‘The money and the people are given to you, to do with them as seems good to you….’ In the name of King Ahasuerus it was written, and sealed with the king’s signet ring.” (Esther 3:8-12) Possession—even temporarily—of the King’s signet ring gave Haman the very power of the throne to do as he wished, for the signet said, “I wield the power of Ahasuerus. You must obey me.” The poor dumb king didn’t even realize he had just signed a death warrant against his beloved queen Esther, whom he didn’t realize was Jewish. (It is also possible that Haman hadn’t made it clear who his target was). 

We may fault Ahasuerus for being lazy and naïve, but if we think about it for a moment, we’d realize that the same sort of “signet abuse” happens all the time in America today. Who do you think writes all those 6,000 page bills that sail through Congress—the ones that (in Speaker Pelosi’s undying words) “you have to pass…to find out what’s in it”? Who writes the even more voluminous regulations that define and implement the bills—after the fact? It isn’t the duly elected Senators and Representatives we pay so handsomely to look after our interests. It most certainly isn’t the president. No, it’s armies of mid-level bureaucrats with political agendas, backed and bribed by special-interest lobbyists—to whom have been given the “signet ring” of state as a plaything. 

We all know how the story ended: Haman’s evil plot was foiled by Esther’s courageous personal intervention on behalf of her people. (We can only hope that America’s army of Haman-followers can be similarly thwarted, but vengeance belongs to Yahweh alone: He will repay, in His own way and on His own schedule.) The king’s signet comes up one more time in the story: “On that day King Ahasuerus gave Queen Esther the house [that is, the estate—the entire vast fortune] of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told how he was related to her.” In the “small world” department, it transpired that Mordecai had once discovered and foiled a plot against the king’s life. “So the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai; and Esther appointed Mordecai over the house of Haman.” (Esther 8:1-2) 

“Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and Mordecai the Jew, ‘Indeed, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows because he tried to lay his hand on the Jews.” Poetic justice, to be sure. “You yourselves write a decree concerning the Jews, as you please, in the king’s name, and seal it with the king’s signet ring; for whatever is written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet ring no one can revoke.’” Not even the king himself could change a “Law of the Medes and Persians,” which seems an awfully short-sighted policy unless the king possessed the wisdom of God Himself. Both the Persian Ahasuerus and the Median Darius (we’ll refer to him in a bit—see Daniel 6) lived to regret it. “So the king’s scribes were called at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day; and it [a law commanding the Jews to defend themselves against Haman’s original genocidal decree] was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded, to the Jews, the satraps, the governors, and the princes of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, one hundred and twenty-seven provinces in all, to every province in its own script, to every people in their own language, and to the Jews in their own script and language. And he wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus, sealed it with the king’s signet ring.” (Esther 8:7-10) 

What I want to know is, why did Ahasuerus keep giving away his own authority by “loaning out” his signet ring? As it turns out, the whole thing is a parable, of sorts—and a prophecy. We just need to sort out the players. Bear in mind that metaphors seldom work on every conceivable level. But I believe there are spiritual lessons for us buried in the narrative. This is one of those esoteric parables that becomes visible only in hindsight. Hang onto your hat: this is about to get counterintuitive. 

(1) King Ahasuerus, the one to whom power naturally belonged, plays the role of Yahweh here. His propensity to give His signet to various people speaks of His primary gift to mankind: free will, the privilege of choice. Unlike Ahasuerus, of course, Yahweh knows exactly what He’s doing. 

(2) The signet ring itself represents the very authority of God, given to our father Adam in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 1:28) and through him to the rest of us. Our first epiphany here is that God chooses not to control everything, although He could, and although it is His right as omnipotent Creator. The only conceivable reason he would relinquish His authority is so that we might freely choose to love Him, as He loves us. As I have said many times, love requires choice; it cannot be forced or compelled, for if it is, it becomes something else—loyalty, gratitude, or obedience. 

(3) Esther, then, is a picture of the one who is loved by the King and who loves Him in return of her own free will. She represents the world’s believers—Jews and gentiles alike, the “meek” who will inherit the earth and rule with Christ in righteousness during His Millennial kingdom. Like the Shulamite maiden in the Song of Solomon, she has been elevated in status from commoner to royalty by virtue of her loving relationship with the King. 

(4) Haman professes to be an ally of King Ahasuerus, but in truth, he loves only himself. He therefore represents those to whom free will is bestowed by God, but who abuse the gift—the lost, fallen, corrupt, and unrepentant among the human race. His name means “to rage, to be turbulent.” It may (or may not) be derived from the name of Noah’s son Ham, meaning “hot.” He was without doubt influenced by Satan, but the devil cannot choose our path for us: Haman (like us) had been given both free will and the signet-authority to carry out whatever plan he wished. No one forced him to hate Mordecai and the Jews—he simply chose to do so. And in the end, his hatred cost him everything, including his life. 

(5) The Jews here—Haman’s larger target—are metaphorical of the human race, those gifted with free will (not unlike Haman himself in that regard). But these people have not chosen to betray the king; they are merely his subjects, neither allies nor enemies. (They had been given the option of returning to their ancestral Land—which was still a part of the realm—soon after the Medes and Persians took over the empire from the Babylonians, but the majority had stayed put. Most of them had, in fact, been born in exile: this was the only home they had ever known.) The key here is their yet-unrealized potential—would they become victors, victims or villains? Their fate depended upon three things: the intercession of Esther (putting her very life on the line on their behalf); the edict of Mordecai, countering that of Haman, issued (as Haman’s had been) under the authority of the king’s signet; and their choice to obey and act upon the opportunity Mordecai had afforded to them. 

Thus three of the players here symbolically represent different sectors of humanity. Esther plays the role of the “saved.” Haman’s part is that of the “damned.” And the Jews scattered throughout the empire represent people who have yet to make a choice. Yes, they start out born in exile, “condemned already” (see John 3:18). But salvation is miraculously provided to them before the death sentence can be carried out—if only they will choose to avail themselves of it. 

(6) There is but one player left in our parable. Mordecai (I’m sure you’ve figured this out by now) represents Christ. He was the focus of Haman’s rage, just as the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and Romans were both envious and terrified of Yahshua. But Mordecai, like the Messiah, overcame the sentence of death, and went on to wield the signet ring of the king. “Jesus came and spoke to [his disciples], saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.’” (Matthew 28:18) The unavoidable bottom line: Yahshua rightly wields the signet ring of Yahweh.

There is one more fascinating wrinkle to this. Follow the symbols: Ahasuerus (read: Yahweh) had given the estate of Haman (those who have chosen Satan’s path) to Esther (i.e., the redeemed), his beloved queen. But then, “Esther appointed Mordecai [representing Christ] over the house of Haman.” (Esther 8:2) Put in scriptural terms, “the meek had inherited the earth” (Matthew 5:5; Psalm 37:11), but they then proceeded to “cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.’” (Revelation 4:10-11) Symbolically, the twenty-four elders of John’s vision in Revelation 4 are thus equated to Queen Esther (who represents the “saved”). Both honor the One to whom glory, honor, and power belong. 

Another example of someone being given a king’s authority via his signet ring is Joseph’s stunning and sudden elevation from prisoner to potentate in response to Pharaoh’s dream about seven years of plenty followed by seven of famine. Having interpreted the dream, Joseph recommended that the king find somebody wise and discerning to administer Egypt’s resources for the next fourteen years. “So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?’” You’re kidding, right? “Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you….” 

Recognizing Joseph’s fitness for the job was step #1. Step #2 was to define his role: “You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you.’ And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.’” Pharaoh was delegating his own authority to Joseph. But Joseph’s power would not be “official” until Step #3 had taken place: “Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.” (Genesis 41:37-42) The linen garments and gold chain held symbolic significance of their own, but the signet ring alone transferred Pharaoh’s power to Joseph. It’s the same picture we saw with Ahasuerus and Mordecai—it is another parable predicting the transfer of Yahweh’s power to Yahshua the Messiah. 

The signet as a simile was used three times in the description of the High Priest’s official garb. Bear in mind that although the office of High Priest is symbolic of Christ’s intercession between God and man, neither Aaron nor his successors held any political power of their own—they did not themselves wield any sort of “signet” of authority. Rather, what the High Priest wore served as an illustration of what the Messiah would be, and what He would do. 

His “ephod” was a vest or apron hung from the shoulders and tied at the waist, covering the chest. Two engraved stones were to be attached to the shoulder straps: “Then you shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel: six of their names on one stone and six names on the other stone, in order of their birth.” Onyx was a white form of calcium carbonate soft enough to be easily carved. It was sometimes found in nature layered with the much harder sardius, a red-orange form of chalcedony. The combination (called sardonyx) was ideal for making signet rings and cameos. “With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet, you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall set them in settings of gold. And you shall put the two stones on the shoulders of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. So Aaron shall bear their names before Yahweh on his two shoulders as a memorial.” (Exodus 28:9-12) Aaron literally carried the twelve tribes of Israel on his shoulders as he interceded on their behalf before Yahweh. 

The “breastplate of judgment” was actually a component of the ephod—a small pocket-like affair sewn onto the front, designed to hold the Urim and Thummim, objects used to reveal Yahweh’s decision on a matter (though we’re not told what they looked like or how they were used). On the breastplate’s exterior, in golden settings, twelve semi-precious stones (again, representing the twelve tribes of Israel) were to be attached. (We’ll look at these stones individually under the heading “Gemstones,” below.) “And the stones shall have the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names, like the engravings of a signet, each one with its own name; they shall be according to the twelve tribes.” (Exodus 28:21) Aaron (symbolic of the Messiah’s eventual role as our High Priest—see Hebrews 7) not only bore the weight of the nation on his shoulders, he also cared about them: “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before Yahweh continually.” (Exodus 28:29; cf. v.30) The ultimate High Priest, Yahshua, has a special place for Israel “over His heart” as well. 

The third feature of the High Priest’s official apparel said to be “engraved as on a signet” was a golden plate that was to be affixed to the front of his turban: “You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO YAHWEH.” (Exodus 28:36) This wasn’t a burden to be shouldered (as illustrated by the stones on the straps of the ephod). That is, it didn’t speak of works. Nor was it an emotion to be felt (the message of the engraved gems on the breastplate over the High Priest’s heart). The imagery here, rather, tells us what was to be continually on his mind: being set apart, consecrated to Yahweh. This thought is reinforced by the material from which the plate was to be made: gold, symbolic of immutable purity. Oh, and by the way, we are commanded to love God in precisely the same way He loves us: “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one! You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul [read: mind], and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) 

Let us not brush over the fact that “engraving as on a signet,” whether on gemstones or on metal, isn’t exactly “natural.” It doesn’t happen by accident. It was a difficult endeavor that took skill, labor, design, and purpose to bring about. The lesson, I think, is that we—the redeemed (and in the larger sense, the whole human race), the object of His love—are in a way Yahweh’s “signet” ring. That is, God’s labors on our behalf prove (or at least demonstrate) His own attributes: tireless Creator, super-intelligent Designer, amazing Craftsman, and faithful Lover. Truly it is said, “Only the fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” 

In fact, Yahweh Himself used that image—of people being His signet ring—several times in scripture. The prophet Haggai’s reference to Zerubbabel as Yahweh’s “signet ring” seems to symbolize the divine authority vested in Zerubbabel as the leader of the Hebrew community in Jerusalem. But if we look closer, we realize the whole thing is also a Millennial-Kingdom prophecy: “And again the word of Yahweh came to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, saying, speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying: ‘I will shake heaven and earth. I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I will destroy the strength of the Gentile kingdoms. I will overthrow the chariots and those who ride in them. The horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother. In that day,’ says Yahweh of hosts, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel,’ says Yahweh, ‘and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,’ says Yahweh of hosts.” (Haggai 2:20-23) 

This seems to be portraying Zerubbabel as some sort of military conqueror, wielding the authority of Yahweh by acting as His signet ring, and kicking gentile aspirations. But the history tells us a very different story. Governor Zerubbabel was actually the man in charge of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians half a century earlier. He operated under the suzerainty of the Persian Empire. (This was about sixty years before the whole Esther-Mordecai-Haman fiasco.) Zerubbabel’s name tells the tale: it means “Born in Babylon,” and his father’s name, Shealtiel, means “I have asked of God.” He therefore represents both the return of Israel to the Land of Promise (an oft-prophesied phenomenon that is an ongoing reality today), and that which the temple represents—a symbolic presentation of God’s plan of redemption. Every detail of its prototype, the Wilderness Tabernacle—its design, function, furnishings, materials, and even dimensions—pointed directly to Yahshua the Messiah and what He would accomplish on our behalf. Both subjects ultimately speak of redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. 

And that is what makes Zerubbabel “like a signet ring.” The authority wielded by God in effecting our salvation (for only He can forgive our sins) is defined by what the temple reveals about His plan for our redemption. And “returning from exile” is another perfect metaphor for our reconciliation with God. And what about all that “victory over the gentiles” stuff? Because it doesn’t fit the Zerubbabel’s historic profile, we are clearly being shown a prophecy: Zerubbabel as God’s signet is symbolic of Yahshua the Messiah. The process of Israel’s redemption and restoration won’t be complete until Christ reigns Personally on the throne of Planet Earth. Only then will Zerubbabel—i.e., what (or Who) he represents—become the signet on the hand of God. 

But before that happens (according to Yahweh’s own voluminous body of prophecy) all earthly power will be vested for a short time in a single Satan-worshiping gentile world dictator, popularly known as the Antichrist. Under his rule, the entire godless world will self-destruct. (As Haggai put it: “The horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother.”) Don’t look now, but as of the time of this writing (2021) the process of civilization-suicide has already begun. Again, the bottom line here is that Zerubbabel is a prophetic stand-in for Yahshua the Messiah, the One in whom the symbols of the temple find fulfillment, and the One who (as the Son of God) will regather all of Israel back into the Land of Promise from the four corners of the earth. 

Some eighty years before Haggai’s “Zerubbabel” prophecy, another prophet described the opposite situation: the symbolic removal of God’s signet ring—that is, the disqualification of the one to whom it had been entrusted. Jeremiah writes, “As I live,” says Yahweh, “though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet on My right hand, yet I would pluck you off. And I will give you into the hand of those who seek your life, and into the hand of those whose face you fear—the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the hand of the Chaldeans. So I will cast you out, and your mother who bore you, into another country where you were not born; and there you shall die. But to the land to which they desire to return, there they shall not return….” Coniah (a.k.a. Jeconiah or Jehoiachin) was Judah’s next-to-last king. He had reigned for only three months (when he was eighteen years old) when he was hauled off to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. He lived out his days in exile, never returning to Jerusalem. 

As a legitimate king of Judah, a descendant of Solomon, Coniah could rightly be said to have been the bearer of Yahweh’s signet of royal authority. Solomon’s line was presumed to be that from which the Messiah would descend, for on his deathbed, David had told his chosen heir Solomon, “Yahweh said to me, ‘If your sons take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” (I Kings 2:4) That’s a really big “if,” of course. Now, with Coniah, Solomon’s line of royal promise was apparently coming to an end: “Is this man Coniah a despised, broken idol—a vessel in which is no pleasure? Why are they cast out, he and his descendants, and cast into a land which they do not know? O earth, earth, earth, Hear the word of Yahweh! Thus says Yahweh: ‘Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days….” 

And here comes the bombshell: “For none of his descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah.’” (Jeremiah 22:24-30) Wait, what? No son of Jeconiah would ever prosper on the throne of David? Since “prospering” is the very definition of the Messiah’s thousand-year reign, the curse of Coniah would seem to disqualify Yahshua. But it doesn’t. Here’s why:

There are two genealogies of Christ in the Gospels—and they don’t match. Mary’s is listed in Luke 3, while Joseph’s is presented in Matthew 1. Mary was in David’s line, but not through Solomon. Rather, she was a descendant of his brother Nathan. So Yahshua was, as required, the biological Son (or ancestor) of David. On the other hand Joseph, the legal (i.e., adoptive) father of Yahshua, was a descendant of Solomon; and sure enough, there’s Jeconiah on his ancestor list (Matthew 1:12). So although Yahshua cannot be the biological son of Joseph, Mary His mother still qualifies. 

In other worlds, two amazing facts are now apparent: (1) Yahshua meets the almost-impossible genealogical requirements for being the Messiah (as does no one else in all of recorded history), and (2) Mary’s miraculous conception as it is presented in the Gospels, as “unscientific” as it may sound, offers the only logical explanation: either the virgin birth account is true, or God is a liar and we are all still lost in our sins. By the way, when Yahweh was explaining the whole “perpetual reign” thing to David, He told him, “I will establish the throne of His [i.e., the Messiah’s] kingdom forever. I will be His Father, and He shall be My son.” (II Samuel 7:13-14) Who knew the relationship would be this literal

Yahshua of Nazareth, then, is the rightful heir to the signet ring of Yahweh. But wait; there’s yet another twist to this genealogical puzzle. Remember above, where Haggai associated Zerubbabel with Yahweh’s signet? He wrote: “In that day,’ says Yahweh of hosts, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant, the son of Shealtiel,’ says Yahweh, ‘and will make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you,’ says Yahweh of hosts.” (Haggai 2:23) The phrase “in that day” is a clue that this is a prophetic text, and we have already explored how that works. What I want to point out here is that Zerubbabel and his father Shealtiel are listed in both of Yahshua’s genealogies—and they are not the same men. One Zerubbabel (Joseph’s ancestor) was a descendant of Jeconiah, and the other (in Mary’s line, about five generations earlier) was not. It is as if Yahweh were telling us, “Whether biologically, legally, or seemingly ‘coincidentally,’ Yahshua, My Anointed One, is chosen to wield the signet of My authority.” 

Not long after the prophecy of “Coniah’s curse,” the signet/seal was recruited by God as a prop to demonstrate that the Promised Land would “belong” to the Children of Israel forever, no matter who was occupying it temporarily. Yahweh had revealed to Jeremiah in the tenth year of Zedekiah’s eleven-year reign (587 BC—that is, one year before Jerusalem’s fall) that Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Jerusalem and depopulate Judah. To all appearances, Judah was about to go under, never to recover. Israel’s northern kingdom was already toast, and had been for over a century. So what’s the craziest (or at least the most counterintuitive) thing a Judean might do as the Babylonian horde closed in on the city? Why, buy real estate in the suburbs of Jerusalem, of course. 

So that’s precisely what Yahweh instructed Jeremiah to do: buy a field from his cousin in Anathoth, about three miles from Jerusalem. “So I bought the field from Hanamel, the son of my uncle who was in Anathoth, and weighed out to him the money—seventeen shekels of silver. And I signed the deed and sealed it, took witnesses, and weighed the money on the scales.” Being “sealed” meant it was an official, legal document. This was the rough equivalent of having it notarized. Jeremiah made two copies, one sealed, and the other open, so anybody could access it. “So I took the purchase deed, both that which was sealed according to the law and custom, and that which was open; and I gave the purchase deed to Baruch the son of Neriah…. Then I charged Baruch before them, saying, thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Take these deeds, both this purchase deed which is sealed and this deed which is open, and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may last many days.’” Both copies were put away as securely as possible. Today we would use a fireproof safe or a safety-deposit box. “For thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land.’” (Jeremiah 32:9-15) By Israelites, is the connotation. 

It should have come as no surprise to any halfway Torah-literate Israelite that their apostasy would result in their expulsion from the Land of Promise. The infamous “blessing and cursings” passage in Deuteronomy 28 had predicted exactly what would happen if they forsook Yahweh and refused to “carefully observe all His commandments and statutes.” They would suffer all sorts of increasingly severe misfortunes and calamities until, finally, they would be “scattered among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other.” 

If this was as far as you went, you’d have to conclude that for Jeremiah to buy his cousin’s field was the height of folly: neither he nor his descendants would ever be able to reclaim it. But Moses had also predicted that Israel would eventually perceive their sin, repent before Yahweh, and be repatriated to the Promised Land: “Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where Yahweh your God drives you, and you return to Yahweh your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that Yahweh your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where Yahweh your God has scattered you.” (Deuteronomy 30:1-3) Notice he didn’t say “if,” but “when.” Israel would repent and return. 

That is why Jeremiah, later in the same chapter we just visited, explained Yahweh’s “end-game.” “For thus says Yahweh: ‘Just as I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will bring on them all the good that I have promised them.’” The “promises of good” made to Abraham, you’ll recall, were unconditional. “And fields will be bought in this land of which you say, ‘It is desolate, without man or beast; it has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’ Men will buy fields for money, sign deeds and seal them, and take witnesses, in the land of Benjamin, in the places around Jerusalem, in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the mountains, in the cities of the lowland, and in the cities of the South; for I will cause their captives to return, says Yahweh.” (Jeremiah 32:42-44) 

For our present purposes, note the significance of the “sealed deeds.” Like hundreds of Torah precepts, the “sealing” of land titles—giving them official, permanent legal status—is a picture, a parable, of what Yahweh’s plans are for the Promised Land and its covenant people: He is guaranteeing (as if such a thing were necessary) that He will make good on His promises to the descendants of Abraham. What was not terribly clear in Jeremiah’s day, however, was that there were to be several deportations of Israel—not just by Assyria and Babylon. The most significant of them would come in the wake of their national rejection of their Messiah, because of which they would be expelled, scattered throughout the nations, and persecuted for two thousand years. (See Hosea 6:1-3.) Though Israel has now begun their repatriation, the process won’t be complete until the Messiah they once rejected is seated on the throne of David, ruling planet Earth from Jerusalem for a thousand years. 

A few pages back, I mentioned a strange custom called the “Law of the Medes and Persians,” which stated that once signed, a law could not be broken, altered, or repealed, even by the very monarch who authorized it in the first place. It played a big part in the life of Daniel, not long after the first Median king, Darius, took over control of the Babylonian Empire. Such laws were doubtless “sealed” with the king’s signet ring, but the “sealing” that’s spiritually significant here comes a bit later in the story. 

We read in Daniel 6 that the new Medo-Persian authorities appointed 120 “satraps,” or administrators, to oversee the empire, and appointed over them three governors, of whom Daniel (an aged Judean captive, life-long civil servant, and respected “wise man” under Nebuchadnezzar) had become the one most valued and trusted by King Darius. Jealous of Daniel’s favor with the king, the satraps and the other two governors conspired to get rid of Daniel by stroking the king’s ego—in effect killing two birds with one stone. They persuaded Darius to issue a decree—seemingly innocuous and symbolic in nature—that “whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions” (v7). Darius had no idea that the law he had so thoughtless signed was designed to destroy his most trusted advisor. But the satraps knew that it had been Daniel’s lifelong custom to pray to Yahweh three times a day—and that no law would prevent him from continuing the practice. 

In other words, it was a set-up. “Then these men assembled and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God. And they went before the king, and spoke concerning the king’s decree: ‘Have you not signed a decree that every man who petitions any god or man within thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?’ The king answered and said, ‘The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter.’ So they answered and said before the king, ‘That Daniel, who is one of the captives from Judah, does not show due regard for you, O king, or for the decree that you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day….’” It was suddenly clear to Darius what had just happened, right under his nose: he had “been had,” as the saying goes—hoodwinked, fooled, played like a Stradivarius. 

They say that the sign of a really well-played “con job” is that the “mark” doesn’t even realize he has been cheated. But here, the jealous satraps could hardly contain their glee at having tricked Darius into condemning the wisest, most loyal man on his staff. Like so many today, they presumed that “the end justifies the means,” while failing to look even one step ahead at any possible repercussions. “And the king, when he heard these words, was greatly displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him. Then these men approached the king, and said to the king, ‘Know, O king, that it is the law of the Medes and Persians that no decree or statute which the king establishes may be changed….’” In retrospect, it was probably not the brightest idea to rub the nose of the most powerful man on earth in his mistake—a mistake they themselves had tricked him into making. 

There was, however, one fact the satraps had overlooked. The king had become familiar with the God to whom Daniel prayed—the very God who had given him his wisdom and insight. If this God, Yahweh, was as Daniel had portrayed Him, then the edicts of men could have no power against Him. A new plan was therefore implemented: trust Daniel’s God for his deliverance. “So the king gave the command, and they brought Daniel and cast him into the den of lions. But the king spoke, saying to Daniel, ‘Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.’” The implication was, “You and I are both counting on it.” “Then a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signets of his lords, that the purpose concerning Daniel might not be changed.” (Daniel 6:11-17) 

In our present context, we should ask what the signet-seals were intended to accomplish. On the surface, of course, they prevented any human agent from rescuing Daniel. If there were to be a rescue, it would have to come from the hand of One stronger than the most powerful potentate on the planet at the time. The king spent a sleepless night in prayer and fasting, asking Daniel’s God to prove His greatness by defying his own signet seal. “I humble myself before You, O Yahweh: please overrule my rash action and save Your servant Daniel.” We all know the story: Yahweh answered the king’s prayer by closing the mouths of the lions until Daniel could be legally extricated from the lions’ den. The conspirators and their families were then thrown to the lions by the angry king, proving that it was the will of God—not lack of feline appetites—that had kept Daniel safe. 

King Darius then issued one more “Law of the Medes and Persians.” We are not told if anyone violated it, but this is what He wrote: “To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God, and steadfast forever. His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion [unlike mine, is the implication] shall endure to the end.” It is clear that Darius was familiar with Nebuchadnezzar’s “big statue” vision—the one that Daniel (in chapter 2) had revealed to him. Perhaps he even realized that he was now presiding over the second of the four kingdoms represented in the dream—the statue’s chest and arms of silver. “He delivers and rescues, and He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.” (Daniel 6:25-27) And I might add, Daniel is not the only one who was to be protected by Yahweh from those who “walk about like roaring lions, seeking whom they may devour.” 

As Daniel reached the end of his long and illustrious career, an angel of Yahweh showed him a wide-ranging prophetic vision, beginning with the antics of the Greeks (the third kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue-dream) from Alexander forward (mostly the Ptolemies and Seleucids). It morphs mid-stream into a description of the yet-future despot we know as the Antichrist. The single unifying factor of the vision was its impact on the nation of Israel. The puzzled prophet dutifully wrote it all down, but was then told, “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” (Daniel 12:4) Here, the signet/seal of God, wielded by Daniel, is said to have a “time lock,” so to speak. God’s words were to be “put away for safe-keeping” for a while. Neither Daniel nor anyone else would be able to understand what the prophecy meant until “the time of the end,” when knowledge about such things would be sufficiently broadened. 

The angel then gave Daniel some esoteric chronological data to ponder. It didn’t help much. “Although I heard, I did not understand. Then I said, ‘My lord, what shall be the end of these things?’ And he said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.” (Daniel 12:8-10) Don’t look now, but “the time of the end” (by the angel’s definition) has apparently arrived. Between the completed canon of scripture, the available historical perspective, and the current abysmal geo-political situation, we are now in a position to see exactly what’s going on—and what is about to happen to our world—though the “wicked” majority remains clueless.   

In about 2002, I began working on a project I don’t think anybody has ever even attempted before. (If somebody has, I haven’t heard of it.) I set out to track down and contextualize every yet-to-be-fulfilled prophecy in the entire Bible—of which there’s quite a lot. Since God doesn’t contradict Himself, I figured this would be a good way to sort out all the conflicting theories floating around the church these days. And I was right: the prophetic picture became crystal clear as I worked this “ten-thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle.” 

There were a couple of epiphanies, however. First, the Bible provided far more chronological data than most Christians (including myself) had realized. In fact, the rapture is about the only significant prophetic event the date of which God chose to keep a secret. (Once we come to appreciate what the Sabbath Law actually means, and the prophetic significance of the seven “feasts of Yahweh,” it all begins to fall into place.) 

My second epiphany was that the prophecies were beginning to come into focus at breakneck speed, before my very eyes; so I had to do a revision and expansion, published online in 2015 (and so much has happened lately, it could probably benefit from another update.) The whole thing ended up a four-volume, 1,700-page treatise proving (if nothing else) that Daniel’s “seal” of prophetic knowledge had at last been broken: we were living at (or very close to) the “time of the end.” The book, by the way, is available free online elsewhere on this website. It is called The End of the Beginning

The angel had told Daniel, “None of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.” It is obvious that the wicked comprehend nothing of what is happening in the world today—how current events and prophecy are beginning to align with startling alacrity. And the “wise?” Millions of Bible-believing Christians are now aware (to one degree or another) that we are nearing the end of the age. “Wise,” by the way (Hebrew: sakal) simply means prudent, circumspect, expert, or having insight—the result of having been taught. It is as Yahshua told the church at Philadelphia: “You have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name…. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 3:8, 10)

***

“Sealing” isn’t just an Old Testament concept, of course. It carries over into the Greek scriptures with much the same connotations and nuances, but here, the vast majority of “seal” references are divine in nature—God Himself is seen sealing, securing, authorizing, or certifying something or someone. 

An exception to this observation took place when those who had managed to get Yahshua executed attempted to use the authority of their office to make sure the innocent man they had crucified stayed in the grave. “On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation [that would make it the Sabbath, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Nisan 15 (April 2 that year), 33 AD], the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, ‘Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’” Actually, what He had said (on numerous occasions) was that He would rise “on the third day.” There’s a difference. “‘Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, “He has risen from the dead.” So the last deception will be worse than the first.’ Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard.” (Matthew 27:62-66) What is it they say about accusing your foe of doing that of which you yourself are guilty? The Pharisees were the deceivers here. 

The Greek verb for “sealing” is sphragízō—“properly, to seal (affix) with a signet ring or other instrument to stamp (a roller or seal), i.e. to attest ownership, authorizing (validating) what is sealed. Sphragízō (‘to seal’) signifies ownership and the full security carried by the backing (full authority) of the owner. ‘Sealing’ in the ancient world served as a ‘legal signature’ which guaranteed the promise (contents) of what was sealed.”—Helps Word-Studies. The corresponding noun is Sphragis: “a seal or signet, the impression of a seal, that which the seal attests—the proof.”—Strong’s

It doesn’t really matter whether the “seal” was Governor Pilate’s or the High Priest’s. The point was that the entire weight of Judean legal authority had been brought to bear in an effort to keep a dead man dead. It’s pretty strange, if you think about it. If Yahshua was a mere man—and especially if he were demon possessed, as the Pharisees had claimed—then they had nothing to worry about: They had made Him as dead as a guy could get. But if He was actually Immanuel (God with us), the Messiah, the Son of God, then why would the authorities presume they could keep Him dead in the tomb, using nothing more substantial than an official seal and a few soldiers? 

And what about that “they’re going to steal His body” theory? No human being was authorized to break the seal, and four armed guards had been posted to ensure its inviolability. Besides, was anybody really concerned that the disciples might steal Yahshua’s body? I sincerely doubt it. They had all run away (like I would have, no doubt) when their Master had been betrayed—by one of their own number, no less. They were now in hiding, cowering behind locked doors, for fear that they’d be the next to die. Only one of them (that we know of), John, had ventured close to the crucifixion site, and then only because some of the believing women—including Yahshua’s own mother—had come to weep for Him. The bold, impetuous Peter—who had been known to wave a sword about—was cringing in a corner somewhere, licking his spiritual wounds. 

More to the point, the disciples had nothing to gain by stealing Yahshua’s body. At this point, they all thought death was final, and that the Son of God had lost His battle against Satan. Not one of them proposed ditching Judaism and starting some grand new religion—especially now, since it would have been based on a lie, and they all knew it. No one understood (yet) that Christ’s death was the fulfillment of a hundred Torah precept-prophecies: an innocent one had to die to atone for the sins of the guilty. Yes, He had told them plainly that He would be slain and would rise again on the third day. But they didn’t get it: they thought it was all some sort of esoteric parable—one they didn’t understand. 

So the chief priests and Pharisees, by sealing the tomb and posting an armed guard, had only managed to prove that the disciples could not possibly have done what they accused them of—stealing the body of Christ. They had neither the means, motive, nor opportunity to pull off such a crime. But the bottom line was, Yahweh had put His “seal” on His Messiah, and it outranked any seal that humans could have contrived. This is a lot like Daniel’s little adventure with the lions that we explored above: the official state seal only served to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that man’s authority is no match for God’s. As Yahshua Himself had explained after one of the “loaves and fishes” episodes, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” (John 6:26-27) 

What was the nature of this seal? It was life itself. Again, Christ explains: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself.” (John 5:24-26) 

Let us follow the train of thought here. (1) Yahweh “set His seal” on His human manifestation, Yahshua, the “Son of Man.” 

(2) That seal gave the Father’s attributes (life, love, authority, and innocence, for starters) to the Son. So Yahshua, like Father Yahweh, “has life in Himself.” 

(3) Yahshua is thus in a position to provide us with “the food which endures to everlasting life,” just as He did with the loaves and fishes to the multitude in Galilee. That is, because He is “sealed,” He operates as a conduit for the attributes of God (functioning as our High Priest), making life (and all the rest) available to us, if we will but receive it in faith. 

(4) The final result is that “those who hear—those who in faith choose to receive the gift God has provided—will live.” This life is not merely the biological sort of life we share with gorillas and garden slugs—bios, in the Greek. Rather, it is zoe, the absolute fullness of life, encompassing both biological and spiritual realms; and both the mortal and immortal states. Helps Word-Studies defines zoe: “Life (physical and spiritual). All life, throughout the universe, is derived—i.e. it always (only) comes from and is sustained by God’s self-existent life. The Lord intimately shares His gift of life with people, creating each in His image which gives all the capacity to know His eternal life.” 

God’s “seal,” then, is the capacity for life—in every sense of the word. It is passed from Yahweh to His human manifestation Yahshua (in whom all authority resides—see Matthew 28:18), and is in turn made available to us, if we will but exercise the faith to receive it. There is nothing new in this “sealing,” though it has many variants: Adam and Eve demonstrated their faith in Yahweh’s atonement by putting on the animal-skin garments that He had provided. Enoch walked with God in faith, and was subsequently “translated” into a new kind of life instead of seeing death—the prototype of the coming rapture of the church. Noah believed God, and his faith (demonstrated by his works) saved him and his family through the great flood, extending the life of the whole human race. 

Then we read that “[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe.” (Romans 4:11) Circumcision was a physical act symbolizing the complete and permanent removal of our sin from us, a process involving blood and pain. Abraham had demonstrated his faith in Yahweh’s word—a faith that was accounted unto him as righteousness—before he was circumcised, making it clear that the ritual itself was not what saved him. But the sign of circumcision is called a “seal of his righteousness” here. That is, it functioned like God’s signature upon Abraham’s mortal body. It didn’t make him a righteous child of God; it simply confirmed that he already was. 

Paul offers numerous New Testament references to the Holy Spirit “sealing” us believers. “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (II Corinthians 1:21-22) Here he draws a subtle parallel between God’s anointing of Yahshua (that which defines Him as the Messiah/Christ) and our subsequent spiritual sealing. In a sense, Yahweh’s anointing of Yahshua for the task of redeeming mankind was the seal He placed upon Him. This seal (as we saw above) gave Christ “life in Himself,” ensuring that the grave could not hold Him. And if we have been “born from above” in His Holy Spirit (see John 3:3-8), this same sealing/anointing is transferred to us. It is God’s guarantee of our eternal life. 

He tells the Ephesians roughly the same thing: “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14) Again, it is our belief in—our trust in and reliance upon—the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf that implements God’s life-giving “seal” in our lives. And once again, this seal is associated with both a promise and its guarantee (that is, a pledge or “down payment”) that we will inherit eternal life. This guarantee is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives (John 3 again). Then, mixing his metaphors (as Paul so often does), he speaks of redemption—of Christ’s blood being used to buy back something we had lost: our innocence. This “redemption” is described in verse 7 as “the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” 

So for believers, God’s placing of the Holy Spirit within us is His “seal” upon our lives, making us invulnerable to Satan’s attacks and immune to the everlasting death he wishes to inflict upon us. Does this mean we will live forever in these mortal bodies? No. These shells were never intended to be our permanent homes, but merely the vehicles in which we would make our choices as to where (and with whom) we would spend our respective eternities. Nor does it mean we will be perfect, sinless creatures from the moment we believe. Alas, as children of Adam, we will still have the capacity—and the nature—to sin, as long as mortal life persists. And worse, that capacity to err includes distancing ourselves from the very Holy Spirit by whom we were sealed. 

So Paul cautions us: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” It isn’t that our earthly lives won’t throw things at us that suggest bitterness (and all the rest) as a logical response. We live in a fallen world, and bad stuff happens—to the saved and lost alike. But because we are sealed—because the indwelling Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee that our souls will live forever with Him—we should choose a different response to adversity, a godly response: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:30-32) Paul (who was in a position to know) freely admitted that a lot of the bad things that happen to us are caused by people, not random circumstances. But can we pray, as Christ did, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing”? Can we repay evil with good? We must endeavor to do so, for failing in this regard has the effect of “grieving the Holy Spirit,” of cutting off communication with the One who advocates our cause before the very throne of God. This is a phenomenon known in theological circles as “being as dumb as a box of rocks.” 

Paul characterized a variety of things as contributing to this phenomenon of being “sealed.” For example, certain fundamental truths are said to function as Christ’s seal upon our lives: “The solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’” (II Timothy 2:19) That is, we can be assured of our salvation—we don’t have to guess or wonder about it—because that salvation is built on an unshakable foundation. First, God’s knowledge is perfect: He knows where His Spirit resides. And second, our characters are shaped by the influence of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us: iniquity no longer defines our walk. Even when we sin (and believers sometimes do), it feels wrong to us—unnatural—like a dog walking upright on two legs. 

In the sense of a seal authenticating something—proving it to be true—Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth: “Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 9:1-2) In context, Paul was laying down the principle that it was not improper for a pastor to earn a living from preaching the Word of God—even though he was compelled by his conscience to win souls for Christ. As Moses had reminded Israel, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” (Deuteronomy 25:4) And as Christ Himself had instructed His disciples, “Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve their pay.” (Luke 10:7 NLT) The very fact that the believers at Corinth had come to saving faith through his ministry was proof that Paul was indeed certified as an apostle—that is, he had been specifically “sent out” by God to introduce them to the Gospel—and was therefore due the recognition and support that any servant of God deserved. 

In a fascinating twist, John the Baptist pointed out that we have the power to “seal” the truth of God’s word. Speaking of Yahshua, he said, “He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.” (John 3:33) “Certified” is the Greek verb sphragízō—the same word translated “sealed” in other places. In other words, when we believe in—trust and rely upon—the finished work of Christ, we in effect “authenticate” the entire Bible, every word of which points toward the Messiah and His mission, even if we don’t completely understand it.

***

The general chronology of the Book of Revelation, especially those parts describing the Tribulation—a.k.a. “the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10)—is brought to light via a scroll that John saw in his Patmos vision, one with seven seals. After receiving Christ’s letters to the seven churches, representing the predominant spiritual profiles of the church age, he was invited to step through a doorway into heaven, to learn of things that would take place after Philadelphia (the sixth church on the list) had been raptured. There (in his vision) John saw Yahweh seated on His heavenly throne, receiving praise and thanksgiving from twenty-four “elders,” who represent those who honor our Creator. 

We pick up the narrative in Revelation, chapter 5. “And I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals….” The scroll’s contents are obviously of immense significance, for (1) it is being held in the right hand (i.e., the dominant hand) of Yahweh Himself—the One who sealed the document in the first place. And (2) it is sealed with seven seals, indicating (because of what the number seven symbolizes) that the only one authorized to open the scroll and read its contents must be completely, perfectly worthy. 

“Then I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?’” It was obvious to John that Father Yahweh wanted the scroll to be opened and read—that’s why he had been called up to heaven in his vision. But at first glance, it appeared that no one was authorized to do so. “And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll, or to look at it.” It would transpire (if we read between the lines) that to be worthy of such a feat, someone would have to be both God (who held the scroll in His hand) and at the same time, a man—a perfect representative of those to whom the contents of the scroll were addressed. A tall order, to say the least. “So I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it. But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals….’” Ah, yes! The symbolic imagery of a hundred Hebrew Scripture passages describing a Messiah-King must have come flooding back into John’s mind. He now knew exactly who was worthy to open the seals on the scroll. 

John expected to turn around and see a lion (this was a vision, after all). This is doubtless where C.S. Lewis got the imagery for the majestic and beloved Aslan, the wise and powerful lion who ruled over the fictional land of Narnia. But John was in for another surprise: “And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” Yes, the Lion spoke with authority. But what made Him “worthy” to break the seals was His other symbolic persona—that of a sacrificial lamb: “Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.” (Revelation 5:1-7) The Lion and the Lamb are One Person: Yahshua the Messiah—God in flesh. More to the point, the Lion rules because He first sacrificed Himself (as in the Chronicles of Narnia) to redeem the guilty. 

As usual with a sealed document, only one who was authorized by the “sealer” could legally open and read it. Here, it turns out, the subject matter of the scroll was chronological (and prophetic) in nature. Each seal revealed only a portion of the complete revelation. Breaking the first seal allowed the reader access to the first part, but further authorization was required to open each successive seal. Only One who was completely worthy could open all seven seals in order. And the Lamb of God (a.k.a. the Lion of the Tribe of Judah) was approved to do so. 

Several entities were involved in revealing the contents of the scroll, and various other things were revealed by them. We have to stay on our toes to sort it all out. 

(1) The Lamb (Yahshua) opened each successive seal, for He was the only one authorized. I should point out that the Book of Revelation also lists seven “Trumpet Judgments” and seven “Vial” or “Bowl Judgements,” but angels (not the Lamb) are said to administer these two other series of misfortunes upon the earth. At first glance, they seem to be consecutive—first the seals, then the trumpets of judgment, then finally the bowls of wrath—but careful examination reveals that everything is encompassed within the Seals. The Trumpet Judgments are inside (not after) the Seals, and the Bowl Judgments are within the Trumpets. As I put it elsewhere, these three “judgment” series are not like a banana, meant to be consumed from one end to the other; they are, rather, more like the layers of an onion—each series found within the previous one, and each one providing more detail and tighter focus. Indeed, some Last Days events are listed in all three series. 

(2) The contents of the first four Seal Judgments are subsequently announced by four “Living Beings,” who were introduced in Revelation 4:7-8. (“Living creatures” is a truly unfortunate translation, for they are not created, but are divine—they occupy the very throne of God. The KJV’s translation “beasts” is even worse. The Greek word is zoon: literally, something alive.) These four entities are indicative of Christ Himself, in four parallel profiles: a lion (revealing His authority), a calf (speaking of His service), a man (stressing His humanity), and an eagle (symbolic of deity—the lord of the heavens). Ezekiel (in 1:10) was shown the same four-fold divine profile in a vision he saw; and again in Ezekiel 10, we see them again, but there the ox or calf (i.e., service) was represented by a cherub—an angel. If we aren’t willing to think symbolically, we’re going to find ourselves very confused here. Anyway, for the first four Seal Judgments, Yahshua (in one or another of these four profiles) is heard announcing what Yahshua (as the Lamb of God) has read in the scroll. Confused yet? 

(3) These first four trumpet judgments introduce four horses and their riders. The colors of the horses reveal the nature (or persona) of the judgments. The remaining three seals unveil similar events or conditions, but without the equine symbolism. (Horses, you’ll recall, are symbolic in scripture of military might—that is, of human agency and force being brought to bear to effect change in the world—in this case, a very bad thing.) The last three Seal Judgments, then, are revealed by the Lamb, as before, but describe things not brought about by the will or agency of man. 

(4) So the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” as they’re known—the first four Seal Judgments—are announced by the four “Living Ones” to whom we were introduced in Revelation 4. Each time, after the Lamb has opened a seal, one of the Divine Beings tells John, “Come and see.” That is, John has been appointed as a representative for the believing human race here, and as such is being “read into” whatever secrets the Seals secured. He is thus identified and defined (as we are) as “members” or components of the twenty-four elders in this scene from the heavenly vision: “Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God. And we shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:8-10) I like to think of the twenty-four elders as the heavenly “praise band,” but maybe that’s only because I spent decades praising God with a guitar (harp?) in my hands. One can only hope. 

(5) The order of events in this overview “Seal” series (as with the more specific Trumpets and Bowls) seems to be roughly chronological. One event or process leads logically to the next, though the conditions may persist and overlap to some extent. 

It’s all laid out in Revelation 6. The First Seal introduces a conqueror. And unless you’re familiar with other prophetic passages describing this man, it doesn’t sound too bad. Actually, it seems sort of like business as usual. “Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, ‘Come and see.’ And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:1-2) I’m assuming (though it’s no stretch at all) that the Living Being here is the first one listed in Revelation 4: the Lion—the voice of authority. That means that the rider He is introducing cannot be King Yahshua, even though he is seen mounted on a white horse of victory. The point is, many will mistake him for the real Messiah. (Christ will also appear—years later—riding a white horse. See Revelation 19:11.) 

The one being introduced here, rather, is the counterfeit Christ—the Antichrist, a.k.a. the “man of sin,” and the “son of perdition.” In other words, this is far worse than it appears—he is not just one more in a long line of men out to grasp power for themselves. His appearance marks the beginning of the 70th and final “week” of Daniel’s chapter-9 prophecy concerning Israel’s future, where this “conqueror” is called “the prince who is to come.” This means that the church (as such) is now out of the picture, and there will be but 2,520 days (i.e., seven 360-day schematic years) until Christ’s Millennial Kingdom is inaugurated. In any case, the Antichrist will enjoy unprecedented military and political success for a season, as indicated by the white horse, the bow, and the crown. 

The Second Seal predicts conflict in the earth. “When He [the Lamb of God] opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.” (Revelation 6:3-4) Red speaks of blood and bloodshed. It is ironic (again) that the Living Being who announces this development is actually its antithesis. The calf (or ox) represents service, but (like the First Seal’s “conqueror” pretending to have the Lion’s divine authority) the only “service” being rendered here is self-service—people going to war to serve their own perceived interests. 

The broad sweep of prophetic scripture reveals that this seal judgment is not merely a continuation of the first one: the Antichrist is not unilaterally attacking nations other than his own. Remarkably, he is seen functioning as Israel’s defender against Islamic aggression (because it’s his treaty that’s being violated—Daniel 9:27). His innovative idea is to deceive Israel into accepting him as Messiah (instead of Yahshua), in the process “proving” Yahweh to be a liar—which He is not. But the whole thing gets out of hand, growing and spreading from a regional war (see Ezekiel 38-39—the War of Magog) to a full-blown nuclear conflagration destroying America, Europe, Middle Eastern Islam, and Russia. The “peace” everyone thought they had attained when all those divisive Christians had been raptured turned out to be a fantasy, a fable. Now, without the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit in the world, wars between nations—and wars between neighborhoods—are the order of the day. 

Like night follows day, poverty and famine follow war. So the Third Seal reveals scarcity in the earth. “When He [still the Lamb] opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.’” (Revelation 6:5-6) The third Living Being had the face of a man, but as before, the converse is being revealed: there is precious little “humanity” in evidence beneath the Third Seal. In the Olivet Discourse, Yahshua had revealed that famine would be characteristic of the “next-to-last days,” the “birth pangs” preceding the end of the age. But here we see famine taken to a whole new level, accompanied by runaway inflation as national currencies implode due to the wars of the Second Seal (paving the way for the Antichrist’s globalist system—something being promoted by the Left even today). Shedding more light on the direct causes of this unprecedented famine, the first four Trumpet Judgments reveal causal factors: (1) nuclear war, with the burning of trees and grass (read: the food supply); (2) the death of one-third of the oceans; (3) an asteroid breaking up in the atmosphere poisoning the earth’s water supply; and (4) sun-blocking air pollution so thick, hardly anything will grow. 

The Fourth Seal Judgment comes as no surprise, considering what the first three revealed: widespread death. “When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.” (Revelation 6:7-8) The fourth Living Being had the face of an eagle—the Lord of the Heavens—representing deity. And for the fourth time, the exact opposite is seen unfolding on the earth. Our God is the source of life, but what we’re seeing here is death on a scale not seen since the flood of Noah. 

The word translated “pale” here (Greek: chloros) describes a shade of sickly green—the ashen color of a month-old corpse. “Death” is thanatos, denoting both physical and spiritual death. A quarter of the world’s population has died, presumably as a result of the first three Seals. If the world’s population is eight billion souls by the time this happens (it’s almost 7.8 billion as I write these words) then we’re looking at two billion deaths, which will be followed by another two billion (i.e., one third of what’s left) under the Sixth Trumpet judgment—together fifty percent of the world’s population. The immediate causes listed here are (1) the sword (the Second Seal, precipitated by the arrogant pretentions of the guy riding the first horse), (2) hunger (the Third Seal), (3) death—which, considering the Greek word choice (thanatos), may imply spiritual lifelessness leading to physical death, and (4) the “beasts of the earth”—which could mean anything from starving animals attacking humans to bacteria and viruses causing deadly pandemics. 

At this point, perhaps we should take a moment to review the concept and purpose of “sealing.” The idea is two-fold: first, to identify the one who has used his signet ring (or cylinder seal) to make a document or entity inviolable. In this case, that is Yahweh Himself. Second, the seal restricts its contents to a limited audience—only someone who is qualified, worthy, and authorized may break the seal and view what is being protected. In the case of Revelation’s seven seals, that worthy Person is Yahshua the Messiah, specifically in His symbolic persona as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It is up to this authorized seal-breaker to choose with whom the contents of the sealed document might be shared. In this instance, John the Apostle has been chosen to reveal the sealed contents to a specific, exclusive group: God’s servants (see Revelation 1:1). 

If you break them down into demographic categories, these “servants” are comprised of two sub-groups: the church, described in the seven profiles outlined in Revelation 2 and 3, and the remnant of Israel (apparently one third of their number—see Zechariah 13:8-9) who will come to faith during the Tribulation—that is, during the last seven “years” of the Daniel 9:24-27 prophecy. (Jews who received Yahshua as their Messiah between Daniel’s 69th and 70th “weeks,” of course, became members of the church, or more properly, the called-out assembly of Christ.) The “church” portion can further be broken down chronologically into two groups: those who are God’s true servants prior to the rapture (i.e., in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia), and those who come to faith only afterward: the belated believers of Laodicea—those who took the Risen Christ’s counsel in Revelation 3:18-20, buying “gold tried in the fire” of adversity, the “white garments” of imputed righteousness, and the “eye-salve” of faith—in short, those who finally opened the door in response to Yahshua’s knocking. 

So in the end, the intended recipients of the information guarded by God’s seven Seals are believers—servants of the living God who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. The seven Seals prevent non-believers from accessing the information. But wait, you say: for the past 19-plus centuries, anybody could read the contents of the Book of Revelation. So how can you say these things “sealed?” The answer is quite simple, if you think about it. If someone takes these things to heart and comes to repentance as a result, he (or she) has by definition become a believer. That is, he has taken Christ’s advice to the Church of Laodicea to apply the “eye-salve” of faith. But people who read these warnings and yet fail to heed them are de facto blocked by Yahweh’s Seal: they will not understand, because they refuse to believe. They will not put the “sealed” information to use, nor will they benefit from it. 

In a practical sense, these things are addressed primarily to Laodicea—the church that (by definition) missed the rapture by coming to faith too late to participate. Think about it: the Seal Judgments (based on what we’ve learned so far) all reveal what will happen during the Tribulation. These things have been of interest to Christians of previous ages because they reveal the plan of God, of course, but to us it has all been pretty academic. To those living after the rapture, however, these things will literally be a matter of life and death. Note that Paul informed the Thessalonians of the order of things: first, the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit (who dwells within believers) will be taken out of the way—an unmistakable byproduct of the rapture of the church. Only then will the Antichrist—the “lawless one”—be revealed. (See II Thessalonians 2:7-8.) That, you’ll recall, is the very thing revealed with the breaking of the First Seal. And it’s all downhill from there. Compare Yahshua’s description of the (pre-rapture) “beginning of sorrows” in the Olivet Discourse to the utter catastrophe of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” While they’re both bad news, the first seems like a mildly stressful Monday morning compared with the second. 

In my youth, I was taught that “the church” is never mentioned again in Revelation once we get past the letters in chapters 2 and 3. But that’s not exactly true. Those of “Laodicean” persuasion (i.e., those who came to genuine faith after the rapture) are seen when the Fifth Seal is opened: “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” Okay, so they’re not called the church; they’re only described as such. “And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” (Revelation 6:9-11) 

Remember, the Seven Seals are being opened in heaven, in the throne-room of God (where John had been transported “in the Spirit”—Revelation 4:2), although they reveal things that would eventually take place on earth. The “altar” had not been mentioned as part of the heavenly scene before this, but elsewhere we are informed that the symbol-rich tabernacle and temple were based on a heavenly prototype. The altar was where innocent animals representing Christ’s ultimate sacrifice were offered up. There were several types of offerings specified for the Levitical tabernacle-temple. (See The Owner’s Manual, Vol. 1, chapter 12, elsewhere on this website.) I’d characterize these souls beneath the heavenly altar as what are known as “burnt offerings,” (Hebrew: olah): expressions of pure praise, of straightforward homage to Yahweh, in which nothing is gained (i.e., eaten) by the one presenting the offering. 

You’ll recall that Yahshua told His disciples “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23) So here we learn, for the first time, what “buying gold refined in the fire” (Christ’s counsel to the Laodiceans) meant: the prospect of martyrdom. Those who suffered under the first four Seals were not said to have been persecuted for their faith. They were simply at the wrong place (planet Earth) at the wrong time (during the Tribulation). But once the Antichrist actually takes control of the whole world (basically, during the last three and a half years—a.k.a. the “Great” Tribulation), the new believers in Christ (that is, the repentant “Laodiceans”) will be specifically targeted (along with the Jews) for extermination. 

Indeed, the primary evidence we have for how utterly compelling the invitation of Yahshua to the Laodiceans was (see Revelation 3:18-21) is in the accounts of their martyrdom. Another example: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes [see 3:18], with palm branches [read: righteousness] in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen….’” This explains what Yahshua revealed in the Fifth Seal. In terms of sheer numbers, it would appear likely that the Church of Repentant Laodicea will end up being the biggest of the seven. The martyrs are “innumerable.” But remember: living mortal believers—the “sheep” of Yahshua’s Matthew 25 prophecy, by definition “Laodiceans”—will repopulate the earth during the Millennium. In other words, the Antichrist won’t get nearly all of them, as much as he would like to. 

“Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’” At first, John seems puzzled as to the identity of these martyred saints—not realizing that they represent the Laodicean martyrs of the Fifth Seal—now the completed company of them, including the “fellow servants” they were told to expect to join them before God avenged their deaths, as well as “their brethren,” whom I’d take to represent the belatedly believing Jews who died before Christ’s glorious appearing. “So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white [again, see Revelation 3:18] in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God [Revelation 3:21], and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Revelation 7:9-17) 

Think of it this way. The Fifth Seal guards a secret from the lost: that physical death is merely a temporary glitch for the redeemed. Because Yahshua rose from the dead, we His servants will too—and we will then live with Him forever. This fact is, and will remain, opaque and illogical (“sealed,” so to speak) to those who refuse to believe God’s word. Do these lost souls not crave eternal life? Indeed they do, but not at the cost of bowing before a Creator-God who defines standards of right and wrong they find “inconvenient.” And they call us delusional! 

By the time we get to the “martyrdom phase” of the Tribulation (Seal #5), we’re well into the second half—the “Great” Tribulation (as it’s known), in which Satan and his meat-puppet, the Antichrist, are calling the shots, worldwide. When the Lamb opens the Sixth Seal, we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel—but to the lost, that “light” turns out to be a freight train, coming straight toward them at full speed. It is at this point that the whole world (the vast majority, who followed the Antichrist—see Revelation 13:7-8) gets an unwelcome “wake-up call.” 

The breaking of the Sixth Seal reveals something we believers would love to have seen a century before the Tribulation—God’s enemies admitting that they backed the “wrong horse,” so to speak. “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place….” It begins with “natural phenomena,” earthquakes the likes of which humanity has never experienced before, air pollution worse than any they’d ever seen, unprecedented meteor showers, and so forth. I guess this is what they meant by “climate change.” It is suddenly quite clear that their demigod “hero,” the Antichrist, is powerless to save them from all this mayhem. 

And then, people begin to perceive that this might actually be “the wrath of God” (the very God with whom they’ve been at war—oops—for the past seven years). “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” (Revelation 6:12-16) Don’t read too much into this: it isn’t repentance; they are not turning to the God causing all this ruckus in humble contrition and penitence. They are merely “scared spitless,” preferring a quick death to the terror they’re experiencing. I’m pretty sure John is using terminology with which his readers (the servants of God) would be familiar by now—“He who sits on the throne; the Lamb,” etc. But I’m fairly certain the kings and commoners experiencing these signs will be too terrified and too uninformed to express themselves in such lucid and accurate terms. But they’ll finally recognize that this is what the “wrath of God” looks like. Too little, and far too late, I’m afraid. 

For reasons I explained in detail in The End of the Beginning, I expect that the opening of the Sixth Seal reveals what will take place during the final month of the Tribulation—that is, after the Antichrist’s allotted three and a half year reign of terror has run its course. And actually, because of that “moving mountains and islands” remark, this would appear to be happening during the last week of the Tribulation: this greatest of all earthquakes is mentioned again under the Seventh Trumpet judgment, and in greater detail still under the Seventh Bowl judgment (Revelation 16:18-20), as well as marking the bodily (and very public) resurrection of the slain Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:12-13). If I’m not mistaken about a great many things, this great earthquake will take place on the definitive Day of Atonement, Tishri 10 (October 3), 2033. (And not to “bury the lead” or anything, but this is the date of the Second Coming: Christ’s arrival on the Mount of Olives is what sets off the great earthquake.) 

Though terrifying, these events are still “sealed” to the lost enemies of God. What the Day of Atonement means is the critical clue: it is the day set aside to commemorate a believer’s “affliction of soul” in repentance before Yahweh. The Hebrew word for “afflict” (anah) also means “to answer or respond,” which are crucial elements of our redemption as well. If they had repented prior to this awesome day, the truth would not have remained “sealed” against them. They would have been accounted among God’s servants—the recipients of the truth revealed by the Lamb, through John, to us. In other words, there is a day beyond which repentance is impossible, and this is it. According to the established Biblical timeline, the “battle” of Armageddon will commence within hours of the Sixth Seal being broken. 

There is but one Seal yet remaining. It describes (in broad, symbolic terms) the culmination of what the Seal Judgments represent—the events of the Tribulation. “When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” An ominous portent, as if the saints and angels are “holding their breath.” We are advised to pay attention. At this point, the narrative gets a little confusing, because the next sentence (although it is what John saw) is parenthetical; it is not the primary point: “And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets….” Yes, these Trumpets are within the context of the Tribulation, but because they are administered by appointed angels, and not the Lamb Himself, we are not being told that the seven Trumpet Judgments (by themselves) comprise or define the seventh Seal. Actually, the yet-to-come parts of the Book of Revelation are full of parenthetical statements like this, as well as flashbacks and other commentary—the book is not rigidly chronological. That being said, there is a reason the statement is inserted here. Read on. 

The essential nature of the Seventh Seal (introduced by the strange period of silence in heaven) is now explained: “Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.” (Revelation 8:1-5) We are reminded of the Fifth Seal Judgment, in which the souls of the Tribulation martyrs (up to that point) asked Yahweh (in so many words), “When are you going to avenge our unjust deaths?” To which the Father replied, “Soon, but not until your company is complete. Please be patient.” That time has now come: to visit divine wrath (beyond merely allowing mankind to self-destruct) upon the unrepentant earth. (This truth, of course, is hidden—sealed—from the lost world. Only God’s servants comprehend what is happening. 

Incense, as you’ll recall, is symbolic of prayer (see Volume 3, chapter 1.7). At this point, the prayers of “all the saints” (which I’d take to mean every believer, living or dead, from every age since Adam’s fall) have reached Yahweh’s ears. I’d guess the content of the prayers boils down to this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10) By breaking the final Seal, the Lamb has revealed that Father Yahweh is about to answer that prayer: the golden censer (the implement in which the incense is burned) is thrown violently to the earth. The Kingdom age is on the planet’s very doorstep. From this moment on, God’s will shall be done on earth. 

Who throws the censer? It is not the Lamb, but an angel (which explains that parenthetical notice about the seven angels with their trumpets). The wrath of God, His response to the prayers of the saints, will soon be described in detail by John, largely through the revelation of the seven Trumpet Judgments and the seven Bowl Judgments—all of which are administered by angels. These things are all contained within the Seventh Seal. So in a sense, the entire yet-to-come portion of the Book of Revelation is “sealed,” hidden from the comprehension of those who refuse to honor Yahweh; yet these things are revealed to us who believe in, rely on, and utterly trust the Seal-Breaker. 

From where (and when) I sit, the whole thing is amazing: we believers can suddenly see all of the Last-Days puzzle pieces falling into place. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Meanwhile, the coming grim reality (as revealed in scripture) is totally opaque—it is “sealed”—to those who refuse to honor God. 

Israel (as promised in hundreds of Bible prophecies) is back in the Land, but it’s like a Medieval siege—they’re surrounded by a billion Muslims who (treaties or not) would like nothing more than to see them driven into the sea. They don’t even know why. America, who for 70+ years was Israel’s only real friend in the world, has been destroyed (yes, it’s a fait accompli) from within by socialists, atheists, globalists, corruptocrats, and fools (leaving Israel to depend on Yahweh alone, which is as it should be anyway). 

The Left has finally figured out how to rig our elections, silence rational thought, force patriots to shut up and sit down, and marginalize Christianity. Every perversion is tolerated—nay, supported and protected, while holiness is called hate. Economic ruin is further assured by every new act of government. Hatred and division are fostered and promoted by virtually everyone in power, using every conceivable issue for leverage—race, religion, gender, economic status, and even history and science. Pandemics (or should I say, PLANdemics) are invented for the express purpose of controlling and dividing the masses, instilling fear and paranoia into us. Abortion takes the life of one out of every four children worldwide, before they even have a chance to breathe free air. Ignorance and sloth are celebrated, while wisdom and diligence are attacked. 

In short, every detail of Yahshua’s warnings to us about what the next-to-last days would look like—something He characterized as “birth pangs” or “the beginning of sorrows”—is as plain as day, and not just in Israel and America, but all over the world. What’s “amazing” about this phenomenon is that although believers—true Christians—can see it, can recognize the evil for what it is and yet find peace in God’s sovereignty, to the vast majority of mankind the significance of these developments is sealed—invisible and incomprehensible. They are being drawn toward disaster like moths to a flame, even though Yahweh warned us of what was coming thousands of years ago. 

The very speed at which these Last Days developments are becoming apparent is remarkable. As I mentioned above, in 2002 I began work on a comprehensive exploration of Biblical prophecy (The End of the Beginning, available elsewhere on this website). When I began this work, it all felt a bit vague and theoretical. Yes, Israel was back in the land, so students of prophecy knew we must getting close: the “fig tree had budded.” But that much had been the case since I was a boy. Nothing significant had changed for decades. 

But in the years since I wrote TEOTB, I have seen a paradigm shift of Biblical proportions. The world is inexorably being separated into two—and only two—camps: Yahweh’s or Satan’s. Bible prophecy doesn’t feel at all “theoretical” anymore. Multiplied millions of Christian believers all over the world are suddenly fully aware of what is happening: God is in the process of separating His people from everyone else. It’s called holiness. We are about ten minutes from this becoming a literal, everyday reality: “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls.” (Luke 21:12-19) 

We have already explored above (Ephesians 1:13, 4:30, etc.) how God has placed His seal of eternal life upon His children, and how He seals us for His honor and service while our mortal lives remain (I Corinthians 9:1-2, John 6:26-27). Under the Tribulation’s Fifth Trumpet Judgment, we are also given a glimpse of how the seal of God is used to differentiate those who are His from those who are not, even in times of general outpourings of wrath: “Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads….” 

The demonic locust-scorpions not only know whom they are to attack (and when, and for how long); they also perceive whom (and what) they must refrain from harming. Unlike the humans they are tormenting, they can “see” the seals of Yahweh upon the foreheads of the redeemed, as well as the absence of God’s hedge of protection about His enemies. And yet, there are limits placed upon them: “And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.” (Revelation 9:1-6) It seems counterintuitive, but even demons (rebellious, fallen angels) must obey a direct order from God, and they know it. Unlike humans, they do not possess free will: choice is not their prerogative. 

Why is God sending this particular curse upon the earth? We are not told, but perhaps it is to reassure the newly redeemed that the God they have belatedly chosen to honor does recognize their “separate and holy” status as His children—even now, as the world falls apart around their ears. (It’s reminiscent of the distinction Yahweh made between the Israelites and Egyptians just prior to the Exodus.) Bear in mind that the first four Trumpet judgments (nuclear war over a third of the earth, the death of one third of the oceans, an asteroid that poisons a third of the earth’s water supply, and a famine-causing darkening of the sun by one third) affected everyone, redeemed and reprobate alike. But because the Trumpets and Bowls are contained within the Seals, the rebellious world will be unable to see the connection. 

This brings up another aspect of being “sealed” by God. Under normal circumstances, of course, we all eventually die, sealed or not. But under extremely rare circumstances, God actually seals the mortal, physical lives of His servants, at least temporarily—until their assigned tasks on earth are accomplished. Such was the case with Christ Himself—who had to follow the strict schedule laid out in the Torah: death on Passover, followed by resurrection on the Feast of Firstfruits. If He had been slain (as was the crowd’s intention) in Nazareth (see Luke 4:28-30), Yahweh’s prophetic precepts would have been rendered pointless. 

So we read of the “two witnesses” of the Tribulation: “And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the god of the earth….” This “god” or “lord” (Greek: kurios) isn’t Yahweh or Yahshua, but rather, Satan’s Antichrist. The word translated “before” here (Greek: enopios) means “in the presence of (literally, in the sight of). In this case, it means “over against, opposite” (See Thayer). (I believe them to be Enoch and Elijah—the only two people in the Old Testament said to have departed their mortal lives via rapture-like experiences, meaning they have not “officially” died yet.) These two will “get into the face of” the Antichrist for three and a half long years, proclaiming all sorts of plagues upon the earth, which angels will then carry out (partially described in the Bowl Judgments, if I’m not mistaken). 

The record doesn’t specifically use the word “sealed” to describe their status, but that’s exactly what they are (for a time, anyway). Virtually the whole world will want to see them dead, but no one will be able to kill them. “And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire….” The two witnesses are the ants at the Antichrist’s picnic, beginning their work at the height of his popularity. As I said, everybody will want them dead, but they are sealed for a ministry that will last precisely 1,260 days, which is about 1,259 days longer than they would have lasted without being sealed by God. 

“When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.” So the seal on their mortal lives, as revealed in the text, has an expiration date on it. This “beast” is the demon who possesses the Antichrist. “And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” He’s talking about Jerusalem. “Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth….” As an interesting aside, the technology needed to make this world-wide real-time death watch possible did not exist until the mid-1990s. 

They won’t stay “dead” for long: “Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’” John had heard these words before, in Revelation 4:1. There, they were prophetic of the rapture of the church. But these two (if I’m correct about their identities) had already been raptured, thousands of years previously. This time, their deaths (and subsequent resurrections) were an unmistakable sign to the whole rebellious world that there is life after death. But there was one slight glitch: years earlier, the lost world had seen what looked like the assassinated Antichrist being brought back to life, and they had followed him as a result, worshiping the demonic beast who had put on such a compelling show. But now, the murderous act of that same “beast” had been negated, reversed, cancelled. Somebody else had reanimated these two witnesses. “And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them….” Although they saw the unmistakable life-restoring work of God, they (having been deceived before) refused to believe their own eyes. So they were afraid, but not repentant. What would it take to get their attention? 

“In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city [Jerusalem, where the two witnesses had been killed] fell. In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.” (Revelation 11:3-13) I am of the opinion that this is the same great temblor that took place under the sixth Seal Judgment, which we discussed a few pages back. The point is that although the unredeemed of the world (those who were celebrating the demise of the two witnesses instead of repenting in sackcloth as they should have been doing) saw the great earthquake and witnessed the witnesses’ resurrection from the dead, none of it registered: they did not repent, nor did they give glory to the God who had predicted all of this two millennia previously. To them, the events were opaque, incomprehensible—sealed

So who are these people who survived the great Day-of-Atonement earthquake and did “give glory to the God of Heaven”? Our two keys to understanding are the timing and the location. Immediately prior to the passage I just quoted, John had been told, “Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.” The temple had been rebuilt in the first few months of the Tribulation. “But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.” (Revelation 11:1-2) With the resurrection of the two witnesses, these forty-two months have now elapsed. The Antichrist’s time is over: he has lost his grip on the world, and has but one card left to play in his hand—Armageddon. Meanwhile, the Jews who had been living in exile, sequestered and protected (“sealed,” if you will) by Yahweh from the wrath of the Antichrist, have begun returning to Jerusalem. 

Oh, and don’t forget what triggered the great earthquake in the first place: the returning Messiah, touching down on the Mount of Olives, precisely as prophesied. Yes, the Jews were naturally afraid of the great earthquake, but the “God of Heaven” to whom they “gave glory” was the returning Christ—Yahshua, God in Person! The point is that the epiphany of the Messiah’s Second Coming is not lost on them (as it is on the world), for they have been “read into” the information contained in the Seven Seals, opened by the Lamb of God and transmitted by John. 

How? By whom? Where did they get their information? Yes, they had received a badly needed “wake up call” as to Yahweh’s identity and purpose through their miraculous preservation during the Muslim hordes during the War of Magog (see Ezekiel 38-39), earlier in the Tribulation. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into the recognition that the Yahshua their fathers had rejected and crucified two thousand years previously was actually the promised Messiah. This same Yahshua had warned them to flee to the mountains when they saw the Antichrist claiming credit for their deliverance—claiming, in fact, to be their long awaited Messiah via his “Abomination of Desolation.” But these warnings are in the Christian scriptures, in the Olivet Discourse. How did the Israeli Jews make the connection? 

The answer unveils another group who were sealed by God for a specific purpose, in this case, for the illumination of Israel. Immediately after his disclosure of the first six Seal Judgments, John saw this: “After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.’ And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” (Revelation 7:1-4) These 144,000 servants of God were “sealed” before any divine judgment was to fall upon the earth. I would take that to mean that this sealing took place during the gap between the rapture of the church and the beginning of the Tribulation—which could be anywhere between two months to a few years; we aren’t told. 

All we know for sure is that these young Jewish men (1) were not believers at the time of the rapture; (2) received a spiritual epiphany concerning the identity of the promised Messiah—that He was, in fact, the same “Jesus” that their fathers had rejected two millennia previously; and (3) ended up in Israel (whether through emigration or serendipity, we’re not told). We see them all, apparently still in their mortal bodies, standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion in Revelation 14. 

Their job—the reason they were sealed for service—is identical to the instructions given to the twelve disciples of Yahshua when He had sent them out. They were to (1) announce that the kingdom of heaven was at hand; (2) heal the sick and raise the dead (etc.), as Christ Himself had done; (3) minister exclusively to Israel; and (4) trust God alone for provision. And here is the key that ties the disciples of old to the 144,000 neo-disciples: “He who endures [remains and perseveres] to the end will be saved [delivered out of danger]. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:22-23) The literal coming of the Son of Man—this time in the persona of the King of kings and Lord of lords—will fulfill hundreds of prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures. And after two thousand years of God’s “tearing and striking” them (see Hosea 6:1-3) in response to their original rejection of their Messiah, Israel will at last “be revived.” 

The list of the tribal origin of these 144,000 sealed witnesses is revealing. There are to be 12,000 each from the twelve tribes of Israel—sort of. The tribe of Joseph, as expected, is doubled, but expressed as Manasseh and Joseph (i.e., not Ephraim, as expected, probably because of Ephraim’s identification as the preeminent tribe of Israel’s apostate Northern Kingdom). Usually whenever Joseph is doubled, the tribe of Levi (because they are set apart for Yahweh’s priestly service) is deleted; but not so here. The tribe that’s missing is Dan.

Dan is the one tribe, above all the others, that is historically known for their rebellion, apostasy, and idolatry. It is as if Yahweh is telling Dan, “You cannot be trusted to deliver the most significant spiritual news your nation has received in the past two thousand years.” Indeed, in Jacob’s deathbed prophecy concerning his twelve sons, Dan is characterized as “a serpent by the way, a viper by the path that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider shall fall backward.” (Genesis 49:17) In other words, Dan is known for being deceptive, and for causing more harm than you’d think possible. So the tribe of Dan, “the serpent,” wasn’t sealed for service to Yahweh, as their brothers were. (They are still listed among the recipients of tribal land in the Millennium, however, though their allotment is about as far removed from Jerusalem as geographically possible: see Ezekiel 48:1). 

But another kind of seal is going to be applied to a different type of serpent: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. And he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.” (Revelation 20:1-3) This is the type of seal that was used on Daniel’s den of lions, and later on Christ’s borrowed tomb. The degree of authority of the one whose seal is applied determines its inviolability. 

In Daniel’s case, Darius the Mede was in charge of the entire Medo-Persian Empire; he was arguably the most powerful man on earth at the time. Since Yahweh had ordained his reign (see Daniel 2:39, 5:25-30), He chose to let the “letter” of Darius’ seal stand, while simultaneously overruling its “spirit”—leaving Daniel to face the lions, but shutting—“sealing”—their mouths against him. In the case of the crucified Christ, the seal had been applied under the authority of the High Priest (with the tacit backing of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate). But on the third day, Yahshua (as He had promised) rose from the dead and departed—without bothering to break their silly seal. A bit later, an angel of Yahweh broke their seal and rolled away the entrance-stone, for two reasons: (1) to demonstrate to the world that the Messiah was gone—that neither their power nor death itself could hold him, and (2) to prove that Yahweh’s authority outranked theirs. They hadn’t brought a knife to a gunfight; it was more like bringing a pea-shooter to a nuclear war. No contest. 

So when, at the end of the Tribulation, an angel (singular—just one) chained the dragon and sealed him in the bottomless pit, it proved that the authority under which the angel was operating was that of Yahweh Himself. Satan may have great power and influence in our world, but having rebelled against God, he has no authority whatsoever. The “good news” here is that Satan (presumably including his demonic hordes) will be unable to tempt mortal humanity for the duration of Christ’s Millennial reign. The “bad news” is that at the end of the thousand years, he will be released (“paroled,” if you will) from incarceration in the pit. 

Why? Because the Millennial mortals (the descendants of the blessed “sheep” of Matthew 25:31-46) will have been living in a perfect environment for the past thousand years. Though having a “sin nature” that they (like us) inherited from Adam and Eve, they will never have had a legitimate occasion to choose between right and wrong, to exercise their innate privilege of free will. So as painful as the solution seems to us, God is planning on freeing Satan for a short time at the end of the Millennium, to give the mortals a clear choice: love King Yahshua, or rebel against Him. Alas, many will choose to side with Satan and attack the King and His chosen people—see Revelation 20:7-10. The rebels (as in the War of Magog, offered as a historical precedent—Ezekiel 38-39) will be summarily destroyed by fire. And the devil? He will never again be “sealed” in the abyss. This time, there will be no possibility of “parole” for him. He will be consigned instead to the lake of fire and brimstone, a.k.a. Gehenna, a.k.a. hell, from whose torments there is no escape for all eternity. It’s a “life sentence,” if you can call it “living.” 

A while back, we looked at a “time-lock” seal placed on a prophecy revealed to Daniel: “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” (Daniel 12:4) And we noted that this particular “seal” has apparently been broken before our very eyes. Though Daniel’s generation (or Yahshua’s, or even George Washington’s) were not equipped to understand the message, so many of the puzzle pieces have now been put in place, you and I can perceive the Last-Days picture more clearly with every new sunrise. 

And we have reviewed how the Lamb of God opened the seven seals of the Tribulation Scroll, revealing the contents to John, and through him, to us who believe in Christ—leaving the rest of the world clueless as to what is about to transpire, and why. But as ominous and terrifying as the contents of the seven seals are (as well as what lay within them—the seven trumpets and the seven bowl judgments), we weren’t told everything. There were some things deemed too awesome to reveal: “When he cried out, seven thunders uttered their voices. Now when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them.’” (Revelation 10:3-4) It’s not that John didn’t comprehend what the seven thunders were saying. Like the faithful Daniel (who did not understand), he was about to write down what he had heard, but was told to seal up the message, leaving us to ponder what the thunders had uttered. 

We are, however, given some insight into the effect of the message. The seven thunders are associated with a little book that John (in his vision) was instructed not to read, but to eat. As he had been forewarned, the book tasted as sweet as honey in his mouth, but it also made him sick to his stomach. John had apparently been asked to “swallow” the ultimate good-news bad-news story. And although we aren’t told all of the grim details, the resulting “bottom line” was that John was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.” (Revelation 10:11) 

John’s compliance is recorded in the remainder of the Book of Revelation. The “sweet” part is that it outlines (in general terms) the coming of Christ’s Kingdom and the blessed eternal state that awaits His redeemed followers. It includes information about the faithful witnesses of the Tribulation, God’s protection of Israel, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the Second Coming of Christ to the earth, the final defeat of Satan and his Antichrist, the Millennial reign of King Yahshua, the new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem, and a final blessing (and word of admonition) to those who have ears to hear. 

But the “stomach-churning” part of the story is what it would take to bring all of this sweetness about (told in equally generalized outline). It is unbelievably grim—a near-death experience for all life on Planet Earth. Here we are informed of Satan’s expulsion from heaven (spelling bad news for the world), the Antichrist and the False Prophet, the mark of the beast, the “harvest” and “winepress” judgments, the seven ultimate bowl judgments poured out upon the earth (including the “battle” of Armageddon), the fall of Babylon, and the Great White Throne judgment. Each of these things, while necessary for the Kingdom of God to be established on the earth and into eternity, requires or portends carnage on an unprecedented scale. Every vestige of rebellion against Yahweh and His Messiah will be eliminated. This is testimony not to God’s vengeance, but to His near-infinite patience with the human race. These things had to be done in order to restore justice to the earth, but God was willing to wait until every last opportunity for voluntary repentance had been offered—and rejected—before proceeding. 

So John was instructed to “seal up” what the seven thunders said: the gory details of how God will cleanse the earth in preparation for the Millennial Kingdom age. We do not need to know what it will feel like to survive (or die in) a nuclear war, be reduced to drinking poisonous water, or breathing air so polluted that only two thirds of the sun’s light can penetrate it. We have been told enough about clouds of demonic locusts, the effects of receiving the mark of the beast, of heat, darkness, and unrelenting pain, to get the idea: do not be here when all of this takes place! But if you find you’ve slept through the rapture of the church, awaken now to the spiritual reality: honor Yahweh and His Messiah, or be separated forever from the source of life itself. 

Daniel had been told, “Shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase…. Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.” (Daniel 12:4, 9) But John, having witnessed the Lamb of God opening the seven-sealed scroll, was given very different instructions: “And [the angel] said to me, ‘Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.” (Revelation 22:10) That is, the church age (described in Revelation 2 and 3—including the admonitions to the Laodiceans) would endure until all these things took place. Both Daniel John were told to publish what they had seen—the only real difference being their chronological perspective: Daniel was anticipating the Messiah’s future advent, but John had experienced it personally. 

The point (I think) is that no one can begin to comprehend the substance and essence of these Last-Days prophetic revelations without reference to the finished work of the risen Christ. It is this singular divine accomplishment that opens all of the previously sealed promises of God. That is why He told His disciples—before His ascension, and before they had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost—“It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8) The knowledge and power they (we) would need to witness to the world would be provided by the Holy Spirit as we believers were ready to receive it. 

Interestingly, both Daniel and John were reminded that whatever the world would do with their revelations was a matter of choice, of free will: the angel told Daniel, “Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.” (Daniel 12:10) And John was told roughly the same thing: “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.” (Revelation 22:11) Let me put it this way: our choices determine what God “seals” in our lives. If we choose to love and trust Him, He seals us for eternal life. But if we choose to embrace falsehood and wickedness, He seals understanding from us, making the truth opaque and inaccessible. Choose wisely, friends.


Gemstones: Identifying Characteristics

If there is one category of symbolic imagery that is hard to pin down, this is surely it. One problem is that the names of individual gemstones mentioned in scripture are a moving target. Whether in the Hebrew or Greek writings, if we consult twelve different English translations, we’re likely to end up with ten separate renderings. Complicating matters, sometimes we’re talking about actual, physical semi-precious stones, with specific class characteristics—color, comparative hardness or softness, etc. But at other times, the “gems” are seen in dreams and visions of the heavenly realm. So it’s hard to be dogmatic about what they signify. All we have to go by is what the writer thought the gems looked like. 

I consulted the massive Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (a thousand-page self-described “encyclopedic exploration of the images, symbols, motifs, metaphors, figures of speech, and literary patterns in the Bible”), and they informed me that “The individual jewels have no specific symbolism…. Their presence in biblical imagery suggests that God’s wealth and power are unmatched.” So I guess we can just skip the subject and move on. 

Or not. When the experts and professionals retreat to the safety of shoulder-shrugs, sheepish grins, and palpable platitudes, it’s up to us amateurs to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us to the glorious truth, concealed though it may be. (Actually, that should always be our modus operandi.) More to the point, it is my experience that God never says anything that is accidental, incidental, or beside the point. If He talks about a specific gemstone (or animal, or fiber, or metal, or color, etc.) it behooves us to at least try to figure out what spiritual truth He is providing to those of us who are willing to see it. It may be subtle, but it’s always there. 

First, a little background. The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary informs us, “Jewels are stones valued for their beauty or scarcity. Most often they are cut and polished to enhance their appearance. Jewels have been more rare in archaeological finds in Palestine than in Egyptian, Greek, or Phoenician archaeological remains. There are two reasons for this. First, the land of Israel had no natural deposits of precious stones…. Secondly, Israel and Judah [when they were in an apostate state] were pawns in power struggles between its neighbors…. Jewels functioned as a medium of exchange in the ancient Near East before the invention of money. In Israel jewels were used primarily in relation to worship and the monarchy.” 

Let us begin at the end, for a change. In John’s apocalyptic vision, he was shown the New Jerusalem, in which the symbology of gemstones looms large: “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.” (Revelation 21:9-10) This may sound strange, since the Bride of Christ is obviously not literally a glorious city coming down out of heaven, but is the church—the ekklesia, the called-out assembly of believers in Yahshua. The New Jerusalem, rather, is where the Bride will dwell with her beloved Husband for eternity. The Bride and her home are thus forever associated with one another, inextricably linked. But as we shall soon discover, the New Jerusalem is also symbolic of the church (the Bride of Christ) in sort of the same way the wilderness tabernacle was a metaphor explaining Yahweh’s plan for our redemption: every detail, material component, dimension, and feature has symbolic significance in addition to its literal reality. 

Anyway, this should all sound familiar. John recorded this Last-Supper conversation the night before Yahshua was to go to the cross on our behalf: “‘Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions [Greek: moné, literally, dwelling places, residences, abodes]; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” This proposition is utterly unique in the annals of “religious thought.” Christianity is the only belief system in the world in which “believers” are told they will dwell forever with their God. (In the only other major monotheistic religion, Islamic paradise is described as a place of unending debauchery for a relative handful of “true believers,” while Allah their “god” is portrayed spending his time in hell, gleefully tormenting the vast majority of Muslims and infidels alike—lost souls whom he himself predestined to go there.) 

Yahshua continued: “And where I go you know, and the way you know.’ Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?’” His confusion was understandable, but “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:1-6) In so many words, Yahshua has equated Himself with Father Yahweh here. He has promised us access to “the Father,” but the God with whom we will dwell in eternity is He Himself. They are One. “The place” Yahshua is preparing for us is the New Jerusalem. Like a bride, it is as pretty has God knows how to make it—which, considering how beautiful this corrupt world can be, must be spectacular. 

This is the city described in John’s Patmos vision: “Her light [note that the Bride/City is called “her” or “she” throughout this passage] was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal….” The quality of light is what’s being described here. I get the distinct impression that John’s descriptive simile is falling far short of the glorious reality, but these were the only words he had at his disposal. We shall learn in a moment that jasper is one of twelve gemstones associated with the foundation and wall of the New Jerusalem. We shall discuss them all in turn. 

“Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. “Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:11-14) It is certainly significant that both Israel and the church are “components” of the city’s symbolic structure, specifically with regard to separating those outside from those within (i.e., with walls and gates). The Torah, Psalms, and Prophets are the portals to our redemption, and the Gospels and Epistles are the foundation of our salvation. That is to say, Judaism and Christianity have no business being separate religions. The city/church is guarded by angels and kept exclusively the province of the Lamb’s bride. Later, we are told, “There shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Revelation 21:27) That is the ultimate expression of holiness. 

The angel went on to describe the city’s size, which was huge. It had a square “ground plan” 12,000 “furlongs” (Greek: stadia) on a side. A Greek stadion was 606.75 feet long, so this works out to 1,379 miles, or a total area of 1,901,641 square miles—roughly half the area of the United States. But the New Jerusalem was also said to be 12,000 stadia high, making it 250 times as tall as Mount Everest. Clearly, this city isn’t going to be sitting on the surface of the earth, but will (since it is specifically said to be “descending out of heaven from God”) be positioned above the earth as an orbiting satellite. Its dimensions define it as being about five eights the size of the moon. 

As impressive as the size of the city-satellite is, we should pay particular attention to how its dimensions were stated: “The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And [the angel] measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs [stadia]. Its length, breadth, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.” (Revelation 21:16-17) Everything here is based on the number twelve—the number of divine government. We see “twelve” all over the prophetic scriptures: Israel’s tribes and Christ’s apostles, twelve plus twelve, twelve multiplied by twelve, twelve thousand… the variations are as numerous as the constellations in the heavens. But at some level, they all seem to point toward how God chooses to manage His universe: through the agency (or viewpoint) of men and angels. That is, whether we are God’s servants through our free will (redeemed people), or by our created nature (angels), Yahweh elects to “run things” through His creation, for the benefit of His creation. Don’t look now, but that picture is diametrically opposed to the way all manmade “gods” are portrayed: as micromanaging narcissistic control freaks who are interested only in their own welfare. 

But I digress. We were talking about gemstones. John now describes how they were used in the wall around the New Jerusalem: “The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” (Revelation 21:18-21) As we saw above, each of the twelve foundations represents one of Christ’s apostles (literally: messengers, people sent forth on a mission). We’re not told which gem corresponds to which apostle, so I’ll refrain from idle speculation, though I’d presume Judas Iscariot is not represented, while Paul is. 

Consider the sheer size of this wall: it was 144 cubits (i.e., 12x12) in height—about twenty stories tall. We’re not told how thick it was, but it had to be massive. It had a circumference of 5,516 miles (1,379 miles on each of four sides). It’s a fair guess that there isn’t that much jasper in the entire crust of the earth, reinforcing our observations that (1) this city was of heavenly origin, (2) John saw it only in a prophetic vision (not with his waking eyes), and (3) the gems and other “construction materials” are identified as what they looked like to John, in his first-century experience and vocabulary. (Frankly, I’m impressed with his knowledge of geology: I seriously doubt that I could even name twelve different semi-precious stones without access to the Internet.) 


I’m sure John described exactly what he saw in his vision—even though there is no such thing in our experience as “pure gold, like transparent glass” or “pearls” big enough to use as gates in a wall this massive. The wall itself is said to be made of “jasper” (a specific form of quartz). The twelve gemstones were said to “adorn” or decorate the wall’s twelve foundations; we are not informed of their function in its construction. This leads me to the conclusion that each individual stone must have symbolic significance, something that should help to reveal whatever it is that keeps the Bride holy, separating it from that which is outside. 

This isn’t the only listing of twelve gemstones in the Bible. In Exodus 28 (repeated in chapter 39) Moses describes the High Priest’s ephod (a kind of vest or apron hung from the shoulders and tied at the waist, covering the chest). It included a feature called the “breastplate of judgment,” a pocket-like affair affixed over the heart. If you’ll recall, we discussed this above, when exploring the “signet.” Each of its twelve stones bore the name of one of the tribes of Israel Could it be that these are the same stones, and if so, what do they represent?

At first glance, the two lists seem similar but are not identical. But remember, Exodus was written in paleo-Hebrew, and Revelation was penned in koine Greek. Moses was describing small gemstones that had been found in the earth, processed and polished by men; while John was reporting what he had seen in a vision—what looked to him like precious stones he had seen on earth, but in a structure with its origins in the heavens. 

We have read the record of John’s vision concerning the twelve foundations of the New Jerusalem. Let us now review what Yahweh told Moses about the twelve jewels on the High Priest’s ephod: “You shall make the breastplate of judgment.” This was a small pocket-like affair sewn onto the front of the ephod. “Artistically woven according to the workmanship of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, you shall make it. It shall be doubled into a square: a span shall be its length, and a span shall be its width….” A “span” was the distance from a man’s thumb to the tip of his pinky finger—about 9 inches. 

Next, the gemstones themselves are placed in order: “And you shall put settings of stones in it, four rows of stones: The first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and an emerald; this shall be the first row; the second row shall be a turquoise, a sapphire, and a diamond; the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold settings. And the stones shall have the names of the sons of Israel, twelve according to their names, like the engravings of a signet, each one with its own name; they shall be according to the twelve tribes.” (Exodus 28:15-21; cf. Exodus 39:8-21) Whereas the foundation stones were said to represent the twelve apostles (who are neither named there nor placed in order), these twelve jewels denote the twelve tribes of Israel. But again, the stones are not correlated to specific tribes in either Exodus 28 or 39. I can only conclude that in both gemstone lists, collective concepts are being emphasized: (1) Israel is the portal to our redemption, and (2) the church is built upon the foundation of Christ. As I said before, the two things are (in reality) interwoven, inseparable, and indivisible, which is why Yahshua promised His disciples, “In the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28) 

And again (call me obsessive-compulsive if you like) the arrangement of the twelve stones seems symbolically significant: four rows of three stones each. I realize I haven’t yet formally covered the symbology of “numbers,” but three is the number of “accomplishment or significance,” while four indicates “God’s design for the earth.” Translation: “Israel is designed to be God’s instrument for the accomplishment of His plan upon the earth.” Of course, 3x4 is not the only way to get to 12. Two is the number of “witness,” and six is the number of “man.” So if He had instead specified two rows of six stones, the message would have been: “Israel is God’s witness to mankind,” which would have been true enough if only they had done what Yahweh had instructed them to do—which they did not. God did use this 2x6 arrangement in another context, however: the twelve loaves placed upon the table of “showbread” (literally, the “bread of the presence”) were to be arranged in two rows of six unleavened loaves (think: Pita bread, not Wonder Bread—i.e., overlapping, like fallen dominoes). So the message was: “These loaves are a witness to mankind of Yahweh’s provision.” But note that this arrangement was apparent only to someone standing within the tabernacle’s Holy Place, indicating the redeemed state, accessible only via the altar of sacrifice and the laver of cleansing. 

Finally, the purpose of the ephod’s breastplate is explained: “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the breastplate of judgment over his heart, when he goes into the holy place, as a memorial before Yahweh continually. And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before Yahweh. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before Yahweh continually.” (Exodus 28:29–30) The “Urim” and “Thummim” were objects placed in the “pocket” of the breastplate. Their purpose was to discern the will of Yahweh in issues not specifically spelled out by the Torah instructions; but we are never told how they were to be used. All I can tell you about them is that urim means “lights” in Hebrew, and thummim means “perfections,” in the sense of completeness or integrity. So the message seems to be: insight gained from the thorough and honest application of Scriptural truth can be a reliable indicator of God’s will—even if an “issue” isn’t specifically addressed in the Bible. 

On the theory that there is nothing accidental or incidental in the Holy Scriptures—especially when a concept is repeated—one has to at least consider the possibility that the two gemstone lists might mean the same thing. Here we have two instances of twelve gemstones being itemized together in the same context. What are the chances they are unrelated in God’s mind? But they aren’t identical in our English Bibles. Why? One inventory was described in the Paleo Hebrew language, the other in Koine Greek. Moses was instructed by God Himself precisely which gems to specify, stones that would be contributed by reverent Israelites to the tabernacle’s “building fund.” The Revelation list, in contrast, was generated in a vision in which an angel showed John the celestial city, and measured it for our edification. But John was (apparently) not told the names of the specific jewels he was looking at: the angel left it up to him to describe what they looked like to him. And then there’s the Messianic perspective: Moses’ list was specified a millennium and a half before Christ’s advent; John’s was seen decades after His resurrection. We must also address the issue of transmitting the gemstones’ names into English. The same stone (for example, Hebrew odem or Greek sardios) is translated carnelian, sardius, ruby, red quartz, or garnet, depending upon which translation you consult. All we know for sure it that it was red and looked pretty. 

The bottom line: both gemstone lists speak collectively of the glory of Yahweh’s plan for the destiny of His people. Therefore, I’m pretty sure that the lists actually are the same—that they symbolize the same twelve parallel truths. But because we were not told what those are, it is up to us to ponder what they signified. It’s time to engage the Urim and Thummim—the lights and perfections of God’s word, and pray for insight.
I first encountered these two lists in my studies for The End of the Beginning, Chapter 30. Allow me to use my conclusions there as an anchor for our discussion of these twelve gems. 

(1) Jasper. (Greek: iaspis; Hebrew: yashepheh). “The first stone listed in the foundation is the last stone on the ephod. This is a fine-grained, opaque, cryptocrystalline variety of quartz. It is often striped or spotted. Jasper can be red, brown, green, gray-blue, and yellow, but green was particularly valued in ancient times. A variety called bloodstone is dark green with small spots of red (iron oxide) scattered throughout. This is a pretty good picture of the blood of God’s perfect sacrifice, Yahshua, sprinkled upon the mercy seat to atone for our sins. He did, after all, describe Himself as ‘the first and the last’ in Revelation 1:11.” 

The “first and last, alpha and omega” characterization of Jasper is emphasized in John’s description of God’s presence as he saw Him on His heavenly throne: “And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.” (Revelation 4:3) So if Yahweh is described as “Jasper,” and since Yahshua said of Himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End… who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:11), then Father Yahweh and the Son of God, Yahshua the Messiah, are the same divine Person: they share the same identity, though not the same form. Never let anyone tell you that Christ is somehow “less” than God, just because He assumed a human body for a time. 

Jasper shows up prominently in the description of the New Jerusalem. Not only is it one of the twelve foundation stones, the glorious light of the city looked like Jasper to John in his vision, and the wall itself was described as jasper: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal…. The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass.” (Revelation 21:10-11, 18) Again, since jasper refers to “the first and the last, the alpha and the omega,” then we are being told (in symbolic terms) that the “wall” providing eternal security to those redeemed souls dwelling forever in the New Jerusalem is God Himself. 

The only mention of jasper (yashepheh) in the Hebrew Scriptures other than in the Torah’s description of the ephod’s breastplate of judgment is in a rather disconcerting description of Satan, before his rebellion. In this passage (Ezekiel 28) nine of the twelve gemstones on our list are mentioned. But I’d like to defer our discussion of this until after we’ve explored all twelve gemstones. 

(2) Sapphire. (Greek: sappheiros; Hebrew sappiyr). “Listed second in the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem, it was the middle stone on the second row of the ephod. The blue sapphire we know today—a form of corundum, an extremely hard aluminum oxide—was not used until the third century B.C. The ‘sapphire’ of Exodus, then, was more likely the lapis lazuli, a silicate of alumina, calcium, and sodium. Both stones are a rich, blue color, symbolic of heaven, i.e., our eternal destiny in Christ. (Maybe that’s why the sky is blue.)” 

The New Jerusalem’s foundation stones are the only New Testament reference to sapphires, but there are several usages of sappiyr in the Tanakh, all them denoting “heavenly,” whether literally, prophetically, or poetically. After Moses had delivered the Ten Commandments, Yahweh invited the leaders of Israel to witness His glory for themselves up on Mount Horeb. “Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Exodus 24:9-11) It’s hard for us to be dogmatic about what, precisely, the elders saw—or how. Was it a collective vision, or perhaps a mega-theophany? I don’t know. But they all saw the same thing, and it was beyond impressive. 

The “why” of it is easier to understand: Yahweh apparently wanted the leaders of Israel to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Moses wasn’t single-handedly making this stuff up as he went along. He wasn’t inventing a “new religion” out of whole cloth, with all the attendant smoke and mirrors. Rather, he was actually, literally, receiving the Torah-Instructions from the God of Creation, and passing them along to the people. Moses had told them that Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had spoken through him. It was clear that Somebody had brought the ten plagues upon Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and wreathed Mount Horeb in smoke and flame—and it wasn’t Moses. Now, the leaders “saw” God for themselves. It is a testament to the utter depravity of mankind that not a year had gone by when Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, were slain by this same holy God, whom they had seen with their own eyes, because they tried to aggrandize themselves by turning the personal relationship they could have had with Him into a ritual-encrusted religion. 

Eight and a half centuries later, Ezekiel saw a similar vision of Yahweh in heaven: “And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 1:26-28) Zeke was obviously having trouble finding words adequate to describe what he had been shown—as witnessed by his multiple references to “appearance” and “likeness.” In any case, we again see the sapphire (or lapis lazuli) used to describe the heavenly scene—this time as God’s throne. 

This simile is repeated in a later vision: “And I looked, and there in the firmament that was above the head of the cherubim, there appeared something like a sapphire stone, having the appearance of the likeness of a throne.” (Ezekiel 10:1) We are reminded in the “model prayer” in Matthew 6 that God’s will—what He wants done—is done in heaven. Ezekiel’s imagery of a heavenly blue sapphire gemstone fashioned into the God’s throne supports that concept. So let us not forget that we are instructed to pray that Yahweh (i.e., King Yahshua) will someday be obeyed on earth as well, for His kingdom is coming. (And soon, I’m guessing.) 

So the sapphire throne represents Yahweh’s heavenly authority. Considering how obsessed men and devils seem to be with attaining power, we should analyze God’s take on it, in light of this “sapphire throne” information. The title “Almighty” (Hebrew: Shadday) is applied to Yahweh forty-eight times in the Tanakh, and the Greek equivalent (pantokrator) is found ten times in the New Testament—all but one of them in the Book of Revelation. So there is no question of God’s awareness of His own power. But what does it mean to Him? We are reminded that the “sapphire” is listed second on the list of foundation stones, and it is the second stone on the second row of the gems on the High Priest’s ephod. Could Yahweh be telling us that as far as He’s concerned, His heavenly throne, His seat of authority, is of secondary importance to Him? We’re used to thinking of Yahweh as “the Lord,” but that is mostly because His self-revealed name has been mistranslated seven thousand times in the Old Testament. Every faux god in the pantheons of men is said to claim authority; but what is absolutely unique about Yahweh is His emphasis on love, rather than power: He loves us, and we are instructed to love Him in return, and demonstrate that love by loving our fellow man. It is the central theme of scripture: love trumps lordship. 

Amid his trials, Job took the time to ponder the source and value of wisdom—which at this point was about all he had left. He muses, “As for the earth, from it comes bread, but underneath it is turned up as by fire. Its stones are the source of sapphires….” Precious gemstones like sapphires, he says, owe their beauty to the pressure and heat the world imposes upon them. “But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?... It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire.” (Job 28:5-6, 12, 16) Wisdom too can result from adversity—as Job was learning the hard way. But in the end, it is far more valuable than gold or sapphires. Heavenly wisdom cannot be purchased with earthly riches. 

Solomon, who was known for both his wisdom and his riches, referred to sapphires in his allegory about the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. His “purple prose” makes it a little hard to sort out the imagery, but let’s give it a try. The Shulamite says, “His hands are rods of gold set with beryl. His body is carved ivory inlaid with sapphires.” (Song of Solomon 5:14) The bride is speaking about her beloved (who in the end represents Christ). She falls head over heels into what must seem to the world like incomprehensible gibberish, describing her lover with analogies no one who doesn’t know Him can possibly understand. (And believe me, this is but the tip of the poetic iceberg.) “His body is…inlaid with sapphires?” What on earth could she be talking about? In light of what we have learned about the “heaven” connotation of sapphires, she (that is, we—the church) are saying that when she beholds her beloved (Yahshua), she sees Him covered in, overlaid with, or wrapped in heaven itself. (This is what the Hebrew word alaph, translated “inlaid” here, literally means). As our Beloved Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father [that is, no one attains heaven] except through Me.” (John 14:6) 

And by the way, to whom is the Shulamite maiden (us) talking here? She is addressing Israel—the “daughters of Jerusalem.” At first (5:9), they don’t seem to “get it” but eventually (6:1), they become enthusiastic supporters of this passionate love match between the Shulamite and her beloved. It’s one of the strangest phenomena in the entire Bible: after 3,500 years of awaiting their “prophet like Moses,” and two millennia after they crucified “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” Israel will finally come to the shocking realization that the Christ of the Christians is the same Person as their long awaited Messiah. Our “Anointed One” is their Anointed One. As hard as this is to see coming (given the current dismal state of Jewish spiritual awareness), note that this is by far the most often-repeated prophecy in the entire Tanakh: the eventual (though belated) redemption and restoration of Israel as a nation. Zion will, in the end, see Yahshua as the Shulamite bride does: clothed in the sapphires of heaven. 

Ironically, if they had any kind of national memory, they’d realize that there was a time when they themselves were in a position to see this, but they had fallen from favor through their idolatries. Jeremiah writes: “[Zion’s] Nazirites [or nobles] were brighter than snow and whiter than milk. They were more ruddy in body than rubies, like sapphire in their appearance.” That was then, but “Now their appearance is blacker than soot. They go unrecognized in the streets. Their skin clings to their bones. It has become as dry as wood.” (Lamentations 4:7-8) The Babylonian deportation was but one of several well-deserved “spankings” the Children of Israel received at the hand of Yahweh their God. Their connection with heaven (amid several other pregnant spiritual metaphors) had been severed. 

The most severe of these chastisements, not surprisingly, took place when Israel (as a nation) rejected Yahshua the Messiah. Hosea’s prophecy describes the conditions—and even the schedule. Judah had languished in Babylon for seventy years before they were released. This time, their punishment would last a bit longer: “Come, and let us return to Yahweh, for He has torn, but He will heal us. He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days [read: two thousand years] He will revive us. On the third day [i.e., the third millennium after their offense] He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.” (Hosea 6:1-2) Don’t look now, but that two thousand years in God’s woodshed will expire in 2033. And what will happen then? Isaiah explains, in terms germane to our “gemstone” study: “O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones.” (Isaiah 54:11-12) When Yahweh “revives” and “raises up” Israel, it will be a beautiful thing to see. 

(3) Chalcedony. (Greek: chalkedon; Hebrew: shebuw). “The third foundation stone is probably the same as the agate listed in the center of the third row of the priestly ephod. Today, chalcedony is a catch-all phrase for a variety of translucent to transparent milky quartz stones with distinctive microscopic crystals arranged in slender fibers in parallel bands. Agate, bloodstone, carnelian, chrysoprase, flint, jasper, and onyx are all varieties of chalcedony. It occurs in a variety of colors ranging from blue-gray to reddish brown to a creamy white. Because of this variety, and since it forms six-sided elongated crystals, my guess is that Yahweh intended this to be representative of mankind, the object of His unfathomable love, in all of our variety, races, and cultures; and the subsequent humanity of Yahshua that enabled Him to rescue us.” 

The number three plays prominently in the significance of this stone: third in the foundation, and central in the third row on the ephod. Interestingly (or not), this gemstone is mentioned only three times in scripture, exclusively in the passages describing the ephod’s gems and the foundation stones. Three seems to be the scriptural number indicating accomplishment or significance, as in: life appearing on the third day in the creation account; Christ rising from the dead on the third day; and Israel being raised up on the third day in the Hosea 6 prophecy we just reviewed, etc. 

So if we consider the symbolic meaning of “three” in conjunction with the apparent “humanity” significance of chalcedony, the message would appear to be that Yahweh’s plan for showing His love to humanity would be accomplished through a Man—His own human manifestation, Yahshua the Messiah. Again, this concept is utterly foreign to every school of religious thought on earth—other than Judeo-Christianity. 

(4) Emerald. (Greek: smaragdos; Hebrew: bareqeth). “The fourth foundation stone was found third in the first row on the ephod. Also translated as beryl or carbuncle, the emerald is a hard, brittle gemstone, the most valuable form of beryl (a silicate of beryllium and aluminum). It was used to describe the rainbow surrounding God’s throne in Heaven (cf. Revelation 4:3, in which the related adjective, smaragdinos, “emerald-like,” was used). This description, and the fact that the stone must be oiled to retain its luster, leads me to conclude that the emerald may symbolize our need for the Holy Spirit—God’s very presence living within us. We, too, must apply the ‘oil’ of the Spirit to our lives if we wish to gleam for God’s glory.” 

Emeralds are mentioned very rarely in scripture—mostly in references to the High Priest’s ephod or the New Jerusalem’s foundation. But John’s visionary description of the heavenly throne room is intriguing: “Immediately I was in the Spirit. And behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.” (Revelation 4:2-3) He says the rainbow surrounding God’s throne looked like an emerald. But since rainbows are multi-colored and emeralds are green, the hue cannot be what he was talking about. 

Perhaps he was referring to the ephemeral quality of rainbows: like spirits (which is how Yahweh is described; see John 4:24), their physical properties are elusive, to say the least. So I noted with interest what Wikipedia had to say about the physical properties of rainbows: “A rainbow is not located at a specific distance from the observer, but comes from an optical illusion caused by any water droplets viewed from a certain angle relative to a light source. Thus, a rainbow is not an object and cannot be physically approached.” If you think about it, that’s not a bad description of the Spirit if God. He cannot be physically approached, unless He Himself provides us with the means to do so (like the theophany with whom Jacob wrestled, or like His “Son,” Yahshua). So, in strictly symbolic terms, that esoteric rainbow-emerald description appears to be saying, “The seat of Yahweh’s authority and power is guarded (literally, ‘encircled or surrounded by’) His holy, spiritual nature.” Or something like that. 

(5) Sardonyx. (Greek: sardonux, Hebrew: shoham). “Listed fifth in the foundation stones, sardonyx was composed of two layers, sard, or sardius—a translucent deep red or red-orange form of chalcedony—and onyx, a white form of calcium carbonate soft enough to be easily carved. Onyx (shoham) was listed in the middle of the fourth row of the ephod. Sardonyx was prized for making cameos and signet rings—the soft onyx carving standing out against the red sardius background. Signet rings, of course, were used for impressing the owner’s seal into hot wax—a means of identification, proof of ownership, and exercise of authority. The sardonyx, then, symbolizes our being “sealed” by Yahshua—the red of the sardius represents His blood, while the white onyx speaks of the purity that is imputed to us as a result of His sacrifice.” 

The unique aspect of onyx, other than its color (white = purity), is that it was soft (as rocks go)—soft enough to engrave names into it. So in the same passage as the “Breastplate of Judgment” instructions, we read this: “You shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel: six of their names on one stone and six names on the other stone, in order of their birth. With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet, you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel.” As you’ll recall, we discussed “signets” at length above. A signet or seal verified one’s ownership or provided authorization, proving the identity of the one whose seal had been affixed to a document. “You shall set them in settings of gold. And you shall put the two stones on the shoulders of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. So Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders as a memorial.” (Exodus 28:9-12) The High Priest (prophetic of Christ) was to carry the weight of Israel (symbolic of the entire human race) on his shoulders. 

The “carvability” of onyx was what made the whole picture possible. We can find our spiritual lesson by studying something even softer and more malleable: clay in the hands of a potter. There are numerous references to this symbol in both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. For example: “But now, O Yahweh, You are our Father. We are the clay, and You our potter. And all we are the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8) Onyx, while being harder (and harder to work with) than clay, is also far more valuable—a beautiful gemstone, not just “useful dirt.” And that’s how God sees us—as being worth the extra effort to shape us into something that (1) identifies our Owner, (2) is used by Him to accomplish (as a signet ring) His will in the world, and (3) reflect His purity. If we are hard of heart, we cannot be of much use to our Creator. 

Where we, as pure white onyx stones, really stand out is in contrast to the blood-red color of Sardius stone, in the rare naturally occurring gemstone sardonyx. This stone is never mentioned in the Old Testament, and is named only once in the New—in our anchor text describing the foundation stones of the wall of the New Jerusalem. In retrospect this makes perfect sense, because only in reference to the shed blood of Christ do we believers become valuable and useful in the world to whom we stand out as witnesses. Oh, and don’t overlook where the sardonyx was found in the wall of the holy city: it is the fifth stone listed—five being the number symbolizing grace. 

(6) Sardius. (Greek: sardios; Hebrew: ’odem). “As we have seen, this red form of chalcedony represents the blood of Yahshua, shed for our sins. Its hexagonal crystalline structure speaks again of His humanity, for the blood of sacrificial animals was never sufficient to atone for our transgressions. This stone was sixth in the city’s foundation, and first in the top row of the ephod. It is also translated carnelian, ruby, and garnet.” 

Other than the in wall and the ephod, sardius/odem is seldom mentioned in scripture. It shows up in the puzzling Ezekiel 28 list (which we’ll cover later), and again in John’s vision of the heavenly throne room: “Behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance.” (Revelation 4:2-3) Here God Himself is being described. Jasper (as we saw above) indicates the first and the last, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end—in other words, Yahweh as the eternal deity. 

And sardius? It means “red,” as in the color of blood. In Hebrew, odem is related to adam or adom—the color red. (There is another gemstone translated “ruby” in scripture—kadkod—but it apparently denotes “sparkling.”) This is another of those subtle scriptural indications that equates and identifies Yahweh (God the Father) with Yahshua (God the Son). They are both “like jasper,” the first and the last, i.e., everlasting. But the sardius stone—a picture of Christ’s blood, shed for us—is unique to the role of Yahshua, Immanuel: “God with us.” So don’t think of Yahshua as “something less” than Father Yahweh, just because He had a corporeal form: God is One, and however He choose to manifest Himself among humanity, His rightful place in on the throne of heaven. 

(7) Chrysolite. (Greek chrusolithos; Hebrew: tarshiysh). “Mentioned in position number seven in the wall of New Jerusalem, this stone was gold in color (chrusos=gold; lithos=stone), indicative of the unfathomable riches of God’s love toward us. It is probably the NKJV’s ‘beryl,’ or yellow jasper, listed as the first stone of the bottom row of the High Priest’s ephod.” 

I plan to cover gold (and other metals and minerals) in Volume 6 (if the Messiah tarries and I live that long). For now, suffice it to say that gold signifies immutable purity. Though it is impervious to acid exposure, gold can be separated from contaminants found within it by subjecting it to “adversity,” that is, being heated to a liquid state in a crucible. The extraneous dross can then be scooped off and discarded, leaving the pure metal behind. Yahshua, of course, was pure (sinless) from eternity past, but His time spent in the “crucible” of humanity on our behalf teaches us how to become pure like gold when we are subjected to adversity in this world. How many tyrants have discovered the hard way that persecuting Christians only makes us gleam more brightly for God’s glory? The surest way to purify and grow the church is to throw it in the cauldron and turn up the heat. 

Of course, chrysolite isn’t actually gold (with all the physical characteristics that would have implied). It is simply a gemstone that has a golden-yellow color. Still, I can’t help but reflect that this stone was chosen to remind us of gold’s properties and value. This observation is confirmed by chrysolite’s position as the New Jerusalem’s seventh foundation stone: seven is the number symbolizing completion and/or perfection, especially as it refers to God’s plan for the redemption of mankind. 

Although chrysolite (chrusolithos) is mentioned only once in the New Testament, it shows up (as tarshiysh) seven times in the Tanakh. (There’s that number again.) It can get confusing, because it is often translated “beryl,” which is a similar gem with a different Hebrew name as listed in the ephod stones (see #8). Of course, our confusion is almost to be expected, because every mention of tarshiysh other than the ephod gems occurs either in highly figurative poetic passages (Song 5:14) or in dreams and visions of things Ezekiel and Daniel saw in the heavenly realm, of which no objective reality is possible to define. As with John’s wall foundations, what it looked like to the prophet is what he called it. 

(8) Beryl. (Greek: berullos; Hebrew: yahalom). “This is a transparent or translucent gemstone, colorless to pale blue-green, also known as aquamarine. It is in position number eight in the foundation wall. This is quite possibly the ‘diamond’ (also translated emerald or white moonstone) listed last in the second row of the ephod’s gems (i.e., number six). What does it symbolize? Have you ever seen the crystal-clear seawater off the Bahamas? (Me neither, but I’ve seen pictures.) The pristine ocean—the color of berullos—always reminds me of Yahweh’s loving provision for us—the exquisite balance of earth and water, heat and cold, gravity and momentum, etc. From the first moment of creation, Yahweh’s goal was to build an environment for us to live in that He could call ‘very good.’ This is what I see when I contemplate beryl.” 

If my “ocean water” hypothesis is correct, then it is significant that there is eleven times as much water in the oceans as there is land poking out above sea level. When Yahweh provides, He does so with a profusion that’s hard for us to fathom. Water has always been essential to life as we know it, and (despite the hopeful presumptions of armies of astronomers) Earth is the only planet we’ve ever found with so much of its surface covered with liquid water. What is it Yahshua said? “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) Note that in the creation account of Genesis 1, God dealt with water (Day 2) before He introduced life (Day 3). 

But biological life (bios) is “only” a symbol, meant to inform us about the real, essential, and permanent life (zoe) that is available to us through Christ. Thus beryl or aquamarine is placed in the foundation of the New Jerusalem to remind us of the matrix of life—the attribute of our Creator that most fundamentally defines us as being made in His image and likeness. Remember, though, that graduating from mere bios into zoe requires choice—the application of free will (a gift Yahweh gave exclusively to the human race). Alas, the majority of mankind will fail to choose wisely in this regard. 

And this brings us to another facet of the beryl/aquamarine symbol—both counterintuitive and sobering: biological life as we know it is not permanent. We read, “Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died.” (Revelation 16:3) Has our Creator failed us? No. Consider beryl’s position in the foundation wall sequence: eight—the number symbolizing new beginnings. And it is in position number six in the ephod—symbolizing man. I have no doubt that Yahshua will restore aquatic life to the seas during His Millennial reign, but beryl’s significance will expand exponentially. In the New Heavens, New Earth, and New Jerusalem, He will preside over a transformed kind of life for humanity: life that never ends. 

(9) Topaz. (Greek: topazion; Hebrew: pitdah). “Foundation stone number nine, and centered in the top row of the ephod, is topaz. This is a form of quartz that has, through being heated, changed color—generally from a citrine or smoky quartz to a pale yellow (although other varieties exist—blue, brown, pink, or even colorless). According to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, topaz ‘is almost as hard as the diamond. It has the power of double refraction, and when heated or rubbed becomes electric.’ The symbol it presents (to me, at least) is Yahshua’s work in us through the testing of this world: our God ensures that rather than destroying us, the tribulation we endure makes us more useful, more beautiful, and infinitely more valuable.” Topaz is a bit like gold in this respect. 

Topaz is mentioned only once in scripture outside the foundation stones and ephod references (and the Ezekiel 28 anomaly). Job, in a passage we visited earlier, compares wisdom and understanding to the rarity and value of topaz, among other precious things: “Where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?... Neither gold nor crystal can equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewelry of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral or quartz, for the price of wisdom is above rubies. The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.” (Job 28:12, 17-19) Once again, we see that trials and adversity can result in something valuable and beautiful in our lives. Good things don’t come easily. They require work, sacrifice, devotion, diligence, and when appropriate, repentance before God. 

So Job concludes, “From where then does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding?... [Yahweh] saw wisdom and declared it. He prepared it, indeed, He searched it out. And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord [adonay], that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:20, 27-28) David concurs: “Sing praise to Yahweh, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment; His favor is for life. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:4-5) Call it an extrapolation if you like, but I believe topaz should serve as a reminder of these things. 

(10) Chrysoprase. (Greek: chrusoprasos; Hebrew: nophek). “Listed tenth among the foundation stones and first in the second row of the ephod, chrysoprase is the most highly valued form of chalcedony (whose hexagonal crystal structure, you’ll recall, indicates humanity). Chrusos, as we saw, means “gold,” and prasos means “leek,” as in the vegetable. The name thus indicates the golden-green color of this translucent gemstone. Also known as Australian jade, it’s often translated “turquoise” in Old Testament passages (“emerald” in the KJV). To my mind, it symbolizes the fruit of the Spirit in the believer’s life: love. (The rest of the Galatians 5 list—joy, peace, patience, etc.—is a description of love.)” 

Where else do “gold” and “green” show up in the same context? In the same passage where the foundation stones are listed, we read that “The street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” And a few verses later, we discover that, “In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 21:21, 22:2) At the very least, it’s compatible with the fruit of the Spirit, though I can’t state dogmatically that this is what God meant to teach us. Again, I must note that there is a remarkable lack of unanimity amongst the commentators about what these stones looked like, how they should be translated into English, and especially their symbolic significance. Chrysoprase-turquoise is about as esoteric as they come, and the dearth of scriptural instances of the words in question leave us with a rather cold trail. I freely admit that I’m guessing here. 

(11) Jacinth. (Greek: huakinthos; Hebrew: leshem). “The name of this stone sounds like it is derived from the hyacinth, a flower of deep blue or violet, but the stone itself ranges from colorless to yellow to golden brown in color. It was listed the eleventh of the foundation stones, and is found first in the third row of ephod stones. It is also translated amber or ligure. Jacinth is a form of zircon, a beautiful transparent natural gem (not to be confused with the synthetic ‘cubic zirconia’). Perhaps this is what John saw when he described the New Jerusalem and its street as “pure gold, like clear glass.” (Revelation 21:18, 21) If so, it symbolizes our glorious future in the ‘dwelling places’ Yahshua has prepared for us.” 

Again, the only time jacinth is mentioned in the Bible is when describing the New Jerusalem’s foundation stones and in the listings of the ephod’s gemstones, so we’re left to speculate what God meant for us to learn from this gemstone. If this is actually amber, we have a starting point. Amber (according to Wikipedia) “is fossilized tree resin that has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Much valued from antiquity to the present as a gemstone, amber is made into a variety of decorative objects…. Because it originates as a soft, sticky tree resin, amber sometimes contains animal and plant material as inclusions.” What makes amber unique among gemstones is its origin: it is quite literally the “blood” of a tree, soft and viscous at first, and (under the right conditions) setting or hardening over time into a beautiful gem-like “stone.” 

Wikipedia explains: “Molecular polymerization, resulting from high pressures and temperatures produced by overlying sediment, transforms the resin first into copal (resinous substances in an intermediate stage of polymerization and hardening, between ‘gummier’ resins and amber). Sustained heat and pressure drives off terpenes and results in the formation of amber. For this to happen, the resin must be resistant to decay. Many trees produce resin, but in the majority of cases this deposit is broken down by physical and biological processes. Exposure to sunlight, rain, microorganisms (such as bacteria and fungi), and extreme temperatures tends to disintegrate the resin. For the resin to survive long enough to become amber, it must be resistant to such forces or be produced under conditions that exclude them.” 

So if our “jacinth” is actually “amber,” there are apparently some spiritual parallels that may be drawn. Amber is fossil resin, often from coniferous tree species. One such tree that shows up prominently in Biblical symbology is the cedar. In Volume 3, Chapter 3.2, the cedar tree was revealed to be a Biblical metaphor for strength. There I wrote, “It’s worth noting that the cedar tree is never used as a metaphor for the strength wielded by Yahweh or His Messiah—i.e., something that is absolute and intrinsic. Rather, the cedar ‘reigns’ as the ‘king of the trees’ only at the discretion of ‘higher powers’—in the literal sense, men with axes.” Here I must fine-tune my earlier statement: the “absolute and intrinsic strength” of Yahweh’s Messiah did not apply to His first advent, in which Yahshua set aside the glory and power that were rightfully His in order to serve as God’s perfect sacrifice—voluntarily becoming, in effect, a “cedar tree” subject to “men with axes” on our behalf. 

Spiritual “amber,” then, is a picture of the blood of Christ. As we have seen, “inclusions” (such as insects) are sometimes found within amber, protected and preserved from disintegration by the process of hardening—the “heat and pressure” that Yahshua endured for us. Encased within His blood, so to speak, we “insects” are isolated forever from the corrupting influences that the world would impose upon us. In a sense, this is the inverse of God’s familiar “leaven” symbol, in which the corrupting influences of life are removed from us—simultaneously, you’ll note, with the slaying of the Passover Lamb (compare Exodus 12:6 with 12:18). The timing is not a coincidence, nor is the lesson. In both metaphors (amber and leaven) the message is clear that through the shedding of Christ’s blood, we who are in Him are kept separate from corruption. We are thus sanctified, set apart—made holy. 

On the theory that amber (signifying holiness) might be what jacinth really means, we should look at another example. I am admittedly on thin ice here, because (1) this is another visionary simile—the prophet was using objects familiar to him to try to communicate what he was seeing in his ecstatic state; (2) a different Hebrew word (chashmal, which can also mean “shining or glowing metal”) is used to describe the substance in question. (Note that Ezekiel is the only one in scripture who uses the word, and then, only to describe what he saw in visions). And (3) the prophet plainly says he was describing a color, not an actual mineral substance. Still, Ezekiel was being shown a vision of the very personification of holiness: “On the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it.” (Ezekiel 1:26-27; cf. 1:4, 8:2) And in case there was some question as to Who he was being asked to describe, he concludes, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 1:28) 

(12) Amethyst. (Greek: amethustos; Hebrew: ’achlamah). “The final stone in the city’s foundation was listed last in the third row of the ephod. The Greek name meant ‘not drunk,’ because (according to Pliny) its color (lilac, mauve, or purple) approached that of wine but didn’t quite get there. The color, though, is the likely key to its symbolism: purple is the symbol of royalty (because purple dye, made from the murex shellfish, was rare and expensive). Also, amethysts are crystals formed within geodes: they are thus separate (read: holy) from the rocks around them. Amethyst, then, is the symbol of divine royalty, King Yahshua—and through Him of the redeemed, described as a “royal priesthood” in I Peter 2:9 and Revelation 1:6.” 

As I reflected in my chapter on “Colors” (Volume 4, Chapter 3.3), “I find it fascinating that throughout scripture, the only king of Israel who is ever specifically said to have ever worn purple is Christ Himself—though it was only for a moment, was not His idea or desire, and was done in a spirit of blasphemous ridicule as a prelude to His crucifixion.” “So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. Then they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck Him with their hands.” (John 19:1-3) “Not even the fabulously wealthy Solomon (whose apparel was described as “glorious” in Matthew 6:29) is explicitly said to have worn purple—though he almost certainly did. This is thus one of those instances in which the Bible is prophetic in what it doesn’t say: ultimately, Christ alone is qualified to be called the ‘King of the Jews.’”

***

Before we leave our discussion of the twelve gemstones described and specified in both the High Priest’s ephod and the foundation of the New Jerusalem, let us address an odd, and rather disquieting, parallel list of gemstones used to describe Lucifer—before his rebellion. This is in the middle of a prophetic rant in Ezekiel 28 against the king of the seaport city of Tyre, singled out for condemnation because of his pride, greed, and unwillingness to acknowledge Yahweh for the wealth, power, and talent He had lavished upon him—and instead, declaring himself to be a “god.” 

Halfway through, Yahweh shifts gears and tells His prophet what’s really on His mind: the origin and fall of the demon we have come to know as Satan (our adversary), Lucifer (the false light), or the devil (our accuser or slanderer). For a fascinating parallel, review Isaiah’s similar imprecation in chapter 14 against the king of Babylon, which also morphs midway through into a description of Satan’s fall and destiny. (By the way, Satan is never actually named in Scripture, as Michael and Gabriel are. “Lucifer,” mentioned in Isaiah 14:12, is not his given name, but a descriptive title: helel, a world used only this once in scripture, means “day star,” or “shining one.”) 

In all of human history, we have only known Satan as a deceiver, a “snake,” the one who tricked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. But when Yahweh created him, he was the greatest, most gifted angel of them all. So Ezekiel writes, “Son of man, take up a lamentation for the king of Tyre [a metaphor for Satan], and say to him, thus says the Lord Yahweh: ‘You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God.” (Ezekiel 28:12-13) If we read between the lines, it would appear that Satan was “perfect” (just as God had created him) until Man showed up on the earth—this weak and naïve mortal creature whom Yahweh had (for some unfathomable reason) created “in His own image and likeness,” and then showered with His love. Unlike angels and animals, we were made with the privilege of choice, prerogative, free will. You can almost smell the envy the magnificent Lucifer must have felt. 

So, exercising a privilege he had not been given (like a sergeant disobeying his general’s direct order), Satan rebelled against God by tempting Eve to disobey Him, calculating that the love-struck Adam would follow her into sin. We all know what happened: “The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’ So Yahweh, God, said to the serpent: ‘Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field. On your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life….” The snake was just a vehicle, of course, a symbol or metaphor for what was going to happen to Satan: he would lose his place as the “seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” among Yahweh’s angelic host, and would henceforth be stripped of his unique angelic mandate (something we’ll explore in a moment). 

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:13-15) This is the Bible’s first overt Messianic prophecy. Satan was being put on notice that his destruction, ironically enough, would ultimately be accomplished by “the seed of the woman,” a vulnerable, mortal human being—someone he envied with every fiber of his being. From this point forward, the devil dedicated himself to the destruction of the human race, the object of his jealous loathing. 

Satan’s fall is a far bigger deal than it looks like at first glance. Angels were created to be immortal: once made, they could not be slain, even by their Creator. No one (other than Yahweh) knew what would transpire if one of them rebelled, because it had never happened before. I get the feeling that in his jealous rage, Satan hadn’t really thought this through, even though it is hinted (in Revelation 12:4) that a third of the angelic host rebelled when he did. This wasn’t like bashing your shin on the coffee table; it was more like falling out of an airplane into a raging volcano. 

Satan was the “best” of the created spirit beings—the most gifted, beautiful, and capable angel of them all, making his fall from glory all the more painful. How “great” had Yahweh made him? Ezekiel explains: “Every precious stone was your covering: the sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold.” There’s the gemstone list I’ve been talking about. “The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created. You were the anointed cherub who covers. I established you. You were on the holy mountain of God. You walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.” (Ezekiel 28:13-15) No wonder he imagined he could be “like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). 

Let us take a closer look at the list of gemstones. Nine are listed here, identified as the same stones (though not all of them) that were to be affixed to the Breastplate of Judgment on the ephod of the High Priest. To review: 

Sardius/ruby/carnelian/garnet: (Greek: sardios; Hebrew: ’odem). Spiritual significance: the precious blood of Yahshua, shed for our sins. 

Topaz: (Greek: topazion; Hebrew: pitdah). Spiritual significance: God’s work in us through the testing of this world, in emulation of our Savior, ensuring that the tribulation we endure makes us more useful, more beautiful, and infinitely more valuable—more Christ-like. 

Diamond/beryl/aquamarine/moonstone: (Greek: berullos; Hebrew: yahalom). Spiritual significance: Yahweh’s loving provision for us—the exquisite balance of earth and water, heat and cold, gravity and momentum, etc. From the first moment of creation, Yahweh’s goal was to build an environment for us mortals to live in that He could call ‘very good.’

Beryl/chrysolite: (Greek chrusolithos; Hebrew: tarshiysh). Spiritual significance: the unfathomable riches of God’s love toward us, complete and perfect. 

Onyx: (Greek: sardonux, Hebrew: shoham). Spiritual significance: the purity that is imputed to us as a result of Christ’s sacrifice, resulting in a willingness to be shaped into the image of Christ. 

Jasper: (Greek: iaspis; Hebrew: yashepheh). Spiritual significance: Christ as the First and the Last, the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega. 

Sapphire/lapis lazuli: (Greek: sappheiros; Hebrew sappiyr). Spiritual significance: heaven, our eternal destiny in Christ. 

Turquoise/chrysoprase: (Greek: chrusoprasos; Hebrew: nophek). Spiritual significance: the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

Emerald/beryl/carbuncle: (Greek: smaragdos; Hebrew: bareqeth). Spiritual significance: our need for the Holy Spirit. 

These nine precious stones (along with gold, a metal indicative of immutable purity) were what “covered” Lucifer before his rebellion. As incredible (or at least counterintuitive) as it may seem to us, it would appear that Yahweh had assigned him to be a living metaphor—a walking billboard, as it were—explaining the process and means of the redemption of mankind—before mankind even existed. Lucifer didn’t have perfect foreknowledge, of course, so this was all quite opaque to him, though he was “the anointed cherub who covers.” Who was his intended audience? Man wasn’t around yet. The only other class of living beings who needed this information was the angelic host—myriads of spirit messengers who (we might surmise) were created for the express purpose of facilitating man’s circuitous journey from Eden to the New Jerusalem. 

I must acknowledge that Yahweh—who does have perfect foreknowledge—knew exactly what was going to happen. Lucifer, the “shining one,” would rebel, and in the process provide mankind with the painful but necessary mechanism by which we humans could demonstrate our love and trust in Yahweh, his Creator-God. He didn’t give Adam and Eve all of the details; He didn’t spell out all of the ramifications and consequences of disobedience. He merely said, “Don’t eat the fruit from this one tree, My children. Trust Me.” In doing so, He provided a choice, something tangible upon which to exercise their new and unfamiliar privilege of free will. Alas, with Satan’s “help,” we chose poorly. 

He did roughly the same thing with Lucifer. Knowing his envy, He covered His “anointed cherub” with gold and precious stones, but He didn’t tell him what they meant—that (1) the blood of God’s anointed Son would atone for the sins of mankind; (2) tribulation would produce perseverance, character, and hope; (3) the whole purpose of creation was to provide a matrix in which love could work; (4) God’s love for man was limitless; (5) this love is capable of restoring purity; (6) the eternal, self-existent nature of God is what makes redemption work; (7) God has prepared a heavenly destination for those who share His love; (8) His indwelling Holy Spirit produces good “fruit” in the lives of the redeemed; and therefore, (9) mortal man must be born from above in God’s Spirit—born again into a new kind of life—if he wishes to see the Kingdom of Heaven. 

One significant difference between Adam and Lucifer was that Adam (having been made in the image and likeness of Yahweh) possessed free will. The no-no tree tacitly presented a choice: trust God, showing it through your obedience, or don’t. Lucifer was given no such choice. Prerogative was not his privilege. His “job” was to proclaim God’s love and glory by wearing the gemstones—even if he was clueless as to their meaning. The fact that Satan didn’t comprehend their significance did not make him any less guilty, any more than Adam’s and Eve’s naivety indemnified them from the consequences of their sin. 

So Ezekiel (still using the King of Tyre as a stepping stone to the real message to Lucifer) says, “By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within, and you sinned. Therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God. And I destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty. You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground. I laid you before kings, that they might gaze at you. You defiled your sanctuaries by the multitude of your iniquities, by the iniquity of your trading. Therefore I brought fire from your midst. It devoured you, and I turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you. All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you. You have become a horror, and shall be no more forever.” (Ezekiel 28:16-19) That’s a fall of unimaginable proportions from where Lucifer began—from the heavenly pinnacle to the abysmal depths. 

Oh, and by the way, Lucifer is not finished being “covered” with gemstones. It would appear that his “meat-puppet,” the Antichrist of the Last Days, will use the same ploy, and will achieve spectacular success—for about ten minutes (okay, three and a half years). “He [the ‘willfull king,’ a.k.a. the Antichrist] shall regard neither the God of his fathers nor the desire of women, nor regard any god; for he shall exalt himself above them all. But in their place he shall honor a god of fortresses; and a god which his fathers did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and pleasant things.” (Daniel 11:37-38) We are not told which gemstones he’ll use to honor Satan, but I can’t help but to reflect that this could be a sideways reference to Ezekiel 28. 

Note that three of the twelve gemstones specified for the High Priest’s ephod and the wall foundation for the New Jerusalem did not appear on the list of Lucifer’s covering stones. What’s missing? 

Chalcedony: (Greek: chalkedon; Hebrew: shebuw). Spiritual significance: It is representative of mankind, the object of God’s unfathomable love, in all of our variety, races, and cultures; and the subsequent humanity of Yahshua that enabled Him to rescue us. 

Amethyst: (Greek: amethustos; Hebrew: ’achlamah). Symbolic significance: the divine royalty of Yahshua, and through Him, of the redeemed mortals, described twice in scripture as “a royal priesthood.” 

Jacinth/amber/ligure: (Greek: huakinthos; Hebrew: leshem). Spiritual significance: mankind’s glorious eternal future in the “dwelling places” Yahshua has prepared for us—the direct result of God separating us from the sin that had separated us from Him, back in the Garden. 

What these three gemstones have in common is humanity: our redemption, our part in Christ’s royal priesthood, and our heavenly destiny. These three things were never ordained by God as being within Lucifer’s purview. But since his fall, he has spent his entire pitiful existence trying to make sure we did not and could not enjoy the glorious everlasting destiny Yahweh has planned for mankind from eternity past. As powerful as Satan is, we must never forget that compared with Yahweh, he is nothing but navel lint. Yes, his hatred and envy of the human race has caused untold damage and heartbreak, but the love of God, manifested in Yahshua the Messiah, trumps Satan’s schemes every time. All we have to do is choose to receive His gift of salvation. 

It’s not that mankind was not in view in the nine gemstones worn by Lucifer. We, in our sinful state, were the whole underlying reason God would send His Messiah. Nor did Satan have a legitimate reason to hate us (other than his own irrational envy). We were not blocking his access to heaven—to the very throne-room of God: the “sapphire” was his to wear from the moment he was created. His jealousy might have seemed justified if he had been privy to the symbolic significance of chalcedony, amethyst, and jacinth—but he was not. 

So did Adam and Eve fall into sin, or were they pushed? Choice was their prerogative from the moment Yahweh issued His instructions: “Don’t eat this fruit.” Would they still have sinned if Lucifer had never tempted Eve? We will never know. (I suspect they would have, but I hold this opinion only because Yahweh already had His plan of redemption worked out long before they fell.) What seems certain is that Adam and his bride didn’t need that sort of pressure. Since they had no innate knowledge of evil, they were ill equipped to see through the serpent’s subtle lies. Lucifer didn’t have to rebel. Nothing in God’s plan required it. He had no one to blame for his dismal fate other than himself.

***

So far, we have concentrated our study of gemstones on the twelve symbol-rich stones specified for the High Priest’s ephod, and described in John’s vision of the wall of the New Jerusalem. But there a few other jewel-like substances that are also mentioned in scripture, usually used as metaphors for something of great value. So let us now explore what the Word has to say about pearls, rubies, crystal, and coral.


Pearls 

Pearls are one of only a handful of organic (life-based) gems. Wikipedia defines them: “A pearl is a hard, glistening object produced within the soft tissue (specifically the mantle) of a living shelled mollusk or another animal, such as fossil conulariids. Just like the shell of a mollusk, a pearl is composed of calcium carbonate (mainly aragonite or a mixture of aragonite and calcite) in minute crystalline form, which has deposited in concentric layers. The ideal pearl is perfectly round and smooth, but many other shapes, known as baroque pearls, can occur. The finest quality of natural pearls have been highly valued as gemstones and objects of beauty for many centuries. Because of this, pearl has become a metaphor for something rare, fine, admirable and valuable….” 

The process by which pearls are formed seems (to me) to be a perfect launching pad for several spiritual lessons. Wikipedia again: “It is thought that natural pearls form under a set of accidental conditions when a microscopic intruder or parasite enters a bivalve mollusk and settles inside the shell. The mollusk, irritated by the intruder, forms a pearl sac of external mantle tissue cells and secretes calcium carbonate and conchiolin to cover the irritant. This secretion process is repeated many times, thus producing a pearl.” So note: 

(1) Pearl-forming mollusks like oysters are unclean animals. “These you may eat of all that are in the water: whatever in the water has fins and scales, whether in the seas or in the rivers—that you may eat. But all in the seas or in the rivers that do not have fins and scales, all that move in the water or any living thing which is in the water, they are an abomination to you.” (Leviticus 11:9-10) By God’s design, they are not meant to be eaten by people, but are rather there to filter contaminants and pollution out of the waters in which they live. So they’re sort of like humans in that respect: we too are “unclean,” having fallen into sin. But even so, our God-given “job” during our brief tenure here on earth is to make our environment a better place, “filtering out” pollution and corruption to the best of our ability. 

I’m speaking not so much in terms of ecology as I am of spirituality: we are placed upon the earth to love our Creator and demonstrate it by loving our fellow man as much (and in the same way) as we do ourselves. Darwinian dogma notwithstanding, we are not meant to be part of the cultural “food chain”—cannon fodder for other people’s hatred and prejudice, stepping stones for their ambitions, or a resource to be exploited and sucked dry, whether through exploitation, taxation, or addiction. 

(2) A pearl begins as an unwanted pollutant that has crept uninvited into the mollusk’s life—a grain of sand, or perhaps a parasite. It starts out tiny, but not so insignificant that the oyster doesn’t notice it’s there: it is an irritant, uncomfortable and annoying. So (having no other way to “scratch the itch”) the mollusk writhes within its shell, eventually covering the intruder with a coating of its own substance. This strategy, while successfully smoothing out the rough, scratchy surface of the original irritant, has a down side: though the irritant is now smoother, it is also now larger. The oyster has, so to speak, traded a belly ache for an upset stomach. The problem is still there, though its profile has been altered. 

Is this not a picture of how sin works in our lives? Temptations enter our lives whether or not they’re invited. It we are unable (or unwilling) to expel them, they remain as irritants. Sometimes we ignore them, but more often we end up “coating them” within ourselves with various elements of our humanity: either discernment, determination, and victory; or rationalization, willful ignorance, and surrender. 

Pearls, then, are a picture of our varied strategies for covering (atoning for) our sins. Ideally, we’ll defer to the One whose holy standards we have violated—ultimately trusting Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation. But there are other strategies common among men. Some deny sin’s reality (which ultimately entails denial of God’s very existence). Others attempt to “buy off” false gods—the core strategy of virtually every religion on earth. Their “currency” might consist of anything from alms, penance, and self-denial, to waging unrelenting jihad against the whole world in the name of Allah and his messenger. They’re all attempts to cover, hide, or beautify the sin that has crept into their lives, irritating their consciences and making them squirm in moral discomfort. 

(3) Pearls are not all “created equal.” They vary widely in color, size, and shape. The most valued of these are large, perfectly spherical, and iridescent white in color. These would be analogous to someone reacting to temptation with “discernment, determination, and victory,” as we saw above. The result is a testament to the oyster’s “character” (so to speak)—his willingness and resolve to bear the stress of living in a dirty world, yet making something beautiful out of his trials. 

Our prime example of such a person, of course, is Yahshua, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of His crucifixion. “He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.’ Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:39-44) 

The “inclusion” He was dealing with consisted of far more than the sure knowledge that He was about to suffer the most excruciating mode of death mankind had ever devised. (Let’s face it: the cross is where the word “excruciating” came from.) His agony included the fact that crucifixion was psychological torture as much as physical: the victim was charged with choosing the moment of his own death, because he had to push up with his legs in order to fill his lungs with air. Crucifixion victims did not bleed to death; they ultimately died of asphyxia, the inability to breathe, after sheer exhaustion made it impossible to continue the ordeal any longer. (And it should not be lost on us that “breath” is the root meaning of the words translated Spirit in scripture—pneuma in Greek, and ruach in Hebrew.) 

Perhaps the worst temptation of all was Christ’s knowledge that He could have easily “punted”—that twelve legions of angels would have come to His immediate rescue if He had but given the command. Only His stubborn and unfathomable love for us—the realization that we fallen humans would be forever left in our sins without His sacrifice—compelled Him to make available to us the “pearl of great price” of which He had spoken in His parable. Our sins, jagged and black, were placed into his “mantle.” (Yes, He became like an unclean oyster on our behalf—an abomination before men, just as Moses had characterized it.) There, our sins were covered (read: atoned) with innumerable “layers” of the precious blood of Christ, insulating us from the wrath of God and transforming us into His own adopted children: pure, white, radiantly beautiful, and valuable beyond comprehension—in a word: saved. 

There is no clear mention of pearls per se in the Hebrew Scriptures. But dar, meaning “mother-of-pearl,” is one of the materials describing the splendor of the palace of the Persian King Ahasuerus (a.k.a. Xerxes) in Esther 1:6. (The King James and its derivatives miss it altogether, though most English versions translate it correctly.) So it is clear that the ancients used pearls, and knew where they came from. The interiors of the shells of salt-water bivalve molluscs like oysters, as well as gastropods like abalones, are prized to this day for their iridescent beauty. (As a personal aside, some of my favorite guitars have beautiful inlaid fretboard position markers of mother-of-pearl and/or abalone shell.) 

The Greek Scriptures, on the other hand, are peppered with references to pearls. The word margarites is found nine times in the New Testament. For example, in Christ’s “Kingdom Parables,” we read, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46) As we saw above, this “priceless pearl” is ultimately the salvation provided to us by Yahshua the Messiah, who endured unspeakable torment on our behalf. In The Owner’s Manual, I wrote, “Something of immense value—the Gospel of Christ unto salvation—was found. The finder realized how valuable a thing he had found, and deemed it prudent to invest everything he owned in order to attain such a precious thing. Thus the kingdom of Heaven—this personal relationship with God attained by grace through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ—is not to be taken lightly. It is not part of one’s soteriological strategy—to be supplemented with good works, alms, penance, and piety as needed, just in case. No, this is the whole thing, the only thing.” Ask any Christian. If he’s thinking clearly, he’ll tell you the most valuable thing he owns is his salvation, his relationship with Christ. 

Conversely, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” (Matthew 7:6) “That which is holy” is equated or paralleled here with “your pearls.” That is, whatever is set apart for God’s glory, sacred and sanctified, is by definition the most precious and beautiful thing in your experience. So as we saw above, the reference is ultimately to the Gospel of Christ and the salvation to which it leads. Does this mean we are not to share our joy in Christ with the lost? No, quite the contrary (as it’s stated unequivocally in Matthew 28:19-20, etc.). 

The key to the conundrum is in the identification of our intended audience. As with “holy things” and “pearls, “dogs” and “swine” are also descriptive of the same thing—in this case, filthy, self-centered scavengers (the two-legged variety), who have neither wisdom, discernment, interest in nor awareness of spiritual things. They’re not merely the “lost” (who might be characterized as “sheep,” or even “goats”), but rather wild, unclean beasts who would just as soon bite the hand that feeds them (all the way up to the elbow). Dogs? Think not of your family pet, a loyal and protective canine companion, but rather of coyotes, wolves, or maybe hyenas. Swine? Think not of Babe, the sweet sheep-herding pig of movie fame, or of Piglet, the tiny, timid best friend of Winnie the Pooh in A.A. Milne’s children’s stories. Think rather of a feral hog in the deep South—a dangerous and unpredictable wild boar who is perfectly capable of killing and eating his would-be hunter. 

No, what Yahshua is telling us here is to stop wasting our breath trying to “convert” people who are confrontational and antagonistic toward spiritual reality. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. Just live your life before them in holiness and love for your fellow man—and yes, even toward those who would irrationally count you as an enemy. No one ever got “argued” into the Kingdom of Heaven. Just invite them, if not by words, then by the testimony of a transformed life. Remember, God can transform a mangy coyote into a golden retriever, so to speak. There is a long and distinguished list of antagonists and atheists who, confronted with a Holy God, became new (and fruitful) creatures in Christ. A few famous ones that come to mind off the top of my head: Saul of Tarsus; Augustine of Hippo; Abraham Lincoln; C.S. Lewis; Lee Strobel…and Donald J. Trump. 

That’s not to say we shouldn’t make the Good News available to as many people as humanly possible. The character of scripture is such that one one can glean enough truth from reading a couple of paragraphs in the Gospel of John to come to saving faith; but at the same time, someone (like me) can study it for a lifetime and never remotely get to the bottom of it. As I noted in The End of the Beginning, “At the end of the 19th century, the Bible had been translated into 522 languages. By the close of the 20th, 2,200 people groups possessed the Word of God in their native tongues. That’s 99.95 percent of the world’s population, a statistic that’s bolstered by the ubiquitous availability of electronic media today—radio, television, and the Internet. Wycliffe Bible Translators reports that with the help of computer technology, they now expect to have the Word of God translated into every language spoken on earth—even those “pre-literate” groups currently without their own written alphabet—by 2025.” You’ll recall that Yahshua said, “This Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) That’s how close we are. 

The whole principle of “not casting your pearls before swine” was, ironically enough, turned upside down and used by Muhammad. The Hadith of Imam Muslim (Collection 24, Book 20, Number 4609) reports: “The Messenger said: ‘Do not take the Qur’an on a journey with you, for I am afraid lost, it would fall into the hands of the enemy.’ Ayyub, one of the narrators in the chain of transmitters, said: ‘The enemy may seize it and may quarrel with you over it.’” I can understand why he commanded this: most of the Qur’an (supposedly the very words of the Islamic “god” Allah) is either unfathomable gibberish or a hate-driven call to war against all mankind. 

Craig Winn, in his scathing exposé of Islam entitled Prophet of Doom—Islam’s Terrorist Dogma in Muhammad’s Own Words, writes, “When reviewing the primary papers of any dogma we must be mindful that context comes in three forms. There is the context of historical chronology—that of circumstance, place, people, and time. There is the context of adjacency—the proximity of related words and thoughts within the writings themselves. And context can be topical; in this case similar themes can be brought together and organized by subject. All forms of context provide clarity. Unfortunately, the Qur’an fails its faithful on all three counts. The book lacks any semblance of chronology. It is deficient when it comes to providing the required context of place, people, and time. Adjacent verses are usually unrelated and often contradictory.” 

Ironically, although the Qur’an is readily available in English today, its supporting works, the Hadith (from al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim) and Sunnah (by Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Hisham, and al-Tabari) are very hard to find in any language other than Arabic. But the Hadith (the “Sayings of the Prophet”) and Sunnah (or “Example”) are essential to Islam because the Qur’an is virtually incomprehensible without the background, commentary, and timeline they provide. In fact, Islamic Sharia law has no basis in the Qur’an without the support it derives from Muhammad’s recorded words and deeds. If “the Prophet” said it or did it, it is deemed acceptable, or even mandatory. And that’s a problem, because the “pearls” Muhammad wished to hide from us “swine” are things from which any normal, sane person’s conscience would naturally recoil in horror. 

Enough of this. Let us return to the Bible’s mentions of “pearls.” Paul writes, “Women [should] adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.” (I Timothy 2:9-10) It’s not wrong for a woman to try to look her best, especially for her husband. But her strategy for achieving “beauty” will vary with her spiritual outlook. Habitually dressing in a purposely seductive manner—tight-fitting, revealing clothes, short hemlines, plunging necklines, etc., sends an entirely inappropriate message to every man she meets, as does the parallel ploy of using expensive jewelry, hairstyles, cosmetics, or fashion trends in an attempt to become “attractive.” Real beauty comes from within, from a godly demeanor and quite spirit—confident, competent, content, and considerate. In short, a Christian woman should not “dress to impress,” but rather “dress with respect.” (Ironically, a believing woman should adorn herself with “pearls” in the symbolic sense—letting her salvation influence her actions.) 

Not surprisingly, one “woman” in scripture is the poster child for getting it all wrong—even if “she” is only a symbolic manifestation seen in a vision. And sure enough, pearls are part of her proud and arrogant wardrobe—as if to say, I will do whatever it takes to achieve my goals of wealth, power, and influence—up to and including sleeping with the Devil himself: “And I [John] saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: ‘Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth.’ I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” (Revelation 17:3-5) 

She is not only a whore herself, she is also the “mother of harlots.” That is, the fruit she bears is evil, for generation after generation. Historically, “Babylon the Great” has been the bane of mankind’s existence since Nimrod fathered her shortly after the Great Flood. Her “pearls” are (as usual) the outgrowth of, or response to, temptation, but her reaction has never been “discernment, determination, and victory.” Rather, it has always been driven by the worst elements of the human condition: “rationalization, willful ignorance, and surrender to sin.” 

As I said above, pearls are a picture of humanity’s varied strategies for covering our sins—whether right or wrong. So in John’s explanation of what ultimately happens to Babylon (one permutation of it, anyway—the commercial-financial side of things), we might “read into” the narrative a subtle spiritual truth. He says, “And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over [Babylon], for no one buys their merchandise anymore: merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls….” Could he be hinting that after Babylon is destroyed—suddenly and decisively—during the Tribulation, people will no longer “buy” her bogus strategies for dealing with the sins of mankind? This list of things is rightly called “merchandise,” for she has been “selling it” to a lost and gullible world for millennia. Babylon’s “pearls” are falsehood, heresy, and apostasy, so to speak. 

The “merchandise” list continues: “…Fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men.” All of these things, in addition to being literal descriptions (in first-century language) of Babylon’s wares that will evaporate “in one hour,” are probably spiritual metaphors as well. We have discussed many of them already in the pages of The Torah Code. But one in particular stands out in our present context: the last entry lends credence to my “pearls” theory. Literal slavery aside, Babylon the Great has always been in the business of buying the souls of men (cheaply, I might add), and reselling them to Satan at a profit. False strategies for dealing with the sin that we know permeates our lives (despite our hollow protestations to the contrary) only serve to make the “pearl of great price” of which Yahshua spoke seem beyond reach, an unattainable fairy tale. In the end, what Babylon is really selling is spiritual death. 

So John concludes, “The fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have gone from you, and you shall find them no more at all. The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.’” (Revelation 18:11-17) People (Babylon’s “merchants”) have been getting rich by pushing falsehood since the dawn of history. But there will come a time, in the not-too-distant future, when there will no longer be any profit in being a false prophet. Everything that once seemed so impressive will be “gone with the wind.” Perhaps with all the shiny distractions gone, the hapless inhabitants of planet Earth will at last be able to perceive the truth more clearly. One can only hope. 

We see pearls once more in the Book of Revelation, but these are obviously in a class by themselves: “[The New Jerusalem] had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west…. The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” (Revelation 21:12-13, 21) Those must have been some really big oysters. Just kidding, of course. What John was seeing here (in his vision) was a heavenly construct—a city and its wall not made of earthly materials at all. We have already studied the significance of the twelve gemstones comprising its foundation. 

What we have learned about pearls as a symbol should guide us concerning what God meant to teach us here: pearls represent the various strategies for the covering (read: atonement) of sin—whether the right way or the wrong way. Since this is a description of the heavenly city—the “mansions in glory” of which Yahshua spoke—we must conclude that these “pearls” represent the right way—God’s way—of covering our sin. So let us note several salient factors: 

(1) These pearls are the gates to the city. That is, they represent the only way to enter into the heavenly bliss God has prepared for us. The wall, you’ll note, is “great and high,” barring unauthorized entrance. As we learned previously, it is made of jasper stone, a symbolic reference to “the first and the last, the alpha and the omega.” In other words, God Himself provides eternal security to those redeemed souls dwelling in the New Jerusalem. 

In Biblical usage, a gate is more than just the entrance to a city: it is also where the elders would meet to discuss weighty matters—read: “city hall.” And what matter could be “weightier” than the determination of who is accounted worthy to be admitted to the New Jerusalem? So John writes, “[The New Jerusalem’s] gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it. But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” (Revelation 21:25-27) Basically, it’s the same truth revealed by the city’s “pearly gates.” One’s sins must be covered in order to gain entrance. 

(2) Each of the twelve pearl-gates is named for one of the twelve sons of Israel. The message is clear: one way or another, Israel is the door to the Kingdom of Heaven. Not only was the Messiah a Jew, God’s whole plan of salvation was prophesied in a hundred different ways in the Torah—the Instructions of Yahweh, which were entrusted exclusively to Israel. The fact that they failed to keep the Torah’s precepts is beside the point (or maybe, it’s the whole point). Not only is atonement—sin-covering (the function of pearls, you’ll recall) possible, the Torah teaches us how it must be done: only innocent life-blood can atone for the sins of the guilty. That is why John the Baptist identified Yahshua as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 

Making Israel the “gateway” to the New Jerusalem must have confused generations of Christians who labored under the misconception that the church had replaced Israel in the heart of God. The fact is, the eventual redemption and restoration of Israel—the Jews—is by far the most often-repeated prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures. Meanwhile, the Jews clung to the opposite—and equally erroneous—concept: that because they were “God’s chosen people,” the gentiles couldn’t be saved unless they somehow became Jews first. John’s description of the “pearly gates” above, however, sorts out our separate roles: that which was entrusted to Israel—the Torah—is the “key” to the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven. But “They [the Jews] shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.” Who? “The nations” is the Greek noun ethnos, meaning a race, a nation, or the nations (as distinct from Israel)—in other words, the gentiles (as it’s translated about half the time). 

(3) Finally, let us look at the way numbers are used symbolically here—specifically, three, four, and twelve. Twelve is the number signifying divine government. As I noted a few dozen pages back, “We see ‘twelve’ all over the prophetic scriptures: Israel’s tribes and Christ’s apostles, twelve thousand, twelve plus twelve, twelve multiplied by twelve—the variations are as numerous as the constellations in the heavens. But at some level, they all seem to point toward how God chooses to manage His universe: through the agency of men and angels. That is, whether we are God’s servants through our free will (redeemed people), or by our created nature (angels), Yahweh elects to ‘run things’ through His creation, for the benefit of His creation.” 

So there are twelve gates to the New Jerusalem. Why twelve? To get a feel for this, let us play the “what if” game. If God had ordained only one gate, then the message would have been that He Himself (remember: “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is One.”) would be choosing who would enter and who would be excluded—the classic predestination scenario. If He had specified two gates, the implication would have been that everyone who heard of Yahweh or His Messiah would be granted entrance, for two is the number of witness. If five gates had been specified, then we might have concluded that everyone for whom Christ died (and that’s everyone) would have been forced to receive His grace, whether they wanted it or not. Six gates might have suggested something similar: that all of humanity was welcome, regardless of what they believed. (Options “5” and “6” are basically the position of today’s Catholic-led ecumenical movement: everybody is welcome in heaven except fundamentalist Christians.) But twelve gates indicate that admittance to the holy city is provided in the context of divine government, which since Eden forward has been subject to the free will our Creator deemed our prerogative. (This explains why this present world so seldom approaches God’s ideal for us.) The bottom line: no one enters the holy city who did not choose to trust Yahweh’s Messiah to atone for his sins. 

How, then, did we arrive at twelve? The New Jerusalem is said to have a square “ground plan”—four equal straight sides, each 1,379 miles (“12,000 stadia”) in length. Four denotes “God’s design,” as in the four seasons, or four points of the compass, north, south, east, and west (which are specifically referred to in the New Jerusalem narrative). Christ told His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3) This is that “place.” Preparation begins with design, so from a symbolic point of view, it makes perfect sense that the city would have four sides. 

So if the city has four sides and twelve gates, then there are three gates on each side. It’s simple math, and it’s described as such in the Revelation narrative. If I’m seeing this correctly (that is, if the gates are placed at even intervals), they would be placed about 345 miles apart, in literal, geographic terms. But undoubtedly more important is what the number denotes symbolically: three is invariably associated with accomplishment or significance—as when Christ rose from the dead on the third day. Since we’re talking about the “pearly gates” here—the entry points to the New Jerusalem (which, for all intents and purposes, is the “heaven” Christ’s followers can expect to inhabit for eternity)—it’s hard to imagine any accomplishment of greater significance than that toward which Yahweh has been working ever since Creation: the admittance of those who have chosen to reciprocate His love into His blessed presence. 

So I’m beginning to think of pearls this way. They are the gateways to God’s most significant accomplishment (the atonement of our sins), multiplied by His design for our destiny (our reconciliation with Him), equaling divine government—our ultimate salvation: the perfect, ideal environment in which we will dwell in the very presence of our beloved God and Savior—forever. 

And you thought pearls were just pretty jewelry.


Rubies and Corals

We have already discussed the symbology of gemstones sometimes called “rubies” in our study of the New Jerusalem’s wall foundation and the High Priest’s ephod. There, the Hebrew odem or Greek sardius (meaning red—metaphorically, the color of the blood of Christ) were in view—also translated carnelian, sardius, red quartz, or garnet, depending upon which translation you consult. 

But other gems show up sporadically in scripture that are also translated “rubies,” or sometimes “corals.” The English translations are far from consistent. The Hebrew word peninim is usually rendered as “rubies,” but some sources equate them to corals or pearls—or merely “jewels.” The rarely used ramoth is usually translated coral; and kadkod might be rendered either ruby or coral. It apparently bears the connotation of “sparkling.” All we know for sure is that these gems were reddish in color, beautiful, and rare enough to be highly prized. 

Solomon, who wrote or collected the sayings in the Book of Proverbs, knew well the value of both rubies and wisdom, clearly preferring wisdom to any jewel one might find on earth: “[Wisdom] is more precious than rubies [peninim], and all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.” (Proverbs 3:15) “For wisdom is better than rubies [peninim], and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her.” (Proverbs 8:11) And again, “There is gold and a multitude of rubies [peninim], but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.” (Proverbs 20:15) 

And then there’s Job, who observed (in a passage we reviewed previously), “Where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its value, nor is it found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not with me.’ It cannot be purchased for gold, nor can silver be weighed for its price. It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire. Neither gold nor crystal can equal it, nor can it be exchanged for jewelry of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral [ramoth] or quartz, for the price of wisdom is above rubies [peninim]. The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, nor can it be valued in pure gold.” (Job 28:12-19) 

I find it fascinating that Job, a contemporary of Abraham living in Aram (Syria), was quite familiar with imported goods from such far flung locales as Ophir (probably in India) and Ethiopia (i.e., Cush—East Africa). Part of what made these gems and metals “precious” was the vast distances they had to travel. Wisdom, meanwhile, can be found wherever Yahweh is revered—perhaps as close as the chair you’re sitting in. 

Fifteen hundred years later, Syria was still very much involved in the international caravan trade, making Tyre—their seafaring customer to the west, on the Mediterranean coast—fabulously wealthy. “Syria was your [Tyre’s] merchant because of the abundance of goods you made. They gave you for your wares emeralds, purple, embroidery, fine linen, corals [Hebrew: ramoth], and rubies [kadkod].” (Ezekiel 27:16) Ezekiel’s point was that her immense wealth could not save Tyre from utter destruction: she would have been far better off with godly wisdom than with untold temporal riches. He goes on to say, “They weep over you in bitterness of soul, with bitter mourning. In their wailing they raise a lamentation for you and lament over you: ‘Who is like Tyre, like one destroyed in the midst of the sea? When your wares came from the seas, you satisfied many peoples. With your abundant wealth and merchandise you enriched the kings of the earth. Now you are wrecked by the seas, in the depths of the waters.” (Ezekiel 27:31-34) 

For over two millennia, Tyre was a thriving seaport city on the coast of Lebanon. But because her wealth made her a target, she abandoned the old site and rebuilt the entire city on an island just off the coast, where she was considered “impregnable.” Enter Alexander the Great, who besieged the island fortress on a pretext in 332 B.C., spending seven months demolishing the entire old city and throwing the rubble into the sea to form a causeway out to the island. During the siege and subsequent battle, 8,000 Tyrians were slain (compared to Alexander’s losses of only 400 men). And even though the women, children, and elderly had been spirited off to safety in Carthage (in North Africa), 30,000 Tyrians were sold into slavery. Tyre never regained her former glory, and Ezekiel’s unlikely prophecy (delivered two and a half centuries before its fulfillment) was proven to be precisely correct. 

You may be thinking, “Okay, but this is all ancient history, and besides, what does it have to do with gemstones?” True, the specific gemstones listed by Ezekiel are more or less beside the point—mentioned mostly to demonstrate Tyre’s obsession with temporal wealth (at the expense of spiritual values). But I couldn’t get over the uncanny similarity between what happened to Tyre in past history and what is about to happen—on a far larger scale—in the not-too-distant future. The subject “city” this time is Babylon—not the ancient site (now little more than an archeological dig on the Euphrates) but what she represents: false doctrine in all of its guises. As John put it, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” (I John 2:16) 

In Revelation, an angel told John, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.” (Revelation 18:2-3) This (and all of Revelation 18) sounds so much like Ezekiel’s assessment of ancient Tyre, it can’t be a coincidence. 

What is the fate of commercial-financial Babylon? It too sounds eerily familiar: “Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.” (Revelation 18:16-17) This describes the total collapse of the world’s present corrupt financial and commercial infrastructure. Babylon’s demise will be remarkably sudden: three times in this passage, we are told that its judgment and resulting desolation will take place in the space of “one hour.” Alexander’s seven-month siege of Tyre was quick, but this sort of speed is going to require some modern technology—probably of the nuclear missile variety. 

“Babylon” consists of three permutations. First (as we see here) is its financial-commercial side—the business of buying and selling, lending and borrowing—the theft, greed, and covetousness endemic in our world. Phase two is human government and its inevitable partner, military might—the lust for power over our fellow man. And finally, Babylon is the home of false religion: lies and errors made under the color of authority or influence, which in these last days would include the media, academia, and even the entertainment industry. All of these things must “fall” before God’s perfect kingdom can be instituted upon the earth. 

So what will happen after Babylon’s long-overdue demise? “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms [literally, the kingdom—singular—informing us that rival governments as we now know them will no longer exist under Christ’s reign] of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15) This is going to take some getting used to for the Millennial mortals. The jewels and riches Babylon had used to influence us (which, truth be told, she had stolen from the rotting corpses of our fellow man) will no longer be in evidence—or squandered on such frivolities as warfare, welfare, healthcare, or compound interest on the national debt. In a world run by Love Personified, 95% of today’s typical government budgets will be rendered unnecessary. 

Okay, sorry for the digression. We were talking about peninim, ramoth, and kadkod, “red” gemstones that do not seem to point toward Yahshua’s atoning blood, but rather indicate something else that’s precious, rare, and of great value. For example, a good woman: “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies [peninim].” (Proverbs 31:10) The implication (perhaps) is that a “virtuous wife” is by definition wise and discerning. 

In another passage (one we’ve seen before, when exploring sapphires) Jeremiah points out just how far Judah’s princes had fallen under Babylonian captivity. The contrast is striking: “[Zion’s] Nazirites [or nobles] were brighter than snow and whiter than milk. They were more ruddy in body than rubies [peninim], like sapphire in their appearance. Now their appearance is blacker than soot. They go unrecognized in the streets. Their skin clings to their bones. It has become as dry as wood.” (Lamentations 4:7-8) It is as if these “carbon-based life forms” had once been “diamonds,” but had now been transformed into “coal” due to their own apostasy and idolatry. Their value and beauty before God and man had been decimated. 

The good news is that the transformation can work both ways: Israel’s yet-future spiritual restoration is in view in Isaiah’s hopeful assessment of their future: “O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted [the very picture of Israel in captivity, exile, and persecution], behold, I [Yahweh] will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies [kadkod], your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones.” (Isaiah 54:11-12) Some of this imagery is reminiscent of John’s description of the New Jerusalem: a beautiful destiny for God’s chosen people—after they finally repent and come to their senses, receiving their Messiah after suffering two millennia of needless affliction. (See Hosea 6:1-3 for God’s take on the timing.)


Crystal or Glass

The only place we encounter “crystal” in the Greek scriptures is in the Book of Revelation. There, it is invariably used as a simile—something to give the reader some idea of what the scene looked like to John in his vision. Bear in mind that what we today would know as crystal—beautiful stemware or large faceted glass-like jewels—were unknown in John’s day. And the large, flat sheets of glass with which we cover our windows today were, likewise, something that John wouldn’t have recognized. 

He did, however, know what a frozen pond looked like: transparent and smooth, like a modern sheet of glass. (Yes, it does occasionally get cold enough to freeze standing water in the Levant.) And that—ice—is the source of one of the word families used to describe “crystal.” Krustallos is a noun derived from kruos, meaning frost or ice. Krustallizó is the related verb, meaning “to be clear like crystal.” In another Greek word family, the noun hualos is used to describe any clear, transparent stone. Its corresponding adjective hualinos, means glassy, made of glass, or transparent. 

As a practical matter, krustallos and hualos are used as synonyms in the New Testament. Helps Word-Studies notes: “In Scripture, transparency is a greatly valued virtue, representing the Lord’s glory shining through (reflecting Himself!). For example, ‘the glassy sea’ surrounding the throne of God in heaven (Rev 4:6, 15:2) is apparently what reflects the Lord Himself, as manifested (reflected by) His saints. By God’s light, their sanctification-glorification has a spiritual transparency that reflects the image of Jesus Himself. This projects (or reflects) the glory He invested in them as transformed (‘transparent’) saints. In this way, the Lord gets all the glory—and believers have the incredible privilege of sharing (reflecting) it!” 

The first time we see these words used, John has been taken “in the Spirit” to heaven, to the very throne room of Yahweh. He had just related “the things which are,” via Christ’s letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor (in Revelation 2 and 3). Now he was going to be shown “things which must take place after this,” so he could join his fellow prophets in informing the faithful of what to expect during the Last Days. He saw all sorts of wonderful things, not the least of which was God Himself, seated on a rainbow-shrouded throne. “Before the throne there was a sea of glass [hualinos], like crystal [krustallos].” (Revelation 4:6) He found himself standing on an immense polished floor, but it was transparent—he could see what was below it. 

In a fascinating twist, Ezekiel got a similar glimpse of “heaven,” but his vantage point was from beneath the clear ceiling. “The likeness of the firmament above the heads of the living beings was like the color of an awesome crystal [Hebrew: qerach—frost or ice], stretched out over their heads.” (Ezekiel 1:22) The simile, again, is that ice looks like crystal. In fact, of the seven appearances of qerach in the Tanakh, six of them literally mean frost or ice. This is the single exception. 

Anyway, here in Revelation 4, John met twenty-four elders (representing the believers of every age), a quartet of heavenly beings whose function was to symbolize the four-fold character of the Messiah: the lion of authority, the calf of service and sacrifice, a man (His humanity), and the eagle—the Lord of the heavens, i.e., deity. Then the Messiah Himself was revealed—introduced as a Lion, but appearing as a sacrificial Lamb. From here in heaven, John was shown what was to happen in the future—our future. First, the Lamb/Messiah opened seven seals on a document describing, in the most generalized of terms, the events that would take place on earth as the age of man whimpered to its conclusion. Seven angels then blew seven trumpets, providing more detailed information—within the context of the seals. They were followed by seven more angels pouring out seven bowls of God’s wrath upon the earth, describing events that would take place after the Antichrist—Satan’s false Messiah—took control of the planet: the Great Tribulation. 

Whereas life (if you can call it living) under the Antichrist’s (mercifully) brief rule will be characterized by darkness, gloom, falsehood, and death on an unprecedented scale, our God is able to make things “as clear as glass” when illumination and transparency are needed. Every reference in Revelation to “crystal” or “glass” stands in marked contrast to the Antichrist’s dystopian world. At one point, we see the Tribulation martyrs—those who refused to accept the mark of the beast (with all that implies). “And I saw something like a sea of glass [hualinos] mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God.” (Revelation 15:2) 

They’re safe (and alive) in heaven, though they have been slain for their testimony on earth. It seems likely that these martyrs have received their immortal, resurrection bodies (just like the raptured saints who preceded them), because they’re able to handle “harps.” All of the deceased and martyred saints will inhabit I Corinthians 15-style immortal (spiritual) bodies during the kingdom age. But our focus here is on the “sea of glass,” the transparent floor of heaven’s throne room. Does this imply that the Tribulation’s martyred saints in heaven will be able to see and comprehend the carnage that is still going on in the earth? I don’t know, but it would certainly explain the substance of their subsequent praise to God: “They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested.” (Revelation 15:3-4) 

The clarity and transparency of heaven transfers intact to the “mansions in glory” (see John 14:1-4) Christ promised to prepare for us. “[The angel] showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal [krustallizó].” (Revelation 21:10-11) We have previously studied the various gemstones that adorned the wall of the New Jerusalem, and what they signified. Here we see that the radiance of the city—the quality of light within it—was beautiful, pure, clear, and transparent. Again, a drastic contrast is drawn between the cities of our present earth, filthy and polluted, and the atmosphere God provides. A bit later, we learn why this is so: God Himself is its light: “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.” (Revelation 21:23-24) 

John continues trying valiantly to describe the holy Jerusalem, but we get the distinct impression that words are failing him: “The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass [hualos]…. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass [hualos].” (Revelation 21:18, 21) Gold (the metal) is not transparent by any means. It is so malleable it can be beaten into foil only four millionths of an inch thick, and yet it remains opaque. But what John saw was both gold in color and transparent in quality. We are left to ponder what this meant: was it “merely” a physical description—implying a city far more beautiful than anything man has ever been able to build on earth? Or was it meant to be symbolic as well? Is the city’s appearance meant to be an eternal reminder of the immutable purity Christ’s sacrifice has bestowed upon us, while at the same time hinting that in the eternal state, we will perceive and understand things that are at best obscure or opaque to us in this world? As Paul put it: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (I Corinthians 13:12) 

What about the water in the holy city? Water is the foundation of biological life as we know it. So it should come as no surprise that it is an essential part of Yahweh’s own “self-portrait,” signifying His determination to cleanse and restore His creation (See The Torah Code, Volume 1, chapter 3.4). But (as with anything in God’s creation) there is a potential for corruption. In its pure form, water is a crystal clear liquid. But it is also a solvent, capable of breaking down and carrying off whatever comes in contact with it, given enough time. And then there’s the human factor: it can start off as a clear mountain stream, fed by pristine melting snow; but with enough neglect or abuse, it can end up a slow-flowing sewer, carrying so much pollution, it can’t even support life. 

That being said, there is nothing quite as beautiful (in our experience) as a babbling brook, a pure and untouched stream flowing from its source high in the mountains. So I (for one) am really looking forward to seeing this feature of the New Jerusalem: “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” (Revelation 22:1) Not surprisingly, “God” and “the Lamb” are seen occupying the same throne, for they are the same divine “Person.” And pure water—the source and sustainer of life both symbolically and literally—is seen flowing from the seat of God’s authority. Pardon the pun, but it doesn’t get any clearer than that. 

Not surprisingly, Yahweh describes His effect upon Millennial Zion in very similar terms: “For thus says Yahweh: ‘Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed. On her sides shall you be carried, and be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you. And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 66:12-13) Although these “waters” seem a bit cloudy and turbid at the moment, this promise—that Yahweh will eventually bring about the restoration and cleansing of Israel—is as clear as any prophetic premise in the entire Tanakh, due to its frequent repetition. The one wrinkle we don’t always see in scripture (and certainly not yet in the course of human events) is that the nations—the gentiles—will honor Israel unreservedly when she receives Yahshua as her King and Messiah. The word translated “glory” here (“wealth” in many English versions) is the noun kabowd, technically meaning “weight,” thus (figuratively) splendor, honor, or glory. (The related verb kabad is the “honor” or respect we are instructed to show to our father and mother, according to the Fifth Commandment in Exodus 20:12.) So Israel is going to change from being rebels, at enmity with their Creator, into His favored children, compliant and comforted. 

The same remarkable transformation will apply to all of Yahweh’s covenant people during Christ’s Millennial kingdom. “‘For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,’ says Yahweh, who has mercy on you. ‘O you afflicted one, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal [eqdach], and all your walls of precious stones.’” (Isaiah 54:10-12) It may be a bit presumptuous to translate eqdach as “crystal.” Other versions render it “sparkling jewels,” “shining gems,” “carbuncles,” “beryl stones,” etc. The word merely means “something with a fiery glow, burning, or sparkling.” It is something beautiful, valuable, and of a fiery appearance. Its root verb (qadach) means “to inflame or kindle.” (It’s ironic that another word sometimes translated “crystal”—qerach—means “looking like ice.”) 

The fascinating thing about Isaiah 54 is that it seems to look beyond the eventual restoration of Israel proper, revealing the destiny of a broader demographic. Yes, Israel is certainly included, but what Israel symbolizes—the entire Family of God—is identified in the closing verse: “‘No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of Yahweh, and their righteousness is from Me,’ says Yahweh.” (Isaiah 54:17) This definition goes far beyond Israel. At the moment, in fact, it seems a far better description of the church, the called-out assembly of Christ’s true followers, especially in these Last Days. This passage actually begins all the way back in Isaiah 52:13 and runs through chapter 53—all of which is a “crystal clear” description of the Messiah, specifically in His first-advent role as the sin bearer, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” as John the Baptist put it—the Anointed Savior to whom the church responded. The nation of Israel will not participate fully in these blessings until she recognizes Yahshua of Nazareth as her Anointed King. 

And she will. It will take the horrors of the Great Tribulation to open Israel’s eyes, but the requirements of the Day of Atonement will be fulfilled at last when they see their Messiah—God in flesh—standing on the Mount of Olives. It will be an unprecedented epiphany—an injection of pure Wisdom, straight into the heart of the nation. As Job put it, “Neither gold nor crystal [zekokith: transparency, glass, or crystal; from sakah: to be clear, clean, or pure] can equal [wisdom], nor can it be exchanged for jewelry of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal [gabish—from a root meaning “to freeze,” because of crystal’s resemblance to ice]. The price of wisdom is above pearls.” (Job 28:17-18 ESV) If crystal indicates “clarity of perception,” then we are being told something a bit counterintuitive here: wisdom—God’s truth, perceived with the heart—is even more valuable than empirical knowledge. To turn the old saying on its head, seeing isn’t believing. Believing is seeing. 

The bottom line: for two millennia now, Israel has been trying unsuccessfully to think her way to Yahweh, to gain clarity through study, religion, piety, tradition, kabala… a hundred strategies aimed at gaining peace with God through human effort. But seeing their Messiah face to face will imbue Israel with wisdom—a far more valuable commodity than all the jewels in the world. As Solomon said, “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10) They are about to learn that Yahweh and Yahshua are One

Crown/Diadem: Authority, Identity, or Victory 

Undoubtedly the most cringeworthy passage in the entire Bible is the account of Yahshua’s “trial” before Pontius Pilate: “The soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the hall called the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. And they stripped Him and put a purple robe on Him. Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a reed in His right hand. Then they bowed the knee before Him and [mockingly] ‘worshiped’ Him, spat on Him, struck Him with their hands, and took the reed and struck Him on the head, saluting Him saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Pilate then went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.’ Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the Man!’ ‘Behold your King!’ Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar!’ And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified. And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS.” (Matthew 27:27-31, Mark 15:16-20, 26, and John 19:1-6, 14-15, blended) 

The scribes, elders, Pharisees, and chief priests all wanted Yahshua killed because, although He had been doing things one might have expected of the Messiah (healing the sick, feeding the multitudes, and casting out demons, raising the dead, etc.) He was also doing things they found inconvenient or uncomfortable—like turning over the money-changers’ tables in the temple, and calling them (Israel’s religious elite) “children of Satan,” in so many words. Yahshua had questioned their authority, challenged their pride, and called them out—publically—for their hypocrisy. And perhaps His worst “sin” of all was refusing to hate the Romans. Horrors! 

The elites had for years been trying to trick Yahshua with contrived “When-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife” questions—to no avail. This ragtag itinerant rabbi just kept getting more popular with the unwashed masses—at the elders’ expense—even when He made “outrageous” statements purposely designed to “thin the herd,” things like “Eat My flesh and drink My blood,” or “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” Anybody who couldn’t perceive that He was speaking metaphorically was spiritually tone deaf. The last straw had been raising Lazarus from the dead. Bethany wasn’t some backwater town like Nain (where He had pulled off a similar “stunt”). It was a suburb of Jerusalem, for cryin’ out loud—their own bailiwick. It was an intolerable affront to their prestige—to their oh-so-delicate egos. 

The religious elite would have assassinated Yahshua themselves, but they didn’t have the stomach for it, never mind that pesky Sixth Commandment. No, it would have to be done “legally,” with courts and trials. Claiming to be the Messiah was, after all, blasphemy in their eyes. But there was a problem. Barnes’ Notes reports that “The Jews themselves [in the Talmud] say that the power of inflicting capital punishment was taken away [by their Roman overlords] about 40 years before the destruction of the temple,” which would make it about the time Yahshua’s public ministry commenced. (In reality, Roman dominion giving themselves authority over such things had begun some twenty years earlier.) In any case, the Romans couldn’t have cared less about the fine points of Jewish religious tradition: blasphemy against HaShem wasn’t illegal under Roman law. No, the Jews would have to come up with something to which the Romans would be forced to react: like sedition. 

But again, there was a problem. Although everybody familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures knew that the Messiah would come as a king, Yahshua had flatly refused to rise to the bait when it had been offered (see Luke 4:5-7; John 6:15). The equally obvious “suffering Servant” prophecies were brushed aside, buried by the “mainstream media,” so to speak, because they were disquieting and uncomfortable—just as they had been intended to be. It would appear that nobody but Yahshua Himself understood that the Messiah’s “suffering” and “reigning” advents would be separate events—separated (it turns out) by a couple of thousand years. Still, it was the only card the elders had to play, so somehow they convinced Pilate that Yahshua was claiming to be the “king of the Jews” and gathering followers to Himself—something the governor was compelled to take seriously. Basically, the chief priests and scribes played Pilate like a fiddle. 

Pilate interviewed the “suspect,” of course. He learned that (1) yes, Yahshua was a king; (2) no, His kingdom was not of this world (whatever that meant); and (3) He was absolutely no threat to the Roman Empire. Convinced of His innocence, Pilate wanted to set the rabbi free, but he was worried about word getting back to Emperor Tiberius (who was known to be a vindictive, paranoid boor) that he was allowing a rival “king” to walk about free in Roman society. So to cover his own aspirations, and in order to placate the rioting mob outside (stirred to a frenzy by the Jewish leaders) Pilate finally relented, and prepared to crucify “the king of the Jews.” Keeping the peace, after all, was job #1. 

Crucifixion was often preceded by a severe beating with a Roman flagrum, a whip with shards of bone or metal attached to leather strips, capable of slicing the victim’s flesh right down to the bone. The idea was to weaken and humiliate the “defendant.” In this case, the charge itself brought with it added potential for derision far beyond what the average thief or murderer would have suffered. A “king” had fallen into the hands of the soldiers, so (they figured) some royal mockery was called for. They found a purple robe to drape over His bloodied shoulders, and a reed to serve as a royal scepter was thrust into His hand.

And as a “crowning touch,” somebody made a stephanos, a victor’s garland of the type kings and emperors, triumphant generals, and champion athletes alike were apt to wear. But this one wasn’t a laurel wreath, appropriate for an Olympic winner, nor was it fashioned of gold, such as the emperor might wear. This crown was made of cruel thorns. The Pulpit Commentary notes, “The crown of thorns was in all probability woven from the Zizyphus spina Christi (the nabk of the Arabs), which grows abundantly in Palestine, fringing the banks of the Jordan. This plant would be very suitable for the purpose, having flexible branches, with leaves very much resembling the ivy leaf in their color, and with many sharp thorns. The pain arising from the pressure of these sharp thorns upon the head must have been excruciating.” 

Kneeling in mock “worship” before the condemned “king” must have seemed like great sport to the ignorant soldiers. They would have benefitted, it seems to me, from a little Bible study. Isaiah had written, “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow; every tongue shall take an oath. He shall say, ‘Surely in Yahweh I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, and all shall be ashamed who are incensed against Him.” (Isaiah 45:22-24) When they mockingly knelt before Yahshua, they were some of the first men in history to fulfill this prophecy that every knee would bow before Yahweh. Their shame, I’m afraid, will have to wait until Judgment Day. 

Paul referenced Isaiah 45 in several places: “And being found in appearance as a man, He [Yahshua] humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Here, of course, is where the Romans unwittingly inaugurated His eternal reign with their crown of thorns: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11; cf. Romans 14:11) Mock all you like in this life, but in the end, you will acknowledge that Yahshua is the Messiah—the King of kings and Lord of lords. My advice: acknowledge Him now. 

Ezekiel warned of Israel’s coming judgment at the hands of the Babylonian horde—but I perceive this to be a preview of the whole world’s impending doom during the Great Tribulation: “Those who survive will escape and be on the mountains like doves of the valleys, all of them mourning, each for his iniquity. Every hand will be feeble, and every knee will be as weak as water.” I don’t know how accurate the NIV translation is, but they render this, “Every leg will be wet with urine.” Very colorful. “They will also be girded with sackcloth. Horror will cover them. Shame will be on every face.” (Ezekiel 7:16-18) 

Why? Because they refused to bow the knee before King Messiah when they had the chance. When they next see Him, He will no longer be wearing a crown of thorns—the symbol of a king being sacrificed for the benefit of His people. On the contrary, the world will soon see what John saw: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns.” (Revelation 19:11-12) His first crown is that of King David: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end upon the throne of David and over His kingdom.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) And before the dust settles, the crowns of all the nations of the Earth will sit upon His head: “Out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a [scepter] of iron.” (Revelation 19:15) Or as David put it, “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to Yahweh, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is Yahweh’s, and He rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:27-28) 

The “crown,” then, represents rule over men and nations. It is worth noting that as far back as the Garden of Eden, God restricted man’s authority. Yes, He put all of the animals under man’s suzerainty: “God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) We were to rule all living creatures—except one. Mankind himself was to be ruled not by other men, but by God alone. But due to our persistent rebellion against Yahweh, He eventually ordained human governments to rein in our madness—governments that in turn were responsible for governing according to God’s ordinances—the human conscience, if nothing else. But as they say, “power corrupts.” Human governance has proven to be a curse to mankind, far more often than it is a blessing. We have no one to blame but ourselves. 

The bottom line: a “crown” on the head of anyone other than Yahweh is a recipe for disaster. “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3) 

***

When you picture a biblical “crown” in your mind’s eye, don’t necessarily think of the kind of thing European royalty might wear—a heavy, elaborate, jewel-encrusted golden hat, perhaps trimmed with purple or scarlet. The lighter-weight diadem, a bejeweled wreath-like affair (a “circlet”) serving the same purpose, may come closer to reality in many cases. But often, a “crown” (at least in the Old Testament) is just a turban, though decorated with jewels or gold to distinguish the wearer as either royalty or religiously significant (such as Israel’s High Priest). 

Several Hebrew words are translated “crowns” in our English Bibles, but the words don’t always give us a clear picture of what they looked like. The most often-used of these words (at 25 occurrences) is nezer, which actually stresses the consecration or separation of the wearer. It’s from nazar; properly, something set apart, e.g., dedication as of a priest or Nazirite. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes, “In view of the fact that the long hair of a Nazirite was a nezer denoting his consecration, and the head plate of a priest was a nezer denoting his consecration, the word nezer appears not to connote “crown” in the primary sense, but a crown in the sense of the sign of one’s consecration. This could be one’s hair as well as a headpiece. The nezer was a sign of the king’s consecration to his office just as it was a sign of the Nazirite’s consecration to God.” 

A word used almost as often (at 23 instances) is atarah: a crown or wreath (from the verb atar: to surround). TWOT explains: “This word, a general term for crown, should be distinguished from nezer, the royal and priestly crown. Atarah can designate the crown of the queen, the nobility, or the bridegroom. While the crown could be made of gold and silver, it could also be a garland of flowers. By far the most significant use of this word is the figurative. It is used metaphorically to show honor and authority.” 

Kether is a Persian loan-word, used only in Esther. It’s based on a root related to atarah (from kathar—to surround). It is defined as a crown, or more properly, a diadem—i.e., a lightweight jeweled circlet or wreath.
And while we’re on the subject of significant headgear, there are several words that mean “turban.” Tsaniph is used five times in scripture, and mitsnepheth is a word used only of the High Priest’s turban (which, as we shall see, had a nezer upon it). Migbaoth refers to the headgear worn by ordinary priests. 

Since both kings and priests (in Israel, anyway) are said to be “anointed” and “crowned” for service to God and Man, let us begin there. Anyone the least bit familiar with Israel’s royalty knows that godly kings (those who attempted to follow the leading of Yahweh) were rare indeed. Even the wisest of them all, Solomon, fell into idolatry in his old age, and subsequently, after his death, the kingdom was split in two. Israel (a.k.a. Ephraim, a.k.a. Samaria, a.k.a. the northern kingdom) had ten of the twelve tribes. From the very beginning, they never had a single godly king. Meanwhile, the southern kingdom, Judah (including the tribe of Benjamin), had a spotty record as well, though not quite as dismal as their northern brothers—there were some bright spots here and there. 

Less than a century after the kingdom was divided, things on both sides of the border had degenerated into utter chaos. Israel’s famously wicked Ahab and Jezebel had borne a daughter, Athaliah, who had married into Judah’s royal family, becoming Jehoram’s queen. The heir to Judah’s throne, their son Ahaziah, had reigned for only a year when he was slain while in Samaria (i.e., the capital city of the Northern Kingdom) by Jehu (who had usurped Israel’s throne—with Yahweh’s blessing). (Confused yet?) So back in Jerusalem, Queen Mother Athaliah decided to kill all of Judah’s potential royal heirs so she could rule Judah herself. Never let it be said she wasn’t a true daughter of Jezebel. (The plot was obviously satanically inspired, for the Messiah had been foretold to come from Solomon’s royal line. If Athaliah had succeeded with her royal mini-genocide, Yahweh would have been made a liar.) 

But she missed one—her own grandson Joash (or Jehoash), who was only an infant at the time. The royal refugee was spirited to safety by his big sister, Princess Jehosheba, who was married to the High Priest Jehoiada. They kept Joash hidden and safe, raising him in the nurture and admonition of Yahweh for the next six years, while the Ba’al-worshiping Athaliah ruled Judah—badly. But when Joash reached the ripe old age of seven, Jehoiada took the needed steps to restore the throne to Solomon’s rightful heir. “And he brought out the king’s son, put the crown [nezer] on him, and gave him the Testimony [i.e., the Torah]. They made him king and anointed him, and they clapped their hands and said, ‘Long live the king!’…Then he sat on the throne of the kings. So all the people of the land rejoiced.” (2 Kings 11:12, 19-20; see also II Chronicles 22-23) 

This is where the underlying meaning of the crown (nezer) becomes apparent. In being made king, young Joash was not just placed in power—a regime change, so to speak. No, he was consecrated, set apart, and ordained before God for the task at hand. Note that along with the crown, they gave the lad a copy of the Torah, so he could refer to it throughout his reign. (According to the Torah itself, the king was to make his own copy of the Law of Moses, but the kid was only seven when he received the crown of Judah. Actually, we have no record of any king of Judah ever following this command. Things most certainly would have been different if they all had.) The nezer-crown of Judah, then, was not just a fancy hat. It was a symbol of the monarch’s responsibility before Yahweh to rule in a wise and godly manner—as defined by the Torah’s precepts. 

Queen Mum Athaliah, needless to say, was not amused. When she found out about her grandson’s ascension to the throne, she ran to the temple, screaming “Treason, treason!” That’s pretty ironic, if you think about it: she is the one who, having murdered all the royal heirs she could find, had seized Judah’s throne for herself. Why is it that wicked people invariably accuse others of doing whatever it is they themselves are guilty of? In this case, nobody bought her lies. Joash’s loyal bodyguard dragged Athaliah out of the temple and killed her in the palace. Ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead. Then they proceed to rid the nation of pagan worship, tearing down the temple of Ba’al and killing Mattan, its priest. The transformation of Judean society was stunningly sudden, sweepingly thorough, and a welcome breath of fresh air to those who had been oppressed under Athaliah’s satanic rule for so long. 

Is it just me, or do you too see a spiritual “dress rehearsal” emerging here? Queen Athaliah plays the role of the Whore of Babylon. Her six-year reign parallels the six thousand years we have labored in sin in the wake of Adam’s fall. Adam’s part is played by Ahaziah (meaning, “Yahweh has grasped”), whose unnecessary death gave the murderous daughter of Jezebel a foothold in God’s Land. Joash (whose name means “Yahweh is strong,” or “Yahweh has come to help”) stands in for Yahshua the Messiah, who was always in the picture and was always destined to be our King. Yet He would not actually receive the nezer—the crown of consecration, nor be seated on the throne of earthly rule, until the seventh year—i.e., the seventh millennium of Man. This “seventh year” is the Sabbath, the day of rest that God was so insistent we observe (and a day that is on our very near spiritual horizon, by the way). And finally, note the relief and rejoicing at the downfall of Satan’s daughter and the restoration of the rightful king. It was all pretty apocalyptic, as these prophetic pictures go. And it’s all about to come to pass—again—before our very eyes. 

Yahweh’s intended “political structure” for the nation of Israel did not include a monarchy (though He knew that they would eventually demand one, and issued precepts designed to help him wear the nezer-crown with honor, humility, reverence, and wisdom). Their “King,” rather, was intended to be Yahweh Himself, whose laws had been transmitted to them in the Torah. But the priesthood—the keepers of the Torah—held no political power at all, and their brother Levites likewise fulfilled a role of service and consecration, but had no temporal inheritance or authority whatsoever. 

Israel’s first king, Saul, was apparently chosen by God to give the Israelites what they thought they wanted: a tall, handsome warrior, one who would lead their armies to victory against their enemies (whom they had failed to drive out of the Land, as instructed, during the 400-year-long age of the Judges). Saul wore the crown of Israel half-heartedly: he like being king and “commander-in-chief” well enough, and was a skilled warrior, but he generally operated in his own strength and understanding—not as one consecrated to Yahweh. 

After a long a checkered career, Saul was mortally wounded in battle with the Philistines. Rather than being taken alive by the enemy, he told his armorbearer to finish him off, which the man refused to do, since Saul was Yahweh’s anointed. So Saul committed suicide by falling on his sword. The honorable armorbearer then fell on his own sword. But before the Philistines could come back to strip the dead and gloat over their fallen foe, an Amalekite youth came across Saul’s corpse, and he smelled an opportunity for reward and self-aggrandizement. 

Knowing the paranoid Saul had hated his rival David, the young Amalekite presumed the feeling was mutual (not comprehending David’s character). So he took the articles from the dead body identifying him as the king, found David’s camp, and lied to him about how Saul had died—claiming to have done what the armorbearer would not: put the king out of his misery, administering the merciful coup de grâce. Pretending to be the hero in the story, the Amalekite told David, “[The dying Saul] said to me again, ‘Please stand over me and kill me, for anguish has come upon me, but my life still remains in me.’ So I stood over him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown [nezer] that was on his head and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them here to my lord.” (2 Samuel 1:9-10) 

The crown at this point served two important functions: (1) it proved that the corpse had indeed been Saul’s, and (2) it reminded David (as if he needed reminding) that Saul had been Yahweh’s anointed—appointed and consecrated by God Himself to rule His people Israel. “So David said to him, ‘How was it you were not afraid to put forth your hand to destroy Yahweh’s anointed?’” (II Samuel 1:14) And he “rewarded” the Amalekite by having him executed. David had spent years running away from the paranoid and spiteful King Saul. And on several occasions, he had been in a position to kill the king if he has chosen to do so. But David understood, as few others did, that wearing the nezer-crown of authority over Israel meant that God Himself had put the man on the throne: he was anointed for a divine task: being responsible for Israel’s welfare. And any shortcomings Saul had were a matter to be settled between the king and the King of kings (God Himself), not by people who had not been anointed for judgment or vengeance (as Jehu, for example, would be in the Northern Kingdom, 170 years later). Ironically, David himself had been anointed as the future king by the prophet Samuel fourteen years before Saul died. Still, David respected Yahweh’s sovereignty and schedule. 

Perhaps surprisingly, a “crown” needn’t be that of Judah or Israel to be considered a nezer (rather than a mere atarah)—that is, carrying the connotation of consecration. If you’ll recall, Ammon (one of the nations founded by the descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot on the east side of the Jordan) had been declared “off limits” to the exodus generation (see Deuteronomy 2:16-19). Their land would never be Israelite territory. But now, half a millennium later, Ammon had proven themselves to be implacable enemies of Yahweh and His people, attacking them at every opportunity. So David’s General Joab attacked Ammon’s royal city of Rabbah—not so much as a land grab as it was “proactive self-defense.” Having secured the city’s water supply (the key to any siege), he called on King David to gather Israel’s armies to come and finish the job. 

“So David gathered all the people together and went to Rabbah, fought against it, and took it. Then he took their king’s crown [nezer] from his head. Its weight was a talent of gold, with precious stones. And it was set on David’s head. Also he brought out the spoil of the city in great abundance.” (II Samuel 12:29-30) The record doesn’t say specifically, but it is pretty clear that this plunder had largely been stolen from Ammon’s neighbors, notably Israel during the age of the Judges. David knew it was time to put Ammon under tribute, so they could not grow strong enough to attack the Israelites again. And the crown? It was placed upon David’s head to demonstrate that he, Yahweh’s anointed, now ruled over Ammon, a condition that would persist until after Solomon’s reign. Not only did it mean something significant (that Israel would prosper militarily as long as they feared God—see Deuteronomy 28:7) but it was also a formidable object in its own right, weighing in at a talent—somewhere between 75 and 90 pounds of gold—when a simple circlet or diadem would have had the same symbolic meaning: the right to rule. Why did Ammon’s king insist on having such a ridiculous and unwieldy crown? Pride, arrogance, and overconfidence. Narcissism, it would appear, is a heavy weight to carry, especially in the presence of the Living God. 

One of the strangest passages in the Bible is Psalm 89, which begins with worshipful affirmation of the covenant Yahweh made with His anointed (David, of whom the author, Ethan the Ezrahite, was a contemporary). “My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: his seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established forever like the moon, even like the faithful witness in the sky. Selah….” So far, so good: Yahweh had made some amazing, unbreakable promises to His servant David, most significantly in the matter of his royal line lasting forever, in the person of the ultimate Anointed One—Yahshua the Messiah. 

But then, after a momentary pause (selah), Ethan bemoans the apparent reversal of everything he just said: “But You have cast off and abhorred, You have been furious with [literally, passed over, turned away from] Your anointed. You have renounced [rejected, made void] the covenant of Your servant. You have profaned his crown [nezer] by casting it to the ground.” (Psalm 89:34–39) Okay, it sounds worse here in the NKJV than the Hebrew would indicate—but not by much. The near-term reference is apparently to David’s woes at the time of his son Absalom’s coup d’état, described in II Samuel, chapters 13 through 18—a coup precipitated by David’s own sins. At the time, it appeared that Yahweh had indeed cast David’s crown to the dust. There was even a credible report (one that proved to be a wild exaggeration) that all of the king’s sons had been slain—see II Samuel 13:30. The contrite and repentant David was crushed, but was willing to receive the news as a well-deserved “spanking” from Yahweh. He would have taken his punishment like a man, refusing to turn against Absalom his son, whom he now considered to be (in light of current events) Yahweh’s new anointed one. God had other ideas, of course: Absalom was slain (though his father was guiltless in his murder) and David was eventually repatriated to the throne of Israel. His sons Nathan and Solomon were to be ancestors of Yahshua’s earthly parents, Mary and Joseph. 

The lessons are clear enough, but there’s more going on here than meets the eye. It seems to me that the whole story is a prophetic dress-rehearsal of the passion of Yahshua. Though the Son of God, He was also qualified by His human ancestry to rule on the throne of David, and not just over Israel, but as the King of kings—ruler over the whole world. But job No.1 was to atone for the sins of mankind through his death and resurrection, becoming the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” So in the process of fulfilling the Torah’s myriad sacrifice-prophecies, Father Yahweh was compelled to cast off and abhor His firstborn, to turn away from Him, reject (albeit temporarily) the royal covenant He had made with David, and profane the nezer-crown by allowing it to be substituted with a crown of thorns. Like David fleeing from Absalom, it looked to all the world (for a few days, anyway) that God had forsaken His own Messiah. 

But then, listen to Ethan’s conclusion: “How long, Yahweh? Will You hide Yourself forever? Will Your wrath burn like fire? Remember how short my time is. For what futility have You created all the children of men? What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave? Selah. Lord, where are Your former lovingkindnesses, which You swore to David in Your truth? Remember, Lord, the reproach of Your servants—how I bear in my bosom the reproach of all the many peoples, with which Your enemies have reproached, O Yahweh, with which they have reproached the footsteps of Your anointed.” (Psalm 89:46-51) David was punished for his own sins, repented, and was restored. Yahshua was sinless; yet he bore the punishment due to the entire human race, enduring the “the taunts of all the nations.” He alone is worthy to wear the crown of planet Earth. 

Christ’s crown will prove to be everlasting and unchangeable—because He is. But ordinarily, a kingdom’s crown is apt to change hands, and not only because the people who wear them (like David) are mortal. Nor are they worn exclusively by a nation’s king, but are also sometimes given to people of lesser rank—a reflection of the king’s authority, much like we saw in our study of the signet ring. Since these people are not divinely consecrated for their office, however, the description nezer would be inappropriate. So in the book of Esther, a different word for “crown” is used. As I noted above, “Kether is a Persian loan-word, used only in Esther. It’s based on a root related to atarah (from kathar—to surround). It is defined as a crown, or more properly, a diadem—i.e., a lightweight jeweled circlet or wreath.” In the book of Esther, it is never used to describe the crown that King Ahasuerus wore (which would properly have been called a nezer), but kether is always used to describe crowns of derivative nobility—for example, the queen: “On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded… to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown [kether], in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold.” (Esther 1:10-11) 

The problem was, Queen Vashti refused to be paraded about like some cheap San Francisco stripper. But saying “no” to the king, drunk or not, had repercussions. Lest wives throughout the kingdom get it into their heads that they could, like Vashti, “just say no” to their husbands, Vashti was demoted from her lofty position as queen. This (along with the decree that was published to explain what had happened) sent the message that “all wives must honor their husbands, both great and small,” and “each man should be master in his own house.” (See Esther 1:20, 22.) Vashti’s blow for “women’s liberation,” however reasonable and well-intended it was, had backfired. 

But when he sobered up, King Ahasuerus realized that he, too, had a problem: he had lost his queen, his wife. Oops. And since the banishment of Vashti had been codified with a “law of the Medes and Persians,” making it inviolable, the king couldn’t just apologize to Vashti, kiss and make up. The lesson (so far) is don’t get drunk and do thing’s you’ll regret. The “solution” was to hold a beauty contest, of sorts. Long story short, the beautiful Esther, a Persian-born Jewish exile/captive (a fact she kept secret) was chosen to be the new queen for King Ahasuerus, crown and all: “The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown [kether] her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” (Esther 2:17) Again, though the crown’s significance was derivative, it was real enough. 

If that had been the whole story, we likely never would have heard of Esther, or her great uncle (and adoptive father) Mordecai. But a bit later, a fellow named Haman was promoted to the position of vice-king (so to speak). The text never actually says he was given a kether-crown to wear, but everyone was compelled to bow and pay homage to him—something the godly Mordecai refused to do. Haman, having discovered that Mordecai was a Jew, did what any paranoid, Satan-inspired hyper-narcissist would do: he conspired to have every Jew in the whole empire (at the time, virtually every Israelite on the face of the planet) destroyed. If successful, he would have been murdering the Messiah—generations before He was even due to appear, a date that had been pinned down (if you do the math) in Daniel 9:25 as Nisan 10 (i.e., Monday, March 28), 33 A.D.—the day of Yahshua’s “triumphal entry.” 

Needless to say, Haman’s plot was foiled—mostly by the courageous intervention of Esther the queen. The wannabe Hitler was hanged on the very gallows he had built to execute the object of his obsession. And as it turned out, Mordecai had once saved the life of King Ahasuerus. So now, Mordecai was rewarded with possession of Haman’s estate and a degree of honor of which the vindictive villain could only have dreamed: “So Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, with a great crown [kether] of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple; and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad. The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor. And in every province and city, wherever the king’s command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday [still celebrated to this day: Purim]. Then many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them.” (Esther 8:15-17) Here again, the kether-crown was indicative of derivative royalty. In light of the fact that in reality, there is only One God and King, this makes perfect sense: any authority wielded in this earth is, by definition, merely an artifact of Yahweh’s power. 

This truth comes into focus a bit more when we look at the “crown” that was part of the High Priest’s wardrobe. Although priests in Theocratic Israel wielded no political power, they did shoulder awesome responsibility as those who implemented the symbolic rites of the Torah. They themselves are a living metaphor of believers in general. And the High Priest, whose job it was to intercede between God and man (especially as it related to atonement for our sins), is symbolic of Christ Himself—the One we “priests” follow. 

The instructions for the High Priest’s wardrobe are quite detailed and specific, laden with symbolic significance (something I intend to cover a bit later). “Then you shall take the garments, put the tunic on Aaron, and the robe of the ephod, the ephod, and the breastplate, and gird him with the intricately woven band of the ephod. You shall put the turban [mitsnepheth] on his head, and put the holy crown [nezer] on the turban [mitsnepheth]. And you shall take the anointing oil, pour it on his head, and anoint him.” (Exodus 29:5–7) This term mitsnepheth is used exclusively of the turban worn by the High Priest. But although it is the headgear worn by a significant person, it is not, in itself, a crown.

There is, however, a “crown” in the picture: “Then they made the plate of the holy crown [nezer] of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO YAHWEH. And they tied to it a blue cord, to fasten it above on the turban [mitsnepheth], as Yahweh had commanded Moses.” (Exodus 39:30-31) “And [Moses] put the turban [mitsnepheth] on [Aaron’s] head. Also on the turban, on its front, he put the golden plate, the holy crown [nezer], as Yahweh had commanded Moses.” (Leviticus 8:9) If you’ll recall, a nezer, though usually translated “crown,” actually stresses the consecration or separation (read: holiness) of the wearer. Here, then, the “crown” was not the “hat” itself, but an engraved golden plate that was affixed to the front of a turban with a blue cord (reminiscent of heaven). Its position on the High Priest’s turban (i.e., worn on his head) tells us that “Holiness to Yahweh” was to be constantly on Aaron’s mind. (If it had been over his heart, like the ephod’s twelve stones, it would have signaled an emotional connection; and a position on his hand would have told us the concept was something he was to work for—you get the idea. None of these details are accidental or incidental.) 

By the way, the ordinary priests were to wear special headgear as well, but it is not called a mitsnepheth, but rather a migbaoth. “For Aaron’s sons you shall make tunics, and you shall make sashes for them. And you shall make hats [migbaoth] for them, for glory and beauty.” (Exodus 28:40) Or, “Then Moses brought Aaron’s sons and put tunics on them, girded them with sashes, and put hats [migbaoth] on them, as Yahweh had commanded Moses.” (Leviticus 8:13) Some translations render this as “turban,” “cap,” or “bonnet,” but the word is derived from gib’ah, meaning a hill, something hemispherical in shape. I’m picturing a yarmulke, that small skullcap still worn by Orthodox Jews; but I could be wrong. What is clear is that crowns were not part of the priests’ wardrobe: they wielded no authority whatsoever; they “merely” performed a service to God and Man. 

There was one instance, however, when a High Priest did receive an actual crown. That is, the offices of High Priest and King were brought together in one man. It turns out, of course, that the whole thing was a prophetic dress rehearsal, but nobody knew that at the time. Zechariah wrote early in the Second Temple period, when the captive Jews who wanted to had been allowed by the Medes and Persians (who had inherited them from the Chaldeans) to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. 

So he writes, “Take the silver and gold, make an elaborate crown [atarah], and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest….” Joshua is the same name as Yahshua (whom the world knows as Jesus). There are no fewer than ten men in scripture who bore this rather common name, which means “Yahweh is Salvation.” The name of the priest’s father, Jehozadak, means “Yahweh is Righteous.” Note that the crown is not described as a nezer (which would have denoted being consecrated to rule as king), but an atarah—the diadem of derivative authority. 

“Then speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says Yahweh of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, and He shall build the temple of Yahweh. Yes, He shall build the temple of Yahweh. He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne. So He shall be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”’ Now the elaborate crown [atarah] shall be for a memorial in the temple of Yahweh.” (Zechariah 6:11-14) Okay, prepare yourself for a symbol tsunami. There’s a lot going on here. 

First, what does “the Branch” mean? Isaiah explains (sort of): “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of Yahweh shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Yahweh.” Jesse, you’ll recall, was King David’s father, so the reference is to David’s promised descendant, Yahshua the Messiah, specifically in His yet-future role as King of kings. This is confirmed by the mention of (count them) seven Spirits of God—not coincidentally, part of John’s descriptive introduction of the glorified Christ in Revelation 1:4. Any way you slice it then, Zechariah’s reference to Joshua the High Priest as the “Branch” is actually prophetic of Yahshua, the Son of David, the Anointed One—the Messiah. 

Isaiah’s discussion of the Branch continues: “His delight is in the fear of Yahweh, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth [see Revelation 19:15, 21], and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist…. “And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people. For the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:1-5, 10; c.f. Isaiah 4:2) Judgment is ultimately the prerogative of the king—the one who wears the crown. 

Second, Zechariah says that Joshua (read: Yahshua) will “build the temple of Yahweh.” And then he repeats it. Perhaps the repetition is because both Joshua (son of Jehozadak), and Yahshua (the Son of God), were to “build the temple,” each in his own way. Joshua, of course, played a significant role in rebuilding the Second Temple. But Yahshua? He told the Jewish religious elite, “Destroy this temple, and within three days I will raise it up…. But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” (John 2:19, 21) The point is that the temple was a complex architectural symbol of the Plan of God for the redemption of mankind. When Christ was crucified, He fulfilled every shred of symbolism implied in the sacrificial service the Torah had specified to take place within the tabernacle/temple. And when He arose from the dead under His own power, He demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that He was God incarnate—the One who dwelled between the cherubim atop the Mercy Seat in the Most Holy place. As Zechariah put it, “He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule on His throne. So He shall be a priest on His throne.” 

So third, note that priests are not ordinarily kings, nor do kings serve as priests. Don’t look now, but priests in Israel do not rule, exercise temporal authority, sit on thrones, or wear crowns. And kings do not make Levitical sacrifices and offerings, or intercede between God and man. They’ve got completely separate functions—by God’s design. Furthermore, kings are from the tribe of Judah, and priests come from Levi. So how could Joshua “sit and rule on His throne”? And how could Yahshua function as our High Priest? It is becoming increasingly clear that the former is a prophecy of the latter. 

The whole point of Zechariah’s “crowning” of Joshua was to foreshadow the blending of the offices of High Priest and King of kings in One Person. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16) But still, if Yahshua was from the royal tribe of Judah, how can He be our great High Priest? David Himself explains: “Yahweh said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’ Yahweh shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!...” There’s the royal component, but then, “Yahweh has sworn, and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’” (Psalm 110:1-2, 4) This is the key: Christ’s “priesthood” is not that of the order of Levi, but of Melchizedek. 

Who? This enigmatic character shows up in Genesis 14, in the wake of one of the incessant little wars fought for plunder and pride that have been going on since the dawn of “civilization.” (Yes, there is nothing new about human greed and stupidity.) Abram wouldn’t ordinarily have much cared, except that this time, his nephew Lot (who had been living in Sodom) had been carried off as a prize of war, one of many captives. So Abram armed 318 of his servants and they took off in hot pursuit, eventually defeating the raiders and rescuing Lot and the other captives. 

On the way back from the battle, “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And [Abram] gave [Melchizedek] a tithe of all.” (Genesis 14:18-20) It is my guess that Melchizedek (whose name means “king of righteousness”) was a theophany, a pre-Messianic manifestation of Yahweh in human form. In any case, he functioned as both priest of God Most High, and as king of Salem (i.e., Jerusalem, before it was Jerusalem—the name means “Peace”) making him the perfect symbolic prototype for the role of Yahshua as both King of kings and our great High Priest. It’s the same picture we saw in Zechariah 6, with Joshua the High Priest being given a crown to wear and a throne to sit upon.

And fourth, let us review Zechariah’s punch line: “the elaborate crown [atarah] shall be for a memorial in the temple of Yahweh.” (Zechariah 6:14) Although Joshua received the crown, he was not destined to rule as king over Israel (which would have been implied by specifying a nezer, a crown of consecration, not an atarah). Rather, the crown was to reside in the temple of Yahweh, functioning as a memorial—that is, a reminder, a sign, something intended to help someone to remember. Remember what? That which the temple was designed to signify: the plan of Yahweh for the redemption and restoration of all mankind. 

Most of its symbols are relatively easy enough to perceive: the atoning sacrifices at the altar, fulfilled in the passion of Christ; the cleansing of our works and walk at the bronze laver; the illumination of the Spirit from the seven-branched menorah; the life-sustaining bread of God’s presence; the offering up of our prayers at the altar of incense; and the glorious presence of Yahweh’s Shekinah between the cherubim atop the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant. But what is not quite so easy to see in the temple’s design is the royalty, the authority, the physical presence of Yahweh’s Messiah dwelling among us who trust Him with our very souls. 

Okay, it’s not so much part of the plan of redemption as it is an inevitable outcome of the plan’s realization. Let me put it this way: it would be a poor salvation indeed if we believers in Yahweh and His Messiah never got to dwell personally in the presence of our God and King, walking together with Him forever in peace and love, reconciled and cleansed from all our faults. Ironically, that “poor salvation” is the stated goal of every manmade religion on the face of the earth—from the unending debauchery of the Muslim “paradise” (in which Allah is nowhere to be found) to the Hindus’ moksha, to the Buddhists’ nirvana, to the nothing-after-you-die dream of the atheist. Hardly anybody, it seems, wants to spend eternity with the god of their own imagination. But we of the Judeo-Christian persuasion can’t wait to walk hand in hand with our heavenly Father, wide-eyed at his greatness. 

By the way, in the interest of clarity, I cut Zechariah’s quote short. It actually reads, “…for a memorial in the temple of the Lord for Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen the son of Zephaniah.” These are the very gentlemen (described as “captives” in verse 10) who came from Babylon with the gift of silver and gold that was to be used to make the “elaborate crown” that Joshua was to wear. The “in-the-temple” observations still apply, but the intended recipients of the crown’s significance are now identified. Time after time, Israel was instructed to “flee from Babylon,” that is, don’t be caught up in the world’s dead-end idolatry. The “captives” who brought the gift are representative of those Jews who, in the end, would do precisely that: they would cling to Yahweh and (in the end) recognize and receive Yahshua as His Messiah. 

The bottom line of the bottom line is, “Even those from afar shall come and build the temple of Yahweh.” See Ezekiel 40-47 for a description of this final temple—the one from which Yahshua will rule the earth for a thousand years. “Then you shall know that Yahweh of hosts has sent Me [that is, Yahshua the Messiah] to you. And this shall come to pass if you diligently obey the voice of Yahweh your God.” (Zechariah 6:15) That’s right, folks: this is all a last-days prophecy. Israel hasn’t arrived yet, but they’re getting there.

***

The “crown” is often used as a metaphor in scripture, in both Old and New Testaments. But before we get into the case-studies, let us finish defining our terms. We have already explored the nuances of what the Hebrew words translated “crown” are (primarily, nezer and atarah). Now might be a good time to introduce their Greek counterparts. Again, there are two. 

The most often-used word signifying “crown” in Koine Greek is stephanos, literally “that which surrounds”—a crown of victory, a garland, or plaited wreath—or the honor or glory that would be ascribed to someone wearing it. Stephanos appears in the Greek Scriptures 18 times. Strong’s defines it: “From an apparently primary stepho (to twine or wreathe); a chaplet (as a badge of royalty, a prize in the public games or a symbol of honor generally; but more conspicuous and elaborate than the simple fillet, diadema), literally or figuratively—crown.” 

Basically, the stephanos was worn by someone who was a “winner” or a “victor.” Olympic athletes who won their events were presented with a laurel wreath—the ancient world’s equivalent of an Olympic medal. Political or military victors, all the way up to the Roman emperor himself, wore the stephanos as well, but theirs (at least the emperor’s) were made of gold. It puts a whole new spin on the phrase “gold leaf.” The stephanos didn’t denote “royalty” so much as it did the glory or honor due (or at least claimed by) the “winners” of the ancient world. 

The other Greek word translated “crown” is diadema, from which we get the familiar transliteration, “diadem.” It is used only three times in scripture—twice to describe the Antichrist’s rule, and once in regard to the infinite majesty of Christ. This word stresses the connotation of the wearer’s authority (royal or not), his position of political power. Physically, the diadema needn’t have been heavy or ornate; it could merely be (as Helps Word-Studies describes it) “a narrow filet encircling the brow; a kingly ornament for the head.” Strong’s defines it: “From a compound of dia (through or because of) and deo (to bind, tie, or fasten); thus a ‘diadem’ (as bound about the head)—a crown.” 

Anyway, when scripture uses crowns as a metaphor or symbol, it is not surprising that the words chosen are invariably atarah in Hebrew and stephanos in Greek. They don’t imply the rule of literal royalty as much as the honor that is due to the wearer. 

Perhaps one of the most thought-provoking of the Old Testament’s “crown” sightings is in this Psalm from David: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned [atar = surrounded] him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:3-5; cf. Hebrews 2:6-8) God has crowned man? Well, sort of. He has, in fact, bestowed upon (or “surrounded”) our race “glory and honor” far in excess of that which we, in our fallen state, might have deemed appropriate. Yes, we are physically alive—like amoebas and aardvarks—but we also have the unique capacity for direct relationship and communication with our Creator, something no mere animal possesses. And yes, the heavens are peppered with bodies (both visible and invisible) that declare the glory of God in ways that make the most magnificent of men seem utterly insignificant in comparison. So it makes no “sense” that God would find us so fascinating. But that’s just it: He doesn’t find us fascinating—He made us fascinating. The amazing truth is that we are the whole point of Yahweh’s physical creation. 

How did I reach this startling conclusion? Our God’s primary attribute is love, and love requires an object who has the ability to reciprocate it. (Receiving love necessitates the converse ability: to reject it. If love isn’t voluntary, it becomes something else—loyalty or obedience, for example.) In short, love requires free will, the prerogative of choice. Adam’s race was uniquely created with this capacity. We alone are made in the image and likeness of God, although we seldom act like it. 

Our first clue (though it’s subtle in the English) is this: “And Yahweh, God, formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) This “breath of life” is not the “soul” (the nephesh) that is used to define the sort of life shared by all sentient animals (e.g. Genesis 1:20, 21, 24, 30, etc.). “Breath” here is neshamah, which indicates a different kind of life than that possessed by birds, fish, and cattle. It implies the unique capacity for the indwelling of God’s Spirit (ruach)—in addition to having a nephesh-soul. All three words are related to wind or breath, so we ought to ponder why God employs three different words to describe attributes that seem to us like essentially the same thing: the concepts are related. 

David mentioned that God also created a race of creatures far more capable than man—the angels (literally, “messengers”), who serve Yahweh in the spirit realm. Angels do not possess free will: they are not free to defy their Creator. Rather, they are like soldiers on the battlefield, magnificent immortal beings who are nevertheless duty-bound to do as they are told. Being sentient creatures, however, it is possible for them to rebel; and some have. So God created hell as an eternal prison for these revolting spirits. But because they do not possess free will, love (technically) is not in the angels’ God-given repertoire. 

That left Yahweh with a conundrum of sorts. Angels could not serve as the focus of Yahweh’s love, for they do not possess free will. But if he created the object of His love (us) with both free will and immortality, then if one of us chose not to receive and reciprocate His love (as was his privilege), he would subsequently live forever separated from the Source of life—an intolerable and inadvertently severe strategy for a God whose basic nature was love. The answer was to create man as a physical (not purely spiritual) being, “made of dust” as it’s characterized in scripture, though uniquely gifted with the capacity for spiritual life—the neshamah. Never let it be said that our Creator isn’t creative. 

But this scenario would require infrastructure—something that didn’t yet exist: the entire physical universe, space-time, matter-energy, and laws of physics to govern it all, not to mention biological life and an environment in which it could operate. It’s the most complex puzzle imaginable: in order for Yahweh to bring His nature (love) to fruition, the object of that love (us) had to have free will, but could not be immortal. So as counterintuitive as it seems, the solution was for the Father of Life to invent death—which in the end was the most merciful thing imaginable. This was the only way man could exercise his privilege of free will, but if he chose poorly, God’s design would shield him from unthinkable and unintended eternal consequences (unless he had chosen to “love” a rebellious immortal spirit in place of Yahweh, that is). 

It all just goes to show what incredible lengths Yahweh was willing to go in order to have someone upon whom He could shower His love. This universe, in case you missed it, is “the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained” of which David spoke. He “ordained” it on our behalf. 

And being made “a little lower than the angels” is God’s way of saying we humans are initially created as mortals, subject to physical death—we’re not immortal, like the angels. The surprise twist is that we who have chosen to receive and reciprocate His love will one day be transformed into immortal, spiritual beings a bit like angels—see I Corinthians 15:35-55. In the meantime, being “crowned…with glory and honor” is tantamount to being gifted with the greatest privilege imaginable: to share a relationship of love with Yahweh our Creator—while we are yet mortals. 

(And by the way, if you’re laboring under the misconception that “hell” is the automatic destination of everyone who is found unworthy of “heaven”—that all of us are destined for either eternal bliss or everlasting torment—please read “The Three Doors,” Chapter 29 of The End of the Beginning, elsewhere on this website. What we hear from the pulpit is not necessarily what God’s Word actually says. God draws a very clear distinction between death and damnation. Yahweh’s justice and mercy do coexist.) 

Okay, where were we? 

We’ll find several metaphorical usages of the “crown” concept in the Book of Proverbs. For instance, “An excellent wife is the crown [atarah] of her husband, but she who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones.” (Proverbs 12:4) I can personally attest to the truth of the first half of that: my wife has consistently “crowned me” with honor for the past half a century. The things she does usually have a way of making me look better than I really am. I’ll have to take Solomon’s word for the second half of the proverb. 

Or how about this? “The silver-haired head is a crown [atarah] of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:31) It is said that “there’s no fool like an old fool,” and we have a plethora of past-their-prime politicians proving this to be true. And yet, Yahweh had codified it into Torah Law: “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am Yahweh.” (Leviticus 19:32) Look closely, though: both of these “honor-the-aged” statements tie the respect due to the elderly (who have lived long enough to have learned a thing or two) to their reverence for God. The advantage to growing old is that you’ve had time to acquire the wisdom borne of experience along the way, but remember: “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments.” (Psalm 111:10, cf. Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, etc.) 

Another advantage to growing old is getting to see and enjoy one’s grandchildren: “Children’s children are the crown [atarah] of old men, and the glory of children is their father.” (Proverbs 17:6) Notice how the glory of the crown comes full circle in the course of time. We are not to try to live vicariously through our children, nor be their “pals,” but rather, be to them as God is to us: creators, providers, mentors, and sustainers, sacrificing ourselves for their benefit—it’s serious business. They in return are to honor their parents (as in the Fifth Commandment: Exodus 20:12). But grandparents’ relationship with their children’s children takes on a very different character: we get to relax and rejoice in their progress, following their development with hope in ways their parents (our children) are unable to fully embrace due to their burden of responsibility. 

There is a spiritual parallel (sort of) to this relationship. Paul writes: “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown [stephanos] of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20) Paul’s role was that of “grandfather” (or at least “uncle”—okay, so it’s not a perfect metaphor) to the Thessalonian believers. Their salvation, growth, and discipline were not his responsibility, but God’s. He, then, was free to encourage, advise, inform, celebrate with, and even “dote on” the converts. They were thus the “crown” of his rejoicing. 

A “crown” (that in which one finds glory or honor) is not always a good thing. Pre-conquest Ephraim (that is, Samaria, the Northern Kingdom) wore its pride like a crown. They were convinced that they were too wonderful to be swept away in judgment, too beautiful to fall. So Isaiah (who prophesied mainly in Judah) set the record straight: “Woe to the crown [atarah] of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower which is at the head of the verdant valleys, to those who are overcome with wine! Behold, Yahweh has a mighty and strong one, like a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, like a flood of mighty waters overflowing, who will bring them down to the earth with His hand….” This “strong one” would turn out to be Assyria, who would defeat Ephraim in 722 B.C. The Assyrians were renowned for their brutality, so it may seem strange that they were chosen to be the rod of Ephraim’s correction in Yahweh’s hand. Note, then, that Assyrian ascendency was also slated for destruction: Nineveh (its capital city) would fall to the Babylonians in 612 B.C., a mere 110 years later. 

But by then, the damage had been done. Ephraim had been “melted” in the pot of nations that Assyria had conquered, intermarrying with them so thoroughly that their very identities as Israelites were lost to everyone except God: “The crown [atarah] of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, will be trampled underfoot, and the glorious beauty is a fading flower which is at the head of the verdant valley, like the first fruit before the summer, which an observer sees. He eats it up while it is still in his hand.” Remarkably, however, Yahweh didn’t lose track of who His people were—even if they did. All ten of the northern tribes will be represented in the Millennial Land of Promise. (See Ezekiel 48.) In fact, all of them except Dan will be represented among the 144,000 Tribulation witnesses introduced in Revelation 7. No more will Ephraim’s drunken pride be their crown. Twenty-seven centuries in exile will have changed their tune: “In that day Yahweh of hosts will be for a crown [atarah] of glory and a diadem [tsephirah] of beauty to the remnant of His people.” (Isaiah 28:1-5) 

Just because Ephraim was singled out for judgment, it doesn’t mean the southern kingdom was guiltless. Far from it. Remember, it had been the sins of Solomon’s old age that had caused Yahweh to divide the kingdom in the first place. So the prophet Ezekiel, who witnessed Judah’s judgment first hand, described the heights of privilege and promise from which Jerusalem had fallen. Yahweh (in context) first revealed how He had taken Israel from being nothing, and had made her the envy of nations: “I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown [atarah] on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth.” (Ezekiel 16:12) The faithfulness of David (despite his faults) and of Solomon in his youth had brought riches and honor to the united kingdom of Israel. Her borders during this golden age had stretched to the limit of the promise—something she had never seen before or since (and won’t, until King Yahshua reigns on David’s throne). 

But then, after such a promising start, Jerusalem too fell into idolatry: “But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it.” (Ezekiel 16:15) It took three and a half centuries after Solomon’s death, but Yahweh’s crown jewel had been sold—cheaply—into the hands of Babylon. Ezekiel spends most of the remainder of this painful and interminable chapter recounting Judah’s sins. “For thus says the Lord Yahweh: ‘I will deal with you as you have done, who despised the oath by breaking the covenant.’” It would appear hopeless, were it not for the turn-around conclusion: “‘Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed, when you receive your older and your younger sisters; for I will give them to you for daughters, but not because of My covenant with you. And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am Yahweh, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done,” says the Lord Yahweh.’” (Ezekiel 16:59-63) Don’t look now, but this is still unfulfilled prophecy. But it will happen, or God is a liar. 

The crown will return to Israel—when it is worn by the King of kings. Isaiah explains: “For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of Yahweh will name. You shall also be a crown [atarah] of glory in the hand of Yahweh, and a royal diadem [tsaniph] in the hand of your God.” (Isaiah 62:1-3) Did you catch that? The repentant and restored Israel will not wear the crown—they will be the crown—the thing that brings glory and honor to Yahshua the Messiah during His Millennial reign.

The Psalmist concurs: “For Yahweh has chosen Zion. He has desired it for His dwelling place: ‘This is My resting place forever. Here I will dwell, for I have desired it…. There I will make the horn [that is, the temporal power] of David grow. I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame, but upon Himself His crown [nezer] shall flourish.” (Psalm 132:13-14, 17-18) David has been dead for three thousand years now, though he will have a significant role to play (as a resurrected immortal) in Yahshua’s thousand-year reign. But “My Anointed” here is just that: not David, but God’s ultimate Mashiach, the Messiah—Yahshua. And note that the “crown” here is not the symbolic atarah, but the nezer-crown of consecration.

 
Alas, the world still has a great deal of turmoil to endure before Yahshua sits at last upon the throne of David. Above, Ezekiel (in 16:63) wrote of the “atonement” that Yahweh will provide for Israel. This is codified in the sixth of seven holy convocations instituted by Yahweh—the Day of Atonement, which takes place on the tenth day of Tishri (in the autumn). The good news is that this miqra (as they’re called) coincides with the Second Coming of Christ—when Israel will, as a nation, finally receive their Messiah. The “bad news” is that the definitive Yom Kippurym won’t take place until five days before the end of the Great Tribulation. That is, the Feast of Tabernacles (the seventh miqra), prophetic of the commencement of Yahshua’s Millennial Kingdom, will take place on Tishri 15—in the same year. This year (unless I’ve misread virtually everything) will be 2033. What falls in between the two dates is a little thing we call Armageddon. (See The End of the Beginning, elsewhere on this website, for the data and details.)

So what will Israel be doing during the Antichrist’s reign of terror (a.k.a. the Time of Jacob’s Trouble)? Revelation 12 starts out sounding a lot like an allegory, but it may turn out to be a rather straightforward prophecy. It begins, “Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland [stephanos—a crown] of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1) This “woman,” it transpires, is the nation of Israel, a fact confirmed by verse 5: “She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.” This “Child,” of course, can be none other than Yahshua the Messiah—the “Child” of Isaiah 9:6. 

The woman is crowned with “twelve stars”—her twelve tribes, all of which are once again in view during the Last Days. (The “ten lost tribes” are not lost to Yahweh.) Bear in mind that the stephanos is a crown of victory. But her victory will be deferred, because for three and a half years, Satan (introduced here as “the dragon,”—specifically as he operates vicariously through the Antichrist) will be trying his best to kill her. But “Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.” (Revelation 12:6) The church was raptured before the Great Unpleasantness began; but Israel, whose collective spiritual epiphany concerning the Messiah won’t take place until the definitive Day of Atonement, will instead be sequestered, sheltered, and supplied through God’s providence for the entire tenure of the Antichrist’s reign. Ironically, the “flee to the wilderness” tactic is precisely what Yahshua had instructed them to do when they saw the abomination of desolation; see Matthew 24:15-20. Those who heed the Christian Scriptures will elude Satan’s hatred and live to witness Christ’s return three and a half years later. Those who stay in Judea won’t be so “lucky.” 

John described King Yahshua in the introduction to the Revelation: “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:5-6) We believers are eagerly looking forward to the day when Yahshua dons the crown of planet Earth, reigning at last as “King of kings.” What makes me blush is the idea of me becoming a king—or even a priest—in the kingdom age. Even though the Greek here might actually be better rendered “a kingdom of priests…” the honor implied toward the kingdom’s citizens still boggles the mind. 

But then, we look at the epistles, and are reminded multiple times that “victors’ crowns”—the stephanos—are (metaphorically, anyway) part of our heavenly heritage. Of course, they are “merely” artifacts of the crown of glory Yahshua earned as He atoned for our sins: “For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned [stephanoó] with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:8-9) Though Christ has in fact received His crown in heaven, we have not yet had the privilege of seeing Him reign upon the earth. That day, however, is coming—and soon. 

In the meantime, we are encouraged to view our lives on earth as a race, a sport (and a contact sport at that) in which we’re striving for a victor’s crown, the prize, the gold medal, so to speak. Paul writes, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown [stephanos], but we for an imperishable crown.” (I Corinthians 9:24-25) Just as an athlete works hard to excel at his or her sport, we believers can’t expect to “get better” at living the Christian life without effort and discipline. 

If I may take the metaphorical ball and run with it, this event in which we’re competing is a team sport—Yahweh’s Redeemed vs. Satan’s Reprobates. (The merely “lost” are in the stands, trying to figure out who to root for.) We believers are all in this together. “Points” are scored individually of course, and we get credit for “assists,” but we win or lose as a team. Put another way, we Redeemed are not competing against each other, but against the record books, i.e., against God’s standard of perfection itself. Yes, Satan’s team will prevent us from scoring if they can, but if we’re on Yahweh’s team, we’re already winners—our Captain, Christ, has ensured our ultimate victory. We’re just “running out the clock” as it were, trying not to fumble the ball, or drop the baton, or otherwise let down the team. 

Our individual “performance” still matters, even though we’re already playing for the winning “team.” In the Grecian Olympics, there was a place where winning athletes received their rewards—their stephanos-crowns of victory on the playing field. It was called the bema, or judgment seat. Paul refers to it in his own sports metaphor: “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (II Corinthians 5:9-10) This is not the same thing as joining Christ’s team (vs. Satan’s): it’s not a salvation issue. Salvation is a choice any of us may make, as long as we draw breath. Rather, this describes our performance after we don the Jesus Jersey. Did we “score points” for Christ? Did we even try? Did we cheer on the team, or provide our teammates with a cup of cool water when they needed it? Or did we merely sit on the bench and criticize them for their errors, the fouls they committed? The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) makes it clear that we don’t all have the same natural gifts, but God expects us to use whatever we have to help “move the ball toward the goal.” 

Advising young pastor Timothy, Paul shifted to a military metaphor: “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” War is similar to sports, but the stakes are higher. In both endeavors, there are “rules of engagement” to deal with. “And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned [stephanoó—verb, to crown] unless he competes according to the rules.” Same song, verse three: “The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops.” (II Timothy 2:4-6) Obviously, Paul never heard of socialism. His point, however, was that according to the “rule book,” we reap what we sow. If we’re lazy, unprepared, or “asleep at the wheel,” we won’t harvest much of a crop. We won’t enjoy the fruits of our labors if we don’t do any labor. 

Paul was confident that his labor and sacrifice would not go unrewarded, for God is just, as well as merciful. So he told Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown [stephanos] of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (II Timothy 4:7-8) Note that what he longed for was not a crown of success, or treasure, or fame, or any other worldly commodity, but righteousness. He had once characterized himself as the “chief of sinners,” and rightly so, for he had been an instigator in the Pharisees’ persecution of the church. It was a legacy he spent his entire life (after his Damascus Road epiphany) trying to live down. Yes, he had been saved by grace through faith, but he owed the church he had once persecuted his “last full measure of devotion” (as Abraham Lincoln would later phrase it). 

This “crown of righteousness” is not only for those who have “run a good race.” It is also for those who “have loved Christ’s appearing.” His first advent took place some two thousand years ago now. It is quite revealing that the world still, after all this time, views His “appearing” with consternation and trepidation. “Why can’t He just fade into oblivion, like Julius Caesar or Attila the Hun? How can such a ‘nobody’ cast such a long shadow?” But what about us? Can we honestly say that Yahshua’s appearing has transformed our daily lives? Do we consciously “love” (that’s the Greek agapao, the verb related to agape) His appearing, or are we just practicing mindless religious rituals? And then, ask yourself this: are we looking forward with eager anticipation to His next appearing? Do we wake up in the morning praying, “Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? 

The “crown of righteousness” isn’t the only reward church-age believers will receive. Also mentioned are crowns of life and of glory—but I suspect they’re all pretty much the same thing. One thing is clear: our righteousness, life, and glory in the kingdom age and beyond, are all gifts—they’re imputed, or assigned, to us, artifacts of Yahshua’s own righteousness, life, and subsequent glory. I’m finding it hard to envision being given eternal, essential life without also having been given the righteousness of Christ, enabling us to stand before Him justified and grateful. And how could one be given a crown of glory if he had not already received a crown of life? 

The risen Christ encouraged the church at Smyrna—representative of the church in the age of persecution (whose children are still with us, I’m afraid), promising them a crown of life as a reward for their perseverance: “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days.” The church suffered precisely ten intense periods of religious persecution between Nero (whose reigned from 54 to 68 A.D.) and Diocletian, who ruled 230 years later. “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown [stephanos] of life.” (Revelation 2:10) You’d have to be either a lunatic or God Himself to say, “Even if they kill you, you’re going to be just fine.” Yahshua proved He was God Incarnate by personally showing the martyrs of Smyrna how the “crown of life” works—through His own resurrection. 

James mentions this crown as well. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation [that is, perseveres under trial, like the believers at Smyrna did]; for when he has been approved [withstood the test], he will receive the crown [stephanos] of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12) The “life” this crown bestows is not the “mortal” mode of existence we share with grasshoppers and garden slugs (that which the Greeks would have called bios). It is, rather, what they’d call zoe—essential immortality: the sort of life with which our Creator knew Adam’s race couldn’t be trusted in the Garden of Eden, until we had been given ample opportunity to make informed decisions about whom to love—and whom to reject. 

Paul describes this amazing transition from bios to zoe—the donning of the crown of life: “For the trumpet will sound, and the [believing] dead will be raised incorruptible, and we [who are still alive] shall be changed.” This “last trumpet” is the event commonly known as the rapture. Its purpose is not to rescue Christians from an irredeemably corrupt world (though that is one of its side-effects), but to accomplish the transition of which I spoke: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” (I Corinthians 15:52-54) 

Paul finishes his treatise with roughly the same encouragement and admonition Christ gave to the beleaguered believers of Smyrna: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 15:58) Let’s make something perfectly clear here: what we suffer for Christ—everything from ridicule to martyrdom—would be “in vain” (that is, pointless, empty, and without any lasting effect) if Yahshua’s promises of an immortal afterlife with Him were not true. But since He proved his ability to defeat death by rising from the dead Himself, raising us up should be a relatively straightforward endeavor for Him. The “crown of life” is not some prize to be put up on the mantle like a bowling trophy. It is, rather, the whole point—the means, motive, and opportunity (to put it in evidentiary terms)—of our eternal existence, the essence and result of reconciliation with our Creator. 

Sometimes, of course, a “crown” is simply that which makes you feel honored or blessed. While giving the believers at Philippi the same sort of encouragement he had to the Corinthians (“Be steadfast and immovable…”), Paul revealed something interesting about the nature of “crowns.” He didn’t expect to receive a crown because he had introduced them to Christ; rather, they were his crown: “Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown [stephanos], so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.” (Philippians 4:1) They themselves, their transformed lives, their faith and devotion to Yahshua, were what made him happy. Paul was not “in this” for a paycheck or personal exaltation, but simply for the love of Christ. 

Peter urged the leaders of the church to follow this example: “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly, nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” Surprisingly perhaps (in light of what Paul had said) there is a reward—a crown—for being a faithful shepherd: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown [stephanos] of glory that does not fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1-4) The reason this crown of glory does not fade away is that the result of the shepherd’s faithful service can be expected to live on forever in the lives of the blessed sheep he took care of. If they are to be transformed into immortal beings, then whatever love we expended on them will take on immortal proportions as well. 

Though this crown of glory does not fade away, we can still “lose it,” by failing to earn it in the first place. Christ’s message to the church of Philadelphia (the sixth of seven assemblies on his “mailing list”) included both encouragement and caution: “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” That, in case you missed it, is a description of the timing of the rapture of the church that Paul described in functional terms in I Corinthians 15—the transition from bios to zoe—this time, focusing on those of us who are still alive at the time. “Behold, I am coming quickly [that is, suddenly]! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown [stephanos].” (Revelation 3:10-11) 

This, by definition, can be neither the crown of life nor the crown of righteousness—both of which are artifacts of our very salvation. So it must be the “crown of glory” of which Peter spoke—the divine acknowledgement of our service on behalf of Christ’s “sheep.” Yes, the Philadelphians have persevered: they “have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” (v.8) Yet as Yahshua pointed out in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), the next-to-last days will be fraught with peril: wars, pointless offense, persecution, pestilence, paranoia, and false prophets, for starters. Those days are clearly upon us as I write these words. Some of us will be tempted to hunker down and ride out the storm in our basements (oops, that’s where I’m writing this), neglecting to serve our fellow man as we once did because the world has grown so antagonistic toward the truth. Christ would counsel us to “hold fast,” to refuse to be intimidated by the madness swirling about our heads. Don’t let anybody steal your crown of glory. 

In truth, of course, we have nothing (including the “crowns” we’ve received) that wasn’t given to us by God. The life, the righteousness, the glory, the capacity for rejoicing in God’s grace (and all the rest of it) belong to Him. So John was shown this scene in heaven: “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns [stephanos] of gold on their heads.” (Revelation 4:2-4) These “elders” represent the believers of all ages, whether Israelite or gentile, Jew or Christian. Their crowns are stephanos wreaths, demonstrating that they have run (and won) their race and have stood on the bema (judgment seat) and received their reward from God, the ultimate Judge. And note: their crowns are made of gold: their achievements will endure forever, neither rusting nor diminishing in value or significance. 

John continues: “Whenever the living ones give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns [stephanos] before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power. For You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” (Revelation 4:9-11) This is sort of like the “wave offering” in Torah ritual: it is public acknowledgment that the Source of every blessing, every mercy, every breath, heartbeat, good deed, and glimmer of spiritual insight we have ever received is Yahweh, our Creator. When we cast our crowns before the throne of the Living God, we are not denigrating our own performance; we are merely giving credit where credit is due.

***

Ultimately, there is only one crown—that which reveals the greatness of our Creator. All of the crowns we wear are derivative, pale and anemic reflections of Yahweh’s ultimate rule—given to us as object lessons, cautionary tales, or symbolic clues to His nature. Either that, or they’re outright lies.

The really annoying thing in our present experience is Satan’s pitiful attempts to counterfeit everything God is or does—including wearing the crown. In this age of free will, the whole scenario is necessary, I suppose: freedom of choice requires options to choose between. Still, the whole thing makes me long for the promised Kingdom Age, when the devil’s ridiculous fakes will no longer be found lurking under every rock. Satan has always preferred to work in the shadows, but in the coming dark days (the Tribulation), his presence and purpose will become more obvious than ever, for he will finally have been kicked out of heaven. “The great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” It’s the classic good-news bad-news story: “Rejoice, O heavens, and you [raptured saints] who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” (Revelation 12:9, 12) 

Earlier in the same chapter, it is explained why Satan’s expulsion from heaven is going to be so rough on those living on earth: “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems [diadema] on his heads.” (Revelation 12:3) This seven-heads, ten-horns picture shows up numerous times in prophetic scripture. It is the profile of the Antichrist’s kingdom on the earth, not only the revived Roman Empire, but also a physical description of his “home base.” (The prophetic details are revealed mostly by Daniel. For a detailed discussion, see The End of the Beginning, chapter 11—“The Gap,” elsewhere on this website.) Here it is made clear that Satan—the dragon—is wearing the diadems of human government. He himself is running the Antichrist’s kingdom, from which he will launch his one-world government: a hell on earth for the last three and a half years of the age of Man—something called the Great Tribulation. 

We see the same imagery in the next chapter of Revelation, this time in reference to the demon (the “beast”) who possesses the Antichrist: “Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns [diadema], and on his heads a blasphemous name…. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’” (Revelation 13:1, 4) Once again, the diadem of temporal power is the word chosen to describe the “crowns” the beast and his minions wear. 

But this is not the picture the world is shown. The Antichrist first comes onto the scene looking like a “winner,” so we see him presented with a stephanos: “Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, ‘Come and see.’ And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown [stephanos] was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:1-2) This is the first of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (a.k.a. the first Seal Judgment). It’s the Antichrist himself, trying to look like a conquering hero, riding a white horse of victory—a fake “messiah.” Note that the “crown” was given to him—he didn’t earn anything. (Read Luke 4:5-8 for a revealing glimpse at what happened when the real Messiah was offered exactly the same deal.) Here, Satan is calling the shots, putting his boy in power. It’s the genesis of the biggest fraud in the history of man. 

And things will get steadily worse over the course of the next seven years. By the time we get to the Fifth Trumpet Judgment, the world will already have lived through nuclear war, the death of a third of the world’s oceans, the poisoning (via an asteroid strike) of a third of the earth’s fresh water supplies, and what they used to call nuclear winter—the darkening of the sun over a third of the earth’s surface due to massive airborne pollution (either from the nukes, increased volcanic activity, or both—the proximate cause isn’t specified). Mr. Wonderful (excuse me, the Antichrist) will be utterly powerless to prevent any of these disasters from taking place, and yet he wants to be regarded as a god on earth—or at least his (Satan’s) emissary, his “messiah.” 

So we’re apparently into the second half of the Tribulation when the fifth angel sounds his trumpet: clouds of demonic scorpion-locusts are released from a smoking “bottomless pit” (perhaps a volcano’s caldera) somewhere on the surface of the earth. John described them in detail, but I still have no idea what they are, or even what they looked like. But relevant to our present study is a reference to “crowns” on their heads: “Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power…. The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle. On their heads were crowns [stephanos] of something like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men.” (Revelation 9:3, 7) 

Crowns? Though they weren’t exactly “winners,” they were certainly “victorious,” having been commanded by Yahweh to administer painful stings, but only to “those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” (v.4) These stings aren’t lethal, but apparently they’re so painful their victims will wish they were. Fortunately, the locusts’ reign of terror will last “only” five months. I can only presume (based on the nature of the torment and the profile of the prey) that this is a heavy-handed plea from God: repent while you still can. Do not, under any circumstances, take the mark of the beast. (Compare this to the angelic warning in Revelation 14:9-11.) 

Okay, enough with the false crowns. Let us now review what scripture has to say about the only One who is actually entitled to wear the crown (whether of victory or intrinsic power) in this world: Christ Himself. First, remember Isaiah’s prophecy: “For unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) Without actually using the word “crown,” the prophet has given us a perfect description of the One ultimately destined to wear it: Yahshua the Messiah. The only crown he wore during His first advent was the crown of cruel thorns mockingly placed upon His head by some Roman soldiers as they prepared to crucify Him. Little did they realize that He actually was the King to whom every knee would eventually bow. 

One wonders if King David knew he was writing a Messianic prophecy when he said this: “The king shall have joy in Your strength, O Yahweh, and in Your salvation [that’s the Hebrew yeshuah—a word used 77 times in the Tanakh—pronounced the same as the Messiah’s name] how greatly shall he rejoice! You have given him his heart’s desire, and have not withheld the request of his lips…. For You meet him with the blessings of goodness. You set a crown [atarah] of pure gold upon his head. He asked life from You, and You gave it to him—Length of days forever and ever. His glory is great in Your salvation [yeshuah]. Honor and majesty You have placed upon him.” (Psalm 21:1-5) Whether he meant to or not, David was describing his physical descendant, Yahshua of Nazareth. This side of Calvary, this is as clear as these things ever get, even though the prophecy still—almost two millennia later—has not yet been literally fulfilled in any tangible way. 

For all David knew, God’s promises of an enduring kingdom applied to nothing more than the throne of Israel. When David had expressed a desire to build “a house,” a permanent temple, for Yahweh (replacing the wilderness tabernacle and establishing Jerusalem as “the place where Yahweh your God chooses to make His name abide” (see Deuteronomy 16:11), the prophet Nathan had told him that Yahweh intended to return the favor: “Yahweh will build you a house [a royal dynasty]. And it shall be, when your days are fulfilled, when you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up your seed after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son; and I will not take My mercy away from him, as I took it from him who was before you [i.e., Saul]. And I will establish him in My house and in My kingdom forever; and his throne shall be established forever.” (I Chronicles 17:10-14) It is only in the light of subsequent history and revelation that we realize that Nathan was not really referring to Solomon (like it sounds), but to Yahshua the Messiah. 

John’s Apocalypse reveals that Christ will eventually wear both the stephanos of victory and the diadema of authority. As frustrating as may be is for those of us living in the next-to-last days (that is, we who long with every fiber of our being to see the wrongs righted, justice restored, and King Yahshua seated on His eternal throne), we still live in an age in which free will reigns supreme. As in the Old Testament metaphor, the “iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” Not everyone has made his choice to either honor God or reject Him. The coming Tribulation will finally compel everyone to “get off the fence,” to “choose this day whom you will serve,” (as Joshua put it). 

The proactive wrath of God, then, will be deferred until very late in the game. Don’t presume, just because He hasn’t buried you in brimstone, that judgment isn’t coming. God’s mercy is everlasting; but His patience has its limits. John describes this day of wrath: “Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown [stephanos], and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.” (Revelation 14:14-16) This is no longer the Baby in the manger, the meek and gentle Teacher and Healer, the Lamb of God come to take upon Himself the sin of the world. This, rather, is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who is purging the world of rebellion and falsehood in preparation for His thousand-year reign—the Sabbath age. Sin’s hourglass has finally run out. 

John now introduces us to the King: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns [diadema].” (Revelation 19:11-12) Satan and his followers are at last being removed from the earth. The outcome of the final battle is a prophetic fait accompli. So the King puts aside his stephanos of victory and dons the diadema of ultimate authority. Remember how we were taught to pray, “Your kingdom come; Your will be done in earth as it is in heaven”? Here we see that prayer being answered in the affirmative. Hallelujah! Note that Christ is not only wearing the diadem of Israel. He is seen wearing many crowns—all of them. You’d think the globalists with whom we have to contend these days would welcome this development, but they won’t. Those who backed the Antichrist and his Satanic one-world scheme are about to meet the real King of kings. He is not exactly what they had in mind.

John reports what happens next: “And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.” (Revelation 19:19-21) The crowns tell the tale: King Yahshua wears the golden stephanos of victory because He is victorious over death and evil. But he also wears the diadema of power because He is God incarnate. It is His prerogative and destiny to rule all of mankind with a scepter of iron because He made us.



Tsitzit: Christ Among Us
 

Here we are, a couple of thousand pages deep into a book on God’s symbols and metaphors, and perhaps you’ve grown weary of me finding “meaning” in virtually everything I find in Scripture. Does every plant, animal, substance, and metaphysical concept that God mentions more than twice in His Word have to have some deep spiritual significance? 

Suppose I am seeing things that just aren’t there. That still leaves a long and distinguished list of things Yahweh commanded His people to do that have no discernable practical purpose. What about the hyper-specific “architecture” for the wilderness tabernacle? What about the ridiculously complex instructions for the Levitical sacrifices? What about the High Priest’s official wardrobe? Or my personal favorite: what on earth could the rite of circumcision do for anyone, if not to serve as a symbol of some great spiritual truth? 

And then we run across this: “Again Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners….” The word translated “tassels” is the Hebrew tsitzit (or tsitith, siysit, etc. There are multiple ways to transliterate צִיצִת). Besides being a “tassel,” this could imply a lock of hair, a floral or wing-like projection, or a fringe. Baker & Carpenter define it: “an ornamental tuft of threads, cords, short strings, etc. of the same length and thickness, made to hang from the edge or fringe of a garment, a knob, or some other object.”

I suppose the closest we come to the idea of a tsitzit in American culture is the tassel that tops one’s graduation cap (the mortar-board), which is moved from one side to the other as one receives his or her high school or college bachelor’s diploma. (Hmmm: I wonder if moving it from the right to the left upon graduation has any significance. It certainly seems to these days.) 

The Instructions continue: “And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of Yahweh and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God. I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am Yahweh your God.” (Numbers 15:37-41) God rarely explains what His Instructions mean. Here, at least, the Torah explains what the tsitzit were supposed to do—function as a reminder of Who God is, and what His commandments were. Twice in one sentence, He said, “I am Yahweh your God.” Just a guess, but I think it was important to Yahweh that we knew this. 

This is one of 283 times (by my count) in the Torah that Yahweh instructed Moses to give an instruction or commandment exclusively to the Children of Israel. It wasn’t that the gentiles they’d encounter weren’t encouraged to repent from their “harlotry” (read: idolatry—unfaithfulness to their Creator), but the Jews alone were to use the tsitzit to remind themselves Who had issued the commandments: the same God who had brought them out of bondage, whose Self-revealed name was Yahweh—the Self-Existent One. The idea was, everybody in Israel was supposed to wear the tsitzit accessory (actually, four of them, it would appear) on their clothing. That way, (1) you’d be reminded all the time (whenever you encountered a fellow Israelite) of Who God was, and what He had said to do. (2) When in mixed (Jew and gentile) company, you would know immediately who your brother Israelite was: he was the one with the tsitzit sewn to the hem of his garment. And (3), because they were to be sewn onto all four corners, you could discern these things from any angle. 

Then, let us consider what the tsitzit were to be made of. The Numbers passage doesn’t say, nor does the abbreviated repeat of the mitzvah in Deuteronomy: “You shall make tassels on the four corners of the clothing with which you cover yourself.” (Deuteronomy 22:12) Ordinarily, a Hebrew’s clothing would have been made from either linen or wool—both of which (it would transpire) bear symbolic significance (linen = imputed righteousness; and wool = works-based morality). But since neither was specified, we should resist the temptation to draw any conclusions. That being said, I would make one observation: both sheep’s wool and linen were naturally white (or off-white) in color. So because dyeing clothing was a big, expensive deal (and because we’re talking about a generation of recently freed slaves) we may safely assume that most of their clothing—as well as the basic tsitzit—were the same bland undyed color: white. 

That being said, the tsitzit instructions did make one note about color: “Put a blue thread in the tassels.” A single blue thread was to be included among the undyed ones. The word translated “blue” here is tekeleth, which (if you’ll recall from our chapter on colors—TTC4.3.3) is apparently derived from shcheleth—the cerulean mussel. Because the hues were inconsistent, the actual color could range from blue to violet to purple. The source of the dye is the key: tekeleth “blue” is made from the secretions of a mussel, a clam-like mollusk; while “purple” (argaman) is made from a snail. 

Although people eat them, mollusks (like mussels, clams, and oysters) are defined as “not food” in the Leviticus 11 dietary laws. Their function, it turns out, is to filter the impurities out of the waters in which they live (whether salt or fresh). For instance, Wikipedia notes that “Mussel aquaculture is actually promoted in some countries such as Sweden as a water management strategy to address coastal eutrophication.”  (Eutrophication is pollution caused by organic or mineral nutrients in the water—often from fertilizer run off—that depletes the water’s dissolved oxygen supply. Runaway eutrophication can result in “dead zones” in and beyond the estuaries of large rivers. One such oxygen-depleted dead zone the size of New Jersey recurs near the mouth of the Mississippi River every summer. Taken to extremes, eutrophication could give us what the second bowl judgment describes: “The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as of a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died”—Revelation 16:3.) 

Follow the twisted trail of scriptural symbols here: (1) Tekeleth blue dye comes from mussels, whose job it is to clean water—which is itself a symbol of cleansing and restoration. So the unclean source of blue dye cleans the cleaner—making it accessible for our use. (2) If the mussels do their job, more oxygen is available in the water, so fish (symbolic of God’s quarry, lost humanity—us) can breathe. (3) Breath, meanwhile, is the key to the concept of Spirit (ruach in Hebrew, pneuma in Greek). Yahweh’s Holy Spirit is the “Helper—the Spirit of Truth,” whom Christ promised to send to dwell within us (in John 14:16) as we awaited His return. But (4) remember: mussels are “unclean” animals. We are instructed not even to touch their carcasses (Leviticus 11:8)—yet somebody had to become “unclean” on our behalf in order to procure the blue dye for the tsitzit. 

Have you figured it out yet? Just as the entire tsitzit represents and reminds us of Yahweh, the single blue-dyed thread within it represents Christ Himself—who is part of God, and yet (as a human) is distinguished from Him. That is, though He is God in flesh, Yahshua is not “all there is” to Yahweh. Yahshua left His divine glory behind in order to become “unclean” on our behalf—covering our sin. Alas, as I wrote in The Owner’s Manual (Mitzvah #18), “Modern orthodox Jews don’t include the blue thread in their tsitzit because they fear that the dye might not have come from the ‘right’ species of cerulean mussel. So once again, they violate God’s law and the picture it paints so they can observe their man-made tradition instead. It’s so sad. By removing the blue thread, they’ve removed the symbolism of the Messiah—they’ve subtracted salvation from their religion.” 

Before we move on, let us take note of one more thing Yahweh told Moses: “Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations.” The significance of the tsitzit-tassels would endure as long as the Jewish race did—which is basically throughout the age of mortal man upon the earth. Now that we have sorted out the meaning of the ordinance, this makes perfect sense: The tsitzit is a reminder of Yahweh and His commandments, virtually all of which (one way or another) were prophetic of His remedy for our sins (the “harlotry” of which He spoke)—something that would be accomplished through the agency and sacrifice of the Single Blue Thread: Yahshua the Messiah. 

Not surprisingly, then, the tsitzit shows up several places in the New Testament. But before we go there, let us consider one more Old Testament passage, where the tsitzit is mentioned not in the Torah-commandment sense (a symbol-rich fashion accessory), but in the classic sense: a lock of hair. It’s the same word. The question is: is the meaning consistent? 

First, a little background. This is found in one of Ezekiel’s visions: it does not describe a literal, waking reality. The vision took place during the sixth year of Jehoiachin’s Babylonian captivity—in about 592 BC. The prophet and the elders of Judah had already been deported, and had been stationed at the Chebar “River,” Nebuchadnezzar’s grand canal-building project joining the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It was late summer, the month of Elul. So to put things in historical context, Jerusalem and the temple still stood, but they wouldn’t for much longer: Nebuchadnezzar’s armies would raze them in 586, a mere six years later. 

Ezekiel’s vision begins: “And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the Lord Yahweh fell upon me there.” First, he sees God as an awesome fiery Being: “Then I looked, and there was a likeness, like the appearance of fire—from the appearance of His waist and downward, fire; and from His waist and upward, like the appearance of brightness, like the color of amber. He stretched out the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my hair [that’s tsitzit in Hebrew], and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the image of jealousy was, which provokes to jealousy.” (Ezekiel 8:1-3) Although the prophet was already living in exile, Yahweh wanted him to see “with his own two eyes” what was going on in Jerusalem—and specifically, why utter destruction was in the city’s near future. So in his dream, God grabbed Ezekiel by the hair and said, “Look at this.” 

What was “going on” was idolatry on a massive scale, abomination upon abomination. The vision goes on for four intense chapters (through chapter 11), as Ezekiel was shown the “harlotry” (as Moses had put it in Numbers 15:39) that the tsitzit had been designed to warn against. Succinctly stated, Ezekiel was shown gross idolatry, the worship of unclean animals, prayer (the burning of incense) to false gods, irreverence toward Yahweh, “weeping for Tammuz” (part of the Babylonian mystery religion that still plagues the church today in the form of Lent), sun worship, and violence—and that’s just chapter 8. In chapter 9, he saw God’s wrath inflicted upon all of those who were not sealed with a mark identifying them as “people who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within Jerusalem.” Then in chapter 10, he saw the Shekinah Glory of God departing in stages from the temple—as if reluctant to go, but compelled to because of Judah’s abominable practices. This is also where Ezekiel saw the famous “wheel within a wheel” vision of Yahweh. The carnage continued in chapter 11, up to verse 13, where Ezekiel at last cried out in anguish, “Ah, Lord Yahweh! Will You make a complete end of the remnant of Israel?” 

Remarkably, the answer turned out to be “No.” Yahweh had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and He intended to keep them, no matter how long it took. The bottom line must have seemed to Ezekiel like a cup of cool water at the very gates of hell: “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19-20) Don’t look now, but that’s the very thing the tsitzit was designed to remind them to do.

***

In the very last chapter of the Old Testament canon, we see the same sort of bad news-good news contrast, but the stakes seem quite a bit higher. Malachi says, “‘For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,’ says Yahweh of hosts, ‘that will leave them neither root nor branch.’” Yeah, that sounds bad. This isn’t just Israel: there are proud and wicked people everywhere. In fact, this sounds exactly like the post-rapture world—the Tribulation—as described in a hundred different prophecies in scripture. But as Ezekiel had discovered, Malachi says there is a remedy for this horrible state of affairs: “But to you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.” (Malachi 4:1-2) 

At first glance, this sounds a bit counterintuitive: the judgment of the proud and wicked (especially those whose wickedness is the source of their pride—I’ll just leave that there for you to ponder) will be brought about by “turning up the heat,” as it were. What is the ultimate natural source of heat on our planet? It’s the sun. (If you thought it was rich Yuppies driving SUVs, you need to switch off the evening news once in a while.) So we’ve got a subtle contrast going on here. (1) The sun (the flaming ball of hydrogen and helium 93 million miles from our planet) is trying to “burn up” the proud and wicked. Meanwhile (2) the Sun of Righteousness is a healer—but only to those who revere the name of Yahweh. In other words, the only refuge from the sun is the Sun (…of Righteousness, that is). It therefore behooves us to track down who this might be. 

First, who in scripture is described as being “like the sun”? Ezekiel’s visionary descriptions of Yahweh in chapter 8 (quoted above), and also in chapter 1, come mighty close. But then we read this portrayal of Yahshua in Matthew’s Gospel: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16, quoting Isaiah 9:2) Compelling, you must admit. But wait: there’s more. 

What was that about “healing in his wings”? The “wing” in Malachi 4:2 is a kanaph: an edge or extremity, a corner, flap, or border—a pretty good physical description of the tsitzit. So the Gospels report: “But as [Yahshua] went, the multitudes thronged Him. Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped. And Jesus said, ‘Who touched Me?’” (Luke 8:42-45; cf. Matthew 9:20-22) When she touched Yahshua’s tsitzit in faith, she was healed instantaneously; but Yahshua asked who had touched Him—not His garment, but Him. Once again, we see that the tsitzit represents Yahweh—and is a reminder to us to keep His commandments, in which reside life itself (see Leviticus 18:5, Deuteronomy 30:20). And the single blue thread within it is symbolic of Christ, the Healer. 

So if someone were to ask, “Was it Yahweh, or Yahshua, who healed the woman?” we’d have to answer, “Yes!” As David put it, “Bless Yahweh, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless Yahweh, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1-5) The tsitzit shows us how it works: Christ (the Single Blue Thread) is found within Yahweh (the bundle of strands). The tassels remind us to honor God and keep His commandments, but the blue thread component is what you notice about the tsitzit—by Yahweh’s design. 

Nobody needed Twitter for the word to get around: “When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick, and begged Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.” (Matthew 14:34-36, cf. Mark 6:53-56) It wasn’t that a tsitzit was some sort of magical talisman that could heal people on contact. For one thing, only the tassels on Yahshua’s garment “worked” like this, though everybody in Israel wore them. When sick people asked Yahshua for permission to touch His tsitzit, it was axiomatic that their faith was in His exclusive ability to heal them: the tassel itself was only a “prop.” 

Think about it: it never occurred to anyone to touch the tsitzit of the High Priest in order to obtain healing, or that of the most respected of the scribes or rabbis, the strictest Pharisee, or even one of Yahshua’s own disciples. Nor did Christ restrict His “healing method” to physical contact with His tsitzit. Sometimes a spoken word was all He used; sometimes He touched the “patient” in other ways. He could be present, but He also healed at a distance on occasion. When you’re the author of life, you’re not restricted to one method or another to restore health and well-being. But when a demonstration of someone’s faith in the Healer was appropriate, reaching out and touching Yahshua’s tsitzit served nicely as a public affirmation of the “patient’s” trust in Christ’s ability and willingness to heal. In truth, it echoed David’s testimony: “You heal all my diseases,” and in doing so, eloquently declared, “You, Yahshua, are Yahweh my God.” 

This also brings up an interesting point. Throughout history there have often been false “Messiahs,” men who invariably acted as if God’s Laws (or even their own) didn’t apply to them. Their actions told us what they really believed: that rules were for the little people, the sheeple, and the “useful idiots” (as Vladimir Lenin might have phrased it). But notice that Yahshua, who certainly did not need to be reminded of Yahweh or His commandments, humbled Himself in a thousand little ways, including donning the tsitzit simply because God had ordained that all Jews should do so. 

Even though the tsitzit He wore (especially that single blue thread) symbolized Himself, Yahshua’s was apparently quite ordinary—the same sort of thing you’d see any Israelite wearing. But there was one class of people Christ took to task for their hypocrisy in such matters. It wasn’t that the scribes (religious lawyers) and Pharisees (a hyper-strict religious sect) thought they were too good to keep the precepts of Moses. Rather, they took these symbolic rites and customs to literal extremes—not because Moses had said to, but so they could proudly declare “I am better than you” to their fellow man. So Yahshua (in Matthew 23) warned the people about their conceited holier-than-thou attitudes: 

“Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers….” The problem was that by this time, the “Law of Moses” had become hopelessly polluted with added-on rabbinical minutiae designed to “put a hedge about the Law,” so (in theory) no one could get anywhere near its infraction. They called it the “Oral Law,” claiming it had been around since the time of Moses, handed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next (though there is no historical record of any such thing existing before the Second-Temple period). The “Oral Law” wasn’t written down until well into the Second Century AD. It is now called the Mishna, consisting of 63 tractates in the Talmud. 

I don’t really want to flog this horse to death, but Jews to this day are subjected to this impossible-to-keep maze of rules and regulations, “heavy burdens” from which Yahshua would have spared them. The Jewish Virtual Library offers this cringe-worthy explanation: “The Oral Law is a legal commentary on the Torah, explaining how its commandments are to be carried out. Common sense suggests that some sort of oral tradition was always needed to accompany the Written Law, because the Torah alone, even with its 613 commandments, is an insufficient guide to Jewish life….” I would strongly beg to differ. See my treatise on the Torah, The Owner’s Manual: What Every Christian Should Know about the Law of Moses, elsewhere on this website. 

The JVL continues: “For example, the fourth of the Ten Commandments, ordains, ‘Remember the Sabbath day to make it holy’ (Exodus 20:8). From the Sabbath’s inclusion in the Ten Commandments, it is clear that the Torah regards it as an important holiday. Yet when one looks for the specific biblical laws regulating how to observe the day, one finds only injunctions against lighting a fire, going away from one's dwelling, cutting down a tree, plowing, and harvesting. Would merely refraining from these few activities fulfill the biblical command to make the Sabbath holy? Indeed, the Sabbath rituals that are most commonly associated with holiness—lighting of candles, reciting the kiddush, and the reading of the weekly Torah portion—are found not in the Torah, but in the Oral Law….” Yes, and something tells me there’s a reason for that. 

Then they say, “Without an oral tradition, some of the Torah's laws would be incomprehensible. In the Shema’s first paragraph, the Bible instructs: ‘And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.’ ‘Bind them for a sign upon your hand,’ the last verse instructs. Bind what? The Torah doesn't say. ‘And they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.’ What are frontlets? The Hebrew word for frontlets, totafot, is used three times in the Torah—always in this context (Exodus 13:16; Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18)—and is as obscure as is the English. Only in the Oral Law do we learn that what a Jewish male should bind upon his hand and between his eyes are tefillin (phylacteries).” 

With apologies to the JVL, it is clear that the “Oral Law” is nothing more than a step-by-step method for getting through your Jewish day without reference or deference to Yahweh, by observing a hyper-literal caricature of the Torah—heaven forbid you should actually take to heart the spiritual truths God meant for His people to know. Yahshua smelled the deceit of the scribes—and their motivation—from a mile away: “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.” (Matthew 23:1-5) 

The whole “phylacteries” thing is typical. God wanted Israel to meditate on His bounty and provision, and to teach their children to honor Him throughout their generations. So Moses wrote, “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one! You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) So what did the scribes and Pharisees do? They wrote verses of scripture on scraps of parchment, placed them into little leather boxes, and strapped the boxes (the phylacteries—tefillin) to their forearms and foreheads—so they could forget all about what God wanted them to remember, and still tell themselves they had “kept the Law.” 

But Yahweh’s meaning was quite clear. Israel was to keep His precepts on their minds and before their eyes at all times. It’s what advertising agencies call “top-of-mind awareness.” Everything we do (the works of our hands) should reflect His greatness and give honor to His name. This may have been figurative language, but it wasn’t rocket science. I am only half surprised that because God had said “keep these things on your heart,” that the scribes didn’t have T-shirts printed up with Bible verses on them. 

And “enlarging the borders of their garments?” This is a reference to the humble tsitzit that everybody wore. They couldn’t bury it (like they did with the Shema in their little boxes), so they took the opposite tack, and made them as large and flashy as possible, as if to say, “See what a wonderful person I am? God is very impressed with me.” 

Well, maybe “impressed” isn’t quite the right word. Yahshua continued His description of the scribes and Pharisees, and it’s not pretty: “They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:6-12) It is not the least bit surprising that He who gave up His throne in heaven to become a man, in order to save mankind from itself, finds human pride to be the most foolish of sins.

Footwear: Our Walk through the World

A quick glance at footwear (or the lack of it) in the Bible leaves one a bit confused. Both good things and bad things are associated with sandals or shoes. Godly and ungodly people are seen putting them on—and taking them off. But upon contemplation, I believe the symbology here is not so much inconsistent as it is complex. The key to our comprehension seems to be who is performing the action: is it God, or man? And why. 

Sandals are worn on the feet, obviously. But what does that mean? The broad concept here is that feet represent our walk through the world—where we go, why we go there, and in what direction we’re heading. It’s as much a question of the destination as it is the journey: are we “walking” toward God, or away from Him? Are we following His roadmap, someone else’s, or merely wandering about aimlessly? Is the road on which we’re walking “the broad, popular highway that leads to destruction,” or the “narrow, unfashionable way that leads to life”? (See Matthew 7:13-14) 

Shoes have a purpose. They are designed to protect our feet from hazards we encounter in the world. Anybody who has ever stepped on a Lego barefoot in the kids’ room in the middle of the night knows what I’m talking about. Today, there are a vast variety of footwear styles available to us. Some are built for work, some for sport, some for fashion, and some for comfort. The contemporary joke is that during Antifa inner city riots, when they loot the shoe store, the one item they never steal is work boots. (The ancient joke, meanwhile, is “The journey of a thousand miles begins with getting a pebble in your shoe.”) 

The point of all of this is that shoes—from rubber flip-flops to steel-toed work boots—are design to insulate our feet from contact with the world, or perhaps alter the nature of that interaction (as with sport-shoe spikes or cleats, or snowshoes, for example). The Bible’s idea of footwear, of course, was infinitely simpler—mostly just sandals, a sole attached to the foot by means of some sort of strap. But the idea was basically the same: to protect the sole of one’s bare foot from the hazards found in the world—heat, sharp rocks, thorns, etc. In a way, then, footwear can be viewed (symbolically) as a means for attaining separation from something: sort of like holiness, if you will. We must tread lightly here, however, for holiness not only means separation from the world, but also separation to Yahweh. Hence the complexity of footwear as a symbol. All we can really do is review the scriptures, keeping our eyes open and our feet on the ground. 

If sandals keep us separate from the world, what are we to do when the earth upon which we’re standing is itself holy ground? When Yahweh called Moses to service, this very scenario came into play: “And the Angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.’ So when Yahweh saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am….’” 

At this point, Moses was eighty years old. Although he didn’t know it, Yahweh (a God He didn’t yet know) had been preparing him for service his entire life. He was to deliver Israel from bondage in Egypt, and then transmit God’s Torah-Instructions to them. (Oh, is that all?) He had spent his first forty years as a child of privilege—the “adopted son” of the daughter of Pharaoh—because Yahweh needed a literate man, a Hebrew who knew his way around the halls of Egyptian power. But then he had killed a Egyptian (in defense of a Hebrew), and had fled into exile in Midian, where he had ended up raising a family and tending somebody else’s sheep (so you might say Moses was “on the lam”) on the backside of the desert for another forty years. In God’s plan, this was Moses’ “grad school.” 

But eighty years in “school” was long enough. It was now time for Moses to graduate and get a real job. So the Theophany/Shekinah drew the shepherd’s attention with some botanical pyrotechnics, but “then He said, ‘Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground….’” How did Moses know that this was holy ground? Because God told him so. Lesson #1: we cannot discern what God considers “holy” through our own observation or intellect. We must learn to take His word for it. 

“Moreover He said, ‘I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.” (Exodus 3:2-6) Lesson #2 was that God will introduce Himself to us when (and only when) our hearts are prepared to receive Him. The incident that had forced Moses to flee from Egypt (Exodus 2:11-15) tells us that Moses may have fancied himself Israel’s deliverer way back then. But as he quickly learned, his own strength and good intentions were totally insufficient for the task at hand. These things must be done in God’s power and on His schedule, or not at all. 

So in his very first “face-to-face” meeting with the God of his fathers, Moses was instructed to remove his sandals, because he was standing on “holy ground.” The ground was “holy” because God was physically manifesting Himself in this place. There was nothing particularly “sacred” about the location itself, except for the fact that Yahweh “showed Himself” there. Granted, this location did turn out to be quite significant, for this was near Mount Horeb—the place where Yahweh would shortly deliver much of the Torah to Moses. You can still see the unique fire-blackened summit there, and the nearby rock prominence that Moses struck with his staff, providing water (by following Yahweh’s instructions) for a couple of million thirsty Israelites and their animals. The cave to which the prophet Elijah fled from Jezebel (I Kings 19) is still in evidence. This is also apparently where Paul went to meditate on his mission (Galatians 1:17) before consulting with the other apostles—in the process revealing his undying respect for the Torah. 

So the place is definitely historically significant for believers. But “holy?” Yes, if only because this is where God and man had some of their most serious one-on-One conversations. Interestingly, the place is not within the region we commonly refer to as “the Holy Land,” eretz Israel. It is almost 250 miles removed from Jerusalem. Horeb is in what we know today as north-western Saudi Arabia, near the eastern shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. The mountain today is called Jabal al-Lawz. (And before you ask, no, the name is not a reference to the Lawz of Moses—it means “Almond Mountain.”) 

Arabia, of course, was the birthplace of Islam in the 7th century AD, a satanic religion that now holds a billion and a half people in bondage worldwide. Leave it to Allah (that is, Satan) to covet a land where Yahweh Personally counseled the likes of Moses, Elijah, and Paul. What do the Muslims think about it? Decades ago, the paranoid and superstitious Saudis erected a barbed wire and chain-link fence around the entire mountain, posting armed guards in this desolate outpost to prevent curious Christians from exploring the place. (Sometime before 2020, I understand, they opened Jabal al-Lawz to tourists—so at the moment, you can visit Horeb if you have the proper permits. These days, of course, you can just fly a photo-drone over it.) 

But as I said, it is God’s presence, not the history of the thing, that makes a place holy. As Joshua prepared to commence the conquest of Canaan (after Israel’s little forty-year detour) he himself had a personal encounter with either a theophany or an angel. (As so often happens, it’s hard to tell one from the other, based on the text.) “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, ‘Are You for us or for our adversaries?’ So He said, ‘No, but as Commander of the army of Yahweh I have now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, ‘What does my Lord say to His servant?’ Then the Commander of Yahweh’s army said to Joshua, ‘Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” (Joshua 5:13-15) 

Note a few salient facts: (1) Nobody before or since ever called Jericho “holy ground.” In fact, Joshua himself placed a curse on whomever might come along later and rebuild the city (see Joshua 6:26). The curse, which came to pass in the days of Ahab, was fulfilled against Hiel of Bethel (see I Kings 16:34). (2) Nobody removed their sandals during the conquest of Jericho—a unique strategy in the annals of war: marching around the city with the Ark of the Covenant, blowing the shofar and then shouting, just as the angel/theophany had instructed. (3) Elijah had been near Jericho (just across the Jordan) when he was “raptured,” but the only article of clothing he left behind was his mantle, which was retrieved by his protégé Elisha. Shoes are not mentioned in the narrative. 

We are thus led to the conclusion that the place near Jericho where Joshua met with God (or His angel) was “holy” only when (and because) God had appeared there to instruct him. As with Moses in Horeb, it was deemed “holy ground” only temporarily, and then only due to Yahweh’s presence.

***

With few exceptions, most of the references to sandals in scripture have to do with putting them on, not taking them off. The world (ever since Adam’s barefoot blunder in the Garden of Eden) has been a dirty, dangerous place. Our walk through it, then, is best done insulated from its corrupting influence—symbolically, through the donning of footwear. It’s a subtle picture of being “holy,” this time being separated from the world, if only by a thin barrier made of leather—the skin of an animal who “gave his life” (so to speak) so that our walk could be enhanced. 

What animal, you may ask. We today are used to shoes made of cowhide, but in Moses’ day the preferred material—one recruited to provide a poignant symbol for us—was a wee bit more exotic. To understand why, we need to study the wilderness tabernacle. It was essentially an elaborate tent, covered with four successive layers. They are listed (in Exodus 26) from the inside out. (1) Linen (which could be seen only from within the tabernacle—that is, apparent only to the redeemed) is symbolic of imputed righteousness. (2) Second was a layer of woven of goats’ hair, probably black in color, a metaphor for sin. (3) Next came a layer of rams’ skins dyed red—a transparent euphemism for the remedy for our transgressions: the “red” is the blood of Christ (“the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” as John the Baptist phrased it). A ram is a mature male “lamb,” one with horns, denoting authority. This is the same symbol we saw as the “substitute sacrifice” for Abraham’s offering up of Isaac in Genesis 22. 

The ram’s skin layer, like the goats’ hair, could not be seen from any vantage point, because it in turn was covered, hidden from sight, just like our sins. That is one of the “features” of atonement: though it is essential, it must be taken on faith—you can’t really “see” it. An unredeemed person cannot “figure out” how the blood of a ram—the Lamb of God—could possibly reconcile him with a God he neither believes in nor trusts. Thus only through faith in God’s revealed plan can salvation be achieved. 

So what was visible from the outside? What material did Yahweh select to cover the tabernacle, revealing to a clueless and unredeemed world what His plan was all about? It was the waterproof material from which sandals were ordinarily made. I explained this in The Owner’s Manual, Volume 2: 

“The fourth and last layer was to be made not of ‘badger’ skins, as in the unfortunate King James translation, but of tahas, an unspecified aquatic mammal—a porpoise, dolphin, dugong, or seal—indigenous to the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba. Yahweh didn’t ask the people to contribute anything that wasn’t available. Among the 600,000 men who left Egypt, there would have been a fair number of cobblers—shoemakers—who would have brought their stock of materials with them when they departed. Bedouin craftsmen in that part of the world still make sandals from dugong and porpoise hides….” 

Cowhide footwear (or as a covering for the tabernacle) would have suggested “service” or “the endeavors of man” as soteriological strategies (see The Torah Code’s entries on the “Bull” and the “Ox”). In other words, bovine leather would have symbolized good works and religion. But the message Yahweh’s instructions put forth is somewhat more provocative. 

“It was these [tahas] hides—enough to make shoes for half a million Israelites for several years—that Yahweh asked for in Exodus 35:4-9. The cobblers of Israel responded with a faithful and willing spirit, though it left them nothing with which to make shoes in the wilderness. So it is with great admiration for Yahweh’s grace that we read Moses’ observant reminder of God’s provision after the forty years of wilderness wanderings were behind them: “Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn out on your feet.” (Deuteronomy 29:5) Aside from the practical aspect of providing a tough, weather-resistant protective outer layer for the Tabernacle, what, then, might the outer layer of porpoise skins represent? I believe it speaks of Yahweh’s miraculous provision, protection, and preservation through our trials as we walk through this life. It is this layer that the world would see, if only it cared to look.” 

Later, the prophet Ezekiel would refer to both of the tabernacle’s visible ceiling layers in a description of the gifts and privilege Yahweh had bestowed upon Israel: “I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger [tahas, literally, dolphin or dugong] skin. I clothed you with fine linen.” (Ezekiel 16:10) Alas, by Ezekiel’s day, Israel had spurned God’s gifts (and his listing of them is far more extensive than my quote) and turned to “harlotry,” earning herself seventy years of “time out” in Babylonian captivity. If you’ll recall, the inner layer, the embroidered linen (imputed righteousness), was visible only to the “redeemed” (symbolized by the priests serving in the tabernacle), but the “shoe-leather” layer could be seen by everyone. So in a way, when we’re looking at the tabernacle, we’re looking at Israel—or at least at how God relates to her, both the good and the bad of it, the blessed and the cursed (see Deuteronomy 28). 

If, as I have theorized, Israel symbolically represents “God’s family,” then the unredeemed world should be able to look at Israel and witness Yahweh’s “miraculous provision, protection, and preservation” throughout her history. The good news is, they can: far more powerful nations have faded into oblivion over the millennia, but Israel is still here with us. The “bad” news is that being in Yahweh’s family means that our Father has the right (nay, the responsibility) to “spank us” when we defy Him. And indeed, like a brilliant but stubborn and self-willed child, Israel has spent far too much time in God’s “woodshed.” But He has never stopped loving her, for they are, after all, family (not to mention the fact that Yahweh is Love Personified). And, I am happy to note, the eventual restoration of Israel to fellowship with Father Yahweh is by far the most often-repeated prophecy in the entire Tanakh. 

It bears mention that shoes and feet are a symbiotic system: as shoes protect the feet, the feet give shoes significance. So Moses also reminded the pre-conquest exodus generation, “Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years.” (Deuteronomy 8:4) Obsolescence is part of the world’s marketing plan these days: even if the things we use aren’t worn out or unserviceable, people are still made to feel that “New is good, and old is bad; this cell phone is two years old—it’s hopelessly out of date.” But even if that were not the common perception, the Second Law of Thermodynamics tends to destroy everything we use, given enough time—including our mortal bodies. In their wilderness wanderings, not only did Yahweh preserve the Israelites’ sandals, He also took care of their feet. I can only observe that preservation is a subset of creation. The Psalmist reminds us that our mortal bodies are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” If Yahweh made us, He is perfectly capable of preserving us—for eternity. 

Speaking of “worn-out shoes,” there is a fascinating object lesson in the account of the conquest of Canaan. The Israelites had just conquered Jericho’s formidable defenses, and then (after one false start) had taken the nearby city of Ai. Needless to say, all of the nearby pagan inhabitants heard the news and prepared for war. But one group of Hivites recognized the power of Israel’s God, and invented a clever ruse designed to prevent their inevitable death or deportation: “But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors. And they took old sacks on their donkeys, old wineskins torn and mended, old and patched sandals on their feet, and old garments on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and moldy. And they went to Joshua, to the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us.” (Joshua 9:3-6) 

In reality, their “far country” was a mere seventeen miles away from the Israelite camp. But they seemed sincere, and Joshua and the elders of Israel looked at their shoes and bought their ruse—without consulting Yahweh. Perhaps Joshua had lost perspective, since he was still wearing the same sandals he had when he’d left Egypt, forty years previously. It took all of three days to discover that they had been taken in by the Hivites’ little prevarication; but by then, it was too late. The Israelites had given their word that the visitors “from a far country” would not be harmed. Humbling themselves before Joshua and his God, they agreed to become Israel’s slaves—woodcutters and water carriers in the house of Yahweh—in perpetuity. (According to the Torah, Israelite servants would have been freed at Jubilee—once every fifty years—but this precept did not apply to gentiles.) 

Still, the Gibeonite take on their destiny was positive: though slaves, they got to keep their lives and their homes (a fate not shared by other Canaanite city-states). Gibeon still exists today, a thriving community now known as Al Jib. Ironically (perhaps) it is in a section of the West Bank designated (under the Oslo Accords) as “Area C,” which is administered by Israel. Of course, this status is temporary: not long from now, Christ’s Millennial Kingdom will commence, making such cringeworthy terms as “Oslo Accords” and “the West Bank” as obsolete as the Gibeonites’ worn-out sandals. 

Believers today tend to castigate Joshua and the Israelite elders for being so gullible as to believe the desperate strangers’ “far-country” tale without consulting God on the matter. But as it turns out, Yahweh had already—before Israel even entered the Promised Land—delivered His verdict on the matter. Consider the words of Moses: “All of you stand today before Yahweh your God: your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones and your wives—also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water [that’s the Gibeonites Joshua would encounter a year or so later]—that you may enter into covenant with Yahweh your God, and into His oath, which Yahweh your God makes with you today, that He may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God to you, just as He has spoken to you, and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 29:10-13) 

Did you catch that? Yahweh knew what would happen, and counted the once-pagan Hivites among His “covenant people,” along with the Jews. The repentant Hivites from Gibeon had witnessed what Yahweh had done for Israel, and had made the proper and logical response, saying, “Your servants have come, because of the name of Yahweh your God [yes, they even knew His name]; for we have heard of His fame, and all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan.” (Joshua 9:9-10) Not to mention the victories Yahweh had given them in Jericho and Ai. 

Note to American liberals: what Yahweh “did in Egypt” was over forty years prior to this. History matters, as does our response to it. “Cancelling” history doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It only makes us ignorant and vulnerable. 

This is precisely the response we “gentile strangers” should have when we look at the promises made and kept by Yahweh to Israel—both the good and the bad, the blessing and the cursing. Let’s face it: Israel has often been impossible to love, and yet Yahweh loves them. We would be fools to reject a God like that. As for Israel’s “missed opportunity” to destroy the heathens (as Yahweh had instructed), it is my take on all this that He was rather pleased to see it work out like this. In God’s eyes, Israel keeping their word dwarfed the generalized conquest of Canaan. Both things, you’ll note, had been commanded of them; but mercy outweighed justice, and repentance outweighed the Hivites’ pagan history. (See my chapter above in TTC on “Strangers and Foreigners—Invited Guests.”) 

The Gibeonites “prepared” for their life-saving ruse by putting on the crappiest worn-out sandals they could find. A survey of scripture reveals that shoes are often used as a metaphor for preparation. Perhaps the most obvious declaration is this: “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” (Ephesians 6:14-15) As part of the “whole armor of God” that we are to put on (a subject I plan to cover in a future essay), our “footwear” as believers is intended to help us prepare for carrying out the great commission. 

Let us then take a fresh look at what we were instructed to do by the risen Christ: “Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) A few points bear mention: 

(1) Yahshua’s death and resurrection qualify Him alone to be our Lord and Master, the only one worthy to “call the shots”—not our traditions, feelings, or even the “church.” (2) The “Go” command is where our shoes come into the picture. We are to “walk” to wherever it is the unsaved are. In other words, ingrown religiosity, insulating ourselves from the lost world, is not what we’re called to do. (3) “Name” here is singular in the Greek: there are not three “Gods,” but One. See Deuteronomy 6:4. (4) Our “target audience” is “the nations.” That is, everybody. Salvation may be of the Jews, but it is for the entire human race. (5) “Making disciples” and “teaching them” are parallel concepts. Having introduced folks to “the good news of peace,” we aren’t to just leave them wondering what to do next. (6) “All things that I have commanded you” is quite a mouthful. Might I suggest reading The Owner’s Manual, Volume 3, Appendix 2, elsewhere on this website, for a detailed (and convicting) synopsis. 

The exodus was a poignant (if complex) picture of what salvation is: release from the bondage of sin in the world. It begins with the Passover sacrifice, where the paschal lamb was slain, and its blood was smeared upon the doorposts and lintels of the house—a sign to the angel of death that those within this house were indemnified, covered, atoned by the blood of the lamb. That portal for us is the cross of Christ: if we have applied the blood of the Lamb of God to our lives, it is a sign to God that our sins have been atoned—covered—again, keeping the angel of death at bay. Remember, we all start out “condemned.” (See John 3:18.) Something has to change in order for that status to be reversed. 

The Passover lamb wasn’t slain just for his blood: he was also to be eaten, assimilated into the lives of the redeemed. So we read: “And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is Yahweh’s Passover.” (Exodus 12:11) This was no leisurely holiday meal: there was a built-in sense of urgency. They had to be ready to “walk out of Egypt” at any moment. Why? Because the events of Passover would separate the Israelites (symbolically, the family of Yahweh) from the Egyptians (i.e., those in bondage in the world). It wasn’t just the Jews’ release from slavery; it was that they were alive, while the firstborn (read: the preeminence) of Egypt were dead. Some things never change: the dead still hate and envy the living. 

And where do the living go when they’ve been evicted from the land of death and bondage? They head for the Promised Land. By God’s design, however, a wilderness—the place of anticipation and preparation—lies in between. There is a learning curve there (though it need not persist for forty years, as it did with Israel). The fact is, “leaving Egypt” is not the same thing as “knowing Yahweh.” 

Or to put it in terms the “prodigal son” of Yahshua’s parable would have understood, leaving the pig sty is not the same thing as going home to your father. You have to actually go there. It’s called repentance. When he did, he got the surprise of his life: acceptance. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.’” (Luke 15:22) The prodigal was merely hoping to get “hired on” as one of his father’s servants; but he was received as the son who had been dead and had come back to life! That being said, along with the robe of imputed righteousness and the signet ring of family identity, he was also given a new pair of sandals, meaning that from this point forward, his “walk” would be for his father’s glory—not his own (which is not to say their interests did not align). The lesson: you can’t work your way into Yahweh’s kingdom, but once there, there is plenty of work to do, for you have been accepted as His child—once dead, but now alive. 

The most remarkable and unlikely prediction of national repentance in the prophetic record is, of course, that of the nation of Israel. Israel’s eventual restoration is by far the most oft-repeated prophetic theme in the entire Tanakh. Even the puzzling “once dead, now alive” scenario describes them, as related in the vision of the valley of dry bones—see Ezekiel 37:1-14. Isaiah describes the transformation many times, invariably beginning with an explanation of why God had to chastise them for so long. In chapter 5, for example, he begins with a recounting of the bounty Israel had been shown, only to spurn it—along with the God who had provided it all. But in verse 26, we see a startlingly sudden turn-around—an historical event I witnessed in my own lifetime: 

“He will lift up a banner to the nations from afar, and will whistle to them from the end of the earth. Surely they shall come with speed, swiftly. No one will be weary or stumble among them.” For us who witnessed the resurrection of political Israel with our own two eyes (okay, I was only three years old), this is a remarkably accurate depiction of the nation’s rebirth in 1948. “No one will slumber or sleep, nor will the belt on their loins be loosed, nor the strap of their sandals be broken.” (Isaiah 5:26-27) The return of the Jews to the Land of Promise brought with it an unprecedented transformation—from a poor, unwanted, sparsely populated country alternating between barren desert and fetid swamp, to a rich land blooming like the rose—whose crops now feed much of Western Europe—the result of herculean effort on the part of the Jews. So when Isaiah says that “the strap of their sandals will not be broken,” he’s prophesying that latter-day Israelis will be diligent and industrious in the rebuilding of their land—prepared for war, though aching for peace. 

The one area in which modern Israel still falls short is their reluctance to credit Yahweh with their success—nay, their very survival. Many Israelis today are functional atheists, aware of their nation’s heritage but at the same time refusing to see Yahweh’s hand in their own astounding achievements—or even their existence. Most of the rest of them are practicing a manmade religion that bears little or no resemblance to the Theocratic culture spoken of in the Torah—more style than substance. None of this is particularly surprising, of course, because they have been scattered to the four winds for almost two millennia now, bereft of homeland, temple, and priesthood, all because they (as a nation) rejected the One the entire Torah was written to prophetically introduce: Yahshua the Messiah. 

So Israel, in a way, hasn’t made much progress since the closing days of their wilderness wanderings: “Now Moses called all Israel and said to them: ‘You have seen all that Yahweh did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land—the great trials which your eyes have seen, the signs, and those great wonders. Yet Yahweh has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day….’” This is still pretty much where Israel is today—oblivious, spiritually blind, and deaf to the voice of reason. 

“And I have led you forty years in the wilderness.” As a parallel reality, it has now been almost forty Jubilees (50-year periods) since Israel’s costly blunder at Calvary. And yet, even in the “wilderness” of exile, God has taken care of them: “Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn out on your feet. You have not eaten bread [but rather have lived on manna, the bread from heaven], nor have you drunk wine or similar drink, that you may know that I am Yahweh your God.” (Deuteronomy 29:2-6) They still don’t know this, but they will—and soon. 

What does this mention of “sandals” mean (in the prophetic sense)? Shoes are what we take off when we find ourselves in the presence of God, and we put them onto our feet when it’s time to walk through the world, “shod…with the preparation of the gospel of peace,” as Paul put it. After almost forty Jubilees, Israel’s “sandals” have still not worn out: they still have an important future role to play in the unfolding story of the “gospel of peace.” But first, they must “remove their sandals” one more time—when they find themselves in the Personal presence of their God during the Battle of Magog—Ezekiel 38-39. Ezekiel explains what will happen: “When I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and I am hallowed in them in the sight of many nations, then they shall know that I am Yahweh their God, who sent them into captivity among the nations, but also brought them back to their land, and left none of them captive any longer. And I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,’ says Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 39:27-29) That’s the first part. 

But then Israel must put them on again when they realize at last that their Messiah is actually the same Anointed One the Christians (well, the real ones) have been worshiping for the past two thousand years—Yahshua of Nazareth. This will be the great epiphany of the definitive Day of Atonement: they’ll witness the Lord’s return, and then fulfill the requirements of this holiest of Yahweh’s convocations, both of which are ensconced in the Hebrew verb anah: they’ll (1) afflict their souls in repentance (finally recognizing that Yahshua is indeed the “Son” of Yahweh), and (2) they will answer and respond in joyful (though belated) recognition of their Messiah. 

And God will respond in turn. Hosea describes the moment: “It shall come to pass in that day that I will answer [that’s the Hebrew anah—all five times],” says Yahweh. I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth. The earth shall answer with grain, with new wine, and with oil. They shall answer ‘Jezreel.’ [literally, ‘God will sow’]. Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy. Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’” (Hosea 2:21-23) Only then will Israel understand why their “sandals never wore out” (if you catch my meaning) during those two thousand years since their fathers rejected Christ. When they finally respond to Yahweh’s Messiah, He will cause the earth to answer them back with the blessings of His Millennial kingdom. They will have been freed from their captivity (again)—privileged to walk before their Savior as He heals their Land. 

When will this happen? Hosea reveals this as well: “Come, and let us return to Yahweh. For He has torn, but He will heal us. He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days [read: two thousand years—see II Peter 3:8] He will revive us. On the third day [i.e., the Millennial reign of Christ] He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of Yahweh. His going forth is established as the morning. He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3) Don’t look now, but their two thousand years of exile, of God’s “tearing and striking” them in the wake of their rejection of Yahshua, will have elapsed in 2033. That’s only twelve years off, as I write these words—seven of which will comprise the “time of Jacob’s trouble,” a.k.a. the Tribulation, a.k.a. the “70th week” of the amazing Daniel 9 prophecy. 

This, you’ll recall, was the revelation of God’s schedule vis-à-vis Israel, as it was told to Daniel by the angel Gabriel. It begins, “Seventy weeks [literally, ‘sevens’] are determined for your people [Israel] and for your holy city [Jerusalem], to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.” (Daniel 9:24) That, my friends, is a tall order. 

69 of these 70 “sevens” (that is, seven schematic-year periods of time) have already elapsed, ending on the very day of the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem on Monday, March 28, 33 A.D. Not coincidentally, this day (Nisan 10 on the lunar calendar) is when the Torah says the Passover lamb was to be brought into the household of Israel (Exodus 12:3). To put things in perspective, this was four days before the crucifixion of the Lamb of God (which accomplished “making reconciliation for iniquity” and “anointing the Most Holy”). Replacing sin and transgression with everlasting righteousness will be taken care of during the 70th and final week—“sealing up vision and prophecy” in the process. God is not making this stuff up as He goes along. 

Okay, you’re saying, but what on earth does all of this have to do with footwear? I’m glad you asked. Ponder this: since God is once again dealing with Israel during Daniel’s 70th week, where is the church during this time? We, the “bride of Christ” who have been walking with Him throughout the church age, will have been raptured (as described in I Corinthians 15:51-12, I Thessalonians 4:15-17, and Revelation 3:10). Solomon (in blushing purple prose) prophetically describes the King’s fascination with his beloved bride—who is an obvious symbolic stand-in for the true church, the ekklesia—the called-out ones. He says, “How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O prince’s daughter! The curves of your thighs are like jewels; the work of the hands of a skillful workman.” (Song of Solomon 7:1) 

It’s not just her feet that he finds alluring. It is also the fact that she is wearing sandals: she is going somewhere, not just sitting around the palace eating bon-bons. The King finds his bride’s walk a thing of beauty: as it’s put in Psalm 1, she doesn’t walk in the counsel of the ungodly, or stand in path of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scornful; rather she delights in the law of Yahweh, upon which she meditates day and night. Or, as Christ described the Church of Philadelphia (the church of the rapture), “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name…. You have kept My command to persevere.” (Revelation 3:8, 10) In short, she is as Paul described her in Ephesians 6:15: with her “feet shod with the preparation of the good news of peace.” 

Perhaps it would help to review a picture of the converse situation. King David had a general named Joab, a talented military man who nevertheless put calculated pragmatism ahead of “doing what was right” every time he had the chance. He had several cold-blooded murders on his hands (including one David himself had ordered—that of Uriah the Hittite, the husband of Bathsheba). David was conflicted concerning Joab, because he had always been loyal to his king, despite his brutality. So David had not dealt with his general during his lifetime. But when it came time to turn the reins over to his son Solomon, David said, “[Joab] shed the blood of war in peacetime, and put the blood of war on his belt that was around his waist, and on his sandals that were on his feet. Therefore do according to your wisdom, and do not let his gray hair go down to the grave in peace.” (I Kings 2:5-6) 

David’s “bloodshed-on-his-sandals” remark, roughly paraphrased, means “Joab’s walk before God has been bloody, brutal, and merciless. He can’t see where war stops and human relationships begin.” Basically, he was of the sort Isaiah would condemn centuries later: “Their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; Wasting and destruction are in their paths.” (Isaiah 59:6-7) After David died and Solomon was firmly established, his jealous half-brother, Adonijah, attempted to seize the throne for himself through stealth and intrigue, earning himself a death sentence (I Kings 2:13-25). Although General Joab had not backed Absalom’s attempted coup years before, he had backed Adonijah against Solomon. 

This treasonous act placed Joab back on Solomon’s radar screen (as per his father’s instructions). However, his subsequent execution was not because he had backed Solomon’s rival (which would have been nothing more than petty politics on Solomon’s part), but because of his guilt in the previous murders of two innocent men: “So Yahweh will return [Joab’s] blood on his head, because he struck down two men more righteous and better than he, and killed them with the sword—Abner the son of Ner, the commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, the commander of the army of Judah—though my father David did not know it.” (I Kings 2:32) The moral to the story: our walk through life leaves footprints, revealing our true position. Therefore, walk with wisdom, mercy, and humility before God. 

One more Old Testament reference to sandals (in the context of preparation) bears mention. In his benediction to Israel, Moses offered the following hopeful assessment of Asher’s tribal destiny: “And of Asher [Moses] said: ‘Asher is most blessed of sons. Let him be favored by his brothers, and let him dip his foot in oil. Your sandals shall be iron and bronze. As your days, so shall your strength be.” (Deuteronomy 33:24-25) His prayer (in symbolic terms) was that the tribe of Asher would walk led by the Holy Spirit (the “oil” reference). The “iron sandals” metaphor implied that the Asherites would be valiant in battle, and “bronze” refers to judgment—the propensity to choose to walk upright before Yahweh (see Proverbs 14:2). 

Alas, Asher (like so many of Israel’s tribes) did not begin well: “Nor did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Acco or the inhabitants of Sidon, or of Ahlab, Achzib, Helbah, Aphik, or Rehob. So the Asherites dwelt among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land; for they did not drive them out.” (Judges 1:31-32) A couple of centuries later, though, they began to hit their stride: “And [Gideon] sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, who also gathered behind him. He also sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali; and they came up to meet them…. And the men of Israel gathered together from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh, and pursued the Midianites.” (Judges 6:35, 7:23) Like Moses said: “iron sandals.” 

About 450 years later (i.e., about 200 years after the kingdom was divided), Hezekiah (king of Judah) issued a call to repentance to all of Israel, north and south, inviting everyone to participate in the Passover/Unleavened Bread Feast in Jerusalem: “So the runners passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, as far as Zebulun; but they laughed at them and mocked them. Nevertheless some from Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem.” (II Chronicles 30:10-11.) Thus a remnant from Asher wore the “bronze sandals” of judgment and discernment. That is, they chose to walk before Yahweh in humility while they still had the chance. So again, Moses stands vindicated.

***

“Sandal” references in the New Testament tend to be a bit more straightforward, more literal—even though they still bear symbolic overtones. Consider the instructions Yahshua gave His twelve disciples when He first commissioned them to announce His kingdom: “When [Yahshua] had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease… These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: ‘Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food….’”

They had been given everything they’d need to fulfill this microcosm of the Great Commission. His point here was, “Don’t take anything I didn’t specifically give you. Not only will you not need them for the task at hand, these things will only get in the way, weigh you down, distract you.” This is a hard lesson for us to grasp today: the “mission field” starts where we are. “Going there” requires nothing more than a willingness to serve God. You say you haven’t been given the power to heal the sick and raise the dead? Me neither. (If you have, you should be hanging out in hospitals and nursing homes, exercising your gifts.) So what can you do? Start with a smile, a word of encouragement, a hug, or a prayer. Has God given you more? Then use that. All the Good Samaritan had was a donkey and a few shekels, and he used them without hesitation to help someone in need—a total stranger—whom God had placed in his path. 

Whether they knew it or not, Christ had supplied His disciples with things that went beyond the “miraculous powers” they’d need to cure lepers, cast out demons, and all of that. He also provided (without telling them) needy souls, receptive hearts, open homes, and grateful, supportive believers. And then, there was the hidden provision—things that nobody even thinks about. The reason they wouldn’t need to bring a spare tunic, staff, or an extra pair of sandals with them was that God Himself would preserve the resources they had. As with the Israelites in the wilderness, Yahweh is perfectly capable of ensuring that nobody’s shoes would fall apart on the journey. Today, that might translate into preserving your twenty-year-old Honda so you can get back and forth to the soup kitchen where you volunteer. You get the idea. 

Yahshua’s instructions continue: “Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy [Greek axios: befitting, deserving, or suitable], and stay there till you go out. And when you go into a household, greet it. If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” (Matthew 10:1, 5-15; cf. Mark 6:7-9; Luke 10:1-12) 

Here’s the scenario: you (having been called and equipped by God) visit a place intending to deliver the good news of salvation, and help out in whatever ways you can. I’m thinking, in my mind’s eye, of a pastor friend who makes frequent short-term mission trips to Haiti, or another who has a soft spot for Nepal, or my own pastor, who “vacations” by ministering on a small island in the Caribbean or in northern Italy—all places typically short on God’s light. All three have “connections” in their favorite “mission fields” developed over the years—the “worthy houses” of which Yahshua spoke. 

But what do you do if you’re met with nothing but scorn, ridicule, and threats? We’re not often required to lay down our lives as martyrs, but we’re not permitted by Christ to answer hate with hatred either: we are to love our enemies, remember? The appropriate action in such cases is simply to leave—to strap on your sandals and move on to the next apparent ministry opportunity. And what does it mean to “shake off the dust from your feet”? It seems to me that we’re being admonished not to drag any of the animosity or prejudice of the place that has rejected you along for the ride. Just forgive them, forget their sins, and keep your eyes on the goal. As Yahshua told us in the Sermon on the Mount, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) 

Remember Who sent the fire and brimstone upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when Lot’s godly testimony (such as it was) was roundly rejected: it was the same God who sent angels to compel Lot to “depart from that city.” Lot indeed “shook the dust from his feet,” but his wife would not. She embraced the “dust” of Sodom, and was subsequently turned into a pillar of salt. 

Judgment and sandals are often seen in the same scriptural context, for our walk through the world is the only criteria by which God can logically “judge” us. Don’t take this the wrong way. Yes, we are saved by grace through faith, but if this salvation does not manifest itself as love for God and for our fellow man, how genuine can it be? (Go back and re-read the book of I John.) Anyway, John the Baptist connected the ideas of judgment and sandals as he prepared to introduce Yahshua the Messiah to the world: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize [literally: immerse] you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12) This “separation of wheat from chaff” is the very picture of judgment in the Bible. It’s not so much “condemnation” as it is a judicial decision, a separation of the worthless from the worthy, of the evil from the good. 

How, then, do sandals fit into this picture? John was received as a true prophet—the first one to appear in Israel in four centuries. He was held in the highest regard, baptizing and preaching repentance in anticipation of the Messiah’s advent—the coming of the kingdom of heaven. Being a prophet, he wasn’t impressed by the Pharisees and Sadducees, the most outwardly religious people in town, when they showed up. He knew their “repentance” was all for show, so he called them what they were: a brood of vipers—children of their father the devil. But by saying he wasn’t worthy to carry the coming Messiah’s sandals, John was saying that he wasn’t worthy to be the least of Yahshua’s servants; he was proclaiming that his own righteousness was nothing but “filthy rags” (in Isaiah’s parlance) in comparison to His—in other words, the Messiah would actually be sinless—His walk before God and men was flawless. 

Explaining the cultural connotation to this, Mark records the incident: “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loosen.” (Mark 1:7; cf. Luke 3:16, John 1:27) When stated this way, we are reminded of the practice of foot-washing, a humbling but necessary chore in an age of filthy streets and open sandals. As I wrote in my chapter on “Slavery,” “It was the job of the lowliest servant in the house—a doulos, if there was one—to wash the feet of the guests. It required that the servant adopt a posture of obeisance—one had to physically ‘bow’ or ‘kneel’ before someone in order to attend to their feet. And it could be a dirty job. People walked around shod in open sandals on unpaved streets, picking up dust, dirt, and the occasional bit of donkey poo. You could be freshly bathed, but if you walked down the street to your friend’s house, it was a given that your feet were dirty again.” So John was saying that he—an esteemed prophet—was not worthy to be the lowliest bondslave of the Messiah. (When Yahshua came to be baptized by John, the prophet was aghast, knowing the roles should have been reversed; but at Christ’s insistence, he finally relented in humility.) 

Three years later, Yahshua taught His disciples the ultimate lesson in humility and service—by washing their feet! On the very night He was betrayed, after their “last supper” together, this happened: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded….” According to the narrative, Yahshua knew that Judas was going to betray Him, but the traitor was still there in the upper room, receiving the same honor as everybody else, having his feet washed by the Son of God. There’s a lesson for us in there somewhere. 

“Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, are You washing my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.’ Peter said to Him, ‘You shall never wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’ Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you are.’ For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, ‘You are not all clean….’” You just have to love Peter, who was always blurting out what we’re all thinking. How is it possible that the King of Heaven should bow down and serve us fallen sinners? But Christ gently rebuked him (following the definition of love in Leviticus 19:17-18), and proceeded to come to the counterintuitive point: 

“So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’” (John 13:3-17) Washing the feet of someone whose “station” is beneath yours is thus revealed to be a far-reaching metaphor. In every endeavor in this life, if we find ourselves in a position to help someone else, we are to do it. 

The lowly in this world aren’t able to achieve much, but they should do what they can. But—and this may come as an epiphany—those at the “top of the food chain,” the presidents and potentates, the rulers and CEOs in our world, are by definition empowered by their exalted positions to do more on behalf of those who are “beneath” them. The higher your status, the greater your responsibility. “Pride” could be defined as the systematic refusal of someone to love his neighbor—which explains why God hates it. It is the antithesis of what we are called to do. 

I have been on both sides of this equation. No, I’ve never been a slave—or a king. But I have been an employee, starting at the bottom, and ending up in what you might call middle management—an Executive Vice President of a three-billion-dollar publically traded company, running my own division. I have even been a CEO of sorts (okay, there were only three of us, including me), charged with making the company successful—for all of us. No matter how high you rise, you’ll find there is always someone greater to serve. No surprise there. But Christ’s point was (and is) that there are always people “beneath you” as well. (You know what I mean: not of lesser value, but having fewer resources to draw upon, like the handicapped children my wife and I adopted.) They are our responsibility as well. It is our job as believers to serve everyone with whom we come into contact to the best of our ability, without regard to their circumstances in life. Wash their feet. Feed them. Change their diapers, when it comes to that. 

For his part, Simon Peter learned his lesson well, “washing the feet” of everyone he met, so to speak—always bearing in mind that the most fundamental need anyone could have was a relationship with the risen Christ. Roughly a decade after the resurrection, Herod Agrippa (who reigned from 41 to 44 AD) had James (the brother of John) murdered, and when he saw how much his brutality pleased the Jewish religious leaders, he arrested Peter as well. However, since it was Passover week, he decided to postpone the execution until after the holiday, throwing Peter into prison for the time being. But as the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread drew to a close, God answered the fervent prayers of the local saints for Peter’s deliverance: “Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, ‘Arise quickly!’ And his chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, ‘Gird yourself and tie on your sandals,’ and so he did. And he said to him, ‘Put on your garment and follow me.’” (Acts 12:7-8) 

This cracks me up: the condemned Peter was sleeping so peacefully, the angel had to kick him in the ribs to wake him up. “Tie on your sandals” was code for “You’ve still got work to do, Peter. Let’s get you out of here.” Peter thought he was dreaming, until he found himself standing on the street, alone, outside the prison. In one of the funniest scenes in all of scripture, Pete went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where he knew people would be praying for him. He knocked on the outer gate, and a girl named Rhoda came out to enquire, recognized Peter’s voice, and in her excitement forgot to let him in, but ran to tell the others. You can almost hear Peter’s eyes rolling. As he continued pounding on the door, the prayer warriors assured the excitable teen that she must be imagining things, or maybe she had heard Peter’s ghost. 

Somebody finally had the bright idea to go and see who was actually at the door—and sure enough, there stood Peter, his knuckles throbbing. He told them about his miraculous deliverance, asked them to inform James and the elders of the Jerusalem church, and then left to hide out someplace where his presence wouldn’t put the praying believers in jeopardy. The next day, Herod learned what had happened, and sent out search parties (who no doubt visited Mary’s house but found no fugitives). Frustrated, he had the prison guards executed, and promptly left town. A bit later, Herod gave a speech to some Sidonian sycophants, to which they reacted as if he were some sort of god, an accolade he enjoyed immensely—until he was struck with an intestinal worm infestation and died (according to Josephus) after five days of excruciating agony (ironically, about the same length of time that he’d kept Peter in prison). Suddenly nobody who had the power of life and death was interested in persecuting the Jerusalem church anymore. The moral to the story: Yahweh does answer prayer, often more thoroughly and unexpectedly than we could have imagined.

***

In Bible times, sandals were quite generic. Whereas we’re used to shoes of every conceivable description, function, material, color, and size, back then there was pretty much one style—a sole attached to the foot by means of a strap or thong of some sort. The ATS Bible Dictionary notes: “The ordinary oriental sandal is a mere sole, of leather or wood [or palm bark], fastened to the bottom of the foot by thongs, one passing around the great toe and over the fore part of the foot, and the other around the ankle. The sole was sometimes plaited of some vegetable fibre, or cut from a fresh undressed skin.” In later times, women would often decorate their footwear, but basically throughout history, the idea was that sandals were cheap, more-or-less interchangeable, and were usually removed when indoors. 

This very commonness contributes to the Bible’s use of sandals as a metaphor: everybody wore them, they were all pretty much alike, and you’d never take your sandals off in public except under extraordinary circumstances. One of those “circumstances” was the rough equivalent of “shaking hands” on a deal, before witnesses. In the story of Ruth, the redemption (the buying back) of a piece of property is in view. Before they had left Judea to live in Moab, Elimelech (husband of Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law) had sold a field. According to Torah Law, the field could be redeemed prior to Jubilee by someone near of kin to the one who had sold it. Naomi and Ruth were both widows, so they didn’t have the means to buy back the land themselves. Boaz qualified, but there was one man even more closely related to the late Elimelech, and when approached, he was willing to buy the field. 

But there was a wrinkle. Elimelech’s son and heir Mahlon had married Ruth in Moab, and had died there, leaving no children. So Boaz (who had by this time fallen in love with Ruth) pointed out to their mutual kinsman that according to the law of Levirate Marriage (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10, below), marrying Ruth was part of the deal: “Then Boaz said, ‘On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also buy it from Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance.’ And the close relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I ruin my own inheritance. You redeem my right of redemption for yourself, for I cannot redeem it….” This, of course, was precisely the outcome Boaz had been hoping for. 

And this is where the sandals come into the picture: “Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging, to confirm anything: one man took off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was a confirmation in Israel. Therefore the close relative said to Boaz, ‘Buy it for yourself.’ So he took off his sandal.” (Ruth 4:5-8) By this sign, the exchanging of sandals before witnesses, the parties to the agreement were saying, in effect, “Our paths are in alignment; our walks in the matter are headed in the same direction.” Ironically (or not) this is virtually the same thing Ruth had said to Naomi when her beloved but bereaved mother-in-law decided to pack it in and return to Judea—leaving her widowed daughters-in-law behind in Moab: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. Yahweh do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17) It was this unshakable commitment that had so impressed Boaz upon their return to the Promised Land. 

Exchanging sandals wasn’t the only way to seal a covenant between two people in Bible times. Several others readily come to mind. (1) Animals are slain, and cut in two. The parties to the covenant would walk together between the pieces, as if to say, “If I do not keep my word, may I be cut in two like this.” This describes a covenant between Abraham and Yahweh (described in Genesis 15, though God put Abe out cold and walked alone between the pieces Himself, indicating that this was a unilateral promise on His part). (2) A “covenant of salt” was when two parties would each take a pinch of salt from their respective pouches, and place it into the salt pouch of the other. The idea was, once my salt is mixed with yours, there is no possible way to separate “your salt” from “mine.” Our separate agendas have become one. (3) A pillar of stone is erected, establishing a boundary. But most of the covenants mentioned in Scripture (not surprisingly) are between God and man—the rainbow, circumcision, the Ten Commandments: the list is practically endless. 

Let us take a quick look at the Law of Levirate Marriage (the one to which Boaz appealed), for it contains a “sandal” reference quite different from the one referred to in the story of Ruth. “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel….” It would seem a bit of a stretch to apply this to Mahlon and Ruth, for they did not “dwell together” with the potential “brother” candidates, even though Mahlon and his father Elimelech had in years past—before Elimelech had sold the family farm and moved to Moab. The only Law that really applied here was that of the Kinsman Redeemer (Leviticus 25:25-28). Boaz was applying a little “creative accounting” here by linking the Levirate Marriage principle to that of the Kinsman Redeemer. But at least he had been “up front” with his fellow candidate: he too was prepared to redeem Elimelech’s field—and to “perform the duty of a husband’s brother” to Mahlon’s widow, Ruth. 

Under normal circumstances, the Law of Levirate Marriage takes us in a different direction: its whole purpose was to restore the “life” that the widow had lost (insofar as it was possible) when her husband had died. Being a widow was bad enough, but one without a son to carry on the family name (read: receive the inheritance of the family’s land) was a compounded tragedy. But from the “brother’s” viewpoint, this could make things “complicated.” He presumably had a wife of his own, who wouldn’t necessarily be thrilled to share her husband’s time, resources, and marriage bed with his brother’s widow, even if it were “in a good cause.” So a “brother candidate” may find himself between a rock and a hard place—as (apparently) was the relative of Boaz in Ruth’s story. 

Thus the Torah provided an “out,” substituting public humiliation for financial and marital disaster: “But if the man does not want to take his brother’s wife, then let his brother’s wife go up to the gate to the elders, and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to raise up a name to his brother in Israel; he will not perform the duty of my husband’s brother.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him. But if he stands firm and says, ‘I do not want to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the presence of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s house.’ And his name shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal removed.’” (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) 

Spitting in his face needs no explanation: it is a sign of utter contempt. But what does the “sandal” thing mean? If the agreement between Boaz and the alternate redeemer-candidate may serve as our guide, it would seem to mean, “This man refused to perform his God-given responsibility; he did not keep his end of the bargain. What bargain, you may ask? The one that says, Yahweh our Creator loves us to the point of sacrificing His very Son so that we might have abundant life, in spite of our sins. The very least we can do in return is love our neighbor (like our dead brother’s wife) as we do ourselves, even if it “inconveniences” us. 

Any way you slice it, having your sandal removed from your foot against your will is a bad thing, denoting shame or disgrace. Compare this to the voluntary removal of your shoes in the presence of God. Here, humility is indicated—a parallel condition, but quite different. Humility says, “I am debasing myself, for I understand that I am insignificant when compared to my Creator and God, Yahweh.” But disgrace says, “I would prefer to elevate myself, but my actions and their consequences have made pride impossible to maintain.” Like God says (through both Isaiah and Paul), “Every knee will bow before Me.” The only question is, will we choose to revere Him ourselves, or will we be forced by the inevitable process of judgment and wrath to honor Yahweh? 

Perhaps King David can shed further light on the symbolism. Twice in the Psalms he writes, “Moab is My washpot. Over Edom I will cast My shoe. Over Philistia I will triumph.” (Psalm 108:9; cf. Psalm 60:8) All three of these “neighbors” of Israel were noted for their arrogant antagonism directed against Israel, for centuries on end. David is prayerfully predicting (in context) that Yahweh will give Israel victory over them. But let’s face it: the imagery here is pretty opaque to us living three thousand years after David. “Over Edom I will cast my shoe?” What could that possibly mean? 

Most of the commentaries studiously skip over this verse, but one of them, I believe, hits the nail on the head: “The neighbouring nations are reduced to servitude. In striking contrast to the honour assigned to Ephraim and Judah is the disgrace of Moab and Edom. Moab, notorious for its pride (Isaiah 16:6), is compared to the vessel which is brought to the victorious warrior to wash his feet in when he returns from battle. The old enemy of God and His people is degraded to do menial service: in other words, it becomes a subject and a vassal. Edom is like the slave to whom the warrior flings his sandals to carry or to clean. Haughty and defiant Edom (Obadiah 1:3-4) must perform the duty of the lowest slave (cp. Matthew 3:11).” —Cambridge Bible Commentary. David did indeed bring Moab, Edom, and Philistia to heel, though the process of their utter degradation would take centuries to complete. Solomon said it best: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) This is not just wishful thinking—it is a spiritual certainty. 

If pagan Edom could be brought low because of her pride, we can count on Yahweh holding Israel—who had been blessed with His Instructions and Covenants—to an even higher standard. Alas, they failed at every turn: whereas Yahweh had said, “Love your neighbor as you do yourself; be kind, merciful, and holy,” they became greedy, self-centered, and unjust. So the prophet Amos informs them that God’s wrath is upon them—and explains why. “I will not turn away [Israel’s] punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals.” (Amos 2:6) “Then Yahweh said to me: ‘The end has come upon My people Israel…. Hear this, you who swallow up the needy, and make the poor of the land fail, saying: ‘When will the New Moon be past, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may trade wheat? Making the ephah small and the shekel large, falsifying the scales by deceit, that we may buy the poor for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals?” (Amos 8:2, 4-6) 

Most of this is clear enough: money had become their “god,” and the Torah’s kindnesses were considered “bad for business.” Dishonesty in commerce was rampant, bribery commonplace, justice perverted, and mercy non-existent. The “sandals” references indicate that the poor were being sold into slavery for debts as insignificant as a cheap pair of sandals. So Yahweh says, “The end has come upon My people.” (This whole “sandals” lesson need not be restricted to its literal permutation, by the way. How many young people have gotten into debt trouble four dollars at a time—buying their morning coffee with their credit card and then failing to pay off the balance at the end of the month? Be careful, kids.) Well did Paul note that “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (I Timothy 6:10) 

I can’t help but reflect that my beloved America has fallen into the same trap: we who were blessed so richly have made these very blessings our “god.” As Isaiah 18 (which I am certain is ultimately a prophecy about America) puts it, we are about to be pruned back like a diseased and unruly grapevine. The process appears to have already begun. How will it end? Very suddenly, and with a great deal of noise: read Revelation 18. I fear “the end has come upon my people” (America) too. 

Abram/Abraham was one who was not corrupted by greed, though God had blessed him with great material wealth. In order to rescue his nephew Lot, who had been kidnapped while living in Sodom, he joined a coalition of five kings who were revolting against a counter-coalition of four other kings who had been abusing them for years. (Yes, this sort of political avarice has been going on since forever.) After the battle was won, “The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.’ But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have raised my hand to Yahweh, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” (Genesis 14:21-23) 

Bela (the king of Sodom) and his allies were in it for the money—both to prevent the other kings from continuing to steal from them, and also to steal what they could from their tormentors. Abram’s only interest was in Lot’s welfare—not personal financial gain (whether offensive or defensive). Knowing the nature of Sodomite culture, he wanted as little to do with it as humanly possible. (Too bad Lot didn’t share his perception on this point.) Anyway, the last thing Abram would have wanted is to be perceived as a “friend” of Sodom. So he told them, in so many words, “I will not receive even the most insignificant thing imaginable (like the strap from a sandal) from your hand. All I want is my nephew’s well-being.” 

Sandals were indeed cheap—almost disposable. But they were also functional, so everybody, from the lowliest slave to the most exalted king, wore them. If we want to get to the bottom of what they mean as a symbol, we need to pay attention to Biblical mentions of putting them on and taking them off. What would cause someone break the cultural pattern of wearing sandals outdoors and removing them only when relaxing at home? 

There are two Hebrew adjectives meaning barefoot. The first, sholal, bears the connotation of having been stripped (as to walking), by implication: taken captive, spoiled, or plundered. It is based on the verb shalal, meaning “to draw out” (as a sword is drawn from its scabbard), hence, to despoil or plunder. 

We first see it used in Job, as the patriarch is defending himself against the baseless allegations of his “miserable comforters.” “The hand of Yahweh has done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind…. With Him are wisdom and strength. He has counsel and understanding…. He leads counselors away plundered [or barefoot: sholal], and makes fools of the judges. He loosens the bonds of kings, and binds their waist with a belt. He leads princes away barefoot, and overthrows the mighty.” (Job 12:9-10, 13, 17-19) Job’s point is that even the most intelligent, discerning, or privileged among us know nothing, when compared to Yahweh. 

We then hear the prophet Micah mourning for the fate of Judea and Samaria: “Therefore [because of your idolatry] I will wail and howl, I will go stripped [or barefoot: sholal] and naked. I will make a wailing like the jackals and a mourning like the ostriches, for her wounds are incurable. For it has come to Judah. It has come to the gate of My people—to Jerusalem.” (Micah 1:8-9) 

The ordinary Hebrew word for “barefoot or unshod” is yacheph. Etymologically, it has none of the “stripped” connotations of sholal, yet in scripture, it always describes situations in which someone is going barefoot when he ordinarily would have been wearing sandals. Invariably, it is a sign of mourning or defeat. (Remember, putting on sandals is a metaphor for walking through the world with one’s feet protected from its hazards: practical holiness.) 

Thus we read of King David, when he had been betrayed by his son Absalom in a short-lived palace coup, forcing David and his servants to leave Jerusalem for a time: “So David went up by the Ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went up; and he had his head covered and went barefoot [yacheph]. And all the people who were with him covered their heads and went up, weeping as they went up.” (II Samuel 15:30) This didn’t happen in a vacuum, of course. David’s world had begun to fall apart in the wake of his sin with Bathsheba. The king, having been confronted by the prophet Nathan, had repented, but his punishment (II Samuel 13:10-12) would haunt him for years. The Absalom coup was not unexpected. But David humbled himself before Yahweh’s rod of correction, and declined to defend his throne against the usurper-prince, instead leaving his fate in the hands of his holy and just God—even if it cost him his life. David’s barefoot exit from Jerusalem was not so much in mourning for the loss of his throne as it was a sad acknowledgment of his own culpability in the matter: he was every bit as guilty as Absalom was, and he knew it. 

That being said, David did what he could to protect the kingdom in his absence: rather than gutting it by letting all of the godly loyalists leave with him, he made sure that his loyal High Priest Zadok, the wise counsellor Hushai, and Ittai with the loyal bodyguard returned to serve “king” Absalom. Basically, David left it to Yahweh to work things out—with him or without him. I can only reflect that mourning for our sins, while trusting God to do what is in our own best interests (even while punishing us), are perfectly compatible concepts. 

Fast forward a couple of centuries. Sometimes, being a prophet of Yahweh could be really “inconvenient.” Take Isaiah: “In the year that Tartan came to Ashdod, when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him, and he fought against Ashdod and took it, at the same time Yahweh spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz [this would put it about 713 BC], saying, ‘Go, and remove the sackcloth from your body, and take your sandals off your feet.’ And he did so, walking naked and barefoot [yacheph]….” The prophet had been wearing the sackcloth of mourning to warn the nations that judgment was coming, and that it was time to repent—warnings that fell on deaf ears. So Yahweh told His prophet to “up the ante,” as it were. Forget sackcloth: misfortune is about to turn to disaster. Mourning is about to morph into shame. 

An explanation was in order, of course, since nobody was guiltless (a scenario that is beginning to feel very familiar). “Then Yahweh said, ‘Just as My servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and a wonder against Egypt and Ethiopia, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians as prisoners and the Ethiopians as captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.” (Isaiah 20:1-4) This looked pretty generalized and purely historical to me at first, but that specific remark about “three years” stopped me in my tracks. Could this be a Last Days prophecy that I (along with everybody else in the world) failed to see? Let us review the established symbols and pray for enlightenment. 

Egypt is clearly symbolic of “bondage in the world.” (Ethiopia was Egypt’s southern kingdom. The seat of government shifted up and down the Nile from time to time, but the metaphor holds.) Assyria would appear to be symbolic of the rod of God’s wrath in the hands of evil men—the tool Yahweh invariably uses to chastise the rebels of this world. Earlier, Isaiah had reported the relationship between the two nations: “And it shall come to pass in that day that Yahweh will whistle for the fly that is in the farthest part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.” (Isaiah 7:18) They’re both “insects” in God’s eyes, but Egypt is where the flies are—on the dead and the dung—and Assyria bears the stinger. 

I have often noted God’s historic modus operandi of using one evil to punish another. The prototypical “evil,” the first link in the chain, was Assyria—followed (and conquered) in turn by Babylon, Persia, Greece, and then Rome, who is still a placeholder representing the sum total of the world’s evil authority, a condition that will culminate in the reign of the Antichrist during the Great Tribulation. Several visions reported by Daniel predict this pattern, though his own prophetic career began after Assyria had been swallowed whole by Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. Note that all of these kingdoms ruled Egypt (the home of bondage) at the height of their power. 

So because scripture’s historical prophecies so often have near and far fulfillments in mind (invariably looking toward either Christ’s first-century advent or the Last Days) let us consider what Isaiah’s “three years barefoot and naked” prophecy might be telling us about the times in which we live. We can still safely take “Egypt” to mean those who are held in bondage in the world; and “Assyria” we can view as the brutal aggressor whose goal it is to further enslave, displace, and humiliate them. God’s people (represented by Isaiah) have been wearing sackcloth and ashes for some time now, praying for and working toward the world’s “exodus experience” as we carry out the Great Commission. 

Isaiah’s shift from wearing sackcloth to going barefoot and naked was a warning to Egypt (those living in the world): you are about to be enslaved, brutalized, and carried off into captivity. Flee, while you have the chance! Let us ask ourselves: will God’s people in these Last Days (like Isaiah) also shed our sackcloth and sandals? In a way, yes. You’ll recall that Yahshua left His grave clothes behind in the empty tomb when He rose from the dead. Since He is called the “Firstfruits,” the “Firstborn of the dead,” this resurrection is a prophecy of what is about to happen to His modern-day disciples: the church is about to be raptured, transformed, translated into immortal creatures with bodies not unlike that of our risen Lord. We will no longer need shoes, for our walk through this filthy world will have come to an end. (And besides, heaven is holy ground, is it not?) Neither will we need clothing (especially sackcloth) any longer, for our new immortal bodies will be clothed in clean, white, robes of imputed righteousness—the wedding garments required for attendance at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. 

By this point, you probably think I’ve lost my mind, and you may be right: I’m the first to admit that this is all highly speculative. But I still can’t get over the fact that Isaiah was required to go barefoot and naked for three whole years before Yahweh explained what was going to happen to Egypt at the hands of the Assyrians. So forgive me, but I’m going to go even farther out onto this limb… 

Could it be that Isaiah’s three years of barefoot nakedness correspond to the gap between the rapture and the Tribulation? The logistics of the thing (especially the unveiling of the Antichrist’s identity) certainly suggest a time gap of some duration: there’s lots of fancy geopolitical footwork to do—kingdoms to consolidate, treaties to confirm, etc. (See The End of the Beginning, chapter 11: “The Gap,” elsewhere on this website.) And three years would seem like the minimum amount of time the devil would need to pull it all off. Don’t protest that “No one knows the day or the hour” of the rapture. You’re right, of course, but once it has taken place, everyone will know. 

What will the “Egyptians” be thinking during these three years? (You know: those who missed the rapture—those who are still being held in bondage in the world, whether they realize it or not.) One does not simply brush off the sudden disappearance of a couple of hundred million Evangelical Christians from all over the face of the earth (leaving their clothing behind, just as Yahshua did). At first, they’ll be shocked and afraid. Then (after a bit of reflection and a lot of media indoctrination) they might be secretly relieved that all those gloom-and-doom sackcloth-wearing whackos are gone. They were so annoying! But as society begins to crumble about their ears amid the liberal-progressive post-rapture victory celebration, a still, small voice—that nagging refrain that God wants them to hear and heed—will be, “The Assyrians are coming. The Assyrians are coming! 

And who, precisely, are these latter-day Assyrians? The prophet Micah ministered during a time when the literal Assyrians were breathing down the necks of Israel (which they took in 722 BC). But a careful reading of chapter 5 reveals another “Assyrian” menace. I won’t quote the whole thing (though I probably should), but merely summarize. First, he announces that a siege is in progress. Then (v.2) he announces a deliverer: the One to be ruler in Israel will come from Bethlehem Ephrathah, described as “He [who] shall stand and feed His flock in the strength of Yahweh,” who “shall be great to the ends of the earth” (v.4), and who “shall be our peace” (v.5). This is obviously the Messiah (or at least the scribes thought so: see Matthew 2:1-12). We’re way beyond literal Assyrians now: their kingdom collapsed six centuries before Yahshua was even born. 

But then, without taking a breath, Micah says: “When the Assyrian comes into our land, and when he treads in our palaces, then we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princely men. They shall waste with the sword the land of Assyria, and the land of Nimrod at its entrances. Thus He [the prophet is talking specifically about Yahshua here] shall deliver us from the Assyrian, when he comes into our land and when he treads within our borders.” (Micah 5:5-6) The rest of the chapter is one of the scores of prophecies predicting the regathering and restoration of Israel under the Messiah’s perfect rule. The bottom line? “I will execute vengeance in anger and fury on the nations that have not heard [literally, listened and obeyed].” (v.15) 

Who, then, is “the Assyrian,” in this prophetic context? Since Yahshua (the One born in Bethlehem) will Personally deliver Israel from him, it is pretty clear that Micah is ultimately referring to the Antichrist and the innumerable hordes he has summoned to the final “battle,” Armageddon. (The reference to “seven shepherds and eight princely men” sounds like a reference to Israel’s national resistance to the Antichrist’s bogus messianic pretentions as the Man of Sin poses as their savior and takes over the throne of the whole world.) 

For John’s rather anticlimactic view of the final battle, read Revelation 19:11-21. Actually, the un-battle of Armageddon is mentioned quite a few places in scripture. Since we’re talking about footwear here, I would guess that the only appropriate “shoes” to wear in the aftermath of Armageddon would be hip-waders: “So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs [about 180 miles].” (Revelation 14:19-20; cf. Isaiah 63:1-6) 

By the way, if you still think I’m out of my mind for thinking a specific time gap between the rapture and the Tribulation is being prophesied by Isaiah’s three years of barefoot nakedness, then consider this: according to the ordained schedule of Yahweh’s seven prophetic “feasts” (convocations or appointments) listed in Leviticus 23, there is an ominous ten-day gap between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement. Yom Teruah (Trumpets) falls on the first day of the lunar month of Nisan, while Yom Kippur (Atonement) falls on the tenth. If (as I believe) Trumpets predicts the rapture of the church, and the Day of Atonement signals the Second Coming of Christ (and Israel’s inevitable national epiphany concerning Him), then there is a very good reason today’s Jews call this time gap the “ten days of awe,” a time of reflection and introspection. They don’t call the Tribulation the “time of Jacob’s trouble” for nothing. 

These ten days on Yahweh’s festal calendar could easily indicate a ten-year gap between the definitive fulfillments of the two holy convocations. Yahweh didn’t spell it out, but (as usual) He left us plenty of “bread crumbs” to contemplate. The principle of exchanging days for years was established in the wake of the “twelve spies” debacle shortly after the exodus: “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection.” (Numbers 14:34) 

Then do the math. According to Daniel’s timeline (9:24-27), the seventieth week (a.k.a. the Tribulation) will last one “week” (duh), that is, seven years (actually, seven 360-day schematic years—2,520 days). The Tribulation “officially” commences with a “covenant with many” pushed through by the Antichrist. (That is, it does not begin with the rapture, as has been taught so often.) Thus we can expect (if we’re taking these prophetic details literally) a three year gap (ten years minus seven) between the rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation proper (not that those three years are going to be any picnic). Remember what Isaiah’s barefoot nakedness meant, in the light of history: from the time he took off his sandals and sackcloth, there would be three years until the Assyrians arrived in Egypt. That scenario, if we take the symbols seriously, is looking more likely with every passing day. 

Yahweh is pleading with the lost world, as He once did with Israel, “Have you not brought this on yourself, in that you have forsaken Yahweh your God when He led you in the way? And now why take the road to Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor? Or why take the road to Assyria, to drink the waters of the [Euphrates] River? Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will rebuke you…. Withhold your foot from being unshod [yacheph], and your throat from thirst.” He says, “You don’t have to be led barefoot to exile and slaughter by the Assyrians. Repent while there is still time!” “But you said, ‘There is no hope. No! For I have loved aliens, and after them I will go.’” (Jeremiah 2:17-19, 25) Is it just me, or do you too hear echoes of the modern world’s giddy headlong rush toward an all-powerful one-world government? So many people have forsaken the Creator in favor of feel-good religions, quick fixes, and wishful thinking, saying, “Is there no one who can give us a free lunch and a good time without demanding love, mercy, faith, and holiness?” 

The Harlot of Babylon has been promising to satiate our lusts for the past five thousand years, and all we have to show for it is our blood on her hands. She in turn is about to be betrayed, raped, and murdered by the Antichrist, who will give the world what it swears it wants—while leaving those few who survive his three and a half years of demonic glory swimming in the blood of their brothers. And all I can do is sigh and weep, asking, “Would it have been so hard to simply honor Yahweh and receive the salvation freely offered to us through the sacrifice of His Son, the Messiah?” 

Since Israel is (prophetically speaking) a microcosm of the whole human race, we should not get the idea that its men (i.e., males, who traditionally wielded the scepter) should bear all the blame for the apostasy and pride Yahweh feels He must address. Women too bear their share of responsibility. “Yahweh says: ‘Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, making a jingling with their feet, therefore Yahweh will strike with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and Yahweh will uncover their secret parts. In that day Yahweh will take away the finery: the jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents, the pendants, the bracelets, and the veils.” (Isaiah 3:16-19) 

Isaiah, like Micah, ministered at a time when Assyria’s power was reaching its zenith. But the prophet mentions no adversary here—only Jerusalem’s gruesome fate—and specifically, the “daughters of Zion.” Nor did he say when they would be judged, only why. As it turned out, Assyria was miraculously defeated at the gates of Jerusalem (in 701 BC, twenty-one years after the Northern Kingdom fell). This was in response to the prayer of the godly king Hezekiah, quoted in Isaiah 37:14-20. It bought Zion another century of relative peace, but the pattern of apostasy and arrogance before God had taken root—among both Zion’s men and women. Egypt and Israel had fallen to Assyria; Assyria and Judah would fall to Babylon. The lesson: those who defy God can count on going barefoot and naked into captivity, sooner or later. 

The character of exile under Assyrian masters varied somewhat from that of later captors. The Assyrians were pointlessly cruel: they were apt to strip their captives naked, put fishhooks through their noses, and lead them off barefoot to foreign lands, in utter humiliation. This approach tended to keep the rebellion to a minimum, though it robbed both captive and captor of any semblance of the human spirit. In truth, Assyria crumbled from within due to its own moral decay, long before Nebuchadnezzar’s armies even arrived. 

Babylon, meanwhile, took a more “civilized” approach. All they wanted to do is rob you blind, then rule over you with an iron fist (in a velvet glove) so they could continue to turn a tidy profit at your expense in perpetuity. Unlike the Assyrians, they understood that a slave whose spirit was utterly broken would be worthless as a cash cow. So in response to Judah’s apostasy and idolatry, God allowed Babylon to conquer them (until the Land could enjoy its Sabbath’s, anyway). They did it in phases: the first of Judah’s exiles (mostly royalty and influential people, including young Daniel) were taken in 605 BC, the year of Nebuchadnezzar’s ascension to the throne. In 597, Ezekiel was one of about ten thousand Jews who were hauled off (mostly as slave labor on Nebuchadnezzar’s Chebar Canal, built to join the Tigris and Euphrates). 

So Ezekiel, after years of exile, writes, “The word of Yahweh came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh in silence, make no mourning for the dead; bind your turban on your head, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your lips, and do not eat man’s bread of sorrow.’ So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died; and the next morning I did as I was commanded.” (Ezekiel 24:15-18) As I said, being a prophet of Yahweh could be tough. The object lessons they were asked to act out could be personally devastating—even though they revealed lessons their audiences needed to hear. 

But (in light of Israel’s Assyrian experience) this may seem totally counterintuitive. Some clarification was in order: “Then the people asked, ‘What does all this mean? What are you trying to tell us?’” Good question, one we should ask far more often than we do. “So I said to them, “A message came to me from Yahweh, and I was told to give this message to the people of Israel. This is what the Sovereign Yahweh says: I will defile my Temple, the source of your security and pride, the place your heart delights in. Your sons and daughters whom you left behind in Judah will be slaughtered by the sword….” Nebuchadnezzar preferred to rule his captive nations through puppet kings, but Jerusalem’s candidates were, to a man, rebellious and duplicitous. So in about 589 BC, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to the rebellious city, resulting in deprivation, disease, starvation (even to the point of cannibalism), and death on a horrendous scale. Once the city fell (in 586) Solomon’s temple was destroyed. 

Ironically (or not) Ezekiel had been telling his fellow captives in Babylonia not to expect to be set free anytime soon. But as long as their families still lived in Judea and the temple still stood, the prevailing thought was that this would all blow over. “We haven’t been THAT bad—God is surely overreacting.” No, actually, He’s not. Yahweh’s mercy would manifest itself in keeping His promises to Israel in the long term, but Judah would serve every second of her “sentence” in Babylonian “time out.” The temple, you’ll notice, was analogous to Ezekiel’s wife in their aspirations—“the place your heart delights in.” 

But Ezekiel’s audience were already living in exile. The sudden shock of loss, of the evaporation of short-term hope, would not manifest itself in tearful barefoot mourning in repentance (as it did with King David). The prophet explains Yahweh’s purpose: “Then you will do as Ezekiel has done. You will not mourn in public or console yourselves by eating the food brought by friends. Your heads will remain covered, and your sandals will not be taken off. You will not mourn or weep, but you will waste away because of your sins. You will groan among yourselves for all the evil you have done. Ezekiel is an example for you; you will do just as he has done. And when that time comes, you will know that I am the Sovereign Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 24:19-24 NLT) 

Your sins declared that you wanted to “live” in Babylon. So now that you’re there, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, trudging through your days in the hopeless realization that you have no one but yourself to blame for this situation. You’ve lost everything that mattered to you in this world (just like Ezekiel’s wife was taken from him), and weeping not only won’t bring her back, such outbursts are not allowed by your new masters—they’re politically incorrect. Just shut up and go back to work: you can repent on your own time—or wallow in your unrelenting grief. 

I don’t know if you can read between my lines, but I’m no longer talking just about ancient Judah. My beloved America has made the same disastrous choices in my lifetime, and I find myself too distressed to weep. Babylon has taken my country captive. Yes, like Daniel (in 9:2), I realize the significance of Yahweh’s revealed timetable—that we who believe His word will soon be removed from its woes, kept out of the ultimate trial which is to come upon the whole earth. 

In the meantime, I can only pray the same thing Daniel did: “O Lord [Adonay], great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, as it is this day…because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him. We have not obeyed the voice of Yahweh our God, to walk in His laws, which He set before us by His servants the prophets.” (Daniel 9:4-10) 

One linguistic nuance bears mention here. Usually in the Hebrew Scriptures, the text addresses Yahweh by name, and the translators substitute the Name with a title: “the Lord.” It is a systematic fraud I have harped on many times in the past. But in Daniel’s prayer (which I did not quote in its totality), though Daniel appealed to Yahweh by name several times, he also addressed Him as “Lord” (Hebrew: Adonay) four times. Why? I believe the answer is that then, as now, we might easily get the impression that Babylon was in charge. Daniel was forced to spend his entire adult life in Babylon, mostly in service to its most illustrious and successful king, Nebuchadnezzar II. But he never forgot, not for one instant, who was actually his Master, Ruler, Owner, and “Lord.” In this regard, may we all be like Daniel, whose name means “God is my judge.”

(More to come...)