Too Much Talking

“He made all the stars– the Bear and Orion…” Job 9:9

Astrology is the most ancient, universal, and historically persistent form of occultism.

There are two standard reasons to chart the sky— navigation and divination.

Ancient Mesopotamians were “sea-faring”— actually they fished and did trade on two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. They contributed sail-boats to nautical history. However by all accounts they did not use sophisticated navigation— mostly just down-the-river and up-the-river.

There is a gap in the historical record of just how much they may have developed navigation systems. The gap, to me, could of course mean that they didn’t use it at all. It is solidly believed that whether or not they had any form of navigation, they did not chart the stars for maritime purposes.

Job 9:9 names two constellations and a star cluster. We will have to rule out his familiarity with constellations as practical and equate this reference to a familiarity with divination.

So, Job, righteous Job, was familiar— and apparently not weirded out by horoscopes. Was he familiar with the occult in general?

Well, of course. He had to have been. There was no Abrahamic religion to divide for him the sacred from the profane. There was no law by which to create parameters around Yahwist worshippers to help them separate what pleases God from what doesn’t. 

The Lord had been forgotten. Yes, at one time knowledge of Him would have permeated out from Eden, but over a quick span of time He was forgotten and idolatry prevailed.

From Genesis 5 on, we see a pattern of forgetfulness and remembrance of the Lord. 

It starts with one or two or three scattered people with a spark of awareness of the Lord making their best guesses toward obedience with varying degrees of personal revelation.

You notice the early accounts of the righteous– Noah for instance–  they were alone. There was no corporate worship, common prayers, or accepted cannon. They were each lone reeds of true religion sticking up from the sea of the contemporary idolatry of their time.

Acts 17:22-31 tells us that the Athenians worshipped every known god, including a shrine to the “Unknown God.” Paul told them that YHWH was their Unknown God and that He sent Jesus because He wanted to reveal Himself again— like in Eden— to the whole world rather than to continue the old system of people just “feeling their way to Him.” 

I have been very uncomfortably exploring this concept of syncretism in Judeo-Christianity— even when obvious in biblical accounts it feels weird to acknowledge that Christianity, and Judaism before it, while being sanctified from the world has not ever really been sanitized from it.

It’s strange to navigate this idea that Christianity is constantly being fished out from paganism. 

From the Genesis account, we know that God is the First, and Revelation tells us, the Last. He is the only living and eternal God. Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world. Before the world, there was salvation through Christ alone.

So, it is instinctual to read the Bible seeing only the primacy, preeminence, and preexistence of Christianity. We read the inherent preeminence of Christian faith as meaning: before there was any false religion there was true religion. 

But that does not appear to be so.

Really knowledge of the one true God, as well as individual and sparse worship of the one true God, predates false religion, yes. 

But post-Eden human forgetfulness caused rapid and definitive decline into idolatry that predates any communal, organized worship of YHWH. 

This is what makes Israel so special: God entrusted His law to them. He entrusted to them a systematic, cyclical, sacramental, liturgical, structure of life with every intention of scooping them out of idolatry, cleaning them off from profanity, and wedging open the steel trap of human stubbornness to a slowly dawning recollection of our Master.

And the point of gifting to the Israelites the “knowledge of God” was so that everyone that came into contact with them would have a momentary, life-altering encounter with God’s presence that would either: 1) offend them to the point of escalated idol worship or 2) would move them to rush into the arms of the God of the Israelites evidenced in how they would beg to be allowed to live in the camp of God’s people (ie, Rahab, Ruth, and “a mixed multitude” from Egypt during the Exodus.)

I think what we all struggle to assimilate is the depth of spiritual darkness that prevailed between Adam and Abraham. And we read the Bible as if the earth’s population between Abraham and Moses had the Bible!

They didn’t. They had no law, no scripture, no priests, no fellow believers. They didn’t have apostles or teachers or fishers of men. Maybe every once in awhile an oral tradition about Enoch or Noah floated through the co-mingled accounts of Gilgmesh and Endiku. They had to sift and wade through folktales and cling to scraps of memory.

They had scattered encounters with angels, occasional direct revelation from God, one or two miracles to stoke a lifetime of lone faithfulness. Not to downplay those things– but would even those few miracles be enough for you go alone unwavering in belief, obedience, righteousness, and separatism for decades of your life? Abraham bumped into a fellow-worshipper— Melchizedek— once in his lifetime! Other than that he had no fellowship and a life-time of living in an exclusively pagan world. 

Job lived before Moses, before Mt.Sinai. He had none of the benefits of the Caananites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, or Romans. Each of those fortunate empires came into contact— not with the Hebrews, Israelites, or the Jews— but rather the religion, revelation, and Redeemer of the Hebrews, Israelites and the Jews. 

It is completely reasonable to believe that Job was very familiar with how occultism worked and with His acknowledgement that God created the zodiac, it’s probably not unrealistic to think that divination— soothsaying, fortune-telling, witchcraft— might have even been an ignorantly incorporated part of his self-righteous practice.

After all, the entire conversation of the Book of Job is divination. 

Have you ever considered that in times of strife, when we go round and round the question, “why is this happening,” that we might be engaging in the act of trying to divine God’s heart? 

How is contemplating “why is” different from trying to soothsay “what will” God do in the future? 

Aren’t both a process of looking at God ritualistically as though He moves in discernible, patterns in response to specific, repeatable prompts? 

People practice divination to insulate themselves from things outside of their control. The stars are always the same, so we feel secure and in control when we interpret them.

It is possible that many of us in our anxious natures try to use our knowledge of God, as a way of tea-leafing our way through the angst of uncertainty. We try to navigate any possible land-mines in God’s character. 

You cannot know enough about God to predict what He “would or wouldn’t do.” He is not a constellation moving through a night sky favoring those born under certain stars.

God handedly smashes such charting of His divine nature as utter foolishness in Job chapters 38-41. In fact He uses Job’s own zodiac reference to help make His point:

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?

    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?

 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons

    or lead out the Bear with its cubs?

 Do you know the laws of the heavens?

    Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? 

Job 38:31

God’s whole rebuke of Job is basically this:

  1. Who do you think you are?
  2. What do you think you know?
  3. Do you think I need your council?
  4. Do you find fault in how I am doing my job as Master of the Universe?”

His rebuke is this: “Do you think you can deal with me the way you would with those puny idols man is so preoccupied with; is manipulating Me the end game of your religion?”

This is the process of human forgetfulness. It is being agitated by things we can’t understand to the point of inappropriate attempts at controlling our environment, our “god,” and our wellbeing through our piety. 

We set up structures and strictures so that everything and everyone is easy to understand and maneuver.

We decide that this is also how God sees and understands everything. We decide that if you abide by these constraints that God will keep all bad things— ranging from calamity to His own wrath— away from us. 

Hardship befalls a friend. Fallenness is revealed in the saved. A flood or a fire rains down. 

So we get out from the closet the old bag of feathers, sticks and tea leaves, gossip, and subpar theology and shake ‘em up, scatter them across the floor trying to figure out what these people did so wrong that God would send evil things their way. 

And immediately we are looking at God as though He operated the way those other “gods” operate. And in such, we have again forgotten the one true God. 

If you read Numbers and Leviticus, you’ll notice that every holiday on the sabbatical calendar was initiated by God with the admonition “do this to remember me.” And Jesus, likewise initiated the practice of communion, “in remembrance” of Him. 

Being fished out of a sea of idolatries requires remembrance. If we fail to remind ourselves of God’s incomprehensible heart that sees every man’s heart, we will flounder around in synchronistic Christianity that never fully gives up that witchy itch for control of our fate.

Without remembrance we won’t release ourselves into full-fledged dependence on God’s mercy. 

We will continue to have a preoccupation with the theoretical dynamics of sin rather than a practical abandonment to God’s assurance of salvation. 

“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

Crossway Book Reviews

Book Review: Even Better Than Eden

I just completed a journey through the meta-narrative of the Bible through the lens of 9 “stories” or themes foundational to the Genesis story and consistent through to Revelation. This courtesy of Nancy Guthrie’s new book released just last month by Crossway, from whom I was able to receive a complimentary copy for review.

Even Better Than Eden by Nancy Guthrie is an accessible missional resource that is rich in storytelling and Reformed theology.

Guthrie’s work is a presentation of the gospel in a truly missional fashion: it is conversational and necessitates conversation; it is highly metaphorical and experiential; and though it is laden with heavy and unrelenting theological assertions, those assertions are expertly layered into a disarmingly vulnerable and empathetic offering.

The style of her writing is an accomplishment that would be readily accepted by the undecided, un-discipled, or estranged from faith. Her winsome approach to the Bible’s story as thematic rather than overtly theological is worshipful, and zooms out to an eternal perspective in a way that would foster great conversations on deep/hard/sensitive topics that might be otherwise difficult to broach in a church setting with a spiritually and experientially diverse group of people.

While Even Better Than Eden is written in prose that is whimsical enough to be enjoyed curled under a knit blanket with a cup of tea in the way of more frothy publications in the Spirituality/Self-Help/Christianity category for women today, it offers the benefit of true Biblical meat.

My one recommendation to the small group leader or discipleship mentor is to be aware that toward the end of the book Guthrie comes directly forward with a covenantal perspective on the Old Jerusalem where most of the book is a New Covenant Theology argument. This is obviously fine if you are of the Reformed/Calvinist tradition, but for small groups and discipleship pairs in Arminian/Wesleyan churches, a brief overview of the various covenant beliefs would be good to avoid confusion between doctrine taught from the pulpit and those explored in a study of this book.

Perhaps this theological conflict could be brought up amongst the study questions provided at the end of the book. Guthrie also provides great sources in her own appendices, providing: “Notes,” “Bibliography,” “General Index,” and “Scripture Index,” sections. She really does provide a framework for any discussion of disagreement on the book’s underlying theologies.

Here is another great resource to use for such a discussion. Written by John Piper, himself a doctrines of grace, Reformed theology subscriber, he however, does not adhere to any one covenant theology making him a good platform for an open exploration of a potentially divisive point of theology amongst denominations and traditions. Below is the link to an article where he simplistically compares the three main views on the structure of God’s relationship to man over the whole of Biblical narrative:

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-does-john-piper-believe-about-dispensationalism-covenant-theology-and-new-covenant-theology

Overall on Even Better Than Eden: I greatly enjoyed the writing style and general argument of the book. I found it refreshing. While reading it, many of Guthrie’s insights caused me to experience not only a legitimate surge in my head knowledge of being loved by God, but also moments of genuine affection with the Lord.

Buy it here: https://www.amazon.com/Even-Better-than-Eden-Everything/dp/1433561255