Sunday, August 28, 2011

Libya in Bible Prophecy? :: Christian Post iPost

Is Libya Today in Bible Prophecy?


CONCORD - Since Libya and Gaddafi is so much on the news today, I've been finding prophecy news regarding the civil war all over the blogosphere. Joel Rosenberg, one of the most popular prophecy buffs today, writes:

In Ezekiel 38-39, we learn that Libya is one of the nations that joins the Russian-Iranian alliance against Israel in “the last days.” … This tells us the no matter what the near term outcomes of the revolutions underway in North Africa are, in the not-too-distant future Libya for certain and possibly her neighbors will have virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Israel leadership who will eagerly join a coalition bent on destroying the Jews and occupy the land of Israel … Hopefully Gaddafi will be deposed and a more moderate leadership will rise up for a season before the prophecy of the “War of Gog and Magog” comes to fulfillment. Either way, the Church should be using this window of time to do everything possible to get the gospel into Libya and to strengthen the persecuted believers in Libya before the country faces God’s judgment for attacking Israel.

Another dispensationalist pastor offers his Libyan analysis in "Libya in End Times Prophecy":

This coalition of nations, and the Bible implies many more nations with them, will make an all-out assault on Israel, intending to destroy her. God told Ezekiel that this event would occur in the "latter years" (Ezekiel 38:8). At the last moment it will look like Israel will be wiped out, but God will intervene and Libya and the other nations, including Iran, will suffer a 7-fold judgement from God - a great earthquake, pestilence, bloodshed, flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone (Ezekiel 38:19-22). To be sure, God will not need airplanes and troops to get this accomplished.

Like all prognosticators, the above writers see the whole Scripture as nothing other than God's plan for Israel, contradicting the overarching principle of Biblical interpretation in what Jesus himself declared, "everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled"(Luke 24:44; cf Luke 24:27).

In 1974, at the height of the energy crisis and soon after the Yom Kippur War between Israel and the Arabs was over, John Walvoord published his New York Timesbestseller, Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis. Then, every time a major crisis erupts in the Middle East, he rewrites his book to suit the current situation: in 1991, before the Gulf War; and in 2007, Armageddon, Oil and Terror, after the 9-11 terror attacks and the War in Iraq.

Walvoord and most evangelical theologians believe that the next prophetic event will be a secret Rapture when all Christians will be taken up to heaven, and that Christ will then return to earth from heaven seven years later with all these believers. At his return, the people of the earth will defy him in a war called Armageddon, but Christ will destroy all of them and throw them all, together with Satan and his evil angels, into a lake of fire. He will then reign as King from a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem for one thousand years. But after he reigns for 1,000 years, a multitude of sinful people–called Gog and Magog–will again rebel against him. These too will be destroyed by God, and finally–finally–sin will be destroyed forever.

A different twist to this doomsday scenario is being popularized by another dispensationalist, Joel Rosenberg, in another bestseller entitled Epicenter. I first heard of Epicenter when he spoke at a prophecy conference in the Philippines last year. Rosenberg connects the Gog and Magog war in Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20:8-9 to an invasion of Israel by an alliance of Russia, Iran and the Arabs.

Several misinterpretations are apparent in Rosenberg’s view. First, except for Persia, the kingdoms listed in Ezekiel are unidentifiable today. All of his identifications of Meshech, Tubal, Put, Gomer and Beth-togarmah (Ezek 38:1-6) are nothing but wild speculations. Kim Riddlebarger cites the work of noted evangelical archaeologist and historian Edwin Yamauchi, Foes from the Northern Frontier: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes (Baker, 1983):

as Edwin Yamauchi ... has pointed out in his book ... this identification is based upon a number of unsubstantiated assumptions. For one thing, Gog and Magog cannot be directly tied to the Scythians. Yamauchi believes that their identity is not certain at all. Furthermore, he contends that Meshech and Tubal cannot be tied to Moscow or Tobolsk in any sense. He believes these are references to ancient Assyria which did invade Israel from the north.

Andrew J. Webb, in "The Final Doom of Gog and Magog," ties the place-names of Ezekiel 38:1-6 with the same names in Genesis 10:2, concluding that these names are symbolic of an alliance of many unbelieving nations descended from Noah surrounding Israel:

[Gog] will be the head of an alliance or confederation of nations ... from the four corners of the earth. Persia to the East, and Ethiopia and Put to the South are specifically mentioned, for instance. All of these nations will be assembled and come out of the North as a "great assembly and a mighty army" (Ezek. 38:15) in order to attack God’s people, Israel (38:16).

Second, Gog’s axis of evil come from “the uttermost parts of the north” (Ezek 38:6) The prophets frequently mention Israel's enemies as coming from the north (Isa 14:21; Jer 1:15; Ezek 23:24; Zeph 2:13), referring mostly to Assyria and Babylon. Ezekiel’s invaders from the north is an innumerable army of unbelievers,"You will be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your hordes, and many peoples with you" (Ezek 38:9). They attack Israel because they are against the God of Israel.

John universalizes Ezekiel 38-39 into a great war between God's people and Satan's hordes. Revelation’s hordes attack Christians, “the camp of the saints and the beloved city," and the church, ”the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” who are made up of "the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb 12:22-23)? In fact, Gog is probably the same Antichrist figure as the Beast of Revelation 13, the one who will be given authority "over every tribe and people and language and nation ... from the four corners of the earth" (Rev 13:7; 20:8), and "utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven" (Rev 13:6). He and all his hordes will be violently opposed to Christ and his beloved people (Rev 13:7).

All of the foregoing mean that Ezekiel 38-39 is a prophecy of the Assyrian invasion of Israel in the 8th century B. C., and this invasion is typological—a foreshadow—of the great persecution of Christians by unbelievers throughout this present age until Christ returns, which John sees being fulfilled in Revelation 20:1-10.

It is no surprise then to find striking similarities between the description of the Gog and Magog rebellion in Ezekiel 38 and 39 to the Gog and Magog rebellion in Revelation 20. And both of these texts have uncanny parallelisms with Revelation 19:11-21. These three passages all describe the same endtime “battle” between God and evildoers, as seen in the following table:

As seen from the above comparison, those two texts from Revelation describe the same endtime “battle” between God and evildoers. Revelation 20:7-10 is a recap—a “replay”—of Revelation 19:11-21.

Isn't kind of interpretation “spiritualizing” instead of literal? But “spiritualizing” is exactly what John and all the other New Testament writers do with Old Testament prophecies about Christ. Revelation 20:8-9 is just one example. Everywhere, the New Testament “spiritualizes” Old Testament Israel as fulfilled in Christ and the church, the true Temple and the true Israel of God.The following articles present Biblical prophecy based on Scripture interpreting Scripture, not Scripture interpreted by CNN or CBN or the New York Times: “Gog, Magog and an Iranian-Russian Alliance?” and “A Present or Future Millennium?” by Dr. Kim Riddlebarger.

'El Shaddai' on rare video-game turf: the Bible -

'El Shaddai' on rare video-game turf: the Bible

Developers hope players will look beyond the game and find out more about the Biblical story after playing "El Shaddai."
Developers hope players will look beyond the game and find out more about the Biblical story after playing "El Shaddai."
  • In "El Shaddai," Enoch is a priest who tries to stop fallen angels from destroying the world
  • Released in Japan in April, the game became an instant hit with anime fans
  • "El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron" is rated T for Teen due to animated blood

(CNN) -- There's "God of War" and "Devil May Cry." "Kid Icarus" and "Battle for Asgard."

Plenty of video games use mythical gods or other characters and creatures from beyond to drive their stories.

But notably absent, at least among mainstream titles? The Bible. At least until now.

"El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron" (Ignition Entertainment) is based on the Old Testament figure Enoch, a man originally written about in the Book of Genesis who, according to the story, is taken to heaven without dying.

In the apocryphal Books of Enoch, which appeared in the Ethiopic Bible, he becomes the chief of the archangels and protector of heaven's treasures.

In "El Shaddai," Enoch is a priest who attempts to stop seven fallen angels from destroying the world. Ignition's director of business development, Shane Bettenhausen, said there have been plenty of games set in other kinds of mythologies, but "El Shaddai" developers wanted to tell a different story.

"The mythologies of the Western world are kind of off-limits in neo-modern popular culture. Everything biblical is off-limits unless you are trying to make something didactical," he said. "We felt most Christians in the Western world don't know this story.

"We felt there was some value in presenting this story modernizing it and basing a game on it, because it does have a good template of hunting down these fallen angels, bringing them back to face justice in Heaven."

Bettenhausen said the company made the story a new retelling of the Books of Enoch while being very careful not to step on the toes of believers.

The game is not being released in Ethiopia, the only place where the Books of Enoch are considered canon.

"There is nothing in there that will offend anybody, but there is a lot of content that will make traditional Western Christians wonder about this version of Genesis and where these (game) characters relate to the characters they know," he said.

Developers hope they challenge players to look beyond the game itself and find out more about the original story.

"It is a slippery slope but one we aren't afraid of," Bettenhausen said. "We aren't doing any faith-based marketing."

Released in Japan in April, the game became an instant hit with fans of Japanese animation who appreciated the art style and movements. Early release trailers were shared, fan groups were formed, and gaming conventions in Japan saw groups of cosplayers (fans who dress as their fictional favorites) as characters from "El Shaddai."

"We were blown away because rarely, in Japan, do you get a hardcore fans contingent even before the product is available," Bettenhausen said. "In ComicCon in San Diego (in July), we did have cosplayers. It was really cool to see it happening (in the U.S.)."

Anime fans have been drawn to the game by the development work of Takeyasu Sawaki, who was also a character designer for "Okami" and "Devil May Cry." Bettenhausen said the anime style lends itself to be more colorful, creative and expressive, which was perfect for the "El Shaddai" style of surreal and wacky.

Female players have also been drawn to the game. In Japan, nearly half of the fan base is female, a surprising development since many girl gamers don't go for action-adventure-type games.

"Because of the characters, the story and the art, girls and women really gravitate towards (the game)," Bettenhausen said. "Here in America at the conventions, hard-core female gamers and casual female gamers were coming up and playing a game they normally wouldn't play."

He acknowledged that they were concerned about producing an original title in the "year of the sequels" in gaming. But because the story was original and it appeals to male and female gamers, developers think they can make their mark and stand out from the crowd.

"What's really going to surprise you about 'El Shaddai' beyond the graphics, which are weird, and the story, which is unlike anything you've ever seen, is the moment-to-moment experience," Bettenhausen said. "Enoch doesn't know what to expect, and the player definitely doesn't know what to expect. By the end of the game, you've experienced multiple different game-play styles."

"El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron" is rated T for Teen due to animated blood, fantasy violence, and mild suggestive themes. It is available now in Japan and North America, and on September 9 in Europe for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ethiopian Christians: heirs of a long, legendary heritage - South Florida

The Rev. Melake Tsehay Abebe Kebede, left, and the Rev. Mahitama Selassie.

The Rev. Melake Tsehay Abebe Kebede, left, and the Rev. Mahitama Selassie. (James D. Davis)

One of the pleasures of being a religion writer in South Florida is that the world comes here. There’s always something new to learn, someone to meet, another culture to discover.

One example is an Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Fort Lauderdalethat’s celebrating its first anniversary this month. The Ethiopians claim a long, deep heritage, going back untold centuries.

And you can see and hear it even smell it, at one of their services. Here’s what happened during a recent visit to Medhane Alem Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the only such church in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Incense, dignified robes and bright colors combined in the parish hall of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Some men leaned on T-shaped staffs. Each woman wore a shema, a veil rather like a Muslim hijab.

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They sang hymns and chants inspired by the sixth century priest St. Yared, reading from books and a projection screen. The text showed the indigenous Ge'ez and Amharic languages, plus English transliterations.

"Bless our gathering today," the children’s choir sang in Amharic, an adult member accompanying on a large drum. "Give us peace and unity today." Women among the 30 congregants occasionally responded with singsong ululations.

This and more draws people each week from Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties to the church, whose name means Christ the Saviour in Ge'ez.

"The language, the songs, the service -- you understand it, feel it deeply," says Ermias Mesein Beyene, who attends from Miami with his wife and two daughters. "When you come to your original church, your spirit goes indepth."

The devotion doesn’t surprise Rev. Mahitama Selassie, recently visiting from the Ethiopian community in New York. "In Orthodoxy, tradition is faith and faith is order. There is an unbroken succession back to the apostles."

Father Selassie is from Holy Trinity Church in the Bronx, N.Y., the seat of Ethiopian Christianity in the Western Hemisphere. He says that 2-5 million Ethiopians live in the United States. They live in all the East Coast states of the U.S., with other concentrations in Texas, California, Ohio and Washington.

Many of them fled after the 1974 coup that overthrew King Haile Selassie. Others came as young students to learn professions. Then many became teachers, then acquired mortgages and had children -- and became American.

But they’re still proud of a spiritual lineage that may stretch 3,000 years. The Bible says the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon. According to Ethiopian tradition, their son became Menelik I, ruler of Ethiopia. And many Ethiopians believe the Ark of the Covenant -- a gold-covered chest that goes back to the time of Moses -- is in a church in their homeland.

"For us, we don’t have to see or touch it," Elizabeth Kassahun, one of the members, says with a smile. "We believe."

To this day, her husband Abbiy says, Ethiopian churches are distinctive for the Tabot, a replica of the Ark, where the sacraments are performed. "Without that, it's not a church. The whole service revolves around it."

In the New Testament as well, an Ethiopian official visited Jerusalem and met the apostle Philip. He became a Christian and helped carry the faith back to his homeland. Churchmen say that Philip and Matthew visited Ethiopia as well.

Plans call for building their own church in two or three years. Once in their own building, they’ll be freer to schedule classes in history and languages, they say.

"It's good to turn the key in your own house," Father Selassie said, in asking the congregation for donations toward the new building.

But ethnic identity is only part of the reason for a building, says its pastor, Melake Tsehay Abebe Kebede.

"We need the church because it's our heritage," says Kebede, who himself travels a long way -- from westernPalm Beach County -- to lead the services. "But our plan in the United States is not for a white or black church. It's for everybody to come and worship our God."

James D. Davis

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Levi Ben-Shmuel: Digging for Truth: How Deep Are You Willing to Go?

When I lived in Jerusalem in the 1990s, the archaeological excavations in what is known as the City of David were being developed as a major tourist site. The City of David is the core of ancient Jerusalem, located on an elongated ridge that descends southward from the Temple Mount. For centuries it was a forgotten place buried under layers of destruction and rubble. In the 19th century, by chance, archaeologists came upon this lost city and began to uncover it.

Earlier this year, I visited the site again. I was amazed by what I saw. Archaeologists and scholars have confirmed what in the past was up for debate; the Old Testament stories of King David conquering a Jesubite city more than 3,000 years ago are not myth. The evidence is overwhelming that it really happened.

As I walked the ruins of the City of David, a thought passed through my mind. If the archaeological evidence is so overwhelming that David conquered and built up this city, then why wouldn't it be true that he brought the Ark of the Covenant mentioned in II Samuel 6 (containing the second tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai) to this very place? And if this is true, how far back can one go in the biblical narrative before one can say it is just myth and has nothing to do with historical reality?

(If you are interested in learning about a mind-blowing archaeological site, read this recentNational Geographic article on Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. It is the oldest known example of monumental architecture and contains the oldest known temple dating back 11, 600 years. Its discovery is rattling theories about the importance of the human sense of the sacred in the development of civilization.)

As archaeologists dig deeper into the earth to uncover new truths about the past, their findings have the potential to upend our understanding of religion and the role of God in its unfolding. Their search for truth mirrors our personal search for it. To reach a deeper level of truth, we need to dig into our own "debris." As we do our personal excavations and new information is revealed, the willingness to let go of beliefs that no longer serve us is crucial to personal and spiritual growth.

It is easy to find reasons not to begin the digging. For many, letting go of what is known and comfortable is a daunting task. The fear of what might be found in the darkness can be profound. It is easier to hold on to what is "truth" and forgo the dirty business of exploration.

Finding the courage to put cherished beliefs up for examination is the hallmark of true inquiry, whether it is scientific or spiritual. One quality that makes this kind of inquiry possible is humility. Being humble does not mean erasing one's opinions or submitting to another's will. The essence of humility is knowing one's rightful place in life. True humility recognizes the limits inherent in the human mind in the face of the awesomeness of a universe that is expanding, filled with mystery and might be infinite.

As much as we know, whether it is about the outside world or the world inside us, discoveries like the City of David and Göbekli Tepe present us with an opportunity. We can embrace our limited knowledge and, in that embrace, open ourselves to new insights on every level and grow from them. Or we can stay stuck in a static view of the world and of who we are. I know which road I prefer. How about you?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Thousands of Ethiopians Immigrating to Israel - The Israel Project

Thousands of Ethiopians Immigrating to Israel

  • Ethiopians emigrate as major drought hits Horn of Africa
  • Some 120,000 Ethiopians live in Israel

Jerusalem, Aug. 4 – Hundreds of Ethiopians are migrating to Israel this summer, as part of a plan to bring up to 8,000 people to the Jewish state.

The mass emigration comes as Ethiopia and the broader the Horn of Africa suffer their worst drought in 60 years.

Israel is absorbing the Ethiopians at a rate of 200-250 each month.

“It’s important to reunify them with their families already in Israel,” said Jewish Agency Ethiopian Desk Head Ofer Dahan.

At the end of last year the Israeli government approved the immigration of 8,000 Ethiopians claiming to be of Jewish descent.

The Falash Mura’s ancestors converted to Christianity under domestic pressure in Ethiopia in the 19th Century, complicating their status as Jews and their rights under the law of return.

Under Israel’s Right of Return law, Jews from anywhere in the world have a right to move to and live in Israel.

Israel’s cabinet approved their immigration en masse last year partially because of their Jewish roots and partially to resolve a humanitarian crisis.

Many members of the Falash Mura live in poor conditions in transit camps in northern Ethiopia.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israelis had a moral duty to resolve the complex humanitarian crisis, according to a BBC article.

"The government of Israel wants to solve this problem, because there is a difficult humanitarian crisis there," Netanyhau told the ministers.

"These are the seeds of Israel - men, women and children - that currently find themselves in the worst living conditions," he added.

Thousands of Ethiopian Jews who kept their Jewish faith throughout the centuries were flown to Israel in the 1980s and early 1990s.

An estimated 120,000 Jews from Ethiopia live in Israel.

Humanitarian groups, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the UJA-Federations, sponsor programs that help Ethiopians resettle.