The Black Box

or Tablets of Flesh


Keith Mathison writes:

“…apocalyptic literature was oriented toward the future and expressed its message in vivid symbolism encoded in dreams and visions. It is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing transcendent reality.” [1]

Although this statement from Mathison’s helpful book is true, the more I learn the more I tend to believe our genre classification leaves a lot to be desired. The Bible is more organic than that.

Firstly, apocalyptic literature draws on Bible imagery beginning in the Garden of Eden right up to whatever stage in Bible history the particular “apocalyptic” passage appears, but it all takes place within the heavenly Tabernacle. The only reason it seems to be encoded is because we refuse to see the world as being a physical, literal symbol containing many physical, literal symbols; because we read the Bible like lawyers instead of poets; and because we have not been taught to look for familiar literary structures.

Secondly, all the imagery “takes on flesh” as the Bible history moves forward. Yes, the Tabernacle contained graven images [2], but all these images represented people. The Tent was history in a seed, a bit like that ominous black box in 2001: A Space Odyssey (but much less bland!) In the Old Testament, Israel’s history builds a Tabernacle. In the New Testament, Jesus is building a new Tabernacle out of people. The Tablets of Stone always, by the power of the Spirit, become tablets of flesh. The Words/symbols given to the prophet will “take on flesh” as they are measured out on the Land, tearing down the old house (death) and building up the new (resurrection).

Thirdly, the reality represented in apocalyptic passages is not transcendent, nor was it ever oriented towards the far future, to which Mathison would mostly agree. [3] It was always a message to that generation, and it demanded a moral response. “Hey guys, this is what’s coming. You are part of the Covenant community (which even extended from Israel to Nineveh, Tyre, Sidon and Babylon, although they became reprobate), and you have broken the Covenant.” The promised judgments always fell within a few generations of the prophets’ warnings.

God’s Ark, His “big black box,” makes stuff happen. The vivid, elemental Word-symbols take hold of history and give it a new beginning, a new cycle. They become vivid, elemental, prophetic living in His Man, which then becomes vivid death and resurrection in culture. The way to understand a person’s behaviour is to get to the heart. The way to understand history is to read the prophets.

If you struggle with the Tabernacle, get into James Jordan’s lectures. Link on the right, scroll down.

[1] From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology, p. 259-260.
[2] See Graven Words.
[3] See How to Read the Prophets, and Sweeping Genrelisations and Reading Revelation Through Frosted Glass.

Share Button

Comments are closed.