My newest book, THE WORLD TO COME is due out June 3 by Lederer Messianic Jewish Publishers (www.messianicjewish.net).
Here are the chapter titles for THE WORLD TO COME:
Chapter 1 Magic and Desire
Chapter 2 The Vision of Prophets
Chapter 3 Israel as the Vessel
Chapter 4 The Nations as the Goal
Chapter 5 Yeshua and the Kingdom of God
Chapter 6 The Vision of Yochanan
Chapter 7 Hints of Heaven
Chapter 8 Horrors of Hell
Chapter 9 The Drama of the Coming Ages
Chapter 10 The Days of Messiah
Chapter 11 Love
Chapter 12 The Holy One
Chapter 13 Further Up and Further In
I will post a series of excerpts here and there over the next month or so. I hope you will get a taste for the book from these excerpts. Today’s excerpt is from chapter 2, “The Vision of the Prophets.”
Israel’s experience mirrors the world’s experience. We live in a world in exile. We are surrounded by the sad and disturbing. We are experiencing the curse. We need the hope of future blessing. The curse is why many do not believe God is real.
Evolution is a view that fits our reality in many ways. Animals mate brutally and without romance. Evolution tells we are merely animals. So we mate brutally. Only we are killing some part of us in so doing.
Animals die largely unmourned. So in our animal reality death reigns. Competition is the game of life. Survival of the fittest is our experience. The stronger rise and the weaker fall. Yet even that principle can be broken, for “under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.”6 No wonder so many of our neighbors cannot see God or grace in Creation.
Looking out from this exile in the land of godlessness, we need a vision of days to come. It might be hard to believe the vision from our place of exile. We see a beautiful wood but we know inside there are briers and poison plants and snakes. We enjoy a clear river, but we know about pollution and we wouldn’t dare drink from it. We admire an animal, but we know it might either kill one of us or one of us might kill it.
We want to believe in life but we see too much death. Can God and cancer be true at the same time? Sometimes we can ignore the hurting around us and we say, “Let’s eat and drink now, because tomorrow we’ll be dead!” Other times, we feel the pain and we can identify with Job who said, “My days pass more swiftly than a weaver’s shuttle and come to their end without hope.” The view from here can be hopeless.
That is because we do not see far. Lost in the woods, we might try climbing a tall tree to look in all directions for some way out. Where is there a tower to climb and survey the past and future? For those willing to believe, the prophets are such a tower, giving us a vantage point high above this world in exile.
Israel needed Moses’ vision of future hope in Deuteronomy 30:1-6. So we need the vision of Moses and the prophets, a vision of a better World to Come.
Amos and the Plowman
Amos was a sheepherder from Tekoa, a town in Judah in the south. God didn’t send Amos to his own people in Judah, but sent him north to the kingdom of Israel. Amos spoke to the northern tribes of Israel about one generation before Assyria came and destroyed them all.
Not only did Amos have a lot to say about justice rolling like an ever-flowing stream, but God also gave him a vision of the future. Amos spoke about “that day,” a favorite expression of the prophets. That day is the coming age when God will act and bring Israel and the world out of exile. Amos saw it because God showed him a little piece of it.
In the little piece that God showed Amos, several things will happen. The sukkah (or booth) of David will be repaired, the nations will be called by God’s name, the plowman will overtake the reaper, the mountains will drip sweet wine, and Israel will be forever restored from captivity.
A sukkah is a booth made of branches, usually used as a shelter in the fields for the workers to get some shade from the sun. It is also used at the Feast of Booths, also called Tabernacles or Sukkot. God will restore the doomed throne of David, the line of Messiah in that day. When that happens, Israel will possess the nations.
Israel possessing the nations might sound like bad news for non-Jews but the news is really good. Amos explains that, in that day, Gentiles will be called by God’s name. That is, God does not plan to limit his restorative joy to Israel, but will call Gentiles into relationship as well.
I can totally get into the paradise Amos painted for us of the World to Come, the picture of mountains dripping wine and plowmen overtaking reapers. I have experienced a foretaste of this world already.
I travel to Israel at least once a year. I have seen the terraced hillsides in Judah, where vineyards and orchards seem unlikely. The terrain is very steep and rocky, with unending hills and small mountains. But grapes grow on them. There are vines scattered here and there on the rocky mountains. Yet in that day, the grapes will be so abundant, the mountains will literally drip with sweet wine. Paradise.
The rabbis take the vision a step further. They paint a fanciful but desirable picture of this grape paradise:
Not like this world will be the World to Come. In this world one has the trouble to harvest grapes and to press them; but in the World to Come a person will bring a single grape in a wagon or a ship, store it in the corner of his house, and draw from it enough wine to fill a large flagon . . . There will not be a grape which will not yield thirty measures of wine.
What about the plowman overtaking the reaper? What does that mean? There will be so much fruit and grain that before it can all be harvested, it will be time to plant a new crop. Again the rabbis fill out this image of plenty: “As in this world grain is produced after six months and trees grow fruit after twelve months, in the hereafter grain will be produced after one month and trees will grow fruit after two months.”
All nations will know God and plowmen will overtake reapers. To modify John Lennon’s famous line, imagine there’s no hunger and no secularism too. That is the vision of Amos. That day will not be a world in the clouds or some existence on another plane. That day will be heaven on earth.