[This was originally posted on September 28, 2020]
Yom Kippur started at sunset last night, and the Book of Jonah is traditionally read on this Day of Atonement.
I was immediately struck by how often God refers to Nineveh as “the great city.” In the 8th century BC, it truly was a great city. Its population was greater than any city in seven US states; it was three times the size of Washington, D.C.; and it was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, the strongest and wealthiest nation to have ever existed at that time.
But it was great in another way: This shining city was overflowing with wickedness. Murder, slavery, and every sexual perversion you could imagine. A few decades later, they would destroy the northern kingdom of Israel, and a few decades after that, they would threaten to wipe the southern kingdom of Judah off the face of the map. And yet, in spite of all this depravity, God desired their salvation.
This got me thinking about the greatness of America. I truly believe that this is the greatest country that has ever existed. We’re militarily the strongest nation the world has ever seen, and time and again we’ve used our strength to liberate others from tyranny. We’re the most innovative nation, from walking on the moon to putting a super-computer in every pocket. We’re the wealthiest country in existence, while also the most generous, both in terms of our nation giving to other nations and our citizens giving to those in need.
These are great things, but we have also allowed ourselves to become greater and greater in wickedness as well. We murder half a million of our own children every year, and pay for countless children to be murdered around the world. We collect money for the purpose of helping the needy, but then allow our corrupt leaders to keep most of it for themselves. We use our power and strength to exploit others. In terms of sexual perversion, we’re giving Nineveh a run for their money. We lie about one another constantly, we extend only judgment but demand only compassion, and we use other’s sins as justification for our own. We’re selfish, hypocritical, judgmental. Depending how you slice it, we’re better than Nineveh could’ve ever dreamed of and more wicked than Nineveh would’ve ever dared become.
And yet, in spite all of this depravity, God desires our salvation. And truly, the only greatness that really matters comes from Him. Our faithfulness to God has allowed us to become great in so many wonderful things. Our rejection of God has allowed us to become great in so many terrible things.
If America is to be as great as it can be, it must be as godly as it can be. And if America is to be a godly nation, its people must return to godliness. That means you and me taking responsibility for our lives, our families, our churches, and our communities. That extends beyond Facebook and Twitter, beyond November 3 and January 20. It’s an everyday sort of thing, and it requires patience and sacrifice. But for God’s people, it’s our commission.
“I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing… and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12)
Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew for “Head of the Year”) is the Jewish New Year, which, as you would expect, takes place on the first day of the… seventh month… of the year (don’t ask). Rosh Hashanah (referred to in the Bible as Yom Teruah, or “Day of Blasting”) is traditionally the date of the creation of Adam and Eve, and is a day of celebration but also of reflecting on the sins and shortcomings of the last year as we usher in the new year of blessings and prosperity.
How To Do It
There are a number of traditions on Rosh Hashanah. Feel free to review them and then practice a few or all of them. Our family typically throws a Rosh Hashanah party with dozens of families, but you might feel more comfortable starting off with your family and a few close friends.
On Rosh Hashanah, we greet teach other by saying, “Shanah tovah!” which means, “Have a good year!” Make sure to greet your family and friends with this greeting on Rosh Hashanah.
Reflection and Repentance
An important aspect of Rosh Hashanah is reflecting on the past year. For all of us, there are things that didn’t go how we had hoped, or maybe we made mistakes or didn’t live the way we had hoped. Micah says,
“Who is like You, O God, who pardons our sins and forgives our transgressions… You will again have compassion on us and will trample out sins under your feet and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18, 19)
As such, take time to look back and repent of any sins or shortcomings from the last year. Then take a piece of bread—representing our sins—and cast them into a body of water. A lake, river, or ocean is a great place if available; if you don’t live close to a water source, we’ve been known to fill up a kid pool in the backyard and use that.
Be sure to explain to your kids/guests why you’re throwing a piece of bread into a lake. Give them a minute or two to consider the previous year and make a commitment to overcome in the coming year.
Begin the meal by having the women and girls light the candles while reciting the traditional blessing,
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by His Word, and commanded us to light the holiday candles.”
As your family is ushering a sweet new year, you should prepare a sweet meal. Apples dipped in honey, round challah bread, sweet potatoes, beats, dates, raisins, and pomegranates should be served as sides/appetizers. Since this is the “head of the year,” it is customary to serve a fish head, reminding guests that this next year they will be the head and not the tail (Deuteronomy 28:13). Of course, you don’t have to consume the head. For a main dish, you can prepare something fish-based or a chicken. Dessert can follow in the fruit theme with a berry pie.
Blow the Shofar in Memorial of Kingships
One of the biblical mandates for Rosh Hashanah reads,
“In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation.” (Leviticus 23:24)
As such, it is customary to blow the shofar during Rosh Hashanah. When asked why we blow the shofar, one answer the Talmud gives is that we do it “in remembrance of kingships.” Part of celebrating the new year is every one of us acknowledging that God is our King and the King of the Universe, and just as we cast off the sins of last year, we also make a commitment to live for God our King this coming year.
But notice that “kings” is plural. We aren’t simply celebrating that God is God. We are celebrating that God has created each and every one of us to rule and reign as kings on earth (Genesis 1:28, Exodus 19:6, Romans 5:17, 1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6). So as we blow the shofar, we make a commitment to serve Jesus Christ our King and rejoice that we get to reign in life with Him.
Once you explain why we sound the trumpet, pull out your shofar are give it one long blast, three medium blasts, nine short blasts, and finally one really, really long blast.
On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, read Genesis 21:1-34—the birth of Isaac—with your family. The next night, it is customary to read Genesis 22:1-24—the binding of Isaac. You can also read Genesis 1 with your family, as Rosh Hashanah is traditionally when God created Adam and Eve—the original royal priesthood of the earth.
“Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.” (Revelation 13:18)
Revelation says that 666 is the number of a man. So who is that man? Is it Trump or Biden? Pope Frances or King Charles? Bill Gates or Elon Musk?
I have a different theory. The number 666 is not talking about a forthcoming man. Instead, 666 is a reference to King Solomon.
How can that be? To understand this theory, we need to look back at the history of the kings who reigned over Israel.
Pharaoh, King of Egypt
At the beginning of the book of Exodus, the Israelites have found themselves residing in Egypt after relocating there under the governorship of Joseph. Soon after, there arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph. He was concerned that the Israelites might soon become a threat, so he decided he would “deal wisely [חָכַם – chakam] with them” (Exodus 1:10):
“Therefore they set taskmasters [שָׂרֵי מִסִּים – saray mesiym, lit. “rulers of slaves”] over them to afflict them with their burdens [סְבָלָה – subala]. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities [עָרֵי מִסְכְּנוֹת – aray miskunot], Pithom and Raamses.” (Exodus 1:11)
God, of course, did not take kindly to the enslavement of His people, so He brought plagues upon Egypt, resulting in the deliverance of the Israelites and the destruction of the Egyptians.
As the Israelites wandered through the desert towards the Promised Land, God commanded the Israelites that they were to be a nation unlike any of the other nations. They were to be a special treasure above all others, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6).
Of course, God knew what lay ahead. One day, God foretold, they would come to Him and say, “Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations” (Deuteronomy 17:14, 1 Samuel 8:5). To ensure that the Israelites would have a good king, God gave three commandments specifically to these future kings. Upon their ascension to the throne, they were to write down these three commandments and read them every single day. And what were those three commandments?
He shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses;
Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away;
Nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself. (Deuteronomy 17:16-20)
Even though the very first thing God said to mankind was that they were to “multiply” (Genesis 1:28), God demanded that the kings abstain from multiplying in these three areas: Egyptian horses, wives, and silver and gold.
Solomon, King of Israel
Fast forward four hundred and eighty years. Solomon the son of David has been crowned King of Israel, commissioned by his father to build God a temple. God has granted Solomon a wise [חָכָם – chakam] heart, to be used to “administer justice” (1 Kings 3:28). Thus Solomon begins the work of building God a house.
And how does it build this house?
“So the LORD gave Solomon wisdom, as He had promised him… Then King Solomon raised up a labor force [מַס – mas, singular of mesiym] out of all Israel; and the labor force [מַס – mas] was thirty thousand men.” (1 Kings 5:12, 13)
Solomon built the temple using the labor of 30,000 slaves—something the pagan king of Tyre called very “wise” [חָכָם – chakam] (1 Kings 5:7). Just as the Egyptians, in an attempt to be wise, enslaved the Israelites to build their temples, so too did King Solomon, in all his supposed wisdom, enslave the surrounding nations to build his temple (1 Kings 5:13, 9:15).
Following in Egypt’s footsteps, Solomon also ordered that storage cities [עָרֵי הַֽמִּסְכְּנוֹת – aray hamiskunot] be built (1 Kings 9:19); he appointed Israelite rulers [שָׂרֵי – saray] over the slaves (1 Kings 9:23); he even appointed Jeroboam (who would soon lead a rebellion against Solomon’s son) to oversee the burden [סֵבֶל – sabel, root of “subala”] of the labor force (1 Kings 11:28).
Rather than lead the people to be a holy nation, set apart from the rest of the nations, Solomon seemed set on emulating the other nations. He apparently took Exodus 1:11—a description of the persecution and enslavement of his people—and used it as a template to establish his own kingdom.
It should then come as no surprise what we read in the following chapters. Solomon begins making alliances with all of the pagan nations that surrounded Israel, intermarrying with idolatrous wives—wives who would soon turn his heart from the LORD. He winds up with an astonishing seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, mostly from Egypt, Moab, Ammon, Edom, and Sidon; and sure enough, he was soon worshipping Ashtoreth and building temples for Chemosh and Molech (1 Kings 11).
He also began purchasing thousands of Egyptian horses to build up his army, trusting in chariots and horses for protection rather than in the name of the LORD (Psalm 20:7). To build his wealth and strengthen his alliances with the pagan nations, he exported some of these Egyptian horses to the kings of Syria and surrounding nations—the same nations that would soon attempt to conquer Israel (1 Kings 10:28, 29).
Between profiteering from the sale of Egyptian war horses to enemy nations and exploiting slave labor to build his kingdom, Solomon became one of the wealthiest men who ever lived, generating over a billion dollars in silver and gold every year. Far from multiplying justice and righteousness, Solomon was multiplying the precise things he was commanded to abstain from: foreign women, Egyptian war horses, and silver and gold.
And just how much did he make every year?
“The weight of gold that came to Solomon yearly was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold.” (1 Kings 10:14)
That’s right. After building his kingdom—and God’s!—on the backs of slaves, after forsaking the three commandments that God had given him, after abandoning the call to use his wisdom to spread justice and righteousness to the surrounding nations, Solomon instead turned from God’s Word and exploited the gifts he had been given to make himself rich and famous.
And the number assigned to that betrayal was 666.
The Number of the Beast
I don’t think that Solomon was the Antichrist, or that he’s coming back to usher in the last days. Rather, my current reading is that the warnings we were given concerning the number of the beast were meant to prepare us against the spirit that turned Solomon away from the LORD.
Israel was called to be a holy nation, a kingdom of priests, a special treasure set apart from the rest of the world (Exodus 19:5, 6). But instead, Israel decided to fall in line with the sins of every other nation, leading to sexual immorality, greed, human rights abuses, and idolatry.
We too, the Church, are called to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood, His own special people, who will proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of the darkness of this wicked world and into the marvelous light of His kingdom (1 Peter 2:9). Will we walk in that light, or will we follow in the footsteps of Solomon—and Pharaoh before him? Will we give into lust and celebrate sexual perversion in order to fit in with this corrupt generation? Will we betray God’s Word if it will make us a few extra bucks? Will we exploit and dehumanize those made in God’s image to score cheap political points? Will we bow our knee to the gods of this generation? Or will we hold fast to the one true God, regardless of the cost?
Here is wisdom. Choose this day whom you will serve.
Isn’t 666 a reference to [Nero/the pope/Nickelback/etc.]?
Sure, I see no reason why that can’t also be true. God, in His infinite wisdom, is able to give prophesies that could have multiple accurate meanings. It’s certainly possible that Revelation 13 could be warning Christians of the dangers of following in the footsteps of Solomon while also warning that various world leaders have already followed in Solomon’s footsteps and are an immediate threat.
It’s also possible that 666 has nothing to do with Solomon. It just seemed like too big a coincidence not to be intentional.