[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)
“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.
You often hear people refer to the land of Israel as “Palestine.” Why is that? Where did that name come from, and is it a term you should use?
About four thousand years ago, the Hebrews settled in the land known as Israel. Their leader, Abraham, even legally purchased some of the land himself. However, due to famine, his descendants fled to Egypt, where they ended up being enslaved for over 400 years. Then, in 1446 BC, these Hebrews (who called themselves “Israelites”) escaped from slavery and returned to their rightful land.
These dates are important, because there were other people who were interested in that same land: the Philistines. If that name rings a bell, it’s because Goliath—the giant killed by David around 1012 BC—was a Philistine. Evidence for Philistine presence in the area first shows up around 1150 BC—just about 300 years after the Israelites had settled the land.
So, who were these Philistines, and where did they come from?
According to the Hebrew Bible as well as the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible—and confirmed by modern genetic testing—the Philistines were a sea-faring European people. That’s right—the Philistines were colonizing Europeans. And after their repeated attempts to invade northern Africa were repelled by the Egyptians, they set their sights on another land—Israel.
In the middle of 12th century BC, the Philistines arrived at the borders of Israel, built a handful of cities, and then spent several hundred years trying to conquer the Israelites. As you probably know based on the David and Goliath story, these plans never succeeded, and they eventually stopped their continued invasions and were satisfied to remain just outside the land of Israel. There they remained until 604 BC, when they were conquered and scattered by the Babylonians. With the destruction of their five towns and the scattering of their citizens, the Philistines genetically ceased to be a people.
Fast forward 700 years. The Jews (a subset of Israelites) have never left their land but have been subjugated by just about every superpower that has existed in the interim—the Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. The Jews have launched a number of rebellions hoping to win their freedom. Some are moderately successful (the Maccabean Revolt), but most are failures. One such failed revolt—the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132 AD—particularly pisses off Roman Emperor Hadrian, and as punishment for the Jews’ insolence, he renames their homeland “Palestine”—after their ancient invaders, the Philistines.
In other words, the (at that time) current colonizing European invader renamed the land after another colonizing European invader that never succeeded in capturing the land, never dwelt in the land, and no longer even existed. They renamed it to pour salt in the wound of the most historically oppressed population in the entire world. A population that was almost systematically wiped off the planet less than 100 years ago. A population that is still the most hated group of people on the planet.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not comfortable with the make-believe title created by Romans to punish the Jews. I’m satisfied referring to it by its historical name: Israel.