Heavens Hieroglyphics

No matter how often these words are said: "If there is a God, why doesn't He speak to us?", and no matter how plausible they may sound, if God really spoke to us we would no doubt rationalize it away and claim it was an illusion, a trick of the mind.

The fact is that God HAS spoken, albeit in sign language, which transcends time and space. That requires an appreciation of the laws that govern the use and interpretation of the symbols, and God has even supplied these. The problem is not from God's end, but from the slothful heart, glazed eyes and stuffed ears of Mankind.

We might glibly assert that God communicated to Man in the Bible, yet if worshippers in the synagogues and cathedrals really believed this, there would be a spiritual revolution. God has given us an insight into His mind and His will through His heavenly hieroglyphics – His signs and symbols.

One reason for this is seen in the multitude of languages and customs, as well as the time span of civilizations, which all change, whereas God and His message have not. They are always there insisting on a 'hearing' or should we say a 'seeing'. And this language from the heavens was no hit-and-miss affair; it was developed over a long period of time, and disseminated from a most strategic area – Israel.

Another reason is that one picture can convey more than many pages of writing and so leaves a greater impression on the mind and more time for reflection. What then are some of the signs, symbols or visual aids that point beyond themselves, to God and His will and work?

We find the first one in Genesis: "And I (God) will put enmity between you (Satan) and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel!" (3:15).

Disobedience had just severed the relationship which existed between the Creator and the created. Repercussions far beyond the taste buds of Adam and Eve have reverberated ever since. We all share in the birth marks inherited from Adam's folly – shattered relationships, aimless existence and domination by desire and the Evil One – Satan.

But God was not prepared to give up His creation to sin. Justice demanded to be done; love necessitated reconciliation; holiness ruled out compromise. And so to blend all these together and to woo the heart of Man, God unfolded the first part of His Divine strategy.

Because the fall began with a woman, the way back began with a woman. It was the Seed of the woman that was the sign of the end for Satan, the adversary of God and Man. Somehow, somewhere, sometime, a chosen girl was to bear the one seen as the Redeemer.

Isaiah centuries later supplied this promised sign. In confronting Ahaz with a sign of God's intentions he said: "Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (7:14).

It is the testimony of history that one young woman was afforded this honour. Miriam of Nazareth experienced the promise of Genesis, for she became the cradle of God's Saviour of Israel and the Gentiles. As the Hebrew scholar of the time put it: "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, 'and to your seed,' who is the Messiah" (Paul to the Galatians 3:16).

Moses warned the people to beware of false prophets and to judge all in the light of faithfulness to the Law. How would it be possible for future generations to be sure just who was speaking on behalf of God? He gave them a two-fold test: one, conformity to the Law; the other a personal comparison with Himself.

Moses, this statesman of God, set himself up as a symbol of the One to come: "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear . . . " (Deuteronomy 18:15).

This became a measuring rod for judging future prophets. When John the Baptiser was asked if he happened to be "that prophet" , he said that he was not – he was rather the one who went before, "that prophet" to prepare the way for Him.

Isaiah pointed out this quality inherent in the prophet who was to come when he wrote: "Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, my Elect One in whom my soul delights! I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.

"He will not cry out nor raise his voice, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and smoking flax he will not quench; he will bring forth justice for truth.

"He will not fail nor be discouraged, till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for his law" (42:1-4). The New Testament writer uses this same Scripture to picture what he saw in the character of Yeshua (Jesus) as recorded in Matthew 12:17-21.

God has not left things to chance, nor do visions and dreams from heaven prove something to be true. The Lord built up a picture of the Person and the doctrine He would espouse when He came to fulfil the sign, to translate the hieroglyphics into flesh and blood.

That is why the One to whom John the Baptiser pointed simply said: "You search the Scriptures for . . . these are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). It is not the power to work miracles, the upright life or the charisma of the person that marks Him as from God, but conformity to the Word, to the signs, typology and symbols, things that cannot be faked, that mark Him out as God's.

Few have had their birth predicted; none of us have chosen our birth place and date of birth, and yet God declared for all with eyes to see and ears to hear the place from which His Messiah would come. Micah names the place and person: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the one to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" (5:2).

So God began in the flesh to fulfil the sign language of the centuries, for just such a fulfilment took place during the reign of King Herod about 4 BC. And why choose Bethlehem and not Jerusalem? Why a stable and not a royal chamber? God chooses to go contrary to human pride, passion and position.

"Then the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary (Miriam) , for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name Jesus (Yeshua) . He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the LORD God will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.' Then Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, since I do not know a man?' And the angel answered and said to her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that holy one who is to be born will be called the Son of God.'" (Luke 1:30-35)

With God it is, "not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit" (Zechariah 4:6) that His motives are governed, in order that people must put the end result down to God, and not to the strategies of Man or to chance.

Isaiah also records a word picture which at first reading seems so contrary to our image of a victorious Messiah. It does not have the glamour of a warrior. It fails to inspire with the example of faith, for it is the account of a shattered, suffering, condemned, though innocent, servant. He gives a detailed account of the role of the Messiah as He undertakes expiation for Israel's sin (and the world's).

The implications of Isaiah's vision are that this One is the fulfilment of the Temple sacrifices; He is the Passover Lamb; He is, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29); that which Adam caused is cured in the Servant.

"He has no form or comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from him; he was despised, and we did not esteem him.

"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

"He was taken from prison and from judgement, and who will declare his generation? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of my people he was stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, but with the rich at his death, because he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief" (53:2-10).

There is another hieroglyphic from the pages of Scripture that needs examination. It is the picture of Jonah. Jonah was locked in the tomb of a sea creature's stomach in the depths of the waters. He experienced a resurrection when the fish could contain him no longer, and at the command of God released him to life and service.

And the suffering, sacrificial Servant would ultimately complete that which Jonah typified. Death would not be able to crush Him. The grave would not imprison Him. The Evil One, Satan, would not prevail. The resurrection was to be God's crowning testimony to the world that the One who died, was buried, and was raised again, is the fulfilment of what was promised in signs and symbols.

Undoubtedly there is much to learn about God's 'picture' communications with Mankind, but clearly we have enough to give a sure foundation on which to await with expectancy the return of God's Redeemer, even the Messiah.

God has spoken. His will has been made known. The issue today is not one of understanding or of accessibility to the message. It is not one of facts, but an issue of the will. It is "Search the Scriptures . . . for these are they that testify of me." (John 5:39)

The onus of responsibility is on us to read the signs and symbols and check them against Yeshua, the son of David, who said: "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil" (Matthew 5:17).