Book Review: THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS by Gary Corby

Herodotus, an aspiring author, turns up at Nicolaos and Diotima’s house to ask if Nico would escort him to the land of the Pharaohs. It seems he wants to write about the past, and is traveling around collecting stories, and chronicling the customs of all manner of civilizations. Given that Egypt is currently a hotbed of unrest, with the natives rising up against their Persian overlords, Herodotus needs an experienced security detail, and Nico came recommended. When Nico discovers it was Pericles who recommended him, he’s convinced there’s more to this than perhaps even Herodotus knows. Indeed, there’s a lot at stake, namely who is the rightful ruler of Egypt. Nico and Diotima will have to navigate Persians, Spartans, cats, camels, crocodiles, and secret agents to fulfill their duty to Herodotus, and also complete the secret task to which Pericles has assigned them, if they manage to stay alive.

This is the sixth in Gary Corby’s “Athenian Mysteries” series, featuring the husband-and-wife detective team (sorry–that was a spoiler if you’ve only read the first couple of books!) of Nicolaos and Diotima. I’ve reviewed a couple of the other books in the series, and it never ceases to amaze me how well Gary does his homework to get the historical details right, while never sounding like a text book. Naturally, he sometimes plays a little loose with facts for the sake of story, but he knows when he’s doing that, as is evident from his “Author’s Note” at the end.

The main new character in this book is Herodotus, known to students of Ancient History as “the Father of History.” His HISTORIES is not only the earliest history book we know of, but it also contains accounts of historical events that we would know little or nothing of otherwise. Gary weaves some of Herodotus’s stories into the narrative, as young Herodotus interviews everyone he encounters, pummeling people with questions, writing everything down on sheets of papyrus, and perhaps being a little too trusting that what he’s being told is totally factual. I think it’s great that Gary manages to take this shadowy figure from the past, known only by his one book (at least, the only one that has survived to this day), and give him life and character, making him into someone quite likable. After reading this, you might actually want to pick up a copy of THE HISTORIES!

But history aside, the strength of Gary’s books is the storytelling, and he keeps the pace going, with plenty of cliffhangers, and humor. As Nico’s interest is divided among various parties vying for his attention, the plot thickens, but never becomes too tangled. There’s also a very touching death scene, which I don’t recall the like of in any of the other books in the series. I don’t want to spoil it, but I’ll say it’s a character I came to like, and was sad to see killed off. It’s beautifully written, and liable to evoke tears–be warned!

Fans of the series will not be disappointed by THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS. If you’re new to the series, you can certainly read this without having read the others, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to go back and start at the beginning (THE PERICLES COMMISSION was the first). There’s hardly any, if any, profanity, and some very mild sexual allusions. I’d rate it PG15, and give it an easy five GoodReads stars.

Who Review: Colony in Space

The Time Lords are concerned. The Master has stolen files pertaining to a highly dangerous weapon, known as the “Doomsday Weapon.” Reluctantly, they agree to make use of the Doctor to investigate. Rather than sending a message, they take control of his TARDIS and temporarily release him from his exile, sending him, and unwitting passenger Jo Grant, to the planet Uxarieus. There the Doctor and Jo encounter a colony of people trying, and failing, to make a life for themselves away from the overcrowded and polluted Earth of 2472. To add to the colonists’ worries, the Intergalactic Mining Corporation is laying claim to the planet so they can excavate its precious minerals, particularly “duralinium.” Also there have been reports of giant reptiles, and giant claw marks on machinery. The Doctor is convinced someone is using trickery to scare the colonists away, but who’s responsible, and how can they be stopped, especially without evidence? When the colonists summon the assistance of an Adjudicator to settle the dispute between them and the IMC, the Doctor has high hopes the issue will be resolved–until he meets the Adjudicator…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This six-part story was written by Malcolm Hulke, who weaves some hot political issues of the day into a story that thinly veils his left-wing politics. We have the colonists and their relationship with the “primitive” natives, clearly taking a jab at colonialism and the treatment of the natives. Then there’s the big, greedy, powerful corporation coming in to lay waste to the planet for its own profit, with no thought for the lives of either the natives or the newcomers. This won’t be the last time a writer uses Who as a vehicle for his or her social or political viewpoint. Thankfully, it’s usually done with a good story, so you can agree or disagree with the writer while still enjoying the show.

The Time Lords make their first appearance since “The War Games” to introduce the main story: the Master has stolen documents concerning the Doomsday Weapon. It’s interesting that for much of the story, this plot thread gets lost in the colonists struggle against IMC. The Doctor’s visit to the primitive city uncovers another layer, and a deeper history to the planet, that drops some subtle hints at what’s going on. Then the Master shows up, and, knowing what the Time Lords have told us, we know he has an agenda that involves the Doomsday Weapon. Another subtle hint is offered when the Master shows an interest in the old, primitive city. Of course, having stolen the documentation, he knows what he’s doing. Hulke draws the threads together when the Weapon is unveiled, and we find out it has been leaking radiation into the soil, which is why the colonists attempts at farming have been so disastrous. It’s a bit of a slow-burning plot, but if you stick with it, there’s a satisfying conclusion.

If “The Claws of Axos” was visually ground-breaking with its use of video effects, “Colony in Space” is quite the opposite. All the action takes place over a couple of sets, and there’s sparing use of video effects. It’s almost as if they blew the effects budget on “Claws,” and had to make do for “Colony.” But the story doesn’t demand a lot of video manipulation, though there are some good old traditional bangs and flashes, and plenty of action–particularly in the form of gun battles. It’s a little strange to see so much shooting and death (albeit bloodless) in Doctor Who, but this was the 1970s, and these were the kinds of games boys, especially, played in the school yard. I think we have a different sensibility about this kind of thing today which we have to suspend to appreciate Classic Who for what it was. All that to say, the show is pacy and interesting enough that the lack of effects doesn’t matter. The viewer can easily stay engaged for the entire six episodes.

The acting is good, though wonky at times–especially during the aforementioned gun battles. Maybe they played them down a bit so they would be more on the level of what kids would do at school, fearing kids would be traumatized it the battles were too realistic? I don’t know, but there’s no doubt the guns were firing blanks, and no-one was seriously hurt.

Overall, it’s a solid story, and worthy of a Whovian’s time. It’s Jo’s first adventure in the TARDIS–indeed, the first time Jo goes inside the TARDIS. She delivers the classic line, “It’s bigger on the inside,” and the Doctor gives the explanation: “It’s dimensionally transcendental.” When Jo asks what that means, the Doctor replies, “It’s bigger on the inside.” 🙂 So, not essential Who, but a fun way to spend a couple of hours that you won’t regret.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 11:15-18

15 And the seventh angel trumpeted, and there were loud voices in heaven saying, “The kingdom of the world has become [that] of our Lord and His Christ, and he shall reign forever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who are sitting before God on their thrones fell upon their faces and they worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give thanks to you, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and was, for you have taken your great power and you reigned. 18 And the nations were angry, but Your anger came and the time for the dead to be judged, and to give the reward to Your servants, the prophets, and to the saints, and to those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”

This week we picked up on our discussion from last time of the use of the past tense in verse 15, and the fact that from God’s perspective, His rule is a done deal. Indeed, Jesus’ words in John 12:31 indicate that from the cross, the “ruler of this world” has been “cast out.” Satan’s dominion has been broken. What we see, therefore, from the time of Christ’s death and resurrection to the time of the seventh trumpet is the outworking of God reclaiming His rule in Christ. There’s sin and rebellion as the world kicks back, and even a seemingly overwhelming flood of lawlessness and hatred against God and His people. But this merely shows how much God’s judgment and condemnation of the world is justified. Men are not good at heart; they are corrupt, and only good by God’s common grace. All it takes is for God to assert His rightful reign over the earth for man’s sin to be made evident. The statement in 11:15 is something that has been true for a long time–the kingdom of this world has become that of the Lord’s–but with the sounding of the seventh trumpet, that fact is about to be made plain to all creation.

It’s important to remember that there is no cosmic struggle for power between God and Satan. From Job 1:6-12, Luke 22:31-32, and the things we have already read in Revelation, it’s clear that God is in sovereign control even over the forces of evil. He may permit Satan to have his way with people, but never outside of His decree. And a time is coming when the Lord will call an end to Satan’s activity, and bring judgment upon all those who followed in Satan’s rebellion. That’s essentially what we have here in 11:15, a declaration that sin and Satan’s reign is at an end. Satan may not go down without a fight, but his struggle is ultimately in vain. Unlike Satan’s temporary rule, Christ’s reign is eternal. There are echoes here of Daniel 7:23, a passage we will be coming back to as we proceed.

John then sees the 24 elders on their thrones. These are the elders he saw back in chapter 4, sitting on their thrones, ruling with Christ. We recalled the significance of the number 24: 12 tribes of Israel plus 12 Apostles, representing the Old Covenant and New Covenant believers–the entire church. This drawing together of Jew and Gentile was particularly significant in John’s day, since this was one of the biggest points of dissension in the church at that time. Jewish Christians had a tendency to consider Gentile believers as second-class, since they didn’t keep the Law and were not part of God’s original covenant people. Gentile believers tended to see their Jewish brethren as part of that which has passed away, no longer relevant. Paul hashes out these issues in Romans, but suffice to say, by showing the church in terms of the 12 tribes and the 12 Apostles, the Lord is declaring that God’s people are not nation-specific. They are, indeed, made up of people from every tongue, tribe, nation, and people, not just the Jews and not just the Gentiles.

The significance of them being seated on thrones before God (remember, the Two Witnesses were described as as the two olive trees and the two lamp stands “before God,” indicating divine acceptance and approval) is the fact that they are rulers with Christ, just as he promised. Back in Revelation 3:21-22, Christ promised the church at Laodicea that those who overcome will sit with him on his throne. This is a significant promise since the Laodiceans were one of the most harshly criticized churches. The Lord said he would “vomit” them out because of their lukewarm attitude. But such is God’s grace that those who are in Christ, and repentant of their sin, will have a place of high honor before Him.

While the elders are seated before God, nevertheless they know their place. They fall on their faces and worship Him. We are reminded here that this is a vision, and however we might imagine the elders sitting and falling on their faces, the logistics of the action are irrelevant; it’s the meaning of the words. They are seated in a position of great honor, and yet they humble themselves before the Lord and worship Him. A similar thing happened in chapter 4, where the elders fell down before the One seated upon the throne and worshiped Him when the four living creatures gave Him glory, honor, and thanks.

Verses 17 and 18 present the elders’ song of thanks and praise. Why are they thankful? I think this has something to do with Revelation 6:9-11, and the prayer of the saints under the altar: “How long?” These believers were patiently waiting for the Lord to vindicate His Name and His people. At that time, the Lord gave them a white robe and told them to wait. At last, the waiting is over. The Lord comes, and the church rejoices and gives thanks to God for His faithfulness.

The elders refer to the Lord as “the Almighty, the one who is and who was.” In 1:4 and 1:8, we saw the formula, “the one who is, and who was, and who is coming.” Some later manuscripts add “and who is coming” to 11:17, but this is clearly an addition, where a scribe thought he knew how this passage was supposed to read based on 1:4 and 1:8. Not only is the textual evidence in favor of leaving off “and who is coming,” but it makes better sense in the context to leave it at, “who is, and who was.” After all, this is the seventh trumpet and the Lord has come. Revelation 1:4 and 1:8 are looking forward to the Lord’s return. This passage is speaking of that very return. Omitting the final part of the phrase underscores the fact that He has come.

The song of the elders goes on to say that the Lord has taken His great power and has ruled. Again, God has not taken something that wasn’t His to begin with. Rather, God has allowed wickedness to rule, and rebellion to have its way for a season. But now, with the seventh trumpet, God is taking back the reins and asserting His rightful rule and divine authority over all creation. “You reigned” is past tense, and might be better translated as “you have begun to reign.” This rendering is one way the verb tense can be translated, and it makes better sense with “you have taken.”

We need to remember that John is here describing a vision of something that has not yet happened. I’ve been very reluctant to assign any kind of chronology to these visions, other than to say that the Lord presents these visions to John in this sequence. But the sequence shouldn’t be interpreted as a reflection of the order these things will happen in time. With the seventh trumpet, however, we are definitely talking about an event that has not yet happened: the Lord’s return. Indeed, it seems that the seventh seal and the seventh trumpet mirror each other. The seventh seal speaks of a silence in heaven, which we understood to be like that hush in the courtroom prior to judgment. In the seventh trumpet, we have a similar thing, only this time there’s more than just a hushed silence: the Lord has returned, and final judgment has come. So everything in the six previous seals and trumpets lead up to the Lord’s return.

In verse 18 we have another allusion to Psalm 2, this time Psalm 2:5, where the nations rage, but the Lord will speak to them in His wrath. Some want to see a chronological sequence in this: the Lord takes power and begins to rule, but then a rebellion breaks out which God quashes by exerting His wrath on the rebels. This goes against what was said in verse 15, that His reign will be eternal. Rather, this whole hymn of praise and thanksgiving reads to me like the song of Moses after Israel crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-18). It is recounting the way in which God has brought glory to Himself and redemption to His people. The nations were angry, but the Lord visited their anger with His own wrath. Haven’t we seen the anger of the nations in the seals and the trumpets? In Revelation 6:16-17, the sixth seal is opened, and the wicked cry out for the mountains to fall and hide them from face of the One sitting on the throne, and the wrath of the Lamb. This is noted as the coming of the day of “their wrath.” It is describing events leading up to the opening of the seventh seal, which parallels the blowing of the seventh trumpet. In other words, the sixth seal proclaimed that the day of the Lord’s wrath was imminent; in the seventh seal/trumpet, that day has come.

The elders say this is “the time of the dead to be judged”–i.e., the time for the judgment of the dead. This echoes Daniel 12:1-2, and looks forward to Revelation 12:20, where the dead, both great and small, will stand before the throne, and the books will be opened. We need to remember that this is both a vision, and it’s poetry, so we shouldn’t base our theology of what happens when we die on this verse alone. Indeed, the New Testament is quite clear that upon death, the soul goes to its rightful place (believers to be with the Lord, unbelievers to eternal punishment), and the body awaits that final day when it will be raised (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 15:35-58; Philippians 1:21-24; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), so judgment happens at the point of death. In fact, strictly speaking, judgment has already happened by virtue of sin and the unregenerate heart (see John 3:18). I believe the point the elders are making here is that God’s judgment is not just upon those who are alive at the time of His coming. All will face the wrath of the Lamb and divine judgment, even those who have died. They don’t intend this statement to be a reference to when that judgment actually occurs. Indeed, at the End, the judgment we’ll see is the physical outworking of the judgment that God declared upon the world from the time sin entered. And only those in Christ, by his grace, are saved from it.

We will continue, and, Lord willing, conclude chapter 11 next time.

Links and Stuff

Not so much of the links this week, more of the stuff. One of the things I decided to do this year was to stop participating in writing competitions (except for Janet Reid’s, of course), and make more of an effort to write for publication. In other words, actually try to get some stories in magazines, and perhaps make a bit of money from my words for once. As one might deduce, this strategy involves me taking a break from my current novel writing endeavors to work on short stories.

As of the beginning of last week, I hadn’t really got very far with this. Okay, that’s being kind to myself. I hadn’t done anything toward this goal. Not that I haven’t been writing (have you seen this blog over the past five months? The A-to-Z Challenge, perhaps?), but nothing toward the goal of getting published. Then an article on Janet’s blog about celebrating writing goals gave me a kick up the behind. What writing goals have I got to celebrate? Yes, I completed A-to-Z (yay for me!), but have I done anything worth celebrating that could get me closer to being a published writer? No. So I set a goal. Gary Corby‘s new novel in his Athenian Mysteries series, THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS released on Tuesday (May 17th). I told myself that I can’t start reading it until I had a short story in my wife’s inbox (she’s my First Reader) by that Tuesday. I’m a huge fan of Mr. Corby, so this was quite the challenge.

Sam_and_the Singer_smAnd it worked. Monday night, I sent the first draft of my short story to my wife. Tuesday, Gary’s book came in the mail, and despite Sam the Cat’s best efforts, I was able to wrest it from his claws. Now I can dig in and read while wifey works her red pen magic on my words. (The book is awesome so far, by the way. I’ll review it on the blog some time in the near future.)

So yay! Mini celebration. I’ll celebrate properly when I’ve edited and polished the story, and submitted it somewhere. I might even have a couple of reader friends look at it before then.

What goals have you achieved this week, if any?

Who Review: The Claws of Axos

A mysterious flying object lands somewhere in the south of England, embedding itself into the ground. At first the Ministry of Security wants to treat it as hostile, but the Doctor intervenes, and, along with U.N.I.T., investigates this strange craft. It seems the occupants are a race of beings known as Axons. They are in need of fuel, and are willing to give Mr. Chinn, a Ministry representative, some powerful Axionite in exchange for the chance to refuel their ship. The Axons demonstrate Axionite’s potential to replicate and grow any organism. It could solve the world’s hunger problems by producing and reproducing giant-sized grains and cattle. Mr. Chinn agrees, and all seems well, even if Chinn is determined to secure global rights to the use of Axionite for Great Britain. But there’s more to these Axons than they are letting on. Their true plan is to drain Earth’s energy. And when they discover the Doctor is a Time Lord, they expand their ambitions, and try to persuade him to help…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“The Claws of Axos” is a four-part story, and the first written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin. Baker and Martin went on to write more Classic Who stories, proving themselves to be more than capable of coming up with good scripts. Post-Who, Bob Baker helped write the Academy Award-winning “Wallace and Gromit” series of films.

The premise for the story is good, if only because it’s different from the normal “alien invasion” trope. Here, the aliens present themselves as beautiful, benevolent beings offering the riches of their planet as a thank-you for the humans’ hospitality. Everybody is sucked into this line, but soon the Doctor, Jo, and a few others stumble upon the real plan. The ship is Axon, and it, along with all the Axons and the Axionite, is a single organism whose sole purpose is to feed off of energy. By getting the humans to distribute Axionite throughout the world, the Axons can use the Axionite as a conduit through which they can drain the Earth’s energy.

In this story we see probably the most extensive use of video effects so far in Doctor Who. And for 1971, they aren’t bad, using chroma key (“green screen”), distorted pictures, and other forms of picture manipulation. Of course, not nearly as sophisticated as New Who, but relatively impressive. And having experimented with these new techniques here, you can be sure we’ll see them again in coming stories.

There were a couple of characters that seemed a little pointless. Bill Filer, the man from Washington with the briefcase and the dodgy accent, for one. Filer has quite a big part in the story, and yet really serves no purpose, other than being a concern for Jo. Was he intended to be a love interest that didn’t work out? Or perhaps he was there to remind us of the international scope of the problem, while Mr. Chinn is blathering on about what’s good for jolly old England? The jury’s still out on that one, I think.

And then there’s the Master. Yes, the Doctor’s wily foe turns up again, but this time we encounter him as a prisoner of the Axons. I’ve been trying to think what role he plays in the overall plot, at least up until episode four, when he helps the Doctor fix his TARDIS (at least temporarily). Granted, this is an important part, since the Doctor uses his TARDIS to defeat the Axons by putting them in a time loop. In the process, the Master is reunited with his own TARDIS, which was captured by the Axons, and escapes. But what exactly was he doing for the first three episodes? And why didn’t the Axons make use of the Master’s knowledge of time travel while he was their prisoner? Maybe they read his mind and knew he couldn’t be trusted? But the Doctor wasn’t exactly a willing conspirator, so why should they trust him?

All in all, however, this is a good four-part story that moves along at a good pace and, my little issues aside, works well plot-wise. Even the stringy Axon monsters are creatively conceived, and about as convincing as you might expect on a 1971 BBC effects budget. The TARDIS does it’s first space travel since the Doctor was exiled, though the Time Lords have programmed the TARDIS so it always returns back to Earth. Nevertheless, this gets us out of the Earth-bound format, which makes for a nice change. Definitely one to put on the list of Who stories to watch.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 11:13-15

13 And in that hour there was a great earthquake and a tenth of the city fell and seven thousand names of men were killed in the earthquake, and the rest became full of fear and gave glory to the God of heaven. 14 The second woe has departed; behold the third woe comes quickly. 15 And the seventh angel trumpeted, and there were loud voices in heaven saying, “The kingdom of the world has become [that] of our Lord and His Christ, and he shall reign forever.”

Picking up where we left off last time, John sees in his vision a great earthquake, the destruction of one tenth of the city, and seven thousand people dying as a result of the earthquake. We’ve already discussed the fact that earthquakes often accompany judgment, especially in prophetic and visionary passages. This earthquake is part of the beginning of The End, a judgment against the unregenerate, hard-hearted people who mocked and persecuted the Two Witnesses (i.e., the church). We talked about arguments for and against “the city” being Jerusalem, and though I don’t think it is supposed to be Jerusalem specifically, whatever the city is supposed to represent, it’s not a good place. The people of that city rejected God’s people. And while the seven thousand who perished could be a tenth of the population of Jerusalem, I think it more likely this number is a throwback to 1 Kings 19:18, and the seven thousand in Israel who would not bow the knee to Baal. Since we can’t know for certain there were exactly 70,000 people in Jerusalem, it seems to me we are being told that the city was so wicked, there weren’t even seven thousand men who wouldn’t bow the knee to Baal. In other words, while there was a faithful remnant in Elijah’s day, there’s no longer such a remnant. Another possibility is that the number simply refers to a very large quantity (7, the number of fullness, times by 1,000, the number of magnitude). However, I find the the fact that it’s the exact same number as in 1 Kings 19:18 most compelling.

What of the “tenth”? This could simply be saying that this is just the beginning (like the “thirds” in previous visions), and there’s more to come. But this is an unusual fraction in Revelation. When we think about a “tenth” in biblical terms, we usually think of the tithe–that portion of our “first fruits” (crops, produce, income, etc.) that we give back to the Lord as an act of worship. Could this tenth of the city be a kind of “tithe”–but in terms of judgment, not worship? There is precedent for this idea in the Old Testament hêrem (verb form hâram), a thing given over to the Lord in destruction. Particularly during the conquest of Canaan, God commanded Israel to totally destroy the spoils of battle as an act of dedication to the Lord. Whatever could not be destroyed was to go be put in the sanctuary. It was a kind of involuntary offering exacted from Israel’s enemies. These items were not purified or sanctified by this act. The vanquishing of the enemy was God’s hand of judgment against these people, and the destruction of their things was a kind of offering to the Lord. Could the destruction of one-tenth of the city be a kind of judicial tithe, dedicating the city to destruction as hâram offering to the Lord? It’s a thought, at least.

The end of verse 13 says that the survivors were full of fear and glorified God. Does this mean they became believers? Some may take this passage to refer to a group of people who become Christians after the church is “raptured.” I’ve already said I don’t think this verse is talking about a rapture of the church, so it makes sense I don’t accept that interpretation. In any case, the survivors would be everyone who wasn’t killed in the earthquake. That could be the rest of the city, country, or planet–we’re given no indication of the scale of the earthquake. But more than that, I’m not convinced the survivor’s fear and glorification of the Lord is anything more than “fox-hole faith”–i.e., the kind of thing people will say when all seems lost. “Get me out of this, God, and I’ll give my life to you!” More often than not, it’s insincere.

A good example of this kind of faith born of fear, not true conversion, can be seen in the life of Nebuchadnezzar. In Daniel 2:47, Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and the king extols Daniel’s God, calling Him “God of gods and Lord of kings.” In chapter 3, that same Nebuchadnezzar sets up an idol and commands everyone to bow down to it. Daniel 4:1-3 has Nebuchadnezzar making a decree favoring the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego after their miraculous rescue from the furnace. His letter is full of God’s praises. But in Daniel 4:29-30, Nebuchadnezzar goes up on his roof and sings his own praises. God humbles Nebuchadnezzar, after which the king praises and blesses the Lord (4:34-37). Perhaps now he is converted? The text nowhere says he became one of God’s covenant people, or tore down idols. In fact, Daniel 5:2 makes reference to the Temple vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken and were being used by his successor, Belshazzar. If Nebuchadnezzar had become a worshiper of Yahweh, why didn’t he return the Temple vessels? Rather, I think Nebuchadnezzar is simply acknowledging the truth of God’s glory and lordship, but it’s not personal. Like “every tongue” in Philippians 2:10-11 that will confess “Jesus is Lord”–this includes every reprobate tongue. All people will, in the end, recognize the lordship of Christ, even those who are about to perish for eternity. Even the Philistines acknowledged God’s glory when they returned the Ark of the Lord to Israel (1 Samuel 6:1-5).

This demonstrates from Scripture that you don’t have to be a believer to give lip service to the glory of God. And I think that’s what’s happening with these survivors. They’re afraid. They’ve seen some pretty frightening things, from the raising of the Two Witnesses, to a supernatural earthquake destroying part of the city and killing seven thousand people. By means of this vision, John is being shown that the vindication of the church will cause even those who are “vessels prepared for destruction” (Romans 9:22) to recognize the glory of God. It’s just another way of confirming that the church was right all along.

Verse 14 is a transition verse between the vision of 10:1-11:13 and the seventh trumpet. We are told that the second woe has gone away, or has passed. The first woe was 9:1-11, and I believe the second woe was in 9:13-21. The vision John just witnessed in 10:1-11:13 wasn’t part of that woe, but to prepare him for what he’s about to see. In these verses, John has been given a divine commission to prophesy, to proclaim judgment–and that’s what he’s about to do. John sees the church as the Lord’s faithful witness, warning the world of impending judgment, suffering persecution while “tormenting” the world with the gospel. The church will be temporarily vanquished, but she will rise victorious, and the Lord will deal with her persecutors with the promised judgment.

Since we had time, we started discussion of the seventh trumpet, beginning in verse 15. The seventh angel trumpets and there follows the sound of many voices in heaven. We’re used to heavenly praise choruses by now. In 4:8 we had the four living creatures sing; in 4:10, the twenty-four elders proclaim “worthy are you, our Lord and God…” The four creatures and twenty-four elders together to say “worthy are you” to the Lamb when he takes the scroll in 5:9-10. In 7:10, the great multitude from every tribe, nation, tongue, and people cry out “salvation belongs to our God, and then in 7:12 we have angels and the elders joining them saying, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and praise and might be to our God forever!”

This time, the proclamation begins: “The kingdom of the world has become [that] of our Lord and His Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” This is an interesting declaration, since it is given in the past tense, as if it’s a done deal: “The kingdom of the world has become…” not “is” or “will be.” As far as the heavenly chorus is concerned, it is a done deal. Although John doesn’t see this taking place (yet), because the final trumpet has blasted, that means it’s a fait accompli. Now is the time for what God planned to actually come about. The kingdom of the world is now His. He is claiming it.

The reference to “our Lord and His Christ” is the first allusion in this passage to Psalm 2–here echoing Psalm 2:2: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His anointed.” (“Anointed” in the Greek Old Testament is christos). In the context of Psalm 2:2, “the Lord and His anointed” referred to God and King David. However, the Psalm clearly has a prophetic layer, as is brought out by Revelation 11:15, where the Lord and His Anointed is a reference to the Father and the Son. Although, our Lord could also refer to Jesus, such that we have here a reference to the same Person of the Godhead: our Lord (Jesus), and God’s Messiah (also Jesus). Either interpretation fits with what’s being said here: Jesus is Lord, the King of kings, and he will reign forever over his kingdom, which has now come. Don’t forget, Jesus promised the church in Laodicea that the one who overcomes will sit with him on his throne (3:21). This verse (11:15) could also be referencing Psalm 110:1, “The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.'”

We’ll continue our examination of the seventh trumpet next time, Lord willing!

Links and Stuff

I’m posting this a little late because… well… okay, I forgot. But here it is now. And besides, it’s not like anyone’s planning their life around my blog. I hope! 🙂

So we start off with sad news. Electronic music icon Isao Tomita passed away Thursday, May 5th, aged 84. I featured Tomita on a Music Monday a while ago, and I talked there about how much his music was a part of my childhood. Even now, his arrangements of certain classical pieces will be the ones I think of first. Indeed, his rendition of Ravel’s “Bolero” remains, in my estimation, unsurpassed. With all these recent celebrity deaths–David Bowie, Terry Wogan, Ed Stewart, Ronnie Corbett, George Martin, Prince, and now Tomita–I feel like my childhood is passing away before my eyes.

Remember “Boaty McBoatface”? That was the name voted on by an overwhelming number of people when the Natural Environmental Research Council went to the internet to decide what to call their new $300 million research vessel. Sadly, saner (read: boring) minds prevailed, and they have decided to name the ship “David Attenborough,” after the celebrated British naturist–no wait, that’s someone who likes to run around in the nuddy… I mean naturalist— and television presenter. Not that Attenborough doesn’t deserve the recognition, but I know which name I preferred. “Boaty” isn’t dead, though. It seems the ship has a remote submarine that will bear the name “Boaty McBoatface.” I guess that’ll do. 🙂

Now, this is just cool, and perhaps an inspiration to those working in jobs that require customer interaction. Back in March, CNN showed this report about a Chik-fil-A cashier who noticed a customer having difficulty communicating her order. She quickly figured out that the customer was hearing impared. What’s neat is that the cashier could sign, so she was able to help the customer complete her order, and probably made her day too. It’s the little things you do, folks…

Last of all this week, for all you K-Pop fans out there, my daughter, SecondBorn, shared this with the family today. It’s a six minute parody and… well… just watch it. My wife was in stitches. 🙂

Have a lovely weekend!

Who Review: The Mind of Evil

The Doctor and Jo visit Stangmoor Prison to witness a demonstration of the new “Keller Machine.” This machine rehabilitates criminals by extracting the evil impulses from the brain. The Doctor is skeptical, and even after a seemingly successful demonstration, something about the machine unnerves him. Meanwhile, an international peace conference is taking place, and U.N.I.T. is in charge of security. A series of unexplained attacks, including the death of one of the delegates to the peace conference, heightens the Doctor’s concerns about the Keller machine, and the whole Keller process. The nature of the attacks makes him think they are connected. Someone is using the Keller Machine to influence the outcome of the peace conference. But who would want to start World War III? And can the Doctor put an end to the plan before it’s too late?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen this serial. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

“The Mind of Evil” is a six-part story, first broadcast through February and into March of 1971. The Third Doctor, still exiled on Earth, is at Stangmoor to satisfy his curiosity with regard to this “Keller Machine.” His interest with the peace conference is only piqued when he suspects there might be a connection between the death of the delegate and the machine. It’s a good story, and it doesn’t drag over six episodes. Writer Don Houghton, who wrote “Inferno” in the previous season, has a good sense of pacing. Houghton went on to write movies, most notably Hammer horror movies, and I think both “Inferno” and “The Mind of Evil” would work well on the big screen without episode breaks.

The main weak point in the plot is the connection between the Keller Machine and the peace conference. It transpires that Emil Keller, inventor of the machine, is, in fact, the Master. His machine not only sucks evil impulses from the mind, but it feeds them to an alien Mind Parasite within the machine that uses those impulses to attack its victims. The Master has found a way to channel the Parasite’s telepathic ability, but he’s playing a dangerous game since the Parasite has a mind of its own. Parallel to this, the Master is planning to steal the “Thunderbolt” missile, containing a deadly gas, which U.N.I.T. is secretly transporting for disposal. It’s here that the connection becomes fuzzy. Yes, he uses the power of the Keller Machine to help him get the missile. But he also uses the machine to attack delegates. His plan is to start World War III, but either the machine or the missile would achieve that end–why use both? Especially given the instability of his Keller Machine.

In my review of “Terror of the Autons,” I wasn’t too impressed with Jo Grant as a companion. She seemed fairly useless, and more of a hindrance than a help. Given she stayed on as a companion for a few seasons, I expected some kind of “turn around,” or character development that would validate her. Well, I think “The Mind of Evil” was the story I was looking for. Not only does she behave with confidence in herself and the Doctor, but she actually makes herself useful. She rescues the Doctor from the Keller Machine, she single-handedly quells a prison riot, and helps the Doctor with his plans for securing the prison and stopping the Master. Definitely a good story for Jo!

Not only was this a good story for Jo, but U.N.I.T. actually looked like a competent military organization, again. The previous season was a bit of a disaster for the Brig and his boys, but here they actually execute maneuvers and, while foiled by the Master a couple of times, recover and cause problems for him. Captain Yates demonstrates initiative and courage, and Sergeant Benton takes his orders seriously. No wonder they both proved to be fan favorites.

The body count in this story is quite high, and this seems to be a feature of this era of Doctor Who that you don’t see much today: gun battles, and the Brigadier stepping over the bodies of the dead and wounded. They stop short of showing blood and gore, but the mere fact of people shooting at each other, and people apparently dying as a result, clearly didn’t phase kids in the early 1970s as it might today. I’m not sure why. Perhaps kids today expect to see a lot more damage from violent behavior. I don’t think twenty-first century kids would buy a gunshot wound with no blood, whereas kids of my generation would have no problem with that.

I have to applaud the use of a Chinese actress to play Captain Chin Lee of the Chinese delegation. Granted, the actress, Pik-Sen Lim, who is actually Malaysian-Chinese, was married to writer Don Houghton, but hers was not a gratuitous casting. She really can act, and she does an excellent job. Such ethnically-authentic casting was not common at this time, so this is a stand-out moment.

Finally, I can’t avoid commenting on the concept of “evil” in this story. Given the secular presuppositions of Doctor Who (even in the 1970s), the idea that there is some kind of objective standard of evil that a machine can detect and remove seems a bit out of place. It raises all kinds of questions: Who determined what is evil? By what right do they say “this is good” or “this is normal”? How “good” is good enough? How “evil” is too evil? Food for thought. 🙂

I’d say this one is worth watching for some good performances, and a good story.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 11:12-13

12 And they [the Two Witnesses] heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up into heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. 13 And in that hour there was a great earthquake and a tenth of the city fell and seven thousand names of men were killed in the earthquake, and the rest became full of fear and gave glory to the God of heaven.

The world rejoiced when the Two Witnesses (symbolizing the church) were killed, throwing a party and exchanging gifts. But then, the breath of life from the Spirit of God entered into them, and they stood, causing those watching to become fearful. As we discussed last time, this scene symbolizes the ultimate victory of the church, even when all seemed lost and hopeless. We compared this to how Israel during their Egyptian bondage must have felt, prior to the Exodus, or the disciples looking on their crucified Messiah, prior to the Resurrection. God is faithful to His people, even when it seems things couldn’t get any worse.

The onlookers are already startled at the sudden revivification of the Two Witnesses. Now, while they are watching, the Witnesses are summoned to heaven by a divine voice, and transported in a cloud. If the Two Witnesses represent the church, is this some kind of “rapture” event, where the church is taken up to heaven prior to a great tribulation, and the rest of the world is left behind to suffer? This passage could certainly be used to argue for such an event. One of the main reasons I can’t accept such an interpretation is because of the need to be consistent. If we are taking the elements of the vision to be symbolic, it would be out of place to suddenly have a literal rapture. In other words, if the summoning of the Witnesses is a reference to an actual rapture that will happen at some point, then why aren’t the Two Witnesses actual people, and the temple in 11:1-2 an actual temple, and the giant locusts actual locusts, etc.?

In Revelation 4:1, prior to the opening of the seven seals, John had a vision of a door in heaven, and a voice summoned him with the same phrase: “Come up here!” The voice tells John the purpose of this summoning: “to show what will happen.” He is given a vision of the heavenly throne room, the Lamb that was slain, and the creatures and elders praising God. What did this mean for John? It set the stage for the opening of the seals, and it showed the exalted status of the Lamb, the only one worthy of opening the seals. Through this vision, the Lord made known to John that calamity and judgment was coming from His hand, but the saints in heaven are eternally secure. It gave hope and reassurance in light of the terrible things John was about to witness.

This vision compares also to Isaiah 6:1-8, where the prophet sees the Lord on His throne, the heavenly throng sing “Holy, holy, holy,” and Isaiah receives his prophetic commission. Likewise, Ezekiel is transported by the Spirit in Ezekiel 11:1 and 43:5, and on various other occasions (2:2; 3:12, 14, 24) he has supernatural experiences, including the Spirit entering him and setting him on his feet. Each of these times, Ezekiel also receives a prophetic commission.

It’s clear this kind of “meeting with the Lord” is common in the Old Testament. It serves to vindicate their ministry and their message, assuring them that God is with them, and they are truly speaking for the Lord, especially when the Lord knows their message will not be well received. Perhaps this is what the Lord is communicating to the church through this vision. By raising the Two Witnesses and calling them into His presence, the Lord is giving assurance to His people that insofar as they are faithful in their proclamation of the gospel, He will be with them and vindicate them. He will not disown them, but, indeed, Christ will acknowledge them before the Father, just as He promised (Matthew 10:32)

Underscoring this is the fact that the Witnesses are carried up in a cloud. As with the cloud and the Mighty Angel in chapter 10, this signifies the presence of the Lord (notice also the cloud that overshadowed Jesus, Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:5, as well as Jesus’s promise that he will return in a cloud of glory in Luke 21:27, and the fact Jesus was taken up in a cloud in Acts 1:9). Once again, this demonstrates quite clearly that the Witnesses (i.e., the faithful church) is speaking from God, and He is with His people.

After the enemies of the Witnesses watch their ascent, there is an earthquake, followed by death and destruction. In other words, judgment begins, just as the witnesses said it would. John says it happened “in that hour” (Greek: en ekeinê tê hôra). I don’t think this is meant to be a chronological reference. As I’ve said before, I’m very wary of trying to put these visions into any form of chronological sequence, though clearly some things are meant to follow sequentially. I think this phrase is giving us a sense of the rapidity with which events unfold once the church has been shown to be speaking for the Lord.

Earthquakes are a prominent feature of apocalyptic, End Times passages in Scripture. Back in 6:12, when the sixth seal was opened, there was a great earthquake. As we discussed back then, this signified the beginning of the end. The End would come with the seventh seal, and this is a pattern we will see repeated here. The sixth trumpet heralds the End, and then with the seventh trumpet, the End comes in all its fullness.

Ezekiel 38:19 is probably behind what John sees here. In that passage, God brings judgment against Gog, using similar apocalyptic language to what we see here, and have seen elsewhere. Indeed, verses 19-23 have a very apocalyptic feel to it such that it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Lord is using the destruction of Gog as a picture of how He will bring judgment to bear when the Last Days come.

The result of the earthquake is that a tenth of the city falls. We’ve seen “one third” used a few times in Revelation, but not “one tenth.” Usually when we think of a tenth, we think of a tithe, a tenth portion given to the Lord from our labors. Could this be a “tithe” of the city, a portion given over to the Lord in its destruction, indicating that judgment has begun from the Lord’s hand? We’ll hold that thought for the moment. John also gives us a number that goes along with the tenth of the city: 7,000 “names of men” (i.e., people). The number 7,000 reminds us of the 7,000 faithful in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. It’s possible John is saying that there wasn’t even a faithful remnant in the city. Those that identify the city as Jerusalem could point to the fact that the population of Jerusalem at that time was about 55,000-95,000, so 70,000 would be in that range. This would make 7,000 a tenth of the population of Israel. That’s a bit too vague and leaves too much wiggle room for my liking. I would prefer to see this as 7, the number of completeness, multiplied by 1,000, signifying a very large quantity. Hence, a very large number of people died when the city fell. I also like the link with 1 Kings 19:18, and the fact that in the “great city,” not even 7,000 faithful could be found.

We ran out of time, but, Lord willing, we’ll pick up here next time, and consider further what that “tenth” might mean…

2016 April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge: Reflections

This past April, the blog went flash fiction and Paul McCartney mad. Bonkers. Completely loopy. And all thanks to this year’s A-to-Z Challenge. My theme for the month was “100 Word Flash Fiction Stories Based on Paul McCartney Song Titles.” Here’s a breakdown of how things went.

Method

Having done this for a few years now, I thought the best approach would be to start early and try to get all the posts written before April. Sometime in January, I decided upon the theme and made my list of songs. Some I chose because the song is a favorite, some I chose because I thought the title would be a challenge, and some I chose because there really wasn’t much choice (“Q” and “Z”)! The only letter Paul didn’t have covered was “X”, but I figured a way around that. I then set about writing the stories, mainly over February and March. I carried that list of songs around with me the whole time in the event I got a few moments in the day to work out stories.

Results

I was very pleased with the number of visits my pages received, and the kind comments people left on the stories. Thanks, guys! 🙂 It’s hard to quantify how popular each post was since the A-to-Z linky list only linked to my site, not to each individual post. So any hit counts I have will be based on people going directly to each story via Twitter, or maybe their RSS feed. The counts don’t include people visiting from the A-to-Z list; those visits get rolled up into the general daily site hits total. Bearing all that in mind, combining individual page hits and “likes”, here are my 2016 A-to-Z posts in order of popularity:

Another Day
That Day Is Done
Keep Undercover
Rainclouds
Coming Up
Hope of Deliverance
Junk
Backwards Traveller
Live and Let Die
No Words
Zoo Gang
Fine Line
Waterfalls
Girlfriend
Young Boy
I’m Carrying
X is for Heather
One of These Days
Used To Be Bad
Pretty Little Head
Every Night
Stranglehold
Venus and Mars
My Brave Face
Distractions
Queenie Eye

It’s not very scientific, but interesting nonetheless.

My Favorites: “Rainclouds”, “Used to Be Bad”, “Pretty Little Head”, “Zoo Gang”.

My Wife’s Favorite: “Backwards Traveller”

“Fan” Favorites (i.e., mentioned in the comments): “Coming Up”, “Hope of Deliverance”, “Backwards Traveller”, “Another Day”, “Girlfriend”.

Lessons Learned

It’s the same old problem: making time to visit the other A-to-Z-ers. I did manage to get to a number of them, but not as consistently as I’d hoped. That’s a shame since this is a key part of the challenge. I did find some new blogs to keep an eye on, which is good. Hopefully, keeping my posts short was helpful to visitors (a lesson learned from a few years ago). It can be tempting to write long articles, but if you only have a limited time to get around a lot of blogs, long posts can be daunting.

How was your A-to-Z experience?