Is the USA the “mystery Babylon” of the Bible?

Q. I’ve heard that there is a reference in the Bible to a sort of “second-chance glorious period of prosperity” for “mystery Babylon,” and that this may be referring to the USA. If so, where is that reference?

The reference in the Bible to “mystery Babylon” is in Chapter 17 of the book of Revelation. However, there are several problems with the interpretation that you have heard of this reference.

First, “mystery” is not part of the name of this place. The statement should be translated, “On her forehead a name was written, a mystery: ‘Babylon the great, the mother of prostitutes and the vile things of the earth.'” Most modern Bibles translate the statement this way. It is saying that the name has a secret meaning that needs to be figured out.

Second, nothing in the depiction of this “Babylon” indicates any kind of “second chance” or “prosperity.” The book of Revelation says repeatedly that God has judged and is about the punish the entity being depicted under this symbolic name.

And finally, there is no compelling reason to associate this “Babylon” with the USA or any contemporary nation. In the original context of the book of Revelation, as I will explain shortly, this is a symbolic reference to the Roman Empire as a persecutor of Christians. In later times, particularly as history nears its culmination, there may be a further fulfillment of this image. But we cannot say with any precision now whether history is nearing its culmination, or what that further fulfillment may be.

I will quote below from the section in my study guide to the book of Revelation that discusses this passage, after quoting from another section that explains the interpretive approach that I take to the book. (You can read the whole study guide online or download it at this link.) I hope that all of this helps to address your question.

Comments about interpreting Revelation

The book of Revelation is interpreted in four major ways. The futurist
approach understands it to be a description of the events of the “end times,” at the end of human history. (Works like the novels and movies in the Left Behind series follow this approach.) The historicist view sees the book as a prediction of the whole course of history, from Jesus and the apostles down through the present to the end of the history. The idealist interpretation is that Revelation depicts the struggles and triumphs that followers of Jesus will experience everywhere, but it doesn’t have any particular place or time in view. The preterist approach is to try to understand the book by reference to the time and place it was written in—western Asia Minor towards the close of the first century. This study guide will consistently pursue a preterist interpretation. If this is new for you, and you’re used to hearing the book treated differently, please keep an open mind and look for the potential benefits of this approach.

Comments about the vision of Babylon

The fall of Rome (“Babylon the Great”) has been announced; the book of Revelation now zooms in on this event to depict it in more detail. This depiction forms a distinct section within the book. It’s marked off at its beginning and end by interactions that John has with one of the angels who had the seven bowls. John says once again that he’s “in the Spirit,” meaning that he’s receiving a new vision, this time in “a wilderness.” (His long vision of heavenly worship and divine judgments will conclude after this section.)

This vision of the “fall of Babylon” makes the audacious claim that Rome, then at the height of its power, will collapse. Rome will be judged for its emperor worship, and for its persecution of God’s people, but also for its addiction to luxury and self-indulgence and how this has affected the rest of the world.

Rome is depicted as a “great prostitute.” This is a literal reference to the city’s immorality, and a figurative reference, using a common Scriptural motif, to its idolatry. The details of the portrait are intended to identify the guilty city and emperor.

Some details are transparent. John’s audience would have clearly understood “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” to mean Rome. The famous “seven hills” that the city sits on reinforce this identification. Other details can be understood in light of the symbolism in Revelation and its Scriptural background.

The “beast” that “once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction” is likely a depiction of  the persecuting spirit of Nero that has come back to life in the person of Domitian. The emperor’s pretensions to divinity are being parodied by contrast to the true God, who “was, and is, and is to come.” The “ten horns” are explained as “ten kings,” likely symbolizing all of the rulers under Rome’s authority (ten being a number of completeness). At first these rulers will be loyal to Rome, but they will then turn against the city and help destroy it, as depicted in this vision. They’ll do this under the influence of the “beast,” the spirit of empire gone bad, which to this point has been the force behind Rome and its persecuting emperor, but which will abandon the city in the end. The beast itself will be destroyed when Jesus “judges” it “with justice.”

The biggest puzzle in the portrait is the identity of the “seven heads” that
represent “seven kings.” As he did for the number of the beast, John says that this “calls for a mind with wisdom,” meaning that there’s some kind of twist to the puzzle—some key to how the kings (apparently Roman emperors) are being counted. Unfortunately, a straightforward solution to this puzzle has not yet been identified. Interpreters offer a variety of explanations. But in some way John is trying to portray the persecuting emperor as the culmination of imperial arrogance (seven being a number of totality), which then takes a further step into satanic evil as the emperor becomes “the beast,” “an eighth king.”

In whatever way its individual details are interpreted, the vulgar image
of “Babylon,” the “great prostitute” reveals that Rome, despite its wealth, splendor, and pretensions, has been corrupting the world and is “drunk with the blood of God’s people.” It fully deserves the judgment it is about to receive.

Who was Solomon’s first wife?

Q. I am wondering who Solomon’s first wife was. The book of Kings describes how Solomon married the daughter of Pharaoh after making an alliance with Egypt. But the Song of Solomon speaks of his love for the Shulammite.

The Bible does not actually tell us who Solomon’s first wife was. The first woman it describes Solomon marrying was indeed the daughter of Pharaoh, as you say. But that does not necessarily mean she was his first wife.

I think a good case can be made for the argument that his first wife actually was Abishag the Shunammite, presumably the same woman who is called by the similar name Shulammite in the Song of Solomon. This beautiful woman had kept the aging King David warm in his bed when he could no longer stay warm himself, but the Bible is very specific that David did not have sexual relations with her and he was not married to her. This meant that David’s son and successor could marry her. (The Law of Moses forbade a man to marry a woman who had been his father’s wife.)

Solomon’s older half-brother Adonijah, who had tried unsuccessfully to seize the throne for himself even though Solomon was David’s announced choice as successor, recognized that marrying Abishag might still give him some claim to the throne. So he asked Solomon if he could do that. Solomon realized what Adonijah was up to and that it was a violation of Adonijah’s oath not to keep pursuing the throne. Solomon had warned him that he would be put to death if he did that, and when Adonijah make this request, Solomon had him executed.

The Bible says nothing about Abishag after that, but reading between the lines, it makes good sense to think that Solomon then married her himself. As Adonijah had realized, being married to the last woman who had been something like a wife to King David, without actually being his wife, would strengthen his claim to be David’s successor.

But if so, was that all there was to it? Probably not, if Abishag the Shunammite is also the Shulammite of the Song of Solomon. If Solomon was indeed writing about her in that great love poem, then the two of them had much more than a marriage of convenience. It would have been a true love match.

We do need to acknowledge that Solomon later did marry other wives, including Pharaoh’s daughter and the daughters of the kings of many other surrounding nations, for alliance purposes. Ultimately these foreign wives led him to worship idols, and God punished him by taking away most of the kingdom from his successors. So when it came to marriage, unfortunately Solomon did not make very good choices in the end. But we can at least hope that he made a good choice in the beginning, and that for some time he experienced what God intended marriage to be.

What did Isaiah mean when he said, “I saw the Lord”?

Q. What did Isaiah mean when he said, “In the year King Uzaiah died, I saw the Lord“?

Here is what I say about that in my study guide to the book of Isaiah. You can read the guide online or download it at this link.

Even though the account in which Isaiah has a vision of the Lord in the temple does not come right at the beginning of the book of Isaiah, it actually relates the earliest event recorded in the book: Isaiah’s call from God to be a prophet.

This episode in Isaiah’s life took place about six years before Israel and Aram invaded Judah. King Uzziah had ruled the country for fifty-two years. During his reign it had been prosperous, stable, and secure. Now this great king was being succeeded by his son Jotham, who had been his co-regent for the previous ten years. Jotham would only reign another five or six years himself before dying and leaving the people in the untested hands of his twenty-year-old son Ahaz. Meanwhile, the Assyrian empire was growing in strength and size and threatening the entire region. So along with the whole nation of Judah, a young man named Isaiah was facing an uncertain and fearful future as he went into Jerusalem’s temple one day to try to find hope and reassurance by worshiping God.

As the Scriptures say, Isaiah has a remarkable vision in the temple that reveals that Israel’s true king, the Lord Almighty, the God who has called the people into a special relationship with himself, is established on his throne above the whole world. Whatever earthly kings and their armies might attempt, it is God who ultimately determines the destinies of nations. Isaiah will never forget this vital truth throughout his career, as he continually calls the people to trust in their God rather than in the strategies they might devise or the alliances they might form.

But this glimpse of God’s power and presence also leads Isaiah to an awful realization about himself. The seraphs (a special kind of angel) proclaim that the Lord is “holy, holy, holy,” and that the whole earth is full of his glory. This means that every living being is continually confronted with the reality of God’s purity and radiance. In response, Isaiah can only acknowledge that he is “unclean.” Within the ceremonial life of the nation’s covenant with the Lord, this means that he is impaired, polluted, defective, and so unfit to be used in any way connected with God.

Isaiah describes himself specifically as “a man of unclean lips.” Interpreters have different ideas about why he chooses this particular part of the body (rather than, for example, his heart or mind) to represent his spiritual state. It may be because the lips express, and thus make evident, a person’s innermost thoughts and intentions. Or Isaiah may be saying that he can tell he isn’t pure because his lips, unlike those of the seraphs, aren’t continually praising God for his holiness and glory.

Because God wants Isaiah to be available for his service, one of the seraphs flies to him with a live coal from the altar (where sacrifices for sin were offered) and touches his lips with it. The seraph announces, “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah has admitted his need for cleansing and forgiveness, and these are applied to the very place he used to symbolize that need.

Why was Moses not allowed to enter the Promised Land?

Q. Why was Moses not allowed to enter the Promised Land? I’m aware of his disobedience, I just feel that it’s too much! Too harsh a punishment.

James, the brother of Jesus, writes in his New Testament epistle, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Other versions say “judged by a stricter standard” or “judged more severely than others.” These all mean basically the same thing, and what James says about teachers applies to all spiritual leaders. God does judge and, when necessary, punish them more strictly than others. Why? What spiritual leaders do affect their followers, both directly, in terms of the consequences of their decisions and choices, and indirectly, through their example.

Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because when God told him to speak to a rock so that it would send out water for the Israelites to drink in the desert, Moses struck the rock  with his staff instead. Certainly the direct consequences of this action were not bad for the Israelites. They had been in danger of dying of thirst, and this action saved them. But the indirect consequences were very dangerous spiritually.

God had told Moses to gather all the Israelites together in front of the rock, and God had given him these instructions: “Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water.” Instead, Moses gathered the Israelites and said to them, speaking for himself and his fellow leader Aaron, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then he struck the rock twoice, and water came out.

In response to this, God told Moses, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Another translation puts that this way: “You did not trust me enough to honor me and show the people that I am holy. You did not show the Israelites that the power to make the water came from me. So you will not lead the people into the land that I have given them.”

So more was involved than the seemingly small distinction between speaking to the rock and striking the rock. For one thing, instead of speaking to the rock as God’s agent of provision and care, Moses spoke to the people, and he did so with hostility and anger. This misrepresented God’s merciful disposition to do good for the people even though they had been grumbling and complaining. Moses also took credit for the action himself: “Must we bring you water out of this rock?” Anyone who is entrusted with the responsibility of acting on God’s behalf must always be very careful to make sure the God gets all of the glory, credit, and praise. If they are not careful, people can be led to glorify other people instead, robbing God of the glory that belongs only to him.

So while it might seem to us that God gave Moses a severe punishment for a small infraction, God was aware of the potential wide-ranging and long-lasting effects of his example, and God needed to stop those effects from spreading.

Your question is similar to the one I answer in the post linked below, and so that post may also be of interest to you.

Why did God reject Saul as king for making one small mistake?

Should I be doing more by way of actions to prove my heart to God and display my faith to others?

Q. I’m currently struggling with quantifying my salvation in light of faith versus deeds. Work, study, and parenting leave me with little time to physically serve in the manner exampled by the apostles. I have not attended church for a couple of years, since my family members are not Christians and due to split working hours this is a period where Sundays are shared with them. I do however meet regularly with Christian friends. I remain constantly insecure about the authenticity of my salvation, despite experiencing some of the smallest and most tender answers to prayer, which surely show God is at work in my life and therefore not completely displeased with me. I know it is by faith and not works we are saved, but I am afraid that I don’t perform like a Christian and that my light doesn’t shine brightly enough. Is this just a season of my life where circumstances prevail and my private efforts/time with the Lord will suffice? Or am I potentially making excuses and should be doing more by way of actions to prove my heart to God and display my faith to others? With thanks.

First, let me say that I sense that God is stirring up within you a desire for your actions to be more patently congruent with your faith. The fact that you are concerned about this and asking about this shows that you are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and responsive to his leading. This, like the precious answers you continue to receive to your prayers, ought to encourage you that you are walking genuinely with the Lord.

But second, I need to tell you that as a pastor, I have unfortunately seen too many cases where “just for now” became a permanent situation. People who justified stepping back from Christian activity under one set of circumstances continued to justify this under later circumstances. Eventually these people lost the desire to be involved in Christian activities at all. Some of them ultimately even lost the desire to follow Jesus, and they made very regrettable choices once it no longer mattered to them to please Jesus. So while God is encouraging you in a positive new direction, I think God is also warning you about the dangers of your present direction. (We are never in a static “situation.” We are always heading in one direction or another.)

So ultimately I would encourage you to take initiative to make your way of life more openly congruent with your faith. I have a friend who says, “When you don’t buy something, don’t say, ‘I can’t afford it.’ Admit, ‘I choose not to make it a priority.’ When you don’t do something, don’t say, ‘I don’t have the time.’ Admit, ‘I choose not to make it a priority.'”

The fact is that at present you are not choosing to make church participation, for example, a priority over spending time with family. But it seems to me that you are accommodating their preferred use of time every weekend, and that it would only be fair for them to accommodate your preferred use of time on at least some weekends. For all you know, if you say that you would like to make it a priority to attend church on at least some Sundays, some of your family members might even go with you, if only so that they could spend time with you. The same thing could be said about other Christian activities, such as serving those in need in the name of Jesus.

This is not a matter of you “doing more” to prove your faith to God or to other people. The Christian life is not a matter of “doing.” It is a matter of being. Doing must flow from being. But what I hear in your story is that the doing that should be flowing from your genuine being is being blocked, not by your circumstances, but by your response to your circumstances. I would invite you to see your circumstances as something that you can control, at least to a sufficient degree, not as something that necessarily controls you and dictates your choices. When we allow something to block the doing that should be flowing from our genuine being, that is a threat to our being itself.

But I feel I should close with some words from the book of Hebrews: “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, in your case we are convinced of better things—the things that accompany salvation.” I believe you are showing that you are sensitive to the Holy Spirit and eager to obey his promptings. And so I trust that you will be able to speak with your family members and explain to them how you would like to have time for some of your priorities within the shared family schedule, and I trust that they will respond in an understanding and supportive way. God bless you as you pursue this.

Who was Abraham’s second wife, Hagar or Keturah?

Q. Abraham took a second wife. Jewish traditions say she was Hagar. Most accounts say he married Keturah after Sarah’s death. Can you share what you know on this topic?

The book of Genesis relates how God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child of their own. But instead, as the customs of the time permitted, Sarah gave her female servant Hagar to Abraham as a concubine or secondary wife. Abraham and Hagar had a son named Ishmael.

Later God’s promise came true and Abraham and Sarah did have a child of their own named Isaac. Sarah wanted to make sure that Isaac would have the rights of the firstborn and be the heir, so she got Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. It seems that this involved Abraham divorcing Hagar.

It must be acknowledged that Hagar is one of the figures in the Bible who is treated worst by the people who were supposed to be following and obeying God. But God provided for Hagar and Ishmael, and in response, Hagar gave God the name El-Roi, meaning The God Who Sees. Hagar recognized that God was aware of her situation and caring for her. And so Hagar is also the only figure in the Bible, as far as I know, who gave God a name. God himself revealed all of his other names.

Genesis also tells us that after Sarah died, Abraham married another woman, named Keturah. The two of them had six sons. But Abraham sent them to live in other places so that Isaac would be his undisputed heir.

So the woman Abraham married after the death of his first wife was Keturah. She was his second wife in that sense. However, while Sarah was still alive, Abraham was married to Hagar as his concubine. So in another sense, she may be considered his second wife.

 

What is the difference between a birthright and a blessing?

Q. Esau gave up his birthright and then Jacob stole his blessing. What is the difference between the birthright and the blessing?

A birthright is the right that a person has, through the circumstances of their birth, to assume the leadership of their family in the next generation. In many cultures this right belongs initially to the firstborn child, whether a son or a daughter. In patriarchal cultures, it belongs to the firstborn son, and in matriarchal cultures, it belongs to the firstborn daughter.

However, this right is not automatic. A person can forfeit it. We see this happen in the Bible in the case of Jacob’s sons. This was a patriarchal culture, and so the firstborn son, Reuben, would have had the birthright. But Reuben forfeited that right through his own wrongdoing. He had sexual relations with one of his father’s concubines, and as a result, his father took this right away from him. He gave it instead to his brother Joseph.

Joseph was actually his eleventh son, but he had already assumed leadership in his generation by rescuing the whole family from famine, and he had proven his godly character. As the official record in the book of Chronicles says about Reuben, “He was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright.”

Since the birthright is not automatic, the leader of the family in the previous generation needs to confer it officially on a person. They do this before they die in the form of a blessing. So a blessing is the official confirmation of a birthright.

To use Jacob’s sons as an example once again, in his dying words to his sons, Jacob disqualifies Reuben and blesses Joseph. About Reuben he says, “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength… but you will not have the preeminence” (that is, the birthright). About Joseph he says:

Your father’s blessings are greater
    than the blessings of the ancient mountains,
    than the bounty of the age-old hills.
Let all these rest on the head of Joseph,
    on the brow of the prince among his brothers.

So in this blessing, Jacob confers the birthright on Joseph, making him the leader in his generation, after taking that right away from Reuben.

In Jacob’s own generation, his brother Esau was the firstborn, but Esau himself gave away his birthright. (He actually sold it to Jacob for bowl of stew! That is why the Bible says that he “despised” his birthright, meaning that he thought very little of it.) But even though there was this arrangement between Esau and Jacob for Jacob to have the birthright, which of them would ultimately get it was not official until their father Isaac conferred it on one or the other of them through his blessing. And so Jacob later tricked his father into giving it to him.

When Esau found out about this, he said, “This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” I hope that this post has helped explained the difference between those two things and how they are related.

Questions about sin and human responsibility

This post will be different from most of the others on this blog. I have received a long inquiry that contains many thoughtful questions. They are by and large questions that various other posts deal with in one way or another. So I will reproduce the inquiry, without editing it, and then provide links below it to those other posts. I commend this inquirer for thinking about the Bible so carefully and for looking widely for answers to questions about the Bible.

Q. I have many questions which are interlinked to one another. I have read many articles, books, listen to sermons, videos and approached many experts like you for getting answers. However everyone has different explanations for the same word from bible and I end up in confusion. However after this so long journey what I understood is the common elements in all my questions are related to sufferings and the way god deal with it or the way I should look at. We have people believe in god creats the sufferings, god allow sufferings, god tests our faith, it is not god but satan, time, sin, fallen world, glory of god. And if I start writing in it it will be a big story but I will definitely share it with you soon. So I am keeping my question to Adam story or first sin. Here are my observations.
In this present world I have access to so much and I am prone to do any stupid stuff. But adam was in perfect (in fact good ) world what factors lead him to fail. Why did god wanted to have a knowledge tree in his world and asking adam to not to eat. It sounded like I am asking my kid not to eat something (like chocolate or ice cream) even though it is in the house. I am sure kid will try his best to go near to it multiple times and he might/will attempt to eat it and when you ask, in fear kid will/might bluff or do anything which either you expect or not expect. In that way I can not punish him and send away from home. I will try teach him a lesson. But god is different. If he can forgive a sinner woman in new testament, why can not he forgive adam or why did not he gave another chance either to repent or not to repeat. People say satan is the serpent but bible did not mention any such. If serpent is serpent why did it got a thought to ask something to Eve. The words I will put enimity between you and mankind, is it simply that snake will bite man on his feet and man will hit it on belly (which generally happens), is it this way. If satan is serpent, then why to blame adam or eve. If I got cheated by anyone, will you say I deseve punishment for being cheated. Adam and Eve are like new born kids or new in the College of eden, I am not sure (as per the bible) no such details are given about how a man is living and and how he is developing any thoughts. Was he feeling the freedom as bore or punishment. Was he thinking he is more than god. Was he developing thoughts of going on his own. No such details are mentioned. Satan will try in many times for the fall to be happening. So why punishment for adam and eve. I think god did not mention any such that you should nor hear from anyone. Even if he does, I feel that for kids or freshers, the temptation or thought will be there in mind to go near by the tree/person. When nothing is explained why are we coming to a conclusion that man is wrong and first sin and fallen world. And we are blaming everything on as fallen world, sin entered through man. But sin or evil is already there in the form of Lucifer. If a kid is failed who is the responsibility. Lucifer has the thoughts which are not matching with god’s and so became rebel by definition. In that way can we say god’s creation itself has evil existing somewhere. When satan is trying its best for the fall, why to send away adam n eve. Instead he can do something with satan, right?? People relate that Serpent with the Ezekiel Tyrus, revelation dragon and etc. Bible did not mention anything that the snake is serpent. Throughout the bible, why satan is given that much importance. How can he be more Powerful that he can challenge god or work on people. God was accepting some animal sacrifices for the sins. In that he can forgive adam and eve with a sacrifice. Infact he gave animal skin clothes. So sacrifice was done. Then in that way adam n eve are forgiven. If god is accepting offerings, where is the sin existing then. God has sent floods for eradication of man. So in that way also we can see sin is removed. Why do we say sin is from adam and we are all part of that. What is the need for him to send jesus. Once this adam part is finished I will share my questions on this story from jesus point as well. Lot of things are either missing or not clear in bible. Please note that I am asking these questions for my understanding and growth only.

A. As I said at the beginning of this post, I commend you for looking for the answers to your questions. I’ve said many times on this blog, “There’s no such thing as a bad question.” Other readers have had questions similar to yours, and I invite you to read the following posts, in the hopes that they will present some thoughts that will be helpful to you. These posts themselves contain links to other posts that may be of interest. Thank you for your inquiry.

Why did God make people and angels who would fail and fall away?

Did God forgive Adam and Eve for eating the forbidden fruit?

Why did God create Satan?

Why didn’t God protect the children he created from an evil being like Satan?

What is the “hostility” that God put between the woman and the serpent?

Q. In the account of the Fall in Genesis, God tells the serpent that he is going to put put “hostility” between the serpent and the woman. What is that “hostility”? Is it Jesus?

It seems that previously the woman and the serpent had gotten along, or at least that the woman had felt she had no reason to distrust the serpent, since she was having a conversation with him in the midst of the Garden of Eden. The woman actually went along with what the serpent suggested, even though it was contrary to what God had commanded.

So after the disobedience of the woman and the man, God took the measure of putting “hostility” between the serpent and the woman. Some Bibles translate this word as “enmity” or “animosity.” A few state it in a simple way that I think is accurate and helpful: “I will make you and the woman enemies to each other.” So this “hostility” is not a person, it is a hostile state of relationship.

God specified that this situation would continue down through the generations. So on the simplest level, this meant that snakes would be dangerous to people, and people would try to protect themselves from snakes even if that required attacking and killing them.So this was, on one level, a further punishment of the serpent, beyond having to go around on the ground.

But there are much more profound meanings as well. For one thing, the state of hostility would keep the woman from trusting the serpent again. That would protect her from the temptations that the serpent would otherwise have continued to offer. The hostility also prevented the woman and the serpent from agreeing together on a course of action that was contrary to what God wanted. In that sense, the hostility was like the division of human languages at the Tower of Babel that kept people from joining together in opposition to God.

And ultimately Jesus does come into the picture, at the point where God says to the serpent about the “seed” or “descendant” of the woman, “He will crush your head.” In light of how God’s plan of redemption unfolds over the rest of the Bible, we can understand this statement to be a reference to and prediction of the victory of Jesus on the cross over sin and death.

So Jesus is not the “hostility” that kept the woman and the serpent apart so that the serpent could no longer deceive the woman. Instead, he is the “seed” of the woman who ultimately defeated the serpent, that is, the devil, definitively at the cross.

Why do people use flashing lights in their Christmas decorations?

Q. I am at a loss to understand the introduction of flashing lights in people’s Christmas decorations. I understand the use of some light: “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord”; “I am the way, the truth and the light.” But nowhere do I see, “And let the lights flash manically!” What think you?

I would say that the most brilliant display of light happened on the very first Christmas, right after Jesus was born and laid in a manger. Luke tells us in his gospel, “That night, in a field near Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching over their flocks. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared in radiant splendor before them, lighting up the field with the blazing glory of God.”

I don’t think any contemporary display of Christmas lights could approach that. But we may hope that those who seem to want achieve a comparable effect in their displays are doing so with the same great reverence with which the shepherds responded to the angelic proclamation.