Sunday, May 6, 2012

All Roads Lead to Damascus

The famous saying that “all roads lead to Rome” might very well have been said about the streets of Damascus.  The idea that Rome was the pinnacle of civilization and that every manmade structure and infrastructure terminated or originated there in the time of Christ is undeniable; likewise, all roads figuratively led in and out of Damascus in the time of David and other Israelite kings.  And it was on one of these roads that led to Damascus that the Apostle Paul encountered Jesus Christ and was dramatically converted to Christianity.  Nevertheless, Paul’s intent was to reach the hub of the city and begin to purge it of heresy. Neither manmade roads nor streets, however (even paved with good intentions) can lead us to fulfill our destiny or bring us properly before God.  Assuredly, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death (Proverbs and ).”  And this way of death is laid out atop the surface of our globe as asphalt roads and concrete streets; they lead to their respective hubs of external activities, either of Rome or Damascus, and ironically, dead end there.  This is because the material world, in relationship to reality, is only half true and wholly a lie; no external path taken, evident road traversed, or obvious street trafficked will reach a metaphysical destination (which is the fullness of our destination).  The material world is little more than the shadow of an immaterial spiritual world; “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made (Romans , partial).”  God declares for all time that the highway He cares about extends beyond the confining atmosphere of this earth; indeed, the highway of the upright is to depart from evil and “How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion (Psalm 84:5)!”  Zion is the symbolic destination of spiritual Israel and is the epitome or pinnacle of Jerusalem; Damascus is the oldest continuously occupied city in the world, and as such, is the epitome or pinnacle of Syria, and by inference, the world—or even more insidious, the world within the church.  Damascus has great significance for us, but before I begin to elaborate, let me tell you how this  began.
A few years back (around 2005 timeframe) I purchased a book titled “Number in Scripture” by E.W. Bullinger.  As I began to read it and open my mind to the concepts therein, I was particularly struck by the practice known as Gematria, where the letters in Hebrew or Greek are assigned corresponding numbers.  Numerology was still foreign to me and it was vaguely classified  in my head as a taboo subject matter.  If Bullinger, however, had not been its author –a respected and sound theologian (to my perception and recollection) –I would not have purchased such a book.  As I began to peruse its contents and sat back to meditate I heard an audible voice speak into my spirit: “Damascus!”  My perusal had just begun, but now I redoubled my efforts to understand exactly what God was saying to me.  I quickly found the place where (Bullinger, p. 133) called Damascus the “oldest city in the world.  The number of its name is 444.”  As I was thinking about these things, I got up to get a cup of coffee; as I swiveled off my desk chair and directed myself  toward the kitchen I was struck by the emblazoned numbers 4:44 staring back from my clock that hung above my living room mantle.  I felt that unique “whoosh” of God’s confirmation, a sudden Holy Ghost moment of clarity and realization.  The voice I had heard and the confirmation surrounding the word Damascus was real; as I studied out its meaning throughout Scripture I came to realize its tremendous significance.  It was a doorway or portal to much revelation; in fact, it yielded so much revelation that I had to forego searching it out for awhile because it was overwhelming me.  Regardless of how I handled it then, however, I will endeavor to bring out things both old and new regarding what God has given me about Damascus and its significance for us today.

The Significance of the Number Four
Before we look at the specific significance of Damascus we need to understand the significance of the number four (4) and also what a triplicate number like 444 or 666 means.  Basically, the number four is His creative works. Bullinger (p. 123) said “It is the number of things that have a beginning, of things that are made, of material things, and matter itself.  It is the number of material completeness.  Hence it is the world number, and especially the “city” number.”  Bullinger cited many examples of four in Scripture and experience; a quick list includes 4 great elements (earth, air, fire and water), 4 regions of the earth (north, south, east and west), 4 divisions of the day (morning, noon, evening and midnight), 4 seasons of the year (spring, summer, autumn and winter) and 4 great variations of the lunar phases.  Watchmen Nee (p. 133), in his book Ye Search the Scriptures, said this about the number four: “Then too, we have the four Gospels to present us with the earthly life of the Lord Jesus.  Consequently, what emerges after God is the number ‘four.’” Ed Vallowe (p. 60), in his book Biblical Mathematics added these thoughts: “The world in which men lived and worked and died, was conveniently symbolized by FOUR.  A number of further divisibility, FOUR stands for WEAKNESS found in the world and man.  In common parlance we speak of “the FOUR corners of the earth” and “the FOUR points of the compass.”  Important is the indirect meaning of trial, testing, and experience, derived from the fact that the earth is the scene of man’s testing.  FOUR is the number of CREATION and mark’s CREATIVE WORKS.  It is the signature of the world.” Lastly, R.T. Naish (p. 23) in Spiritual Arithmetic showed how the Greek word “therison” which means “reap” has a value of 444; this is taken from Revelation 14:15 wherein the hour had come for an angel to put in his sickle and reap the harvest of the earth.
  Turning now to the principle in Gematria, e. g., of increasing intensification, this principle is best stated by Bullinger (p. 282) as he broke down the triplicate number for six.  He said, “If six is the number of secular or human perfection, then 66 is a more emphatic expression of the same fact, and 666 is the concentrated expression of it; 666 is therefore the trinity of human perfection; the perfection of imperfection; the culmination of human pride in independence of God and opposition to His Christ.”  Likewise, four is the number of His created works, and 44 a more emphatic expression of them; 444 is, therefore, the culmination, highest, or most concentrated expression of His created works.  It is interesting to note, however, that these creative works did not include animals and humans which were created on the fifth and sixth days of Creation; material completeness is therefore completeness devoid of animation or metaphysical properties.  Even “vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind” formed in the third day, was not yet animated or activated; no rain had fallen and no man was around to cultivate the ground until the sixth day (Genesis 1:11, parts).  Thus animation, the spirit behind material, is not a part of the number four, and makes four a most illusory or deceptive number; to be four-sided or cubed is considered a fully dimensional object in time.  It is deemed by human or natural perception to be the fullest expression of dimension: all three space dimensions (length, width, and height) seen in one precise time dimension.  It is the fullness of the natural eye, the extent of its natural ability to perceive material reality.

Eliezer of Damascus shall not be your Heir
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now (Romans -22).”
In Scripture, there is a concept called “the rule of first mention;” the first time a word or phrase is mentioned in Scripture is often the seedbed of every other time it is used thereafter.  In other words, its initial usage says the most about its meaning or significance (within its initial context) and casts the mold for understanding its subsequent usage throughout the rest of Scripture.  Damascus is first mentioned in Genesis 15:2 in relation to Abram’s proposed heir, Eliezer.  God is about to redeem all of mankind and to create a child of promise, first in type (Isaac) then in actuality (Jesus); just before God declares this wonderful promise and cuts an irrevocable deal (covenant) with Abram, Abram spills his thoughts and doubts out before the Lord.  He is childless, and has a mind to do according to custom, e. g., to promote the eldest servant born in his house.  That, of course, would mean that all the promises and all the substance of Abram’s house, his entire inheritance, would go to Eliezer of Damascus.  The Lord quickly shuts this down, however, and explicitly declares to Abram that Eliezer would not be his heir, but rather a child from his own lions.  God, of course, waited until his lions and Sarah’s womb were as good as dead before he gave them this child of promise.  The point is simply that Eliezer, whose name means “God of help,” is not needed to accomplish the full purpose of God; he can certainly serve and help Abram and his household along many lines, but he will never be the son that inherits the promises.
 Eliezer is therefore forever related to, and derives and lends significance and meaning from his place of birth: Damascus.  “God of help” is therefore closely related to Damascus.  The literal meaning of Damascus is somewhat uncertain, but “the town of Adama (lord Ham)” or “silent is the sackcloth weaver” or “dwelling” or “of his donkey” or “land mask (red)” are some of the suggested renderings.  Even “caravan city” has been suggested, and fortunately I can see some common threads that might tie enough of these definitions together to give us some illumination.  Ham was the third and youngest son of Noah and the father of Canaan; Ham dishonored his father Noah by seeing him naked and not taking proper measures to cover him up. Ham’s inadvertent happenstance—to come upon Noah in a vulnerable state of nakedness—was not sin; his publishing the news of Noah’s nakedness—to magnify Noah’s shame and indignity—was a gross and malevolent sin.  Exposure for the sake of exposure is always harmful and unredemptive in nature; we are called to cover a multitude of sin.  Exposure before the entire congregation is proceeded by the private appeal of one, then by two or three, and only then before all.  Noah consequently cursed Ham’s own son Canaan and said the Canaanites would be a servant to servants, serving within the tents of the descendants of Japheth and Shem.  If Damascus is, indeed, the town of Ham, it is, at best, a town of servants; the silent sackcloth weavers seem to suggest an unwillingness to put on humility and repentance; donkeys (wild, stubborn and uncontrollable), red (filled with one’s native nature), masks (perpetually hiding one’s true nature), and land (constitutionally made up of terra firma), all depict elements of natural man in his unregenerate state of being.  A caravan city is likened to a tent city and a tent represents the outer-skin of things; thus an accumulation of tents compacted together is the scene or town of superficiality and temporariness.  It is noteworthy that other forms of the word Damascus also suggest a kind of superficiality or shallow ornamentalism.  According to Noah Webster (in his 1828 dictionary) damask is “to form flowers on stuffs; also, to variegate; to diversify; as, a bank damasked with flowers; also, “to adorn steel-work with figures.”  Webster defined damaskeen as making incisions, carvings, and adornments into and upon steel and iron works.  Another form of the word ‘damask’ was about raised patterns of flowers and other figures on silk stuffs manufactured in Damascus.  Inferences to putting on a pretty face, adding colors to mimic animation, and hiding beneath a bank of flowers, are all examples of superficiality; to feign real spiritual life is the epitome of what Damascus represents.  If there are Christians figuratively living in Damascus, they are carnal Christians, and are like the Galatian Christians whom Paul claimed had started in the Spirit but were now being perfected in the flesh.   “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:5, parts)” is the modus operandi of all Damascenes.
Please do not misunderstand me; I am in no way disparaging God’s creative works.  His material world is good and perfect; it speaks eloquently about a higher immaterial world.  But a higher immaterial word is the subject matter and the substance of our conversation of life.  The congregation of the unregenerate, the accumulation of material things, and the noise and clamor of ladder-climbing, however, has tended to deafen mankind’s ears to the sound and meaning of this higher spiritual life; the multitudes are only unified within the material walls of buildings and the concrete confines of civil governing structures.  It is the busyness at the hub of civilization –the accumulated works of men –that drowns out the simple and sublime works of God.  Damascus represents the fullness of man’s eye, the consummation of all that he can naturally perceive.  God’s creation magnified and made in the fullness of man’s image; inevitably imbued with pantheistic overtones.  To damask something is to cover it over with something superficial and without life; it is etchings on steel but not the steel itself.  It is fluff and bling and clouds without substance or value or rain.  Everything our natural eyes view is delusional if our conclusion is based solely on observation.  The kingdom of God does not come with observation!  The spiritual realm cannot be ascertained without revelation; it is outside the material world and cannot be perceived by the natural eye or deduced by the natural mind.
In fact—as an example of spiritual blindness—Saul of Tarsus (who would later become Paul the Apostle) thought he was doing the Lord’s will as he persecuted the early church; he had a strong natural eye of perception and a zealous mind bent on bringing to judgment anyone or anything that did not fit into his theological construction of truth.  He dares help God, but God does not need man’s help; He upends those who think they can help Him.  “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder…as he journeyed…approaching Damascus… (Acts 9:1 and 3, parts)” and ran right into an upending!  Believing his own eyes—and all the training he had undergone in Judaism—led him to oppose Jesus Christ and His disciples.  If God had not mercifully intervened—and stopped Paul dead in his tracks on the street to Damascus—he would have reached his goal and sealed his eternal fate atop the heights of spiritual superficiality.
 Many years earlier, the kingdom of Judah had a good king named Asa that became diseased in both his feet to the day he died (yet the overall report of Asa was one of righteousness).  However, when he made an improper alliance with Syria –where Damascus is the capital city –he essentially punished himself by figuratively making streets for himself in Damascus.  Previous evil kings of Israel had made literal streets for themselves in Damascus –opening up trade and commerce with the enemy.  Asa’s name means “Physician” or “who will heal” and it is reported that he did not consult God about the disease in his feet, but rather looked to physicians (to his self rather than God).  Thus, God cursed the very symbol of his walk before Him; now even the very streets he had desired to walk upon were closed to his crippled condition.  God does not need our trafficking to accomplish His work.  In fact, to lay down in terror and darkness is the best posture to hold before a terrible and mighty God that knows our feeble thoughts from afar anyways. Every word and action that originates from our bosom is rife with presumption; it remains for us to simply hear and obey if we are to make any progress in this way and walk of faith.