A History of Israel's Struggle: Part 2

Previously I wrote on how the nation of Israel received its name, what the name means, and its theological implications.  Jacob was named Israel by the angel who wrestled him, who many believe is the preincarnate Christ.  The name Israel means, he struggles with God.  I then provided a macro view of how the nation of Israel split apart into two different kingdoms, their exile to Babylon, and their return.  The Israelite’s who survived the Babylonian invasion and were exiled off to Iraq, became known as the remnant. (2 Chron. 36:20; Jer. 25:11)

In 539 B.C, a year after Persia’s overthrow of the Babylonian Empire, Cyrus the ruler of Persia, decreed the Israelites who were under Babylonian captivity were free to return to their homeland.  This is all in keeping with the words of the prophet Isaiah who prophesied 200 years before Cyrus’ decree that God himself would raise up Cyrus to bring about God’s purposes of bringing the remnant back to their homeland. (Isa. 44: 28, Isa. 45:1-5)

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Rebuilding Rome

In the classic Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbons, we find these words in chapter 2: ""The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful." Gibbons, of course, could have written these words yesterday for the New York Times and we would still nod in understanding.

Perhaps, this is why we have seen a veritable rebuilding of Rome in film and in fascination in recent years. We have now moved into a time period in American history where we are not only seeing the global influence of the United States brought into question or doubt, but also the global dominance of the United States brought under greater scrutiny. And so, the influx of films on Rome may simply serve to feed our fascination with a time period that, frankly, is becoming more and more familiar to us. Rome, a great civilization built upon the backs of an incredibly large military force and amazing technological prowess, was also a society in search of stability. The people longed for the glory years and men like Marcus Aurelius, Augustus Caesar, and Marc Antony served as not only images of power, but as examples to men who would follow. Will there ever be another leader like Caesar? Will we see an alliance the likes of Antony and Cleopatra again? How about a philosopher/leader like Aurelius, does our world still have room for men who would be known more for their ideas than for their charisma?

This past weekend, a new series entitled Spartacus premiered to rave reviews on the Starz network. This comes on the heels of the great success in recent years of films like Gladiator and 300. This also follows the acclaimed HBO series Rome, which I confess hooked me rather quickly. And I confess, I am caught up in the resurgence of the Roman Empire. Yet, I wonder how long this will last?

Most of the contemporary versions of Rome, unlike previous takes, are able to push the envelope and actually display graphic violence, sexually explicit material, and a raw spirituality, that was previously intolerable for well meaning people to watch. But, not only are we able to see Rome in all of its power and profanity, but we are also able to experience a Rome that elicits in us a longing for men and women who would rise above the masses and fight for something bigger than themselves. Part of the glory of Rome isn't even real; part of the glory of the Roman empire remains the mystique of it, the mystery of it. Part of the decline of Rome historically and its resurgence cinematically is found not only in the annals of world history, but in the recesses of our own imaginations. And so, I wonder if the mystique of the United States is starting to decline and thus our fascination with Rome is begining to rebuild and rekindle in us a longing for a civilization that is seen not only as great, but truly epic in scope.

Gibbons, in chapter 3 of Decline and Fall adds these words: "The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people. A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince." Perhaps, the rebuilding of Rome would be the thing that also wakes up the church to be 'on the side of the people', one that dares to stand against the principalities and powers that define a world enthralled with itself. Just maybe, this new Rome resurgence will also decline and eventually fall, but then again, such a decline won't happen overnight. Rome was neither built nor rebuilt in a day. 

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