Monday, March 30, 2015

Enoch-in’ on Heaven’s Door

From the 1728 Figures de la Bible
illustrated by Gerard Hoet (1648–1733)
Sorry. Dylan puns just kinda make themselves.

I may have mentioned in an earlier post that Jude has an interesting way of referencing Old Testament stories: he seems to know considerably more about them than the original writers told us.

One explanation is that Jude was a prophet, and in writing a letter that was itself God-breathed and therefore not subject to the normal limitations of knowledge under which most writers labor, he was free to introduce entirely new revelation. Another possibility is that written or oral Jewish religious lore was transmitted more extensively and more accurately than we know, and that the Old Testament only contains a portion of the truth revealed to man by God over the centuries during which it was compiled (though of course all the necessary bits).

Searching for Easter Eggs

Bible intellectuals refer to one-time, off-the-cuff bits of New Testament revelation like the ones Jude engages in as “non-canonical episodes”. Or if that’s too highbrow for you, we can just call them “Easter eggs”. I’m easy. The scholars are not, of course, giving an opinion as to whether such revelations are the product of Divine inspiration: they are “non-canonical” in relation to the Old Testament canon only. The moment Jude wrote them they became canonical in relation to the entire revelation of God.

In any case, here’s another of Jude’s. This time his subject is Enoch, a man, so far as we know, unique in at least one respect:
“It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, ‘Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.’ ”

A Man of Few Words

This is quite the prophecy, delivered, I think we can assume, more or less verbatim. The Old Testament records no such statement from Enoch. In fact, it says very little about the man. He gets a grand total of four verses plunked in the middle of a genealogy. That hasn’t stopped people writing about him, of course: three apocryphal books are credited to Enoch, notwithstanding that they are usually thought to have been written thousands of years after their author ceased to be. Enoch is a mysterious and in some ways enviable character unique in that respect.

In fact, here is the sum total of what the Old Testament records about Enoch:
“When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”
The writer to the Hebrews expands on the Enoch account only a little, making explicit what is usually inferred from the Genesis account: that Enoch did not die:
“By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

Commended as Having Pleased God

It appears that Enoch both believed in the existence of God and attributed to him a generous nature. As such, he exercised faith, “walked with God” and pleased him. What specific form this “walk” took is left to our imaginations, but from Jude’s words it is clear that Enoch had a strong public testimony for God that was in direct conflict with the spirit of the age in which he lived: he warned of coming judgment.

It may not have been apparent to Enoch what exact form God’s looming judgment upon mankind might take, but it was evident that it was both imminent and richly deserved, so much so that he named his famous son Methuselah, which Cornwall and Stelman Smith’s Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names claims bears the meaning “his death shall bring judgment”. Three of four ancient text traditions have Methuselah dying at the ripe old age of 969, variously six years, one year or even the same year as the Genesis flood, which is not definitive but certainly suggestive.

It sounds like Enoch knew something about the coming flood. Perhaps he thought the judgment of which he spoke would be unleashed on the world of his day. Perhaps not. But Jude makes it clear that what Enoch foretold related primarily to a judgment much later in human history, right at its very end.

In any case, Enoch was six hundred years gone when judgment fell. Not dead, just gone.

Heaven Via the Fast Lane

I’ve heard the word “translated” used to describe the concept of being taken to heaven … well, alive. Elijah seems to have enjoyed a similar privilege, being caught up bodily to heaven in a chariot. But Elijah was escorted by an army, it seems. His understudy, who saw him go, cried out “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” Intriguing and distinctive, but not quite the same as “God took him”, at least from where I sit.

Now Enoch was not quite a contemporary of Noah’s, having departed the planet approximately 60 years before Noah arrived. Still, it would be a great surprise if the conditions in Enoch’s time were significantly different from Noah’s, about which it is recorded that:
“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
It is in this context that judgment is promised and Noah is commissioned to build his ark.

A Ranting Digression

Permit me a brief ranting digression: there’s a nicely contrived bit of rationalization on Enoch’s Wikipedia page that I enjoy immensely. It concerns Enoch’s prophetic declaration recorded by Jude:
“The quotation is believed by most modern scholars to be taken from [apocryphal] 1 Enoch 1:9 which exists in Greek, in Ethiopic, as part of the Ethiopian Orthodox canon, and also in Aramaic among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Though the same scholars recognize that 1 Enoch 1:9 itself is a midrash of the words of Moses “he came from the ten thousands of holy ones” from Deuteronomy 33:2.”
Ah yes, modern scholars: they like to get things precisely backwards. The alternative, assuming we believe in the inspiration of scripture (and events proceeding in chronological order) is that Enoch said it first and Moses cited it in Deuteronomy. If it is a quotation at all: the wording in Deuteronomy is sufficiently distinct that Moses may not even have been referencing Enoch’s prophecy.

The Point. Yes, There is One …

So what can we learn from Jude quoting Enoch (for maybe the first time) just slightly over 3,000 years after he exited this vale of tears? A couple of things, perhaps:

1.    The nature of man does not change. Ever since Adam we are sinners by nature and sinners by choice. Some eras in human history (1930s and ’40s Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, ISIS in 2015) display that more obviously than others. Often the absolute vileness of unrestrained human nature is masked by a Christianized culture, the patina of civilization or good parenting. But left to his own devices, man today deserves the same judgment the world of Enoch’s day received: near-absolute obliteration. Jude says, “It was about these [the false teachers of our day] that Enoch … prophesied”. Their sin mattered enough to God to have his prophet mention them several thousand years before they arrived on the scene. They “long ago were designated for this condemnation”.

2.    The sins that bring down judgment are least understood by the sinners. Enoch has a lot to say about judgment in a few sentences, and his favorite word is “ungodly”. The world quite rightly grasps that mass murderers deserve judgment. They don’t even mind adulterers taking their lumps, as long as the adulterer taking them is not a friend or family member. But what the world does not understand is that the root of every sin, big or small, is departure from God: from the values of God, the person of God, the presence of God and the knowledge of God. Jude calls down the judgments of Enoch on “grumblers”, “malcontents”, “boasters” and those who follow “their own sinful desires”. They “show favoritism to gain advantage”. We may not think cronyism merits obliteration. But God knows what lies at its root, and that it is rotten to the core. In the end all sins, big or small, are “ungodly”. And that is more than enough.

Where human nature is concerned, as my brother-in-law is fond of saying, “It is what it is”.

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