Sunday, March 21, 2010

Does God's Chariot-Eagle Really Eat Human Flesh?

None of the several commentaries I refer to when developing my classes on Revelation discuss in the context of Rev 19.17-18 that the birds that are assembled to eat the flesh of God's enemies are those that fly in "midheaven." Ignoring that, the commentators (correctly) point out that being food for the birds is a sign of the curse (see, e.g., Dt 28.26). This is pertinent given the traditional interpretation that Rev 19 teaches the unredemptive destruction of God's enemies.

But I wonder.

I see redemption in Rev 19 -- the harlot city of Rev 19.1-6 (and of Rev 17-18 & etc.) is transformed into the Lamb's bride in Rev 19.7-10 via the means identified in Rev 19.11-21. In particular, the Gentiles are redeemed by Jesus' Word in Rev 19.15, and the Jews are redeemed by Jesus' Word in Rev 19.21. Particularly the latter folk -- those who bear the mark of the beast (idolatrous Israel) -- are literally a part of the harlot city (Jerusalem), but nonetheless are redeemed by Christ's Word. (This is the Dt 28/30 pattern I discussed a few days ago.)

So the idea that the birds eating the flesh of God's enemies is a sign of a cursed judgment seems dissonant with the larger trajectory of redemption in the passage. Hence, my wonder whether commentators are getting the nature of the birds right here. That said, the Word has a double-sided effect -- its cut can convict unto redemption or unto the hardening of the heart. I don't contest that notion, but I do want to push a bit on the nature of the birds that do the eating in Rev 19, and push back a bit on the notion that the flesh-eating birds here are necessarily a sign of the curse.

Here's the text: "Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, 'Come, assemble for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.'"

As I mentioned above, what makes me wonder is the additional detail that the birds feasting on the flesh are those that fly in "midheaven."

The Scriptures do discuss birds that fly in "midheaven." To wit, in Rev 8.13 we have this: "Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, saying with a loud voice, 'Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!'"

This "eagle" here would seem to be one of the four beasts or faces on God's glory chariot -- Ez 1.10, 10.14, Rev 4.7. As we see below, God's chariot flies in the firmament between the heaven and the earth, i.e., in the "middle" heaven ("mid-heaven") between the highest heaven where God dwells and the lowest heaven where clouds float and ordinary birds fly.

So the one example we have of the type of bird that flies in midheaven is of a bird that talks and warns, even prophesies (Rev 8.13), and is a beast on God's glory-chariot (Rev 4.7, cf., Rev 12.14).

Without putting too fine a point on it, do we really believe that the beasts on God's glory-chariot eat human flesh? Or is it possible that these beasts eat flesh in the same way that the sword that comes out of Jesus' mouth in Rev 19.15, 19.21 or are "killed" by Jesus Word Sword? I.e., they are killed, and resurrected. So here, the mid-heaven birds consume the corrupt flesh of the harlot city, allowing the rebirth of the Harlot-City as the redeemed Bride-City.

More generally, recall that Paul writes about being caught up to the “third heaven” (2 Co 12.2), which implies the existence of a first and a second heaven. Scripture also often speaks of “highest heavens” Dt 10.14, 1 Kings 8.27, Ps 68.33.

The “first” heaven is, presumably, the earth’s air in which ordinary birds fly and rain clouds float (Gn 1.20, Ps 8.8, Dt 11.11).

The “third” or “highest” heaven, then, is presumably God’s throne room which is above/with the waters above the firmament (Ps 148.4).

The “second” heaven would appear to be the firmament itself (Gn 1.8), or mid-heaven. This is, presumably, the heaven through which Jesus penetrates and passes through in his ascension on his way to God’s throne room (Heb 4.14, Eph 4.10). This is also that heaven in which the beasts of the glory-chariot are set, including the Eagle. Ex 26.31, Ez 1.22, 26, 10.1. This is also where the cherubim are set -- recall that the veil in the tabernacle/temple had cherubim woven into it. It is through this that the high priest must pass when entering the holiest of holies, cf., the guardian cherubim in Gn 3.24 that hold flaming swords.

Like the work of the cherubim's flaming swords, Jesus' word is a sword that cuts (Heb 4.12, Acts 2.37, 5.33, 7.54) and is a fire that burns (Lk 24.32,Acts 2.3-4, cf., Jer 20.9). But it cuts and burns unto life. So I wonder if, like the cherubim in mid-heaven with their flaming swords that now do not simply kill but resurrect in Christ, the birds of mid-heaven not only kill in the eating, but resurrect the dead flesh as well.

If so, then we can take the birds of midheaven eating the flesh of those slain by the sword coming out of Christ’s mouth to mean that the flesh of the folks who were slain by the Word of God have died utterly, and a new man born from the corpse (cf., Ez 37).


Blogger Mike Bull said...


This stanza follows the same pattern as Genesis 15. The birds pass-over and then the sword passes through. I have a link here:

The birds appear at the same point in the passage as they do when Abram chased them away (ie. the "veil"). Here there is no one to chase these Destroyers away as they Pass-over. I think Abram through his sacrifice was a human firmament - but here there is no bloody covering so the victims themselves atone.

Whether the birds are holy or unholy is an interesting question. It's a bit hard to figure out because there are cycles within cycles. They appear at "Passover" within a "Tabernacles" cycle.

They are scavengers who eat death, unlike the sword which brings death. Either way they are ministers of God. The sword from the throne does the killing, not the eating.

This stanza (in my theory!) appears at "Tabernacles" so the "gathering" of the birds to a feast of kings is ironic. These are the Jew and Gentile "mighty men" under Greater Noah's raven, living on floating flesh until the flood of God's anger subsides.

So I think the reference to birds in mid-heaven is a reversal of the Abrahamic Land Covenant once and for all.

Interestingly, there is a head-and-body thing going here too. The Lord passes through as head with his army as body (all on white horses). The false heads are thrown into the lake of fire and the false body is slain and eaten. I would say the birds are also a body - summoned by the throne, but not the throne itself.

March 24, 2010 4:35 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


Thanks for the comment. I've mused about a link to Gn 15, but the connection has been too attenuated, to my mind, to attempt to draw conclusions (at least for Sunday school).

That said, if anything, I'd suggest that it's an inverted realization of the self-maledictory oath. To wit, the sword/knife that hacks the sacrifices in two is the sword that comes out of Jesus' mouth. Therefore the deaths here must be transformative; it is the death of the old man which means the birth of the new.

The upshot is that we want the birds to consume the flesh of the old man so that the new man is free. (Which may be what you're saying as well.)

In any event, I'll take a look at your link.

March 24, 2010 9:15 PM  
Blogger Mike Bull said...

I like the idea of the inverted oath. It is the Law slain and resurrected, the Spirit-Law of the Gospel circumcising the heart, the "liberating curse."

March 24, 2010 9:34 PM  

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