Morning by Morning

"The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward." Isaiah 50:4-5

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Habitation of Dragons

There are several verses in Scripture regarding dragons that create a problem for translators. The problem is that translators are too enlightened to believe in dragons so they have to find more acceptable ways of translating the Hebrew word “tan-neen.” One of these verses is in Psalm 44:19. The Book of Common Prayer translation paraphrases the text as “Though you thrust us down into a place of misery, * and covered us over with deep darkness.” Here “tan-neen” is paraphrased as “misery.” In a similar text in Isaiah 34:13 the New King James Version translates the word as “jackals.” The King James Version translates the word “tan-neen” as follows: “And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls.”  The message of the various Old Testament texts is that the world we live in is a “habitation of tan-neen”, or to put it quite simply, a habitation of dragons. But what does that mean?

The translators have a harder time re-interpreting the New Testament Greek word, “drakon” as anything other than “dragon.” One primary text where the word “dragon” occurs is in Revelation 12:1-12 where the devil is depicted as a fiery red dragon who is cast down from heaven to earth by Michael and his angels. The Book of Revelation goes on to add, “woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

That is indeed the problem! Humankind tends to operate on the assumption that we live out our lives in a neutral zone where most of our spiritual struggles are with ourselves or with other people. In reality the place where we live is a habitation of dragons, and in specific, one most unhappy dragon. This particular dragon has discovered to his chagrin that he is not as lofty, as beautiful or as powerful as God. Not only that, but he has discovered, to his great wrath, that his time is short. In his wrath the dragon has resolved to rob everybody of the life, joy and vitality that he has lost himself when cast from heaven by Michael and the angels of God.

What does that mean in practice to the average Christian? Some limitations of the dragon's ability needs to be acknowledged; Unlike God, he is not Omniscient, Omnipotent, or Omnipresent. In plain language, as a created being, he doesn't know everything, he isn't all-powerful, nor is he present everywhere. Unfortunately the passage in Revelation tells us that when he was cast to earth in great wrath he took his “angels” with him. The New Testament refers to these entities as “devils,” “demons,” or as “unclean spirits.” What it means is that we play out our moral and spiritual struggles on an uneven playing field where unseen malicious enemies are doing their very best to make us as unhappy as they are. The old saying, “misery loves company” is remarkably true in this regard.

That doesn't mean that the old Flip Wilson character Geraldine was correct when she said, “the devil made me do it.” It is not as simple as that. While it is clear that the Tempter successfully tempted Eve, and unsuccessfully tempted Jesus, James 1:14 testifies that “each person is lured and enticed by his own desire.” The devil and his companions don't bother wasting time tempting us where we have no vulnerability. St. Anthony, one of the founders of desert monasticism, pointed out that wherever we have a weakness, “there the devils love to leap.”

The result is that we do not have the luxury of operating without regard to the unnatural hazards of the spiritual terrain in which we live our lives. Neither, we, nor our children live in neutral world.  We actually live in the habitation of dragons.   St. Paul says, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” On the other hand living in paranoia and fear only serves the dragon and his fallen angels. James 4:7b also says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” John the Apostles adds, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4). Another way of putting it is in the modern proverb, “To be forewarned is to be fore-armed.” In Texas terms, if you are walking through a field with vipers in it, wear a good pair of cowboy boots.

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