The Lady and Her Jewels: An Epiphany Meditation

And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery (Revelation 12:1-2).

Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel:

“Sun stand still over Gibeon;

And Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”

So the sun stood still,

and the moon stopped,

Till the people had revenge

Upon their enemies.

Is it not written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the Lord heeded the voice of a man: for the Lord fought for Israel (Joshua 10:12-14 ).

“And this shall be a sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing which He has spoken: Behold, I will bring the shadow on the sundial. which has gone down with the sun on sundial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward.” So the sun returned ten degrees on the dial by which it had gone down (Isaiah 38:7-8).

“‘The stars’, it asserts, ‘are not the fate of Christ, but Christ is the fate of the stars’“ (Charles Norris Cochrane).

“Where is He who has born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship him” (The Wise Men From the East).

The ancient world was peopled by different kinds of human configurations. Two of these configurations were tribes and empires. Tribal people and empire people are radically different kinds of people.

Tribal peoples have several factors in common. Tribal people prefer to live in mountains, and seek mountain tops. They are animists, and worship all living things. There is almost no division of labor in tribes. Virtually all men are warriors, while women bear children and tend to all domestic issues. And tribes constantly move. They are not fixed people.[1]

Empire people on the other hand are both different, and in some ways almost opposite. Empire people settle in river valleys, and build great hydraulic works. They are fixed populations that develop great “bread machines,” great agricultural lands and plantations. And, empire peoples are peoples of the stars and of the skies. Empires are astral configurations. All empires of the ancient world, no matter where they were, developed all of their own self understanding around the twelve constellations of the zodiac, the sun, the moon, and the five visible planets. Empire people worshipped not living things, but the heavenly bodies and those things that resemble them, such as gold and silver and precious stones. Precious metals and stones look like the sun, moon, and the stars.

It did not matter where the empires were; all of them were astral in orientation. This began with Egypt along the long and mighty Nile, and developed then with the Babylonians, the Chinese, the Aztecs, and the Incas.

These people lay on their backs and studied the stars for hundreds of years, and mapped and followed all of the movements of the heavenly bodies. They knew how the stars and planets moved, and how long it took them to traverse their paths. They could predict the sun’s and the moon’s movements, and they came to be able to predict both solar and lunar eclipses.[2]

The self-understanding of empires was astral. To this day, one can walk to the throne room of the Chinese Emperor in the Forbidden City in Beijing, and one observes that his throne was seated under a canopy, and painted on the underside of the canopy are the twelve constellations of the zodiac.[3] Likewise, the Babylon, Hellenic, and even Roman rulers were enthroned to indicate their being “the brother to the sun and the moon and therefore, [their] real home was among the stars.”[4] In these instances, the emperor or king, is the representative of the sun, and is thus the ruler of the stars, who are all of his people. The Egyptian Pharaoh was the Son of the Sun (Ra) and was likewise in charge of the constellations.[5]

If we begin at the creation account, the Hebrew Scriptures are qualitatively different from all other “creation accounts” in the ancient world. In all other accounts, chaos is what is original and ultimate. Out of the chaos, as if by magic, (nobody knows how) the gods emerge. Order mysteriously appears out of chaos. The gods then shape the chaos, and eventually produce the human race. In all accounts that I am aware of outside of the Hebrew account, humans are created to be the slaves of the gods. Eventually, the gods and all else, will disintegrate and collapse back into the chaos.[6]

It is only in the Hebrew account that the chaos is not ultimate, but is the first thing that comes forth from God. He then shapes the chaos by six creative words and creates a world that is meant to be His own temple to be inhabited by him along with his vice regents and friends, the human race. Only for the Hebrews is the chaos completely and totally the product of God and it in no sense nor in any way does it have any control over God. He is wholly and completely master over it.[7]

This brings us to the dialectic of determinism and chaos, and brings us to the great dilemma and the paradox of these great pagan civilizations. On the one hand, a pharaoh, or an emperor or king is one who is one of the stars. Or, even better, he is one who is the chief of the stars. He might be the sun or the son of the sun. This appears to make him very powerful. But alas! Here is the horn of the dilemma. While he is a heavenly body, he is also completely determined. He has no liberty. Just as the movements of the stars, the sun and the moon, are utterly determined, so is he. He is controlled by their movements, and their movements have no liberty, no freedom. There is no one more determined and less free than a king of an astral empire.[8] The pharaohs, kings and emperors while the most powerful of all who are on earth, and themselves at least quasi or semi-divine, were also, with all of their power, determined. They are determined as are all heavenly bodies. They have no liberty. They have no freedom.

C. N. Cochrane in his masterful Christianity and Classical Culture recounts how paralyzed the declining Roman Empire was, and how central astrology was to this paralysis. If one is determined by the stars, then one has no liberty.[9] What could be better than being the Pharaoh of Egypt (the Son of the Sun), or the King of Babylon (the Son of Marduk), or the Emperor of China (again, a representative of the sun)? But yet, each of these figures is a pawn of the movements of the heavenly bodies.

By contrast, the Apostle Paul states that he can “do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), and he elsewhere makes allusion to astral imagery when he says neither “height nor depth” nor anything else in all creation can separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Height and depth” are astrological references.[10]

Revelation 12:1-2 is a picture of Israel under the imagery of a great and cosmic woman. The Lady gives birth to “the male child who will rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (Revelation 12:5), who is clearly Jesus. This Lady is a remarkable woman. She has baubles and jewelry. Her baubles, ornaments, and jewelry are the sun, moon, and stars. She wears them as embellishments. They are charming garnishes intended to beautify her.

The contrast could hardly be greater. Israel, as the people of God, those in training to rule the entire universe as co-rulers along with Jesus Christ, is greater than her environment, and her environment includes all of the astronomical bodies in the sky. She is their master.

Pharaoh should have had control of the heavenly bodies if anyone would have. But it was Moses who blotted out the sun, and only allowed it to shine on Goshen where the Hebrews dwelt while all the rest of Egypt was in the dark. Later, it was Joshua who commanded the sun and the moon to stop so battle could continue. And then Isaiah, merely to give a sign to King Hezekiah that his word to him was true caused the sun to go backward on the sun dial ten degrees. This was a seal of truth of the prophet’s words.

Later, in the final and New Covenant of Jesus Christ, we are told in the book of Hebrews, that Jesus has “passed through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14), and now He has become, “higher than the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26). Jesus has now “sat down at the Right Hand of the Father, which implies, He is the complete ruler of all the heavenly bodies. Likewise, Paul tells us that Jesus has been given all authority over all principalities and powers, and placed all things under His feet, “for the church” (Ephesians 1:21-23). And beyond that, those who are in union with Him have likewise been enthroned with Him, at the Right Hand of the Father, and this is in the present tense (it is “already, but not yet;” it has begun in this world, but will be consummated in the next age). Israel and the church are beyond the power of the stars, the sun, and the moon. The people of Jesus Christ, as the nation of Israel before them, are greater than those bodies.

The cosmology of the entire ancient world was a cosmology that grew out of an original and eternal chaos. Chaos is the ultimate origin of all. Then, somehow and someway (no one knows how, and it is analogous to magic, which is the manipulation of chaos) order emerges out of the chaos. The first product of the chaos is the gods (no one knows how they emerged). Then the gods proceed to shape the chaos and create various forms, including the human race. Humans, in most myths, are created to be the slaves of the gods.

Inherent in all ancient cosmologies are slavery and war. Humans exist as slaves to serve the whims of the gods who are in continuous warfare. All things are in conflict with all other things. Modern Darwinism, and ethical theories that have grown out of Darwinism (survival of the fittest, Social Darwinism) are little more than modern updates of the ancient world. Slavery and war are ultimate realities in pagan cosmologies, and one wonders how it cannot be at the heart of the cosmology of modern Darwinism as well.

Darkness and death are at the heart of all pagan cosmologies. The sign of the zodiac is signified by twelve stones. These same stones form the foundation of the New Jerusalem, but with this difference: they are exactly backwards, signifying a move from darkness to the sunrise rather than a move from a glorious sunrise, a golden age, to the darkness of the final and everlasting sunset.[11] Christians thus, moved against the paralyzing determinism of the dying Roman Empire.[12]

The creation account given us in the book of Genesis is a unique cosmology. It is the foundation of human meaning and liberty. Both ancient pagan and modern non-Christian cosmologies are similar in understanding, and in consequence. Chaos is ultimate in all non-biblical cosmologies, and the consequence is always eternal warfare and slavery. Liberty is a gift of the Hebrew and Christian Bible.

Today we celebrate “Epiphany,” the celebration of the Wise Men being led to Jesus by a star that they saw from the East. The star was the servant of Jesus. It identified the new born King of the Jews. For this King, the star was His servant, He was not the servant of the star. This King was the author of freedom and the breaker of all enslavements. Epiphany was the end of astrology, and the restoration of the stars as the servants of the new born King, and of all who belong to Him.

Epiphany is the celebration of the destruction of “luck” and “fate” and the rebirth of freedom.

Rev. Richard Bledsoe was until recently a hospital chaplain in Boulder, Colorado, and is currently in transition.

[1] Rosenstock-Huessy, Eugen. “Universal History-1954.” edited by Hans R. Huessy, Lectures 1-25: Hans R. Huessy, 1992, lectures 5-12.

[2] Ibid.

[3] I observed this myself in a visit to the Forbidden City in 2005. Note also, “In Chinese society, astronomy was whole heartedly supported by the government. There were two primary astronomical figures: the emperor himself and the Imperial Astronomer. The emperor was the foundation of the celestial balance. Analogous to the pole star, he was the conduit between Heaven and Earth as he who fixes the four cardinal points. The emperor’s duty was to reestablish the calendar every year, and to maintain the celestial balance by performing annual sacrifices to both Heaven and Earth on the winter and summer solstice respectively. The Imperial Astronomer was responsible for the continuation and smooth running of the calendar. He did this by continually observing the sky and collecting data from the subordinate astronomers. The Imperial Astronomer would then use his observations to foretell the future and advise the emperor based on his findings. While the duties of the emperor and the Imperial Astronomer are important to cosmological influence on politics, the penultimate example of this relationship is the Mandate of Heaven. Originally a Confucian concept, the Mandate was the authority that made the emperor the celestial link. It provided the Chinese cosmology with a harmony between Heaven and Earth, and also a balance of power between the emperor and the people.” http://www.astronomy.pomona.edu/archeo/china/china3.html, accessed 11-19-09.

[4] Arend Theodoor van Leeuwen, Christianity in World History; the Meeting of the Faiths of East and West (London: Edinburgh House Press, 1964) 171-173.

[5] Ibid., 83-84.

[6] Ibid., 56-59.

[7] Ibid., 61-68.

[8] “His [the Chinese emperor] manner of life was regulated throughout the year in the minutest detail to conform with the structure and movement of the universe, within which everything that exists is classified according to its place and function in relation to the whole” (ibid., 170-171).

[9] “In this fear [the inability of Classicism to give an intelligible connection to human action and fate and fortune, or character and circumstance] we may see an explanation of many of the most characteristic phenomena of classical and post classical times. To begin with, it serves to account for the steady and persistent growth of a belief in ‘luck’. ‘Throughout the whole world,’ declares Pliny, in every place, at all times, Fortune alone is named and invoked by the voices of all; she alone is accused and put on the dock, she is the sole object of our thought, our praise, and our abuse.’ This belief Juvenal was to single out as one of the most significant aspects of contemporary ‘vice’; and he denounced it in various satires, notably the fifteenth. But, in his attack on superstition, the satirist had no recourse other than to fall back on the prejudices of Ciceronian and Livian humanism, which he thus reaffirmed in the well-known lines: nullum mumen haves si sit prudentia, now te nos facimus, Fortuna, deam caeloque locamus.

“A still more sinister development, if possible, was that of a belief in astrological and solar determinism, a faith which invaded the empire with the Chaldeans or mathematici. For an account of this faith we may refer to the summary statement of Censorinus: ‘The Chaldeans,’ he says, ‘hold first and foremost that what happens to us in life is determined by the planets in conjunction with the fixed stars. It is the varied and complicated course of these bodies which governs the human race; but their own motion and arrangements are frequently modified by the sun; and, while the rising and setting of different constellations swerve to affect us with their distinctive temperature, this occurs through the power of the sun. Accordingly, it is the sun to whom we ultimately owe the sprit which controls us, since he moves the actual stars by which we are moved and, therefore, has the greatest influence over our existence and destiny.’ The evil of this superstition was, of course, that it utterly denied the reality of human freedom and responsibility, reducing men to the status of mere automata”  (Charles Norris Cochrane, Christianity and Classical Culture [New York: Oxford University Press, 1957] 159).

[10] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) 341-342.

[11] Rousas John Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971) 221-222.

[12] “The recognition of sapientia as an instrument for historical interpretation involves implications of the utmost importance. To begin with, it is equally opposed to the conception of history whether as art or as science. Christian historiography thus denies as purely supposititious [superstitious?] the artistic and philosophic assumption that ‘nature’ consists of a closed system of ‘necessary’ physical laws. In so doing, it repudiates the cruder form of determinism postulated b y astrology. ‘The stars’, it asserts, ‘are not the fate of Christ, but Christ is the fate of the stars’: ‘Our souls, therefore, are by nature subject to no part of physical creation, even to that of the heavens.’ But it also rejects what may be called the humanist compromise, the notion that man shares with ‘circumstance’ the determination of his destiny; and, from this standpoint, the denial of fate is at the same time a denial of fortune” (Cochrane, Christianity, 478)