The Great Famine

Acts 11:27-30

Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.

We only pay attention to that of which we want to pay attention. Our culture, upbringing, ethnicity, social status, political beliefs and certainly our interpretation of the Bible influence where our minds go and how they get there. And where our minds go, our feet are sure to follow. Presuppositions and preconceived notions drive us. What we have been taught influences are actions. We belong to that which we believe and the most difficult thing for one to do is to change one’s mind. Jesus himself held this belief and our physician friend, Luke, wrote about it in his gospel; the story of the rich man, Lazarus and Abraham. After asking Abraham to let Lazarus rise from the dead to warn his brothers about their impending doom, Abraham replied to him, fat chance.

More literally; “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’” Which begs the question, who actually listens to Moses and the prophets? Who told Moses and the prophets what to say? How can we trust and test prophecy?

“When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

How long? How many years does a prophet have before we can call him a false prophet? I don’t mind offending anyone but I don’t want to come off as offensive, yet, I am a rip the bandage off quickly, kind of person. I realize that sometimes the truth hurts. Therefore if you are offended by the following, I suggest you search the Scripture rather than listen to false promises of false prophets: most false prophets are stupid enough to set dates.

“Now it came about in the same year, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year, in the fifth month, that Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet, who was from Gibeon, spoke to me [Jeremiah] in the house of the LORD in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, “I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I am going to bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’S house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I am also going to bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles of Judah who went to Babylon,” declares the LORD, “for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”‘”

Problem, the idiot Hananiah set a date. Notice; “Within two years I am going to bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’S house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place.” Wrong! Jeremiah said, “Amen,” he hoped Hananiah was correct but clearly he had his doubts. “Yet hear now this word which I am about to speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people! The prophets who were before me and before you from ancient times prophesied against many lands and against great kingdoms, of war and of calamity and of pestilence. The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent.”

Undaunted, Hananiah doubled down; “And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Even so will I break within two full years, the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations.”‘” Why would anyone set a specific date if they were not sure? Or even a rough idea of time, for that matter? The Lord then told Jeremiah, “Go and speak to Hananiah, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, You have broken the yokes of wood, but you have made instead of them yokes of iron. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, I have put a yoke of iron on the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and they shall serve him. And I have also given him the beasts of the field.'”

Ironically, after “studying” the Bible and prayer, Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, Muhammed, Harald Camping, Elymus (we will see soon, lord willing), mega-church  pastors who proclaim that you can have “your best life now,” and the like, all fall flat, yet they have, and or, had, many followers. How is this possible? Deeply doctrinally, Muhammad contradicted himself. Dozens of false prophecies flowed from Charles Taze Russell and more from Joseph Smith. How can millions of people follow these false prophets? The answer is found, in part, in Jeremiah. Preaching peace is much more difficult than preaching pestilence.

As profound as my previous statement is, because I didn’t write it I’m paraphrasing it, I am sure that it hasn’t been enlightening–merely words on a page. Peace is extremely difficult to achieve in this fallen world. Even the aspiration of peace is always an argument. How do we obtain peace, with love and kindness towards those who want to kill us or with the threat of inhalation of said enemies–peace through surrender or peace through the threat of a sword? But predicting pestilence is pretty easy, in fact, one can create pestilence relatively easily but peace is not only difficult to attain but also difficult to define. We have been programmed for pestilence, not for peace. Looking at the current cultural climate in the west, we who live in the most peaceful time in history, create pestilence and havoc because we don’t know what to do with ourselves without war. Therefore we are at each other’s throats, screaming, “no justice, no peace.” You poor, delusional people, which comes first, justice or peace? How can we possibly have justice without peace? The reason that we don’t have justice is because we don’t have peace but have been taught and trained to prepare for, promote and participate in pestilence.

One of my favorite lines, from one of my favorite poems, from one of my favorite poets, A. E. Housman, reads as follows: “Therefore, since the world has still Much good, but much less good than ill, And while the sun and moon endure Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure, I’d face it as a wise man would And train for ill and not for good.”

Amen to that, hope for the best and expect the worst. Yet the mega-church pastors make millions peddling the promise of peace and prosperity–and right now. How is this possible? They are speaking what people want to hear. We want peace and prosperity but still expect pestilence. Nevertheless they should have been exposed years ago as the complete frauds that they are. But while they are heavily heretical in their Bible preaching, they are excellent motivational speakers. If our minds are motivated to make money in America, our feet will follow. Still, how do all these false prophets have so many followers?

If you change this word to that, see it metaphorically, stand on one foot, in early may, with yahtzee dice in your left hand, a green, ten-gallon hat on your head, and remove every word that states a specific time and understand that the prophecy is open to situational changes, clearly the prophecy has come to pass. Western evangelism is responsible for contributing to the delinquency of modern prophecy, ancient Judaism and Phariseeism is responsible for the delinquency in bahai and Islam.

Israel, for the most part, listened to the false prophets and not the true prophets, mostly because they didn’t like the message of the true prophets. Joseph, while apparently arrogant, spoke the truth and was sold into slavery by his brothers–they didn’t like that they would bow to him, yet bow to him they did. The priests, scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees couldn’t see Jesus in Isaiah because they didn’t like Jesus–he wanted to take away their way of life. The dogmatic dispensationalists argue that we need to take Revelation, an apocalyptic letter to seven literal churches, literally as the historical church through chapter 4, then it changes to far-future fulfillment in Israel only. But in reading Matthew 24 we have to change “this generation” to “that generation,” while standing on one foot, ignoring the time that the Lord specifically stated–last I checked, this generation is not literally translated as the generation alive in 1948. Therefore if you are reading this in 2049, obviously they were wrong. Yet my heart goes out to them, seeing that they desperately desire to be part of Biblical prophecy. The good news is that we are, we are part of the stone that is becoming a giant mountain that fills the earth which Nebuchadnezzar saw.

A true prophet speaks plainly and his words can be tested. Even in the difficult book of Revelation, where John’s plain speech seems strange, because it is describing the unseen world, we still see that John writes plainly that “the time is near.” There is no need to stand on one foot but to read Revelation as John aspired for his first-century audience to read it–it would soon take place. The metaphorical meanings and symbolism leap of the page when one keeps Revelation in its context, observing the aspirations of the author, jives with the genre, explores examples from the Old Testament and divides rightly.

Today’s text is the perfect example of how to judge a prophet. The truth is, Luke judged him already or he would not have written it they way in which he did. Let’s look at the context: “Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.”

Who is Agubus, could he be trusted as a prophet? This Agubus could be the same Agubus who in Acts 21 predicted Paul’s imprisonment Jerusalem. In both cases a prophet named Agubus came down from Jerusalem and prophesied by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, Luke doesn’t tell us if it is the same man. However it doesn’t matter, if it did, he would have told us. We do see that Agubus prophesied by the Spirit and that this prophecy came true, specifically in the reign of Claudius.

Does history bear witness to this? Were any other similar prophecies predicted about this point in history? Before we consider other historical narratives or Biblical prophecy, first we must carefully consider the context so that we are not led astray by metaphorical meanings. Unlike the dogmatic dispensationalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the LDS, we see the metaphor in the context not as an afterthought.

“Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.” Amen, the local church storing up and providing provisions for those less fortunate, not for retirement–that is church.

To the detractors and unbelievers, Agubus was wrong because no worldwide famine was recorded in the reign of Claudius. They miss the metaphor and don’t consider the context. “World” here is not the Greek word transliterated “kosmos,” as in John 3:16 but “oikumene” which is often used as a metaphor, because it indicates “habitable land.” Nevertheless the word could have been “universe” and it would not change the context, which is how we know Agubus was a trusted prophet.

Notice, “And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.” First, Luke confirms the prophecy came to pass. Second, by the context we understand that the people present understood that Agubus used metaphorical hyperbole. Though Luke doesn’t quote Agubus, it could be that Luke used hyperbole apart from Agubus’ “indicating.” Agubus could have not said a word–but that’s doubtful. Despite not knowing exactly how Agubus communicated the prophecy, we see that the people present understood where it would happen and prepared for it. Even so far that they sent Barnabas and Paul with the provisions from Antioch to Judea. Once again proving that Agubus, while possibly using hyperbole, prophesied about the precise place.

Does history back this up? Of course it does, but people will either question the prophecy, historical record and anything else that they can try to twist because they have the presupposition and preconceived notion that the Bible is not true. Looking for any discrepancy between two text, they will stick with their presuppositions and preconceived notions. In this case they will not consider the context and claim that Agubus predicted a worldwide famine. Even though the context is clear that it was a centralized famine in Judea. Josephus, among others, confirms this. In 44-45 AD, Judea had a great famine. Guess who reigned in 44 AD? Correct, Claudius, approximately 15 years after Jesus said, “in various places there will be famines.” Do you remember what else he said–because I beat it like a dead horse? “All these things shall fall upon this generation.”

Presuppositions–unless you are learning for yourself you only know what you have been taught. Read Matthew 24, then read the book of Acts, then read Flavius Josephus’s Books of the History of the Jewish War against the Romans, then read Revelation. We see what Jesus promised coming to fruition in the book of Acts. We see the seismic yet subtle shift in humanity after the cross. We see a progressive movement from Jews, to partial Israel known as Samaritans, to the uncircumcised people of the planet. All of which was promised by Jesus. Some of which was promised by Joel, Ezekiel and Isaiah. None of which was predicted by the dogmatic dispensationalists, Muslims, Roman Catholics or any other religion. Put aside preconceived notions and presuppositions and read the plain text plainly and see symbolism, numbers and metaphors for what they are. Don’t read into the context but draw out the obvious. Unlike Dr. House, in the TV show, House, when you hear hoofs, think horses, not zebras. I always have to remind myself to KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID. The Bible is not a mystery but God’s word to mortal man. It’s not as complicated as theologians make it out to be but it does take time, and yes Tim, it requires reading it, keeping it in context and in its particular genres, letting Scripture interpret Scripture. Otherwise we will read things into Scripture like not eating dairy and meat together because God said, don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk. Or worse yet, a pre-tribulational rapture of no one but the New Testament Church.

In the meantime, work, so that you have something to share with those in need. It worked in Acts despite the delusions of a dogmatic dispensationalist who claims that socialism stymied the church in Jerusalem. Context is king and it’s clear, tribulation and famine ravaged the church in Jerusalem. But that can’t be, according  to the dogmatic dispensationalists, otherwise what Jesus said in Matthew 24 would have actually happened to “this generation.”

 

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