Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 183-189
Pay no attention to the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem, Buck Williams is trying to find his friend.
Buck has returned to the Western Wall in Jerusalem to convince the Two Witnesses — invulnerable, fire-breathing street preachers who are actually Moses and Elijah, returned to the living as dispensationalist evangelical Christians — to tell him specifically where he can find former-Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah. This is tricky, since the duo only speaks in biblical fragments — snippets of verses from a collection of texts composed and compiled long after they lived and died.
What we have here, in other words, is another four pages or so in which it seems like Buck Williams is using Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance like a Magic Eight Ball. First, though, Jerry Jenkins sets the scene:
Buck did not at first see the two witnesses. A small group of sailors strolled past the wrought-iron fence at the end of the Wall where the witnesses usually stood and preached. The sailors chatted in English and one pointed. “I think that’s them, right over there,” he said.
Buck knows they’re sailors, I guess, because they’re probably wearing World War II-era white service uniforms from the U.S. Navy, just like the extras strolling past in sailor-suits in old movies from the 1940s.
These couldn’t be U.S. Navy sailors, of course, because in this book the U.S. Navy has been abolished, along with the U.S. itself, which was absorbed into the Antichrist’s one-world government Global Community. The Global Community Navy probably adopted those classic white service uniforms, though, just as the Global Community has apparently adopted American English as its official one-world language.
Jerusalem is an odd place for sailors to be strolling about. This far inland, acting like tourists, they’re apparently on shore leave. Or, given the geography of this book that we’ll look at next week, perhaps they’re from a Global Community air craft carrier stationed on the Wadi Qelt.
Enlisting in the GC Navy was a good move, since it seems that World War III (which, ohbytheway, is still currently raging, not that one would notice from any scene not directly about that war) is being fought exclusively by the GC Air Force. I suppose, though, that the Navy will seem less attractive if we ever get to the trumpets of divine wrath, and the bit where “something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.”
Gabey, Chip and Ozzie linger for a bit to gawk at the Two Witnesses, but it’s late and Moses and Elijah are taking a breather from declaring, “Thus saith the Lord, harken unto the words that the Lord sayeth and heed them, verily, for they are the Lord’s words spoken unto you by the Lord.” So the sailors wander off, alas, before Ann Miller and Betty Garrett show up and they start singing some old Green/Comden tunes.
As soon as the young men were out of the area, Eli and Moishe raised their heads and looked directly at Buck. He walked directly to the fence. The witnesses rose and stood about 20 feet from Buck. “I need clarification,” Buck whispered. “Can I know more about my friend’s location?”
“He who has ears –”
“I know that,” Buck said, “but I –”
“You would dare interrupt the servants of the Most High God?” Eli said.
“Forgive me,” Buck said. He wanted to explain himself but decided to remain silent.
And here the whole cryptic, Bible-code-speak business falls apart. Buck doesn’t realized he’s just stumbled onto something important: If you interrupt the Two Witnesses, they’ll speak like humans, addressing you directly instead of just repeating random fragments of scripture like malfunctioning animatronics in Disney’s Hall of Prophets.
Moishe spoke. “You must first communicate with one who loves you.”
See? That’s not a Bible verse either. Interrupt these guys and they’ll almost start sounding like they’d pass the Turing Test. Almost.
Buck waited for more. The witnesses stood there, silent. He held out both hands in puzzlement.
That’s a bit of a stretch. Here is Buck Williams in one of the rare moments when he’s not on the phone, “puzzled” at how to communicate with those who are far away.
He felt a vibration in his shoulder bag and realized his cell phone was buzzing. Now what was he supposed to do? If he wasn’t to interrupt the servants of the Most High God, did he dare take a call while conversing with them? He felt a fool. He moved away from the fence and grabbed the phone, clicked it open, and said, “This is Buck.”
“Buck! It’s Chloe!”
We’ll skip over the lines here where Buck tries to tell her he can’t talk just now, dimly failing to realize that this phone call is what Moishe was talking about. That bit is as belabored as all the other passages in these books where Jenkins attempts to make readers feel smart by making his characters act dumb. The important part is this bit:
“Buck, just tell me you’re not at the King David. … I just have this feeling that you should not be in that hotel tonight. In fact, I just have a premonition that you shouldn’t be in Jerusalem overnight. I don’t know about tomorrow, and I don’t know about premonitions and all that, but the feeling is so strong …”
This is why I’d have written that Buck was staying at the American Colony. Making a plot point out of a warning phone call about staying in the King David Hotel seems a bit insensitive.
Buck didn’t know what he thought about this new level of what Bruce had referred to as “walking in the spirit.” … How had they known he had to talk to Chloe first? He had been around the two witnesses enough to know that they were never too far from the miraculous. He just wished they didn’t have to be so cryptic.
Chloe’s premonition urging Buck not to go back to his hotel is presented here as a message from God. You’d think that God ought to know that Buck already left the hotel and isn’t going back.
Why does all of this “have to be so cryptic”? Instead of saying, “He who has ears to hear, reply hazy try again,” why couldn’t Eli have just given Buck a straightforward message? “Tsion is in Galilee. Michael will take you to him. Don’t go back to your hotel.”
Yet instead of that we get a dream, two “premonitions,” a phone call, and a dozen pages of winking eisegesis. The only direct message in this whole business is when Moishe tells Buck to answer his phone, but that’s just so that Buck can hear a second-hand account of the third iteration of an indirect message. Again, two of the characters in this scene are Moses and Elijah — two guys who shouldn’t be reluctant about delivering clear direct messages from God.
But this is how God communicates with Buck in this chapter because this is how the authors imagine God communicates with all Christians. This is what they imagine it means to “walk in the spirit.” It requires us to break the code and to solve the puzzle based on nothing more than strong feelings and random snippets of Bible verses that can be taken to have applications they never had in context.
This idea of “walking in the spirit” is, I think, the consequence of imagining that God has an intensely specific plan for every detail of your life, your vocation, your marriage, your daily schedule. The Bible doesn’t address such specifics. If one is asking, “What does the Lord require of you?” then the Bible provides an answer: “To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” But if one is asking, “What should I major in?” or “Should I date this person?” then it’s not going to offer anything as concrete and specific as Micah 6:8, and one is left with nothing to go on but gut-feelings and the creative interpretation of dubiously selected passages.
This idea of God’s intensely specific individual plan for every detail of your life is a feature of American evangelical piety that we’d be better off without. It’s almost always a source of misery and almost never any help. It burdens Christians with anxiety over decisions that don’t need to be so fraught with moral implication. Choosing a major is hard enough without adding the notion that choosing “wrong” is tantamount to disobeying God.
Obsessing over God’s ISIPFEDOYL also tends to function as a way of distracting ourselves from “the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” If you’re worried about following God’s will, remember that it boils down to this: Love God and love your neighbor. That’s “God’s will for your life.” Take care of that and don’t worry about God’s ISIPFEDOYL.
Back in our story, poor Buck still hasn’t gotten a straight answer about where he can find Tsion Ben-Judah. He tries again with the Two Witnesses and this time:
Eli and Moishe traded off quoting verses Buck recognized from Acts and Bruce’s teaching.
They shouted: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.”
They go on like this for another page, quoting the rest of the passage from Joel 2 that Peter recited at Pentecost in the book of Acts. Good stuff, Joel, but not terribly pertinent to Buck’s actual finding-Tsion problem.
“Why couldn’t the witnesses just tell him?” Buck wonders yet again, and by this point every reader is surely nodding in agreement.
This new burst of preaching draws a crowd, so Buck tiptoes closer to the Two Witnesses and whispers his question again:
“By ‘Galilee’ I can only assume you mean Lake Tiberius,” he said. How was one supposed to tell people who seemed to have come back from Bible times that their geography was out of date?
The lake is called Tiberias, actually, after the city on its shores which was, in turn, named after the Roman Emperor Tiberius. But the Witnesses’ geography isn’t really out of date. It’s the same lake, it just picked up a new name during Roman rule. And even though both Moses and Elijah lived and died a long time before anyone ever heard of Rome, we know they’re already up-to-date on who the Romans were because they keep quoting from the New Testament, in English. They seem to have been imparted total knowledge of everything that happened after their original deaths.
“Will I find my friend in Galilee, or on the Sea of Galilee, or where?”
“He who has ears to hear …”
Buck knew better than to interrupt and show his frustration. “How do I get there?” he asked.
Eli spoke softly. “It will go well with you if you return to the multitude,” he said.
Return to the multitude? Buck thought. He backed up and rejoined the crowd.
“Return to the multitude” isn’t a Bible verse either, even though “multitude” sounds kind of Bible-y. More to the point, though, it also isn’t an answer to Buck’s question.
The Two Witnesses go back to their recitation of the concordance entry for “Galilee,” this time repeating the story of the calling of Peter and Andrew.
Buck wasn’t sure what to make of all that, but he sensed he had gotten all he was going to get from the witnesses that night. Though they continued to preach, and more people gathered seemingly from nowhere to listen, Buck drifted away. He lugged his bag to a short taxi line and climbed into the back of a small cab.
And that’s it. Twenty-five pages ago, all Buck had to go on was that Tsion was in or near “Galilee.” And now, after all that preaching and warning — plus two premonitions, a dream and a phone call — Buck hasn’t learned any more than that.
If only “that great cell phone” he’s carrying had GPS.