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In the Epistle to Thyatira we have the reference to another and more intensified form of idolatry as developed and established in the days of Ahab, king of Israel; another who, like Balaam, "made Israel to sin" (1 Kings xvi. 30).
Ahab was the first king who officially introduced and organised he most abominable form of heathen idolatry that the human mind ever conceived (1 Kings xvi. 33). See Revised Version, where the special significance of this abomination is conveyed and contained in the word "Asherah." To particularise on this form of idolatry would be only to defile the mind. The Lord Himself in this Epistle (Rev. ii. 20-24) gives a clue to it. We may, perhaps, add that what was introduced into Israel by Balaam (see Rev. ii. 14) became elevated into a national religious system under Ahab and Jezebel, as it had long been recognised among the heathen nations around.
What that religious system of licentious idolatry was is well known; but something may be gathered from a recently-discovered Papyrus,4747 Now in Lord Amherst's collection, and published under the title of the Amherst Papyri (Oxford Press). containing about a sixth of the Ascension of Isaiah, which had before been known only in an Ethiopic Translation (except a mutilated Lectionary in Paris). The origin of this Papyrus is very ancient, and its historical facts may be taken as correct, separated from its vaticinations. It says, speaking of the condition of things in the days of Israel's Kings - "And Manasseh turned aside his heart to serve Beliar [i.e., Belial]; for the angel of lawlessness who ruleth this world is Beliar, whose name is Malambuchus. And he delighted in Jerusalem because of Manasseh, and made him strong in Jerusalem. And sorcery and magic increased, and divination and auguration and fornication and the persecution of the righteous at the hands of Manasseh... And when Isaiah the son of Amoz, saw the lawlessness which was being committed in Jerusalem, and the worship of Satan, and his triumph, he withdrew from Jerusalem, and settled in Bethlehem of Judea."
The Papyrus goes on to speak of Zedekiah, the son of Chenaanah, as being "the teacher of the four hundred prophets of Baal;" and tells how Isaiah "called Jerusalem Sodom, and the rulers of Judah and Israel he named people of Gomorrah." This was of course in reference to the special sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. See Isa. i., &c.
Many proofs abound to show that some similar system will yet be revived. None can be imagined which would more quickly and universally take hold upon the world, and unite all communities - and even the worst of characters, by making all, thus, to become religious, and yet able to degrade and gratify the instincts of human nature under the guise of religion.
Nor can we conceive any form of corruption which would mark off the people of God more effectually, and cause them to be separated from the abounding wickedness around them.
This is the best explanation which can be given of those solemn verses, Rev. ix. 20, 21: or rather, it is this passage which is itself the explanation of the awful character of Antichrist's great universal system of Religion, which even God's plagues, up to the point of time there referred to, will have failed to remove, and which will call down the yet greater judgments of "the seven vials."
These verses (Rev. ix. 20, 21) are so weighty that we must them in full.
"And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils (R.V. marg. demons), and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts."
Our point, however, must not be forgotten, which is, to draw attention to the fact, that the mention of this evil in these Epistles corresponds with the historical order in Israel's history in the Old Testament.
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