Isaac Asimov could have written I, Robot without Karel Čapek’s help, but he would have needed a different word for the artificial life forms featured in his writing. Asimov’s robot stories shifted the paradigms of science fiction by exploring the unintended consequences of creating something smarter and stronger than a human, but without a human’s ethical configuration. For over half a century he probed dark and difficult territory, asking questions and spinning scenarios that remain disturbingly applicable to our present reality. Yet Asimov neither invented the word “robot”, nor initiated the inquiry into the potential nemesis of unbridled technological innovation.
Bad things happen when man plays the role of God, as Mary Shelley demonstrated in 1818 with her first novel, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. Shelley brought the question into the modern era, but it was Karel Čapek who mechanized it. Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossumovi univerzální roboti; Rossum’s Universal Robots) was a success from its first performance in 1920. The play introduced international audiences to the Czech word robota, meaning hard work, a word rendered into English as robot. The play is not a comedy; in Čapek’s imaginary world the robots are manufactured life forms designed to assist humans, but eventually they rebel and extinguish all human life.
Čapek revived this scenario in War with the Newts, a novel published in 1936 as satire on the hypocritically self-serving international system which enabled Nazi Germany’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia two years later. It is a humorously dark tale about a race of sentient amphibian creatures discovered in the waters of Indonesia. The newts prove to be swift learners and adept at a multitude of tasks, making them ideal candidates for exploitation not only as workers, but also as undersea warriors. In time the newts, like the robots, rebel, destroying the dry land and turning it into shallow waters suitable for their environmental needs. The nations of the earth find themselves in a war for survival against a global amphibian army. It is a war humanity will not win, but Čapek reveals that the victorious newts will turn on themselves and become the instruments of their own destruction, leaving a remnant of mankind to rebuild the planet.
It is frightful to contemplate the end of one’s world, particularly when the end is justly deserved. Asimov, Shelley, and Čapek relate scenarios of judgment resulting from mankind’s own selfish shortsightedness – playing God, if you will. The element of terror they invoke lurks in the revelation that the instruments of judgment are the works of our own hands. As usual, art imitates life. YHVH renders judgment on those who disregard His standard of righteousness and set up standards of their own – playing God, if you will. Judgment brings a sentence of destruction and death, which is terrifying enough. What makes it more chilling is to learn the name of the one who will bring about the anticipated death and destruction. About 35 centuries ago, the doomed Canaanite civilization experienced that very thing shortly after Moses spoke these words:
It is the Lord your God who will cross ahead of you; He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the Lord has spoken. (Deuteronomy 31:3 NASB)
The restoration means both Houses of Israel – the House of Judah, whom we know today as the Jewish people, and the House of Ephraim, also known as the House of Israel or House of Joseph. Ephraim consists of the Ten Tribes of Israel’s northern kingdom which never returned from exile. Most of the Bible is incomprehensible if not viewed in the context of the Two Houses. Who they were in ancient times, how they separated, and the promise of their restoration form the framework of the Gospel of the Kingdom which is supposed to be preached to the whole world before Messiah comes.
Would it be a surprise to realize that the end of the world as we know it means the beginning of the reign of Messiah over His reestablished Kingdom of Israel? Christians have anticipated the Great Tribulation and the end of this age, but have seldom considered what is on the other side of that Tribulation. Jews have considered what is on the other side, but have seldom considered that much of the nation of Israel would be coming from Christendom. And yet that is just what we are seeing today: the beginning of the reconstitution of Ephraim, largely through the awakening of Christians to their identity as Israelites based on the covenantal promises of YHVH and the redemptive work of Messiah Yeshua. The “Torah Awakening” is a major component of this process as Christians are beginning to realize that the entire Bible, including the Feasts of the Lord and the Sabbath (Shabbat), are still applicable to all of God’s people.
If this is so, then how far along is this restoration? Well, within the past year we have seen the Torah Awakening accelerate around the world, and we have seen people begin to identify themselves as Ephraimites in a very public way. That was the purpose of the First B’ney Yosef National Congress held in Israel in May 2015. The process has continued throughout the summer, and it promises to continue and expand in the coming months. That was the subject of a conversation on The Remnant Road, the Monday edition of the Hebrew Nation Morning Show. In a broadcast that aired on September 7, David Altman from the Alliance of Redeemed Israel (ARI) talked about the awakening of Believers to their identity as returning Israelites according to the promises of Scripture. The conversation started with developments since the Congress, and then covered ideas on how to strengthen the ties among individuals, congregations, and communities now identifying as Ephraimites. David also discussed the upcoming North American Ephraimite Summit, planned for March 4-6, 2016, in Orlando, FL. To listen to the broadcast and learn how you can get involved please click here.
Another perspective on this process comes from Ephraim Frank, a key organizer of the B’ney Yosef Congress. In a recent post on his blog, Etz B’ney Yosef, Ephraim provided some interesting and encouraging observations about what we are seeing even now.
On 12th of May 1948 a decision on the name the newly formed State of Israel had to be voted on by ten council members. The choices were Yehuda, Tsyion, Tsabar, and Erets Yisrael. Most assumed that it would be Yehuda, but a divine harbinger manifested in a last minute suggestion by David Ben Gurion, and that was the name “Yisrael”. Seven of the council members voted for that name, which was a prophetic sign of the future return of all the tribes of Israel. The order of the restoration and return in Ezekiel 37 places Yehuda/Israel first, and thusly Yehuda’s dry stick became at that time a nation once again.
Perhaps you are not aware that also in 1948 a contest was held by the temporary government for a national emblem. One hundred and sixty-four individuals submitted 450 ideas. The one chosen, which the State of Israel adopted, on February 10th 1949, was designed by two brothers, Gabriel and Maxim Shamir. Their suggestion included the seven candle branch Menorah with two olive branches on each side. The final draft, however, did not totally resemble the brothers’ original design, as the committee decided to incorporate a few other features into it and changed the shape of the Menorah to the one depicted in the Arch of Titus (in Rome). The two olive branches which flank the Menorah, were meant as peace symbols, and only later were associated with Zechariah 4:11. I believe that this design was another harbinger of the restoration of the two sticks of Ezekiel 37:16.
In his book The Harbinger, Jonathan Cahn makes mention of the significance of trees in the Bible. He specifically notes the two cited in Isaiah 9:10 – the sycamore and the cedar, both in relationship to the 9/11 terror attack in New York, as being symbolic of judgments upon the United States. In an interview about his latest book, The Mystery of the Shemitah Unlocked, he noted how Shemitah years are associated with judgments and changes, both positive and negative. The rise and fall of nations in connection to Shemitah is one example he brings up in this book. Hence, if the USA is indeed spiraling down, and if that began in a Shemitah year (2001), what about the rise of the nation of Yehuda in 1917 (another Shemitah), or the reconstitution of the second stick/nation of Yosef/Ephraim in the current Shemitah? Is the latter also a harbinger of this eventuality, with the first Yehuda-Yosef “United 2 Restore” group marching in the Jerusalem Succot parade last year and then with the convening of the first B’ney Yosef National Congress on Shavuot? Is this the Shemitah year in which the second stick/nation of Joseph/Ephraim is beginning to bud? By the same token, should many of the harbingers of judgment be also interpreted positively, in that YHVH is going to bring back and restore the whole House of Israel? The branch of Yehuda in the national emblem is fully leafed, but what about the second branch in that national emblem, what should it look like at this time? Here is my rendition:
It seems that everyone is expecting the world to change for the worse in September 2015. That, at least, is a prevailing topic of conversation here in the United States. I have been part of such discussions many times over the last few months, and regardless how the discussion begins, it invariably comes down to the question, “What do we do now?”
The people of YHVH should be paying attention to the signs of the times. We are indeed on the brink of major changes to the world system, and these changes likely will involve a combination of economic, military, political, and civil unrest, with a few major natural disasters thrown in for good measure. It is, after all, the end of the Shemitah, the seventh, or sabbatical, year in the seven-year cycle the Lord explained to Moses (Exodus 23:10-12; Leviticus 25:1-7; Deuteronomy 15:1-6, 31:9-13). It is also the time of the fourth Blood Moon of the tetrad we have seen at Passover and Tabernacles over these last two years. What, if anything, are we to do about all of this?
Happily, there is someone who has undertaken the task of answering that question in a rational, systematic fashion using principles derived straight from the Bible. We can thank people like Rabbi Jonathan Cahn and Pastor Mark Biltz for bringing the Shemitah cycle to the attention of the world. Now we can thank Barry L. Miller for helping us understand how to live within that cycle. That is the message of his book Know the Time, Change Your World: The Reappearance of the Seven- and Fifty-Year Biblical Cycles.
It is understandable why Peter Jackson had to take considerable license with The Lord of the Rings when he brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s mammoth work to the screen, and yet his choices inevitably brought disappointment to Tolkien aficionados. Why, for example, did Jackson choose to minimize the presence of Farmer Maggot? Tolkienists take issue with the fact that his role in The Fellowship of the Ring was diminished to the point of insignificance. In the book, Farmer Maggot saved Frodo and his companions as they fled the Shire, giving them provision and helping them elude Sauron’s dreaded Black Riders. It was unexpected help, for Frodo had considered Farmer Maggot an enemy. As a child Frodo had taken a liking to Maggot’s mushrooms, and on more than one occasion absconded with portions of the good farmer’s crop. Such youthful mischief roused Maggot’s anger, compelling him to chase Frodo from his land and threaten him with his very large dogs should he ever return. And so it was that Frodo grew up fearing Farmer Maggot, never knowing that beneath his fierce anger lay a loyal, generous, and hospitable heart. Thanks to the mediation of his companion Pippin, and to the dire need of the moment, Frodo at last gained opportunity to get to know the real Farmer Maggot. He explained as much as they prepared to leave Maggot’s home:
Thank you very much indeed for your kindness! I’ve been in terror of you and your dogs for over thirty years, Farmer Maggot, though you may laugh to hear it. It’s a pity: for I’ve missed a good friend.
Frodo’s words present us with an all-too-familiar and all-too-tragic reality. How often have individuals, families, and nations remained at odds over ancient offenses, the causes of which are long forgotten? How much suffering has multiplied on the earth because natural allies regard each other as enemies, or at least minimize their contact with each other out of mistrust and misbegotten fear? And how much greater is that tragedy if the people who regard each other in this way are the two parts of YHVH’s people? In truth, Moses and Yeshua have no contradictions or arguments, but their followers think they do, and for that reason Jews and Christians have separated themselves from one another for twenty centuries.
What is this fascination with the possibility of life beyond this planet? Are we so insecure in our human existence that we cannot bear the thought of dwelling on the only inhabited territory in the entire universe? Or is it, perhaps, a deep-seated sense of being incomplete in ourselves? Whatever the reason, since the dawn of human existence we have sought for something, or Someone, beyond ourselves who shares our experience of sentience and can explain it to us.
For over a century the search for the Interstellar Other has found expression in science fiction. Novelists like H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke have made their marks on several generations of impressionable youth, yet the massive explosion of science fiction onto popular consciousness came not with books, but with movies. Clarke’s collaboration with Stanley Kubrick in the 1968 film2001: A Space Odyssey took science fiction movies to a new level. It combined world-class writing with world-class filmmaking to proclaim to audiences that we are not alone, but in so doing left more questions than answers. Ten years later, Steven Spielberg sought to answer some of those questions inClose Encounters of the Third Kind, proposing that the Interstellar Others have been visiting earth for a long, long time, and asserting that humanity had reached a point where these advanced beings could take us into their confidence and educate us further. Movies produced over the next generation investigated different aspects of this question. Some, like M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 thriller,Signs, explored the dark possibility that alien visitors are not friendly. Signs clings to the hope that humanity can defend itself from alien intruders, and that the hostile encounter restores a sense of purpose we did not know we had lost. And then there isKnowing, a 2009 drama in which Dr John Koestler, played by Nicholas Cage, embarks on a search for the meaning behind clues predicting one global disaster after another. He learns at last that he can do nothing about the disasters; they themselves are clues all-knowing alien watchers have tracked through time to warn humanity about the imminent destruction of our planet in a massive solar flare. The aliens have no intention of letting the human race pass into extinction. Their clues guide people like Koestler in gathering children so the aliens can take them to a place of safety where humanity can begin again.
A recurring motif in these science fiction films is the search for meaning behind the evidence of alien presence. In 2001 the evidence is a mysterious monolith, and in Close Encounters it is the connection of unexplainable phenomena across the globe. In Signs it is the appearance of crop circles, and in Knowing it is the incomprehensible code of numbers and letters scratched by a child and left in a time capsule. The story tellers would have us believe that the answers to human existence are all there if we can only decipher the patterns.
The science fiction story tellers are correct in that an Interstellar Other has left patterns for us to decipher. What they have missed is that the Interstellar Other is the Holy One of Israel. His clues are in Torah, and His answers are in the rest of Scripture.