The other thing about marks on one’s forehead–They are not just a “Get out of Hell free” card; this is a matter of “Which side are you on?” as we will see when we get to those other marks in a later passage.
God is not a contender in some traditional human “Who’s the King here?” contest. But ancient Middle-Easterners are familiar with that sort of event; they expect it to be serious and nasty; they know that Bad Decisions in picking the rightful side can be life-threatening.
On another hand… Consider the line-up: in this corner, high overhead on His throne overlooking the North Celestial Pole, surrounded by worshipful angels and creatures made of stars, is the Creator of the Universe. VS? A bunch of “inhabitants of the earth,” worshiping Caesar and other false gods. Is this a fair contest? Why is it a contest at all?
Is God pulling his punches? Uprooting stars, peeling back the sky, throwing down plagues and flaming awful bloody objects like on a very bad day… The survivors nip out of town, hide under rocks, do absolutely everything but say “Uncle!” Man, we’re tough! Bright?–no, but commendably stubborn.
At face value, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why doesn’t everyone just ask: “Who did you say we should call our Personal Savior, again?” There must be hidden subtleties involved.
The ones with the marks, who are not getting thumped, are those who “have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. Like the ancient Israelites who just marked their faces with lamb’s blood, okay, but these are before the Thone worshipping God day and night, being sheltered and guided. The washing is “an ongoing action,” according to my commentary.
What does this mean? The answer that makes sense to me was suggested by a yoga book I’ve been reading, by Erich Schiffmann (where I also think his description of meditation is closer to the core of what Quaker worship is supposed to be than I generally hear from Quakers–but then he isn’t talking about a group process at all…) His view of divine guidance is that it’s available to everybody. Most people don’t follow it because they’re too fixated on the physical, social, intellectual cues they think should be their basis for decisions. A few people think they’re following it, but are really at the mercy of their own compulsive thinking and unexamined feelings. But it is possible to be led and taught by God, as our founders insisted, and it doesn’t require a committee so much as openness, trust, and practice. (If the message keeps coming out “Bomb Iraq!” there are probably personal quirks corrupting the process.)
So what gets that countless multitude out of harm’s way, in this story, is not being martyred, not performing some extraordinary service or finding some theological magic that entitles them to be led by God–It’s simply being led by God. If you ask for help in small things, and pay attention to what you’re given, Schiffmann says, you get more accustomed to living this way, and it gets better. (I can’t claim to have practiced this enough, but I know it’s true.)