Gods on Parade

“No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.” Daniel 2:11b


The festival crowd cheered enthusiastically at the sight of the local shrine’s mikoshi as it snaked its way along the town’s designated parade route. The uniformly clad bearers of the mikoshi swayed in a set pattern as they chanted in unison “wasshoi” (和緒一), which aptly means “together in harmony.” With rhythmic precision, they shouldered an ornate miniature replica of the nearby Shinto shrine, known as an omikoshi (the additional “o” is honorific) on two long poles for transport. According to tradition, a mikoshi temporarily houses the local deity of the area who will, hopefully, ward off any potential misfortune or evil and invite happiness to the local residents.

The word mikoshi (神輿) is a combination of the Chinese characters for “god” and a “palanquin,” which was historically used to transport people of noble rank. But in this case, the occupant of the palanquin is considered to be a god, who is being taken for a tour of his community. Shintoism is the indigenous, pantheistic religion of Japan where gods are regarded as being everywhere and in everything. This ancient religion teaches that there are roughly 8 million gods who watch over Japan (that number is specifically chosen because it is similar to the term used for infinity). Since these gods, or spirits known as kami (神), are believed to be everywhere, they are usually venerated in shrines scattered throughout Japan in scenic locations where such gods are believed to dwell.

The typical mikoshi may weigh as much as a ton and is typically carried by a team of around 30-50 people who are specially trained in how to transport it. The bearers follow a traditionally prescribed choreography unique to their area, stopping at key points along the route, which in some cases includes entering a nearby body of water such as a river, lake or ocean. One or two scantily clad men often stand on the palanquin with the omikoshi shouting out instructions to the transporters below adding to the overall spectacle. A carving of a phoenix, as an ancient symbol of good fortune, hope and peace, usually occupies the top of a mikoshi. The heaviest omikoshi on record weighs 4.5 tons and requires a massive team of 300 people to carry it.

From the beginning of time, mankind has superstitiously sought the favor of gods through numerous means shaped by their varied perceptions of the gods they worship. A low or inaccurate understanding of God perceives Him as someone who can be bent to one’s will through prescribed acts or rituals in order to receive favor in the form of wealth, power, health, influence or progeny. Such gods often come in the form of idols constructed by men who then absurdly bow before these objects, pleading “Save me! You are my god!” (Isaiah 44:17) Such foolish thinking and actions are mocked repeatedly in Scripture and stand in contrast to the God who made the heavens and earth, who “does whatever pleases Him” (Psalm 115:3) and exists far beyond the attempted manipulations of men who strive to limit Him to their own advantage.

The wise men of the Babylonian court in Daniel’s era had a partially correct view of God (Daniel 2:11) as they perceived Him as beyond their control, but they erred in regarding God as disengaged from the activities of humans. In contrast to this, the entire Book of Daniel testifies of a transcendent but involved, all-powerful, all-knowing God who cannot be confined to a mikoshi and moved at a whim to incur blessing. This God dwells above the nations, all history and the universe itself, moving according to His counsel alone. This means that we are merely bystanders, and at best worshipers, but never transporters.

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