Friday, December 19, 2014

Who Is Sovereign? God? Or My Free Will?

"I am God, and there is no other;
     I am God, and there is none like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning
     And from ancient times things not yet done,
Saying, 'My counsel shall stand,
     And I will accomplish all My purpose,'...
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
     I have purposed, and I will do it."
- Isaiah 46:9-11

These verses occur in a portion of the Prophet in which God is revealing His plans for Babylon, for its conquest and exiling of Judah. While those events were part of God's plan for the punishment of the sins of His people, the Babylonians certainly didn't act for His glory, but for their own. And, as seen here, God had a plan, to "call a bird of prey from the East, the man of My counsel from a far country" (v. 11), i. e., Cyrus the Mede. These events occurred approximately two-hundred years after the prophecy was given.

Consider some of the contingencies that had to occur, in order for these prophesied events to occur. That is two-hundred years of politics, wars, geography. Even something as minuscule as sets of parents that had to come together to result in this particular person, and to name him this exact name (given explicitly in Is. 44:28). Yet, God planned all of those details to bring about His purposes, His counsel.

Whenever the subject of predestination comes up, someone will unfailingly claim that God cannot override the free will of men. Aside from the obvious question of where that is mentioned in Scripture, we have a problem here of how many steps of free will of men could have derailed the plans of God. Two-hundred years of free will!

Let's consider some other verses:

Psalm 33:11: "The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations."

Proverbs 19:21: "Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand."

Isaiah 14:24: "The Lord of hosts has sworn, 'As I have planned, so shall it be, and, as I have purposed, so shall it stand.'"

And Isaiah 14:27: "The Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?"

What is the consistent testimony of these verses? That the free will of men can veto the intentions of God? I certainly don't see that. Rather, I see God acting as God, fulfilling His own purposes out of His free will, for He is God and we are not! That is the way that Calvinism and Arminianism reflect utterly inconsistent worldviews. The Calvinist says that "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof" (PS. 24:1). Arminianism holds that men are little gods, with sovereignty in our own little spheres, our lives. What does God say to that? "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all My purpose" (Is. 46:10). He is not restrained by our pretensions to independence.

I think that the Westminster Confession of Faith (III:1) says it well: "God from all eternity did, by the most and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How Can a Man Be Righteous Before God?

In the Bible, we find comments like this (Habakkuk 1:13): "You are of purer eyes than to see evil, and cannot look at wrong." Or Job 13:16: "The godless shall not come before Him." And Isaiah 59:2: "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear." Or the hardest of all (Hebrews 12:14): "Strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" [emphasis mine].

Any person who hasn't completely hardened his conscience should tremble at those verses, "for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). How can any of us stand before God, knowing in our hearts that "all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6)? If the best I can do is a filthy rag by the standards of God's righteousness, how can I have any hope for more than His just judgment?

Thank God that He has given us an undeserved solution for our sin natures. Just before the verse above from Romans, the Apostle Paul tells us (Rom. 3:21-22), "The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." Ah, here is hope! Here is the holiness that we do not have in ourselves!

In theology, this is called "imputed righteousness," i. e., a righteousness, a holiness, that is outside
ourselves, but is considered ours in God's eyes, by the means of faith. "With the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved, for, the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame'" (Romans 10:10-11). Even the Patriarch Abraham needed this holiness: "If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'" (Romans 4:2-3).

The Catholic Church tries to steal our assurance in this righteousness by quoting James 2:24, "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." She claims that this verse means that we receive eternal life only by a mixture of faith and good works. I ask, how can a person be saved, even in part, by offering God a "polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6)? But they make their case only by ignoring the rest of what James says. In the same paragraph (James 2:18), that brother of Jesus tells us, "Show me your faith apart from works and I will show you my faith by my works." So, where Paul is talking about our justification before God, James is talking about our justification before men. And he is correct: a faith that justifies us before God will necessarily result in a changed life that demonstrates our justification before the people around us. 

In contrast, the Westminster Confession of Faith (XVIII:1) says, "such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God: which hope shall never make them ashamed." I take great comfort in that. And I find this, alone, to be sufficient grounds to be a Presbyterian.

And knowing that Satan will throw other doubts in our path, the Confession continues correctly (paragraph 4): "True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it; by falling into some special sin, which woundeth the conscience, and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation; by God's withdrawing the light of his countenance and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may in due time be revived, and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Fallen Creation in Adam, but a New Creation in the Second Adam

This biblical theology assignment was to trace the theme of the creation through the Bible. I found it a real joy to work through. My prayer is that it will encourage others as well.

    The creation is described, logically, in the opening verses of the Bible, Genesis 1:1-2:4. The actor is God, Elohim, not given as Yahweh. Again that is logical, since the revelation of God by His covenantal name would have no meaning in the then-absence of the subordinates in the covenant, i. e., mankind. I take the plural form as an indication of a united effort by the Godhead, not of the individual Persons, before the Spirit departs to His particular work in verse 2.
    The creation proceeds in a roughly hierarchical pattern, from the physical substrate, i. e., the earth in its chaotic state, to a primitive form of the surrounding universe, to the land and waters as organized elements. The God directs His attention to the first life, the vegetative element, and then its sustenance in sun and stars, to the self-motive element of sea- and air-life, the dwellers of the land, and finally Man. Its last day is a day of rest, of God’s self-religion of satisfaction in His works, for they were “very good” (1:31).
    To the crown of His creation, Adam and Eve, God gave the task of viceroyalty, to exercise dominion under God, ruling, organizing, and filling the creation. He gave the couple only one explicit restriction in their labor: they were restricted from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I am sure this was not the only rule of life that they were to obey. However, in their prelapsarian state, His law was naturally-engraved in their nature. The tree was added as a counter-intuitive law, a visible sign that their rule was not independent, but subject to the a priori government of God as their Maker and Owner.
    Job recognized this relationship among Creator, creation, and human headship in Job 12:7-10. He cites beasts, birds, vegetation, and fish, as witnesses “that the hand of the Lord has done this [i. e., the disasters that he had experienced].” In this book, probably pre-Mosaic, the writer is using the relationship among the branches of the Creation to give meaning to the losses that he had undergone, losing wealth and posterity. Later in the same book, Job 38:4-11, God does the same thing. Speaking as Yahweh, indicating, I think, the mediatorial involvement of the Second Person, He challenges Job and his friends: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Obviously, Job wasn’t anywhere. “Who determined its measurements… and prescribed limits for it?” The answer to Job’s question, why had these things happened to him, was that he had neither capacity nor right to challenge what he had received from the hands of God, because he had neither the standing nor the experience from which to judge, nor even to understand the hand of God. In Job 40:15-24, God continues by describing just one creature in His creation, a creation beyond human understanding or control. Yet, Job expects to have the perspective from which to comprehend the actions of God?
    In the Psalms, David emphasizes the creation mandate to demonstrate the spiritual significance of mankind. In Ps. 8:5-8, he reminds God that He had “given him dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.” Of course, this ultimately refers to the Son of Man and Second Adam, Jesus Christ, who restores the dominion lost by Adam’s fall (I Cor. 15:27 and Heb. 2:8. In Ps. 65:5-13, David recalls God’s creation activity, creating the mountains, watering the earth, and prospering the fertility of land and beast, as proof that we can look to Him in prayer, and satisfy the elect with His goodness. Asaph makes the same case in Psalm 74. He refers to God’s victory over Leviathan (as He Himself did in Job), and especially the creation of night and day (v. 16) as a reminder of God’s faithfulness in the past, apparently during a time of God’s wrath. Ethan the Ezrahite makes the same case in Ps. 89:11: “The heavens are Yours; the earth also is Yours; the world and all that is in it, You have founded them.” He is exulting in the wondrous works of God as the undergirding of His promises to David. Moses applies that power to all the people of God in Ps. 90:2: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” An anonymous sufferer repeats the words of Moses in Ps. 102:25-27: “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands… [for] You are the same, and your years have no end.” Doing great deeds of creation are passing moments to God, so doing great works on our behalf are easy for Him, not endangered by the flash-in-the-pan existence of mere men.
    The anonymous Psalm 104:5-30 makes extended use of the theme of God as creator. “He set the earth on its foundations… covered it with the deep. The mountains rose, the valleys sank down.” The birds and beasts are considered, along with the sun and moon. Leviathan makes his third appearance. The Holy Spirit goes forth. Why does the writer give this litany of the works of God? Verses 33-35: “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live… for I rejoice in the Lord. Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.” All of the mighty works of God are signs. To the faithful, they give a basis for praise and assurance. For the wicked, they guarantee the certainty of judgment.
    The various authors of the Proverbs used the divine Creation to demonstrate the wisdom of God. Solomon, well-known for his own subordinate wisdom, says of God’s (Pr. 3:19-20): “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens; by His knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.” Notice that he couches the creation in a covenantal context, Yahweh instead of Elohim, drawing a relational aspect that Moses did not.In Pr. 8:22-31. Solomon continues this theme of wisdom, personifying it: “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His work, the first of His acts of old… When He established the heavens, I was there… When He marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside Him…, and I was His delight…, delighting in the children of man.” Solomon gives an abbreviated description of the days of creation, culminating in the delight of Wisdom in mankind. Is this the pre-incarnate Christ? It uses the covenantal name of God, so I am inclined to say so. Nevertheless, it expresses a confidence in God, founded on His nature as revealed in His great acts of creation. And lastly, in Pr. 30:4, Agur, son of Jakeh, asks, “Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His son’s name?” Not the petty idols of this city or that one, but the One God Who overrules them all!
    It is only a passing remark, but Solomon makes another interesting use of the Creation account in Ecclesiastes 3:10-13: “I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.” He recalls the dominion covenant of Gen. 1:26-31. For, “He has put eternity into man’s heart.” That mandate has been incorporated into man’s nature. “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live.” Human happiness is bound up in fulfilling the purpose that God built into our creation way back in Genesis. “This is God’s gift to man.” It isn’t drudgery; that is the curse. The calling brings contentment and fulfillment. He brings that principle up again in 12:1: “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” The physical breakdown of aging is also part of the curse, so find fulfillment in dominion before that inhibition makes your work impossible.
    The Prophet Isaiah relies on creation theology in much of the latter half of his prophecies. In Is. 40:25-31, God makes much the same case as in Job: how can a man or a people question Him, considering the lofty things that He has done? Of the stars, He says (v. 26), “[I am] He Who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name.” When the sinner seeks to comfort himself in his sin 9v. 27), He responds (v. 28), “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary.” And, given that (v. 31), “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
    This same sustenance is promised to the Servant to come in Is. 42:5-6: “Thus says God, the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out…, I will take You by the hand and keep You; I will give You as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations…” The God Who made all things will sustain the Servant, that He, in turn, may be a Savior for that same world. For (Is. 43:1), “thus says the Lord, He Who created you, O Jacob, He Who formed you, O Israel, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.” And again (Is. 44:24-28), “I am the Lord, Who made all things, Who alone stretched out the heavens, Who spread out the earth by Myself,... Who says of Jerusalem, She shall be inhabited, and of the cities of Judah, They shall be built, and I will raise up their ruins…” The promise of release from exile by Cyrus is sure, because (Is. 45:7) “I form light and create darkness,” and (v. 12) “I made the earth and created man on it; it was My hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.” Consider what I have done, and then you will understand that it is a small thing to bring to pass the release of Israel by the hand of Cyrus. The manifest power of God makes His promises secure.
    And, just as God made the heavens and the earth, He will recreate them, restored to their “good” state of Genesis 1:31, and even better. In Isaiah 65:17, God through the prophet says, “For behold, I create a new heavens and a new earth.” And v. 10, “Behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” He will reestablish His good creation with a renewed church to replace the failed viceroyalty of Adam. And the curse shall be undone. Verses 20, 23: “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days or an old man who does not fill out his days. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity…” Thus, God recreates the world, in part, by undoing the exact curses as they were given to Eve, in her children, and to Adam, in his labor. The futility and hardship of both, consequences of their fall, will be undone by Him Who created it in the beginning. For (Is. 66:2), “All these things My hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord.”
    In the New Testament, the creation is again taken up briefly by Paul. In Romans 8:19-23, he describes the creation waiting for the restoration of the people of God, as described by Isaiah. Paul says, “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God, for the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, in hope that that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” And in II Corinthians 5:17, applying it to each individual, he adds, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old [creation] has passed away; behold, the new [creation] has come.”
    Peter also takes up this theme in II Peter 3:10-13. He reminds us of God’s promise through Isaiah in verse 13: “According to His promise, we are waiting for the new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” The old creation, in which unrighteousness dwells, is to be wiped away (v. 10), again restoring the creation to it “very good” intended state.
    And finally the Apostle John in Revelation 21:1-6: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people… He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Jesus gives John a wonderful vision of the new creation, with the new people of God, with all the sorrows of the fallen old creation passed away.
    Thus, we have another full cycle, from a good creation from the hand of God, then brought under a curse of pain and futility through the sin of Adam, now restored to its original goodness in the Second Adam, freed from all the pain and futility. The secure knowledge of the latter is based on the historical surety of the former.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Christian's Sabbath: The First Day of the Week

As I have said before, I have friends who are Seventh-Day Adventists, so I have been challenged on the issue of the Sabbath. Is it still seventh-day, as they assert? Or, has it been moved to the first day since the Resurrection, as most Christians would say? (I am not here dealing with those who follow a dispensationalist hermeneutic, concluding that there is no Sabbath for the Christian; look here and here for that.)

The word "sabbath" (or equivalent) isn't applied to the activities of the Church after the expulsion of the Christians from the synagogue. See Acts 13:44-47, 18:5-6, 19:8-10, 21:27-30 (compare the words of Jesus, John 16:2), and especially Acts 28:26-28. By that I do not mean that it isn't relevant to Christians (Heb. 4:9). Rather, it isn't used, at all, for the activities of the church, just the synagogue, leading to Paul's point in Col. 2:16: "Let no one pass judgment on you in
The Westminster Assembly
questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath." Against the dispensationalist interpretation, I cannot accept that he would ever encourage Christians to ignore the Ten Commandments. Rather, he is encouraging Christians, especially those from a Gentile background, to resist the efforts of the Judaizers.

Thus, when the Sabbatarians ask where the New Testament applies the word "sabbath" to the first day, the point they are trying to make cuts both ways, because there is no mention of "Sabbath," by name, in the church, whether seventh-day or first-day, anywhere in the New Testament. What we have is the record of the church gathering on the first day (Acts 20:7 and I Cor. 16:2), beginning at the Resurrection (John 20:19), and, most importantly, at Pentecost in Acts 2. Pentecost was a prophecy of this change, because it was 7 seventh-days plus one, the first day of the week!

I call that day the Sabbath. The Westminster Confession of Faith (XXI:7) does, as well: "In His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, He has particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week: and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath." In support of which, the Divines refer to Exodus 20:8-10, Matthew 5:17-18, Isaiah 56:2-7, Genesis 2:2-3, I Cor. 16:1-2, and Acts 20:7 (the last two of which I also cited above).

The Westminster expresses my personal view on the matter. However, if you prefer to call Sunday the Lord's Day, to avoid confusion with the Jewish Sabbath, that is also confessional. I have no argument with that.

However, I do take exception to the suggestion that a first-day Sabbatarian is somehow inferior. My friend called us "the Whore of Babylon," though she denied meaning me personally [?]. I do not speak of her that way, or those who believe as she does. I just consider them mistaken brethren.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Faithfulness of God, Seen in the Covenant with David

My fourth biblical-theology paper.

    David, son of Jesse, the second King of Israel, is the foremost character in the second half of I Samuel, beginning in chapter 16, all of II Samuel, and in I Kings, up to chapter 2, as well as their parallel passages in I Chronicles. He himself authored authored a large, though indefinite, portion of the Psalms. Thus, he rivals his descendant Jesus in the amount of Scripture devoted to his person.
    The first King, Saul, rebels against God in I Samuel 15. As a result, God removes His anointing from Saul and his line. In his place, in chapter 16, the Prophet Samuel is commanded to anoint a replacement. Samuel examines the son’s of Jesse, going down the line from eldest down, rejecting them one by one, until David, the youngest is brought before him, and God commands him to anoint David as king-elect. We next see him in chapter 17, as Israel is standing intimidated by the champion of the Philistines, the giant Goliath. David, too young to be a soldier, is sent by his father to carry food to his elder brothers. At the front, he is appalled by the failure of any Israelite to answer Goliath’s challenge. Then David, still a beardless youth, a mere shepherd, volunteers. He approaches, not as a swaggering warrior as God’s appointee. He tells Goliath (17:45), “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, Whom you have taunted.” He strikes down Goliath with his shepherd’s sling, cuts of his head, and the now-inspired Israel drives away the rest of the disheartened Philistine army.
    Saul is jealous of David, as he listens to the people sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (18:7). He knows that he has been rejected by God in favor of David, now his son-in-law (18:20-30), and resents him for it, especially in the face of the close friendship between David and Saul’s son Jonathan (ch. 20). Saul persecutes David in chps. 21-30, during which time David marries his second wife, the widow of Nabal (ch. 25). Saul and his sons, including Jonathan but not Ishbosheth. Ishbosheth becomes king of eleven tribes, while David is crowned over Judah. The divided kingdom lasts seven and a half years (II Sam. 5:5), until Ishbosheth is assassinated, and David is then crowned king over the reunited kingdom (v. 3). The only surviving member of Saul’s family, Jonathan’s lame son Mephibosheth (v. 4:4), was to remain an honored guest in David’s household (ch. 9).
    The most important segment of David’s history is in chapter 7:8-17 (I Chronicles 17:1-15), the Davidic covenant. As was standard in such covenants, it begins with a rehearsal of God’s past blessings on David (vv. 8-9), then promises blessings (vv. 13-16). God promises peace, and a lineage on the throne of Israel forever. Verse 16 is the culmination: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” David responds in a prayer of thanksgiving in vv. 18-29, ending with a confidence in God’s promises: “For You, O Lord God, have spoken, and with Your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.”
    The next major event in David’s life is his sin with Bathsheba (ch. 11). After seeing her bathing on the roof of her house, David has her husband, Uriah the Hittite, exposed in battle with the Ammonites. With Uriah out of the way, David then takes the now-widow as his third wife. The sin is rebuked by the Prophet Nathan in chapter 12, and the newborn son of David with Bathsheba is struck down (vv. 15-23). However, their next son is Solomon, destined to be David’s heir. This demonstrates the human sinfulness of this man, of whom God said, “This is a man after my own heart” (I Sam. 13:14). As a result, David deals suffers from the sins of his own children” Amnon with Tamar, and the rebellion of Absalom. We see his nature again in his census of chap. 24, resulting in God’s striking down of 70 thousand of his people. I Kings 1 and 2 are the account of the transfer of the kingdom from David to Solomon, and then David’s passing (vv. 10-12).
    David’s son, Solomon, as the newly-anointed king, relies of God’s covenant with his father in I Kings 3:6-14: “You have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day.” This suggests that David made great effort to teach Solomon what God had promised and done for him. But 5:3 indicates that he was also aware of the consequences of David’s bloody hands. We see both sides of David’s relationship with God in 8:15-20. But Solomon continues confident in God’s covenant promises (vv. 24-26). And that confidence is shared by all of Israel in verse 66.
    God explicitly repeats the promises of the Davidic covenant with Solomon in 9:4-5. This is similar to the pattern of the Abrahamic covenant, with the terms renewed with each succeeding generation. However, unlike David, Solomon did not keep his side of the covenant. In 11:4-6, the writer of Kings shows Solomon following after the pagan deities of his multitudinous wives. Yet, God continues faithful (vv. 12-13), not for Solomon’s sake, but for David’s. Later in the chapter, God punishes the apostasy of Solomon by dividing the kingdom with a rebellion against his son, Rehoboam. Yet, even here, God remembers his covenant, and reserves the tribe of Judah to David’s line (vv. 32-39). This pattern is repeated with Rehoboam’s son, Abijam. In 15:3, the writer explicitly tells us that Abijam did not share the faith of his ancestor David, but vv.4-5 show us God acting out of faithfulness to David: “because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…” This is what Paul refers to, in II Timothy 2:13: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful - for He cannot deny Himself.” In II Kings 8:16ff, when Jehoram follows the apostate path of his Israelite kinsmen, even here, the writer tells us, “Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David His servant, since He promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.”
    The writer of Kings continues to use David as the standard against whom to compare his posterity. His lineage rates badly in 14:3 and 16:2, but well in 18:3. God again recalls His covenant in 19:34 (parallel in Isaiah 37:33-35), as Assyria, after eliminating the northern kingdom, now attacks Jerusalem:  “I will defend this city to save it, for My own sake and for the sake of My servant David.” As Paul said to Timothy, God acts according to His covenant promises because He is watchful over His own truth and reputation, as well as the welfare of His elect.
    David himself writes of God’s establishment of His covenant. In Psalm 18:20-24, he wrote, “The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands… The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in His sight.” He does not claim that his righteousness is inherent for (v. 32), “[God] equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.” He remembers the particular elements of the covenant, as he credits God with “making me the head of the nations” (v. 43) and “subduing peoples under me” (v. 47), promises “to David and his offspring forever” (v. 50). Asaph sings of the covenant in Psalm 78:67-72: “He chose David His servant… to shepherd Jacob His people… [And] with upright heart he shepherded them.” Ethan the Ezrahite has the voice of God recalling (89:19-37), “I have found David My servant; with My holy oil I have anointed him, so that My hand shall be established with him… My faithfulness and My steadfast love shall be with him… He shall cry to Me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation’... My steadfast love I will keep with him forever, and My covenant will stand firm for him. I will establish his offspring forever, and his throne as the days of the heavens… I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to My faithfulness. I will not violate My covenant or alter the word that went forth from My lips…” Ethan claims this faithfulness for all of God’s people (v. 49): “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which, by Your faithfulness, you swore to David?”
    The unnamed writer of Psalm 132 applied the same principle of prayer. In verse 1, he starts with, “Remember, O Lord, in David’s favor…” He claims God’s faithfulness to david for the benefit of all of Israel. Verses 11-12: “The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which He will not turn back: ‘One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne. If your sons keep My covenant and My testimonies that I shall teach them, their sons also forever shall sit on your throne.” The writer asks, “If Jerusalem is destroyed, how can You fulfill Your promise that there shall always be a son of David to rule there?” The promise to David, in his eyes, has positive implications for the whole nation.
    The Prophet Isaiah also applied the Davidic covenant to the people of God, as the promise according to which the Messiah would come. In Isaiah 9, the famous Christmas story, he writes (vv. 6-7): “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder… Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it…” So, we see an expansion of the vision of the covenant. Where David had seen it as a political promise, with his dynasty established over ethnic Israel, Isaiah now expands that vision to point to a particular King, yet unnamed, who shall take that kingdom to a far greater glory. He repeats that vision in 16:5, “A throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do  righteousness.” Again, he moves the covenant from a promise of a lineage of men to a particular One.
    Isaiah also makes use of the covenant to encourage the faithful remnant of Israel. In 55:1-5, he calls the people to repentance, assure of the faithfulness of God, as seen in His covenant with David. Verse 3: “Incline your ear and come to Me; hear, that Gsoul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast, sure love for David.” David, the sinner of Bathsheba and Psalm 51 relied on the faithful mercy of God. If he did it, can’t I?
    God Himself made the same comparison through Jeremiah (17:24-25). Using the Sabbath as a test case, He calls the people to repent, and “then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings and princes who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And this city shall be inhabited forever.” Or, if they refuse (21:12, repeated in 22:2-4), “Hear the word of the Lord, O house of David! Thus says the Lord, ‘Execute justice in the morning, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed, lest My wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of your evil deeds.’” Repent and enjoy the blessings of David, but do not presume on them to excuse your wickedness.
    Then, as Isaiah 9, Jeremiah turns to the One who will ultimately fulfill God’s promises to David. 23:5: “I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days, Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: The Lord is our righteousness.” Where the writer of Kings lamented that king after king failed to evidence the faith of David, the One Davidic king to come will do so. And, on the side of the people (30:9): “They shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, Whom I will raise up for them.” Just as the One king will demonstrate the best of David’s faith, under His rule the people will do so, as well.
    The Branch appears again in 33:14-26. The content of the Davidic covenant is repeated in verse 17: “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel…” (and again in verses 21 and 26). The passage also adds a new element (v. 18): “The Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence…” (also verse 21). David wasn’t a priest, so this aspect of the Branch is an expansion, perhaps from the reference to the priesthood of Melchizedek in David’s Psalm 110:4. It isn’t relevant here, but Christ fulfilled this in His union of the offices of priest and king.
    The Prophet Ezekiel prophesies a coming Messiah as the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to David in 34:22-24: “I will set up over them one Shepherd, my servant David, and He shall feed them; He shall feed them and be their Shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them.” Ezekiel continues this theme in 37:24-28: “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one Shepherd… David My servant shall be their prince forever… My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God. and they shall be My people…” Notice his resurrection of the servant theme of Isaiah.
    This Davidic king also makes a brief appearance in the prophecies of Hosea (3:5): “The children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to His goodness in the latter days.” And in Amos 9:11-12: “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches,... that they may possess… all the nations who are called by My name.” And in Zechariah 12: 6-13:1, especially that last verse: “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.”
    In the New Testament, David plays a prominent role in the apologetic efforts of the Apostles to prove that Jesus was the expected Messiah and Branch of the prophets.
    In the genealogy of Jesus as given by Matthew (1:1-17), not only is the line of David prominent, but the author emphasizes the number fourteen, even skipping generations to create the three sets of fourteen. Why? Because, in hebrew, the letters also represented numbers. The consonants of David’s name (daledh-waw-daledh) add up to fourteen. Thus, not only is Jesus a lineal descendant of David, but Matthew adds that name symbolically three more times to multiply the emphasis on that fact. Not only is Jesus addressed or referred to as the “Son of David” eleven times (e. g., 9:27 and 12:23), but He Himself uses David’s words from the Psalms to express the connection in His teachings (e. g., 22:43).
The words of the David covenant appear in Mark  11:10: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” And again in Luke 1:32-33: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” And again in verse 69: “[The Lord God of Israel] has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.” And finally in John 7:42: “Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” Thus, the Gospel writers confronted the Jews with their own covenantal expectations as pointing to this Jesus, whom they were to reject and crucify. This would serve as a direct apologetic against the claims of unbelieving Jews that the Messiah is still to be anticipated, because Jesus did not fulfill that role as they expected.
In Acts, Luke turned to David again, but with less of the covenantal emphasis. In 1:16, 2:25-30, 2:34-35, and 13:33-38, he borrows from Jesus own strategy, using David’s words to emphasize the connection between David and Jesus. He explicitly makes Jesus the hair of David in 13:23: “Of this man’s [i. e., David’s] offspring, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as He promised.” This language is reminiscent of th Branch terminology of the Prophets. See also 15:16-17.
Paul also borrows this apologetic theme, such as in Romans 4:6-8, 11:9-10, and II Timothy 2:8. Yet, he never follows up on the covenantal theme, a role he gives, instead, to Abraham.
Jesus again picks up His “Son of David” role in Revelation 3:7: “The words of the Holy One, the True One, Who has the key of David…” And, in the words of an elder in 5:5: “Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered…” And in Jesus’s words again, in 22:16: “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
So, the story of David min the Bible is the story of God’s faithfulness, both to him and to the people of God as a whole. Through His words to him, God establishes a theme of promised redemption, peace, and prosperity, not as the result of merit, but because of God’s covenantal promises of grace, justification, sanctification, and glorification. The New Testament writers continue the story of David, both in their own words and in the words of Jesus, to point Israel to Him. Here is the man promised for a thousand years! Here is the promise of God incarnate! All that we have waited for is here, standing embodied before you. And even in the last verses of the Bible, Jesus Himself points to His purposes as bringing to pass God’s faithfulness to David, and to all Israel in him.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Moses the Mediator, as a Type of Christ

My third biblical-theology paper:

    The life story of Moses is found in Exodus, chapters 1-20. In summary, he is born to a Levite family, roughly 400 years after Jacob and his sons had settled in Goshen, in northern Egypt. It is a time of severe bondage for the clans of Israel. They are also being persecuted by the reigning Pharaoh, out of jealousy for their prosperity. Pharaoh has decreed that all male children born to the Israelites is to be killed. To avoid this sentence, the parents of Moses have placed him in an ark, and set him adrift on the river. He is found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who then raises him as her own son. As an adult, Moses kills an Egyptian guard for abusing the Israelite slaves. He flees into the desert, marries, and makes his living caring for the flocks of his father-in-law.
    During this time, Moses experiences a theophany, with Jehovah appearing to him in a burning, but unconsumed, bush. God calls him to be the leader of His people, for the time has come for them to depart Egypt. Moses returns to Egypt, and confronts a hard-hearted Pharaoh. Through a series of plagues, culminating in the events commemorated by Passover, God convinces Phraraoh to let His people go. Pharaoh reneges, but is killed, along with his army, at the Red Sea, after the dry-footed escape by the Israelites. God leads Israel as a pillar of smoke by day, and of fire by night, bringing them, after three lunar months, to Mount Sinai in chapter 19.
    The events of Sinai are prefaced in 19:4-6 with a reminder of the redemption that Israel had just experienced, with a calling to be His covenant people, that they may be a kingdom of priests, i. e., a nation of mediators, representing Him to the rest of the world. This order is important, from redemption, to calling, to sending. It demonstrates that the Mosaic covenant is not a legal covenant, but rather a stage in the covenant of grace. They are not given the law as a step toward the redemptive relationship, but rather as an application of a redemption already received.
    This principle is repeated in 20:1, the preamble to the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Only then does He proceed with His commandments, four primarily concerning that vertical relationship between God and men, and then four primarily concerning the horizontal relationships between men. The giving of the commandments to the people is immediately followed, in verses 22-26, of the first instructions for the sacrificial system. Thus is revealed God’s knowledge that the Law will be violated, men will sin, and His institution of forgiveness of sin. The Law is thereby bookended with revelation of God’s covenantal grace, doubly revealing that the Commandments are gracious, not a system of works righteousness.
    We see this pattern repeated in an abbreviated form in 24:1-8. The people worship in v.1, with a covenantal response in v. 3, a reference to the Law with a sacrifice in vv. 4-5, with the response and atonement repeated in vv. 7-8. This pattern continues the emphasis on relationship, then holiness, then atonement. Moses remembers those principles after the people make the golden calf. In 34:9, he asks God to “pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Your inheritance.” He depends on God’s provision for forgiveness.
    Moses recalls those principles at the end of Leviticus, after giving the detailed laws of worship and sacrifice. In 26:43b-46, he writes (beginning with God’s words), “‘They shall make amends for their iniquity, because they despised My judgments and because the abhorred My statutes. I will not cast them away, nor will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly and to break My covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But for their sake, I will remember the covenant with their fathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.’ These are the statutes and judgments and laws that the Lord made between Himself and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.” As their covenant redeemer, Jehovah chooses them as His people, and promises forgiveness of their sins.
    In Numbers, we see Moses acting as a priest. This is evidenced in 7:1 as he anoints and consecrates the tabernacle and its paraphernalia. And in 7:89, he enters the Holy of Holies to address God. In 11:10-15, he expresses exasperation with the people and their carping against their provision of manna, chastising God for making him responsible for the Israelites. He is apparently dissatisfied with his mediatorial role. The chapter ends (vv. 28-28) with Moses in the role of prophet. This combination of roles, never shared by his brother Aaron, would seem to be an aspect of his typology for Christ. In chapter 12, Aaron recognizes this superiority of Moses, and objects to it, for which he and Miriam are punished.
    It isn’t until 16:40 that we see the priesthood explicitly assigned to Aaron and his descendants.
    In 20:2-13, we have the account of the waters of Meribah. The people are without water, and complain against the leadership of Moses. God promises water from the rock, and Moses strikes it with his staff. In verse 12, God rebukes Moses, and tells him that he shall be punished by banning from the Promised Land. Generally, the interpretation given here is that Moses is rebuked for striking the rock, when God had told him to “tell the rock” (v. 8). However, in Psalm 106:32-33, the anonymous writer says, “They also provoked Him to wrath at the waters of Meribah, so that it went hard with Moses on their account; because they were rebellious against His Spirit, he spoke rashly with his lips” (NASB). This seems to indicate that Moses was punished, not for an action of his own, but for the actions of the people. That would be consistent with his priestly mediatorial role. And, again, it would also point to Christ’s mediatorial work. We also see this in Num. 27:13-14. In verse 13, ‘You” (“shall be gathered to your people”) is singular (“thou” in the KJV), but in verse 14 “you” (“rebelled against My word”) is plural (“ye” in the KJV). Compare als Psalm 95:8-9 (also cited in Heb. 3:15-17).
    At the end of his ministry, Moses’s priesthood is again seen in Deuteronomy 27:9-10, where he joins with the other priests, his nephews, in instruction to the people. This demonstrates that his priestly office continued even after the designation of Aaron’s line for future priests.
    In 31:1-8, Moses publicly names Joshua as his successor. Then, in his final sendoff, God informs him (vv. 16-17) that Israel will go astray after his passing. This theme is also applied to Christ as the antitype. The prophecy of Zechariah 13:7, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,” is applied by Christ to Himself in Matthew 26:31. This is also related to the mediatorial role seen at Meribah: just as the sin of the sheep was accounted to the shepherd, the death of the shepherd devastates his/His sheep. And finally, his passing is recorded in chapter 34.
    In the calling of Joshua (Jos. 1:1-9) Joshua is reminded of Moses’s mediatorial work in the giving of the Law, but is called to obey it. This would seem to indicate that that office was not continued in him (see also 11:15). The combination of the priestly with the prophetic roles is again seen in Samuel. In I Sam. 12:6-8, he appeals to the example of Moses and Aaron as he prays for the nation of Israel, as his final acts as the last judge.
Moses, Aaron, and Samuel appear together in their priestly and mediatorial aspects in Psalm 99:6-7. In contrast, an unnamed Levite recounts the history of Israel, and specifically the portion following Moses, in Psalm 105:26-42, without reference to his priestly or mediatorial functions. This is consistent with several references in the books of Kings and of Chronicles to the Law of Moses, also without a mediatorial element.
    In an interesting backhanded reference, Jeremiah 15:1, God declares that even the mediatorial standing of Moses and Samuel would prevent His judgment on apostate Judah.
    The preamble to the Ten Commandments is recalled by the Prophet Micah (6:4). This relational aspect of the Mosaic covenant is recalled by God in exasperation (v.3). Thus, the prophet resumes the theme of Exodus, according to which the Law was given, not to create a salvific relationship between God and people, but rather as an enhancement of the relationship that had already been created. In the prophet, God is asking the people how they could so resent His law, considering the great redemption that He had worked for them.
In the New Testament account of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36), Moses appears, together with the Prophet Elijah, beside Jesus, before an apostolic audience. Both men speak to Jesus, but their words are not recorded. However, the Father speaks, “This is my Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him.” This event gives a visual version of that which is spoken by Christ after His resurrection (Luke 24:44, cp. v 27 and Matthew 5:17, and cf. Luke 16:29-31, John 1:45, and 5:45-46): “Everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” This refers not just to the spoken words, but also to the role of Moses as the type to whom Christ is the antitype, the mediatorial prophet and priest who interceded for those whom He/he represents.
In Acts, Luke used Moses, not as a type, but rather as an apologetic source. In 3:22, 7:20-53, 26:22, and 28:23, the apostles appeal to the writings of Moses to prove that Christ was the Messiah awaited by the Jewish people. However, in 6:11 and 14 we see the anti-Christian Jews also appealing to Moses against Him. Their misuse of Moses may explain the immediately-succeeding use of Stephen of the full story of Moses in his evangelistic sermon.
While Paul makes much use of the Law in Romans, the person of Moses isn’t prominent until I Corinthians. In 10:1-8, he makes an extended use of the history of Moses, reminiscent of Stephen’s sermon. However, Paul’s audience is the Christians, as disturbed as they may be, of Corinth, not unbelieving Jews. Moses is the head of traveling Israel, who committed adultery. This is an example, Paul says, in verse 11. Just as they were baptized into Moses (v. 2), we sit down at communion (vv. 16-21), with as much complacency. Let us take their soon-following apostasy as a warning against unconcern. The parallel between Moses and Christ is in their mediatorial headship, with Israel then and these Christians now as the body, corresponding to each head.
Writing to the same Christians in II Corinthians 3:12-18, again uses a parallel between Moses and Christ for instruction. This parallel, in contrast, is not between the weaknesses of Moses’s people and the Corinthians, but rather between the ministries of Moses and Christ. Paul points to the superiority of Christ, because the veil over His glory is removed and His Spirit is with us. Paul’s argument here is similar to that of Hebrews (see below). Here the parallel is more between the respective bodies, as they correspond to their heads. He uses the same parallel in the allegory of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4:21-31 (mixing the types of Moses and Abraham).
The writer of Hebrews, as part of his apologetic argument that Christ is superior to the Old Testament saints, uses Moses’s experience at Sinai, in 12:18-24. Each is the mediator of His/his respective covenant. But the Mosaic covenant was filled with terror and death, while that of Christ is a “festal gathering” of “the righteous made perfect.” In His mediatorial work, Christ had achieved what Moses was unable to give. The writer’s argument is that all that the Jews had sought, but never received, from Moses was to be found in the anti-type, Jesus Christ. That is why He is superior.
John made a similar case in Revelation 15:3-4, with even Moses singing the song of victory in the Lamb, as the heavenly tabernacle is opened (v. 5). Do you see, John asks? Moses, in whom you relied, could only bring you into the outer portion of his tabernacle. But even he glorifies the Lamb, because He has brought us into the Holy of Holies in the heavenly tabernacle! Even Moses, John implies, acknowledges that the glorious salvation that he foresaw is now found in Jesus Christ. He only brought you the daily blood of lambs that could not remove your sins, but now the Lamb of God has shed His own blood, and we are righteous in Him!
The Pentateuch provides an extensive description of the birth, life, and death of Moses, with all the glorious things that God did through him as the mediator of his covenant: the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the conquest of the Promised Land. But he was only the type. The eternal royal priesthood, the once-for-all effectual sacrifice, and the Heavenly Jerusalem are all achieved in his anti-type, Jesus Christ, Jehovah Incarnate.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Great Thanksgiving Hoax

By Richard Marbury

from the Ludwig von Mises Institute

Each year at this time, schoolchildren all over America are taught the official Thanksgiving story, and newspapers, radio, TV, and magazines devote vast amounts of time and space to it. It is all very colorful and fascinating.

It is also very deceiving. This official story is nothing like what really happened. It is a fairy tale, a whitewashed and sanitized collection of half-truths which divert attention away from Thanksgiving's real meaning.

The official story has the Pilgrims boarding the Mayflower, coming to America, and establishing the Plymouth colony in the winter of 1620–21. This first winter is hard, and half the colonists die. But the survivors are hard working and tenacious, and they learn new farming techniques from the Indians. The harvest of 1621 is bountiful. The pilgrims hold a celebration, and give thanks to God. They are grateful for the wonderful new abundant land He has given them.

The official story then has the Pilgrims living more or less happily ever after, each year repeating the first Thanksgiving. Other early colonies also have hard times at first, but they soon prosper and adopt the annual tradition of giving thanks for this prosperous new land called America.

The problem with this official story is that the harvest of 1621 was not bountiful, nor were the colonists hard-working or tenacious. 1621 was a famine year and many of the colonists were lazy thieves.
In his History of Plymouth Plantation, the governor of the colony, William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry for years because they refused to work in the field. They preferred instead to steal food. He says the colony was riddled with "corruption," and with "confusion and discontent." The crops were small because "much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable."
In the harvest feasts of 1621 and 1622, "all had their hungry bellies filled," but only briefly. The prevailing condition during those years was not the abundance the official story claims, it was famine and death. The first "Thanksgiving" was not so much a celebration as it was the last meal of condemned men.

But in subsequent years something changes. The harvest of 1623 was different. Suddenly, "instead of famine now God gave them plenty," Bradford wrote, "and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God." Thereafter, he wrote, "any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day." In fact, in 1624, so much food was produced that the colonists were able to begin exporting corn.

What happened? After the poor harvest of 1622, writes Bradford, "they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop." They began to question their form of economic organization.

This had required that "all profits & benefits that are got by trade, traffic, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means" were to be placed in the common stock of the colony, and that, "all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock." A person was to put into the common stock all he could, and take only what he needed.

This "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" was an early form of socialism, and it is why the Pilgrims were starving. Bradford writes that "young men that were most able and fit for labor and service" complained about being forced to "spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children." Also, "the strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes, than he that was weak." So the young and strong refused to work and the total amount of food produced was never adequate.

To rectify this situation, in 1623 Bradford abolished socialism. He gave each household a parcel of land and told them they could keep what they produced, or trade it away as they saw fit. In other words, he replaced socialism with a free market, and that was the end of the famines.

Many early groups of colonists set up socialist states, all with the same terrible results. At Jamestown, established in 1607, out of every shipload of settlers that arrived, less than half would survive their first twelve months in America. Most of the work was being done by only one-fifth of the men, the other four-fifths choosing to be parasites. In the winter of 1609–10, called "The Starving Time," the population fell from five-hundred to sixty. Then the Jamestown colony was converted to a free market, and the results were every bit as dramatic as those at Plymouth. In 1614 Colony Secretary Ralph Hamor wrote that after the switch there was "plenty of food, which every man by his own industry may easily and doth procure." He said that when the socialist system had prevailed, "we reaped not so much corn from the labors of thirty men as three men have done for themselves now."

Before these free markets were established, the colonists had nothing for which to be thankful. They were in the same situation as Ethiopians are today, and for the same reasons. But after free markets were established, the resulting abundance was so dramatic that annual Thanksgiving celebrations became common throughout the colonies, and in 1863 Thanksgiving became a national holiday.

Thus, the real meaning of Thanksgiving, deleted from the official story, is: Socialism does not work; the one and only source of abundance is free markets, and we thank God we live in a country where we can have them.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Grace and Faith in the Abrahamic Covenant

This is another short paper that I have prepared for my biblical theology course. I found it profitable to write, so I hope that it may be profitable to others to read.

    Abraham appears in Genesis as the human side of the first full-orbed biblical covenants. God initiates His covenant with Abraham in 12:2-3: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you, I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This covenant is completely gracious, with God undertaking all of its requirements unconditionally. Abraham is a passive party to it.
The next development of the covenant is in chapter 15. In verse 5, God gives the promise of a generous posterity. In verse, He adds the land promise, expanded in verses 13-15. Abraham’s response appears in verse 6: “and he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness”. Again, it is striking that the promises of God are unconditional. At no point does He give any requirement to Abraham as the price for the blessings. While Abraham is passive in the covenant, Moses records his reaction of faith. That order is important: faith is the response to the covenant, not its cause.
Another stage is seen in chapter 17. The promise of a posterity is repeated in verses 4-6, and the land promise in verse 8. But we see added elements in verse 2 - holiness- and the extension, not just of posterity, but of spiritual prosperity to that posterity in verse 7. The covenant having already been established, holiness cannot be taken as a causative requirement for the blessings, but rather as the response. So we have the already granted instrument of the covenant, i. e., faith, now with the response, holiness. In addition, the covenant is revealed as a continuing relationship, not just with Abraham personally, but also with his descendants. And in verses 9-14, God also gives a continuing sign of the covenant, circumcision of all its visible male members. In verse 22, we see that the sign was not only for the blood descendants, but for all the members of the household, including those by bond.
    The posterity promise is repeated in 18:10 and 22:17. We also see an interesting element in 17:18-20. God has informed Abraham that the covenant blessings will be through his yet-unborn son by Sarah (v. 16). Abraham reacts, first with disbelief, considering his and Sarah’s advanced ages. Then he asks God to extend His blessings to Ishmael, as well. God responds in the negative, yet also promises material blessings on Ishmael. This again emphasizes the gracious nature of the covenant. Isaac hasn’t even been conceived, yet, but God decrees that he shall be a spiritual member of the covenant. Ishmael has as much claim, as also a son of Abraham, yet is sovereignly excluded. Yet, even for him, there are benefits from the covenant.
The land and posterity promises are renewed to Abraham’s son Isaac in 26:3 and 26:24, and to his grandson Jacob in 28:4 and 28:13. Jacob acknowledges the gracious benefits he has received because of the covenant in 32:9-10. The covenant with Jacob is renewed at Paddan-Aram (35:9-12), both in the posterity and in the land promises. Jacob voices these blessings on Joseph, in 48:15-16. And Joseph refers to the land promise in 50:24. At each of these steps, we see God acting monergistically, promising blessings, with no corresponding requirements from Isaac and Jacob. The covenant is always given as gracious.
In Exodus, Moses portrays the covenant, not as something spoken anew by God, but rather as something to be remembered by the descendants of Abraham. We see this in 2:24, 3:6, 3:15, 4:5, 6:3-4, 6:8, 32:13 (where Moses reminds God!), and 33:1. In 6:3, God adds His covenant Name, Jehovah, instead of God Almighty (Heb., El Shaddai). These references are all couched in the pattern we see in the Prologue of the Ten Commandments(20:2): “I am the Lord [Jehovah] your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” That is, the covenant is given on the basis of the a priori, gracious relationship that God initiated with the line of Abraham. It is never given as a quid pro quo in response to rituals or behaviors of the covenant people. It is sharply dichotomous from the relationships of pagans to their deities.
The Abrahamic covenant is mentioned only once in Leviticus, near the end. In 26:40-41, the people are described as repenting of their iniquities, i. e., their breaking of the laws just given in the rest of the book. In response, verse 42, God promises to remember His covenant. This in no way lessens the graciousness of the covenant. As with the Ten Commandments, God’s actions are predicated on an a priori relationship. The repentance of the people does not create a new relationship. In fact, the verse assumes a failure on the part of the people, and indicates that forgiveness is available, reinforcing the graciousness of the covenant.
In Numbers, we see the land promise recalled in passing in 32:11. Then again in Deuteronomy 1:8, 6:10, 9:5, 9:27-28, 30:20, and 34:4. The posterity promise appears in 29:10-13. The reference in 9:5 particularly stands out because it is bracketed, in verses 4 and 6, with reminders of the graciousness of the covenant: “Do not say in your heart , ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess the land…’ Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness…” Joshua, the successor of Moses, also recalls both the posterity and land promises in 24:3-4.
In the historical books, the remembrances of the Abrahamic covenant are more fleeting. There are no references in I and II Samuel. There is one in I Kings 18:36, where it is recalled by Elijah, And by God in II Kings 13:23. David mentions it in I Chronicles 16:16, and again in 29:18. And the land promise is claimed by Jehoshaphat in II Chronicles 20:7. Hezekiah preaches on the covenant in 30:6, as he sought to bring Judah to repentance. The Levites had the same goal after the Exile, in Nehemiah 9:7-8.
In the Psalms, the role of remembrance continues. We see this in 47:9, 105:6, 105:9, and 105:42. Psalm 105 is partly a repeat of the praise in I Chr. 16, so it appears to be a composition of David. It is significant that he uses God’s covenant with Abraham as a reminder of God’s faithfulness, when his own covenant is used similarly by the major prophets.
The Abrahamic covenant appears several times in the second half of the prophecies of Isaiah. God Himself uses that covenant as the basis for restoring the descendants of Jacob in 29:22-24. He does so again in 41:8-10 and 51:1-3. Isaiah claims the covenant in a prayer for his people in 63:15-17. So, the prophet looks less to the land and posterity promises, and more to the grace of the covenant than did the historical writers. God through Jeremiah does the same in Jer. 33: 25-26. However, God reverses that in Ezekiel 33:24: “Son of man, the inhabitants of these waste places keep saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he got possession of the land; but we are many; the land is surely given to us to possess.’” In spite of statements, such as Deut. 9:4-6, emphasizing that God’s grace is not due to worthiness of the people, in Ezekiel’s time the people are claiming the territory as theirs by right! That might explain why we don’t see the Abrahamic covenant again in the prophets, not until the New Testament.
What is funny is that we see the same attitude when the NT writers pick up the Abrahamic theme. In the first occasion, Matthew 3:9-10, John the Baptist is rebuking the Jewish leaders for presuming to covenant blessings as a right. In 8:11-12, Jesus revives the faith aspect, as He informs the Jews that faithful Gentiles will enjoy the Abrahamic blessings.May, the mother of Jesus, restores the gracious element in Luke 1:54-55. And Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, does the same in 1:68-75. Jesus renewed the nongenetic aspect of the covenant (as with Ishmael) in 13:28, and in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (16:19-31). Physical descent does not necessarily bring the spiritual benefits of the covenant! Jesus continues this theme in John 8:33-58. Thus, the Abrahamic covenant appears in the Gospels as a struggle between the perverted version from the Jewish leaders, who expected the covenant blessings of the covenant on the basis of their lineage, a la Ezekiel 33:24, and the correction by Jesus, that the covenant is exclusively gracious, a la Deuteronomy 9:4-6.
In Acts 3:, starting with verse 13, we see Peter claiming that the Abrahamic covenant, on which the Pharisees relied so strongly, actually pointed to Jesus. The Deacon Stephen makes the same point, in part, in his evangelistic sermon of chapter 7, for which he was stoned by that enraged Jews. Paul takes a similar tack in 13:26-33, ending with his assertion, “This He has fulfilled to us, their children, by raising Jesus [from the dead]...” Thus, Luke in Acts uses the Abrahamic theme, not just to deprive the Jewish leaders of their superiority, but to point explicitly to fulfillment in Jesus, preparing for Paul’s identification of Jesus as the prophesied Seed of Abraham.
    Paul puts Abraham prominently in Romans. In chapter 4, he focuses on faith as the response to the covenant. In verse 3, he actually quotes, Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” He thus establishes that his gospel of justification by faith alone is not a novelty, but is actually a revival of the covenant made with Abraham at the beginning of Israelite history. In 9:6-18, he reminds his readers of the posterity promise made to Abraham, carried through Isaac but not Ishmael, and through Jacob but not Esau, to demonstrate that the covenant was gracious, not by works or genetics, as Jesus also did in the gospels. And in chapter 11, he brings up Abraham and Isaac to demonstrate God’s faithfulness to that covenant. Thus, Israel had every reason to hope in the covenant, but not to rely on genetics alone. The covenant is by faith, including the faith of Gentiles, who had no DNA from the line of Abraham, but imitated his faith.
Paul caps his Abrahamic apologetic in Galatians, chapter 3. In verse 6, he quotes Genesis again: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” He then proceeds, in verses 7-13, to explain the dichotomy between justification by faith and justification by works, leading to his chief point, verse 14, that the Abrahamic covenant must bring the believer to Jesus Christ, for He is the seed of Abraham promised way back in Genesis (verses 15-18).
    The writer of Hebrews begins a new discussion of Abraham in 2:16, in which Jesus, Jehovah the Covenant-Maker Incarnate, has come to redeem the offspring of Abraham. He expands on this in 6:13-7:10, in which he lays a foundation on God’s faithfulness to Abraham as the security of the believer. God made promises to Abraham in the covenant, fulfilled them, so the believer can depend on Him to fulfill His redemptive purpose revealed in Jesus Christ. Abraham himself is shown trusting that purpose in 11:18-19, which is also seen in James 2:21-23.
    Across both testaments, we see an emphasis on God’s covenant with Abraham as gracious, based on faith, and derived from an a priori relationship. Yet, we also see the people, in spite of these assertions, turning the covenant into a get-out-of-jail-free card, an automatic guarantee of salvation on the basis of physical descent. The prophets, the Apostle Paul, John the Baptist, and Jesus Himself struggle to break that idolatry. Jesus was crucified, Stephen was stoned, and Paul was martyred for their efforts.