Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Streams in the Desert: Israel in Prophecy

"For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour My Spirit upon your offspring,
    and My blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
    like willows by flowing streams.
This one will say, ‘I am the Lord's,’
    another will call on the name of Jacob,
and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord's,’
    and name himself by the name of Israel."
- Isaiah 44:3-5

I have no issues with the modern State of Israel. However, as I have noted before, I oppose the Israelotry that seems to possess so much of American evangelicalism. I think much of it involves bad hermeneutics, changing spiritual prophecies into materialistic pandering.

That's why I quote the verses above. It is true that the Old Testament, especially the book of Isaiah, prophesies some wondrous events in Israel. I simply deny that those events are intended to be taken in a literal way. Rather, I see them as prophecies of the wondrous works of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel. Yet dispensationalists accuse me, and those who hold to the same view, of "spiritualizing" Scripture. I proudly admit my debt to the Puritans in this matter, as can be found described in the book, The Puritan Hope, by Iain Murray.

But is it fair to accuse me of spiritualizing? I don't believe so. Afterall, the proper hermeneutic method is to interpret the Bible, one passage compared to another, referred to as "the analogy of faith." The more difficult passage is interpreted in the light of the clearer passage.

In this case, we have an explicit interpretation of the symbols used by Isaiah. In verse 5, he quotes God, proclaiming that "I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground." Then, in the pattern of Hebrew parallelism, that phrase is restated, "I will pour My Spirit upon your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants."  An equivalency is given: pouring out water and streams means pouring out the Holy Spirit.

While I equate Israel and the church, I also connect this to Paul's prophecy in Romans 11:25-27 (compare, for example, Zechariah 1:17 and 12:10) that a day will come when Israel, i. e., ethnic Israel, will turn as a people to Messiah Jesus, Him whom they had rejected. So, I do not deny that ethnic Israel has a particular place in the purposes of God. Rather, what I deny is that political Israel is the fulfillment of those purposes.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Preacher of Ecclesiastes, vs Praying to Saints

"The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun."
- Ecclesiastes 9:5-6

In Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and some elements of Anglicanism, the faithful are encouraged to pray to saints, great spiritual figures who have passed beyond the veil, "our departed brothers and sisters in Christ." These dead saints supposedly act as intermediaries between Christians on earth and God. They justify this practice primarily with passages from the Revelation. The article linked here, for example, quotes Rev. 8:4, which refers to the incense as "the prayers of the saints." This represents a little sleight of hand, since the reference is obviously to Christians alive on the earth, not some disembodied gang of the extra-spiritual in heaven.

What does the Preacher, the narrator in the book of Ecclesiastes, tell us about those who have already passed out of the world of the living? Read the verses at the top, Eccl. 9:5-6. They "have no more share in all that is done under the sun"! Even the New American Bible, a Catholic translation, says, in verse 5, "the dead no longer know anything." The Catholics like to refer to the Revelation on this issue. Let us oblige them! Of the righteous dead in heaven, Rev. 21:4 tells us, (starting with the last words of verse 3), "God Himself will be with them as their God. 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."

When the true Christian departs from this life, he enters the presence of God (II Cor. 5:8, Phil. 1:21-23). Part of the wonder of that time is that we are free from the concerns and sorrows of this life. In contrast, who among the departed is focused on those left behind? Refer to the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). We see Lazarus at Abraham's side, but nothing is heard from him.  In contrast, the Rich Man in Hell sees, not just blessed Lazarus, but also his reprobate brethren still in this world. It isn't the saints in heaven watching us now, but the condemned in Hell! So, the Catholic doctrine of the saints is really a doctrine of the damned!

How blessed it is to know that I have a great High Priest, once dead, but now with the power of an indestructible life (Heb. 7:16), who "is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 8:25)! The dead saints are just that, dead, but my Savior Jesus is alive, and makes intercession for me, even when I am too weak to pray for myself. That is a far superior comfort to any superstitious reliance on any Saint Whatshisname!

Solomon Ponders Life in His Old Age