Showing posts with label Exodus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Exodus. Show all posts

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Trinitarian Emperor

In 1 Kings 1-10 Solomon is set up to be a great ruler in the land, a greater Joseph whom Yahweh raises up to glorify His name in all the earth so long as he remains loyal to Yahweh. Solomon receives great wisdom as requested, and with that wisdom he expands his dominion, glorifying Yahweh. But by the end of chapter ten and the beginning of chapter eleven, when Solomon is much older, we see that glory fading as history repeats itself. Instead of Solomon remaining the greater Joseph, he becomes a greater Pharaoh who knew not Yahweh, forsaking His commands and His wisdom (Deut. 17:14-20). 

Solomon's fall is described in a triadic fashion, breaking three express commands of Yahweh in a row. He begins by multiplying gold and silver unto himself, as the wisdom of Yahweh had forbidden (Deut. 17:17). He multiplies so much gold for himself that silver devalues greatly in comparison (10:21), and this is quite a feat considering that year after year he received silver in abundance as well (10:22, 25, 27, 29). But Solomon doesn't stop with precious metals. He then moves on to multiply horses and chariots for himself as well (10:26), which was explicitly forbidden by Yahweh in the Torah (Deut. 17:16). By multiplying horses and chariots for his kingdom, a standing army of the kingdom was in the making along with the rise of Solomonic imperialism, even though the Torah nowhere allows Israel to build or keep a standing army. The further Israel would stray from Yahweh's wisdom, the more likely a standing army would be used offensively and tyrannically, policing other nations, instead of minding one's own business (or, I should say, minding Yahweh's business). An imperialism which forsakes Yahweh as its Emperor is the worst form of imperialism, conquering by warfare and bloodshed instead of wisdom and industry. Yahweh's Law taught that warfare and bloodshed are acceptable primarily a means of self-defense and ought to be considered a last resort after terms of peace are offered (Deut. 20). But when Solomon builds the empire and forsakes Yahweh, we can expect future generations of warfare and bloodshed to ensue. And that is what we find scattered throughout first and second Kings.

Not only does Solomon's imperialism rise from these two excesses forbidden by God, he goes one step further --a third step-- by multiplying wives unto himself as forbidden by Yahweh (Deut. 17:17), many of whom were foreigners and strangers to Yahweh's covenant

After completing this triad of forsaking Yahweh, Solomon is described for the first time in a negative light, as doing what is evil in the sight of Yahweh, which is a description that follows all of the idolatrous kings over future Israel. Solomon is even indicted for leading God's people into another triad of idolatry by "worshipping Ashtereth the goddess of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god of the children of Ammon" (1 Kng. 11:33). This indictment for betraying the Word of the Lord is also portrayed in a triadic fashion, as not walking in Yahweh's ways, not doing what is right in Yahweh's sight, and not keeping Yahweh's statutes and Judgments as did David his father (1 Kng. 11:33). Last of all, we are told that this triadic description of triadic idolatry leads Israel into a third and final triad of Yahweh's judgment. Yahweh "stirs up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite" (v. 14), and "another adversary, Rezon the son of Eliadah... an adversary to Israel all the days of Solomon" (v. 23-25),  "and Jereboam the son of Nebat," Solomon's servant and ruler over all the house of Joseph (v. 26-28).

At the end of Solomon's life we learn that he reigned over Jerusalem for forty years (v. 42), which is, providentially, a number repeated throughout Scripture as a time of testing from Yahweh. By allowing Solomon to reign for forty years, we learn something great about Yahweh's providential reign over history. First we learn that He tests even the wisest of men over time. Second, we learn   that sometimes it takes the wisest of men to make the most foolish decisions. Third, we learn the wisdom of waiting upon the Lord. By studying 1 Kings 1-11, we wait with anticipation to learn if Solomon in all of his wisdom would maintain the greater wisdom of Yahweh, the greater wisdom that once, long before Israel was even a people, blessed and prospered the kingdom of Joseph along with the seed of Abraham. 

By turning away from Yahweh, His word, and His Spirit, our anticipation of a great and glorious empire is met at the end of the story with a trinity of curses that fall upon the house of Israel, essentially dividing the kingdom against itself, causing it to falling down not long thereafter. By turning after the idols of land, our anticipation of Solomon's own greatness, too, is met in spades. He becomes exceedingly great in what we see him worshiping: a false god, a idolatrous leader, and a Pharaoh under which Israel would need a great exodus. Only by turning back to Yahweh in faithful obedience would a trinity of blessing for Israel result. But as we learn from the following chapters in the book of Kings, no one turns back to Yahweh without His gracious provision of a King after his own heart, who rules according to His Word and Spirit. We learn that only a trinitarian Emperor can save an empire from a trinity of false leaders, false worship, and false hope.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Prayer that shapes us

Let’s face it. People pray most often when they either want something from God or when their ritualistic family traditions kick in—like praying before a meal. The way they often pray is also predictable. They express their thanks to God for nice weather, good food, and friends to enjoy it with, and they ask God to bless them with more good things to enjoy, amen. This isn’t automatically a bad thing, nor should it be discouraged. But how and why someone prays is indicative of some thing, and therefore that thing, if it is not good, will need some healthy changes. Let me explain some ways in which these indicators can become more obvious to us.

For the Christian, prayer is not merely a ritual. It is a way of life. It is a tradition that shapes our life, molding the way we think and behave into godliness, working in us to show a greater family resemblance with our Heavenly Father. When the Christian prays for nice weather, good food, and friends to enjoy it with, he (or she) should be doing it as heartfelt communion with and love for their Heavenly Father, who cares about why they enjoy it. It should not be prayer for the sake of prayer, any more than it  should be ritual for the sake of ritual. But often times it is. This is because a life of prayer is unavoidably ritualistic, and some people don't incorporate an appreciation of what God cares about into their daily rituals. Whether they reflect self-consciously upon God's feelings or not, their rituals are shaping their life. Their rituals are shaping their complacency. Their prayer-life is shaping their dependence upon self and their dependence upon God.

Proverbs 28:6-9 speaks a little about this way in God shapes our life, even through prayer: 

A)  Better is a poor man who walks with integrity than a rich man who twists two paths together
  B)  The one who keeps the Law is a discerning son, 
    C)  but a companion of gluttons shames his father.
A')  Whoever augments his wealth by profiteering and exacting interest gathers it up for him who has pity on the poor
   B')  The one who turns away his ear from hearing the Law, 
      C')  even his prayer is completely detestable.

When it says that “Better is a poor man who walks with integrity than a rich man who twists two paths together,” the comparison is between those who are financially poor and those who are wealthy, and Wisdom says one path is better for both of them; and that path is the way of integrity, the way of keeping God's instructions. Only a fool would earnestly desire to become completely impoverished, choosing to sleep on wet sidewalks and beg for crumbs out of dumpsters, especially when given plenty of opportunities to gain an honest amount of wealth through productive labor instead. Therefore the wisdom of this proverb takes for granted that kind of foolishness in order to focus upon what is better for both, whether one is, incidentally, the poorest of beggars or richest of merchants. If the poor man is better for walking with integrity, how much better would a rich man be if he too walked with integrity, keeping God's laws in all of his business? This proverb, therefore, is contrasting more than just a lifestyle of poverty with a lifestyle of riches. It’s contrasting lifestyles which attempt to have fellowship with God. One lifestyle walks self-consciously with integrity in God’s sight, and one does not. One desires to twist two paths together, a path of blessing and wealth with a path of profiteering and usury. One desires to keep God’s instructions, while the other does not.

The parallel between keeping God’s instructions and walking with integrity is even more obvious from the proverbs that follow. The very next proverb refers to a glutton and the fact that such a sinfully selfish disposition is a shame to one’s father, but “the one who keeps the Law is a discerning son” (v. 7). From this we learn that the ritual formality of law-keeping cannot merely be a checklist of commandments to obey or ignore. Rather, it’s a way of thinking about God’s involvement in your life, and His desire for your relationship with Him to be evident in the sight of others who, like you, are also made in God’s image. Otherwise, why would the proverb contrast shaming a father with being a discerning son, or gluttony with law-keeping? It seems that the author of this proverb considered the two parallel illustrations as one unified concept. 

Understanding how to be a son who honors his father comes from learning how to keep the Law as our Heavenly Father intended it to be kept. By learning our Heavenly Father’s Law, we learn how to be a gloriously discerning son—a son who understands the glory of God manifested in honoring one's father. The son who dishonors his father is the glutton. The glutton is the one whose desires are focused upon satisfying the self far more than others. The gluttonous son shames his father because the son’s desire is not to glorify and honor his father; the glutton's desire is to glorify and honor himself, plundering others—even his own father—to fill his own coffers. If the son’s desire were to honor and glorify his father, he would be self-sacrificial and other-oriented in his lifestyle. This is what God’s Law endorses; gluttony is not. 

Since gluttony and plundering the goods of others is not what God’s Law endorses as a way of life, how do you suppose one of those lifestyles would impact one’s prayers? Do you suppose that a life like that—a life of disobedience or neglect of obedience to God—filled with an abundance of traditional prayers at dinner time, is going to please God? The next two verses give us the answer.
Whoever augments his wealth by profiteering and exacting interest gathers it up for him who has pity on the poor. The one who turns away his ear from hearing the Law, even his prayer is completely detestable.

If a Christian multiplies his wealth in a gluttonous manner, that will not keep God from exacting justice for the poor. God will ensure that such sinful deeds  ultimately accumulate toward the greater good of the oppressed. Because gluttonous gain does not honor God, God promises that He will give that wealth to another who will be generous to the poor. The glutton's sinful gain will become the reward of those who pity the poor. God will judge between those who plunder and those who are plundered. 

This revelation of God's character leads us to the sobering reality that even if a Christian were to pray for greater blessings, greater wealth, greater prosperity—as people often do—God promises to shape our lives through such prayers. If they honor their Heavenly Father by hearing and praying according to His Law, those prayers will please Him. But if they turn their ear away from hearing His Law, even their prayers will be detestable in His sight. Either way, God shapes their life through prayer. For many people, a God like this, who detests all haters of His Law but yet allows plundering of others to exist, might seem capricious and ungracious. But for those who take God's holy character seriously, and consider His revelation of wisdom greater than their own, they know that He knows what is best for all men, and they trust in Him when  He speaks to them. They even trust in what He has to say about their prayer life because they want Him to be the one who shapes them through it. They know God's not capricious. They know God is very reliable. That's why they don't want to turn their ears away from hearing His infinitely wise Law--because God has revealed himself as their Father therein, a Father is who is first and foremost merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth (Exodus 34:6). They don't want to turn their ears away from hearing His instructions because in doing so, even their prayers are detestable to His ears.

If you have concerns about your prayer life, and you want to know if some healthy changes need to be made to your prayer life, let me encourage you to consider the following exercise and apply these questions to your own prayers from this past week (or month):

Within the past week (or month) did you ask God to bless you (e.g. your food, your time with friends, your job, etc.)? If so, why did you ask for thatWhat was your motive in desiring his blessing? Did you ask because you always ask for that at prayer-time? Did you put much thought into that request? Did you consider what pleased God before you asked Him for a blessing? 

What about your thankfulness too? Did you thank God in prayer for certain things this week? What were they and why did you thank Him for those specific things? Did you thank Him merely because that’s the ritual you often perform at prayer time? Did you thank Him because without thanking Him you would feel awkward (or selfish) while asking Him for stuff afterward? At any time did you thank Him because His provision helped you serve Him more faithfully? At any time did you thank God for His provision because it helped you glorify Him as you provided for others in need? 

And what about unanswered prayers? Have any of your prayers recently seemed to be unheard by God? At any time did you thank Him for answering prayer by not giving you what you initially wanted? Or have you been presuming that God wants what you want?

As I mentioned at the beginning, the way in which people pray is indicative of some thing, either good or bad, and if that thing is not good, some healthy changes to one's prayer life are unquestionably in order. Thankfully, in Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church, we catch a glimpse of what some healthy habits of change ought to look like. In Philippians 4:6-9 Paul writes: 
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

For Paul, prayers and supplications to God are supposed to dwell upon certain things, and by dwelling on certain things and then offering them back up to God in prayers and supplications, our lives are shaped into a vessel fit for his honor and glory. For us to be molded into glorious vessels, we must learn pray in a way that is lawful; and for it to be lawful it has to be thoughtful; and for it to be thoughtful it has to be conditioned through a focus upon what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, and worthy of praise. Thankfully Scripture is replete with examples of such God-honoring lifestyles of prayer. Paul prayed three times for the Lord to remove a "thorn in his flesh," and he stopped praying for it's removal once he realized the Lord wanted that thorn to remain in order to keep him from exalting himself (II Cor. 12:7-10). Likewise, in Luke 18, Jesus tells a series of parables about prayer, and among them we find a tax collector who humbles himself, and even beats his breast praying, "God be propitious to me, a sinner." Because of his humility, the Lord hears and exalts him (Luke 18:9-14). 

We also find a widow who won't stop petitioning her judge for justice (Luke 18:1-8), and so the judge answers her because of her persistence; and that persistence is likened unto the "elect who cry to God day and night." Such likening with the prayers of the elect is appropriate because it reminds us that God is a judge who listens to our cries because He cares about justice. According to James, God cares about justice so much that when brethren confess their sins toward one another and pray for one another, He brings healing (James 5:16). Have you ever felt miserable because your prayers weren't being answered by God? When was the last time you confessed your sinful, damaging attitude about your brother to your brother? When was the last time you confessed your sins of dishonoring your wife to your wife? In first Peter 3:7, the apostle Peter says that if a husband doesn't dwell with his wife in an understanding way, giving her the honor she deserves, then his prayers will be hindered and God will not hear. And if God does not hear, the husband ought to fear.

The wise life of prayer takes all of this to heart, giving it to our God and Father because, like Paul's example, it is teachable and submissive to the will of the Lord, even when it's not exalted. The wise life of prayer is also persistent like the widow seeking justice, and also confessional, not only with God, but toward their neighbor as well, which openly demonstrates trust in a judge who hates the injustice of sin but is compassionate enough to forgive all those who walk with integrity, keeping His Law. The wise life of prayer is what brings true peace of mind, the kind of peace which the gluttonous heart cannot discern, the kind of peace which surpasses all worldly comprehension. The wise life of prayer is, ultimately, Father-honoring prayer. When wise Christians express their thankfulness to God for the mundane—the nice weather, good food, and friends to enjoy it with—they ask for God's blessing so that they will honor their Heavenly Father. When they pray to enjoy His honor, He remembers and honors their prayers. Amen.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Accusations of Sabbath-Breaking: Matthew 12:1-8 (section D1)

Continuing where we left off in this series of Matthew gospel, we arrive at the central section of this narrative, which is connected by three pericopes: D1 (Matt. 12:1-8), D2 (vv. 9-14), and D3 (vv. 15-21). 

As noted in a previous post, chapters 11 & 12 are compiled as one connected narrative of events, and each pericope within chapters eleven and twelve are connected by Matthew in a way which is not found in the other synoptic gospels (cf. Luke chap. 5-7). Also, this central section at which we have finally arrived focuses heavily upon one theme: the theme of Sabbath-Rest. As we go through this central section in its entirety, it will become more and more apparent that Matthew has "sandwiched" these Sabbath controversies between the surrounding pericopes in order to give his readers the sense that these events transpire around the same general time: the time of the Sabbath; the time of rest for the people of Israel.

Beginning with the first part (D1), we find this brief sketch of events:
  At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Behold! Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!" 

  He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the House of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?

  Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the Temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the Temple is here. And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless ones. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

In order to appreciate the significance of these accusations by the Pharisees, it's important to ask and answer the question, "Was Jesus allowing his disciples to do something unlawful on the Sabbath?"

It is very clear from the text of God's Law that "work" was not allowed on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a day of rest for God's covenant people. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of Yahweh your God. In it you shall do no work..." (Ex. 20:9-10). Also, as it concerns the actions of Jesus' disciples, God's Law also allows the poor to glean from the edges of certain fields, including grain fields (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 23:24-25; 24:19-22). But the problem with which Jesus was confronted concerning both of these aspects of God's Law --Sabbath resting and grain gleaning-- was that the Law did not, per se, clarify whether gleaning was permitted on the Sabbath Day. That is to say, if you look at all of the laws pertaining to the Sabbath Day, there is no clear indication that gleaning heads of grain qualified as the "work" forbidden in the Sabbath Laws. The Law simply does not address those overlapping issues. But the Pharisees did have an interpretation of the Law that addressed those overlapping issues. In fact, according to the pharisaical laws of 1st century Judaism, all forms of "reaping" were forbidden on the Sabbath because "reaping" was considered work. And the action of plucking heads of grain, and then rubbing them together to get the kernels inside, was considered a form of "reaping," and therefore was unlawful to do in their eyes.

But Jesus' response is very telling. Jesus does not spend any time affirming or denying their pharisaical interpretation. Jesus' response assumes it was lawful for his disciples to be gleaning on the Sabbath, which means that Jesus' response is not so much concerned with proving that there are exceptions to God's rules as it is with proving that the Pharisees have misunderstood the Law and its Lawgiver entirely.

Jesus asks them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the House of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?" This is a reference from 1st Samuel 21:1-6, in which we learn that David did, in fact, eat the bread of the Presence, which was, according to the strict letter of the law, designated for "Aaron and his children" (Lev. 24:5-9). The reason why Aaron and his children could eat "holy food" was because they were ritually consecrated as 'holy' to the Lord for their service in God's House, but laymen were not considered 'holy' (Lev. 22:1-16) unless they became properly consecrated according to the law (e.g. As a nazarite, or for holy war, etc.). Ordinarily, laymen like David were just ceremonially 'clean,' like the rest of ordinary Israelites who avoided defiling themselves with ceremonial uncleanness. But if we look at 1st Sam. 21 carefully, it is obvious that David had been consecrated as 'holy,' similar to the consecration of a priest, and the Priest considered it lawful to give it to him because he was specially consecrated as holy. Notice how obvious this is from the story of 1st Sam. 21:1-6:
Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?”  And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place.  Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.”  And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.”  And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy? So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.
Notice carefully that David assures the priest that he and his men have abstained from ceremonial uncleanness and that their vessels are holy too, not merely ceremonially "clean." This infers that David and his men have been consecrated as holy too, because only servants of the Lord who were ceremonially consecrated as holy could partake of holy food (Lev. 22:1-16). Jesus knew the Law taught this. But did the Pharisees make this connection? 

But notice again, and just as carefully, that Jesus responds to the Pharisees with an assertion about it being unlawful for David to eat the holy bread. Well, which one was it? Was it lawful or unlawful for David to eat the holy bread? It is true that the letter of the Law only mentions in passing that Aaron and his children are to eat the bread, but was that law intended to exclude all other servants in God's House who became specially consecrated as holy too? 

In the next verse, we learn a clue about why Jesus said it was unlawful for David to eat the holy bread. In the next verse, Jesus asks another question:
Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the Temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?
Stop and think about this statement for a minute. Is it true that the priests of the Lord profane the Sabbath? According to Leviticus 24:5-9, which is the same place we learn that "Aaron and his children" are to eat the holy bread, we learn that the twelve loaves of bread were exchanged on the Sabbath Day. This means David entered the House of God and ate the holy bread on a Sabbath Day. But when you read 1st Samuel 21, did you conclude that the priest was profaning the Sabbath by working that day? My guess is that you assumed he did not profane the Sabbath that day, or any other Sabbath Day, because God ordered them to exchange the holy bread on the Sabbath Day. Even though God commanded His people to do no "work" on the Sabbath Day, the priests self-consciously affirm their duty to "work" on the Sabbath Day by exchanging the twelves holy loaves of bread every week. 

But which is it? Are the priests profaning the Sabbath or not? Are they "working" on the Sabbath or not? 

It turns out that what Jesus is doing is answering the Pharisees according to their own traditions of interpretation. The Pharisees attack Jesus for allowing his disciples to do what is "unlawful" on the Sabbath, according to their dubious traditions. Jesus responds with two equally dubious illustrations of law-keeping. And by responding in that way, Jesus arrives at the underlying problem with the Pharisees and their accusations of Sabbath-breaking: The Pharisees don't know the true Lawgiver

The Pharisees know that God requires "burnt offerings" and "sacrifices," and so they offered sacrifices according to the letter of the law; whereas the Lord desired loyal love (i.e. mercy), not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). The Lord wanted them to know Him, rather than merely offer burnt offerings. But their love was like a morning cloud, and like the dew on the ground which goes away quickly once light shines on it (Hosea 6:4). Like Adam in God's Garden, they transgress God's covenant, and they deal faithlessly with God Himself (Hosea 6:7). They are evildoers tracked with blood (Hosea 6:8), banding together and lying in wait to commit villainy against God's people (Hosea 6:9). Their whoredom with Herod's idolatrous temple and their man-made traditions defiles them (Hosea 6:10). They do not know that something greater than Herod's Temple is before them. They do not accept his claim that "The Son of Man is Lord", let alone lord of the Sabbath. Therefore, when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people as promised on the day of Harvest (Hosea 6:11), the Pharisees will reap what they have sown. 

As we progress through Matthew's gospel, we learn that because they refuse to turn away from their man-made idols, and turn to the Lord (Hosea 6:1), they will, instead, seek an alternative course of action. In the very next pericope we learn that the Pharisees conspire to destroy Jesus from that Sabbath Day forward (Matt. 12:14). From that day forward, they will attempt to tear Jesus apart, strike him down, and bind him up (Hosea 6:1). But little do they know that in doing so, He will fulfill what Adam did not. He will fulfill the life which Israel did not. He will be the faithful son of God which both Adam and Israel failed to be. Little do they know that after two days he will revive, and on the third day he will rise up, that his people may live before him (Hosea 6:2).