Showing posts with label Hosea. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hosea. Show all posts

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Jesus & Jeremiah



Matthew 21:12-22 narrates Jesus cleansing the Jerusalem temple that had become a "den of robbers." Immediately following that event is Jesus' curse upon the fig tree, pronouncing that it would no longer bear fruit. 

Jeremiah 7 & 8 is an oracle about Judah's exile into Babylon & the soon-coming destruction of Judah's precious city & temple. 

The "den of robbers" and the withering of the fig tree are both clearly alluded to in Jeremiah 7 & 8 (particularly 7:8-14 & 8:4-13). 

Isn't it reasonable, therefore, to associate the message of Jesus in Matthew 21:12-22 with the message of Yahweh in Jeremiah 7 & 8? 

If Yahweh cleansed his temple in the days of Jeremiah, that same message of cleansing was being repeated in the days of Jesus. Since the covenant-breaking of Judah's leaders was being repeated, the message of Yahweh's covenant-faithfulness was being repeated. The major difference between these two visitations was that Yahweh would send his own Son to die in the place of Judah, to be faithful to Yahweh's covenant, even unto death, so that the old Israel would finally die and a new Israel raised up to newness of life in union with Him. 

Salvation would come upon Israel through judgment in 70 A.D, but the old Israel and it's "den of robbers" in union with the first Adam would die in the judgment upon Jerusalem. Those who would not give up everything to follow Jesus, the second Adam, would wither and die like the fruitless fig tree of the old Israel. Only those who took up their cross and followed Jesus would be constituted as members of a new Israel, a new and living body--the body of the faithful Son of Yahweh (Ex. 4:22; Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15)

Jesus came to his own and his own received him not. He came as the faithful firstborn "Son" that Judah repeatedly failed to be after receiving his inheritance. The scepter departed from Judah once Jesus came, to whom it belonged (Gen. 49:10 MT); and unto him is the gathering of all nations in him as promised.








Sunday, December 29, 2013

A voice was heard in Ramah (Matthew 2:13-23 part two)






Continuing where we last left off in this series, Matthew 2:13-23 reads: 
Now when thy had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet,  
“Out of Egypt I called my son."1  
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:  
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
 weeping and loud lamentation,
 Rachel weeping for her children;
 she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” 
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 

St. Jerome makes an interesting observation concerning this “fulfilled” prophecy of Jeremiah in Matthew’s gospel. He writes,
Certain of the Jews interpret this passage thus: when Jerusalem was captured under Vespasian, countless thousands of captives were led through this way by Gaza and Alexandria to Rome. But others say that in the final captivity under Hadrian when the city of Jerusalem was overthrown, innumerable people of diverse ages and both sexes were sold at the marketplace of Terebinthus. …Let these people say what they want. We say that the Evangelist Matthew has rightly taken up this testimony because it is the place where Rachel was buried and she wept for the sons of those nearby in the surrounding houses as if she were weeping for her own sons.3 

Some questions arise from these comments of Jerome: Why would Jewish scholars consider this passage from Jeremiah as needing to be fulfilled around 70 A.D.? Why insist upon a specific exile of Jews to Rome under Vespasian or a general dispersion of Jews across the Roman empire by Hadrian? Why not view Jeremiah’s prophecy as already being fulfilled in the Israel's history? After all, Jeremiah seems to have been describing events in Israel’s near future, events surrounding their return from Babylonian captivity.

I suspect, as I do with other post-70A.D. Jewish commentaries, that Jewish tradition has kept a close watch upon the Christian scriptures, especially those Christian gospels which reveal that their promised Messiah did come, and a massive exodus did occur, and that their promised Messiah did deliver Israel out of their long-awaited exile. It seems that they were diverting attention away from the historic Christ-centered reality of Jesus tabernacling among Israel and leading a great exodus of His people out of the land of Israel prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., in order to retain their views about Jesus not being the promised Messiah.

In the last post I mentioned a few times that Matthew’s gospel is about Israel. But it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that Matthew’s gospel is about Jesus too. Yet it’s not about both isolated from each other. It’s about Jesus as Israel. It’s about Jesus and His covenant people together, both head and body together, dying and rising together. As Jerome noted well, Matthew has “rightly taken up” the testimony of Jeremiah 31:15 in the events surrounding Jesus and Israel’s life together. If we stop and think about it a bit more, Matthew's reference from Jeremiah 31 only makes sense if both Jesus and Israel are identified as God’s Son.

In chapter 31, Jeremiah’s message is particularly noteworthy because it is directed to Ephraim by name. “I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn,” says the Lord (Jer. 31:9). Ephraim is also described as Yahweh’s “dear son” and “darling child” (v. 20), always expected to live up to the image of Yahweh’s Son. However, Ephraim was not Joseph’s actual firstborn son. When Joseph brought his firstborn son before his father, Israel laid hands on Joseph’s second child, Ephraim, instead, blessing him as the firstborn even though Manasseh was the actual firstborn. This typology of first and second sonship is nothing new to the history of Israel, being seen in numerous other examples (e.g. Ishamel and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Reuben and Joseph, Levi and the twelve tribes, Adam and Jesus), and it runs through the message of Jeremiah 31 too. Ephraim, like Jesus, is the second son, a second Adam, chosen to receive the promised inheritance of the actual firstborn. But in the context of Jeremiah 31, when the Lord speaks of Ephraim, He speaks as though Ephraim bears the image of the first Israel, the first Adam, who fell in the garden sanctuary and was later exiled into the land. He speaks as though His son had already been disciplined, as though Ephraim had already been taken into exile. Time and time again, the northern kingdom of Israel broke covenant with Yahweh, and Yahweh responded by showing mercy time and time again; but when Jeremiah spoke in chapter 31, northern Israel had already been taken captive. Ephraim was already no more, which is why Rachel is described as weeping for her children. Rachel was the wife of Jacob (i.e. Israel) and therefore the mother of Israel’s children, but now Ephraim had gone into exile, finally receiving his due for repeated breaches of God’s covenant; and in exile, what hope could there possibly be for the future of Yahweh’s people? This is the context in which Matthew (2:18) quotes Jeremiah 31:15 as finally being fulfilled:
A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children because they are no more.

Matthew does something unexpected with this “fulfillment” passage though, something similar to what Jerome described the Jewish scholars doing in his own day. Matthew interprets Jeremiah 31:15 as fulfilling events within his own generation. Instead of interpreting those events as being fulfilled in the past when Israel actually returned from Babylonian exile, Matthew interprets Jeremiah 31:15 as fulfilling the events of Herod slaughtering the innocent children of Israel around Bethlehem. Jeremiah describes Rachel as hearing the cries of her children being deported into captivity from Ramah, yet Matthew cites this as fulfilling the theme of continued exile for God’s firstborn son. What gives? This type of prophetic "fulfillment" is not ordinary, or is it?

If something doesn't seem right, it may be because we are assuming too much about what it means for prophecy to be "fulfilled." Far too often Christians assume that fulfillment of a prophetic narrative is the same as a prophecy that predicts future events. Or, to put it another way, Christians often fail to distinguish indirect typological fulfillment of prophecy from direct fulfillment of prophecy. "The main difference between direct fulfillment of prophecy and indirect typological fulfillment is that the direct fulfills what was explicitly predicted by the words of the prophet, while the indirect fulfills what was implicitly foreshadowed by historical events, which have been narrated."4 As Craig L. Blomberg has noted,5 Matthew is not interpreting the text of Jeremiah 31:15 as a prediction of future events, but rather is employing a similar kind of typology6 to his interpretation of Hosea 11:1, as seen moments earlier (Matt. 2:15). I wrote about the typology of Hosea 11:1 in the last post (here).

Matthew has very good reasons for employing a typological fulfillment here. In the narrative of Israel’s life, Ramah was, in fact, a place where captives were taken and stationed before their exile to Babylon (Jer. 40:1). Ramah, as Jerome noted, is also the region in which Rachel was buried near Bethlehem (the city in which Herod slaughtered the innocent children). Yet if we go all the way back to the Genesis narrative, there is more to the story of Rachel’s death and burial than what ordinarily meets the fundamentalist eye. It is also significant that Rachel dies while giving birth on the road to Bethlehem, and it’s in the midst of her suffering that her midwife tries comforting her with news that she has another son. After her son is born, she names him Benoni, which means “son of my sorrow,” but Israel renames him Benjamin (“son of my right hand”) as a sign of hope for Israel’s future. In the Genesis narrative, Rachel weeps over her son, yet afterward he becomes Israel’s hope. In Jeremiah's prophecy, Rachel weeps over her children once more, but this time it’s as they’re being exiled to Babylon; and just as Israel renamed her "son of sorrow" into a son of hope, Yahweh speaks words of comfort to Rachel again. This time Yahweh promises that her children will return from exile. Yahweh promises to show mercy toward his rebellious son. He promises to restore their fortunes, replenish their languishing souls, and deliver them from exile. “There is hope for your future, declares Yahweh, and your children shall come back to their own country” (v. 17).

In Matthew's day, Rachel’s weeping is finally filled full. This time her weeping is over the slaughter of the children at Bethlehem. No direct words of comfort are given her in Matthew, but the very next verse speaks of the return of Jesus to the land of Israel after the sure death of Herod (Matt. 2:19-21). Just as it was in Jeremiah's day, Israel’s life in the promised land seems hopeless in the days of Jesus' birth too, yet the hope of redemption and faith in Israel's Redeemer lives on. Even though there was a great slaughter of Rachel’s children in the region where she was buried, a corresponding promise of resurrection was also promised. That resurrection would entail a greater “exodus” than ever before in Israel’s history. That exodus from continued exile is what Jesus was born into the world to accomplish. Jesus came to save His people from bondage. Jesus came to deliver them from exile and inaugurate a new creation in the world. A voice was heard in Ramah, a voice of innocent children being slaughtered by a new Pharaoh. But without a new Pharaoh there would be no Egypt to call his faithful Son out of; and without a faithful Son there would be no Israel to die and rise with Him.









1.  Hosea 11:1
2.  Jeremiah 31:15
3. St. Jerome, Ancient Christian TextsCommentary on Jeremiah (translation by Michael Graves) [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press; 2011], p. 194-5
4.  G.K. Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic; 2012], p. 58
5.  Craig L. Blomberg, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament; eds. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic; 2007] p. 10
6.  G.K. Beale defines "typology" this way: "the study of analogical correspondences among persons, events, institutions, and other things within the historical framework of God's special revelation that, from a retrospective view, are of a prophetic nature. [Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, p. 57]



Saturday, December 28, 2013

Out of Egypt I called My Son (Matthew 2:13-21 part 1)



Matthew 2:13-23 reads: 
Now when thy had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, 
“Out of Egypt I called my son."1 
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
 weeping and loud lamentation,
 Rachel weeping for her children;
 she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”2 
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 


Matthew's gospel is about Israel. In Matthew 2:13-21, an angel of Yahweh appears before Joseph in a dream, telling him to flee to Egypt with Mary and their son, Jesus, and remain there until the death of Herod because Herod was determined to search for their son and kill him. Herod, like the Pharaoh before him, did not know Joseph or the God he worshipped, and because their son was the promised deliverer of Israel, Herod had no interest in entertaining a threat to his own throne. The most effective way to eliminate this threat, he thought, was to kill all the newborn male children, like Pharaoh did (Exodus 1). In Matthew's gospel, Israel's life is in danger from a new Pharaoh, and is in need of a great deliverer like Moses. Joseph proves himself to be a faithful servant of Yahweh by doing as he was told by the angel of Yahweh. He flees to Egypt and remains there for a while. Even more to the point, he flees to Egypt from Judea and remains there for a while, and Matthew says, "This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, 'Out of Egypt I called my son.'

Remember, Matthew's gospel is about Israel. The passage Matthew cites here "to fulfill what the Lord had spoken" comes from Hosea 11:1, and as expected, is also about Israel. But Matthew sees something within the scriptures given to Israel that is not commonly seen today. Matthew is not viewing Hosea 11:1 as predictive prophecy, which is how most evangelicals view it today. Instead, Matthew is viewing Hosea's prophecy about Israel (and to Israel) and seeing Jesus in it. And in Matthew's eyes, Hosea's prophecy manifests Jesus in the most obvious way. Matthew sees Jesus as Yahweh's firstborn son. Matthew sees Jesus as Israel,3 Yahweh's firstborn son (Exod. 4:22-23). That is why he can safely regard Hosea's prophecy about Israel being called out of Egypt as Jesus being called out of Egypt. Jesus is like Moses, the "head" of Israel. He's the baby who needs rescuing from the slaughter of the innocents. He's the promised deliverer of Israel who flees from Egypt and then returns to save Israel (Exod. 2). The land of Israel had become another Egypt with their people under bondage again. The people of Israel under Herod's rule were like Egypt under Pharaoh's rule in the days of Moses' childhood, hoping and waiting for Yahweh to send His promised deliverer to them--hoping and waiting for their great exodus as promised to their father Abraham (Gen. 15:13-14). In Matthew's gospel, Jesus has come to provide that promised exodus for the Israel of God. But just as Moses must first flee Egypt before returning to save Israel, Jesus must flee Judea before returning. Not only has Jesus come to save Israel, Jesus has come to be faithful to his heavenly Father in every way which the people of Israel never did, and never could. Jesus has come to be the faithful son, leading an exodus of spirit-filled disciples into the promised land. This time, the faithful Israel will succeed.

In the next post I'll continue this train of thought and connect it with Matthew's next citation from Jeremiah 31:15.




1.  Hosea 11:1
2.  Jeremiah 31:15
3.  For an excellent essay on the typology of Matthew's gospel, see Peter J. Leithart, Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthew's Gospel

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Advent is for the lowly






During a recent Lessons & Carols event, two passages of Scripture stood out to me: Micah 5:2 and Matthew 2:6. At first they stood out to me because they sounded very similar. I thought I was hearing the same thing twice in the same event. But immediately I remembered that Matthew refers to Micah 5:2. That was nothing new to me. What was new to me was its presentation. It had never occurred to me, until recently, that Matthew does not cite Micah 5:2 as another one of his "fulfillment" passages (for example, as he does with the virgin birth citation from Isaiah 7:14). Instead Matthew cites Micah 5:2 in order to teach what the chief priests and scribes of Israel believed. For those who have been following my lengthy series on Matthew's gospel (found here), this is pretty significant when compared with every other mention of Israel's religious rulers in the same gospel. 

To appreciate the significance of this, it's important to recall Micah's prophecy in its original context. Micah 5:1-6 reads as follows:
Now muster your troops, O Daughter of troops! Siege is laid against us! With a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek!
But you, O Bethlehem-Ephrathah, who are too insignificant to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be Ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from days of old. 
Therefore He shall give them up until the time when She who is in labor has given birth; then the remainder of His brothers shall return to the sons of Israel. And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of Yahweh, in the majesty of the name of Yahweh his God. And they shall remain because now He shall be great to the ends of the earth; and He shall be their peace. This One will be our peace. 
When the Assyrian invades our land, when he tramples on our palaces, then we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princes of men. They shall shepherd the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod at its entrances, and He will deliver us from the Assyrian when He comes into our land and tramples our border.
The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea, whose ministries both decry the moral corruption and ungodly social disorder of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. Both prophets pronounce judgment upon them with frightening descriptions as well. In a similar manner, Micah comes to complement their messages. He begins his "book" with the soon-coming judgment upon Samaria, the northern kingdom. Then he moves on to the southern territory, addressing Jerusalem directly. Jerusalem, of course, is the great city of Israel. It's the place where Yahweh dwells in the midst of His people. It's the place where the King of Israel is enthroned above the cherubim. It's the place in which Yahweh built a house for His own name to dwell. It's also the place in which Ahaz, king of Judah, presently reigned during Micah's ministry.  

In Micah 5, Israel is given a charge. That charge is to prepare Daughter Israel for battle against the invading Assyrians. No one knows for sure which particular Assyrian attack this is describing, because there were a few around the same general time, but Zion is nonetheless warned to prepare for suffering as they encroach upon Judah's borders. Daughter Israel is portrayed as vulnerable and She knows She is. The king of Assyria is arrogant, intent on eventually laying siege to Jerusalem, the city of Israel's Great God and King, thereby striking the Judge of Israel on the cheek. Daughter Israel knows this too. It's only a matter of time before the destiny of the northern kingdom becomes the destiny of the southern kingdom. Assyria trampled the northern kingdom under foot, demonstrating how weak and embarrassing their king was. Now Jerusalem is to be assaulted. But will it be destroyed? Will Judah's king (Ahaz) also prove to be embarrassingly weak? That's part of the message of Micah's prophecy, but that's certainly not all. Yahweh promised to raise up a deliverer from this foreign invasion, from those who trample Israel's borders. Yahweh promises to act as their Deliverer and Chief Shepherd, appointing an adequate amount of "under-shepherds" to overthrow their oppressors, establishing peace in the land again. Micah even says that the land of Nimrod, i.e. the land of Assyria during the confusion of Babel before Israel was formed, would be conquered and possessed by Israel because of Yahweh's shepherding deliverance. The fulfillment of this promise is another major part of Micah's message to Israel.

Why then do the chief priests and scribes interpret Micah's prophesy as reaching its fulfillment in their own day (Matt. 2:5-6)? 
They [the chief priests and scribes] told him [Herod], "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: 
'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are certainly not the least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel'"

The answer to this question is not as complex as it may seem, and actually has tremendous relevance understanding future portions of Matthew's gospel. But it's also relevant for the way Christians live year after year, commemorating and embodying the message of Advent year after year. 

The first thing I suggest we do is notice the differences between Micah and Matthew's translation of this passage. Micah says that Bethlehem is too insignificant to be among Judah, whereas Matthew says that Bethlehem is certainly not the least among Judah. At face value, it looks like a blatant contradiction. [It also doesn't help that there is no textual tradition to support Matthew's translation. It's unlike both the Hebrew and Greek translations of Micah, and it's not found among other early Jewish writings either.] 

Also, notice carefully that Matthew is not quoting Micah directly, and so whatever translational differences there are between Micah 5:2 and Matthew 2:6, those differences are not between old and new Scritural traditions. Instead I'm going to suggest that Matthew is setting his audience up to notice the difference between the traditions of the religious leaders of Israel and Jesus' leadership over Israel. (In other words, it's not necessary to think that Matthew is adapting Micah's words or inventing history in order to present Jesus as Israel's Messiah.) Matthew's seems to be painting a picture (with words) of what Israel's shepherds and princes believed and taught concerning their promised Messiah. And the more I review the beginning of Matthew's gospel, the more obvious this becomes. The scribes and chief priests are quoting Micah directly as though they believed Israel was still in exile and awaiting Yahweh to finally raise up His great Davidic King from Bethlehem, which Micah described as the "least significant" of all cities among Judah. In their eyes, however, Bethlehem could not certainly be the least among the remnants of Judah because Israel was still in exile, but Bethlehem still remained in Judea even after their return from Babylon. Therefore, instead of buying into the silly notion that Matthew is revising history in order to make Jesus appear to be Israel's Messiah, Matthew is presenting, right from the outset --in broad daylight, as it were-- the most fundamental hope of the chief priests and scribes of Israel who would eventually betray and crucify their Messiah. 

Matthew uses various means to set his audience (us) up to see this. Matthew begins his gospel with a three part genealogy of Israelite rulers, beginning with God's promise to Abraham and the fourteen generations following in his line. He then moves on to the Davidic dynasty and its fourteen generations, upon whose throne Yahweh promised to shepherd his people (as seen also in the quote from Micah above). From that point on, Matthew does something remarkably odd. Matthew begins his last phase of fourteen generations, not with a specific king, but with a specific event. That event was the "deportation to Babylon" (Matt. 1:11-12). He begins a new phase of fourteen exiled princes wherein the promised throne of David's descendants had, in fact, remained eclipsed (Matt. 1:17). This is especially startling in light of this gospel's ending. One might sooner expect the chief priests and scribes, who would eventually betray and crucify Jesus, to interpret Micah's promise of deliverance as fulfilled in Micah's day, or even at the end of the Babylonian captivity. But there is no indication within Matthew's gospel that they ever did change their mind. Instead Matthew paints a picture of Israel's rulers heartening their hearts in the face of their promised King, and King whom they knew, but did not want to acknowledge as true because Jesus stood in opposition to their cherished  idolatrous traditions. 

As an example of how they could have interpreted Micah's message, they could have viewed Hezekiah as the king of Judah appointed by Yahweh to successfully resist Jerusalem's Assyrian oppressors, thereby bringing peace to the land. But Matthew clearly describes the theology and eschatology of Israel's leaders as pointing to some One else, some King beyond the reign of Ahaz and Hezekiah (1:9-10). In Matthew's eyes, the chief priests and scribes have a clearer Messianic picture in mind. They see themselves as the shepherds and princes of an Israel which remained in exile up to their own day. But this too is strange because Israel did return from exile. Long after Hezekiah, Israel did return from the Nimrodic borders of Babylonian exile as prophesied by Micah's contemporaries, and at that time Yahweh did use His own "messiah" (מָשִׁיחַ, "anointed one") and "shepherd," Cyrus by name, to lead another exodus from captivity back to the promised land (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1; II Chron. 36:23). In fact, by the time Matthew wrote his gospel, many Israelites had been living within the land of Judea for a long time because of what Cyrus, their "messiah" and "shepherd," had done. If Cyrus had not conquered the territory of Assyria and Babylon, the people of Israel would not have been worshipping Yahweh in the temple Herod had built for them in Jerusalem! Shouldn't that "messiah" and "shepherd" have been a possible (if not likely) interpretation of Israel's scribes and chief priests when confronted with incarnation of Jesus Christ?

Matthew's gospel teaches us that during Israel's advent the religious leaders didn't think so. Matthew's gospel also implies that they had a great amount of confidence in their own eschatological role too, not unlike many fundamentalist Christians today, who view themselves as the only "true" shepherds and rulers of God's people while, at the same time, imposing ungodly traditions of their own (allegedly from the Bible too) and persecuting those who challenge their long-established traditions. 

If it is true that the scribes and chief priests believed Bethlehem was certainly not the least among the clans of Judah because Israel's kingly "messiah" would arise from there, this means the people of Israel learned to anticipate this as well. In fact, all throughout Matthew's gospel Jesus is correcting and critiquing the teaching of Israel's shepherds --the scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests--  because the people of Israel were lost according to their directions. As it was during the days of Ahaz, the rulers of Israel in Jesus' day were thoroughly corrupt, embarrassingly weak, and ripe for God's visitation. No doubt the rulers of Israel believed and taught the message of expanding conquest, victory, and peace as promised by Micah, but Matthew presents their faith as being unable to let go of one caveat: they, and no one else, would be the ones with adequate faithfulness to identify Israel's Messiah. They certainly believed Yahweh would raise up a king from Bethlehem to deliver them from exile again, making it out to be a very significant clan among Judah. However, they considered themselves to be the faithful "under-shepherds" of Yahweh, and any king arising from Bethlehem would need to be on their side, following their standards of faithfulness to Yahweh, drawing near with sacrifices in their temple.

If what I suspect is accurate, this has many implications for Christians today, not the least of which is learning the important lesson of history that kings of nations and bible-leaders rise and fall, many times believing important truths about God along the way too, but none of them ever match up to the faithfulness of Jesus the Christ, the second Adam, who reversed the order of rising and falling by taking upon himself the likeness of sinful flesh in order to fall and then rise again. And unlike the first Adam, whose descendants perish under the old creation, Jesus took the fall upon himself so that a new creation could rise with him. 

Another important lesson we learn is that God is faithful to the promises of His expanding conquest, victory, and peace, even when ungodly rulers attempt their own conquest and promote their own idolatrous gospel of peace. Our Lord's message through the prophet Micah isn't that much different from the message of Matthew's gospel, nor is the opposition they received. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, whether people like His rule or not, and Christians should find hope and comfort in that reality. 

We also learn from this that God can and does raise up rulers who are faithful to Him --rulers like Hezekiah and Cyrus-- even though all of them will fail at some point, in some way. Once upon a time the chief priests and scribes of Israel were faithful, but eventually became full of their own traditional faithfulness. Then God raised up many faithful rulers to follow Jesus, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He commanded them. The fact that God remains faithful even when previously appointed rulers no longer are, should not discourage us. When our rulers are leading Gods people astray, provoking the Lord's wrath, all of that is still according to Gods promise. Everything is still right on schedule even when we, His people, need to repent of our sins, turn away from our cherished idols and back toward Him. 

These perspectives are essential to understanding Advent. Advent is not for the high and mighty, self-righteous, self-appointed under-shepherds whose savior dons the same wide phylacteries as they do. Rather, the season of Advent is for the lowly who acknowledge their need for Jesus to be their deliverer. Advent is for the lowly who want Jesus enthroned over all, invading all the Nimrodic entrances and toppling all Babelic towers which attempt to reach the heavens without Him. Advent is not for pietistic and cowardly kings like Ahaz or for arrogant and confident ambassadors like Assyria's Rabshekah. Rather, the season of Advent is for the Hezekiah's and David's who understand that Yahweh's name will most certainly be great to the ends of the earth, so that He will be their peace. Advent is for the lowly, like the disciples of Jesus who reformed their lives, put away their idols, gave up everything prized among the proud, sold their landed inheritance, and held all things in common so they could distribute to the poor and persecuted brethren among them. Advent is for the lowly who carry a cross and follow Jesus wherever He leads, even if that means storming the very gates of Hell. Advent is for the lowly in God's sight. The lower a sinner recognizes himself to be the greater glory there is for the Christ who saves him. 












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).