Showing posts with label Judges. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Judges. Show all posts

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jesus vs. Goliath (John 19:17-30)

John 19:17-30 parallels 18:13-27 in various ways, as seen also in John's neat chiastic arrangement (here). In 19:17-30 Jesus is taken from the Gentile "world" of Pilate's headquarters and back into the "land" near the city to be sacrificed on a cross, and eventually buried in a garden-tomb. Earlier in 18:13-27 Jesus was taken from the garden and sentenced to "die for the people" in that same land (v. 14). There in the land, Jesus declared that he had "spoken openly to the world" (v. 20), and in 19:17-30 Pilate writes an inscription above Jesus' cross for all to see, and he writes it in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, the three dominant languages of the world. Last of all, John the author is present in the background of both scenes, labeled as "the disciple" (18:15 & 19:26-27). In chapter 18, John is the disciple "known to the high priest" and allowed to enter his house (v. 15), whereas in chapter 19 John is known by Jesus, the true High Priest of God, and adopted into the "temple-house of Jesus' Father."

The literary structure of 19:17-30 carries some interesting parallels as well. 

A)  Jesus carries his own cross (19:17)
   B)  The soldiers crucify Jesus, dividing two others, one man crucified on each side of him (19:18)
      C)  Pilate writes: "Jesus the Nazarene,2 the King of the Jews" (19:19)
         D)  Many Jews read the inscription; the inscription was in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek (19:21)
      C')  Chief Priests of the Jews correct what Pilate wrote: "This man said, I am King of the Jews" (19:21-22)
   B')  When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided his garments, one for each soldier (19:23-24)
A')  Jesus dies on the cross He carried (19:25-30)

In verse 17 (section A) Jesus is taken by soldiers, carrying his own cross to a place called Golgotha, which in Greek means "Place of the Skull." One Hebrew variant of Golgotha is gulgolet (גלגלת), which also means "skull," and is used throughout the old testament to describe "heads" of Israelites taken into the inventory of God's people. There are, however, a handful of other intriguing uses of gulgolet in the old testament which illuminate the significance of this name and place. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains lists three occurrences especially worth noting: Judges 9:53; II Kings 9:35; and I Chron. 10:10. 

In Judges 9:53, a woman crushes Abimelech's gulgolet with a millstone, both echoing and foreshadowing the seed of the woman (Christ) promised to crush the "skull" of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). In II Kings 9:35, Jehu storms into the courtyard of Jezreel to fulfill the word of Yahweh's curse against Jezebel, the king's daughter. In Hebew, Jezreel means "that which God planted." There, where Yahweh had planted a wicked queen over Israel to chasten His people, Jehu would come to uproot both the fruit and the root of Israel's idolatry. Where the house of Ahab sowed seeds of wickedness, Israel's Queen would be trampled down by Jehu, leaving behind only her gulgolet, feet, and hands. By coming to crush the skull of Jezebel, Jehu foreshadows one aspect of Christ's work, by crushing a type of seductive harlot-bride, the King's daughter and persecutor of Yahweh's covenant people, as unveiled by Jesus to John (Rev. 2:18-29). 

Finally, in I Chronicles 10:10 we find the Philistines taking the gulgolet of King Saul and bringing it to their central city of worship and into the temple of Dagon. That event echoed King David's triumph over the Philistine giant, Goliath of Gath, whose gulgolet was cut off and taken near the city of Jerusalem (I Sam. 17:51-54). There, where the skull of Goliath of Gath was placed, is where Jesus was crucified: Gol-Gath-a. In the place where King David brought the crushed skull of the giant, there Jesus, the son of David, King of Israel, crushed the skull of the serpent. But John tells the story of skull-crushing a bit different than one might expect. In first Samuel, David carries his victory trophy while Yahweh scatters his enemies. In John's gospel, this section (19:17-30) begins with Jesus carrying his own cross to Golgotha, the "Place of the Skull," and he ends with Jesus on the cross he carried. Like David, Jesus also carries his victory trophy as the Father scatters his enemies, but unlike David, Jesus becomes the trophy lifted up for all the world to see.  His cross is the means of becoming lifted up, drawing all nations unto himself. As Jesus told Nicodemus at night, the Son of man must be lifted up so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14). Even during the day, within the temple, Jesus proclaimed the same message, saying "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me" (8:28). And in case John wasn't clear enough in that passage, describing the necessity of being lifted up on a cross, it was before Jesus' arrest in the garden that He cried out one last time: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself." But then John adds, "He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die" (12:32-33). 

In John 19:17-30, Jesus is hung on a tree, cursed of God, crushed for our iniquities. But in dying, the sins of the world are crushed with Him.  When both the "Head" and "Body" are crushed, the Spirit of God raises up a new body, a glorified Body, and they --being one with Him-- crush the head of the serpent. It is through the work of the cross that Satan's head is crushed and Jesus achieves victory, as promised in Genesis 3:15. It is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our union with His resurrected life that new creation begins, light overcomes darkness, and the powers of evil are destroyed.

1.  Peter J. Leithart, "We Saw His Glory" Implications of the Sanctuary Christology in John's Gospel, (published in Christology Ancient & Modern: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics; Oliver D. Crisp and Fred Sanders, Editors) p. 128
2.  Peter Leithart makes this interesting remark about the inscription of Pilate: "Pilate's inscription on the cross identifies Jesus not as a but the Nazarene (John 19:19). In John, Nazareth is barely mentioned (cf. 1:45-46), and in John's view Pilate's titlon likely alludes not to Jesus' hometown but to Isaiah 11's prediction of a Messianic Branch (neser) from the stump of Jesse. Pilate's declaration means: "Jesus the Branch, King of the Jews." Qumran texts link Isaiah's Branch to the temple-building Branch (semah) of Zechariah 6:12: "Behold the man whose name is the Branch." Neser and semah are synonymous titles for the Messianic King who will build the eschatological temple. With his famous Ecce homo, Pilate quotes the first half of Zechariah 6:12 as he presents Jesus to the Jews, and then by putting "Nazarene" in the titlon he finishes the sentence and names Jesus as the Messianic temple-builder, a new Solomon." Ibid., p. 127. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

God is not nice

Commenting on I Kings 22:1-40, Peter Leithart makes some interesting observations about Yahweh being a God who challenges our plans in order to reform His Church. Leithart even approaches the story of Micaiah's prophecy and the deception of King Ahab in a very practical, pastoral manner, treating Yahweh exactly as He has revealed Himself. Dr. Leithart writes:

According to Torah, the true prophet is ultimately revealed by the outcome; if he is a true prophet, then what he prophesies will happen (Deut. 13:1–11), and in this story, Micaiah is shown to be the true prophet because Ahab dies in battle. But Ahab and Jehoshaphat have to make a decision before they know the outcome. How can they know which advice to follow? How can they tell a wolf cleverly disguised in sheep’s clothing from a sheep?

Jehoshaphat apparently discerns that something is wrong. When he hears all four hundred prophets in agreement, all agreeing that Yahweh promises success, he still wants to hear a prophet of Yahweh (1 Kgs. 22:7). Jehoshaphat is probably spiritually attuned enough to know that the word of God does not come with the message, “Everything is perfectly okay. You’re okay just the way you are.” As Barth says, dogmatics is the science that tests the church’s proclamation by the standard of the word of God, and if dogmaticians emerge from their study to announce “all is well; steady as she goes,” they have made a mistake in calculations. Or, to put it in the blunt terms that Long uses, “God is not nice” (2004). He does not exist to underwrite our projects, to ensure that our pursuit of money and fame and American empire goes smoothly. He is the “judge of all the earth,” whose word is an instrument for bringing all our projects, intentions, and aims, especially the most pious of them, under scrutiny and judgment.
It is always a temptation to prefer a smooth, self-affirming word over a confronting word, and that temptation has been institutionalized, systematized in many contemporary churches. The word “sin” is avoided as needlessly offensive, especially to wealthy church members. Churches advertise their welcoming, nonjudgmental atmosphere, not so subtly (and viciously) implying that there are harsh judgmental churches out there and we all know which ones they are. American churches mirror consumer culture, offering a range of choices so that everyone can settle back into a Muzak spirituality, confident that they will not be confronted by any demands for radical change. But the word of Yahweh does not affirm us in our plans. It challenges our plans, confronts them, undoes them.1
...Micaiah’s vision of Yahweh asking for a volunteer to entice (פתה) Ahab is one of the most puzzling passages in the Bible and difficult on many levels. The least problematic aspect of this incident is that Yahweh is seeking help from surrogates, though the quaintness of the scene almost seems more at home in Goethe than in the Bible. The more troubling problem is the moral one: how can the God who is truth, whose word is truth, send out a lying spirit to inspire people to lie to Ahab? Is Yahweh ultimately just another trickster God, unreliable and deceptive?2 
...What kind of God is this that puts misleading prophesies into the mouths of the court prophets of Israel? How is this consistent with the New Testament’s affirmations that “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18) and that “in him is no variation or shifting shadow” (Jas. 1:17)?
As Davis points out, there is ultimately no deception here or, more accurately, the deception is completely telegraphed (2002, 327). Yahweh’s Spirit inspires the prophets to mislead and lure Ahab to his death, but then Yahweh sends Micaiah to tell Ahab he is being lured to his death. Yahweh sets a trap for Ahab, but politely shows Ahab the trap before he springs it. Yet, Ahab blindly goes to Ramoth-gilead, confident that he can cheat death and escape the word of Yahweh. Further and more basically, this passage makes it abundantly clear that Yahweh is not a great marshmallow in the sky. He is not a God who plays softball. Nor is he the god of the philosophers, a gorgeous but impotent force in heaven. He is a warrior who fights to win, and deception is part of his art of holy war. Elsewhere, Yahweh encourages his people to use deceptive military tactics (e.g., Josh. 7), and on more than one occasion he deploys an “evil spirit” to set traps for his enemies (Judg. 9:23; 1 Sam. 16:14; 18:10; 19:9; Ezek. 14:9).
Many of the church fathers gesture toward the insight that God is a trickster when they develop atonement theories that suggest the cross is a divine trap laid for Satan. Recent work on the historical Jesus confirms the patristic insight into God’s shrewdness without adopting the “bait theory.” Jesus’s challenging parables, his provocative prophetic actions, his counterintuitive images and exhortations, his shrewdness in debate—all this testifies that Jesus is the incarnation of the God who lured Ahab to the battlefield of Ramoth-gilead.
He is straight with the straight, merciful to the humble, but cunning with the wicked (ועם־עקש תתפתל) (Ps. 18:25–26), the God who catches the wicked in their own devices, who leads his enemies into the very traps that they set for the righteous. This is a God to be loved. But he is also a God to be feared. One should be grateful to be and remain in his good graces, for it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of this God. Yahweh is the ultimate trickster that outfoxes all human attempts to escape him. Yahweh is not only cunning. He is transcendently, infinitely cunning. The conclusion that God employs deception against deceivers should not lead to distrust or anxiety. There is a simple way to avoid falling into the traps of the infinitely cunning God: humbly trust him, for he is merciful to the merciful, and to the pure he is pure.3

1.  Peter J. Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings [Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006] pp. 160-1
2.  Ibid. p. 162
3.  Ibid. p. 163-4

Monday, September 17, 2012

Judges: Opening Structure

In The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi, David Dorsey outlines the first two opening sections of the book of Judges. Below is my own adaptation of Dorsey's outline:

First opening section:  Judges 1:1-2:51

A.  Optimistic opening assembly (1:1-2)
  • conquest of Canaan begins
  • obedient Israelites initiate positive communication with Yahweh
  • tribes prepare to conquer, with Yahweh's blessing (because of obedience)

               B.   Rise and fall of Israel's dominion in the promised land (1:3-36)
    1. Judah: seven victories (Bezek, Jerusalem, Hebron, Debir, Arad, Hormah, and region of Philistia)
    2. Benjamin: failure
    3. Joseph: one positive victory (Beth-el) and six failures
    4. Zebulun: failure
    5. Asher: failure
    6. Naphtali: failure
    7. Dan: failure

A'.  Ominous closing assembly (2:1-5)
  • conquest of Canaan ends
  • Yahweh initiate negative communication with disobedient Israelites
  • Yahweh will no longer help tribes conquer the land (because of disobedience)

Second section:  Judges 2:6-3:62

Optimistic opening remarks: Israel sets out to receive their inheritance; they serve Yahweh (2:6-9)

            A.  Sin of next generation (2:10-13)
    • contrasted with their fathers
    • served the Baals; worshipped other gods
    • went after other gods
    • occurred once; and they had an excuse ("they did not know")
                    B.  Judgement: defeated by surrounding nations (2:14-15)
      • Yahweh was angry with Israel

Central Section: Yahweh's gracious intervention (2:16)

            A'. Sins of each successive generation (2:17-19)
    • contrasted with their fathers
    • served the Baals; worshipped other gods
    • went after other gods
    • not just once (but repeatedly); no excuse is given 
                    B'.   Judgement: defeated by surrounding nations (2:20-3:4)
      • Yahweh was angry with Israel

Ominous closing remarks: Israel fails to receive their inheritance; they serve other gods (3:5-6)

1.  David A. Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi [Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI; 2005] p. 106
2.  Ibid., p. 107

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Opening Oddities

Now that my wife is home with our newborn son, our family schedule has changed a bit. Just a tiny bit though. Certainly nothing to get flustered about. One way in which it has changed is with the amount of time my wife now has to study God's Word, the history of the Church, and other related subjects she didn't have a whole lot of time to study before (working full-time).

When I got home from a long day of work three days ago, my wife told me that she picked up the book of Judges and started reading it carefully. This was a bit surprising because we've been studying John's gospel as a family for months, and also Matthew's gospel every week with a small-group of friends (for almost a full year), while at the same time attending another bible study (for months) on the book of Job; and now, all-of-a-sudden I come home to find that my wife is starting a new book: Judges. And of course, she wrote down questions to discuss with me when I got home from my busy day of work. Needless to say, my initial response to her question was probably not what she expected. "Seriously? The book of Judges?", I said with a somewhat-wearied, somewhat curious look on my face. "Couldn't you have picked an easier book to study right now?" Apparently she thought the book of Judges would have been one of my first picks, had I chosen a fourth book to study right now; and I suppose it would be if I wasn't currently so busy studying three other books simultaneously. And so, wondering what to do, we discussed what we could, shared our thoughts on the subject matter of the first chapter, and continued on with the remainder of that's days tasks. But there were a couple things that did strike us both as a bit odd at first glance -- certainly something worth looking into with more detail.

Here are the two things that struck us both as odd:

1)  Joseph is mentioned in the first chapter, but so are both of his sons who received his birthright. What was the author's purpose in mentioning all three, especially since Joseph's inheritance was technically replaced by his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (Gen. 48)?

2)  Was the author intending to write a strict chronology throughout the book of Judges? The reason for asking this is because Judges 1:1-2 begins with the death of Joshua, but chapter two (2:6-10) also begins with Joshua's reign and another mention of his death.

After a bit of studying, I not only have answers to scratch both itching-spots of our curiosity, but I definitely feel like I have a better grasp on the book of Judges as a whole. And so, I'm pretty excited about starting book number four, and writing about it from time to time.

In order to answer question number one (above) -- why the author of Judges mentions Joseph and his two sons -- it's best to first recognize that something positive is only mentioned under Joseph's name. In 1:22-26, it is "the House of Joseph" that conquers Bethel (in the land of Canaan), which the reader is supposed to acknowledge as a positive event. But in the following verses -- the verses where Joseph's two sons are mentioned -- only negative comments are listed. In fact, after the only single, positive event mentioned about "the House of Joseph", there are six consecutive negative events listed (listing seven events total):

  1. "The House of Joseph" conquers Beth-el  (1:22-26)
  2. Manasseh fails to conquer Beth-shean  (1:27)
  3. Manasseh fails to conquer Taanach  (1:27)
  4. Manasseh fails to conquer Dor  (1:27)
  5. Manasseh fails to conquer Ibleam  (1:27)
  6. Manasseh fails to conquer Megiddo  (1:27-28)
  7. Ephraim fails to conquer Gezer  (1:29)1

According to this list, two things are emphatic: There is a victory by "the House of Joseph" worth mentioning and there is a definite decline within that "house" thereafter.

Because the tribe of Joseph was legally split into two tribes (Gen. 48), the description of victory for the "House of Joseph" describes both Manasseh and Ephraim together in an attempt to conquer Beth-el. When the house of Joseph is faithful, the Lord is with them (v. 22) and they are victorious. But when the house of Joseph is shown as unfaithful, the Lord removes His presence away from them. It is in these descriptions of unfaithfulness that the author describes the house of Joseph by the adopted tribal names of his sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.2

In order to answer question number two (above) -- whether the author intended to write a strict chronology of events -- it's important to recognize that the book of Judges opens up with two sections. The first section is chapter 1:1-2:5, and the second section is 2:6-3:6. The first opening section describes the rise and fall of Israel (after Joshua's death) in all their attempts to conquer the promised land of Canaan. The second opening section is a description of the rise and fall of Israel in their worship (after Joshua's death). So, in other words, the second section is a behind-the-scenes look at the sins which provoked the Lord greatly, the consequence of which was the Lord turning away from them in battle as they attempted to conquer the promised land. Each of the two opening sections begin by mentioning Joshua's death because both sections are mutually interpretive. The second section clarifies why the Lord removed His presence from certain tribes of Israel as they attempted to enter the promised land of Canaan.

1.  David A. Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi [Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI; 2005] p. 106
2.  I am grateful for the many helpful insights of James Jordan concerning this section of Judges. See James B. Jordan, Judges: God's War Against Humanism [Geneva Ministries: Tyler, TX; 1985] pp. 15-18