Showing posts with label Zechariah. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zechariah. Show all posts

Monday, December 16, 2019

Which Some Deny

Continuing in the recent series about the seamless message of first century fulfillment throughout the New Testament scriptures (here and here), I have gathered a few quotes from Dale Allison Jr’s excellent study, The End of the Ages Has Come: An Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. In it, Allison devotes scholarly attention to chunks of overlooked and obscure passages of Scripture to see how they relate to the topic at hand. 

In his chapter on Matthew, he makes some remarkable comments which I think are both profound and questionable in relation to Matthew 27:51b-53. Those verses are:
And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (ESV)
Before I quote Allison in detail, I want to point out that the context in which he makes his remarks has to do with an evaluation made by Donald P. Senior, in his published monograph, The Passion According to Matthew: A Redactional Study, as it relates to the resurrection of “holy ones.” Allison points out the following:
Senior’s evaluation of the background of Matt. 27:51b-53 also invites criticism. His claim that our passage depends primarily upon Ezekial 37…is questionable. …Despite the parallel between Ezek. 37:12 and Matt. 27:52, there is another Scripture that lays claim to bear directly on our text: Zech 14:4-5.1 The affinity between the two passages has probably gone largely unnoticed because, in the Christian tradition, Zech 14:4-5 has not been interpreted as an account of the resurrection. The north panel of the Dura-Europos synagogue (mid-third century A.D.), however, provides evidence that the passage was so understood within ancient Judaism. Although many scholars have looked primarily to Ezekiel 37 for the interpretation of the panel, there can be little doubt that Zech 14:4-5 is also reflected. In the section which portrays the resurrection of the dead, the Mount of Olives (indicated by the two olive trees on the top of the mountain) has been split in two—precisely the event prophesied in Zech 14:4—and the revived dead are emerging from the crack. The fallen building on the slopes of the mountain probably symbolizes an earthquake (Zech 14:4), and those resurrected are in all likelihood here identified with the “holy ones” of Zech 14:5. Such an interpretation gains some support by (1) the Targum on Zech 14:3-5: the passage is introduced with God blowing the trumpet ten times to announce the resurrection of the dead; (2) the Targum on the Song of Songs (8:5): “When the dead rise, the Mount of Olives will be cleft, and all Israel’s dead will come up out of it, also the righteous who have died in captivity; they will come by way of a subterranean passages and will emerge from beneath the Mount of Olives”; and (3) later rabbinic uses of Zech 14:5: the “holy ones” of Zechariah are more than once identified not with the angels but with the ancient saints, specifically the prophets (for example, Midr. Rabbah on Song of Songs 4.11.1; on Ruth 2; and on Eccles. 1.11.1; cf Ign. Magn 9). The passage from the Targum on the Song of Songs (2) clearly represents an interpretation of Zech 14:4-5 and is the perfect literary parallel to the panel at Dura. It appears, therefore, that Zech. 14:4-5 was understood in some Jewish circles to be a prophecy of the resurrection.  
Once Zech 14:4-5 is read as a prophecy of the resurrection, its relation to Matt. 27:51b-53 becomes manifest. In both texts (1) a resurrection of the dead takes place immediately outside of Jerusalem…; (2) there is an earthquake; (3) the very schizo is used in the passive, in connection with a mountain (Zechariah) or rocks (Matthew); and (4) the resurrected ones are called hoi hagioi.2 These parallels are sufficient to permit the conclusion that Matt. 27:51b-53 is based in part on Zech 14:4-5 and not, as Senior holds, solely upon Ezekiel 37.3

A few paragraphs later, Allison makes a few striking remarks about the relationship between these passages and Matthew 25:31-46. He continues:

...Matthew has apparently supplied the following introduction to the parable of the sheep and goats in 25:31-46: "'When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him [kai pantes hoi aggeloi met auto]...'" As others have observed, the Greek [in brackets] strongly recalls Zech 14:5 LXX: kai pantes hoi ago met auto. Now, if Matt. 25:31 is indeed a redactional composition based on Zech 14:5, the exegete is faced by two riddles. First, while hoi hagioi of Zech. 14:5 are the angels (hoi aggeloi) in Matt. 25:31, they are the resurrected saints (ton hagion) in Matt. 27:52-53. Second, while Matt. 25:31 sets the fulfillment of Zech. 14:5 in the future ("'When the Son of man comes..."), Matt. 27:53 narrates the realization of Zechariah's vision. One is thus confronted by two rival interpretations of Zech. 14:5. If it is unlikely that both came from the same hand, then since Matt. 25:31 is probably redactional, 27:52-53 probably is not.4 

Here is my takeaway from these insights: 

1) There are no actual "riddles" which the exegete is faced with if Jesus actually raised the holy ones from the "dead ones" in Sheol/Hades.

2) "Angels" and "holy ones" only appear to be conceptually different because Christian traditions have largely neglected serious study of the relationship between the two. As far as the unseen realm of this world is concerned, modern exegetes still have much to learn as they do to unlearn. 

3) Matthew 27:53 narrates the realization of Zechariah's vision because God raised Jesus up along with the righteous dead who were in Sheol/Hades.

4) Matthew 25:31ff is not--I REPEAT, NOT--about the end of the world, or the end of time, or the so-called "second coming" of Jesus where, allegedly, he returns to earth bodily. Matthew 25:31ff most naturally fits within a first century context of fulfillment.  

5) The event narrated in Matt. 27:53 is significant because that was evidence that Jesus is the guarantor of all who would be raised up to eternal life with God thereafter. That was the very first time in human history where human beings were raised up to the presence of God. Previously, they had all been in Sheol/Hades, awaiting final judgment about their eternal destination. God then vindicated his Son by raising him out of the dead-ones. Jesus also led a whole host of captives with him to heaven, to rule and reign in the resurrection. Not everyone was raised with Jesus at the time of his resurrection from the dead-ones. The wicked remained until their final judgment in AD70. 

6) Matthew 25:31ff is about the final judgment of all the dead-ones in Sheol/Hades in AD70. According to Matt. 27:53, although many bodies of those who had died were brought back to life, that was only the beginning. There is no remark about the wicked, evil, treacherous dead-ones being raised back to life. Such were still awaiting final judgment in AD70. Matthew 25:31ff is about that judgment, where the saints who were raised with Jesus (around AD30) would come in final judgment upon Israel.

7) Numerous theologians (and scholars) throughout history have noted that Zech. 14:4-5 referred to events which received their fulfillment in the first century. Notable among the Church Fathers is Theodore, bishop of Cyrus (423-457 AD), who connected Zech. 14:4-5 with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. These types of symbolic connections did not go unnoticed among the Church Fathers, as I have shown in a separate series

8) Perhaps most intriguing find within all of this is the little, tiny cross-reference of Ignatius of Antioch which Allison made in passing. To be exact, Allison referenced Ignatius' Letter to the Magnesians, chapter nine.5 In that particular chapter, Ignatius exhorts his Christian disciples to not keep the Sabbath of Judaism, but live instead "in accordance with the Lord's Day, on which our life also arose through him and his death (which some deny)." Only one verse later, he connects the holy ones of history with those who were anticipating being raised up from the dead-ones in Sheol/Hades along with their Messiah: "how can we possibly live without him [Jesus], whom even the prophets, who were his disciples in the Spirit, were expecting as their teacher? This is why the One for whom they righty waited raised them from the dead (ἐκ νεκρῶν) when he came." 

This past fulfillment of raising up holy ones from the abode of the dead-ones (i.e. Sheol/Hades) is what justifies his other remarks bracketing the letter with regard to his own personal hope and exception to "reach God" when he dies (1:2; 14:1). For Ignatius of Antioch, the whole notion of reaching God was made possible by the definitive end and final judgment upon the Old Creation. For Ignatius, there is no more a message of awaiting resurrection from the dead-ones after a period in Sheol/Hades; there is only eternal death or resurrection unto eternal life with Christ, which, of course, makes perfect sense since Ignatius wrote after AD70. 

9) Matthew 25:31ff is probably not redactional. The affinity between Matt. 25:31ff and 27:52-53 has probably gone largely unnoticed because, in the Christian tradition, very few modern scholars consider most (or all) eschatological "end-times" remarks as actually being fulfilled in the first century.  There are many great reasons to consider the ways in which Church Fathers thought otherwise

10) Modern scholars like Allison and Senior can't make sense of resurrection in the first century because they're assuming something imaginary, something that is part of a later Christian tradition about bodily resurrection. Christian tradition is loaded with debates about that doctrine. Early Judaisms had similar debates. Regardless of whether bodily resurrection at the end of the physical cosmos is philosophically cogent and true, as long as we approach these texts literarily, we cannot help but notice that the expectation surrounding the New testament message consistently witnesses to soon-coming first century events; and as long as we assume that those New Testament scriptures are historically reliable and rhetorically coherent, I think it's safe to say that Allison and Senior (along with scholars like them) tend to read back into the text what became popular dogmas centuries after their fulfillment. The message of being raised "out of" or "from the dead-ones" (ἐκ νεκρῶν) make more sense if it was actually fulfilled in first century events (which, as Ignatius of Antioch pointed out, some deny). 

1. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. (ESV)
2. hoi hagioi is the transliteration of the Greek text, ο γιοι, which means “the holy ones”
3. Allison Jr., pp. 42-44
4. Ibid. p. 44-45
5. This was referenced in the first, lengthy paragraph above, in sub-point (3), which mentioned rabbinic sources. One of Ignatius's letters ("Ign. Magn 9") is compared with those remarks in rabbinic sources because that letter makes a lot of comments in contrast with the philosophy of rabbinic judaism in the first century.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Healing the Withered Hand: Matthew 12:9-14 (Section D2)

[Jesus] went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with with a withered hand. And they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"--so that they might accuse him. He said to them, "Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. (Matthew 12:9-14)

Continuing where we left off in this ongoing series of Matthew's gospel, we arrive at the famous story of the man with a "withered hand." This story is found in the other two synoptic gospels as well (Mark 3 & Luke 6). Unfortunately, many commentators have taught this story in a manner very similar to their misunderstandings of the previous one. It has been taught as though Jesus is really concerned about "exceptions" to God's Law under the new covenant, exceptions such as acts of mercy. As a result, the Pharisaical misunderstandings of God's Law become the focal points of this entire story, when really, this section is less of a commentary on "exceptions" and misunderstandings of God's Law and more of a commentary on misunderstandings of the Lawgiver. Such was precisely the point of the previous story, and Matthew continues that thought here as well.

Matthew even makes it obvious that he is continuing where he last left off. He says that Jesus "went on from there and entered their synagogue." We might now want to ask, 'From where is "there" and whose synagogue is "theirs"?' 

In the previous story, Jesus is walking with his disciples on the Sabbath day, among whom were certain Pharisees. Those Pharisees upbraided Jesus for permitting his disciples to do what the traditions of 1st century Judaism had determined as unlawful. It is from that scene of traveling with Pharisees which Matthew now adds onto, only this time Jesus enters their synagogue on the Sabbath day. 

Even though Luke clearly says that this second account occurs on a separate Sabbath day other than the previous Sabbath confrontation (Luke 6:6), Matthew sandwiches the two stories together in order to give his readers the impression that all of these events of chapters eleven and twelves revolve around the same day of Sabbath rest. Here, on this Sabbath day and in the synagogue of the same contentious Pharisees, we read that "a man was there with a withered hand" (ESV). Actually the Greek text is much more startling than that. After entering "their synagogue," instead of focusing upon the confrontation with the Pharisees, Matthew interrupts a seemingly smooth transition into a conversation with the Pharisees by an abrupt and somewhat odd description of a man with a damaged hand. The Greek text literally exclaims: "And behold! A man having a dried-up hand!" The ESV tries to smooth out this startlingly literal translation, but in doing so they lose the original dramatic affect which Matthew intended his readers to notice. And by noticing this exclamation, many among Matthew's Jewish audience would have picked up the significance of these events.

There are quite a few interesting connections with this man's particular disability. For starters, according to 1st century Judaism, such disabilities as a "withered-hand" (cheira xeran) were considered curses from the hand of God. The historical significance of this belief comes to light in the history of Israel's kings. In I Kings 13:1-6 we learn about Jeroboam and his first attempt to take the kingdom of Israel away from David's descendants and seize it for himself, and that story also involves a man with a "withered hand" (cheira xeran). In that story, Yahweh tells Solomon that the kingdom will be torn from his "hand" and given to another (I Kings 11:12, 31, 34-5). We then learn shortly thereafter that Jeroboam is that man. But in order to tear power away from the Davidic line of kings, Jeroboam attempts to divide the allegiance of the people by erecting a sacrificial altar far away from Jerusalem, in Shechem, the place where Israel first renewed their covenant with Yahweh after conquering the promised land. But after Jeroboam erects his idolatrous altar in Shechem, a "man of God" prophesies against his idolatrous grasp of power, and when Jeroboam attempts to seize the man of God, his hand withers (I Kings 13:4). Jeroboam's "hand" (cheira) on the kingdom, which Yahweh took away from Solomon, withered (xeran) as soon as he attempted to stretch out his hand against the man of God, to destroy him. In the end, Jeroboam was at least wise enough to plead to the man of God for healing, and the man of God in turn pleaded to Yahweh for healing; and Jeroboam's withered hand was restored.

It was because of striking accounts like that, that other statements of God pertaining to "withered" body parts were viewed as part of God's covenant curse. For example, in Zechariah 11:15-17, Yahweh describes the leadership of Israel as "foolish shepherds" who don't care about those being destroyed, or about healing the maimed, or nourishing others; instead they devour the Lord's sheep (11:15-16). Then, in the following verse, Yahweh pronounces this covenant curse upon Israel's leaders: 
Woe to my worthless shepherd who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm and his right eye!
Let his arm be entirely withered (xeran), and his right eye utterly blinded!
In Matthew's story above, Israel's leaders aren't too much different from King Jeroboam or even the leaders of Israel described in Zechariah's prophecy. They are foolish shepherds who don't care about Yahweh's sheep. In their attempt to stretch out their arms against the people of God, Yahweh pronounces a curse upon their hands. But in Matthew's account, Jesus doesn't strike out against the Pharisees by withering their hands. Instead he strikes out against the Pharisees by healing the withered hand of a man. By healing the man with the withered hand, Jesus is pronouncing himself to be the wise shepherd of Israel, while leaving them to be the foolish ones.

But there is still more to this story. Notice carefully what Jesus implies in the answer he gives the Pharisees. They ask Jesus, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" The Pharisees were hoping he would affirm their suspicions by answering publicly, so that they could accuse him afterward (Matt. 12:10).  But Jesus doesn't respond by affirming that healing per se is lawful to do on the Sabbath. Instead he responds by affirming what is good to do on the Sabbath. "Which one of you who has a sheep," Jesus responds, "if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

By responding this way, Jesus is comparing the Pharisees to the foolish shepherds of Zechariah's prophecy. And by healing the withered hand of the man in their synagogue, Jesus also claimed to have the authority of Yahweh which the man of God appealed to when he restored Jeroboam. In other words, Jesus was claiming to be the Good Shepherd of Israel and the ruler who cares about those being destroyed, the one who heals the maimed and nourishes the sheep of Israel unto greater health. 

But regardless of Jesus' ability to heal miraculously as Yahweh does, we learn from Matthew's account that "the Pharisees went out and conspired against [Jesus], how to destroy him."

The irony of this closing statement is great. Earlier in Matthew's gospel we learned that Jesus commissioned his twelve apostles to go to the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel, and to proclaim a soon-coming salvation for those who would follow him, but a soon-coming judgment upon those who would refuse. Also, in Matthew 15:24, Jesus will affirm again that he too has been sent, by his Father, but only to the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel. Yet the word for "lost" (apollymi) is the same Greek word used to describe the Pharisees seeking to "destroy" (apollymiJesus. Jesus is sent by his Father to the "lost" or "perishing" sheep of the house of Israel, but the shepherds of Israel are conspiring to "lose" him, causing him to perish. Jesus even sends out twelves apostles to represent him as they go to the "lost" sheep of Israel, but the rulers of Israel don't like the one whom the apostles represent. And so they try to destroy the Good Shepherd. 

According to Jesus' own argument, these Pharisees also recognize the value of a sheep that falls into a pit on the Sabbath. But the irony is that they are blind to the evil of their own thoughts--thoughts which conspire to throw the Good Shepherd into a pit of their own on the Sabbath. In this sense, Jesus is like Joseph and the Pharisees are like Joseph's brothers, conspiring to thrown their brother into the pit because their Father gave him the glorious robe of authority. In another sense Jesus is like "the man of God" and the Pharisees are like Jeroboam, attempting to seize the man of God in order to continue sacrificing in their own idolatrous temple (Herod's Temple). And last of all, in relation to the prophecy of Zechariah, Jesus is like Zechariah, called to be "the shepherd of the flock doomed to be slaughtered by the sheep traders" and sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11:7-14). But unlike Zechariah, Jesus would not only be the shepherd of the flock; Jesus would also become as one of the sheep doomed to be slaughtered. But in doing so--by suffering under the hand of the evil sheep traders--the rest of Yahweh's flock is spared, and the curse of withering is pronounced upon Yahweh's worthless shepherds instead. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Adam as the Priest-King of Eden

In The Temple and the Church's Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God, G. K. Beale describes the Garden of Eden as the place of God's presence and of God's first Priest-King, Adam. He writes:
  Israel's temple was the place where the priest experienced God's unique presence, and Eden was the place where Adam walked and talked with God. The same Hebrew verbal form (stem) mithallek used for God's 'walking back and forth' in the Garden (Gen. 3:8), also describes God's presence in the tabernacle (Lev. 26:12; Deut. 23:14 [15]; 2 Sam. 7:6-7).1  
  Genesis 2:15 says God placed Adam in the Garden 'to cultivate [i.e., work] it and to keep it'. The two Hebrew words for 'cultivate and keep' are usually translated 'serve and guard [or keep]' elsewhere in the Old Testament. It is true that the Hebrew word usually translated 'cultivate' can refer to an agricultural task when used by itself (e.g., 2:5; 3:23). When, however, these two words ...occur together in the Old Testament (within an approximately 15-word range), they refer either to Israelites 'serving' God and 'guarding [keeping]' God's word ...or to priests who 'keep' the 'service' (or 'charge') of the tabernacle (see Num. 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 18:5-6; 1 Chr. 23:32; Ezek. 44:14).2 
  The best translation of Adam's task in Genesis 2:15 is 'to cultivate (work) it and to keep it [the Garden]'. Regardless of the precise translation, however, the preceding observations suggest that the writer of Genesis 2 was portraying Adam against the later portrait of Israel's priests, and that he was the archetypal priest who served in and guarded (or 'took care of') God's first temple. While it is likely that a large part of Adam's task was to 'cultivate' and be a gardener as well as 'guarding' the garden, that all of his activities are to be understood primarily as priestly activity is suggested not only from the exclusive use of the two words in contexts of worship elsewhere but also because the garden was a sanctuary... If this is so, then the manual labour of 'gardening' itself would be priestly activity, since it would be maintaining the upkeep and order of the sanctuary. 
  After telling Adam to 'cultivate' and 'guard/keep' in Genesis 2:15, God gives him a specific 'command' in verse 16. The notion of divine 'commanding' (sara) or giving of 'commandments' (miswot) not untypically follows the word 'guard/keep' (samar) elsewhere, and in 1 kings 9:6, when both 'serving' and 'keeping' occur together, the idea of 'commandments to be kept' is in view. The 1 Kings passage is addressed to Solomon and his sons immediately after he had 'finished building the house of the Lord' (1 Kgs. 9:1): if they do 'not keep My commandments . . . and serve other gods . . . I will cut off Israel from the land . . . and the house [temple] . . . I will cast out of My sight' (1 Kgs. 9:6-7). Is this a mere coincidental connection with Genesis 2:15-16?
  Hence, it follows naturally that after God puts Adam into the Garden for 'cultivating/serving and keeping/guarding' (v. 15) that in the very next verse God would command Adam to keep a commandment: 'and the Lord God commanded the man . . .' The first 'torah' was that 'From any tree of the Garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die' (Gen. 2:16-17). Accordingly, Adam's disobedience, as Israel's, results in his being cut off from the sacred land of the Garden. This is an indication that the task of Adam in Genesis 2:15 included more than mere spadework in the dirt of a garden. It is apparent that priestly obligations in Israel's later temple included the duty of 'guarding' unclean things from entering (cf. Num. 3:6-7, 32, 38; 18:1-7), and this appears to be relevant for Adam, especially in view of the unclean creature lurking on the perimeter of the Garden and who then enters.
  ...Adam's priestly role of 'guarding' (samar) the garden sanctuary may also be reflected in the later role of Israel's priests who were called 'guards' (1 Chron. 9:23) and repeatedly were referred to as temple 'gatekeepers' (repeatedly in 1 and 2 Chronicles and Nehemiah: e.g. 1 Chron. 9:17-27) who 'kept watch [samar] at the gates' (Neh. 11:19, 'so that no one should enter who was in any way unclean' (2 Chron. 23:19). Consequently, the priestly role in both the Garden and later temple was to 'manage' it by maintaining its order and keeping out uncleanness.3 
  There may also be significance that the word used for God 'putting' Adam 'into the garden' in Genesis 2:15 is not the usual Hebrew word for 'put' (sum) but is the word typically translated as 'to rest' (nuah). ...That this verb ...was intentionally chosen is pointed to further by the observation that it is used elsewhere to refer to the installation of sacred furniture (2 Chron. 4:8) and divine images into temples (2 Kgs. 17:29; Zech. 5:5-11) and especially of God's 'resting place' (so the noun form) in his heavenly palace-temple (Ps. 132:7-8, 14; Is. 66:1). Thus, the implication may be that God places Adam into a royal temple to begin to reign as his priestly vice-regent. In fact, Adam should always best be referred to as a 'priest-king', since it is only after the 'fall' that priesthood is separated from kingship, though Israel's eschatological expectation is of a messianic priest-king (e.g., see Zech. 6:12-13).4

1. G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; 2004], p. 66
2. Ibid., pp. 66-7
3. Ibid., pp. 68-9
4. Ibid., pp. 69-70

Monday, May 27, 2013

Eusebius' Proof of the Gospel

Eusebius, the Roman historian and Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine who lived from 263A.D. to 339A.D., is famous for writing works on early Church history and the life of Constantine. But there is another work which he wrote which is not very famous in our current generation, primarily because it's hard to find an english translation of the original Latin manuscript. That work was called Demonstratio Evangelica. Translated into English, that title means "The Proof of the Gospel." In Eusebius' Proof of the Gospel, he describes a number of historical events in connection with Jesus' prophecy as recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. Commenting on those prophecies of Jesus, Eusebius writes:

But who would not be surprised at the fulfillment of a prophecy which revealed that the Jewish people would undergo these sufferings in the days of the Lord? For as soon as Jesus our Lord and Savior had come and the Jews had outraged Him, everything that had been predicted was fulfilled against them without exception 500 years after the prediction: from the time of Pontius Pilate to the sieges under Nero, Titus and Vespasian they were never free from all kinds of successive calamities, as you may gather from the history of Flavius Josephus... For after the coming of our savior Jesus Christ, their city, Jerusalem itself, and the whole system and institutions of the Mosaic worship were destroyed; and at once they underwent captivity in mind as well as body, in refusing to accept the Savior and Ransomer of the souls of men, him Who came to preach release to those enslaved by evil demons, and giving of sight to those blind in mind.1
And from that time a succession of all kinds of troubles afflicted the whole nation and their city until the last war against them, and the final siege, in which destruction rushed on them like a flood2 with all kinds of misery of famine3, plague4 and sword5, and all who had conspired against the Savior in their youth were cut off.6
When, then, we see that was of old foretold for the nations fulfilled in our day, and when the lamentation and wailing that was predicted for the Jews, and the burning of the Temple and its utter desolation, can also be seen even now to have occurred according to the prediction, surely we must also agree that the King who was prophesied, the Christ of God, has come, since the signs of His coming have been shown in each instance I have treated to have been clearly fulfilled.7

1.  Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, translated by W. J. Ferrar [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1981] 2:26-27
2.  Dan. 9:26
3.  Matt. 24:7
4.  Luke 21:21
5.  Luke 21:24
6.  Eusebius, The Proof of the Gospel, translated by W. J. Ferrar [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1981] 2:138  (c.f. 2:403)
7.  Ibid.  2:147

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Your Comfort and Salvation

I recently came across a quote from John Bunyan (author of The Pilgrim's Progress) during my morning devotions, and it made me think about Jesus standing before the throne of his Father the day after he was crucified. And so I decided to post it the day after Good Friday:
  Christ stands as our advocate alone before God's bar and pleads before the Father. Whatever can rightly be charged upon us, he accepts the whole charge upon himself, acknowledging the crimes to be his own. And this, he must do. If he hides the sin, or lessens it, he is faulty; if he leaves it still upon us, we die. He must then take our iniquity to himself, make it his own, and so deliver us. Having thus taken the sin upon himself, as lawfully he may and lovingly he does -- "for we are members of his body" (it's his hand, his foot, his ear that has sinned) -- it follows that we live if he lives; and who can desire more? What comfort this is in a day of trouble and distress for sin! 
  As a sacrifice, our sins were laid upon him (Isa. 53). As a priest, he bears them (Ex. 28:38). As our advocate, he acknowledges them to be his own (Psa. 69:5). Having acknowledged them to be his own, the quarrel is no more between us and Satan, for the Lord Jesus has adopted our quarrel, and made it his. O blessed God! What a lover of mankind you are! And how gracious is our Lord in thus managing matters for us? The Lord Jesus after having thus taken our sins upon himself, and presented God with all the worthiness that is in his whole self for us; in the next place he calls for justice, or a just verdict upon the satisfaction he has made to God and to his law. Then the proclamation is made in open court, saying, "Remove the filthy garments"--from him that has offended--"and I will clothe you with pure vestments" (Zech 3). Look then to Jesus if you have sinned. Look to Jesus as an advocate pleading with the Father for you. Look to nothing else for he knows how, and that, by himself, to deliver you; yea, and he will do it in the way of justice, which is a wonder; and to the shame of Satan, which will be God's glory; and also to your complete deliverance, which will be your comfort and salvation.1

1.   John Bunyan, Works, 1:161-162

Friday, March 29, 2013

Psalm 22: You Lay Me in the Dust of Death

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are the words of my groaning to you so far from helping me? O my God, I cry out to you by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I have no rest.  
Yet you are holy,
 you who are enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted;
 they trusted, and you rescued them. To you they cried and were delivered; 
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.  
But I am a worm and not a man,
 a reproach of men and even despised by the people. All who see me laugh me to scorn; 
they hurled insults at me. They shake their heads, saying: “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; 
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”  
But you are the one who pushed me out of the womb, making me trust even from the time I was at my mother's breasts. Upon you I was cast from the womb,
 and from my mother's belly you have been my God. Do not be far off from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.  
Many bulls encompass me; 
strong bulls of Bashan surround me. They open wide their mouths at me, 
tearing and roaring like a lion. I am poured out like water,
 and all my bones are out of joint.
 My heart has become like wax,
 melting within me; my strength is dried up like broken pottery,
 and my tongue sticks to my jaws. 
You lay me in the dust of death.  
For dogs encompass me;
 a company of evildoers encircles me; 
like a lion they have pierced my hands and feet. They count all my bones, and 
they stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them,
 and for my clothing they cast lots.   
But you, O Lord, do not be far off from me!
 O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword,
 my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion, from the horns of the wild ox with which you have answered me.  
I will declare your name to my brethren. In the midst of the congregation I will praise you. You who fear Yahweh, praise him!
 All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; 
and stand in awe of him all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred 
the affliction of the afflicted,
 and he has not hidden his face from him,
 but has heard, when he cried to him.  
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
 my vows I will perform before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
 those who seek him shall praise Yahweh,
 and may their hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to Yahweh, 
and all the families of the nations
 shall worship before you.  
For dominion belongs to Yahweh,
 and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous ones of the earth shall feast and worship, and all who go down to the dust shall bow before him, even the one whose life cannot be kept alive. Posterity shall serve him, future generations shall be told about Yahweh, and they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn that he has done it!

The opening words of Psalm 22 are probably the most familiar words of all the Psalms. After Jesus cried out from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46), one can hardly view this Psalm as though it were merely David's expression of suffering. It must, in fact, represent the suffering of some one much greater than David, some Davidic King more ultimate than himself. These opening words also set the tone for the entire Psalm. This King feels a need to exclaim the horrors of separation and alienation from God. The picture painted for us is extremely real suffering and real trust through sufferingThis King "cries out" repeatedly, day after day, night after night, but finds no rest and no peace of mind.

This King knows who he's crying out to. He knows that Yahweh dwells in the midst of His covenant people, making him accessible to all who draw near. And yet, we are left wondering why, if Yahweh is indeed enthroned on the praises of Israel (praises from those Fathers who trusted in Him, were rescued by Him, and were not put to shame because of Him), God seems to be completely absent when the King of Israel cries out to Him. What is there for him to learn through such suffering? (Heb. 5:8)

This King knows he is in a lowly position among all the creatures of the earth. Far from being perfectly spotless and blameless, he is a filthy "worm" who bears the reproach of men. The people despise him; they laugh him to scorn and hurl insults at him, mocking him during his trial of extreme suffering (Matt. 27:39-44). The message of this King is known by his mockers too. They know he trusts and delights in Yahweh. They know he believes Yahweh is his deliverer too. And so they toy with his delights; they jest about his confidence in Yahweh. In their eyes, he is not the rightful King of Israel. Their heads shake in denial (Matt. 27:39).

Yet we see that this "worm" is not ashamed of his delight in Yahweh. He knows Yahweh was with him from conception and birth. The Spirit of Yahweh was at work within him even from his first memory outside the womb, even upon his mother's breast. "From my mother's belly You have been my God," this King declares. Therefore, when real trouble is near, and no one on earth is there to help deliver him, he is not ashamed to cry out toward heaven to this God whom he has always known: "Do not be far off from me! ...There is none to help!" He knows there is no one other to help him in this time of great trouble. In fact, as we approach the center of this Psalm, we learn that this great trouble -- whatever it is -- leads to death. For all practical purposes, this King already feels dead simply because God has forsaken him; simply because he cries and cries without any rest. Later on, this King will cry out these exact same words of help again, only he will cry out to God after being laid in the "dust of death." In other words, the next time he cries out to God for this same help, we get the feeling that God has never really been far off from him. Even though the Psalm begins with the feeling of God forsaking him, we learn that God was his "help" through all of that deadly suffering. And because God was his help through suffering, he can trust that God is his help after death as well.

Towards the center of this Psalm, we find a much more vivid picture of deadly suffering; we find a picture of one who is suffering as though he were in a den of beasts, trapped and tied down with no hope of escape except through death. This King feels like he is "encompassed" by "many bulls." And not just any bulls; these are notoriously strong ones from the land of Bashan. They surround him and taunt him, leaving no way of escape. They open their mouths wide, "tearing and roaring" like ferocious lions. Now we can imagine why this King has reason to feel troubled. This King is completely debilitated within this den of beasts. He is physically and emotionally drained with his bones dislocated like a man stretched upon a rack, while his heart and its resolve melts away like wax as he drifts closer to the reality of death. His strength is brittle like dried-up pottery that crumbles to pieces. He thirsts intensely, leaving his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth (John 19:28). The only one he has to cry out to is Yahweh himself. The only one who can deliver him is  Yahweh himself. 

Yet notice carefully that this King knows who has done all of this to him. This King knows that Yahweh has done this to him. He says "You lay me in the dust of death." Part of the reason why he knows Yahweh has done this to him is because he has cried out to Yahweh repeatedly, day after day, night after night, and Yahweh has responded by placing him in a den of beasts.

Dogs also encompass this King, and behind them is a surrounding "company of evildoers" who are going to make sure there is no escape for him. Like a lion, they have pierced his hands and feet (John 20:20-28; Zech. 12:10). Not only has be been bound, but he is being viscously attacked while the company of evildoers look upon him with malicious satisfaction at his sufferings. They even divide his garments and gamble over who gets the best pieces of his clothing (John 19:23-24). While this King lays in the dust of death like dry, crumbled potsherds, his enemies haggle over the value of his bloody garments.

Yet notice how great the faith of this King is! Even though there is no doubt of real trouble and no earthly deliverance from these evil beasts, he nevertheless cries out to the God of Heaven whom he knows can deliver from the dust. He cries out: "Do not be far off from me! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!" At this point, the King cries out for Yahweh to draw near because he knows Yahweh has never been too far off from him, even after entering the dust of death. He knows who his help truly is. He knows Yahweh is present to deliver his soul from the sword of his enemies, from the beasts which surround him -- the power of dogs, the mouth of lions, and horns of oxen "with which you have answered me." Why does this King believe that Yahweh can deliver him? Because he knows that Yahweh answered him; he knows that Yahweh wasn't totally silent concerning his cries. Yahweh was the one who placed him in a position from which to deliver him. Therefore, because Yahweh placed him in the dust, this King trusts that Yahweh can deliver him from the dust. 

This King knows that Yahweh "has not despised or abhorred 
the affliction of the afflicted,
 and he has not hidden his face from him." This King knows that Yahweh
 has heard his cries all along (Heb. 5:7). Therefore he will not cease to declare the praise which is due to Yahweh. In the midst of the congregation he will talk about Yahweh to his brethren and even sing Yahweh's praise (Heb. 2:12). And those who hear the word of this King, those who share this same faith, those who likewise trust and acknowledge the sovereignty of God in all affairs of life -- even His sovereignty through suffering -- they are exhorted to give Yahweh the praise which is due to his name. "All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; and stand in awe of him all you offspring of Israel!"

Notice carefully the expression of confidence this King shares and the source of his confidence: "From You comes my praise in the great congregation." This King is sure that he will praise Yahweh publicly among his brethren because Yahweh is the source of his praise. But not only will he praise Yahweh publicly, he will also pay his vows publicly by bringing his thank-offering to Yahweh (Lev. 7:16). In the House of Yahweh his afflicted brethren "shall eat" this thank-offering meal "and be satisfied." Also, notice that this thanksgiving meal within God's house becomes an opportunity for others to "seek Him" and to learn of Yahweh's goodness. His confidence is that "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to Yahweh, 
and all the families of the nations
 shall worship before you." Why is he confident that this will happen? Because He has known God from his mother's womb. He has known Yahweh, the covenant keeping God, from his mother's womb. He has known the God who placed him in a den to be torn apart by wild beasts while his enemies haggled over his garments. He has known the God who answered his cries by laying him in the dust of death. He also knows the God who answered his cries by drawing near to him, delivering him from death. In Deuteronomy 4:7, the people of Israel proclaim: "What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as Yahweh our God is to us?" And in this Psalm, the King knows the answer to that question. He knows there is no other god like Yahweh, which is why he has confidence that when Yahweh draws near to any nation, all the families of those nations shall worship Him. Yahweh is worthy of such worship.

Why is Yahweh worthy of such worship? Because "dominion belongs to Yahweh,
 and he rules over the nations." Because dominion belongs to Yahweh, there is hope for all future generations that are told about Yahweh and seek after Yahweh. "They shall come and proclaim" his dominion. They shall come and proclaim the gospel of "his righteousness to a people yet unborn." They shall come and proclaim the gospel of God's Kingdom on earth. Because Yahweh has laid this King in the dust of death and delivered him from it, redemption is actually accomplished. It is finished once-for-all through Yahweh's resurrection from death. And because it is finished -- redemption is accomplished -- there is prosperity, feasting, and worship for all his saints.