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

Feast of the Holy Innocents

It's December 28th and it's still Christmas. Christmas is a season, not a singular day of unwrapping presents under a tree. Christmas is about the incarnation of the Messiah and the events surrounding his early childhood as recorded in the Gospels. December 28th is a day of celebration within this Christmas season that celebrates the memory of the innocent saints who were cruelly slaughtered by Herod as recorded in Matthew 2:13-18. In commemoration of that event, and in spirit with this season, I can think of no better reminder of it's importance within the Christian tradition than to cite a homily from St. Augustine on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Augustine writes:
Today, dearest brethren, we celebrate the birthday of those children who were slaughtered, as the Gospel tells us, by that exceedingly cruel king, Herod. Let the earth, therefore, rejoice and the Church exult — she, the fruitful mother of so many heavenly champions and of such glorious virtues. Never, in fact, would that impious tyrant have been able to benefit these children by the sweetest kindness as much as he has done by his hatred. For as today’s feast reveals, in the measure with which malice in all its fury was poured out upon the holy children, did heaven’s blessing stream down upon them.
“Blessed are you, Bethlehem in the land of Judah! You suffered the inhumanity of King Herod in the murder of your babes and thereby have become worthy to offer to the Lord a pure host of infants. In full right do we celebrate the heavenly birthday of these children whom the world caused to be born unto an eternally blessed life rather than that from their mothers’ womb, for they attained the grace of everlasting life before the enjoyment of the present. The precious death of any martyr deserves high praise because of his heroic confession; the death of these children is precious in the sight of God because of the beatitude they gained so quickly. For already at the beginning of their lives they pass on. The end of the present life is for them the beginning of glory. These then, whom Herod’s cruelty tore as sucklings from their mothers’ bosom, are justly hailed as “infant martyr flowers”; they were the Church’s first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief.

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. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Peter Leithart on the Parables of Matthew 13

Peter Leithart, president of the Trinity House Institute for Biblical, Liturgical, and Cultural Studies, has recently posted an article on the Trinity House blog about the parables of Matthew chapter 13. My hope is that his insights will help us probe even deeper into appreciating the parables of Matthew's gospel in their original historical context, as well as help supplement (and justify) much of my own exegesis of Matthew's gospel. My blog posts on the parables of Matthew 13 can be viewed here. The link to Leithart's post on the parables of Matthew thirteen can be found here.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Cultivating the Kingdom (Matt. 13:24-43)

Continuing where we left off in this series, we arrive at the next section of Matthew chapter thirteen's literary structure (as found here in layout #2). Jesus begins this next section with three parables about cultivating the kingdom (verses 24-33). The first parable describes weeds, or "tares" according to the KJV (v. 24-30). The second parable describes a mustard seed (v. 31-32). The third parable describes leaven (v. 33). All of these parables are about "the kingdom of heaven," which I discussed in detail in an earlier post (here). 

The first thing of interest to us should be the difference between the parable of the Sower (in the previous section) and this parable of the weeds. In the parable of the Sower, the seed sown is the "word of the kingdom" (v. 19), but in the parable of the weeds the seeds are "the sons of the Kingdom" (v. 38). The parable of the Sower transitions from sowing the message of Christ's kingdom on earth to his disciples cultivating that message in the world.  

In the parable of the weeds, seeds are sown within the Sower's field. When the crop starts bearing fruitfulness the Sower's servants come to him and ask where the weeds come from. His answer is that an enemy had done so. However, in order to preserve the fruit from his sowing, both wheat and weeds are then left to grow together until harvest time. 

In verses 36-43 (section C2) Jesus explains to his disciples what this imagery is all about. The one sowing the seeds is the Son of Man, Jesus (12:37; cf.  8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40). The seeds are Christ-following Israelites, the children of the Kingdom (v. 38). The enemy planting weeds is Christ's adversary, Satan. The harvest, contrary to modern eschatological daydreams, is not at the end of the physical universe or the end-times of global human history. The harvest is "the end of the age" (v. 39). The age referred to here is the age in which Jesus' disciples lived, the end of the age in which the old covenant was administered, the end of the age in which heaven and earth met together in a Temple in Judea. The reapers of this harvest are said to be "angels," messengers commissioned from above to administer the Lord's sentence upon evildoers, gathering out of the kingdom "all causes of sin and all law-breakers" (vv. 39-41). The destiny of such law-breakers is the fiery-furnace where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (v. 42). The righteous, however, will fulfill the prophecy of end times described in Daniel 12:3. They will "shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt. 13:43). "Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness in the heavenly-expanse (Hebrew, raqia)... like the stars forever and ever" (Dan. 12:3; cf. raqia in Gen. 1:6-8, 14-17).

The next two parables about the mustard seed and leaven follow along this same trajectory. "The Kingdom of Heaven," Jesus says, is "like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field." The Kingdom of heaven grows incredibly large, larger than all the garden plants, extending even to the point in which others are attracted to it, like birds of the air which come and nest at home in its branches (v. 31-32). The Kingdom of Heaven is also said to be "like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened" (v. 33). Three measures (Greek, saton) of flour is about thirty liters of flour, which implies that an astonishingly immense bread-baking operation is about to take place in the Kingdom of Heaven. If the growth of the Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven hid inside this immense amount of flour, the most obvious implication of this Kingdom coming near is its subsequent rise in proportion to the immensity of the flour itself. The Kingdom of Heaven may start out out small, but when it leavens this mountain of seeds ground into flour the Lord will have prepared enough bread to feed the world.    

In verses 34-35 (section B2) Matthew explains why Jesus spoke to the crowds in nothing but parables. Matthew says, 
This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: 
"I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world."
This quotation comes from Psalm 78:2, a Psalm that reviews much of Israel's exodus, especially Yahweh's faithfulness to his covenant through every act of Israel's stubborn rebellion during that exodus. Psalm 78 says that Yahweh established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a Law in Israel, which He commanded their fathers to teach to their children, so that generation after generation would set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments (Ps. 78:5-7). But Israel repeatedly rebells against Yahweh, testing Him and acting treacherously toward Him (vv. 56-57). They did not keep Yahweh's covenant, and refused to walk according to His Law. They forgot His works and even the wonders He has shown them (vv. 10-11). But instead of utterly casting off Israel altogether, Yahweh shows them loyal love, generation after generation. Yet they sinned still more against Him (v. 11). They did not believe in Yahweh or trust His saving power (v. 22). Therefore that generation died in the wilderness at Yahweh's hand (v. 31). Only when Yahweh killed them did others among them seek Him earnestly (v. 34). But even still, their heart was not steadfast toward Him. They flattered Him with their mouths and lied to him with their tongues (vv. 36-37). Yet Yahweh, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them all. He restrained His anger often and did not stir up all His wrath (v. 38). Instead he chose the mustard grain-sized tribe of Judah and built His sanctuary-kingdom there, a sanctuary wherein the "high heavens" and earth would meet (vv. 68-69). He also chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds to guide them with his skillful hand (vv. 70-72). It is all of this which Matthew quotes from, saying that Jesus' parables to the crowds of Israel fulfill the parabolic history of Israel presented in this Psalm. Its as though the people of Israel are again about to go through another exodus, led by the Son of David. 

Up to this point in Matthew's gospel, the sheep of the house of Israel are lost and perishing because of the corrupt leadership in Israel. In chapter thirteen, Jesus is presented as the greater son of David, the greater Solomon, to guide Israel with his skillful hand, even speaking wisdom to them in parables. But to begin to know Wisdom, and to understand His words of insight and His proverbs about the exodus awaiting that generation, they must fear the Lord (Prov. 1:1-7; 9:10). Only fools would despise such wisdom and instruction. Like Israel under Solomon's reign, the crowds of Jews before Jesus are instructed in parables--parables which describe the end of that age, the generation in which Israel lived at that time. Wisdom incarnate is presented before their very eyes, uttering parables out of His mouth, and that message is nothing new to the Israel of faith. Interestingly the Masoretic (Hebrew) text of Psalm 78 says that Yahweh speaks parables to Israel about those things which they have heard and known, and their fathers had told them. Matthew quotes from the Septuagint (Greek) text of Psalm 78 instead, paraphrasing it a bit too, and he describes Yahweh speaking parabolically about what has been hidden from the foundation of the world. What's the deal? Has Israel heard and known the wisdom of Yahweh revealed in this Psalm, or has it been hidden from them since the beginning? 

In a sense, both are true, because not all of Israel is the Israel of faith. All are God's covenant people, but not all of Israel was faithful and obedient to God's covenant. But perhaps Matthew is paraphrasing Psalm 78 to refer to the Kingdom of Heaven near to Israel in the days of Jesus. That kingdom would incorporate all nations through the seed-sowing of faithful Israelites. Israel had heard and known, and their fathers had told them, but Jesus was forming a new Israel for himself, a new Israel which incorporated Gentiles that had Wisdom hidden from them since the foundation of the world. 

By speaking in parables, Jesus leaves his Jewish audience with proverbs to ponder. Would they too flatter Him with their mouths and lie to him with their tongues? Would they too forget His works and the miracles He showed them? 

Jesus, being compassionate, would atone for their iniquity and would not destroy that entire generation. He would give Israel 40 years to repent before destroying their city and their precious temple, thereby ending the old covenant administration. Only the fools who despised Wisdom would be destroyed. But among the mustard grain-sized seed which feared the Lord, would there be an immense growth. The Lord would tabernacle in the midst of those people and there, in Him, heaven and earth would meet.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The flame of Yah

Out of all the laws of God, the Law's requirement to love is most radical. Love embraces the impoverished, widow, fatherless, and orphans. Love cares for the downtrodden, helpless, destitute, and oppressed. Love supports the weak, encourages the disadvantaged, and protects the vulnerable. 
Love is more willing to give than we are to receive. Love is also not blind. Loves sees sin and covers its multitude. Love sees frailty and brokenness but then strives to piece it back together. Loves see idolatry and removes its high places. Love sees darkness and dispels it with light. Love doesn't just live until death parts it. Love conquers through death, for love is as strong as death, and it's jealousy as unrelenting as Sheol. Its flames are flashes of fire, the very flame of Yahweh, fueled from above by the baptism of spirit and water; fed down below at a table of bread and wine.