Sunday, March 31, 2013

Measure Given, Measure Received (part 8)

Thinking back to Jesus’ words of “great reward,” one could rightly inquire as to the nature of the great reward that would be received by the covenant people of the Creator God for loving their enemies, doing good, and lending with no expectation of return.  Jesus says, “you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35b).  Now, what does it mean to be a son of the Most High?  His hearers would know that it meant that they would be children of the kingdom of God.  This ran counter to the then-current mindset,  because it was generally believed that the kingdom of God would be established in their land and on their behalf (thereby making them sons of the Most High) by their God’s messiah gaining victory over the enemies of the covenant people, and doing so in the manner of King David.  Jesus sets this aside, indicating that the kingdom of God is going to be established through sacrificial demonstrations of grace, love and compassion.  The Creator God’s people were not to take up arms to somehow aid their God in His work or to force His hand.  No, they were to love their enemies, and in so doing, receive the long-looked-to reward of their God entering into history on behalf of His people. 

Why is it that doing all of these things for their enemies would make them sons of the Most High?  It is, as Jesus says, “because He is kind to ungrateful and evil people” (6:35c).  This, of course, could be construed as a statement that was directed against His own people.  Jesus’ countrymen would have known very well, that throughout their history, their God had been quite kind to them, oftentimes when it was quite undeserved.  Throughout all of their ingratitude, and throughout all of their turning to idolatry and their actions against the covenant that made them be the opposite of the light to the nations and His instrument for dealing with evil in the world that their God had intended them to be (the Hebrew Scriptures have much to say about the lack of care of orphans and widows), the God of Israel was very kind. 

Jesus adds, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (6:36).  The narrative of the covenant people was earnest in insisting that the Creator God had chosen Israel for Himself, from all nations, and been merciful towards them in all His dealings with them in spite of the evil which had been wrought by their hands (again, oppressive activities, including that of orphans and widows should here spring to mind).  If the covenant God of Israel could be merciful to those that should rightly have been looked upon as His enemies, then why could not His people be merciful when dealing with those that did not have the advantages of being the Creator God’s chosen people---having received His revelations of mercy?

Owing to their God’s special revelation to them, and understanding that all of the other nations were at a significant disadvantage when compared to His own people, Jesus says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” (6:37a).  Unfortunately, Israel continued to stand against and pass judgment against who they perceived as their enemies, rather than coming into union with their God’s Messiah (Jesus the Christ) and following His example of love and compassion towards all peoples, Jew and Gentile.  Because of this, there would come a time of great judgment, when the Romans would wipe out Jerusalem and destroy the Temple.  They rejected Jesus’ way, they judged, and ultimately the places that were held dear (Jerusalem and its Temple) were catastrophically judged.  It is possible that Luke’s audience would already know this to be the case, and would be in the position to hear his report from a context in which Jerusalem had already been destroyed.

Jesus said, “do not condemn, and you will not be condemned” (6:37b).  This too, was ignored, so in that day of final Roman domination, condemnation came.  Jesus said, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (6:37c).  Because they did not forgive---because they did not humble themselves, pray, and seek His face, God did not hear from heaven, He did not forgive their sin, and He did not heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).  The curse was not lifted, the exile was not ended, and they would not hear God say to them that He was going to “reverse your captivity and have pity on you” (Deuteronomy 30:3a).

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Measure Given, Measure Received (part 7)

These are striking statements.  Jesus is telling His fellow Jews that, as the covenant people of the Creator God, they have a greater obligation to do all of these things of which He has been speaking.  They were not justified in waiting around for better treatment from Rome.  A redress of grievances was unlikely.  Rome was not going to come around.  Though this is certainly difficult, the idea that they were under no obligation to love until they were loved was patently dismissed.  As the covenant people, held to a higher standard and with a greater set of obligations laid upon them, they were to treat others as they wanted to be treated. 

Indeed, Jesus makes the point that loving those who loved them would not mark them out as the Creator God’s covenant people, for this was true of all men, Jew and Gentile.  Yes, all people do this, so it is nothing particularly special.  The higher standard---the true way of the kingdom of God that was the hope of their day---was to love one’s enemies, though the nation may have felt them to be completely undeserving of that love.  To make this point, Jesus adds “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners do the same” (6:33).   

These two questions and statements are neatly tied to what He has already said.  Jesus had said to those “who are listening”, who had ears to hear (a standard rhetorical tool), to love their enemies and to do good to those who hated them.  Even about the Gentiles, those upon whom His Jewish brethren would look down and dismiss, Jesus says, they do good to those who do good to them.  There is nothing extraordinary about that.  Surely covenant people, those who desire to participate in bringing the kingdom of the Creator God to earth, are asked to live according to a much higher standard.  Tying in His directives concerning the person who takes away a coat, to which you add the tunic (6:29), and not asking for one’s possessions back from those who take them away, Jesus says, “And if you lend to those from you hope to be repaid, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners, so that they may be repaid in full” (6:34).   

By now, Jesus’ point is well made, so He adds, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back” (6:35).  This is truly revolutionary, and it is a foundation of Jesus’ revolutionary scheme.  Why would they do these things?  What would be the point?  All of this, it would seem, would only serve to maintain and deepen their subjection to Rome, extending their exile from their God’s promises to them.  In response to such a thought, Jesus says, “Then your reward will be great” (6:35).   

Throughout His “sermon,” Jesus has been helping His hearers to actively call to mind the words of Moses from Deuteronomy concerning the blessings and the curses of their God.  At the same time, He wanted to turn their hearts, in love, towards those to whom they were supposed to be shining as the Creator God’s light.  While they may have been naturally inclined, upon hearing about those that hate and persecute them, to think “Then the Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies, on those who hate and persecute you” (Deuteronomy 30:7), Jesus implored them to show preference, love, kindness, and favorable treatment.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Measure Given, Measure Received (part 6)

By now, there should be a growing sense of where all of this talk from Jesus is heading, as He now says, “Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away” (Luke 6:30).  For His Jewish brethren, talk of “possessions,” as He has been speaking in a way that would have been reminding them of their occupation by Rome and thus creating the ongoing context in which His words are to be heard, would be quickly connected to their land. 

The Creator God’s promise and directive to Israel, dating back to the time of Moses and Joshua, was to possess the land.  This possessing of the land was a part of their God’s special blessings upon His people.  In their present situation, as has been pointed out, though they were living in their promised land, they did not possess the land.  Rome possessed their land.  Illegitimate rulers (the Herods) possessed their land.  On a secondary level, though it may have been the case that individuals were able to own pieces of land, in the legal sense, oppressive taxation would have forced many to either sell or turn over their land, to satisfy the tax obligation.  This would be yet another reason to despise their oppressors, their enemies, and those who cursed them, but Jesus follows up on this and says, “Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you” (6:31).  Again, these are not free-floating aphorisms, but rather, are thoughts connected to a foundational premise.   

Though the oppression was heavy, and though His people had plenty of reasons to complain, to demand more just treatment, or to look to Rome and to their provincial rulers and say, “We’ll begin respecting you when you begin treating us better,” Jesus puts the onus on His hearers.  This, of course, is His kingdom model.  Jesus says “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… Give, and it will be given to you… For the measure you use will be the measure you receive” (6:27-28, 38a,c).  The words of giving and receiving come forth from within this flow of thought.   

Did the Romans deserve to be overthrown and driven from their land?  Probably so, but that appears to be irrelevant to Jesus.  Driving the Romans from the land would not usher in the kingdom of God.  This would not cause their God to return to His people and His place (the Temple).  This could actually be counter-productive to the Creator God’s desired end for His people, as repentance from their covenant failures (failure to be a light to the nations and to represent their God to His creation) is what was to bring about desired ends, rather than the raising of arms.  One can only imagine how the point would be driven home and made all the more poignant when it is considered that His hearers may have been able to look around them and see Roman soldiers.

Having talked about treating others in the same way that they desired to be treated, Jesus goes on and says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them” (6:32).  This brings up another question.  Who is Jesus talking about when He speaks of sinners?  This goes back to a consideration of who can be found in His audience.  Remember, He had drawn people from Judea, Jerusalem, Tyre, and Sidon---Jews and Gentiles.  So when “sinners” are mentioned, this should not be taken to be a general reference to people who are not “saved,” or who engage in the things that many are so quick to label as sin. 

“Sinners,” as opposed to “saints,” would be a reference to those that were outside of God’s covenant.  At the same time, care must be taken to not hear this as Jesus passing judgment on those outside the covenant, for Jesus would say that He came to call sinners into His covenant.  In that day, “sinner” was a term applied to those that did not live according to a strict interpretation of covenant obligations (circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, dietary laws, and perhaps even socializing), while also being another term for Gentile.  So when Jesus spoke of sinners, it was a simple matter of His Jewish listeners to look around them and see a number of sinners, with all of them eagerly listening to this man that might very well be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Measure Given, Measure Received (part 5)

With such light cast upon the text, the potential exegete is now in a much better position to move forward in a quest to better comprehend what Jesus means when He says, “Give, and it will be given to you… For the measure you use will be the measure you receive” (Luke 6:38a,c)  Before continuing that quest, it is worth reiterating how imperative it is that one must always resist the temptation to pull isolated verses out of their context in order to meet a perceived need or to pursue an ideological agenda.  Rightly understanding the context is the effort that has been undertaken to this point. 

Remember, the Gospels are biographical, historical, literary narratives that reflect specific social settings with both sociological and anthropological underpinnings and presuppositions that are designed to make a theological point.  They are, most assuredly, not merely collections of random sayings or high-minded teachings (this is the tendency of the later Gnostic gospels and similar materials).  If they are treated as such (collections of random sayings or high-minded teachings), it is quite likely that their connection to the Hebrew Scriptures (the foundational narrative for the person of Jesus and all of His followers) will be missed, as that too (Hebrew Scriptures) also function as a grand, historical narrative that makes a theological point.  By failing to adequately tackle statements in their social, historical, cultural, and literary context, a grave disservice is done to the text and to the reader/hearer of the text.

With the points that have been made thus far (parts 1 through 4), this study is now better positioned to assist the reader in becoming one of Jesus’ first-century hearers, so as to feel the full weight of His word when He says, “To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either” (6:29-30), as this is part of the same discourse in which Jesus speaks of giving and receiving.  Though Luke does not make mention of it, it is worth mentioning Jesus’ directive, found in Matthew, in which He says, “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:41).  In Matthew’s “Sermon on the mount”, this follows Jesus’ statement about the tunic.  Luke has Jesus offering this teaching on a plain rather than on a mountain.  This is not to be perceived as a contradiction, as one must be realistic, understanding that Jesus would have repeated such things numerous times in numerous places.  One needs only think of a campaigning politician in order to make this connection. 

Now, though it is certainly possible and necessary to hear such “second mile” talk as a principle of good-hearted, Christian service, those who heard it would not be thinking in such a way.  They would have immediately thought of the requirement of their subservience to Rome, and the lamentable fact that a Roman solider could requisition anybody into service to carry his gear, or his pack, for one mile.  Jesus says to not only go that first mile, but to offer to go a second mile as well.  Why?  Well, numerous reasons come to mind.  The primary reason is that any Roman soldier that allowed a person to carry his gear for more than one mile was subject to harsh discipline.  By insisting on going the second mile, the carrier put the soldier in the position of requesting (begging for) the return of his pack, thus equalizing the relationship between the two.  

Another reason would be that in doing so, that member of the people of the Creator God could make an impression on that soldier, becoming a light to him as their God intended His people to be.  A final reason could be the fact that, at the end of that one mile, the solider is likely to requisition another person for the next mile.  Thus, going the second mile would alleviate that necessity, and also enable the one doing the carrying to relieve one of his fellow brethren from having to be called into the task of bearing up under that burden.  This moves a bit afield of the scope of this study, but this third way of approaching Jesus’ statement about the second mile fits quite well with the Apostle Paul’s instruction and exhortation to the Galatians to “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).  Paul would have been very familiar with this practice, and apparently, also familiar with the words of Jesus (“the law of Christ”), as the word that he uses for burden there (unlike the one he will later use in the fifth verse of the sixth chapter of Galatians), refers to a soldier’s pack.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Measure Given, Measure Received (part 4)

Jesus continues and says, “bless those who curse you” (6:28a).  Once again, we have a specific, historical reference.  His Jewish hearers were quite familiar with what was implied when the word “curse” was used.  Jesus was not talking about people that might say bad things about you.  No.  With these words, He is referencing Israel’s historical narrative and the covenant promises of their God.  The people knew that they were still living under the Creator God’s curse.  They knew that they were under the curse because they were dominated by foreign powers.  This is what their God had promised in the book of Deuteronomy if His people failed to live up to Torah, and failed to fulfill their covenant responsibilities to be a light to the nations. 

They had been in subjection to foreign powers since the day of Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, having been subject to Babylon, Persia, Greece, Egypt, Syria, and now Rome.  As long as the Creator God’s people did not rule themselves, then they were still experiencing the curse that their God had promised to bring upon them.  Because of this, not only was Rome their hated enemy that probably hated them in return, but Rome also would be incorrectly viewed as the power that was cursing them.  If Rome was gone, then so too, they might think, would their God’s curse upon them be gone.  This was just one more reason to desire Rome’s overthrow and to begrudge living under their rule.  What Jesus was demanding was truly a revolutionary mindset!  Love Rome?  Ask their God to bless Rome?  Unthinkable! 

It is possible to go deeper into this issue of Jesus’ insistence upon blessing those who curse you.  Not only does the presence of the Romans as the rulers of God’s covenant people and their land serve as a daily reminder that their God’s curse is still upon them (subject to foreign power, in accordance with Leviticus and Deuteronomy), but these words from Jesus would serve as a reminder of what was looked upon as the ultimate curse, which is/was the Roman cross.  Rome used the cross as a tool for execution and as a means of the expression of their power. 

Crucifixion, by and large, was the method of capital punishment reserved for rebel subjects and recalcitrant slaves, and historical records indicate that Rome was not hesitant in employing crucifixion, sometimes crucifying thousands of people at one time.  As if it was not enough that Jesus’ hearers would have seen or heard about fellow citizens in their day and throughout their recent history that had been crucified by Rome, coupled with that was the Deuteronomic insistence that indicated that anyone hanged on a tree was cursed by the covenant God.  This, naturally, propounded the idea of the cross as ultimate cursing. 

The threat of this curse, under Rome’s dominion, was an ever-present reality hanging over the heads of all peoples that were subject to Rome, and owing to the words found in their books of the law, carried an even greater and more ominous weight for the people of the Creator God.  With this two-fold examination of Jesus’ directive to “bless those who curse you” (Luke 6:28a), and the rejoinder to “pray for those who mistreat you” (6:28b), the words that Jesus spoke while suffering through His execution become even more poignant and meaningful.  Essentially, we find Jesus practicing what He preached when He says, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (23:34a).  Though this statement by Jesus is omitted by many important manuscripts, what it conveys fits very well with the message that He preached.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Measure Given, Measure Received (part 3)

Having laid a bit of contextual foundation, it is now possible to commence an attempt at figuring out what exactly is being said by Jesus when He says, “Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap.  For the measure you use will me the measure you receive” (Luke 6:38).  With everything that has been said to this point (in parts 1 and 2), clearly, one cannot simply look at this verse and conclude that Jesus is talking about giving and getting in terms of finances and material items.  Additionally, it’s going to take some work to formalize that conclusion.    

To get the point of Jesus’ words, one has to revisit the twenty-seventh verse in this chapter.  As that is done, it is then possible to systematically build on the foundation that has been laid.  There, Jesus says, “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies” (6:27a).  Who are their enemies?  The Jews in the audience (from Judea and Jerusalem) would have heard Jesus speaking about their enemies, which were, by and large and popularly, the Romans.  They are being told to love these enemies, when they most likely wanted to have nothing to do with them, and would rather have elected to eject the Romans from their land and from their lives. 

Now remember, the person that is saying these things is the man that might very well be the Messiah and the Son of God (both terms for Israel’s promised king – Son of God being a kingly term that was then regularly applied to the Caesar, with no direct connection to thoughts about the “second person of the Trinity”).  The messiah, in popular imagination, though this is not the exclusive messianic proposition, is supposed to lead the revolution that defeats their enemies; but instead, here the potential messiah is insisting that the enemies be loved.  For a member of Israel, this would be understandably strange and unexpected.  Additionally, those in Jesus’ audience that hail from Tyre and Sidon (presumably Gentiles), may find the Romans to be an irritant, but ultimately, they would not harbor the same feelings of animosity towards Rome as would the Jews, for reasons that shall be seen later.    

However, so as to actively engage the whole of His audience, Jesus can be heard adding, “do good to those who hate you” (6:27b), perhaps as something of a sympathetic nod to the Gentiles.  The Gentiles would not be looked upon by the Jews with the same type of negativity with which they viewed and in which the Jews held the Romans.  They would, unfortunately, be held in extreme disfavor (hated) by the Jews.  Of course, the Romans were Gentiles as well, so there would clearly be an over-lapping and potential magnification of opinions.  Though having said this, it would probably be inappropriate to limit the feelings of hatred to the Jews only.  The Romans, having had to deal with stubborn and rebellious and zealous Jews for such a long period of time, might very well have come to hate them as much as they were hated by them.  Regardless of the specific direction of the statement, each person that heard these words would be able to search their own heart.  Hatred, at the very least, was a two-way street. 

The point here is, it is necessary to continually connect the words of Jesus with the very real, historical situation in which they were spoken and by which they were vested with meaning.  That is the only way, with some type of solid foundation, for the words to have any meaning for believers today.  These were not imagined or potential enemies.  No, they were real enemies.  Jesus was not talking about some nebulous sense of feelings of hatred.  He was talking about very real hatred.  Jesus told His fellow countrymen that they should love enemies that oppress them and tax them into slavery, doing this with an eye to what He was going to be saying in short order.  He told all of His hearers (Jew & Gentile) to do good to those that would probably be content with seeing them dead, simply so that they would not have to look at or deal with them.  It is through understanding this that one is then able to devise an ethic under which it is possible to operate and know that one is acting according to the will of the Creator God, in submission to the dictates of their Lord and King.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Measure Given, Measure Received (part 2)

The fact that there are both Jews and Gentiles in Jesus’ audience, based on geographic references, is an important point and must be taken into consideration as His words are examined.  Not only are there Gentiles present, but sight of the fact that Jesus is speaking (and his hearers are hearing, and Luke is writing) in Roman-controlled territory must never be lost.  It is Rome that is in power here.  Israel is subject to Rome.  The neighbors of Israel and any roaming Gentiles in Jesus’ audience are subject to Rome.  Luke himself is subject to Rome.  The individual to whom Luke purportedly writes (Theophilus) is quite possibly a high-ranking Roman government official, himself subject to Rome/Caesar. 

If Theophilus is part of a community of Jesus followers (those that confess that it is Jesus that is the true Savior of mankind, rather than the Caesar), then that community is also subject to Rome.  This is an altogether important consideration.  Those that read the Gospels must attempt to situate themselves alongside those that are in this situation of subjection, while also hearing Jesus according to the narrative that Luke has constructed for the hearing of these words, and the story of Israel (the covenant people).   

Consequently, for quite some time and up to that day, there was a strong under-current of revolutionary fervor against the Roman oppressors.  Naturally, this would have been widespread, but owing to Israel’s self-understanding that they were the unique covenant people of the Creator God, and their expectation that their God was going to act on their behalf, Israel’s fervor for revolution of some kind seems to have been almost always near the boiling point.  The Creator God’s people (Israel/Judah) wanted to escape from Rome’s oppression, and Rome was their enemy.  Holding that fact in mind as an attempt to examine the text is undertaken, allows more and more adding of a tremendously important historical realism to the situation, and makes the reader open and aware of the strong probability that there are most likely Roman soldiers present and within ear-shot of Jesus. 

Why would such be the case?  Well, it’s not difficult to image this being the case, as to this point in the narrative as presented by Luke, Jesus has invoked near-riots in Nazareth, has attracted crowds in Capernaum, has begun calling together a close-knit and hand-picked group of chosen followers, has managed to convince a tax collector to leave his work and follow Him, and He was regularly drawing attention from the religious leaders.  All of these things, taken together, could very well be viewed by the Romans as the beginnings of yet another messianic/revolutionary movement that was designed to come against their rule by force of arms.   

Thusly, it is quite reasonable to presume that the Roman authorities, working in conjunction with their client authority figures in Israel who would be dramatically, and from their viewpoint, negatively affected by any type of revolution, would have heard reports about this Jesus fellow.  It is reasonable to suggest that they would have had their collective eye on Him at some level.  By this time in their imperial expansion, the Romans would have had plenty of experience in identifying and dealing with those that opposed them, especially in Palestine, and would certainly be keeping a watchful eye on situations that might quickly escalate (again, in concert with those that they placed in power).  Large gatherings of a diverse group of people around a charismatic and dynamic individual could certainly be one of those situations.  So as not to give Rome a reason to move against Him, one can imagine that Jesus takes all of this into consideration and is going to be measuring His words quite carefully.     

Measure Given, Measure Received (part 1)

Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap.  For the measure you use will be the measure you receive. – Luke 6:38  (NET)

This is a passage that so many seem to both love and hate.  It is loved because it is always presented in the context of individuals giving of their time, their talent, and their treasure.  It is loved, because when this verse is quoted, those that hear it are told that if they will freely give in these areas, then the Creator God of the universe and sovereign Lord of the cosmos will pour out tremendous blessings upon them.  In all honesty, it could be asked who would not want that. 

However, it is also a passage that is hated because it can be safely said that most people tend to be a bit selfish when it comes to their time, their talent, and their treasure (time, skills, money, and possessions), and perhaps secretly wish that they did not have to give of these things in order to receive those blessings.  Unfortunately, one has to rip this passage right out of its context and do it irreparable exegetical harm in order to make it apply to what is generally associated with giving.  Beyond that, to make this passage apply to giving not only lifts it from its context, but it makes it a free-floating aphorism, almost completely disconnected from what comes before it.  As the Gospel of Luke indicates, such was not Jesus’ method, and is certainly not a reflection of the narrative structure of Luke and the ongoing story of Jesus that he is there telling. 

Jesus’ words applied to the situations in which the people found themselves.  Though He undoubtedly spoke timeless truths, they are only timeless truths because they are first grounded in historical reality.  If Jesus walked around simply offering high-minded principles that offered His people nothing useful for dealing with their present, historical, every-day concerns, rather than words that were specifically associated with the expectation that God had obligated Himself to act within history on behalf of His people, and thus specifically associated with Israel’s defining narrative, then it is likely that He would not have gained the following or influence that He is said to have had. 

If Jesus did not act and speak in connection with the events on the ground in Israel, doing so in accordance with what Israel understood about itself, about its God, and about its place and role in and for the world, it is likely that He would have been completely dismissed as just one more wandering preacher.  However, because Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God that was the hope and expectation of God’s people---which provided the context for everything He said and did---as He spoke with authority and confirmed His speaking with signs and wonders, the people listened and followed and even tried to make Him king.  The wandering spouter of timeless aphorisms would not have seen a groundswell of support for the establishment of his monarchy, and would certainly not have generated the type of reaction amongst the leaders of the people that is reported in the Gospels.      

So in the larger passage from which is drawn the words of giving and receiving, of course, Jesus is speaking.  He has been speaking at length.  To whom was Jesus speaking?  It is said that He was speaking to “a large number of His disciples” that “had gathered along with a vast multitude from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon” (6:17b).  Though Luke here is recording one particular instance, a responsible reading of the text would keep in mind that it is more than probable that Jesus would have spoken the words recorded here in the sixth chapter of Luke on more than one occasion (for example, the “Blessed are’s” of this chapter are spoken in a different setting in the fifth chapter of Matthew, which indicate that this, and perhaps other items, were regular features of Jesus’ discourses).  Here, Luke reports that Jesus’ hearers consist of people from Judea, Jerusalem, Tyre and Sidon.  This indicates that it is a mixed group, being comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, as Tyre and Sidon were cities that were predominantly populated by Gentiles.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hezekiah's Prayer (part 3 of 3)

Hezekiah goes on to exclaim, “Look, the grief I experienced was for my benefit.  You delivered me from the Pit of oblivion.  For You removed all my sins from Your sight” (38:17).  Apparently, Hezekiah was made to be thankful for both the sickness and the deliverance.  Not only that, but by connecting his sickness with sin (failure to rightly bear the divine image), Hezekiah demonstrated that he understood that the sickness that he carried resulted from his violations of the divine covenant.  Not only was sickness understood to be a curse that entered into the world with man’s fall, but sickness was also associated with Israel’s failure to keep covenant with their God.  The Creator God had promised sickness to His people , while also promising that if they repented from their failure to keep covenant, He would remove the associated curses. 

As it applied to the whole of God’s covenant people, so it also applied to the king.  Hezekiah, as the representative of the people, linked the removal of his sickness with the removal of sins.  Furthermore, because being conquered by a foreign people was part of the Creator God’s curse that would be directed toward His people if they were to completely disregard His covenant, and as this recovery from sickness and its attendant prayer follows closely on the heels of the expulsion of Assyria from Judah when it looked as if they were about to suffer the same fate as the northern kingdom of Israel, the removal of his sins (forgiveness), as evidenced by his healing, is also closely linked to the covenant God’s removal of the sins of His people (forgiveness), as evidenced by God Himself by the narrative that presents their God Himself intervening and defeating the Assyrians and sending them away.

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the kings of Israel and Judah were the representatives of God’s people.  When David numbered the people, though this was his action alone, the people suffered.  When Manasseh brought Judah to the pinnacle of its idolatry, it was in conjunction with this that their God declared, with no reversal (though the judgment would be briefly stayed), that Judah would be conquered and sent into captivity (the promised curse would come).  In addition, Israel also held to the idea of a vicarious sacrifice for the removal of sins, which can be seen in the scapegoat of the Day of Atonement.  One sees the representative principle at work here with Hezekiah, and it is in this narrative context that the prayer of Hezekiah can be heard on the lips of Jesus in the garden prior to His passion. 

Jesus could quite easily say that “the grief (or illness) I experienced was for My benefit,” as He could reflect on the suffering servant prophecy of Isaiah fifty-three, fully convinced that His suffering would benefit not only His people, but Himself as well.  Though He knew Himself to be walking the path of death (not only in the time leading up to the crucifixion, but throughout His revolutionary ministry), it is quite easy to hear Jesus say, with a faith like that which was exhibited by Abraham when he confidently declared that both he and Isaac would return from the mountain of sacrifice, that “You delivered Me from the Pit of oblivion.” 

However, it would only be as Israel’s King---as Israel’s representative and as the representative of all of those that would come to call Him King, in substitution for His people, that Jesus could say “You removed all My sins from Your sight.”  This could only occur through God’s King bearing God’s cursing on behalf of God’s people, though Jesus Himself is understood to have never failed to rightly bear the divine image (thus, without sin).  It is because of this execution of faithfulness that Hezekiah could say, “The living person, the living person, he gives you thanks, as I do today” (38:19a).  Those that share in the blessed and vital union with the Christ join with him in such a prayer.  

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hezekiah's Prayer (part 2 of 3)

Hezekiah continues, and Isaiah reports him saying “My dwelling place is taken away from me like a shepherd’s tent.  I rolled up my life like a weaver rolls cloth; from the loom he cuts me off.  You turn day into night and end my life” (38:12).  Likewise, in this as before, it is possible to hear and see Jesus.  His physical body, the one that went to the cross, that dwelling place in which the Creator God had come to His people and struck a tent for a period of time, was taken away from Him.  It was, of course, replaced with a new body, which, when one is in union with Him (believing the Gospel and living according to the idea that Jesus is Lord of all), provides the context for a hope for the same. 

Hezekiah speaks of the turning of day into night and the end of his life, and the reader is forced to consider the darkness that crept over the land when Jesus hung upon the cross, as physical death crept over and eventually consumed Him.  Hezekiah exclaims, “I cry out until morning; like a lion he shatters all my bones; you turn day into night and end my life” (38:13).  As it is once again possible to read about the turning of day into night and the ending of life, it is also possible to reflect on the fact that the ordeal that Jesus underwent lasted from evening to morning, and continued on the through the middle of the day.  Also, though His bones were not broken, He is reported to have been scourged (a common practice for those slated to be crucified), which might very well have left Him with exposed bones---as victims of scourging were often flayed to the very bone.   

Moving on from his lamentation in regards to day and night, Hezekiah goes on to pray, “Like a swallow or a thrush I chirp, I coo like a dove; my eyes grow tired from looking up at the sky” (Isaiah 38:14a).  How often can it be imagined that Jesus, in the midst of groans and grunts and gasps of pain, casts His eyes toward the heavens?  Indeed, it must have been a weary cry when, eyes directed heavenward, as He sees the darkness rolling into the daytime sky, that Matthew reports Jesus making another one of His role-affirming plaintive cries of “Eli, Elli, lama sabachthani?  That is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46b) 

In correlation, because of his reportedly wearisome looking to the sky, Hezekiah says, “O sovereign Master, I am oppressed; help me!” (38:14b)  In humble acceptance, Hezekiah goes on to conclude, “What can I say?  He has decreed and acted” (38:15a).   Much like Jesus, in the garden before beginning His travailing ordeal, would say “My Father, let this cup pass from Me!  Yet not what I will, but what You will” (Matthew 26:39b).  Truly, Jesus is only properly heard from within and according to Israel’s narrative, which includes the works of the prophets.  It is quite probable that Jesus (and His biographers) knew well the words of Hezekiah as reported by Isaiah, thus taking up the words of one of Israel’s kings from the midst of his own suffering, is appropriate and quite suited to Jesus’ own role as Israel’s King. 

Skipping ahead to the sixteenth verse of this chapter, Isaiah continues to give voice to Hezekiah, and the king is heard speaking and saying “O sovereign Master, Your decrees can give men life; may years of health be restored to me.  Restore my health and preserve my life” (38:16).  Undoubtedly, Jesus stood resolute on this way of understanding the God of Israel.  In the role that He had come to understand was His alone, He is presented as one who trusted that His Father, His sovereign Master, could decree life.  While Hezekiah would enjoy an addition of fifteen years to his natural life, the decree of the sovereign Master towards Jesus would result in a Resurrection to an indestructible, eternal life (the life of the age to come entering into the present). 

Hezekiah experienced a restoration of health and a preservation of life, but for him, physical decay would never give up on the relentless march that would eventually take him to his grave.  For Jesus, it was so much more than a restoration and a preservation.  Jesus’ restoration was a complete renewal of His physical being, as He was given a glorified, Resurrection body, suited for the new creation of the covenant God’s eternal kingdom (now broken into the world) that had begun with His Resurrection.  Jesus did not merely have His life preserved.  He was given a new life---an eternal life.  On both counts, that of restoration and preservation in the manner experienced and enjoyed by the called Lord and Savior, those that are in union with Christ await the same. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Hezekiah's Prayer (part 1 of 2)

This is the prayer of Hezekiah of Judah when he was sick and then recovered from his illness – Isaiah 38:9  (NET)

As it is possible to find correspondence between the lives of King David and Jesus, and King Solomon and Jesus, which makes complete sense because they all share the title of King of Israel, so too is it possible to find a Scriptural linking of King Hezekiah and Jesus.  In his prayer, and as all of Scripture is viewed through the lens of the Christ-event, this link becomes quite explicit.  Hezekiah can be heard saying, “I thought, ‘In the middle of my life I must walk through the gates of Sheol, I am deprived of the rest of my years’.” (38:10) 

Like Hezekiah, Jesus, in the middle of His life and ministry, walked through the gates of Sheol, into death.  The Gospel narratives insist that this was something that Jesus anticipated throughout the duration of His ministry, as He frequently spoke of the expectation of the premature cutting off of His natural life.  This was part and parcel of revolutionary activity and His positioning Himself as King.  Though Jesus’ revolutionary actions were different from that of others, and took a different form than what many expected from a revolution, that does not make Him any less revolutionary.  In fact, the uniqueness in the face of pressure to travel a different path may make it even more revolutionary.   

Hezekiah is said to have thought, “I will no longer see the Lord in the land of the living, I will no longer look on humankind with the inhabitants of the world” (38:11).  When he was sick, Hezekiah expected death to come.  Jesus, as was said, also expected death to come.  Because he had been sick and expecting death, but was allowed to recover and continue, Hezekiah figuratively experienced a death and resurrection.  However, not only did Jesus expect a Resurrection, but He received one as well. 

At the same time, Jesus could certainly agree with Hezekiah that He would no longer see the Lord in the land of the living either.  How can that be?  It is because the world into which Jesus was resurrected was a changed world, now subject to Him as its King.  It would no longer merely be the land of the living, but the land of eternal life that is had through union with Him that springs from a believing allegiance in that kingly position.  The Scriptural emphasis is that Jesus came forth from the grave into a new creation that had been inaugurated with His Resurrection. 

Jesus Himself had been given a transformed, resurrected body, that was understood to be animated by the very power of God.  Because of that, He could no longer look out upon humankind from the position of being merely another one of the inhabitants of the old world that had now been fundamentally changed.  He was radically different in a way that was difficult for His followers to understand or express.  He had received a glorified body, which was the long-held hope of His people. 

It is not the case that He would no longer look upon man as an inhabitant of the world because He was going to stay in the grave.  Rather, He would look upon man with a pair of renewed eyes, as the first of a different form of humanity---as the true divine image-bearer, unspoiled by the corruption that had been foisted upon creation by the failure of the original divine image-bearer.  With His Resurrection, Jesus now inhabited a different world.  Through belief in Him, by faith, His disciples would come to inhabit that same world, though without a glorified body, with a down payment of Resurrection power that would allow them to look upon humankind, not as one of its inhabitants, but as new creations, viewing man with the compassion and love that comes as a gift from God, desirous to tell forth the Gospel of Jesus (He is Lord) that is an invitation to share in this inaugurated new creation. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Broken The Permanent Treaty (part 2 of 2)

Yet again, Isaiah speaks of the fact that man fades away into death, doing so through employing the imagery of the disappearance of the inhabitants of the earth.  As has been said, the impact of man’s sin (failure to rightly bear the divine image by violating the covenant requirements established by the Creator God) extends beyond himself, reaching the created order, which is why Isaiah insists that “The new wine dries up, the vines shrivel up,” and with terminology that would remind his readers or hearers of the exodus (set in motion by the groaning of Israel in its slavery), and can put readers of the post-Christ era in mind of Romans chapter eight and liberation of the creation, saying “all those who like to celebrate groan” (24:7).          

Bringing an awareness of the Adam and exodus story forward to the time in which he was writing, Isaiah could easily have looked around him, considered what it was that Israel was charged with doing and being under their God’s covenant, and determined that Israel had done the same thing as Adam.  In a sense, Israel was also recapitulating what Egypt had done to them.  Whereas Israel, now representing mankind, was supposed to be the means by which the Creator God revealed Himself, the way in which that God had chosen to deal with the problem of evil in the world, and accordingly functioned as a shining light of the Creator God’s glory to draw all men to Himself and bring them into a right standing with Him under His covenant, they were instead actively engaging in the further defiling of the earth that has begun under the influence of their purported progenitor (Adam). 

Contrary to what was occurring under the watch of His covenant people, the Creator God’s plan, beginning with Abraham, was to reverse the devastation of the curse through those covenant people, but instead they contributed to its ongoing devastation.  Israel, of course, had been given specific laws and ways of living as the covenant people so that they might rightly bear the divine image by their God, yet the recorded history of this people insists that they violated those laws almost unceasingly.  From time to time, their history suggests that Israel would recognize the violations and come to repentance, but for the most part, there was an utter disregard for the regulations that had been delivered to them, especially in the area of caring for orphans and widows. 

Yes, just like Adam, sadly, the Creator God’s people had broken their everlasting covenant, failing to uphold their covenant requirements to represent the Creator to the whole of the creation.  As a result, devastating judgment of cursing and exile would come upon them, with this cursing provided context by the promises of both Deuteronomy twenty-eight and Leviticus twenty-six.  This would occur as an outworking of their God’s faithful justice.  He had brought them into a treaty---an everlasting covenant with Him---and the execution of coming destruction, in according with the aforementioned promises, was the ongoing demonstration of their God’s righteousness (covenant faithfulness) towards His people and towards His creation. 

Ultimately, it would take a Redeemer ---a messiah, for the Creator God Himself, as it would be understood to act in the flesh, returning to His people to repair the treaty and to set His people and this world to rights, doing so through a people who organized their lives according to a new covenant, a renewed Israel, that live in a believing covenantal union with Jesus.          

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Broken The Permanent Treaty (part 1 of 2)

The earth is defiled by its inhabitants, for they have violated laws, disregarded the regulation, and broken the permanent treaty. – Isaiah 24:5  (NET)

Before one reaches the verse above, one also encounters the verses which state that “The earth will be completely devastated and thoroughly ransacked.  For the Lord has decreed this judgment.  The earth dries up and withers; the prominent people of the earth fade away” (24:3-4).  Though this was clearly not the Creator God’s intention for His good creation, this is the situation wrought by man’s rebellion in the garden.  Man was able to have this impact on the earth because He is the creature made in God’s image (the divine image-bearer).  Man was specifically tasked by God and was given the responsibility to steward the creation---to steward it wisely as the vice-regent of the Creator God---and failed to do so, introducing evil and its effects into the world. 

In the Scriptural narrative, it is Adam’s faithlessness to what were his God-given responsibilities and limitations by which the earth becomes defiled.  The narrative insists that Adam willfully and egregiously violated the law that had been given to him by his Creator.  Tying this together with what is offered by Isaiah, it can be said that he most certainly disregarded the regulation.  The covenant God of Israel had designed His creation to be permanently good, and for man to tend His good creation in perpetuity, but that permanence proved to be fleeting.  As Isaiah writes, mankind broke “the permanent treaty.” 

Another rendering of the Hebrew that is here translated “permanent treaty” would be “the everlasting covenant.”  Adam, representing all mankind, violated the everlasting covenant of the Creator God.  Naturally, any talk of covenant would immediately call to mind the covenant governing the relationship between Israel and its God.  What was the result of this defiling, violation, disregarding, and breaking?  “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly increase your labor pains; with pain you will give birth to children.  You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you’.  But to Adam He said, ‘Because you obeyed your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,” cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, but you will eat of the grain of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat food until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you will return’.” (Genesis 3:16-19) 

Yes, the Lord decreed this judgment.  The earth would be devastated and ransacked by thorns and thistles and pain and hostility.  Though the earth had produced bountifully, in effect it would now be dried up and withered.  Man would indeed fade away into dust.  It is in the stream of identity that flows from this understanding of their story that begins with Adam in which Isaiah would write, “So a treaty curse devours the earth; its inhabitants pay for their guilt.  This is why the inhabitants of the earth disappear, and are reduced to just a handful of people” (24:6).  Isaiah, whose worldview is shaped by the Adam story and all that flows from it, appears to indicate that Israel is effectively recapitulating the fall of Adam, failing in their stewarding responsibilities and their everlasting covenant.  

Thus, as one continues to focus in on what occurred with Adam, so as to read or hear Isaiah from within the sweep of the Scriptural narrative, it can be seen that God cursed the earth because of the broken treaty, the ignored agreement, the disregarded covenant.  As a result, man has continually suffered from death and decay and all that goes with man stepping outside of the bounds of God’s covenant.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

Treaty Dissolved (part 2 of 2)

In essence then, as the words from Isaiah are heard against the backdrop of Israel’s story, it could be proffered that Adam willfully entered into a treaty with death, in that it was because of his actions that death was allowed to make an entrance into God’s good creation.  It could also be said that Adam (and Eve) made a lie his refuge, and that he hid himself in a deceitful word, as the serpent in the garden was believed when it said, “Surely you will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil” (Genesis 3:4b-5).  Ironically, it was in this rebellion, when death entered, that the divine image in which man had been created, was marred.

Drawing the complete circle then, so as to make the broad application, when God’s Messiah went to the cross, He underwent God’s “overwhelming judgment,” as the wrath of God was poured out upon Him.  The experience of this wrath was not arbitrary, and He specifically underwent the cursing that was the lot of God’s covenant people, doing so because He represented all of God’s people (then and now) as their King.  By taking the curses upon Himself as He represented Israel, they were, in essence, exhausted.  The judgment was first one of condemnation, as it sent Jesus into the grave.  Secondly, though, the judgment was one of liberation, as death and the grave could not hold Him, and He went forth for the inauguration of a new creation and a new humanity, with Resurrection power. 

Isaiah wrote that “the Lord will rise up, as He did at Mount Perazim, He will rouse Himself, as He did in the valley of Gibeon” (28:21a).  Now, this “rising up” is not necessarily correlated to the Resurrection of Jesus, but as one thinks about the cornerstone, the dissolution of the treaty with death, and the breaking of the agreement with Sheol in connection with overwhelming judgment, it is appropriate to look ahead to the next part of the verse which informs the reader/hearer that the Lord rises up on behalf of His people “to accomplish His work” (28:21b). 

What work was to be accomplished?  The work, of course, was the restoration of that Lord’s people and His creation, delivering them from exile and bondage to corruption, and reversing the agreement of faithlessness that brought death into this world.  This work that was to be accomplished is said to be “His peculiar work” (28:21c).  It is said that God would rise up “to perform His task” (28:21d), and that task is referred to as “His strange task” (28:21e). 

Quite honestly, it is more than possible to look upon the Christ-event, that being the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, and honestly assess it as being a peculiar work and a strange task.  The Creator God’s people were not expecting the Messiah to go to a cross, as a crucified messiah was pure folly, nor were they expecting a single resurrection of a single man in the middle of history to mark the ushering in of the kingdom of God on earth.  So peculiar and strange was this work that the Apostle Paul indeed spoke of the folly of the cross and its preaching.  Nevertheless, it is as one believes in this work and the One in Whom, by Whom, and through Whom it was accomplished, as He underwent that overwhelming judgment and emerged victorious on the other side, that the ultimate power of death has been broken, and that in union with Christ, that believer is “overrun” (28:18) by the eternal life that comes by the faith that is gifted by God’s Holy Spirit.    

Treaty Dissolved (part 1 of 2)

Your treaty with death will be dissolved; your agreement with Sheol will not last.  When the overwhelming judgment sweeps by, you will be overrun by it. – Isaiah 28:18  (NET)

With these words, Isaiah is delivering a message to the people of covenant God.  It is a people that have been given covenant responsibilities, but have failed to live up to the obligations of that covenant (their God seems particularly incensed at the oppression and lack of care for orphans and widows), and are now experiencing the sweep of curses that were to accompany such violations, though they do not want to connect the judgment of which Isaiah speaks with those failures. 

The words of the text are Isaiah’s answer to the attitude of the people of Jerusalem, who say, “We have made a treaty with death, with Sheol we have made an agreement.  When the overwhelming judgment sweeps by it will not reach us” (28:15a).  It is quite interesting to find out why they would say such a thing.  Isaiah reports the people’s words: “For we have made a lie our refuge, we have hidden ourselves in a deceitful word” (28:15b).  However, Isaiah insists that the “sovereign Master, the Lord” (28:16a) has a response to such words.  It is that response which provides the context for the dissolution of the treaty with death and the agreement with Sheol.  Isaiah reports the words of the Creator God of Israel, which are, “Look, I am laying in Zion an approved stone, set in place as a precious cornerstone for the foundation” (28:16b). 

For those that live in the post-Christ-event world, in which it is proper to view the Hebrew Scriptures through the lens of Jesus and the cross, any talk of cornerstones should immediately force the directing of attention to the One Who is referred to as “the Cornerstone.”  In Acts, Peter stands before the “rulers, elders, and experts in the law” (4:5), and declares that “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone” (4:11).  As one understands Jesus, the Messiah, as “the cornerstone,” it is not difficult to comprehend why a treaty with death would be dissolved in connection with the laying of that cornerstone. 

Because the messiah, among other things, was thought to be the one that would reverse not only Israel’s cursing, but also the cursing of the entire creation, it is always appropriate to consider the entire arc of Scripture, by which the work of Jesus as Messiah can be understood, and which also provided a portion of the context for Israel’s self-understanding.  Isaiah’s worldview then, of course, would be shaped by this narrative.   Thus, if one was to look back to the events of Eden and the fall of man, could it not be said that man, in effect, made an agreement, a treaty, with death? 

As Genesis insists, Adam knew the Creator God’s promise to him.  That God had said, “You may eat freely from every tree of the orchard, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will die” (Genesis 2:16b-17).  Everywhere it is made abundantly clear, and Scripture never argues the point, that Adam knew the consequences for disobedience, unfaithfulness, and rebellion, but still he chose to eat of the fruit.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What The Lord Says (part 2 of 2)

The Scriptural narrative makes it abundantly clear that Israel and Judah, as the covenant people of the Creator God, were held to a different and seemingly higher standard than the surrounding nations.  The evil that was bringing their God’s judgment upon them, according to the prophetic words of Amos (prophecy more often than not the act of calling leaders and rulers to account for their actions, rather than foretelling) was of far greater consequence. 

Of Judah, the covenant God says, “They rejected the Lord’s law; they did not obey His commands.  Their false gods, to which their fathers were loyal, led them astray.  So I will set Judah on fire, and it will consume Jerusalem’s fortresses” (2:4b-5).  This pronouncement, rooted in the Deuteronomic and Levitical curses that were promised to the covenant people if they failed to meet their covenant obligations, would be fulfilled when the Babylonians would come forth to conquer.  Of Israel, God says, “They sold the innocent for silver, the needy for a pair of sandals.  They trample on the dirt-covered head of the poor; they push the destitute away” (2:6b-7a).  Judah was condemned for idolatry, whereas Israel was called to account for rampant oppression as well as idolatry.

Moving along to the end of the third chapter, the Creator God speaks through His prophetic mouthpiece to His wayward people, saying “Certainly when I punish Israel for their covenant transgressions, I will destroy Bethel’s altars.  The horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground.  I will destroy both the winter and summer houses.  The houses filled with ivory will be ruined, the great houses will be swept away” (3:14-15a).  In the fourth chapter, there is a greater elaboration on Israel’s transgression, as it is read, “You oppress the poor; you crush the needy” (4:1b).  The God of Israel’s response to this is to say “Certainly the time is approaching when you will be carried away in baskets, every last one of you in fisherman’s pots” (4:2b).  Furthermore, one finds that God saying, “But surely I gave you no food to eat in any of your cities; you lacked food everywhere you live.  Still you did not come back to Me… I withheld rain from you three months before the harvest…. People from two or three cities staggered into one city to get water, but remained thirsty.  Still you did not come back to Me.  I destroyed your crops with blight and disease.  Locusts kept devouring your orchards, vineyards, fig trees, and olive trees.  Still  you did not come back to Me… I sent against you a plague like one of the Egyptian plagues.  I killed your young men with the sword… Still you did not come back to Me” (4:6a, 7a, 8a, 9a, 10a,c). 

Naturally, all of this is quite significant.  With these words of what the Creator God will do to His people, specific references are being made to the curses that are set forth in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, with a reminder of the highly determinative (for Israel’s identity) Egyptian experience.  When it is said “Still you did not come back to me,” the reader is forced to think about what God promised upon national repentance (2 Chronicles 7:14-if My people…), which would be a restoration from the curse of conquering and exile.  This is the promise that would be seized upon in the story of Daniel, which leads to Judah being restored to their land (though still in exile, as they are not independent from foreign power), and re-gathered for identification as their God’s covenant people.  

Though Daniel and Judah recognized the curses and repented, Israel, on the other hand, did not.  Though their God brought His promised curses, this was not productive of repentance.  They did not return to Him.  What ultimately happened?  Israel was conquered by Assyria, scattered through the Assyrian empire, and the ten tribes that made up the kingdom of Israel were dispersed, never to be re-gathered or identified as part of the covenant people of the cosmic sovereign.  “The virgin Israel has fallen down and will not get up again” (5:2a).  Truly, the Creator God is faithful to His covenant promises and deals seriously with covenant transgressions. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

What The Lord Says (part 1 of 2)

This is what the Lord says – Amos 1:3a  (NET)

The prophet Amos was put in the interesting position of declaring the fact of their covenant God’s judgment on Israel and the nations that surrounded Israel.  Amos is said to have prophesied during the time of the divided kingdom (Israel/North, Judah/South), prior to both the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests.  He introduces their God’s judgment with evocative words, saying that “The Lord comes roaring out of Zion; from Jerusalem He comes bellowing!  The shepherds’ wilt; the summit of Carmel withers” (1:2).  With that said, Amos launches into the telling of judgment. 

Beginning with Syria, it is written, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because Damascus has committed three crimes---make that four!---I will not revoke My decree of judgment… I will break the bar on the gate of Damascus’.” (1:3a, 5a)  Moving on to the land of the Philistines, we read, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because Gaza has committed three crimes---make that four!---I will not revoke My decree of judgment… So I will get Gaza’s city wall on fire; fire will consume her fortresses… the rest of the Philistines will also die’.” (1:6a, 7a, 8b) 

Following that, the prophecy of judgment is directed against Tyre.  There, we read, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because Tyre has committed three crimes---make that four!---I will not revoke My decree of judgment… They failed to observe a treaty of brotherhood.  So I will set fire to Tyre’s city wall; fire will consume her fortresses’.” (1:9a,c-10)  Continuing on, Amos presumes to speak for the Lord God of Israel against Edom, writing “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because Edom has committed three crimes---make that four!---I will not revoke My decree of judgment.  He chased his brother with a sword; he wiped out his allies.  In his anger he tore them apart without stopping to rest; in his fury he relentlessly attacked them.  So I will set Teman on fire; fire will consume Bozrah’s fortresses’.” (1:11-12) 

Looking now to Ammon, one find that “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because the Ammonites have committed three crimes---make that four!---I will not revoke My decree of judgment.  They ripped open Gilead’s pregnant women so they could expand their territory.  So I will set fire to Rabbah’s city wall; fire will consume her fortresses’.” (1:13-14).  Finally, in these decrees about the surrounding nations, Amos directs his words to Moab, and they hear “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because Moab has committed three crimes---make that four!---I will not revoke My decree of judgment.  The burned the bones of Edom’s king into lime.  So I will set Moab on fire and it will consume Kerioth’s fortresses.  Moab will perish in the heat of battle… I will remove Moab’s leader; I will kill all Moab’s officials with him’.” (2:1-2a,3)  All of these pronouncements are punctuated with the phrase “The Lord has spoken!”

One can only imagine his hearers in Israel and Judah listening to him with eager and rapt attention, excited about the judgment that was going to rain down upon their enemies and adversaries.  It is not difficult to envision them applauding Amos and his words before something quite interesting occurs.  While the judgments against these nations are indeed harsh, and most likely deserved, Amos does not stop with Moab, but continues on to say, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because Judah has committed three covenant transgressions---make that four!---I will not revoke My decree of judgment’.” (2:4a) 

Before Israel can feel secure, Amos goes on to report, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because Israel has committed three covenant transgressions---make that four!---I will not revoke My decree of judgment’.” (2:6a)  It is impossible to miss the shift in language, as Amos has shifted from speaking about “crimes,” to speaking about something he refers to as “covenant transgressions,” which would have been far more consequential, especially for the people of the covenant.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Do Not Fear (part 2 of 2)

In this new age, the one that has been inaugurated so that the Creator God can pour out His Spirit on all flesh as Peter will say in Acts, the prophet Joel reports that God saying, “Do not fear, My land!  Rejoice and be glad, because the Lord has accomplished great things!” (2:21)  This is an age in which the covenant God is reversing the curse that mankind brought upon His creation that had been established as very good.  The insistence of the New Testament is that the God of Israel will begin to do this through His covenant people as they are in union with Christ (confirming Jesus as King), with the beginning of that reversal pointing to a final consummation in which a great and final restoration, a final reversal, will take place.  The Creator God speaks and says, “Do not fear, wild animals!  For the pastures of the wilderness are again green with grass.  Indeed the trees bear their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield to their fullest” (2:22). 

In this new age, the Creator God speaks to His covenant people, saying “Citizens of Zion, rejoice!  Be glad because of what the Lord has done” (2:23a).  What is it that the Lord has done?  Well, because Peter appears to link all of this with Jesus, it can be declared that He has performed a great work in and through the Christ.  Through Him then, He has redeemed a people for Himself from exile.  This is the ongoing story of Israel, as reflected by their history, and this is the continuing story of the covenant people that are formed around Jesus.  Yes, once again, a new age has been inaugurated.  This is an age in which Resurrection power has been brought to bear in the world, with Jesus being the first to thoroughly experience that Resurrection power as the first-fruits of what is to come for God’s people and God’s creation. 

In this inaugurated age, where Jesus is King, awaiting His final crowning (much like David was anointed king, merely awaiting His final crowning, though the analogy to David should not extend too far beyond form rather than substance), it is said that “The threshing floors are full of grain; the vats overflow with fresh wine and olive oil” (2:24).  Such language speaks to the removal of the thorns and thistles that plague this world.  It is an age in which the exile that is being experienced by the creation, ends in an exodus into becoming a promised land.  As always, the language of the prophets is provided context and depth of meaning by Israel’s narrative 

Through His prophet, the covenant God says that in this age (the one that is Peter affirms has begun with the Resurrection of Jesus) “You will have plenty to eat, and your hunger will be fully satisfied; you will praise the name of the Lord your God, Who has acted wondrously in your behalf” (2:26a).  Because of what the Creator God has wrought---the Resurrection of the Christ and the redemption of His covenant people to be set forth as royal servant ambassadors for the world---the promise is made that “My people will never again be put to shame” (2:26b).  That is, once the covenant God brings His Spirit to bear in this world, His people will never again experience the curse of exile. 

After declaring that His people will be fully convinced of His power (2:27a), which will take place by the gift of faith by the Spirit, Israel’s God repeats Himself, saying “My people will never again be put to shame” (2:27b).  The witness of Scripture affirms that there is no need to fear, for everywhere, the Word of God speaks of His faithfulness, Resurrection, redemption, restoration, renewal, and re-creation.  In Him, one may confidently trust and rejoice.      

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Do Not Fear (part 1 of 2)

Do not fear, My land!  Rejoice and be glad, because the Lord has accomplished great things! – Joel 2:21  (NET)

A few verses after this, what is perhaps the most famous and well-known statement from the book of Joel can be found.  That statement is “After all of this I will pour out My Spirit on all kinds of people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your elderly will have revelatory dreams; your young men will see prophetic visions.  Even on male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (2:28-29). 

This is quoted by Peter, as reported in the second chapter of Acts, doing so in his address to the people of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.  For Peter, it seems that this vision of Joel that has now been realized, is couched in the necessity of the Resurrection of Jesus.  Based upon what would have been Peter’s worldview concerning the resurrection of the righteous and the end of the covenant people, this pouring out of the Spirit can only have taken and be taking place because the Christ had been resurrected from the grave.  Accompanying that, an entirely new age had begun. 

Along with this, one must remember, as a basic rule of exegesis, that when New Testament writers or speakers make reference to isolated passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, doing so is not an indication that they are merely looking for proof-texts for their opinions.  Rather, it is that they have entire narratives, entire sections of texts, and entire patterns of thought in mind, all couched within a comprehensive worldview that is shaped by an understanding of their God and His covenant with them. 

In many, if not most cases, when passages from the prophets or wisdom literature are quoted, or when a New Testament character or author alludes to a single verse, it is because the Christ-event, in some way and in accordance with the unified Scriptural narrative, has served to make additional or new sense of that passage.  So even though Peter quotes a selection from Joel (2:28-32), it must be presumed that his hearers would have in mind the entirety of the context from which that selection is lifted.  Again, this is a basic rule of exegesis, and all conclusions that can be derived from isolated verses must be weighed against this consideration.       

So looking back to Joel, which is entirely appropriate when hearing Peter make reference to the work, one must take notice that the twenty-eighth verse begins with “After all of this.”  Such a statement begs the question, “After all of what?”  Because what follows is clearly connected with thoughts about what the Creator God is going to do among and through His covenant people, what precedes must speak to the world in which these things will be done. 

For the prophet Joel, the indication it will be as if a new age has dawned.  It is an age in which he grips the promise of God that “I will make up for the years that the arbeh-locust consumed your crops---the yeleq-locust, the hasil-locust, and the gazam-locust---My great army that I sent against you” (2:25).  Here, much like Peter is calling the whole of Joel to mind, Joel calls to mind the Deuteronomic and Levitical curses that would accompany Israel’s failure to live up to the terms of their covenant with their God, which naturally calls to mind the exodus (the seminal and defining event in the history of Israel), which is set against the background of the call of Abraham, which ultimately had to take place because of the fall of Adam (thereby calling to mind the Adam story). 

Yes, because the Bible essentially presents one continuous narrative of creation, fall, cursing, God’s-single-plan-of-salvation-for-the-world, redemption, and restoration (never lose sight of this idea), one is more than justified in thinking about the curse that came upon the ground (the world/creation) because of the fall of Adam (as well as the Torah curses of Deuteronomy and Leviticus) when stories about locusts consuming crops are encountered. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Messiah's Renewal (part 2 of 2)

The new creation, as has been previously mentioned in this study and visualized by Isaiah, was inaugurated and goes forth with the word (and power) of the Resurrection.  Any understanding of the telos of the new creation is contingent on understanding the first creation, as presented by Genesis.  Thus, one can only comprehend the role of the covenant people in the new creation in light of the role that was to be played by the original covenant bearer.  As the first divine image-bearer, Adam was placed in God’s good creation, to tend and steward it as his charge.  The second and complete divine image-bearer, Jesus, was resurrected into a world of the covenant God’s creation---a world that was now fundamentally changed because of the power for Resurrection that had been somehow unleashed into the world through its delivery to His lifeless body. 

Considering the comprehensive renewal that is associated with the Messiah (whether in Isaiah’s vision or in the New Testament reflections upon the Christ), Scripture insists that Jesus was the first-fruits of those to be raised up from the dead.  Thus, just as Jesus was raised, so too will those that believe in and order their lives around His royal claims be raised with Him.  Along with that, the creation itself awaits its liberation from its long bondage to corruption.  Jesus’ Resurrection into this very creation, along with the Creator God’s working through His people to be ambassadors of His light and glory and purposes in this world, means that believers do not simply await the end of their days or the world’s days, so that they can be whisked off into the blessed, eternal state, of an other-worldly existence.  The Creator God did not broker a deal with death and corruption, giving over the somehow sub-standard physical bodies and this world that He created.  On the contrary, the bent of Scripture informs the world that the Creator intends to redeem the whole of His creation. 

Believes then do not await the demise of this world.  The Scriptures constantly point to a restoration of this world to the condition for which it was intended by its Creator.  Again, this is part of the renewal that accompanied messianic activity, and it could be said that, among other things, this restoration was why Israel’s God sent forth His Messiah.  This restoration is why that Messiah, contrary to all expectations, would suffer and die.  As the King would embody Israel in both exile and exodus, this restoration is why that same Messiah, contrary to all expectations, would be physically raised up from the dead.  All of this was done, it seems, to point the covenant God’s people to the time in which the final defeat of death would be accomplished, and in which “there will be universal submission to the Lord’s sovereignty” (11:9b). 

Though that Resurrection power is manifest in and works through believers that share in eternal life as they live the Gospel (Jesus is Lord of all), those same believers will most certainly fade and die; but because Jesus was physically raised, with a glorified body, and because all that cling to Him as Lord have the promise that they will experience the same, believers look to their being raised to a new life and a new creation in which “A wolf will reside with a lamb, and a leopard will lie down with a young goat; an ox and a young lion will graze together, as a small child leads them along” (11:6). 

When the curse of exile from the Creator God’s original purposes is finally broken, and the people of the covenant are led into the promised land of that God’s renewed creation, they will see that “A cow and a bear will graze together, their young will lie down together.  A lion, like an ox, will eat straw” (11:7).  Because of the Resurrection, “A baby will play over the hole of a snake; over the nest of a serpent an infant will put his hand” (11:8).  When Jesus reigns without question, the Creator God says, “They will no longer injure or destroy on My entire royal mountain” (11:9a).  If this is truly believed, then it is incumbent upon believers to lift up the Gospel of Jesus “like a signal flag for the nations,” so that “Nations will look to Him for guidance and His residence will be majestic” (11:10b).      

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Messiah's Renewal (part 1 of 2)

A shoot will grow out of Jesse’s root stock, a bud will sprout from His roots. – Isaiah 11:1  (NET)

With these words, it seems that Isaiah is speaking of the messiah of Israel.  Because Messiah is, first and foremost, a kingly term, he understandably speaks of the King in the line of David, the Son of God, the Son of Man, that will be sent forth to lead the covenant God’s people from out of the exile of their current or coming situation of foreign oppression.  As was the case when Israel had suffered and groaned under the boot of Egypt, this will be accomplished, according to Isaiah’s viewpoint, via a new exodus, into a new promised land. 

It can be quite easily gleaned from the scope of Isaiah’s vision, that the promised land is a renewed creation, in which Israel’s messiah reigns as King and Lord of all.  Those that look to Jesus as the Messiah believe that the renewed creation of Isaiah’s work was inaugurated at the Resurrection of Jesus, with His establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth, with a renewed Israel (a people under the covenant of belief in Jesus) as the people of God that constitute and serve to establish and expand His kingdom by the operation, through them, of the glorious power of the Creator God’s Holy Spirit.

As it is written of the messiah (Israel’s king) that “The Lord’s Spirit will rest on Him” (11:2a), so it is to be said of all those in union with Jesus as Messiah (confessing allegiance to His kingship).  That Spirit is said to be “a spirit that gives extraordinary wisdom” (11:2b), and just as it can certainly be understood to have fallen upon and infused Jesus as He walked the earth, so it shall infuse those who believe in Him, that they might also become, like Jesus, the place at which heaven and earth come together and overlap. 

According to Isaiah, the Spirit is one “that provides the ability to execute plans” (11:2c).  Advancing forward from Isaiah again, the Creator God executed His saving plan for the world through His Messiah, and it is through that Spirit at work in His covenant people that the Creator God executes His plans for the expansion of His kingdom, which this accomplished through the preaching and doing of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord). 

By that Spirit---which the earliest believes confirm is the same Spirit that raised up Christ from the dead---the Creator God works through His people to confront the evil to be found in this world, extending His mercy, grace, love, and saving faithfulness to a people and a creation that is beset by pains and sorrows (groaning, like the people of God, in hopes of an exodus).  By that Spirit, the Creator God sends forth His people as ambassadors for His Christ, making royal declarations on behalf of the world’s true King (evangelism). 

Yes, to use Isaiah’s words, this God executes His plans.  Thus, because Jesus is a sovereign ruler, the Spirit that must be recognized to have worked through Him to produce His absolute loyalty to the will of the Father is the same Spirit “that produces absolute loyalty to the Lord” (11:2d) that was to be the mark of the messiah.  Of course, this only matters if Jesus was raised up from the dead and indeed lives forevermore. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Stop Sinning

Wash!  Cleanse yourselves!  Remove your sinful deeds from My sight.  Stop sinning! – Isaiah 1:16  (NET)

Earlier in this chapter, Isaiah writes that “The sinful nation is as good as dead, the people weighed down by evil deeds” (1:4a).  Furthermore, it can be learned that “They are offspring who do wrong, children who do wicked things” (1:4b).  This is clearly not good.  What’s more, “They have abandoned the Lord, and rejected the Holy One of Israel” (1:4c).  The result of this is that “They are alienated from Him” (1:4d).  Isaiah goes on to write about a dreadful and ghastly situation, in which it is said that the Creator God’s people “insist on being battered” (1:5a), while adding that it is as if their head has a massive wound (1:5b), and their whole body is weak (1:5c) with bruises and cuts and open wounds that have been left unattended (1:5d).  Worse than that, the devastation and desolation that has been brought about by their evil deeds, wicked things, abandoning and rejecting and being alienated from the Lord, means that their land has been devastated and burned with fire, that their crops have been destroyed by foreigners” (1:7). 

It is the midst of this that Israel’s God, through His prophet, tells His people to “Wash!  Cleanse yourselves!  Remove your sinful deeds from My sight.  Stop sinning!” (1:16)  A few lines later, their God gives His people comforting assurance, saying that “Though your sins have stained you like the color red, you can become white like snow; though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet, you can become like white wool” (1:18b). 

Furthermore, their God extends His mercy, telling His people that if they will simply “Stop sinning,” and rather, “have a willing attitude and obey, then you will again eat the good crops of the land” (1:19).  With such a will to obedience, God promises to reverse the curse on the land and the crops.  Though the covenant God has said “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I look the other way; when you offer your many prayers, I do not listen” (1:15a), we can imagine His reversing promises to extend to this as well. 

Here, one remembers God’s promise to Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, in which He is reported to have said, “if My people, who belong to Me, humble themselves, pray, seek to please Me, and repudiate their sinful practices, then I will respond from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).  This can be neatly harmonized with what is being said here in this first chapter of Isaiah.  Even though the Creator God has said that He will not hear His people’s prayers “because your hands are covered with blood” (1:15b), that He will wash away the stain to make them appear as white as wool.  Conversely, in the midst of the merciful extension of His grace, this God also warns His people, saying “But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword” (1:20a).  To this is appended the ominous and punctuating statement of “Know for certain that the Lord has spoken” (1:20b). 

Now, following the story arc of Scripture, one cannot help but know that the judgment that is promised to fall upon God’s people, according to the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, comes first and foremost because of idolatry (coincident with a failure to keep the Sabbaths and reverence the sanctuary, which would certainly be a by-product of idolatry).  Isaiah is apparently alluding to this here in this chapter.  Along with failing to keep the Sabbaths and reverence the sanctuary, idolatry (the divine-image-bearer worshiping the creation and therefore giving over his rightful dominion) most clearly represents their abandoning of their Lord and their rejection of their God.  However, here in Isaiah, there is more to be found. 

When the Creator God instructs His people to remove their sinful deeds and to stop sinning, calling them a sinful nation, saying that they are weighed down by evil deeds, doing wrong and wicked things, He goes on to give them and all that would read or hear these words an insight into what He had in mind.  Thus, one might be more than a bit surprised to read, “Learn to do what is right!  Promote justice!  Give the oppressed reason to celebrate!  Take up the cause of the orphan!  Defend the rights of the widow!” (1:17) 

Those are the words that follow the exhortation to stop their sinning.  That is what precedes the Creator God’s speaking about their being stained red with their sins that are red as scarlet.  It would seem that it is the failure to do these things that covered their hands with blood, that made their God refuse to hear their prayers, to hate their keeping of the feasts that He Himself had ordained and given to them, and to reject their sacrifices (1:11-15).  Apparently, it was the failure to do these things that caused their God to compare His own people to Sodom and Gomorrah (1:10) (the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah being oppression of orphans and widows, and the denial of justice, which is certainly well implied by the story of Lot as recorded in Genesis). 

The covenant people of the Creator God, according to Isaiah and their circumstances, were not doing what was right, in that they were defeating justice, causing the oppressed to mourn, turning away from the orphan, and casting off the widow.  In stark contrast to those things that so many generally want to classify as sins, it was these things that were their evil deeds.  This was their sin.  Ultimately, in this, they were failing to be God’s light.  Israel was failing to bear the image of their God.