General Revelation (Pt.1)

Revelation, be it in nature, within ourselves, or inscripturated in a book, is always God’s prerogative.  It always comes from God, and man is designed to receive it.  Man is not the one who starts with himself and discovers God in the universe, rather God discloses himself, and man ought to take immediate notice of God’s self-revelation.

Let me start with a basic definition of general revelation:

General Revelation is God’s self-disclosure in nature and in the psychological aspects of man.

The Range of the Revealed

I am not saying that the physical aspects of man are not revelatory, they are, but I include those within the general heading of nature. So material nature and also our psychology are both revelatory of the Triune God, the God who reveals himself in the Scriptures.  They are not revelatory of any other god for the simple reason that there is no other god who can reveal himself, and therefore the revelation that we see is the revelation that we ought to ascribe to our Creator.

Because of the connections between the human psyche and nature, the material world (what God has made) is revelational, not the other way round.  This brings together the fact of divine revelation with the expectancy for divine revelation. We know that God has revealed Himself because He has told as in His Scriptures and He’s put it all around us. We expect that God reveals Himself in the world because of what He’s told us about Himself.

The Second Person is the revealing Logos of God, the Word of God.  As He is the par excellence verbal revelation of God, then we should fully expect to receive a verbal announcement from Him as His creatures. Therefore, the necessity of Scripture and the rationale for Scripture are brought together in the Logos.  The necessity of Scripture comes about because of the discordance between God and sinners.  The rationale for Scripture stems from the need for a permanent record of God’s word about Himself and creation to fallen humanity.  These can be viewed in the Person of Christ.

Moving from the Logos Doctrine to general revelation helps us to keep ourselves on the right path regarding the latter.  As we will see, there are many evangelicals who have taken wrong paths, the paths congregating around natural theology.  But personal revelation, wrapped up in the Triune God, is built into what He has made, and His reason also for making it, and this personal element is woven into the ongoing plan of God we see in history.  Carl Henry wrote,

While nature has no will of its own, no capacity for moral choice, its forms and structures are nonetheless given and sustained by the Logos of God. Pervaded by God’s divine presence and power, it is an intelligible order serving moral purposes and a realm of providential fulfillment. – Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority – Vol. 2, 97

We ought to expect this if we have our doctrine right, because God is personal and has made earth as an environment suitable for us; not just suitable to live and breathe in, but an environment that is suitable for us to investigate and to marvel in.

Therefore, when we look at a tree, a flower, or a summer sky, we’re seeing something that is personally given to us, personally fashioned for our delight. Therefore, when we look at the movement of history, the God who made the tree and the sunset is the God who guides history.  ‘Yes’ in a fallen world, ‘yes’ in a world that is full of evil, and yet there is goodness in it and this God can be seen even in the darkness by those of us who have been given light by the Holy Spirit, on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world.

Still Biblical Revelation

The thing that we need to realize straightaway is that general, or if you like “natural” revelation, has got to be incorporated within a biblical viewpoint; it is not something that we have discovered and named. “General Revelation”, although we give it that name, is revealed to us through the Word of God.  It is revealed to us for what it is.

Because of the Fall, the sinfulness of man, and the noetic effects of sin upon our minds, we cannot see nature for what it really is; neither can we look within ourselves and see ourselves for what we are, and when we try to do that without reference to God’s revelation in Scripture, then we come away with idolatry and with an illusion. (more…)

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Progressive Revelation and the Two Testaments: A Quick Thought

An interesting phenomenon in regard to the reading of the Old Testament and the New is that whereas the Old Testament was written over a period of approximately 1,300 years – taking Job as the earliest book (c.1750 B.C.) and Malachi as the last book (c.450 B.C.).  During that time history witnessed the beginning of the nation of Israel under Moses, and the dominance and eventual waning of Egyptian and Babylonian dynasties, plus the Hittite, Assyrian, Persian empires, and the onset of the Greek empire.  Israel rose to become a powerful state in the days of David and Solomon; then split into two kingdoms until both parts went into captivity.

The story of Israel dominates the Old Testament, yet that book also includes the account of creation and fall.  It speaks of the world before the great flood – a world that is buried beneath the rocks and stones and seas.  The flood came some 2,500 years before the call of Abraham (although no one can date the flood precisely), which itself was around 500 years prior to the Exodus and the writing of the books of the Pentateuch.

Accordingly, there is a great mass of data that must be collocated and explained, and that is without introducing all of the prophetic content within the Hebrew Bible.

What this amounts to for progressive revelation is that if a person is going to truly track the unveiling and development of God’s word chronologically he must situate himself within the various biblical milieus which pass before his eyes.  He (or she) will have to try to match the voice of the protagonist being described (e.g. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc) with what is being revealed about then and their times.  Moreover, since prophecy is such a significant part of that revelation any study of the progress of revelation will need to include the cumulative impact of the prophetic word through the different eras.

But when we arrive in the New Testament we are up against something different; a relatively condensed time-frame in which God discloses His word.  For my part I believe that the Gospel of Matthew is very early: written in the 40’s A.D.  That was the view of the early Church and I believe John Wenham made a brilliant defense of Matthaen priority in his book Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke.  So if we start with a date of 41 A.D. for Matthew and end with the writing of John’s Revelation and circa 95-96 A.D., we get a 55 year difference.  When we compare this with the 1,300 year gap between the first and last book of the Old Testament the contrast is striking.

Just as with the time covered by the Old Testament is larger than the time in which it was written (circa 3,500 years at least), so it is with the New Testament.  But the variance in time span is not nearly so pronounced.  The birth of Jesus was around 6 B.C. and John wrote Revelation in 95 or 96 A.D.  This means that the total time covered in the New Testament narrative is a little more than a century.  When progressive revelation is thought about within a window of 100 years, as opposed to 3,500 years, we again see huge disparity.  Whereas the Old Testament period allows for a prolonged progression, this is not the case with the New Testament.

What this means is that progressive revelation is either accelerated in the New Testament, or else it continues at about the same pace or is slower than in the Old Testament.  As a matter of fact, I think a case can be made for all three ways of seeing it.  If one looks at doctrines such as the deity of Christ, miracles, the birth, identity, and makeup of the Christian Church, and the coming of Christ again in power; all these things are crammed together in a relatively few pages and compounded in a brief span of time.

To sharpen the focus, a perusal of even the earlier writings of the New Testament: the Thessalonian Epistles (c. 49-51 A.D.), the Corinthian Letters (c. 52 & 56 A.D.), Romans (c. 56-58 A.D.), Ephesians and Colossians (c. 62-63 A.D.) speak to many of these things in a mature and profound way.  This is all packed into a mere 15 years!

There is one area where the emergence of doctrine must be emphasized, and that is in the Life of Jesus recorded in the Gospels and the overspill of that Life in the earliest chapters of the Book of Acts.

In the Gospels, the Synoptics especially, the onus is on Israel and its Messiah.  The annunciation passages in Matthew and Luke are borne out of the cumulative expectations created by the Prophets.  The fact that a messenger from heaven reinforces that expectation must not be glossed over by a hasty reading of the chapters from the perspective of the Church.  This is true also of places such as the kingdom parables in Matthew 13, the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 (Mark 13), and the teaching in Luke 19, 21, and Acts 1 through 3.  The Book of Hebrews might be very profitably interpreted within the same atmosphere as these important chapters in the Gospels.

The doctrines of the Church are compressed within a very small time-frame.  It should not be assumed therefore that the last book of the Bible deals with just that short time-frame and the revelation it contains.  Since the Revelation alludes to the Old Testament more than the other New Testament books it seems reasonable to think that it falls into line with those Old Testament books and the expectations raised in them.

 

The Book of Psalms and the Biblical Covenants (Pt.5)

Part Four

The Christology of the Psalms continued…

Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension in Psalms 16:10 (resurrection), and 68:18 (ascension).

Psalm 16:10: “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.”

It is not fully apparent in Psalm 16 just who the “Holy One” is.  David is the author of the psalm, but would David call himself “the Holy One”?  It is this passage the apostle Peter quotes and applies directly to the Risen Christ in Acts 2:25-30.  Sheol was the place of departed souls and generally has negative connotations in the OT.  David appears to be speaking of it, not as a place of his temporary punishment, but of separation still from the presence of God.  If this is true then the hope of resurrection, and an ascension of some kind, is certainly in David’s mind as he writes, and it is this that Peter picks up and uses.

Psalm 68:18: “You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men, Even from the rebellious, That the LORD God might dwell there.”

This is another psalm which is applied to Christ by a New Testament writer.  This time it is Paul in Ephesians 4.  From the context of the original quotation we see that the Lord is spoken of, and the captivity that He has taken captive is in the positive sense of deliverance from oppressors.  The apostle Paul utilizes this verse to teach that Christ, while triumphing over the powers, has ascended and has in some way ‘captived’ the captives.  Without getting into the question of who the “captives” are, we can see that the text is employed to teach, among other things, the ascension of Christ.

Christ’s Second Advent is implied in places like Psalm 46:8-11.  The passage is akin to the Divine Warrior passages in the Bible (e.g. Exod. 15:1-11; Psa. 68; Isa. 63:1-3) where God comes unchallenged.  One sees a similar thing in Psalm 50:1-6, where “The Mighty One” (v.1) shines forth “out of Zion” (v.2).  He comes as a Judge (v.6), and the judgment seems climactic.  Verse 3, with its mention of a devouring fire (Cf. Mal. 3:2; 4:1); and verse 4, with its call to universal judgment, encourage us to see the returning Lord in the passage (Cf. Rev. 19:11-19).

So we can see that Messiah in His person and work is predicted in the Psalms.  These messianic psalms are a powerful witness to Israel’s expectation of a coming Ruler who would be God’s means of restoring His people to Himself, although their Christology has been ignored by many Jews.  In a long footnote George Peters explained that later Jewish interpreters modified the messianic interpretations of ancient rabbis to evade Christian who would try to point them to Jesus Christ by them.[1]

There is one more psalm to which we have to turn.

Psalm 110

It is hard to imagine a life setting for this psalm.  It is perhaps the clearest messianic passage in Psalms.  As it is the most quoted passage in the New Testament and only seven verses long I shall reproduce it below:

1 The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”

2 The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!

3 Your people shall be volunteers in the day of Your power; in the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth.

4 The LORD has sworn and will not relent, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

5 The Lord is at Your right hand; He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath.

6 He shall judge among the nations, He shall fill the places with dead bodies, He shall execute the heads of many countries.

7 He shall drink of the brook by the wayside; therefore He shall lift up the head. – Psalm 110:1-7

The first verse has Yahweh addressing David’s Lord (Adonai) in such a way as would not have been acceptable in Israelite culture.  David did not have anyone other than Yahweh whom he would know as his master.  This raises awareness of the divine character of David’s Lord.[2]  Would David have arrogated to himself the honor to sit at God’s right hand?

Two aspects of Christ’s Threefold Office are seen from Psalm 110: King and High Priest.  In Psalm 110:2 the Yahweh speaks to David’s Lord, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies.”  The rule is to come from Zion.  Ruling over enemies recalls Psalm 2 (cf. Dan. 7:13-14).  But the people of Zion (“Your people”) will be fully committed in their zeal for His reign and righteousness (Psa.110:3).

In the fourth verse David writes something very striking, though the surprise is diminished by our familiarity with it.  The King of verses 1 and 2 is also a Priest; and not just any priest, but one in the order of Melchizedek.  Melchizedek is found in one chapter in the Book of Genesis, in the time of Abraham (Gen. 14).  As far as revelation goes up to this point, there was no clue of any priestly “order.”  And after the establishment of the order of Levi in Mosaic times, this was hardly to be expected.  For another thing, since the kingly line was from Judah, there was no royal claim on the priests office, and those who presumed to take it, like Uzziah, were severely reprimanded (2 Chron. 26). (more…)

The Book of Psalms and the Biblical Covenants (Pt.4)

Part Three

The Christology of the Psalms

Everyone knows that from an evangelical perspective there are a number of psalms that are designated “Messianic.”  In surveying some of the categories above, it has already been impossible to avoid encountering the doctrine of Christ.  Therefore, Christology surfaces in many of the Psalms, although the main “Messianic Psalms” are Psalms 2, 22, 69, 110, and 118.  These five are so-called mainly because they are employed by the New Testament writers to relate in some way to aspects of Jesus Christ’s life and ministry.[1]  If we quickly survey these five Psalms we find that,

Psalm 2 speaks first in verse 2 of Yahweh and His Anointed (Meschiach) in the context of rampant and universal antagonism.  Despite this enmity the “Son” will rule on the earth.

Psalm 22 describes the terrible suffering of the Messiah; His isolation in the midst of His enemies.  But there is a hint of what is to come.

Psalm 69 is used by John to refer to Christ’s feelings when He cleansed the Temple.

Psalm 110 contains statements which cannot be applied to any other but Jesus.  This includes a special priesthood and kingship.[2]  I shall look at this text in some detail.

Psalm 118 is a Hallel Psalm which speaks among other things of Jesus’ rejection and eventual exaltation.

So right off the bat from these briefest of descriptions of just six “Messianic” Psalms, the following Christological facts:

  1. Messiah is the chosen One of God and is hated by the nations.  There is a special relation to God and a corresponding reaction to that relation from the world.
  2. Messiah is to suffer at the hands of His enemies.  This means that God’s enemies will be permitted to take God’s Anointed and make Him suffer for having this special relationship with God.
  3. Messiah will be zealous for pure worship.  This implies an impurity and hypocrisy in the prescribed worship of the religious leaders of the day.
  4. Messiah will triumph over His enemies and will rule the nations.  One day all political concerns will be placed in one hand!  There will be many who exercise limited authority, but these will do so as service for the Lord of Lords.
  5. He will also supply a necessary intermediary function between His people and God.  As there will be no High Priest from the Levite line Jesus Himself has taken the role but as representing the Melchizedekian line.  Spiritual and political realms will come together in Messiah Jesus.
  6. Messiah will first suffer rejection, but this rejection will result in the destruction of those who reject Him, while insuring His adoration and praise.  Messiah’s humiliation and exaltation are connected with God’s judgment and God’s restoration of mankind to a fully appreciative and worshipful relationship with their Creator.

The Psalms Provide Us with a Picture of Christ

Without exploring every detail of these Psalms I now want to fill in the portrait of Christ with which the NT makes us familiar from data gleaned from within the Psalms.  I shall not trawl through each psalm individually.  Rather I want to draw from the Book in much the same way one might draw from, say, Romans, to teach Bible doctrine.  We expect to see Jesus in the Psalms, because He has Himself gone there; for example, when He expounded things concerning Himself to the men on the Emmaus road in Luke 24:44.

The basic categories into which we shall divide a presentation of the Person and Work of Christ are these[3]: Preexistence, Deity, Humanity, Sinlessness, Threefold Office, Sacrificial Death, Resurrection and Ascension

Christ’s Preexistence can be traced in Psalm 40:6-8:

Sacrifice and offering You did not desire;
My ears You have opened.
Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.

Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.

I delight to do Your will, O my God,
And Your law is within my heart.

Who is the person spoken of in verse 7?  In the immediate context it probably refers to the attentive worshipper; the “scroll of the book” being the Law[4], and perhaps, more particularly the covenant stipulations therein.[5]  But a deeper prophetic meaning is discernible.  It seems to predict the coming of someone.  The verses portray one who is completely in God’s hand, and who is willing to render any service; perhaps even self-sacrifice.[6]   The writer of Hebrews has here followed the Greek OT (LXX) rendering of Psalm 40:6.  Instead of referring just to the ears, the Greek refers to the “body”, i.e. the whole person.  But there is nothing odd going on here.  The parenthetical clause which speaks of “ears dug out” is a synecdoche and simply implies that if the speaker has a person’s ear he has all of them.  This is how the writer of Hebrews sees Christ.  As a recent book on Christ’s pre-existence puts it:

The language of the passage appears most consistent with that of personal preexistence, with the one receiving the body already in some other form.[7]

(more…)

The Book of Psalms and the Biblical Covenants (Pt.3)

Part Two

The New Covenant

Finally, although it is not named as such, the New covenant is represented in such psalms as Psalm 96:11-13; 98:3 130:7-8, and 147:12-14, although it is central to the realization of eschatological hope in the Book since the themes of Kingdom and Messiah are allied with it.  In Psalm 96:11-13 many of the themes we see in Isaiah 11:4-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6, and Ezekiel 34:24-31 are present, such as universal justice and peace, and blessing upon the productivity of the earth.  As Yates put it,

Perhaps this refers to a ceremonial enthronement which may have been a part of the New Year’s celebration.  However, the main emphasis is eschatological; God is pictured as King of the nations and Judge of the earth.[1]        

We see a celebration of this in Psalm 147; a psalm usually dated to the post-exilic period because of its dependence on other Old Testament passages[2]:

Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!

For He has strengthened the bars of your gates; He has blessed your children within you.

He makes peace in your borders, and fills you with the finest wheat. – Psalm 147:12-14      

The descriptions are much more befitting a kingdom restoration rather than a post-Babylon return.

The following categories are given simply for navigational reasons.  As a matter of fact, they are more often than not mixed together in the passages where they belong.  For example, hope and kingdom are part and parcel of the Messianic expectation, which is itself wrapped up in the Davidic covenant and the New covenant.[3]  The hopes of Zion draw upon the pledges in the Davidic and the Priestly covenants.  Israel’s land expectations, and their national aspirations are rooted in the Abrahamic covenant.  As we shall see, the Church’s hopes will also be found in the Abrahamic covenant, although not in its national and land aspects.  Of course, these things are true not only for the Psalms, but for all the Scriptures.

The Second Coming

At the close of Psalm 96 it is announced that Yahweh, “is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth.” (Psa. 96:13).  The specter of coming judgment at the second coming is a major theme in the Hebrew Bible.

There is an earnest plea that God would come in judgment against the unrighteous nations so that “they may know themselves to be just men” (Psa. 9:19-20).  This will one day be answered (Psa. 22:27-28).  He will come in fire and glory (Psa. 50:1-3; 18:7-14).[4]

Eschatological themes such as the government of the coming kingdom are found in several psalms.  In Psalm 9:8 we are told that “He shall administer judgment for the purpose in uprightness.”  At the same time, the same Psalm foretells a time when the nations will be “judged in your sight.” (Psa. 9:19).

Hope

Although the Book of Psalms contains many laments and open confessions of discouragement and uncertainty, there are moments when faith takes hold of God’s covenant truth and hope rises.  This is seen for example in the following places: Psalms 64:10; 71:16; 73:22-24; and 130:7-8.

The final verse of Psalm 30 David reaches out from amid his earlier despair in the middle of the psalm (30:7b-10), to apprehend God by the realization that he has been made to praise and glorify Him forever (30:11-12).  Our souls should learn to wait upon the Lord in hope (Psa. 33:20-22), because “all His work is done in truth” (33:4), and God’s lovingkindness characterizes His dealing with the saints (Psa. 48:9).  As an old writer says in another place, “The judgment of Jahve is the redemption of the righteous.”[5]

For hope to be real it has to reach beyond the grave.  The ending of Psalm 17 comes as close as anywhere in the Hebrew Bible to giving validation of a physical afterlife:

As for me, I will see your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in your likeness.” – Psalm 17:15

All of the Creation Project is transcribed in hope, even in its darkest episodes.  Why?  Because of the truth of the parallel lines of teleology and eschatology which are the two rails upon which the Creation Project runs on.  The grammar of faith is provided by God’s covenants.[6]

Kingdom

One would expect that in a book so pregnant with hope that the kingdom envisaged in such grand prophetic passages as Isaiah 2:2-3; 9:6-7; 11:1-10; 62:1-4 (to pick just one prophet), would be readily seen; and, indeed it is.  Psalm 24:5-10, is often viewed in a symbolic sense[7], but we see here the Lord bringing salvation (24:5), and a “generation” seeking Him (24:6).  In response to this the gates and doors of Jerusalem are addressed to open to let in “the King of Glory” (24:7, 9-10).  VanGemeren describes it thus:

The Creator-God is the King of Glory and has come down to dwell in the midst of the city of man.[8]

I would alter the generic phrase “city of man” to Jerusalem or Zion, since verse 3 refers to “the hill of the Lord”, and “His holy place” (24:3).  This locates the scene of Yahweh’s coming in Jerusalem (cf. Psa. 132:13-14).  The whole scene could easily be describing the second coming and the rejoicing of Israel as God comes to dwell there with His covenant people.  Psalm 47 is very much along the same lines, with the covenant dimension more to the fore with the inclusion of “the God of Abraham” in the last verse (Psa. 47:9). (more…)

The Book of Psalms and the Biblical Covenants (Pt.2)

Part One

The Theme of Covenant

One would expect the covenants to have a marked presence in the Psalms, and indeed they do.[1]  Psalm 25:14 announces “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.”  Although the covenants are for the most part clearly set out in Scripture, they are overlooked by the human parties.  Those who fear God know that these covenants direct history behind the scenes.  Even if they do not connect what the covenants are saying to the hermeneutical flow of the Bible, many of God’s people realize that the world’s hopes are fastened to them.

We don’t see much of the covenant with Noah in the Psalter, but Psalm 74:16-17, with its recollection of God’s governance over the seasons, certainly seems to allude to it (especially the preamble in Gen. 8:21-22).  The Mosaic covenant is featured in Psalm 135:4, where it says, “The Lord has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure.” (cf. Exod. 19:5; Deut. 7:6; Psa. 114:2; Zech. 9:16), although the Lord’s choice has its roots in the promises to Abraham (Gen. 17:7-8).

Abrahamic Covenant

This is seen in the recounting of history in Psalm 105:

O seed of Abraham His servant, you children of Jacob, His chosen ones!

He is the LORD our God; His judgments are in all the earth.

He remembers His covenant forever, the word which He commanded, for a thousand   generations,

The covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac,

And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant,

Saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the allotment of your inheritance…” – Psalm 105:6-11

According to Jacob Jocz “such a remarkable recitation of Heilgeschicte would be unthinkable without the covenant background.”[2]  In this text, and indeed in the whole psalm, the land is Israel’s covenanted inheritance (cf. Psa. 105:42. Cf. Lev. 26:42-45).[3]  The psalmist’s memory is filtered through a covenantal grid, and he wants his reader to employ the same filter.  That is, he wants us to see Yahweh – Israel – Land as a covenantally bound “eternal triangle”, to use Allen’s term.[4]  The “land of Canaan” that is granted to Israel (Gen. 12:5, 7; 17:6) everlastingly (Psa. 105:10-11), although God pushes out the borders of the land considerably (Gen. 15:18).  There is also an allusion to the Abrahamic covenant in Psalm 72:17.[5]

“Priestly” Covenant

This is seen in several places too, most notably in Psalm 106:28-31 which retells the story of Baal-Peor and the zeal of Phinehas in Numbers 25:10-13.  There is a blessing upon the priests in the context of salvation in Psalm 115:12 and 132:16, the latter of which speaks of the covenant with David.[6]  Whether one does what I have done and brought together the future blessings of the priesthood (e.g. Jer.33:18; Mal. 3:3-4) with the promise to Phinehas, or prefers to separate them, the fact is that priests will serve God in the coming kingdom (cf. Ezek. 43:19; 44:10-16; 48:10-15).

Davidic Covenant

Then we have the Davidic covenant, which we see particularly clearly in Psalm 89.  It is here rather than in 2 Samuel 7 or 1 Chronicles 17 that we discover that the word to David was covenanted.  The psalm is notable among other things for its logical flow.[7]

This is not a psalm of David.  The writer is one Ethan the Ezrahite who is mentioned in 1 Kings 4:31 as a wise man.  Verses 3 and 4 declare the faithfulness of God to His covenant:

I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to My servant David:

`Your seed I will establish forever, and build up your throne to all generations.'” – Psa. 89:3-4   

Verse 4 alludes to 2 Samuel 7:8-16.  God’s covenant cannot be rescinded (see Psa. 89:28, 34).

Even when the party with whom the Lord makes the covenant breaks the terms, its binding nature obligates the Lord to fulfill its terms (cf. vv.34-35)…The Lord Himself will secure the Davidic dynasty.[8]

In verse 27 the promise is to make David “the highest of the kings of the earth.”  This is accomplished first by the fact that God chose David.[9]  But there may be another way of fulfilment which sees David lifted-up to an exalted role in the Messiah’s kingdom.  This is a straightforward way of reading texts like Jeremiah 30:9 and Ezekiel 34:23 as we have seen.  This would entail some sort of arrangement in the coming regency where Christ the God-man in Jerusalem is King over the whole planet, while David is king over Israel, which is to be the most exalted nation (Deut. 28:13; Zeph. 3:20).  Such an arrangement could work in a world envisaged by the Prophets.[10] (more…)

The Book of Psalms and the Biblical Covenants (Pt.1)

Vows made to You are binding upon me; O God… – Psalm 56:12

I will go into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows, which my lips have uttered… – Psalms 66:13-14

The heaven, even the heaven of heavens; are the Lord’s; but the earth has He given to the children of men – Psalms 115:16

In addressing the contribution of the Book of Psalms to the Creation Project and the biblical covenants it is vital to notice those places where the psalmist is grounding his remarks upon the covenants or looking forward to the New covenant kingdom (e.g. Psa. 2; 22; 24; 31; 45; 50; 72; 89; 110; 132).

We also must be alert to the many Messianic passages, always trying to locate the coming King and His promised earthly kingdom within the correct covenantal timeline.  That timeline is in continuity with the covenantal picture that has its roots in the Book of Genesis.

The Church’s reading of the Psalms has not always paid attention to the future fulfillment of some important passages, preferring to see fulfillments almost totally within the light of the first coming and the realization of the Body of Christ.

But if we heed the places in the Psalter where we are told about things that are clearly in line with kingdom expectations found in the Torah and the Prophets there is no good reason not to permit those passages their voice in that shared witness.  When one thinks, for example of Psalm 110:1 and 4, are we wrong to look for fulfillments of these verses beyond the first century A.D.?  Or when Psalm 106:28-31 recalls the everlasting covenant God made with Phinehas, are we not entitled to ask whether the realization of that covenant still lies ahead of us?  Again, does not Psalm 22:27-28 match up well with OT passages which can be located as transpiring in the coming messianic kingdom?

The covenantal implications of the theology of the Psalms can be seen throughout, but especially in the parts which deal with Messianic hope or expressions of kingdom expectation.[1]  Although the Psalms often reflect a more existential situation – the concerns of the human author – they are far from being only supplications for Divine help or exclamations of praise (which is the meaning of the word “psalm”).  Yet even the emotional condition of the writer has its roots in his understanding of the nature of the covenant God.[2]

As an example, Psalm 33:11 declares,

The counsel of Yahweh stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.

There then follows a blessing upon Israel because God has chosen them “as His own inheritance” (Psa. 33:12).  Deuteronomy 4:20 refers to Israel this way, following it up with the assertion that although “the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24), yet, in the latter days, He will have mercy upon them: “He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.” (Deut. 4:31; cf. Jer. 29:11).[3]  So in Psalm 33:11 we ought to understand God’s “counsel” and “plans” for Israel (33:12) as covenantally presupposed.  But since Psalm 33 is a creation psalm, it is appropriate to fit God’s covenant love for Israel within the wider purposes of the Creation Project (cf. Psa. 24:1).  Yahweh is the covenant name of God, and in this name Israel is to place all its hope and expectation.  Yahweh has promised “abundant redemption” to His people. (Psa. 130:7-8).  This is why Israel can be exhorted to “hope in the Lord, from this time forth and forever.” (Psa. 131:3).

The great theological themes of the Book include Creation, King and Kingdom, of which the coming Messianic King is a key feature.  Then also God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel is important.  Finally, there are those parts that extol Wisdom.[4]

Although I have divided what follows into sub-categories for teaching purposes, I want to make it clear that the themes that follow form one picture, and that they should be brought together so that their association with each other are seen.

Creation

Psalm 115:16 declares that, “The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’s; but the earth He has given to the children of men.”  This focuses the center of human activity not in heaven above, but upon the earth.  This world was created and given to us.  Not in the primary sense of us owning it.  That honor, as we will see, belongs to Jesus Christ (Col. 1:16).  But in the sense of humanity being at the center of the Triune God’s creative purposes.  Those purposes, as I have tried to show, are imbued with teleological and eschatological movement.

If we look at Psalm 33 again with this understanding, it is easy to discover a teleology and eschatology in its record of creation.  The psalm begins with an encouragement to praise God (Psa. 33:1-3).  Then in verses 4 to 6 the author moves from the good character of God to how that goodness is manifested throughout the earth.  There is then a purposive movement from God’s own nature to what He creates.  In verses 6 and 7 we see something of the personal care that was bestowed in making the world.  Then the earth’s inhabitants are exhorted to “stand in awe of Him” (Psa. 33:8).

From this grounding in the fear of God the psalm continues with a rehearsal of the plans of men (33:10) and the plans of God (33:11).[5]  It is God’s trajectory which is to win out, and His providence rules over the decisions of men (33:11-15).  False confidence in human ability is brought up (33:16-17), before the final note of hope is struck (33:18-22).

What comes through here is that despite our often unruly intentions, the Lord God is governing the world that is His (cf. Psa. 24:1-2), and is ushering history in the direction of its long appointed end.  It is man’s place to know this and align ourselves to it.  This knowledge of the reality of the living God is the essence of living wisely (see e.g. Psalms 24:3-6; 25:5; 27:1; 34:11-14; 36:9; 37:7-8; 39:4; 86:11, 119:55-56, and the whole of Psalm 90).

Before I move on I want to give attention to what Terence Fretheim has called “Nature’s Praise of God.”[6]  Using Psalm 148 Fretheim has made an appeal to us that we be more wary of treating the non-human creation as window-dressing for the human story.

The Psalm, which famously brings together angels and elements and mountains, and cattle and creeping things, and all classes of men, reaching its crescendo in the transcendence of God (Psa. 148:13), before closing with a reference to the exaltation of Israel as “a people near to Him” (148:14).  This last verse looks as though it is a foretaste of the future restoration of God’s people, in which case the whole psalm is a kind of adumbration of God’s creation as “a complex set of interrelationships that fir together into a unified whole”[7]  As Fretheim says, “Creation is a seamless web.”[8]  This is well brought out in the structure of the psalm:

The calls begin in the heavenly sphere (vv.1-4) and move to the earth (vv.7-12), with heaven and earth brought together in verse 13c, with a final note of praise centered on Israel in verse 14.[9]

This way of seeing the creation and of the human part in it is very instructive.  I have always felt that the human preoccupation with pantheism, panentheism, and “mother earth” are only distorted glimmers of the shalom which was always meant to be and which the Fall has dissipated.[10]  Psalm 148 is an echo of Paradise, and an overture to the coming Kingdom.


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The Primacy of Revelation (3)

Part Two

In our present “postmodern” ethos, laden as it is with deconstructionism and hermeneutical suspicion, Christians have to ask how the primacy of biblical revelation does in such an environment.  Does it struggle for air or does it flourish?  Maybe it is better to ask, can it flourish as an idea among ideas?

The biblical outlook has set against it three formidable foes. These enemies of God’s Word are constantly at work chipping away at the foundations upon which Christian theology, and therefore Christian truth, rests.  Often working surreptitiously, these three foes are well-known.

First – the system of anti-Christian thought that pervades any society; the cosmos as John calls it or the world.

Second – the unregenerate heart and mind; the sin nature of the individual

Third – the god of this age and his cohorts

In biblical shorthand they are the world, the flesh, and the devil.

For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world.  – I John 2:16

Any theology worth its salt will constantly engage these powers, correcting and seeking to undermine their challenges and influence. True theology is a corrective to false ideas wherever it is found.

This is inevitably the case because the revelation of God, in the Word of God particularly, is the only authority that contains the power to realign man to the divine intention; that is the intention of God for man in the first place.

There is no more significant question in the whole of theology, and in the whole of human life, than that of the nature and reality of revelation. – G.C. Berkouwer, General Revelation, 17

He’s absolutely right! We live in a revelatory environment; that’s what this world is. Because it is made and upheld by God.

Therefore, Bible doctrine, which is the main reason that the Bible says itself it was given in 2 Timothy 3:16:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness

The theology of revelation is not a subject to be learned; it is the disclosure of truth. If we know what it is then we will treat it appropriately.  We will prize it, and we will work it out and apply it to all areas of life.

Now, one cannot ignore the clear message of the Bible to the effect that “there is a way that seems right to a man” (Proverbs 14:12).  This fact must be taken under consideration when we expound our faith because our default setting, even as Christians, is independence from God.  Because we either do things God’s way or we do it our way. There are ways of doing theology, ways of thinking about theology, which do theology a great disservice.  They all tend to treat the Bible as a subject.

But man is a dependent creature.  Here is how he ought to think:

As man’s existence is dependent upon an act of voluntary creation on the part of God, so man’s knowledge is dependent upon an act of voluntary revelation of God to man.  Even the voluntary creation of man is already a revelation of God to man. Thus every bit of knowledge on the part of man is derivative and reinterpretative. Now, if every fact in the universe is created by God, and if the mind of man and whatever the mind of man knows is created by God, it goes without saying that the whole fabric of human knowledge would dash in pieces if God did not exist and if all finite existence were not revelational of God.  In any Christian pursuit therefore, the mirage of free and unhindered reasoning must be stopped at the outset. What we’re about here is to find out what God says. God has spoken, now what has he said? – Cornelius Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology, 12-14

Van Til taught that God has flooded the creation with clear revelation of His Divine nature (theotes), and that man, as the image of God, is both revelatory to himself and is equipped – at least as he came from the hand of the Maker – to interpret the revelation which God puts forth.  Only we do not interpret autonomously, that is, outside our God-intended parameters.  We were made for exalted communion with Yahweh, the “I Am” (Exod. 3:14; Jn. 8:58), and this communion is predicated upon our sustained worshipful dependence on Him.

Our dependence on God is achieved when we realize that God has not created us to ‘go our own way and do our own thing.’  No, He has spoken to us.  Even in the Garden of Eden, God spoke to Adam and Eve, and they were to live together with Him in joyous subordination to the revealed verbal revelation they received.  We don’t respond as well-trained pets, but as responsible and free persons whose job it is to (as I believe Kepler put it), “think God’s thoughts after Him.”  This phrase pops up again and again in Van Til’s writings and summarizes much of his approach.

Hence, for us to think anything without reference to God’s Word is to cross into prohibited territory.  It is the prelude to sin, since it prepares us to “size things up” independently of God and to come to conclusions about God’s works which are out of sync with the Divine intention.  This is the position that Satan got Eve into in Genesis 3:6.  She was tricked, but Adam opted for the autonomous lifestyle knowingly and willingly (1 Tim. 2:14).  So, when God asks the man “who told you you were naked?” (Gen. 3:11), he is getting to the heart of the matter.  Did God tell them they were naked?  Did Satan tell them that?  No.  Well, who did then?  They told themselves!

From this stark truth comes all of our trouble.  Hence, the priority of revelation.  We will never know reality aright until we “think God’s thoughts after Him.” Even when we, like Eve, state true propositions about the world (see again Gen. 3:6), we will go awry because we will not relate them to their Creator and Interpreter and His purposes.  If we do that then we will lose our significance and, in so doing, we will lose ourselves.

The Primacy of Revelation (2)

Part One

The Importance of a Prolegomena, and the Importance of Having a Christian Philosophy

There are all kinds of philosophies which the Christian should avoid.  The Apostle warns,

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. – Colossians 2:8

The reference here is probably generic, referring to the various ideas floating around in Asia Minor in the day: eclecticism, syncretism, idolatry, superstition, and neo-platonic moralism.  In the midst of it all there was and is a true Christian philosophy.  In fact, anyone who is a lover of real sophia (wisdom), is going to love the philosophy of Jesus Christ, the Logos of God, the one who discloses God par excellence.  Mature Christians become such, in part, by thinking biblically.

In one of his earlier books Francis Schaeffer made this pertinent remark about the reticence of Christians to think with their theology:

Christians have tended to despise the concept of philosophy; this has been one of the weaknesses of evangelical orthodox Christianity. We have been proud in despising philosophy and we have been exceedingly proud in despising the intellect. Our theological seminaries hardly ever relate their theology to philosophy and specifically to the current philosophy. Thus, students go out from theological seminaries not knowing how to relate Christianity to the surrounding worldview. – Francis A. Schaeffer, He is There and He is not Silent, 297

Schaeffer was certainly not recommending philosophy above theology.  What he was drawing attention to was the serious lack of critical reflection by evangelicals and fundamentalists on a whole host of important intellectual matters to which theology ought to deliver the answers. The problem, as he saw it, was that theologians – and evangelical theologians more than most – were just not equipped to address these weighty matters, nor in many cases, were they even interested in them. Philosophy needs theology for its basic justification and proper direction.  And theology depends upon revelation.

Theology also needs a collaborative philosophy to unearth the kinds of questions that theology should meet. Otherwise theology becomes an exclusive discipline cordoned off from the rest of intellectual life, when it should in fact be guiding it. Theology needs a philosophy; therefore, theology needs to study first principles (prolegomena).

Schaeffer also mentions that in many seminaries the current philosophies of the day are not studied, or not related to theology. But we have to relate the truths that we are espousing in our statements of faith to the real world.  We have to use revelation to its full extent to cover all truths.

If Jesus Christ has indeed come into this world and died on the Cross in real time for fallen man, and if the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection of Christ indicate that Christ is coming back to rule the world, then there is a big story to be embraced.  It leaves nothing untouched.  This world will be transformed, and God’s people will be transformed and glorified to live in it.  So Cross and Crown impact a Christian view of history, the meaning of history, and therefore the meaning of human life.  And the content is revealed.

If God has created this world then we’re not here by cosmic accident, we’re here by divine purpose, and there is a teleology, a purpose or an aim, that is built into this world and into its forward trajectory.

Therefore, as saved human beings we need to find out what that purpose is and we need to be pursuing it in this fallen world. We can hardly shine like lights in this world if we do not think in a different way than this world, and our lives do not even slightly remind the world to a different way of thinking.

When New Testament Christianity met the non-Christian world, whether Jewish or Gentile, its characteristic response was not to collaborate but to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Lord and thereby to see a change in its hearer’s allegiance. – Peter Jensen, The Revelation of God, 33

Revelation, Theology and the Christian Mind

This really is what theology and the theological mind enables us to do. It doesn’t just do to preach the Gospel as an independent truth, just some other piece of information that we’re to add on to what we already know.  If we do that then the Gospel just doesn’t fit. Because the Gospel demands the transformation of our thinking about the world and our thinking about ourselves, and our thinking about our dependence upon the Sovereign God.  For most of the thinking of the people in the world it’s been built on an independent foundation, not one that depends on Scripture.  Therefore, this whole message, which demands humility and repentance and dependence….just doesn’t fit in with that framework.

So, there needs to be a theological setting, a theological framework or explanation, in which the Gospel is set, as a painting is set in a good frame, enhancing and deepening the encounter.

Now, from one point of view that is Systematic Theology come to its own, but using other language, but sticking to the truths of theology, it is really a Christian philosophy or worldview.  Therefore we have to be aware of the fact that the revelation of God demands that kind of treatment.

Unless Christian education publicly expounds its way of knowing God, strenuously proclaims universally valid truths, and clearly identifies the criteria for testing and verifying the knowledge claims we make, then the Christian view of God and the world will survive as but a fading oddity in an academic world that questions its legitimacy and appropriateness. – Carl F. H. Henry, Gods of this Age or God of the Ages, 93

When Henry talks about testing and verifying the knowledge claims that we make, he’s using language that goes back to a kind of verifiability criterion of his mentor Gordon Clark and people like E.J. Carnell.  I would disagree with that approach because it tends to be too rationalistic.

But from another point of view there are proper ways of testing and verifying our knowledge claims as long as the appeal is to our ultimate authority (the Bible), and that ultimate authority is demonstrated to be the only public authority that can actually make sense of any universally valid truth claim; this is where the great work of Cornelius Van Til and others comes in.

 

A Review of ‘Israel, the Church, and the Middle East’

A review of Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A Biblical Response to the Current Conflict, edited by Darrell L. Bock & Mitch Glaser, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 296 pages, paperback.

This compendium of new essays follows the only occasionally stellar The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel, edited by the same two men.  This book marks Israel’s seventieth anniversary.  It is divided into four parts, Biblical Foundations, Theology and the Conflict, Yeshua in the Midst of the Crisis, and Current Challenges to Peace in Israel.

This book takes a good look at these four issues through the various viewpoints of the authors.  There are few weak contributions (e.g. a surprisingly tame essay from Bock), the general standard is high.  Here are my thoughts on a few of the articles:

First, Richard Averbeck’s opening piece on the biblical covenants starts things off well.  He is clearly uncomfortable being identified either as a covenant theologian or as a dispensationalist, but he has no time for replacement theology (22).  More notable to me though was this line:

The system of theology known as “dispensational theology” describes the historical biblical covenants as subsumed under a set of dispensations in God’s program… (22)  

I have been saying the same thing for many years, but who sees it?  Well, at least one other man does!  The covenants are right there for all to see and read about.  The dispensations are nowhere near as prominently set out.  But dispensations are allowed to define the system instead of the covenants nonetheless.  The essay includes some good interaction with crucial chapters in Genesis relating to the Abrahamic covenant (i.e. chs. 12, 15, 17, & 22).  He shows how the land promise is just as permanent as the seed promise.  He also rightly notes that the Davidic covenant “adds a dynastic element to the covenant program.” (32).

I did not agree with everything in the article.  For instance Averbeck’s simple definition of a covenant as “a solemn and formal means of establishing a relationship” (24), badly needs another definition; that of “relationship.”  Some covenants in the Bible only establish a relationship in terms closer to “you stay away from me and I’ll stay away from you” (e.g. Gen. 21).  Moreover, God’s covenants incorporate great promises, so that it is well to include that when discussing Divine – human covenants.  Finally, the solemnizing oath is crucial.

Covenant also receives plenty of attention in Mark Yarbrough’s analysis of the Bible Story in chapter 3.  He warns of just seeing the Big Picture without the important details.  I thought he made some good points.  My one major disagreement is that Yarbrough refers to Gentile believers as “spiritual Israel” based upon Galatians 3:29.  Paul does not use that language.

Michael Rydelnik’s oddly titled “The Hermeneutics of the Conflict” is extremely good.  It is long enough for him to address several points, such as the clarity of the promises in the OT, the understanding of those promises in the NT (with its seeming lack of interest in the land promise), and the misuse of some NT texts to “expand” that promise.  He forthrightly says that analogies by supercessionists which try to make God more generous than His original promises by expanding them not only fail, they illustrate “betrayal.” (75).  I think he’s right, which is why expansionist explanations often neglect to switch out the promisees in the way supercessionism teaches.

Craig Blaising is arguably one of the most nuanced theologians writing today.  His piece entitled “A Theology of Israel and the Church” is a welcome inclusion.  It serves as a promo piece for “Redemptive Kingdom Theology”, AKA Progressive Dispensationalism, (87 n. 7).  Blaising is always worth reading, and I liked his essay.  However, his treatment of the Church as a communion of ethnes for future kingdom development left me wondering whether PD sometimes makes the Church look like a placeholder for God’s kingdom plans for Israel and the nations.  Despite his appeal for clarity (100), I found myself with some weighty questions at the end of this essay.

Mitch Glaser provides a useful look at the politicized side of supercessionist theology by focusing on the work of the pro-Palestinian Kairos document.  His piece dovetails well with Craig Parshall’s analysis of the UN’s hypocrisy over the rights of Israel as a nation in the book’s penultimate chapter.

I will mention only one more essay here, which is Michael Vlach on “Israel and the Land in the Writings of the Church.”  Vlach identifies four factors which steered the early church in the wrong direction on this issue (121-122).  The first was the almost universal Gentile complexion of the Church.  Second was the fate of Jerusalem and the land after the revolts of 70 A.D and 135 A.D.  Third was the pragmatic theological turn that became replacement theology.  Finally, the hermeneutical guardrails were erected largely through allegorization.

Nevertheless, there are many examples of “restorationism” throughout the periods of Church History.  Vlach furnishes many examples to show that Christians have not all wrested the promises to Israel out of their hands.

The book closes with data from a Lifeway Survey on Evangelical attitudes toward Israel and the Jews.  Good indices are also on hand.

I liked this book a lot.  I think it stuck to its task well and should be seen as a reliably informative defense of the nation of Israel in Scripture.  It is a worthy gift from evangelicalism to the beleaguered nation.