Jeremiah’s Great Eschatological Vision (Pt. 3)

Part Two

The Guarantee of the Lord of Creation and Providence

Returning to where we left off in Jeremiah 31, after Jeremiah has revealed a New covenant to replace the Mosaic covenant, he is given revelation which underlines its validity.

Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name):

If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the LORD, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.”

Thus says the LORD: “If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says the LORD. – Jeremiah 31:35-37

As Thompson observes, this promise “declares the impossibility of Israel ever being forsaken again by Yahweh.”[1]  It is the God of creation and providence who is the Guarantor of Israel’s permanence.  Just as He has established the fixed orders of the sun, moon and stars at creation week, so He will establish the descendants (seed)[2] of Israel perpetually (Jer. 31:35-36).  But it is the next verse that is really striking, at least to this writer.  It appeals to the human investigation of the way God originally planned out the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1. Cf.  Psa. 33:6, 9).   That is to say, it appeals to God’s decrees; His secret thoughts and actions (Deut. 29:29).  From this we can gather that God’s affectionate choice of Israel, despite “all that they have done,” is of the same substance (Deut. 7:6; Isa. 41:8).  God has spoken.  It is not for men to revise His words and reissue them to fit their theologies.

What function does Jeremiah 32 have within the set of chapters 30 through 34?  It has to do with the prophet’s purchase of his cousin’s field at Anathoth.  The field was worthless, since Nebuchadnezzar and his army were bearing down upon it at the time of writing (Jer. 32:24-25).  Why buy a piece of land which in short shrift would become the possession of the Babylonian Empire?  Even though they are included in what scholars refer to as “The Book of Consolation,” at first the chapter doesn’t seem to fit.  The chapter declares that because of the continued sins of the people He is going to deliver them over to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians (Jer. 32:28-36).  But at verse 37 the narrative turns suddenly to speak once more about a divine rescue where, after God’s fury has subsided, He will regather Israel and make them “dwell safely” (32:37).  Then straight after we find Yahweh issuing His covenant refrain, “They shall be my people and I will be their God” (32:38), followed immediately by these words:

then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them.

 And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.

 Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.’ – Jeremiah 32:39-41

Here is a clear allusion to the spiritual transformation which will be wrought in the hearts of the remnant in accordance with the New covenant.  The “everlasting covenant” which is mentioned in verse 40 is, I firmly contend, the same New covenant, since unlike the Mosaic covenant, this covenant insures the waywardness of Israel will be brought to its end and they will forever serve Yahweh as His special people.  In this way the New covenant succeeds in fulfilling the purpose of God expressed in Exodus 19:5-6 where the old covenant, through unregenerate hearts, inevitably failed. (more…)


Jeremiah’s Great Eschatological Vision (Pt.2)

Part One

The Locus Classicus of the New Covenant

Then we arrive at the prophecy about the New covenant (Jer. 31:31-34).  The verses are immediately followed by a Divine guarantee of future fulfillment (Jer. 31:35-37).  So it behooves us to look at it carefully:

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah–

not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31-34

As verse 34 plainly says, the New covenant is a covenant of redemption![1]  None of the other covenants of God have redemption built in to them.  Because of this, they all ultimately rely on the New covenant to be fulfilled.  The New covenant pictures a definitive act of God.[2]

The fact that the New covenant brings redemption is central to a right understanding of the interplay of God’s covenantal Creation Project.

Now I know that as soon as one reads this text the temptation is to turn to the Book of Hebrews and to conclude that it is fulfilled in the Church.[3]  But I want my reader to refrain from turning the pages to the right and to stay with Jeremiah and the prophetic context of which he is a part, and let us see how things I am trying to unfold in this book.  The Old Testament has the right to be heard by itself first.

The promise of the New covenant which will bind once more the divided tribes of Israel is prefaced by the refrain “the days are coming.” (Jer. 31:31): a phrase most often found in this book (15 times).  It can refer to either imminent prophecy, say of the Babylonian captivity (e.g. Jer.7:32-34. Cf. Isa.39:6), or of impending doom (e.g. Jer.9:25; 48:12; 49:2).  But in those places where righteousness and salvation are in view, the context is unwaveringly a “New covenant” eschatological context.  We have seen that in Jeremiah 23:5-7 the expectation of the coming “Branch” who will bring in righteousness.  The same may be said of the great messianic passage still to come in Jeremiah 33:14-16.  The expression is used in Jeremiah 30:3 in connection with a return which will include the raising up of David (30:9).  In Jeremiah 31:27 God promises to build up the nation once more, and while this could be viewed as referring to the return from exile, it seems more in keeping with the New covenant promises that it is in such close proximity to.  Since the New covenant deals with salvation and renewal, one will often find kingdom prophecy where “the days are coming” is found (e.g. Amos 9:13).

As verse 32 declares, this “New” covenant is not a repristination of the old Mosaic covenant.  Rather, as 31:33-34 state, this coming covenant works inwardly, just as was promised by Moses in Deuteronomy 30:6, “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”  Ezekiel prophesied the same thing in Ezekiel 11:19-29 and 36:26-27.  The New covenant is the guarantee of transformation to conformity with the outcome of God’s purpose.

The coming New covenant is, I believe, one and the same with the coming Servant who will be made a redemptive and restorative covenant for the people (as we saw in Isa. 42:5 and 49:8).  Because the stated intention of the Redeemer is to restore the fortunes of a united Israel (e.g. Isa. 45:14-17; Jer. 3:13-18; Ezek. 37:11-26), the first function of the New covenant is to facilitate that intention. (more…)

Jeremiah’s Great Eschatological Vision (Pt.1)

Excerpts from the book The Words of the Covenant: A Biblical Theology  (forthcoming)

As far as biblical covenantalism goes, the prophecies in Jeremiah 30 through 33, supported by chapters 34 and 35 are critical.[1]  After the prophet is heard in his own right, the covenantal picture that has been forming so far really starts to take shape.  When Jeremiah’s historical situation is considered the covenantal picture is only reinforced all the more.[2]

The series begins when Jeremiah is commanded to “Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you.” (Jer. 30:2).  A written record of his utterances is required.  The reason given for this is that,

behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, `that I will bring back from captivity My people Israel and Judah,’ says the LORD. `And I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.’ – Jeremiah 30:3

    The phrase “the days are coming” is often connected with the eschaton, just as are the promises of peace and safety.  This verse predicts a return from captivity.  Most interpreters assume that by this the prophet has in mind the return from Babylon (Ezra 1 – 2).  But as the oracle proceeds more than this is in view.

Firstly, one should note the word translated “possess” (yarash).  The word denotes taking possession; something which the returnees under Zerubbabel and Ezra never did.  They were always no better than vassals under the Persian king.

The passage unfolds with a prediction of a time of great trepidation (Jer. 30:5-6).  Then we are told:

Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it. – Jeremiah 30:7

So this time of difficulty will be of such intensity that it will have no equal.[3]  It is a time of suffering for Israel, for it is “the time of Jacob’s trouble.” (Jer. 30:7).  Quite what this time is, and when it is Jeremiah doesn’t say.  Or does he?  As for the “what” we are not told (although later prophecies will improve the picture).  But as for “when” the context, along with previous oracles, may give us some guidance.  The promise that Israel will be delivered out of this terrible time is associated, not with 538 B.C., but with the return of king “David” (Jer. 30:9).  From Jeremiah 23:5 we expect that the man called “the Branch” will be related to David, but this statement is more definitive.  It is not a descendant of David who is spoken about, but David himself.  And this is not an isolated incident; Jeremiah’s contemporary Ezekiel twice refers to David as ruling in eschatological settings (Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24-25).

Are we then to expect a risen David to reign again over the kingdom of Israel in its approaching golden age?  Well, no believing student of the Bible refuses to believe that the Old Testament saints will be raised (although they may not ponder the implications very much).  The resurrection of David, or for that matter, of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other saints, is no pious myth.  Jesus Himself said that since God is the God “of the living”, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive (Matt. 22:32).  Very well, will they forever be disembodied spirits?  Job didn’t think so (Job 19:25-27).

But what of David once more ruling over Israel?  Jeremiah and Ezekiel say he will.  Perhaps they meant us to understand a descendant of David’s?  Perhaps so.  I will leave things there until later.  But what about the timing of the deliverance of Jeremiah 30:7?  Things start to come more into focus with verses 10 and 11:

Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,’ says the LORD, `Nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet, and no one shall make him afraid.

For I am with you,’ says the LORD, `to save you; though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished.’ – Jeremiah 30:10-11 (My emphasis)

    Israel (“Jacob”) will be brought back from captivity (as in verse 3), and the Lord will ensure that their restoration to their land is tranquil and unencumbered (30:10).  The guarantee of peace and safety that we saw above is again made.  Although Israel will be punished for their sins (30:11), which may refer back to the “time of Jacob’s trouble” in verse 7, they will be delivered.  So we get a time of tribulation for Israel, followed by a time of serene possession of the land, when “David” will be their king. 

I do not see how this could refer to the return from the captivity in Babylon.  This belongs in the eschaton along with Amos 9:11-15; Hosea 2:14-23; Micah 4:1-8; Isaiah 2:1-5; 11:1-12; 62:1-5, and Jeremiah 23:1-8.  Chapter 30 will go on to repeat the message of comfort for Israel (Jer. 30:17-22), which ends with the covenantal expression, “You shall be My people, and I will be your God.” (Jer. 30:22).  The notion of covenant is never very far away.  At the very end of the chapter Jeremiah reminds God’s people that “in the latter days you will consider it” (30:24).

The vision continues unabated into chapter 31.  This chapter is famous for its introduction of the term “New covenant”.  But that comes later in the chapter.  The first thing to note is the expression of love (“I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3), and the way Yahweh refers to Israel as “O virgin of Israel” (Jer. 31:4, 21).  Not, as in some other contexts, in an ironic way (e.g. 18:13), but in the terms of His covenant promise (31:1).  Therefore, we meet with language of comfort for “the remnant” (31:7), and a declaration of a coming salvation:

Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
And declare it in the isles afar off, and say,
‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
And keep him as a shepherd does his flock.’

For the LORD has redeemed Jacob,
And ransomed him from the hand of one stronger than he.

Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion,
Streaming to the goodness of the LORD—
For wheat and new wine and oil,
For the young of the flock and the herd;
Their souls shall be like a well-watered garden,
And they shall sorrow no more at all. – Jeremiah 31:10-12

    Any honest unpacking of this passage will maintain that God intends to regather His people.[4]  But this regathering will involve redemption and blessings upon the land (cf. Hos. 2:20-22; Amos 9:13-15; Isa. 35:5-10).  The oracle continues with predictions of rejoicing among the populace (Jer. 31:13), and blessings on the priesthood (31:14).  The priests will appear again in prophetic context in Jeremiah 33.


[1] One might also include Jeremiah 29, especially because the refrain about Yahweh bringing back Israel from captivity to a situation very different than what obtained after the 70 years were ended (see Jer. 29:14; 30:3, 18; 31:23; 32:44; 33:7, 11, 26).  These passages are eschatological in nature.

[2] Childs notices that these chapters (Jer. 30-33) precede the description of the fall of Jerusalem.  “The effect,” he says, “of this ordering of the material re-emphasizes the belief that promise was a part of the divine plan from the outset.  It did not arise from a last-minute feeling of compassion to salvage something from the debacle.” – Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 351

[3] Very similar language concerning Israel is seen in Daniel 12:1 and Mark 13:19-20.

[4] As a matter of fact, as Allen observes, Jeremiah “refers to forgiveness more than any other prophetic book.” – L. C. Allen, “Jeremiah: Book of” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets, edited by Mark J. Boda & J. Gordon McConville, 438

The ‘Structure’ of Biblical Covenantalism

I was thinking about how one might visualize “Biblical Covenantalism.”  Traditional Dispensationalism has its seven dispensations; Progressive Dispensationalism its four.  But BC does not regard dispensations as basic to the system.  That is to say, dispensations do not structure BC.  I have given my reasons for this before.  If I were asked to put my finger on one problem with defining a system by dispensations it would be that they are descriptive, not prescriptive.  Because they don’t prescribe anything, Dispensational-ism has few designs on being a complete Systematic Theology, and therefore, it cannot be developed into a Biblical Worldview.  That, to me, when I realized it, was fatal.

My focus is upon the identifiable covenants which God made at different points (not necessarily dispensations) which set out His program for the history of His creation.  Because they determine the future, and since they are hermeneutical fixed-points, the covenants are prescriptive.  Also, there is no doubt that the divine oaths are about as solid a foundation one could base a theology on (what could possibly be more secure than an oath of God?).  And what is a divine covenant if not God’s voice hooked up to a loud-speaker?

With all that said then, here are two ‘Pyramids’ of Biblical Covenantalism.  Number 1 is the Main Outline of Biblical History.  It includes only the major events; the ‘levels of ascent’ of God’s program if you will.  Number 2 is my understanding of covenantal structure in Scripture.  I hold that the covenants of God are the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Priestly, Davidic, and New covenants.  The Land covenant of Deuteronomy 29-30 is a subset of the Abrahamic covenant, so I personally don’t include it.  So there are six or seven Divine covenants depending on how you count them.  The Mosaic covenant is unilateral and temporal.  It is replaced by the New covenant.  The Noahic covenant is taken up by the New covenant in its restorative promises.  The Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic covenants are literally fulfilled through being combined with the New covenant, which provides them the redemptive qualifications to be realized.  The New covenant is the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom everything in Creation finds its telos.

Both diagrams should be read from bottom to top!  

1. Main Outline of Biblical History

    New Heavens and New Earth

(God dwells on earth with His peoples: Israel, Church & Nations)

 Second Coming of Christ/Millennial Reign & Defeat of Satan

(New Covenant fulfilled – Applied to Israel/Nations; Abrahamic, Priestly, Davidic Covs. fulfilled literally via the New Covenant)

First Coming of Christ: New Covenant made; Founding of the Church

(Applied in the Church; 3rd part of Abrahamic Cov. applied)

The Founding of Israel

(From which Christ comes and through which blessing comes to the world)

The Great Flood

(Setting the “Stage” of Covenantal History)

Creation and Fall: Teleology & Eschatology

(The Mechanism of the Creation Project) 


2. The Covenantal Structure of the Bible

New Covenant (Jesus Christ)

[Jesus as the New Cov is the Means of realization through salvation and literal fulfillment of all the other covenants]

Priestly Covenant and Davidic Covenant

[Held within the Mosaic Covenant, but transcending it in the New Covenant] 

Mosaic Covenant

[A temporary placeholder for Israel and some covenants]

Abrahamic Covenant

[The root covenant for blessing to Israel, the Church, and the Nations realized through the New Covenant]

Noahic Covenant

[The stage-setting covenant within which covenantal history is played-out]

Covenants as Amplifications of Plain Speech

(See below)

God’s Thoughts > God’s Words > God’s Actions

(The basic hermeneutics of the Bible)


A Review of ‘Darwin Devolves’ by Michael Behe

Review of Michael Behe, Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA That Challenges Evolution (New York: HarperOne, 2019), 342 pages, hdbk. 

The author of this new book is well known for his earlier works Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution.  In the former book Michael Behe argued that biological systems, more especially the molecular makeup of incredibly complex structures in the cell, could not have arisen via evolutionary pathways.  Natural selection and mutation were simply not capable of building the city-like features that had only recently been discovered.  Nor could evolution explain how these structures (like the bacterial flagellum) be constructed as functioning wholes by the processes available to it.  The “irreducible complexity” of the structures meant that everything had to be put together at once in just the right way so that the molecular machine would work.  Not only this, but in The Edge of Evolution Behe showed that the assembly system of the flagellar itself, with its instructions, had to be in place all at once in order for the machine to be constructed.  As he notes in an appendix at the end of Darwin Devolves,

Twenty years on, there has been a grand total of zero serious attempts to show how the elegant molecular machine might have been produced by random processes and natural selection. – Darwin Devolves, 287 

The main argument of The Edge of Evolution was that the mechanism of evolution was competent to account for developmental changes up to the level of class, but could go no further.  Since that book was published and new research such as he mentions in the present book has come to light Behe has revised that estimate down to the level between family and genus (Ibid, 155-156).

The Thesis: Survival through Devolution 

And so we come to Darwin Devolves.  Using the most up-to-date research, among which is the ongoing 25 plus year old lab experiment with E. coli of Richard Lenski, the sequencing experiments of Joseph Thornton, and the extensive work of Peter and Rosemary Grant with “Darwin’s Finches’ on the Galapagos Islands, Behe arrives at the conclusion that it is overwhelmingly more common for living systems to fix a problem by deletion than by making something new.  He illustrates it this way,

Suppose you lived in a crude walled area on a hillside.  Persistent heavy rains have recently led to water accumulating inside the walls and rising at a rate of a foot per day.  You, who are under 6 feet tall, have less than a week to solve the problem before you drown.  One possible solution is to build a mechanical pump to eject the water [from accumulating debris]… A possible solution is to simply forego repairing one or a few of the small holes in the wall on the downhill side of your compound that form by accident everyday, allowing the water to flow through.  Of course the second course of action is the only realistic one.  You have an urgent problem that needs to be solved right now…

    Now suppose ten years have passed.  One day, quite by accident, pieces of debris that could be made into a pump fall into your compound… But what purpose would a pump now serve?… The need for a pump has long since passed, so you throw away the unnecessary junk. – Ibid, 247

In similar fashion, damaging a gene can ensure the survival of the organism.

The book demonstrates that this is in fact the way things go in the real world (as opposed to the simulated world often relied upon by the scientist).  In fact, the book opens up with the case of the polar bear, which is of the same genus as the brown bear.  Adapting to the new colder environment it (somehow) found itself in, “Ursus maritimus has adjusted…mainly by degrading genes that its ancestors already possessed.  Despite its impressive abilities, rather than evolving, it has adapted predominantly by devolving”. – Ibid, 17

It appears then that, “Darwinian evolution proceeds mainly by damaging or breaking genes, which, counterintuitively, sometimes helps survival.” – Ibid, 37 (emphasis in original).  Moreover, because of their economy and utility, these degraded genes will be positively “selected” and will therefore spread. (cf. 183-187).  This comes with a cost: the more information is lost, the more limits are introduced to what an organism can do (i.e. how it can “evolve”).     

Behe spends several chapters going over the most recent accounts within evolutionary science that actually challenge neo-Darwinian theory.  These are necessary, but I found them to be a little tedious.  The results of these approaches have been unspectacular.   

More interesting are his discussions of Lenski’s important long-term experiment (172-179).  When all is said, the author contends that after 50 thousand generations and counting, “it’s very likely that all of the beneficial mutations worked by degrading or outright breaking the respective ancestor genes.” (179).

Chapter 9 is called “The Revenge of the Principle of Comparative Difficulty.”  Behe raised this issue earlier on (27-29).  He defines it thus:

If a task that requires less effort is too difficult to accomplish, then a task that requires more effort necessarily is too. – Ibid, 28

Behe says that most of Darwin’s defenders are blissfully ignorant of this principle, which is why they make such wild and extravagant claims for evolution.  Referring to his earlier discussion of the findings of Joseph Thornton’s groundbreaking work on steroid receptors (206-213), he quips,

Perhaps you have read that Darwin’s theory also explains politics, the law, literature, music, love, the universe – even mind itself.  It just has trouble accounting for a disulfide bond. – Ibid, 245   

In the last chapter Behe allows himself a little more freedom to emote.  He addresses the the now common dogma that the mind does not in fact exist, and that all our thoughts, our beliefs, our memories, our aspirations, our knowledge, are merely the result of firing of neurons.  This of course is absurd, for science extinguishes itself in such a idea.  But anything to avoid purpose!  That is the enemy.  Purpose points to a Purposer, and that won’t do at all!  The specimens of daft quotations from evolutionists in this chapter is something to take in.  One is reminded of the biblical truth that the sinful mind is a sophisticated God-avoidance mechanism.  Behe pushes back on this foolishness:

A basic aspect of reason is our ability to recognize the existence of other minds.  If we lose confidence that we can perceive the work of another mind through the purposeful arrangement of parts, we are stuck in a solipsistic universe… – Ibid, 274-275

Darwin Devolves contains much else which is worthy of attention.  Behe only writes books when he thinks he has something important to say.  He does here!

The book is jargon-free, except on those occasions when it is necessary to name something.  As readers of Behe will know, he has an enviable ability to turn a phrase, and great felicity with illustrations.  Being a young-earther, I do not endorse every position of the author, but this book is recommended.

Jeremiah and Covenant

Another excerpt from The Words of the Covenant: A Biblical Theology

A Concern for God’s Covenants  

The prophet Jeremiah is certainly concerned about covenant.  He refers constantly to the Mosaic covenant (e.g. Jer.11:1-12), especially as understood in Deuteronomy.  But chapter 3 shows him to be focused also on the Davidic covenant (Jer. 3:17), and the land aspect of the Abrahamic covenant (Jer. 3:18. Cf. 25:5).  Having noted this there are still signs of God’s allegiance to Israel, as when in chapter 10 Yahweh calls Himself “the Portion of Jacob” (Jer. 10:16), and the prophet follows this up by calling Him “the hope of Israel” (14:8).  So even though God knows how they have “defiled My land” (Jer. 16:18), and He will drive them out of the land for seventy years (Jer. 25:11), He will bring them back to it (Jer. 16:14-15).[1]

Jeremiah is also, (not so coincidentally), the prophet of “the word of the Lord” (dabar Yahweh), referring to it “or similar phrases 157 times out of the total of 349 times such phrases are used in the Old Testament.”[2]

Jeremiah 11 contrasts the integrity of Yahweh in bringing Israel into the land, and the rebellion of the people to the terms of the Mosaic covenant.[3]  It is obvious from chapter 11 that God wants to gift the land to Israel.  In Jeremiah 11:3-5 it is made perfectly clear that God wanted to “establish the oath” that He swore to the Fathers[4].  Verse 5 might encourage those who teach the fulfillment of the land promises in either the time of Joshua or Solomon.  But this conclusion confuses the Exodus promises with the Abrahamic promises which preceded them.  Although the prophet is harking back to Deuteronomy 27-28, the covenants with Abraham, Phinehas, and David figure strongly in this book in at least a few places.  The Mosaic covenant was bilateral, in that both God and the people uttered oaths, whereas these three covenants were not.  We must see how Jeremiah handles the unilateral covenants before we make our minds up about whether the land promises still await final fulfillment.  Chapter 11 is a depiction of the people’s idolatrous state despite Josiah’s reform and despite Jeremiah’s warnings about defection from the Mosaic covenant.  It is both an announcement and a vindication of the coming captivity.

Kingdom Ground                       

We are very definitely on kingdom ground in chapter 23.  Jeremiah 23:1-8 contains one of the relatively few Messianic predictions in the book of Jeremiah.  It begins with the prophet denouncing the false shepherds who mislead God’s people (Jer. 23:1-2).  Then comes another prophecy of a great regathering of “the remnant” from different parts of the world.  They will be given better shepherds (Jer. 23:3-4).  Following this is a beautiful restoration passage in which the person of “the Branch” is central:

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD,
“That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
A King shall reign and prosper,
And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.

In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell safely;
Now this is His name by which He will be called:

The Branch (tsemach) is again of the line of David, which links Him with the Ruler of Micah 5:2 and the Branch (netser) of Isaiah 11:1-10.  Just as in Isaiah 11:4-5 He is a righteous judge of the earth.  The mention of Judah and Israel reinforces the future unity of the divided peoples just as in Jeremiah 3:18.   Here the great King who is coming is called by a name: Yahweh Tsidkenu or “Yahweh our Righteousness.”  Present too are several of the same restoration ingredients that we have seen before.  What should not be missed is the eschatological reference to a reunited Israel dwelling safely (23:6).  This idea of peace and security is essential to grasp.  It is repeated in many prophecies of the coming aeon (e.g. Jer. 23:4; 32:37; 33:16. Cf. Mic. 4:4; Isa. 40:9; Zeph. 3:13; Ezek. 34:25, 28).  Until this pledge has been realized it cannot be said that God has fulfilled His oaths to Israel.

Jeremiah 23:7 and 8 contain a second Exodus motif such as the one we saw in Isaiah 11.[5]  This second Exodus is not, as is often claimed, a figurative contrivance.  It is rather a literal one; the surrounding context making this the wisest interpretation.  There is no reason, other than presumption, to consign these words to the pictorial-symbolic realm.  The future regathering of Israel (to be treated below) will feature another “exodus crossing” although not in the same place.  This time the people will come from the north (Jer. 23:8), as well as from the south and east (Isa. 11:11).

There is another possible reference to the future regathering in Jeremiah 29:11-14.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.

This passage appears to match similar eschatological passages in the earlier prophets.  Admittedly, it is settled within the context of the Babylonian Captivity (Jer. 29:10, 15), but the verses do not reflect the situation experienced by those who returned home, so they could well be proleptic (anticipatory), having to do with the final regathering before the second advent.


[1] This return to the land appears to be the return from the Babylonian captivity (e.g. Jer. 29:10).  But some of the wording looks beyond the late sixth century B.C. and points us forward to a time when they will “search for me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13b); a sentiment which echoes the eschatological leanings of Deuteronomy 30:1-10.

[2] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Promise-Plan of God, 197

[3] I do not think the covenant referred to as “this covenant” in Jer. 11:2-3 is the covenant sworn under Josiah in 2 Kings 23:1-3.  The connections with Exodus and Deuteronomy seem too strong.

[4] In view of the description of the land as “flowing with milk and honey” and the mention of the fathers in connection with the Exodus (11:4, 7), it is best to identify these “fathers” as those of the time of Moses.

[5] It is also found earlier in Jeremiah (Jer. 16:14-15).

Contrasting Dispensationalism and Biblical Covenantalism

This is an older post which I have taken the opportunity to revise and update, hopefully in light of more mature thinking.

A Little Back-Story

As many of my readers will know, I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to place Dispensational theology on what I believe is a more secure footing.  Dispensationalism has not produced many top-line academic works, especially in the last half century, and with only one or two exceptions it presents itself as static and unwilling to improve.  In the meantime it has been frozen out of mainstream evangelical scholarship and its influence has dwindled.  One example among many will suffice: The huge 8 volume IVP Dictionaries, which cover the entire Bible, and are written by hundreds of top scholars across the broad sweep of evangelicalism, include scarcely any contribution by dispensational scholars.  The Dictionary of the Old Testament Prophets has (as far as I can tell) only one entry by one dispensationalist (Robert Chisholm on “Retribution”, and I’m not sure Chisholm is much of a dispensationalist).

In reflecting on the reasons for this I eventually asked myself a rather obvious question: “does the Bible ground its biblical theology upon the dispensations or on something else?”  Re-reading the Bible with this question uppermost in my mind led me to the conclusion that the Bible does indeed base its theology in something other than changing administrations.  It roots itself in the divine covenants!  From this was born what I have called Biblical Covenantalism.  It retains all that makes Dispensationalism good, but refocuses it on the covenants of God.  The result is, I believe, a far more robust and intellectually promising system that is there to be developed.

Anyway, here are what I think are the main contrasts between my approach (BC) and traditional Dispensational theology (DT):

1. DT: is led by its very name to define itself by an aspect of its approach which is really tangential to its overall genius.  This definition then circumscribes the outlook and understanding of its adherents and places blinkers (blinders) on their theological vision.  Dispensations are just not that important: the biblical covenants are.  Dispensationalism is limited because of what dispensations can do (i.e. describe one aspect).

BC: defines itself by the covenants of God found within the pages of Scripture.  Because these covenants, correctly understood, comprehend God’s declared purposes for the creation (not just Israel, His chosen people), they expand ones theological vision.  Biblical Covenantalism is expansive because of what the covenants of Scripture can do (i.e. describe a purpose and prescribe God’s outlook).

2. DT: although I don’t expect everyone to see this, Dispensationalism derives its hermeneutics from “without” by asserting the normal or literal sense via grammatical-historical hermeneutics.  There is little attempt to derive this hermeneutics from the Bible itself.

BC: seeks to derive its hermeneutics (which correspond to traditional grammatical-historical hermeneutics) from “within” – from the Bible itself, in deference to the Biblical Worldview.  This acknowledges the comprehensive relation of revelation and knowledge.  There is a “God’s words = God’s actions” hermeneutical sequence in Scripture which is amplified by the covenants.

3. DT: often struggles with the New Covenant and its application.  Some believe the New Covenant is only for Israel; some that the Church somehow “participates” in the New Covenant without being a party to it.  A few believe Christ made the New Covenant with the Church, but usually they limit it to the salvation of the soul.

BC: because it pays special attention to the covenants and their inter-relationships, comprehends the Christocentric arrangement of the other covenants around the New Covenant.  Christ and the New Covenant are identified, allowing one to see how all beneficiaries of God’s grace have a covenantal relation to Him.  Thus, the terms of the other covenants are released to be fulfilled once the parties to those covenants (whether national Israel or the Gentiles or both) have passed under the New Covenant in Christ.

4. DT: is not redemptively focused, meaning it does not concentrate on the teleological goals of God in Christ for the future of the whole created realm.

BC: is redemptively focused in the sense given above.

5. DT: tends therefore, not to be as Christological as Covenant Theology.

BC: is just as Christological as Covenant Theology, though not artificially reading Christ into foreign contexts.  Stressing, as it does, the truth that this creation is made through and for Christ; is redeemed in Christ, and will be ruled over and restored by Christ.

6. DT: tends to restrict its remit to the areas of ecclesiology and eschatology, in consequence confining its thinking and hence productivity to those areas.  It cannot be developed into a worldview system under these confines (hence it is not prescriptive).  This confinement is only exacerbated by the way Dispensationalism defines itself.

BC: is far more expansive; focusing on every area of Systematic Theology and worldview through its reflection on the outcome and repercussions of the biblical covenants and the centrality of Christ.

7. DT: emphasizes the end of the Bible and places little importance on the doctrine of Creation and its outworking in God’s overall plan.

BC: does put a lot of stress upon Creation and sees history in terms of the combined outworking of the teleology and the eschatology which was built into Creation from the beginning.  The Bible is an eschatological (and also teleological) book from beginning to end.

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt.6)

Part Five

The Kingdom of God and the New Heaven and New Earth

The prediction of a new heaven and a new earth seems to throw a spanner in the works of those interpreters who think they see a kingdom-age after the second coming of Christ but before the New Creation.  I think McClain is right in saying that the prophet simply views the kingdom-age and the New Creation together.[1]   And it is true that the Prophets do place events together which consequently are seen to be separated by millennia.  The prophecies concerning the first and second comings of Christ are cases in point.  Isaiah 65:17-25 predicts not only a new heaven and earth, it also predicts death and sin, though in a greatly modified setting where children and sinners die at a hundred years of age (Isa. 65:20).  But Isaiah has already said that God will abolish death (Isa. 25:8).  What is to be done?  I think both should be taken literally, although they don’t seem to belong together.  Are we to believe that death and sin are still in evidence in the New Creation?  But what of the efficacy of the finished work of Christ?

Let me admit that I feel the weight of inquiry from those who would pressure me into answering these points.  They would rather make the passage metaphorical or else gloss over verse 20 completely.[2]  If the death of a child and of a sinner at a hundred years old is a metaphor, what can it possibly signify?[3]  And if it is not, how can it be fitted into an eschatology where the new heavens and earth follow on directly from Christ’s return?  Better then to adopt the interpretation of Saucy who explains,

The blending by the prophets of a future restored Jerusalem and the final eternal city corresponds with their picture of the future of the entire earth and heavens.  The hope of the Old Testament was ultimately for an eternal state of things, for the prophets knew that the present “heavens will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment” (Isa 51:6).  Consequently, along with the portrayal of the rule of the Messiah over an imperfect world (cf. Isa 2:1-4; Zech 14:16ff), they looked forward to the creation of “new heavens and a new earth” (Isa 65:17; 66:22).[4]

The reference to Isaiah 51 in the quotation above is instructive, for although Isaiah 51:6 states that this present creation order will disappear, Jerusalem (which God is preeminently concerned about in this book[5], and which often in Isaiah stands also for the whole nation), is promised continuance:

So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; sorrow and sighing shall flee away. – Isaiah 51:11 (cf. 65:18; 66:22)

The city’s permanence is grounded upon the covenant God Himself, who laid the foundations of the present earth (Isa. 51:13), and who will establish a new foundation (Isa. 51:16).  The glorious yet imperfect kingdom of Isaiah 65:20-25 is the kingdom envisaged in chapter 11.  There are children (“offspring”) present (Isa. 65:23).

The conjunction of comfort upon Zion and judgment upon God’s enemies returns in the last chapter of this great book.  In the midst of this is an enigmatic declaration of the birth (rebirth) of the nation of Israel:

Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children. – Isaiah 66:8

Zion is said to bring forth a nation in one day. The suddenness of this “birth” is meant to tell the reader that it is God who will work a miracle for Israel.[6]  This suddenness corresponds with the impression already made of healing (Isa. 58:8) and comfort (Isa. 61-62).  Isaiah leaves us with an expectation of national renewal for Israel (cf. Isa. 46:13). (more…)

The “Day of the Lord” in the Old Testament

The Day of the LORD in the Old Testament[1]

     The expression “the Day of the Lord” is sometimes thought to refer to the time of the end of this age.[2]  Unquestionably, there are passages which do refer to the eschaton, and we shall look at them, but not every usage of the phrase can be slotted into the last days; the locust plague in Joel 1 being a case in point.  In Joel 1 the Day of the Lord speaks of Yahweh using things in the natural world to punish His people.  Four descriptions of the locusts are given in Joel 1:4 and 2:25 (which could describe four separate varieties of locust).  This appears to tie together Joel 1 and 2.  Additionally, Joel 1:6 depicts the teeth of the locusts as lion’s fangs, which is figurative, so we must take into account similes when reading about the appearance of the army in Joel 2:4 as like horses.[3]  For reasons such as these Thomas Finley believes that Joel 1:5- 2:25 describes a contemporary locust infestation.[4]

Finley may be right, but some things in Joel 2 don’t fit his view easily.  The last reference to the Day in Joel 2:31 speaks of the sun and moon being blacked out before the Day of the Lord.  And Joel 3:14 -16 includes the same phenomena, as well as Yahweh Himself coming to deliver His remnant; and He comes to “dwell” in Zion (Joel 3:17).  These are eschatological uses of the phrase and describe events surrounding the second coming.

Regarding the circumstances of Joel 2:1-15 the first thing which strikes the interpreter is the shift to the future tense in chapter 2.[5]  The change in verb tenses does not of itself mean that the prophet is peering into the far distant future, but it strongly indicates a different set of circumstances than those in chapter 1.  Joel still uses the locust imagery, but now more for analogy.  Most striking is Joel’s use of similes.  For example,

Their appearance is like the appearance of horses; and like swift steeds, so they run.

With a noise like chariots over mountaintops they leap, like the noise of a flaming fire that devours the stubble, like a strong people set in battle array.

Before them the people writhe in pain; all faces are drained of color.

They run like mighty men, they climb the wall like men of war – Joel 2:4-7a (my emphasis)


If this is a description of a coming trained army why say they are “like horses,” “like a strong people in battle array,” “like mighty men”?  The usual answer is the employment of the caph veritatis where the expression refers to the way something actually is (or ought to be).[6]  This may be so, but it is not easy to claim this use in verse 4.  One could say that the men were indeed mighty (Joel 2:7), but you could not say that they were horses and actually galloped (Joel 2:4).

Another point worth considering is Joel 2:6; a trained soldier (say an Assyrian or Greek) would try to kill the enemy, not mame them so that they writhed in agony.  Perhaps this is the grisly part about an invasion that Joel chose to mention, but why not mention all the corpses (e.g. Jer. 41:9)?  Just maybe it is because this army inflicts pain but not death?  Such is the infernal army described in Revelation 9:1-10.

Far-off Eschatological Uses

After the Day of Yahweh in Joel 2:11 comes blessing from God reminiscent of New covenant blessing (Joel 2:15-27 cf. Amos 9:13-15; Hos. 2:16-23; Isa. 55:10-13; 66:10-13).   This indicates the real possibility that Joel 2 is a prophecy of the tribulation, second advent, and restoration of Israel.  The Day of the Lord in this context covers the first two, just as it does in Joel 3.

If we are reading through the Bible we first encounter the phrase in Isaiah 2:12-22.  In that place the Day of Yahweh (Isa. 2:12) connotes a time when men will be humbled and Yahweh alone will be exalted (Isa. 2:17).  The earth will be shaken, and people will behold “the glory of His majesty” (Isa. 2:21).  At that time people will “go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the crags of the rugged rocks” (Isa. 2:21) to hide themselves from God.  So there is good reason to think that “the Day of the Lord” in Isaiah 2 refers to the second coming.  The setting of Isaiah 13:6, 9 is likewise eschatological (e.g. Isa. 13:10), and Isaiah 58:13 can be situated in the same general context, although there it is part of an ethical charge.

Amos 5:18, 20 and Obadiah 15 are a little harder to decide.  Obadiah 15-21 is reminiscent of Zephaniah’s usage in Zephaniah 2 (see below).  It appears that the fulfillment of Obadiah’s oracle on all nations will occur in the eschaton.[7]  Amos alludes to the people foolishly wishing that the Day of the Lord would come, which implies that they thought it was the time when Yahweh would put everything to rights; doling out punishments to Israel’s enemies while rewarding the Jews.  Hence, they must have believed it was the great Day of Yahweh’s coming. But Zechariah 14:1 and Malachi 4:5 are eschatological.  In fact, they both focus in on specific events in the future time of trouble.  Zechariah has Yahweh coming in person and fighting for Israel, His feet even touching the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:1-4).  Malachi 4:5 promises the arrival of Elijah “before the coming of the great and terrible Day of the Lord.”  Hence, for Zechariah and Malachi, the Day of Yahweh is a shortened period prior to and including the second coming.  Zephaniah’s use of the term looks out to the time of the end.  His book is saturated with the theme of God’s Day of wrath coming before New covenant blessing.

Although in Zephaniah 2 there is a list of many cities and states that will experience the Day of the Lord, the tenor of the book implies that the prophet is looking at judgments to come in the last days.[8]  At the beginning of the third chapter God castigates Jerusalem, calling her that “rebellious… polluted …oppressing city” (Zeph. 3:1).  The doom-laden language continues until Zephaniah 3:9 when a new theme of hope is assumed.  Thus, Zephaniah 3:1, while it could be viewed in light of its ANE setting, still relates to the closing Day before the kingdom era.

Clear Near-at-Hand Uses

Nonetheless, there are places in the Prophets where the term “the Day of the Lord” refers to matters which were not centuries away from the time of the prophet.  That is to say, the “Day of the Lord” is not an eschatological concept in certain places.  In Jeremiah 46:10 the expression is used for the devastation of the Egyptians at Carchemish at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar’s army.  The two uses in Ezekiel (Ezek. 13:5; 30:3) make sense in an ancient setting, and can only with manipulation be thrust into our future.

Additionally, the geographical markers in Zephaniah 1:11; 2:4-8, 12-13 could be read in terms of close at hand fulfilment in Old Testament history.  But these markers (e.g. cities) are dealt with in such a way as to point to the final consummation.  For example, in Zephaniah 2:11 the nations are said to turn to Yahweh after He has “reduced to nothing” all of their idols.  So here contemporary issues are answered in terms of final outcomes.

In Summary

The expression “the Day of the Lord” in the Old Testament refers to the appearance of Yahweh in judgment[9] and is applied in general in two ways.  It is used to describe God’s impending judgment against a nation in Old Testament times.  The form the judgment took varied, but the outcome was devastating.  The other use of the term refers to the final time of God’s judgment before the New covenant kingdom is inaugurated.  It can refer to the whole time of tribulation, or to a part of it.  It may even include the second coming itself.  The instances of the Day of Yahweh that occurred in the past (e.g. the locusts in Joel 1) are sometimes adumbrations of the eschatological Day.[10]


[1] See also the treatments of the individual books.  I appreciate that it might well be rendered “the Day of Yahweh,” but I shall mainly retain the more common terminology

[2] E.g. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, 230-231; Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, “Day of the Lord,” in Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996), general editor, Mal O. Couch, 87-88

[3] Patterson notices that both the Italian and German words for locusts refer to their horse-like appearance.  See Richard D. Patterson, “Joel,” in EBC, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, Vol. 7, 249 n. 4

[4] Thomas J. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, 41

[5] Duane A. Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 333-334

[6] Ibid, 338-339

[7] Thomas J. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, 370-371

[8] This does not rule out contemporary judgments against these places

[9] See William J. Dumbrell, The Search for Order, 108, although Dumbrell allows the possibility of blessing in connection with the Day of the Lord.

[10] Interestingly, the New Testament uses of the term only concern themselves with the second, eschatological sense of “Day of the Lord,” although again the term covers several occurrences.

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt. 5)

Part Four

God and Israel: A Special Bond

Isaiah 54 is a reminder to Israel that she bears a special relationship to Yahweh, who is both her Redeemer and Husband (Isa. 54:5).  This role of husband has been seen already in Hosea (2:16), and will be repeated in Jeremiah (Jer. 3:14; 31:32).  It is no coincidence that what might properly be labelled “New covenant blessings” follow the atoning work of the Suffering Servant.  The overtures of God to Israel ought to be taken for what they plainly are; a promise of a perpetual bond guaranteed by the covenant faithfulness of God.  Like all the prophets, Isaiah is not backward in showing Israel her sin.  But again, like the other prophets, he is a prophet of hope: “But My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed” (Isa. 54:10).[1]  The “covenant of peace,” which is an expression that is appended to the redeemed priesthood in Numbers 25:12 and Ezekiel 37:26; or to restored Israel depicted as a haven in Ezekiel 34:25, is in Isaiah 54:10 a reference to God’s people as restored and protected (Isa. 54:17).  But each use of the phrase is prophetic and concerns the things to come when the New covenant is enacted.  The prophet makes reference to the Noahic covenant (Isa. 54:9) to underscore the unwavering commitment of God to Israel.  A great theme of Isaiah is what might be called “the Glory of God in a gloriously restored Israel.”  The nation will be restored in their own land, with their own king and with their priesthood.  Jerusalem (Zion) will become the most prestigious city in the world.  This is the word of God in the prophets.  It cannot be reinterpreted to say something it didn’t mean when it was uttered.

This unalterable word accomplishes what it was sent out to do (Isa. 55:11).  I have made the strong claim that there exists a natural connection between God’s thoughts, God’s words, and God’s actions.  If I am right about this then the purpose for which God sends out His word (Isa. 55:11) matches the content of the words He chooses to utter.  To put it another way, the result of the word of God closely corresponds to the words He “sends out.”  In fact, to believe that the accomplishment of God’s word does not match the words He uses is just as absurd as trying to test a prophet while neglecting the words he uses when speaking a prediction.  The fulfillment is in the words; the purpose resides in what is said.  It is folly to interpret Isaiah 55:8 as saying “My meaning is not your meaning.”  If that were true, there would be no logical reason for God to say anything to the creature.


The vital connection between the Lord and the nation He created for Himself means that social justice is never too far out of the mind of God’s servants (e.g. Mic. 6:8; Isa. 1:16-17).  Perhaps the clearest example of this concern is found in Isaiah 58:

Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? – Isaiah 58:6-7    

A true people of God must reflect the character of God.  All of life is moral.  A life that mirrors God will understand why the character of God is both the source and the goal of their humanity.  This is aptly put in a recent publication:

There is no moral thought that is not, quite simply, human thought, no human being that was not born to think responsibly about being, living, and doing; yet there is no moral thought that does not depend for whatever effect it may have upon a gift for which no human source can be credited.  The relation of the self to God may or may not be consciously recognized, but whether it is or not, it underlies the sense of responsibility which gives the moral its character of urgency.  But to the extent that it becomes conscious, it becomes explicit.  Developed and self-conscious moral thinking begins and ends by calling on God.[2]     

The question in verse 6 resonates with the heart cry of God.  He calls His people to care for others like He does.  They don’t, we don’t.  That is another reason why Christ will come to spread justice and mercy over the face of this world.  He will “come to Zion” (Isa. 59:20), and, with echoes of the New covenant portents of Deuteronomy 30:6, He will pour the Spirit upon His people so that they shall indeed be motivated to fulfill their moral calling (cf. Isa. 59:21).

When the Deliverer finally comes, He will initiate the ascendency of Israel and of Jerusalem (cf. Isa. 49:13; 62:1-4, 12): that is the theme of chapter 60.[3]  God is shown bidding His city to take its rightful place at the top of the future world’s government (Isa. 60:9-14).  This same prediction will come from the prophet Zechariah after the Exile.  God still intends to make Israel “the head and not the tail” (Deut. 28:13).  Isaiah even states that, “the nation and kingdom which will not serve you shall perish, and those nations shall be utterly ruined” (Isa. 60:12).  True, interpreters often like to qualify this idea by speaking of the glorified Zion as a means to the end of turning the nations to God.[4]  But this is not what the texts say, and in my opinion the sentiment is encouraged by a nascent unbelief in the preeminence of the nation of Israel in the new order.  If Israel is indeed the bride of Yahweh (Isa. 54:5) it would not be surprising if one of God’s aims is to glorify her (Isa. 62:5).  I see no reason to deflect the away from where God Himself places it.  The affinity between bride and husband ought to be considered in such contexts.  Then there will be no confusion created by the nations coming to glorify Israel in the new kingdom.  The Lord’s presence will only make it more natural.

The two chapters 61 and 63 have common eschatological themes within them.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, 
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 

To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD… – Isaiah 61:1-2a

Readers of the Gospel of Luke are very familiar with these verses.  They were quoted by Jesus Himself at the synagogue at Nazareth right after His baptism and temptation[5].  Here in Isaiah they clearly refer to the One whom God calls to bring deliverance.  He is the Messiah (Psa. 2:2; 45:7).  And He is the ‘Branch’, the man of the Spirit (cf. also Isa. 42:1), who shall rule in righteousness and peace in the kingdom, and whom the Gentiles will seek (Isa. 11:1-10).  And this is surely Isaiah’s Servant (“He has sent Me”), and He is Moses’ Prophet (“To proclaim liberty… to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”).  This passage ties in the roles perhaps more conclusively than any that have gone before.  The Spirit of God, who will give Him His mission and empowerment, endows the Servant to “heal”, (actually to ‘bind up’, chabash), and to “set free.”  This Deliverer also speaks for God sui generis.  Meditation of this text alone should have rid all doubts from the minds of Jesus’ auditors about His claims.


[1] The word translated “kindness” in Isaiah 54:10 is the familiar hesed, perhaps better translated “loyal love.”  Anderson refers to this word “one of the most important theological terms in the Old Testament.” – Bernhard W. Anderson, Contours of Old Testament Theology, 60.  Leon Morris, “It is too much to that the word originates in the usages of covenant…It is possible to have hesedh without a covenant, but it is not possible to have a covenant without hesedh.” – Testaments of Love: A Study of Love in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 69

[2] Oliver O’Donovan, Self, World, and Time: Ethics as Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), 38

[3] McClain wrote, “Nothing in the whole field of Old Testament prophecy could possibly surpass the brilliance and grandeur of the 60th chapter of Isaiah; and its central theme is the restoration and world supremacy of the nation of Israel.” – Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, 211

[4] See, e.g., James M. Hamilton, Jr., God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, 211 n.145.  A fuller summation of Isaiah 60 is found in Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Glory, 340.  However, Schreiner’s eschatology makes him look for a non-literal fulfillment of the promises (Ibid, 341).

[5] See Luke 4:16-21.