A Prophetic Bromide (1)

This two part post will be my final interaction with Steve Hays.  It will complete what I think needs to be said and will leave him to continue in the way he is accustomed to.  I begin with a little preamble.  In his latest salvo Steve quotes me as saying:

On his accounting I ought to doubt my salvation.

Then he quips:

Why does Henebury react this way? He said that if amils are right, then God is guilty of prevarication. I inferred from his statement that he doesn’t think God is trustworthy if amils are right. Isn’t that a logical inference? Why does he object when I measure him by his own yardstick? Is that a mature reaction?

Let me put my quote back into its original context and leave the reader to decide if Steve is trying to properly represent his opponent:

I actually said this:

Steve Hays continues to slam my character: Henebury really is a bigot you know.  He has “consistent intellectual deficiencies.”  Henebury has all kinds of flaws, ethical, intellectual, perceptual.  It has now come to my notice that apparently “Henebury never misses an opportunity to be dishonest.”

Steve doesn’t know me, but he thinks he’s sized me up and I’m no good.  On his accounting I ought to doubt my salvation.  Where is the fruit of the Spirit?   Well, to his own Master he stands or falls.  My duty is to stick to the argument.

Another example:

Take a parable. What the individual elements of the parable signify is distinct from the question of whether the story is fictitious or factual…

In reply I said: True, but Ezekiel 40-48 is not a parable.  Neither is it “apocalyptic,” nor poetry.

Yet in his “response” he declares:

And Henebury now admits that’s “true.” So, given that admission, he can’t simply quote verses about temple dimensions, materials, rituals, &c., to prove his overall interpretation, for how we interpret the significance of the paraphernalia depends on the genre.

What did I say was “true”?  That interpretation depends on genre?  Or did I simply agree that what individual elements of parables signify is distinct from whether the story is fictitious or factual?

Compare Steve’s representations with the real ones and come to a conclusion.  Even if you are unconvinced by my arguments I hope you would see the problem.  Nuff said!

Steve persists in his persistent use of personal slight and ad hominem argumentation while subtly deviating from the point.  I shall ignore most of this in what follows.  If some readers think I’m deserving of the opprobrium heaped upon me that it between them and God.  A quick search on Google will produce many complaints about Steve Hays from Christians both Reformed and non-Reformed, Roman Catholics, and Atheists.  As I said, to his own master he stands or falls.  I consider most of Steve’s arguments to be paltry and lacking any substance.  I’m afraid he advances his viewpoint mainly by bald assertion.  Others are free to arrive at the opposite conclusion.

1. The Prophetic Setting of Ezekiel 40-48

One of the problems of dealing with Hays is that while he lumps me in with the general run of dispensationalists he will not permit me to cite his fellow covenant theologians against him; especially when they admit to reinterpreting the OT with the NT, or to spiritualizing the text.  See Here.  On a side note, if Daniel Block believes Paul spiritualized the OT it’s a safe bet he believes in following suit!

Steve avoids dealing with the following point I made because he says the passages cited are too generic:

He thinks they couldn’t divine a future glorious kingdom where Israel is regenerate and Messiah reigns in justice and righteousness from Jerusalem, and where priests serve him in a new sanctuary.  In fact they could do this from say, Num. 25:10-13; Deut. 30:6f., or Psa. 2, 89, 105, 106, Isa. 2, 11, 26-27, 35, 43, 44, 45, 51, 62; Jer. 23, 30, 31, 33, or Hos. 2:16f. or Mic. 4, or Zeph. 3, or indeed from Ezek. 34, 36-37.  It seems Ezekiel’s near contemporary Zechariah (6:12-13, 8:1-3; 14:16f.) and Malachi (3:2-3) believed it too.  Zechariah predicts a future temple built after Jerusalem has been changed topographically where the King is worshiped at the temple.

He wants me to do some exegesis of these passages and I shall oblige him without expecting reciprocation.  Owing to the nature of blog posts my comments must be concise.  Still, I apologize for the length but a fair bit of this is necessary quotations from Scripture.

 I am going to go into all the covenantal issues in all this in the future, but the following study should suffice for now:  Balaam’s prophecy [Correction: I don’t know why I said Balaam’s prophecy. Clearly it isn’t] will start us off (please read the passages!):

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. 12 “Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; 13 and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.'” (Num 25:10 -13)

There is no need to go into minute exegesis of this passage to see that God freely enters into an eternal covenant with Phinehas and his descendents – who happen to include Zadokites!  Psalm 106:30-31 recounts:

Then Phinehas stood up and intervened,  And the plague was stopped. 31 And that was accounted to him for righteousness To all generations forevermore.

If this is true; that is, if God meant what He said in the covenant (and covenants have to mean what they say), then whether or not we can figure out the whys and wherefores, there has to be a Levitical priesthood and temple forever in fulfillment of this covenant.  This is stressed further by Jeremiah in Jer. 33:

‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 ‘In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. 16 ‘In those days Judah shall be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: the LORD is our righteousness.’ 17 “For thus says the LORD, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; 18 and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to prepare sacrifices continually.'” (Jer 33:14-18)

Notice the role of the Branch (i.e. Christ).  He “executes” or “does” righteousness on the land (eretz).  This agrees with Isaiah 2:2-4 (set “in the last days”).  Micah is very similar (Mic. 4:1-7, where we are told that God “will reign over [the Remnant] in Mount Zion from now on [the last days – v.1] and forever.”).

The righteous rule of Messiah is seen in Isaiah 11.  Verses 5 and 6 declare:

with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, [Comp. Psalm 2:8-9; Rev. 19:15] And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. 5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins,  And faithfulness the belt about His waist.

The righteous reign of Messiah is seen in statements like Isa. 26:9; 51:3-5; 62:1-5.  The paradisaical conditions described in Isa. 62:1-5 involve the whole creation, as Hosea 2:16f. and  Isaiah 11:6-8 make perfectly clear (Cf. Rom. 8:18-23).   Hosea 2:18-19 say,

In that day I will also make a covenant for them With the beasts of the field, The birds of the sky, And the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, And will make them lie down in safety. 19 “And I will betroth you [i.e. Israel] to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion.

So in Ezekiel 37:25-28 we read of God setting up His sanctuary under these fulfillment conditions:

And they shall live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons, and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant shall be their prince forever. 26 “And I will make a covenant of peace with them [Cf. Num. 25:12 above]; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. 27 “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. 28 “And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.

Please do not miss the heavy covenantal emphasis of that prophecy.  The sanctuary is the temple.  But which temple?  Zerubbabel’s?  Did God make an everlasting covenant of peace with the returnees?  Did His Glory return to the Second Temple?  No.  The temple being referred to is the one in Ezek. 40ff., which IS in paradisiacal conditions (ch. 47), when God shall dwell with Israel forever (43:7).

We may add to this the prediction from Malachi 3:2-3, which speaks of a purified priesthood in what appears to be (contra Steve Hays) a Second Advent context (Mal. 3:1 does refer to the First Advent):

But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 “And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.

If all this is not enough we find Zechariah predicting a temple which will be built by the Branch (Messiah) when He combines the offices of priest and king in Himself when He rules upon His throne (Zech. 6:12-13).  And what do we find at the end of the Book?  We find, as I have said many times, a Day when the Lord comes to the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:11 anyone?), when the topography of the land is drastically altered (Zech. 14:4), following which  “living waters will flow out of Jerusalem (Zec 14:8), “Jerusalem will dwell in security” (Zec 14:11), and the nations will come up to Jerusalem to worship the King – who therefore must be Divine – (14:16-17), and sacrifices will be offered at the Lord’s house (14:20-21).

As these predictions are predicated on what we now know is the Second Coming, clearly they are in the future and their realization should not be searched for in the past.   The conditions under which all this will be done are New covenant conditions (Cf. Zech. 12:9-13:1):

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 “And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. 28 “And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.  (Ezek. 36:25-28)   

This distinctive new covenant language comes from the Pentateuch.  For example, Deuteronomy 30:6:

Moreover 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, in order that you may live.

Amillennialists might want to turn all of these passages into metaphors (and they do), but they make perfect sense as they stand.  There is no mess.  We don’t have all the information, but we have enough.  Once amils try to tackle the specifics of these passages, that’s when the train wrecks.  So, for the most part, they don’t even try.  They just read their interpretations of the NT into them.  Steve says he doesn’t.  He stands quite alone.

Howbeit, it is imperative when dealing with these prophecies that the covenantal stipulations which God obligates Himself to fulfill are not breezed over.  I have my presuppositions, which Steve has been given.  They do not produce the mess Steve asserts they do.  Steve will not give his.

2. Did the Post-Exilic Community Expect to Build Ezekiel’s Temple?

I have already given reasons why the returning exiles would not have thought to take up the task of constructing Ezekiel’s temple.  These include the obvious fact of the sheer size of the structure, together with the geographical requirements involved.  Then the clear differences between the Mosaic institutions and Ezekiel’s vision.  Finally, the fact that these chapters are prophetic and look to the time when God’s covenants with Israel will be realized under New Covenant conditions: conditions which have not yet been met, but which shall be met “after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:24-27).

If, as Steve Hays says, the people in exile enjoyed better access to God than when they were in the land, why rebuild any temple?  Hays answers, it is because they were under the Law.  But were not the exiles under the Law?  If they were and God was more accessible to them during those times, it follows that rebuilding the temple would again distance them from God.   This makes no sense at all.  But were not Israel under God’s judgment during the exile?  Deuteronomy 29:14-28 leaves this impression.  Chapters 29:19 and 30:1 speak of exile as a “curse.”  Leviticus 26:36 hardly depicts the future exiles having confident access to the Lord.  2 Kings 24:20 describes the Lord’s attitude towards Israel as “He cast them out from His presence.”  Jeremiah is blunt: “The Lord has rejected His altar, He has abandoned His sanctuary.” (Lam 2:7).

But what about Ezekiel 11:16?  Steve writes that “God tabernacled with the exiles.”  This is supposed to prove that God was a moving temple for the exiles.  Does this mean the Glory which departed the temple in Ezek.10 dwelt with the Jews in Babylon?  Duguid, Ezekiel (NIVAC), 151, implies it, but the temporary sanctuary of v.16 is not the Shekinah, which is what God’s presence in the temple meant, so we are not dealing with the same thing in Ezek. 11.  It is a way of describing God’s providential eye watching over His people.  Let’s look at the verse:

Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Though I had removed them far away among the nations, and though I had scattered them among the countries, yet I was a sanctuary for them a little while in the countries where they had gone.

Notice first that the vision is of the real temple in Jerusalem (11:1, 9, 11).  Ezekiel’s vision is of the actual city and temple.  Therefore visions can be of literal things and not pictorial emblems as per Steve’s assertion.  The corresponding vision of the temple at the end of the Book makes sense as another literal, though this time future temple.

Then pay attention to the New Covenant prophecy in verses 19-20.  These will be developed in tandem with a future temple toward the end of the Book.  Therefore, there is no tension between God being pictured as a sanctuary in Ezekiel 11 and God’s Glory-cloud entering the future temple in chapter 43.

Steve persists in his belief that his assertion; i.e., that the exiles took Ezek. 40-48 as a “pictorial theology” and saw it as wholly emblematic, actually amounts to proof that it was so understood.  Assertion doesn’t equal proof.  He meanwhile ignores the evidence from context, history and OT scholarship to the contrary.  Another aside: my very specific quotation from Hess did not come from the article Steve referred to.  Hence, another diversion.  Besides, temples did not always signify a god’s presence with the people.  I showed that from Rodney Stark last time.  I augment it with Elmer Martens’ view that:

[Y]es, a temple may bespeak the presence of the deity, but it does not guarantee it.”  – Interpreting the Old Testament: A Guide for Exegesis, ed. Craig C. Broyles, 196.    

For further corroboration consider these scholarly opinions:

a.  In his monograph The Rhetorical Function of The Book of Ezekiel, Thomas Renz expresses his view of “the ‘ineffectiveness’ of the vision in terms of the practical conditions of post-exilic times.” (122).  And he quotes Moshe Greenberg’s comment that, “Wherever Ezekiel’s program of restoration can be checked against subsequent events it proves to have had no effect.” (122 n.161).  Renz observes that the post-exilic community did not look to Ezekiel’s temple as a model, but to Solomon’s.  Further, he suggests that “the influence of Ezekiel in later times was greatest among those who were not content with seeing the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision in the Jerusalem establishment.” (241).

Christoph Barth observes how the plan of the Tabernacle, “was the same as that followed by Solomon, Zerubbabel, and Herod” – God With Us: A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, 266.  This is in continuity with Renz and shows that the returning exiles did not think to build Ezekiel’s temple – an impossible job anyway.   As Douglas Stuart rightly points out, the Jerusalem of Ezekiel 40-48 is very different than what the exiles knew (Ezekiel, CC, 401, 410).

Of course, saying the exiles did not think of building on Ezekiel’s plan does not answer the question of whether they thought it was all symbolic.  However, the covenantal considerations I have highlighted, along with the fact that those returning to Israel were vassals of a foreign king argues for the truth of Hess’s statement.  Along the same lines C. L. Feinberg, who was trained in Jewish interpretation, believed,

No available account so much as hints that in any period of Israel’s history was there an attempt to construct such an edifice.  The Jewish contemporaries of Ezekiel and his later coreligionists never placed the fulfillment of his prophecy either in the past or in the days then present.” – “The Rebuilding of the Temple”, in Carl F. H. Henry (ed.), Prophecy in the Making, 100.

Alva McClain wrote, “This fact should indicate that the Jewish readers of Ezekiel properly placed the fulfillment of his prophecy in the Messianic future.” When the Skekinah returns to dwell in the midst of Israel forever” (43:7). – The Greatness of the Kingdom, 248-249.

Brevard Childs is of the opinion that,

“These chapters [40-48] form a conscious contrast with the earlier portrayal of Israel’s disobedience…[in] chs. 8-11…. the canonical shape has not sought to spiritualize the description of the new temple and the new land in order to soften the concrete features of Israel’s hope.  – Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 367.

The future sanctuary will be a witness to God within Israel (Ezek. 37:26-28).  Paul House thinks, “it is reasonable to find Ezekiel foreseeing a future temple in Ezekiel 40-42.” – Old Testament Theology, 343.  

3. Do Non-Literalists Follow Through on Their Exegesis?

Let it be noted that it is of no account whether one believes the temple will be constructed or not.  What we are considering just now is whether Ezekiel’s contemporaries believed it would be.  But further, we are considering whether the Bible itself situates Ezekiel’s temple in the Messianic era after the Second Advent.  I have provided good reasons for my view.

While literal and non-literal interpreters can and do produce good exegesis of these chapters, the non-literal interpreters will to a man ignore most of their work and seek out spiritual truths via allegory or spiritualization or a blending of both, and apply the vision (without its detail) either to Jesus Christ or to the Christian Church.   Daniel Block recommends employing several hermeneutical methods to guide him (Ezekiel 2.494), and one can see how this would indeed be a handy expedient.  It is my understanding that Hummel, as Douglas Stuart (367, 390), Duguid (481), and Waltke (O.T. Theology, 844), sees fulfillment in Jesus Christ and/or the Christian Church.

When the details of the vision are commented on by these non-literal interpreters, the prescriptions have spiritual meanings attached to them, but awkward details are ignored  For  another example (I have already mentioned the Zadokite/Levite divide): if all this is spiritual of some future perfect relationship with God, why can’t Ezekiel the prophet enter the Holy Place (ch.41)?  Exegesis must do more than report on this before turning to find applications for the Church.  They must explain it.

The different categorizations of general premillennialists which Steve diverts us with (there are different kinds of amillennialists for that matter), is wholly beside the point I am making in these posts.  They use different hermeneutical approaches as any student knows.  Being broadly “premillennial” doesn’t answer to anything in this thread.  Let him address the main argument specifically.  Indeed, my thoroughly unscrupulous character (if Steve is to be believed), is also beside the point.  Ad Hominem is not a good way to reason.

Part Two of this final response will explore more issues and respond to a few of Steve’s barbs.

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5 comments

  1. Hey Paul,
    It would seem to me that Steve is deliberately using known fallacies in order to make his case, in hopes that others won’t recognize them. No doubt he is using ad hom, which seems to be well within his comfort zone. In the case of genre interpretation, Hays engages in Plurium Interrogationum in a way. Anyways, God bless you for standing firm for truth and for the only hermeneutical paradigm that handles the text the way the text ought to be handled. Scripture interprets Scripture.

    1. Ed,

      That had crossed my mind too. I cannot think his method is unconscious (or wasn’t at first). His assertion of vision = symbol has been shown to be false in the matter under discussion, but he asserts it as a fait accomplii nonetheless. He affirms the consequent when he states his position. He does not do as I have done and offer a biblical and contextual argument for his view. Scripture interprets Scripture, but, as you know, CT’s introduce the analogy of faith as part of their hermeneutics, not as a check on exegesis.

      1. We are now nearing this year’s Festival of Purim. Dispensationalists are able to explain the significance of Purim and the Book of Esther through God’s plan on the history of the Jews. How does the CT attempt to say the Book of Esther and Purim is all [completely] fulfilled in Christ’s first coming?

  2. “CT’s introduce the analogy of faith as part of their hermeneutics, not as a check on exegesis.” That right there is worthy of an article/post all by its lonesome.

    By the way, Paul: Hays accused you of being a particularly unique kind or quality of bigot. I’ve found you to be more of a bland, garden variety bigot, like me, so I’m willing to hang out with you.

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