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Surveying The Period From Joshua To David (Pt. 3)

Part Two

God’s Covenant with David

David was the king that Yahweh had promised (Gen. 17:4-6, 16; Deut. 17:14-15).  His reign came some four centuries after God had said that He would “surely set a king over you” (Deut. 17:15), and not much shy of a millennium after the covenant made with Abraham.  God never seems to be in a hurry.

In many ways 2 Samuel 7 is the strategic point for understanding the covenants with Israel.  It pulls together the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, land and people and God-centered government, in a way that concretizes the one and shows the righteous yet temporal nature of the other.  In the person of the King the Lord’s creation goal will take shape.  That King is not David, but David, as Abraham, is granted the inestimable privilege of beginning the dynasty (cf. Matt. 1:1).

Scripture presents the Davidic covenant almost as a response from Yahweh to the relocation and veneration of the ark of the covenant.  Here is a man who will take the covenant seriously (even though he will sin grievously – Psa. 51).

The importance of the Davidic covenant is underlined by the fact that, as with all the previous Divine covenants, God Himself utters it.

When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men.  But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you.  And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever. – 2 Samuel 7:12-16

The first line of the promise speaks of Solomon, who began well but ended up destabilizing the kingdom through idolatry.  Clearly even giving wisdom to a sinful man is not enough to guarantee the high requirements of covenant fulfillment.  Wisdom can undermine sin, but it cannot stop it in its tracks.  But the promise has more to it than failure at the hands of sinners.  It is part of the web of covenant promises intimately linked with the Creation program of God.  The real intent of the promise comes only in verse 16:

And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.

This is the oath at the center of the Davidic covenant, even though the word berith does not appear in the context.  Yet there is ample corroboration of the oath as a covenant vow.  For example in his prophetic song at the close of his life David is sure that God,

…has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. For this is all my salvation and all my desire; will He not make it increase? – 2 Samuel 23:5        

Psalm 89 includes the elements of the original pledge in 2 Samuel 7, but it is unequivocal about the fact that Yahweh did enact a covenant with David:

My mercy I will keep for him forever, and My covenant shall stand firm with him.

His seed also I will make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven.

If his sons forsake My law and do not walk in My judgments, if they break My statutes and do not keep My commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.

Nevertheless My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him, nor allow My faithfulness to fail.  My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.

Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: his seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me; it shall be established forever like the moon, even like the faithful witness in the sky. – Psalm 89:28-37

The expectation of King David as expressed here is that his dynasty will be perpetuated forever.  That expectation is fixed even when David himself lets his faith slip.  So in 2 Samuel 24 when at the end of his life he numbers the people we read,

Go and tell David, ‘Thus says the LORD: “I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.”  So Gad came to David and told him; and he said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land?  Or shall you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue you?  Or shall there be three days’ plague in your land?  Now consider and see what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.” – 2 Samuel 24:12-13

I think it is significant that God linked a misuse of the crown to a plague on the land.  David is over the land as its king.  And indeed it hardly makes sense to begin a dynasty when there is no land to rule over.  King and kingdom must go together.  Therefore the covenant with David assumes a land – the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – over which the dynasty will reign.

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SURVEYING THE PERIOD FROM JOSHUA TO DAVID (PT. 2)

Part One

Judges is best read as a chronicle of the fate of the separate tribes within the narrative.  There appears to be some overlapping of events within the Book so that a strict 410 year chronology from first to last is doubtful.[1]   Further, there is the sad report that summarizes the first two stories in the so-called “Bethlehem Trilogy” at the end of the Book[2], that,

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. – Judges 17:6

This report, repeated for emphasis in Judges 21:25, does not come from the close of the era of the Judges, but most likely from the beginning.  Kaiser remarks,

The events narrated in these two appendixes to the Book of Judges probably fell early in the period of the judges, since a grandson of Moses, in one case, and a grandson of Aaron, in the other, would need to be contemporaneous with the generation that came after the Conquest.[3]

After Judges 17 – 21 the third story involving Bethlehem is the Book of Ruth.  Ruth 1:1-2 takes place within the era of the Judges, when there was a definite sense of dislocation between one tribe and another.  This sense of estrangement almost, is only overcome in the aftermath of calamity, such as the decimation of the tribe of Benjamin[4] retold in the last chapter of Judges (Judg. 21:1-5).   It is evident that the writer of this little book wants the reader to connect Bethlehem, the place that Elimelech and Naomi originate from (Ruth 1:1-2; 4:11), to the line of David (Ruth 4:17-22); David of course, being from Bethlehem (1 Sam. 16:1-13).

Samuel

Samuel is the spiritual giant who dominates the narrative at the close of the Judges period.  It is difficult to imagine David without the preparatory work which Samuel did in Israel in the previous two generations.  Before Saul was anointed its first king Israel,

…had no statehood, no organized government, no administrative machinery and, above all, no king.[5]

Yahweh was “its sole and sovereign Overlord.”[6]  Yet in Samuel’s day the ark of the covenant was captured by the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:11).  Since it represented the Lord’s side of the Mosaic covenant and it was superstitiously brought into the camp of Israel attended by the two godless sons of Eli, it was not surprising that God allowed it to be captured.  But by permitting such a thing God was in effect saying that since the people had defected from Him that He Himself would temporarily let the ark go to another people who at least would not treat the covenant disdainfully.

The Humiliation of Dagon

The story of the ark of the covenant in Philistine territory is instructional in itself.  It ended up being placed in the temple of Dagon in Ashdod.  Dagon was the fish-headed father of Baal and was the god of grain.[7]  The statue of Dagon did not fare well towering over the ark.  God would not have the symbol of His Presence humbled before an idol.  On two consecutive mornings the priests of Dagon came into the temple only to find the image of Dagon “fallen on its face to the earth before the ark of the LORD” (1 Sam. 5:3).  On the second occasion the possibility of an accident was completely discounted when “the head of Dagon and both the palms of its hands were broken off on the threshold; only Dagon’s torso was left of it.” (1 Sam. 5:4).

Subsequently, the widespread suffering of the Philistine cities where the ark was moved persuaded them to give it back to the Israelites (1 Sam. 5:6-6:18).  Their experiences with the ark would have taught the Philistines that the covenant of Israel with its God was powerful when they were obedient to Him.  Sadly, Israel was in such a sorry state spiritually that they could not handle the ark of the covenant properly for many years (1 Sam. 7:2). (more…)

Surveying the Period from Joshua to David (Pt. 1)

After the death of Moses on the east side of the River Jordan the responsibility for leading the fledgling people of Israel into the Promised Land fell upon Joshua the son of Nun (Josh. 1:1-2).  The first indications were that Yahweh’s power would make them unstoppable.  The passage of the ark of the covenant over the dry bed of the Jordan demonstrated to the people that the Creator Himself was their God, and they were in covenant with Him (Josh. 3:17).  In a real sense the priests bore the covenant with them as they passed into Canaan.  There was every reason to be devoted to God.

The overthrow of Jericho and the way it was accomplished once again only underlined Israel’s dependence on Yahweh (Josh. 6).  But Achan’s sin cost the lives of thirty-six men (Josh. 7:1-5), as well as causing the name of Yahweh to be blasphemed.[1]  Defeat at Ai proved that without God conquest was not going to be possible.  Thus, from the very start of the campaign miraculous acts of God encouraged the Israelites to occupy the land.[2]  But they were also reminded that success depended on them going about it God’s way; that is, with an eye to the covenant.[3]

The deception of the Gibeonites takes up chapter 9 of the Book.  What is most noteworthy for our purposes is the finality of the covenant that was made with Joshua and the elders of Israel (Josh. 9:15).  The text places emphasis on the hope that was placed by the Gibeonites in the solemnizing oath that was sworn:

So Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them to let them live; and the rulers of the congregation swore to them.

And it happened at the end of three days, after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were their neighbors who dwelt near them.

Then the children of Israel journeyed and came to their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kirjath Jearim.

But the children of Israel did not attack them, because the rulers of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD God of Israel. And all the congregation complained against the rulers.

Then all the rulers said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the LORD God of Israel; now therefore, we may not touch them.” – Joshua 9:15-19 

If only they could persuade the Israelites to vow to spare their lives the Gibeonites knew they would be safe.  The wording of the oath that was taken was the crucial thing.  It would be hermeneutically decisive!

At the close of the book there is the famous fulfillment statement in Joshua 21:43-45,

So the LORD gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it.

The LORD gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand.  Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass.

This passage is often seized upon by amillennialists and postmillennialists to try to prove that the land promise has been fulfilled and that there is no good reason to teach that the nation of Israel still has an expectation of possessing the land grant of Genesis 15.[4]  For example,

This promise of a land was fulfilled when Joshua led the people of Israel back into Canaan (Josh. 1:2-9).  As Joshua himself later put it, “So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there” (Josh. 21:43; cf. 1 Kings 4:20-21).[5]

But any reflection on Joshua 23:11-12 and Judges 1 and 3 shows that the amillennial interpretation fails to take the wider historical context into consideration.  As Chisholm explains, “The land belonged to Israel, by title deed if not in fact.”[6]  To all intents and purposes, the land belonged to Israel, and possession of the remaining territory was contingent upon covenant faithfulness to Yahweh.

Yet there is a sense in which the land-grant of Genesis 15 must also be seen eschatologically.  The extent of that land promise still awaits final fulfillment.[7]  In light of this it is best to interpret Joshua 21:43-45 as a statement of God’s fulfilled promise in terms of His covenant faithfulness to a yet disobedient, willful and sometimes feckless people.  The land was now “Israel”, though not the promised Kingdom.

In the last chapter of Joshua we read about a covenant renewal at Shechem at which Joshua rehearses the Lords faithfulness to His people (Josh. 24:1-28).  This was the fourth time that the children of Israel had pledged to walk in God’s covenant Law.[8]  But from the human side, such pledges are never going to be kept.  Still, the speed at which the tribes faltered is alarming.  Within essentially one generation (see Judg. 2:10) the author of the Book of Judges could write of the almost total apostasy of the nation (Judg. 2:10-13).

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[1] It is not easy for the modern reader to understand the language of herem (indicating dedication to God through utter destruction), but it would have been fully known to Achan.  Whether Achan only is executed or whether his “sons and daughters” were also stoned is hard to tell from the text.  In light of Deuteronomy 24:16 (“children shall not be put to death for their fathers”) it seems more likely that Achan alone was killed.  See Adolph L. Harstad, Joshua, 328.  For a description of herem see e.g., Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 110

[2] For Joshua himself, the greatest of these miraculous signs was when he was confronted by “the Captain of Yahweh’s army” in Joshua 5:13-15

[3] Harstad comments, “The covenant relationship between the LORD and Israel is implicit in every chapter of Joshua.” – Ibid, 751

[4] It is strange how “literal” they can get with some texts in their clamor to “spiritualize” many others

[5] Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism, 46

[6] Robert B. Chisholm, A Commentary on Judges and Ruth, 119

[7] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. The Promise-Plan of God, 96-97

[8] The other times were in Exodus 24 and 34; and Deuteronomy 29.  See Elliott Johnson, A Dispensational Biblical Theology, 173.  Johnson seems not to view Deut. 29 as a separate covenant to the one at Sinai.

Some Notes on Daniel 7 (Pt.2)

Part One

A Time. Times, and Half a Time

The length of time that these saints are given into his hand is described cryptically as “a time, times, and half a time.” (7:25).  If we stand back and think a little about these words it will become apparent that the only possible way in which they can make sense is if we understand the plural “times” as designating “two times.”  If it can mean any more than two the whole revelation drops into irrelevance.  This is because if any more than “two times” is meant, it might be three or four, or twelve, or twelve hundred times.  Who’s to know?

No, the only way “times” designates anything for sure is if it is a simple doubling of a “time.”  This would mean that we have one unit (or “time”), and two additional units (“times”), and then a half unit (half the first unit).  Hence, whatever the units are we have three and a half of them.  Since we know that these units are units of time the best suspects are days, weeks, months, or years.  In Daniel 4:23, 32 it is most likely that the “seven times” in which Nebuchadnezzar was insane stands for seven years.  If that is correct then “a time, times, and half a time” in Daniel 7:25, and later in Daniel 12:7 stands for three and a half years.

In the later passage there is a reference to “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation” out of which Daniel’s people (Israel) will be delivered (Dan. 12:1).  During this period of trial, “the power of the holy people will be shattered” (12:7), which conjures up thoughts of texts like that describing “the time of Jacob’s trouble” in Jeremiah 30:7, and that text also has Israel (Jacob) rescued in the end.

If we try to piece this together we get a persecution of Israel by a powerful and blasphemous potentate for three and a half years just prior to Christ’s second appearing to establish His earthly dominion.  Since the four kingdoms of Daniel 7 match those of chapter 2 we can identify the “stone” whose earthly kingdom will last forever (Dan. 2:44-45), is Christ, the “Son of Man”.  Additionally, Nebuchadnezzar was told that his dream concerned “the latter days” (Dan. 2:28), so it seems to fit together coherently.

Explaining that Interval

How is one to explain the exceedingly long interval between the fourth kingdoms and the arrival of the coming One?  From our vantage point in the twenty-first century after Christ, does it not stretch credulity to continue to look for this “little horn”, the grand persecutor in our future?  What about the long history of the Christian Church?  Is that merely a “parenthesis” between these events?  Should we not be well advised to seek a personage in the era of the first advent to identify as this “little horn” from the fourth kingdom?

The same kinds of questions may be asked about the “stone… cut out without hands” of Daniel 2:34.  If He smites the toes of the image, wouldn’t it be logical to locate this smiting at the first advent, perhaps spiritually applying it to the work of Jesus on the cross?

The first thing I would say in response to this understandable concern is that the text of Scripture must be permitted to say what it says, about whom it says it.  That last clause is most important.  The people in view in these visions are the nations of the world considered in terms of empires (Dan. 2 & 7), and, in chapter 7, the persecuted people of God (who in the historical context are the saints of Israel – 7:25, 27).  The coming of the stone and the Son of Man is, we have good reason to believe, the coming of Messiah to reign upon the earth.  This would be the second coming, not the first.[1]

We must take seriously the fact that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus was a rejection of the kingdom too.  This might have been foreseen had Isaiah 53 (especially when combined with Daniel 9:26) been comprehended for what it was.  We have already seen that the first and second advents are fused together in the Prophets (e.g. Mic. 5:2; Isa. 9:6-7; 61:1-2).  If there is to be a long interval between the two comings of Christ and that is what is envisaged in the Daniel then so be it.[2]

What this entails is that Daniel has supplied us with some important information about Israel’s fate just before the time of the second coming of Jesus.[3]  This information can be inserted into the developing picture of covenant promise as it emerges from progressive revelation in the Old Testament.

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[1] I shall have a lot more to say about the reign of Christ further on in this work.

[2] The fact that the Body of Christ, the NT Church is not seen in the visions of Daniel does not relegate the Church to a secondary “parenthesis.”  It just means that it is not the subject of Daniel’s prophecies.  Progressive revelation, when understood as an unfolding story, will bring the Church into the picture when the time is right.  In the sixth century B.C. the revelation about the Church would just complicate the prophetic picture.

[3] Of course, from the perspective of OT saints there is no time separation between the first and second advent.  This is why, e.g., Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7, 61:1-2, as well as Zechariah 9:9-10 include detail now known to belong to one or the other coming of Christ.

Some Notes on Daniel 7 (Pt.1)

Just as there are four kingdoms represented by the materials in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream-image in Daniel 2, four kingdoms are also present in Daniel’s vision of the four beasts in chapter 7.  Since we find weird creatures, portents of the last days, a supernatural guide and such, this vision is associated with apocalyptic genre.[1]

Saying something is “apocalyptic” is enough in some quarters to designate it non-literal, but comparison of biblical apocalypses with plain prophetic passages strongly suggests that they can refer to the same things, and that therefore apocalyptic texts should not be understood apart from the more straightforward prose of comparative prophetic literature.

Each of the four beasts arises out of the sea (Dan.7:3).  This “great sea” (v.2) is not interpreted, but it possibly refers to the Mediterranean, although it has additional value as a symbol for the world, especially in resistance to God (v.17; Isa. 57:20).[2]

The standard opinion of conservative commentators is that the beasts in Daniel 7 represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece (Macedonia), and Rome, exactly as in Daniel 2.[3]  I believe this is the correct understanding of the four beasts of Daniel 7:4-7, although I shall have to leave more detailed explanations to the commentaries.[4]

Taking the four beasts as representative of Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome, we see that the fourth creature has ten horns (v.7), three of which are displaced by another horn which rises later (v.8).  This “little horn” has human eyes and “a mouth speaking pompous words.” (7:8).

The “little horn” is seen as “making war with the saints, and prevailing against them” (7:21), at least for a period of “a time, times, and half a time” (7:25b).  The “little horn’s” evil progress is stopped in its tracks by the arrival of “one like the Son of Man, coming on the clouds of heaven” (7:13), whose glorious reign over all the nations is never ending (7:14).  The saints are given entrance into this last king’s everlasting kingdom (7:22, 27).

From Daniel’s vantage point in the sixth century B.C., there was no way of knowing who this character symbolized by the “little horn” would be.  All that could be reasonably ascertained was that (1) this figure would hold power at the time of the fourth kingdom[5]; (2) that he would be a blasphemer who would pursue God’s people (who in this context would have to be Jews), and (3) that his persecution of Jews would be curtailed by the Son of Man who had received the right to rule the earth forever from God (the “Ancient of Days” of vv. 9-10, 13).

Since the four kingdoms which preceded the everlasting kingdom of the Ruler are earthly and physical in nature – and Daniel would not have thought otherwise – the natural conclusion is that the “Son of Man” who comes from heaven (7:13) is a King who sets up His reign upon this earth.  This fact is vital for understanding the vision, because it locates the time of eschatological fulfillment at the end of the era of sinful human dominance.  It represents a momentous paradigm shift when heaven intervenes in earth’s affairs in an irresistible way.

Just as the “stone made without hands” in Daniel 2:44-45 destroyed the kingdoms of man before spreading throughout the world, establishing an everlasting dominion, the “Son of Man” in Daniel 7:13-14 does the very same thing.  He is the Final King, voted in by Heaven.

When we connect this “apocalyptic” depiction with the expectations of a future Ruler elsewhere in the Old Testament (under various names: ‘the Branch’; ‘the Seed’, etc.), there is every reason to think that Daniel is referring to the same personage.  See, for example, the references in Numbers 24:17; Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-10; 32:1f.; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Micah 5:2.  The fact that later Jesus Christ quoted this very passage from Daniel 7 at his trial (Matt. 26:64. Cf. Matt.24:29-31), where He was plainly alluding to His second advent, shows both that He is this coming Ruler, and that the “little horn” will be defeated by Him at His second coming.[6]

In Daniel 7:24 we are told that the ten horns on the fourth beast are “ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom.”  Presumably all ten arise at about the same time, because three of them are subdued by the appearance of the eleventh king, that is, the “little horn.”  This would not be possible were Daniel referring to ten kings who reigned successively.  The next verse which focuses on the king who is the “little horn” again speaks of his blasphemous mouth, and about his vendetta against God’s people.  For Daniel and his ancient readers, these “saints of the Most High” would be Jews.

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[1] See Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, 98-107

[2] Cf. Ernest Lucas, Daniel, 177-178

[3] Although there is some circularity in the views of both conservatives and liberals here.  For the later, note Lucas, Ibid, 76

[4] Some evangelicals, although veering to the more liberal end of the spectrum, have mounted arguments against the traditional understanding.  For a brief review see Willem A. VanGemeren, Interpreting the Prophetic Word, 345-347.  For a good defense of the traditional identifications of the kingdoms see E.J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel, 143-147, 275-294.

[5] The fact that a horn of the beast represented a king points to the fact that the beasts themselves should be seen as kingdoms.

[6] “Confessedly the Christian is inclined to look at this vision through the spectacles of NT eschatology, and through those spectacles the little horn well answers to the period of the Antichrist before the return of Christ (2 Thess.2:3-4).” – C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books, 357

The Mysterious King of Tyre

Ezekiel 28 is known for its double prophecies against the rulers of the ancient port of Tyre in modern day Lebanon.  The first ten verses concern the “prince [nagid] of Tyre” and speak of his fate by God’s judgment.  But then comes a lamentation against the “king of Tyre” (Ezek. 28:11-19).  The description of this king is curious to say the least.  God says that he was the sum of perfection or proportion, wise and utterly beautiful (28:12. Cf. Ezek. 27:3).  This seems an over the top way to speak about an earthly ruler, but perhaps this is mere hyperbole?  Tyre, after all, was an important city in Phoenicia which rose to prominence in the time of Rameses II and was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar in 573 B.C.[1]  Its king would have been impressive enough.  Ezekiel surely would have had the Tyrean court in mind.

But unless one is bound and determined to look the other way it is very difficult not to see a double reference in the passage.[2]  Some of the language, like verses 16 and 17, could fit a 6th century Phoenician king.  But of whom could it be said, “You were perfect [or “whole” tamiyim] in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.” (Ezek. 28:15)?  It could be Adam, and indeed many recent Reformed writers identify this figure as Adam; usually in service of their expanding “Cosmic Temple” view[3] which they use to shore up their amillennial eschatology.[4]  Of course, Adam was “in Eden” (28:13), but he was naked until he fell (Gen. 2:25; 3:7, 10-11), and if he had priests garments when he heard the Lord in the garden, why did he not don them?[5]  In fact, why would he have garments at all if he went about naked?  In clothing Adam Beale and others flatly contradict Genesis.

As the prophet continues his description of “the king of Tyre” some things just don’t fit a human person:

You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones.  You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. – Ezekiel 28:14-15    

There were cherubim in Eden, but not until after Adam had been driven from the garden (Gen. 3:24).  The Book of Ezekiel is the place to go for information on the cherubim.  Heavenly beings are called by that name in Ezekiel 10.  In 10:20 they are equated with the “living creatures” of Ezekiel 1.  Interestingly, a comparison of Ezekiel 1:10 with 10:14 would seem to show that the face of a cherub is the same as the face of an ox.  In any case, if a cherub looks like the strange angelic beings in the early part of Ezekiel, then it is certain that the “anointed” or “covering cherub” of Ezekiel 28:14, 16 is not Adam, or any man.[6]  (more…)

Why I Read The Scholars Yet Still Believe That God Means What He Says

A rerun of an older post

Recently, I have (not for the first time) been immersing myself in the works of writers who would disagree very strongly with the views espoused at Telos and by traditional dispensationalists in general.  Trawling through these big books, paying attention to each argument and their use of Scripture, and repeatedly coming across assertions that seem to make God guilty of double-talk is, to be brutally honest, a sort of self-imposed torture.  So why do I do it?  I read these works because I want to be informed about the latest arguments against my position.  I want to keep abreast of how many evangelical scholars think.  I don’t want to be a Bible teacher and theologian who is ignorant of what’s going on around him.

Another reason I read books by those with whom I disagree is because if a good argument arises which demonstrates I am wrong, I want to see it.  So far, I have to report that I have not found any argument which impresses me that way.  In fact, the more I read of these men, the more convinced I become that they are, hermeneutically speaking, barking up the wrong tree.

Let me give you an example:

Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus’ kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judaism – G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 431 my emphasis.

You might need to read that statement more than once.  What Beale says is quite startling.  Here we have a respected evangelical NT scholar asserting that OT prophecies about the kingdom had fulfillments which differed from what the prophets themselves predicted!  Since the Author of Scripture is God, we have God giving His prophets a misleading prophecy.  God puts confusing words in the prophets’ mouths!  Naturally, Beale would cry foul.  But think about it.  In Deuteronomy 18:22 we have God telling His people to how they are to test a true prophet sent from Him:

when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

In this passage God plainly tells His people that they can spot a true prophet from a false prophet by whether what they say will happen actually transpires.  But doesn’t Beale’s view of prophecy render God’s tests of a true prophet utterly futile?

If, as Beale says, an OT prediction can be “transformed” in “unexpected ways” (both terms he uses), we must ask, “How then is one to know if what a prophet has spoken is true or false?”  It seems the only way to really know the answer is if God Himself tells us it occurred, but the fulfillment came about in an unexpected way.

But if that is the case, how could we recognize a false prophet?  If what a true prophet predicted need not come to fulfillment in the way his words would cause one to expect, couldn’t a false prophet declare that what he had predicted came to pass, but also in an unexpected fashion?  Wouldn’t we need God to tell us that what such and such a prophet said was false?  If someone answers, “No, we would know someone was false if what he said didn’t come to pass.”  But that brings us back to Deut. 18:22, and the problem of testing prophets if their prophecies can be unexpectedly “transformed” and, therefore, the fulfillment “not be the kind of [thing] prophesied by the OT,” as Beale puts it.  This reduces God’s Word to absurdity.

I believe that a lot of Reformed theology, when faced with hard questions, reduces down to nominalism.  Nominalism is basically the view that the essence of a thing is summed up in the name (nomina) one appends to it.  Thus, for example, God is good, not because He is essentially good in His character, but because He calls Himself good (which actually reduces to the fact that we call Him good).  This is a subject I need to write about in another post, but I hope you see how this example applies to my subject here: if some scholar says that what God prophesies in the OT can be “fulfilled” in unexpected ways in line with the Beale quotation above, then any declaration of fulfillment can only be on the basis of God saying, “that is transformed and fulfilled in this!”  Until the original (misleading) words were deciphered no one could identify the their fulfillment.  The “fulfillment” would be just that only because God said it was a fulfillment, not because it corresponded to the original words of the prediction.

Imagine someone telling you they were going to do something specific; say, meet you at a certain coffee shop at 9 am next Thursday morning.  You duly arrive there at 9am on the designated day and he never shows.  Then you call him later and he asks you what’s wrong.  He did what he told you he was going to do.  He met another friend at a restaurant at noon.  What he told you earlier was a type of what he actually did.  Hence, he did fulfill his promise, just in an unexpected way!  Who would accept such a lame excuse?  Yet Beale seems to think that is how God operates!

Here’s another quote:

When we see that Israel is, according to the Old Testament, the last Adam, and as later Jewish tradition understood it [they cite a c. 3rd to 5th century AD text], the one undoing the sin of Adam, we see the background for Paul’s understanding of Christ as the last Adam, because as history unfolds, Jesus accomplishes in his person and work what God intended for Israel as a people. – Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 228

Gentry thinks Israel is “the last Adam,” not because the Bible calls the nation by that name, but because he spies a motif or pattern which he thinks implies such a teaching.  Then he refers the reader to a Jewish midrashic text to substantiate his point.  The Jewish text cited by Gentry (Genesis Rabbah 14) also tells us that Adam was formed with a tail like the other animals (actually, the part he cites [14:6] is equally wacky!).  Moreover, this text was written at least three centuries after the Ascension of Christ. (more…)

Review of ‘He Will Reign Forever’ (Pt.4)

This is the final installment of my review of this book

Part Three

As he moves through the Book of Acts the author addresses the main kingdom passages only.  An author must be selective with his material, so the relatively brief look at Acts is no mark against the book.  In fact, due to his ability to sum things up quickly and accurately Vlach can pinpoint the salient passages and continue into the Pauline corpus.

That said, he manages to dwell on the really crucial texts.  He says, for instance, “Acts 3:19-26 is a strategic passage for the kingdom program.” (421).  And he has spent 7 pages getting to that conclusion.  He not only exegetes Acts 3:19-21, he demonstrates Peter’s compliance with expectations raised by the Old Testament.  He then mentions how Acts 3:25 cites Genesis 12:3 and 22:18 to prove that Israel – representatives of which the Apostle is speaking to – is still the same national entity as was envisaged in the Abrahamic covenant (420-421).

Any worthwhile account of the kingdom in the New Testament has to tackle James’s use of Amos 9 in Acts 15:16-18.  Does James reinterpret the prophet the way amillennialists insist he does?  Vlach says there is a partial fulfillment of Amos because now Christ has come Gentiles are invited to God through Him. “The point of Amos 9:11-12 is this – a restored kingdom of Israel under the Messiah results in blessings to Gentiles.” (424 italics original).  However, Amos 9:13-15, which refers to the restoration of Israel in the future, are not quoted by James (425).  Partial fulfillments of OT prophecies ought to be expected because of the space between the two comings – something which was far from clear in the OT.

Entering upon Paul’s epistles, the first thing Vlach does is to set out the fourteen references to the kingdom.  In dealing with each one the constant theme is the futurity of the kingdom (433).  A crucial passage is 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, and Vlach pays ample attention to it (436-444).  Here the author’s exegetical and analytical skills are fully utilized to prove, I think conclusively, that Paul assumes an intermediate kingdom reign of Christ on earth before He delivers up the kingdom to the Father.  I shall not go into detail here, but his handling of the epeita… eita formula (with reference to 15:5-8), the use of Psalms 110 and 8, and the fact that Christ must reign “until” show the necessity of the premillennial view.

When coming to the great eschatological section in Romans 9 through 11, one could have wished that more space had been allotted to the Apostle’s argument.  Three pages is not enough, and it amounts to the most disappointing part of an otherwise excellent book.  This was surprising to come across, and perhaps a second edition could improve on the deficiency?  What is said is right enough, but since the Olive Tree metaphor especially is subjected to inattention and misreading I really hoped for a thorough analysis of the passage.

The chapter which follows (ch. 30) deals with “The Kingdom in Hebrews”.  The Book of Hebrews is turned this way and that depending on the propensities of interpreters.  But just read “on its own” so to speak, it is an exceedingly prophetic type of literature.

In his handling of the epistle Vlach investigates two questions: the kingdom passages and the use of Psalm 110:1, 4.  He concludes that,

Christians currently are looking for the world to come (2:5) and the city to come (13:14).  Jesus is currently exercising His priestly role from the right hand of God but is waiting for the day when He will reign as messianic King, putting His enemies under His feet (Heb 10:12-13).  The kingdom has not arrived yet but it will come in connection with divine judgments to come (12:26, 28).  But like Abraham, Christians are looking for the coming heavenly Jerusalem, a literal city that will exist on the earth. (467)

Whether one agrees entirely with the author’s understanding of “the heavenly Jerusalem” the chapter is well argued.

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“Leaving Mormonism” – A Review

I was sent this book (and another that I must review soon) before Christmas and the publisher, quite understandably wishes me to review it.  I am very happy to do so since this is a fine resource

A Review of Leaving Mormonism: Why Four Scholars Changed Their Minds, edited by Corey Miller & Lynn K. Wilder, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 311 pages, paperback, 2017

This book is an great idea.  Four former Mormons with academic credentials and a passion for the truth write about why they left Mormonism and add a critique of it from their own perspectives.  Each writer communicates clearly.  None is mean spirited in their criticism of their former belief, though all are keen to inform readers not only of the errors of the Latter-Day Saints; errors which lead to a particular worldview, but also of the chameleonic nature of Mormon teaching as it seeks to adapt to criticism and exposure.

Corey Miller’s chapter, “In Search of the Good Life” asks whether experiencing the good is objectively possible under Mormon teaching.  His answer begins with his personal testimony of being a Mormon with descendants reaching all the way back to acquaintances of Joseph Smith himself.  His essay deals with the nature of Mormon testimony and the difficulty of achieving “salvation.”  Miller is a philosopher and has provided excellent notes to go with his essay, even briefly outlining Alvin Plantinga’s response to de jure objections to Christian faith in his Warranted Christian Belief (70 n.41).

The next chapter is by LaTayne Scott, “I Was There, I Believed.”  She has been given enough room to write a long but interesting chapter consisting, as all the contributions do, of her testimony and an analysis.  Scott’s testimony is eloquently written and of real help for someone trying to understand the grip that Mormon culture exerts upon its members.  Of particular help in this chapter is the way the author persuades the reader to look upon Mormonism as a worldview with its distinctive (and false) approach to truth.

Lynn Wilder’s piece includes her discomfort at encountering many contradictions concerning things like racism and polygamy.  There is also her son’s story, wherein he was challenged while on mission to read the New Testament.  Upon returning to testify he got up and confessed that a person needed Jesus and Him alone (163).  This son, Micah, begged his parents to simply read the NT like a child would.  Wilder read John’s Gospel and her eyes began to be opened, though not for some time did she and her husband leave the fold (in 2008).  The “reasons” part of her article details numerous social problems with Mormonism, again focusing on racism and polygamy, but expanding on each.

The last of the four writers is the scientist Vince Eccles.  He became a rebel against religion after learning about his divorced mother’s being judged for some of her choices.  He writes about his fascination with parts of the Bible (e.g. Matthew and Exodus) and his investigations into the reliability of the Scriptures, but he does hold to a non-literal reading of the early chapters of Genesis, and to theistic evolution, and there are certainly one or two liberal-critical influences upon him.  He records crises of faith which even had him contemplating becoming an orthodox Jew.  He also seems to have universalist leanings.  Of the four authors in the book I felt Eccles was the least satisfying.  In fact, even though his essay is of interest, I think it was a mistake to include him in the book.

Miller and Wilder complete the book with a chapter on the New Atheism.  They inserted this chapter because many ex-Mormons become disillusioned and fall pray to the arguments of these people.  It’s a nice bonus at the end of the book.

This is an absorbing book, written with head and heart.  I liked the first two contributions to be the most helpful; the one by Eccles was a disappointment.  I think the book, Eccles’ chapter apart, is a very good buy.

Review of ‘He Will Reign Forever’ (Pt.3)

Part Two

This is the third part in what has become a four part review of this book.  I think the work is important enough as a Dispensational Biblical Theology to merit a piece of this length.  I hope you will agree.  

As Vlach entered upon the New Testament I was curious how much space he would devote to developing the message of Jesus in its pre-Pauline context.  That is to say, I wanted to see if he would trace the teachings of Jesus from its grounding in the prophetic expectations in the Old Testament and its effect upon Jewish hearers in the first part of the first century A.D.  I was not disappointed.

The author chooses the Gospel of Matthew as his frame of reference for understanding the kingdom aspect of Christ’s mission.  This was a natural enough choice, although the present reviewer is also a fan of the speeches in Luke-Acts for this purpose.  Of course, the selection of Matthew in no way eliminates interaction with the other Gospels, and Vlach picks up on some of the main kingdom emphases in Luke, especially the crucial Parable of the Nobleman in Luke 19:11-27(e.g. 357-360).  About 150 pages of He Will Reign Forever are set aside for the Gospels.  This allows Vlach to make the important textual and theological connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament around the Person of Jesus Christ and His kingdom understanding.  The work done in these chapters supplies the basic proof for the underlying accuracy of the book’s hermeneutical consistency.  At the risk of annoying some readers, this sort of work does not need to be done by those who automatically spiritualize the text whenever it threatens to unravel their view that Christ and the Church are what it’s all about.  Again, it is worth noting the clever use of non-evangelical scholarship to drive home the fact that the author is not making his points because of some blind allegiance to Dispensational requirements, but because this is what the text of Scripture itself is saying.

Jesus’ identification with Israel is seen as a main emphasis of Matthew 2 (262). The author handles the Hosea 11:1 quotation in two ways; first via reference to corporate solidarity, but then also by noting the probable source of the allusion to Numbers 23 and 24; a position vigorously argued for by the late John Sailhamer (263-264).  From there the “kingdom is at hand” passages in Matthew 3 and 4 are handled in chapter 16.  I fully concur with this quotation:

According to Matthew 5:5 kingdom blessings include inheriting the land, which is a physical blessing.  The view that Jesus is presenting a spiritual kingdom only appears more in line with a Platonic dualism between spirit and matter than a biblical worldview. (270, and something he returns to quite frequently in Part Three of the book).     

Along with rejecting the spiritualizing view of the kingdom Vlach is also unpersuaded by the prominent “already/not yet” so prevalent today, saying “it does not do justice to the full package of kingdom blessings presented by John and Jesus at the time of their pronouncements.” (270 my italics. cf. 271). 

In order to bring the cosmic drama between God and Satan into his discussion of the Temptation of Jesus the author deals with several Old Testament passages before tackling the Temptation itself.  He poignantly states, “The arrival of Jesus was an invasion of Satan’s empire.” (285).  He takes the opportunity to make important intertextual links in fleshing out the kingdom implications of Christ’s presence on the scene.  This gives him the opportunity to remind his reader of some of the ground already covered in the Old Testament sections.  I do wish that he had afforded himself the liberty to deal with the recent attempts of amillennial biblical theologians to quite irrationally identify “the anointed cherub” of Ezekiel 28 with Adam (281-282).

The topic of miracles is well handled in chapter 18, which focuses on Matthew 4:23-24.  I very much liked the description of miracles as “acts of restoration” (296).  That is good theology.      (more…)