Biblical Studies

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

Part Two

The New Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Coming

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

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

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

Hope

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

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

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

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

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

Kingdom

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

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

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

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

Part One

The Theme of Covenant

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

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

Abrahamic Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Priestly” Covenant

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

Davidic Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As an example, Psalm 33:11 declares,

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

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

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

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

Creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surveying The Period From Joshua To David (Pt.4)

Part Three

Returning to chapter 7 of 2 Samuel, verse 13 speaks of David’s son building “a house for My name” with the addition of the pledge of an everlasting dynastic kingdom.  Walter Kaiser has commented on the connection between the establishing of a kingdom and the right to erect a temple.  He writes,

[A]ccording to 2 Samuel 7:13…the “house” of David had to be first established by Yahweh before a temple could be built.  Temple building could only be the completion and crowning effect of Yahweh’s creation of a kingdom.[1]    

If this is right then David could not begin his reign by ordering the construction of a temple to Yahweh.  Why not?  Because peace in the kingdom was not attained during David’s reign, either through having to impose his reign over dissidents, or through his own disastrous breaking of the law he was supposed to be upholding via the incident with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 11).

As Niehaus reminds us, the covenants of God,

…are unconditional and they are also conditional.  They are unconditional in that the Lord will not let any vassal disobedience annul any of “God’s covenants.  They are conditional in that every one of them contains one or more conditions for the vassal.[2] 

So King David was really in no state to build a temple on the grounds of God’s covenant with him.  But it is interesting that God Himself told David that he was not the right man to build the temple.  Such a temple to such a God had to be built in peace, since it symbolized ultimate shalom in Creation.

The Durability of the Davidic Covenant

As the history of the Davidic line unfolds it doesn’t take long until the wisdom of making it unconditional is confirmed.  The precariousness of making a covenant’s success depend upon men is once again established.  Solomon began so well, with all that a king might need to rule in line with the Law.  A man given wisdom who became the fool; what a commentary on the human race!

The division of the kingdom which followed was inevitable.  The result was a foregone conclusion so long as a son of Adam was in charge.  If God’s covenant was to mean anything in the long run then, just as much as the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Priestly covenants, it had to seek its fulfillment in the New covenant ushered in by the Promised One: the Seed, the Branch, the Servant, the King who is the also Prince of Peace.

Even though mercy was shown to David’s line (e.g. 1 Kings 11:39), the main point is this: so long as any of these covenants was linked to the Mosaic covenant, they were incapable of fulfillment.  They had to be allied to a different covenant; one that was free of demands upon the sons of men to rise to an ethical standard which they were simply powerless to attain.  Therefore the sustainability of the covenant with David would depend upon its association with the New covenant.

After the break-away of the ten northern tribes under Jeroboam of Ephraim (1 Kings 11 – 12), the northern kingdom (which kept the name “Israel”) had no kings who followed God.  These tribes went into Assyrian exile in 722 B.C., although representatives from them all trickled down to “Judah” both before and during those tumultuous years, as several passages make clear (see e.g. 2 Chron. 11:16-17; 19:4; 30:1, 5; 35:17-19).[3]

Again, God Means What He Says

There are numerous instances in the historical books where the two main foci of this biblical theology can be sampled.  Here are just a few examples:

Covenant Oaths Mean What They Say: Solomon’s recalling of Shimei’s oath in 1 Kings 2:41-43; Solomon reminds the people of God’s faithfulness in 1 Kings 8:1, 21, 24, 26 (with more to fulfill);

God’s Words Equal His Actions: 1 Kings 8:24; the naming of Josiah in 1 Kings 13:2, 3, 5; the death of Jeroboam’s child in 1 Kings 14:12, 17; Elijah’s doom upon king Ahaziah in 2 Kings 1:3-4, 16-17; Elisha feeding a hundred men in 2 Kings 4:42-44; the healing of Naaman in 2 Kings 5:10, 13-14; Elisha’s promise of an abundance of food to the starving people in 2 Kings 7:1, 18; Isaiah’s prediction of Sennacherib’s defeat in 2 Kings 19:32-33.  All were fulfilled literally.  God means what He says.

What we might call “the code of the prophet” is found in Micaiah’s testimony in 1 Kings 22:14: “As the LORD lives, whatever the LORD says to me, that I will speak.”  This consistency in the pronouncements of God make Him worthy of our trust.

—————————————————————————–

[1] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Promise-Plan of God, 118

[2] Jeffrey J. Niehaus, Biblical Theology, vol. 2. 415.  Perhaps it would be better not to refer to the recipients of God’s covenants as “vassals” since the Noahic, Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic covenants are not strictly Suzerain-vassal treaties.  Only the Mosaic covenant is, although these treaties do “lie on a continuum.” – Ibid, 424-425 n.12

[3] “A subsequent attempt at religious and perhaps political unification of the whole people of Israel was perhaps also undertaken in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the northern kingdom, before Sargon II’s control over Syria-Palestine was fully established and the situation in the new province of Samerina fully regularized after 720 B.C.” –  Iain Provan, et al, A Biblical History of Israel, 272

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.

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