Biblical Studies

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.

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[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

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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.

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…)

On Accurately Pinpointing Daniel 9:24

I am recovering from a bout of the flu and am not yet fit enough to write anything new.  Hope this piece is a decent stop-gap.

In Daniel 9:24, Gabriel’s words are absolutely essential for a correct interpretation of the Seventy Weeks’ prophecy; the location of the last week especially.  Gabriel says the entire period involves Daniel’s people and Jerusalem, and these referents are not to be swapped out with ecclesial ones[1]  There are then six particular things to be accomplished which are enumerated in the verse, things which are determined to occur.[2]  These are arranged with three negatives followed by three positives:

To finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. – Daniel 9:24

Can these six items be identified?  It depends upon ones eschatological commitments.  I think if we keep to the gradually emerging eschatology which I have been following in the Prophets until now all the data has to be understood in one way.  Let me explain.

The first item concerns finishing “the transgression”.  Daniel has been praying about it (9:4-14), and any reader, especially of the historical and prophetic books, is intimately aware of the problem.  To finish the transgression of Israel could only end in the destruction or salvation of the Jews (e.g. Isa. 59:20-21).[3]    The making a complete “end of sins” is perhaps more inclusive, since not all sins are transgressions (pesa).  This is best viewed as a curtailment of Israel’s historic waywardness, and invites the thought of a fresh start (Amos 9:8; Hos. 2; Mic. 7:14-20; Isa. 1:25-27; 62:1-7; Jer. 3:12-17).  The third achievement is to “make reconciliation for iniquity”, which while accomplished at the Cross[4], here points more to the time of Israel’s attainment of that reconciliation.  Even more, this recalls God’s stated intention to redeem His people (e.g. Jer. 30:11; 31:11-12; Ezek. 36:25-29).  These three things tie in with the covenantal expectations raised by God in the prophets.  As they stand they have not been fulfilled.  Israel is still in sin.

The three positive achievements in 9:24 could not be more optimistic.  What could be better than the introduction of “everlasting righteousness”?  The first of the second set of achievements is “to bring in everlasting righteousness.”  It is very difficult to imagine, even with the most sanguine imagination, how any phase of earth’s history so far qualifies for such a description.  Again, this prediction is about Israel and Jerusalem in particular.[5]  As I stated in my comments on Jeremiah 31:31f. “in those places where righteousness and salvation are in view, the context is unwaveringly a New covenant eschatological context.”  This is a rational understanding of the close of Daniel’s petition in 9:16-19.  It is what is someday expected (e.g. Isa. 25:8-9; 51:11; 61:2b-3).  The fifth thing Gabriel mentions is the sealing up of vision and prophecy.  If it is right to link all the previous accomplishments to Israel’s New covenant era, then this is readily comprehended.  Since this era is marked by the setting up of the earthly kingdom of the promised Messiah (e.g. Isa. 11:1-10; 32:1; Jer. 23:5-6; Dan. 7:13-14), when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9; cf. Jer. 31:34), there will be no need for prophets.[6]  This is lent support by a rather strange text in Zechariah.

It shall come to pass that if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who begot him will say to him, `You shall not live, because you have spoken lies in the name of the LORD.’ And his father and mother who begot him shall thrust him through when he prophesies.

 And it shall be in that day that every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies; they will not wear a robe of coarse hair to deceive. – Zechariah 13:3-4

At first sight this passage is disturbing.  What righteous parent would think of killing their own son, even if he were acting the part of a prophet?  But the passage hints at the blatant act of temerity of the son’s action, as if to don the mantle was a vicious blasphemy.  If one fits this action into the kingdom age when the prophet’s function becomes obsolete because of the worldwide knowledge of God, then it would make good sense.[7]  Hence, to seal up visions and prophecy would certainly occur in the New covenant aeon as envisaged from an Old Testament perspective. (more…)

A Note on the Kingdoms in Daniel 2

An Excerpt from ‘The Words of the Covenant’

Until now we have not ventured any specific identifications of the kingdoms in the dream.  We have tried to view Daniel’s interpretation with the eyes of the king.  But we, of course, have the advantage of looking back along the line of history to Nebuchadnezzar’s day.  What does this backward look tell us?

The first thing to be noted is that not everyone looks back in the same way.  The main issue is that many interpreters refuse to grant the traditional 6th Century date for the writing of the book of Daniel.  Instead, they have convinced themselves that the book is an example of post-exilic and inter-testamental apocalypse.  We may divide the two camps and their respective supporters so:

Sixth Century

Keil, Young, Leupold, Wood, Walvoord, Culver, Gurney, Unger, Hasel, Archer, Waltke, Walton, Miller.

Second Century

Zockler, Driver, Rowley, Montgomery, Lacocque, Eissfeldt, Porteous, Russell, Childs, Towner, Collins, Goldingay.

This set of listings reveals that the cleavage within the two groups is theological[1] and presuppositional.  The less conservative authors go for the Maccabean date, (and they will also for this reason favor “apocalyptic” understandings of the text as a word-picture rather than a prophetic statement), while those generally with a stronger belief in inspiration are to be found holding to the traditional date.  Usually those holding a sixth century dating for the book identify the four kingdoms represented in the dream-image as Neo-Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and, Rome.  This has been the consensus throughout the major part of Church history.[2]

The preponderating view, at least until recently, among the more liberal contingent, has been that the four kingdoms are Babylon, Media, Persia, Greece.[3]  It is supposed that as the writer was living in the Maccabean period he had an incorrect view of the history of the Middle East[4], or at least that he would have viewed Media and Persia as separate powers.

Other attempts to rob the chapter of the predictive element include making the metals represent four kings of the Neo-Babylonian Empire: Nebuchadnezzar, Amel-Marduk, Neriglissar, and, Nabonidus.  This omits the brief reign of Labashi-Marduk and treats Belshazzar as the weak (clay) half of the co-regency with Nabonidus.  Inconsistencies and flat out mistakes are of no concern to men like Philip R. Davies, a scholar whose neo-Kantian approach would like to see all talk of the supernatural removed from the academy.[5]  Goldingay thinks perhaps the significance of the statue is in the four named kings within the book, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius the Mede, and Cyrus.  In this interpretation the image is more a literary device than an attempt to trace history accurately.  Another commentator of the evangelical left, Ernest Lucas, seems to opt for the Babylon, Media, Persia, Macedonia (Greece) scheme.  Nearly all these men believe that the book is prophecy written after the fact.

What all these non-conservative views have in common is the disallowance of Rome as the fourth kingdom.  What do the facts of history show?  They reveal that the traditional order is the best one.  Of the older commentaries, Archer has written persuasively on this matter.[6]  We have seen that the Medes enjoyed their greatest period before the death of Nebuchadnezzar.  It certainly did not “arise” after him (v.39).  And the dream symbolism begins with him.  Besides, the eight-year continuance of the Median kingdom hardly does justice to what is said in Daniel 7:5.  If we take the Medes out as a lone kingdom and include them along with the Persians, which reflects what occurred in history, we are left with Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

“Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” – Dan. 2:45

It ought to be firmly kept in mind that the stone’s impact is depicted as destroying the image instantaneously, not at all gradually.[7]  This fact calls into question the amillennial and postmillennial interpretations of the passage, which see the stone as representing the spiritual kingdom inaugurated by Christ at His first coming.  It will not do to say that the mountain grows gradually out of the stone, for the basic fact is that the stone has done away with all resistance to the growth of God’s kingdom.  Nothing of the kind is analogous with what one finds in history up to the present day.

——————————————————————-

[1] Evangelicals like Goldingay state that their conclusions are theological as much as anything.  See John Goldingay, Daniel, 45.  But it is ‘evangelical’ theology after it has been stripped bare by liberal presuppositions.

[2] Robert Gurney, nevertheless, believes that the order is Neo-Babylonian, Median, Medo-Persian, Grecian.  See “The Four Kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7,” Themelios 2 (1977), 39-45.  Gurney points out that the Median Empire, which was contemporary with that of Babylon, became the more redoubtable of the two after Nebucadnezzar’s death in 562 during the reign of Astyages (585-550).  But it should be noted that Media reached its zenith during the forty-year reign of Astyages’ father, Cyaxares (625-585).  See Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible, 53-54.  Also, Astyages was overthrown by Cyrus of Persia (Ibid, 56), which would compel a view where Astyages himself was the silver-kingdom.  As a comparison with the dates above show, this would make the “Median” silver-kingdom last a meager eight years.

Relying on Gurney’s research, John H. Walton, “The Four Kingdoms of Daniel,” JETS 29 (1986): 36, produces Assyria, Media, Medo-Persia, and Greece as worthy of consideration.  In this scheme “Nebuchadnezzar would be seen as a continuation and culmination of the Assyrian empire.”  Though both schemes are honest attempts to re-examine the question, neither has gathered to itself much support.

[3] E.g. John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, 95f.

[4] Robert D. Culver, Daniel and the Latter Days, 112.

[5] Craig Bartholomew, ‘Warranted Biblical Interpretation,’ in Craig Bartholomew, C. Stephen Evans, Mary Healy, Murray Rae, editors, Behind The Text: History and Biblical Interpretation, 59-63

[6] Gleason L. Archer, “Daniel”, EBC, 24-26

[7] See especially Archer, Ibid, 49.  Note on v. 44

Review: ‘He Will Reign Forever’ by Michael Vlach (Pt.1)

A Review of He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God, by Michael J. Vlach: Silverton, OR. Lampion Press, 638 pages, hdbk.

Dispensationalists and open-minded amillennialists know that a book or article by Michael Vlach is going to be worth reading.  His contributions are always well thought-out, and his style is usually analytical yet easy to follow.  He has written several useful works, including Has the Church Replaced Israel? and a recent e-book, How Does the New Testament Use the Old Testament?   This book, running for more than 600 pages, is his most ambitious yet.

He Shall Reign Forever is Dr. Vlach’s attempt to write a whole Bible biblical theology; something that Dispensationalists, in whose company the author counts himself, have often shied away from, although commendably the author does not structure the volume around “dispensations.”  What we get is a must-have piece of biblical theology.

Vlach has taken as his central idea the theme of God’s Kingdom.  There is no argument here with the choice.  It is perhaps the primary theme of the Bible (25-26).  But the Kingdom of God has proven to be a very mutivalent concept in the hands of Bible scholars (e.g. 29-30, 32).  Therefore, any writer who wants to put out a big book on the Kingdom has his work cut out for him.  The question is, how to both persuade the reader of ones own take while showing why other views of the subject – e.g. the Kingdom is the Church, or the Kingdom is the inheritance of the Church – fail in their understanding of the Scriptures (e.g. 16).

Although there is some interaction with other positions, the writer is clear that what he is concerned with is a positive presentation of his view of the kingdom (17 n.11).  Vlach offers what he calls “a new creationist perspective” (11), by which he means that the Bible presents the Kingdom as the goal of creation.  This is in opposition to a “spiritual vision model” (12), which tends towards spiritualization.  As the title suggests, the Christocentric thrust of Scripture features strongly, but without the debatable practice of seeing Jesus in every verse.

The author affirms the continuity of God’s plan in line with His promises.  The spiritual promises of inward renewal have been shown to have had literal fulfillment.  So too will the physical promises (14, 49).  The form that this takes is “fulfillment of the particular (Israel) leads to fulfillment of the universal (the world)” (15 – all italics are those of the author).

There are five parts to the storyline of the Bible (23).  The first is pivotal:

the kingdom is present with creation as God the King of creation tasks his image-bearer, man, to rule and subdue His creation.

This linking of eschatology to creation is vital for the future of premillennial eschatology, as it prevents one dealing with the Last Things independently or lastly , as so often happens in Dispensational publications.  His definition of Kingdom as “the rule of God over His creation” (30) reinforces the need for a biblical theology of the Kingdom.  With the concept of the “mediatorial kingdom” (via Alva McClain) wherein God rules via man, providing the mode of Kingdom rule (ch. 3).

I should insert here that even though I would not disagree with Vlach that the Kingdom is primary as a theme, and I would even say that “covenant” is subordinate to the aims of the Kingdom (26), I do not think that that the Kingdom theme as Vlach sees it is established outside of God’s covenants.  He quotes Goldsworthy to this effect (26 n. 10), although ironically in the piece he cites; “The Kingdom of God as Hermeneutic Grid”, I believe Goldsworthy gets things exactly the wrong way round.  It is the covenants which provide the interpretive grid for the Kingdom idea to fully emerge (though see 28 n. 14).  This is why the present writer advocates a “biblical covenantalism” as the backbone of proper hermeneutics.

The second chapter seeks to establish the methodology of the rest of the book.  Adequate grounds are given with good examples.  I heard echoes of some of my own emphases in this chapter: like the stabilizing authority of the covenants (42), the objection that if the original audience couldn’t know the path of fulfillment the revelation could not have been for them (42), the problem with a hermeneutics geared mostly to the first coming (43 n.21), and the fact that spiritual qualifications precede and guarantee literal fulfillment  of God’s promises (44).   Vlach does not need me to tell him these things, but I was very pleased to see them stressed.

The first eleven chapters of Genesis is where the rationale for Vlach’s five parts of the Bible Story must be established.  He does this in chapter 4, “The Kingdom and Creation (Genesis 1- 11)”.  Good creation, fall, and the foundational first (Noahic) covenant are handled neatly, so that the transition into Genesis 12 and following flows logically and inevitably.  I think the author does a great job in these pages, achieving the programmatic cohesion that exists from the flood to the call of Abraham.  This is a skillfully written chapter; the best in the Old Testament portion of the book. (more…)