Covenants

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt.4)

Part Three

The Suffering Servant

God’s Servant reappears in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This passage is of great significance because in it the Holy Spirit puts emphasis not on the reign of Messiah (if I may at this place call Him that), but upon His sufferings.  It is a singular fact that the Old Testament prophecies are more concerned with the reign of the coming Ruler than with his death.  This point has even caused interpreters to question whether we are dealing with the same person or with two “servants”, a sufferer and a conqueror.  This passage answers that question decisively I think.

It starts with the exaltation of the Servant (Isa. 52:13), but immediately the mood changes to His degradation (52:14ff.).  Since Philip identifies the Suffering Servant as Jesus in Acts 8:35, and 52:13-15 is really part and parcel of that portion of the prophecy in chapter 53, we might look at these verses as a kind of prelude to it.  Verse 13 certainly draws a parallel with what has been spoken of the great King to come in Isaiah 9:7 and 11:2-5.  The exalted One who shall “deal with prudence” over the earth’s affairs will also have to undergo great humiliation in the earth.  As we know that His reign will be eternal (Isa. 9:7), we are compelled to conclude that His degradation will occur prior to His being coronation (hinted at in Isa. 53:12a).

Even without seeing Jesus in the remarkable words of Isaiah 53 one feels sympathy for the man being described.  Oppressed and afflicted, yet having the meekness not to object (53:7).  A man despised by men (53:3) and “smitten and bruised by God (53:4, 10), and yet one who bears our iniquities so successfully (53:5, 6, 11, 12) that He can be made a sin offering to God (53:10), even making intercession on behalf of sinners in a way impossible for any mere animal (53:11).  This again is the Servant (53:11), but it is not Israel by any stretch of the imagination!  In no believable circumstances could Israel, who remember were under a complex sacrificial cultus, ever be thought of in this fashion.  This impression is intensified when we consider that those justified by the Servant (who though afflicted by God was nevertheless serving God – 53:4, 10), included Israel (“My people” in 53:8).

While the Servant is subjected to terrible treatment at the hands of men the prophecy makes it clear that it is for mankind that the transaction was allowed to happen.  No wonder then that after all He has to endure God exalts Him (53:12).  What a wonderful verse is verse 11:

He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. – Isaiah 53:11

The righteous servant does all this not only for God but for Himself!  “The labor of His soul” is such a beautiful phrase.  Once we couple this together with the developing portrait of the Messiah and we recall His connection, in fact His identification with the New covenant, and we remember how the New covenant gives new vigor to the other covenants I think we begin to see how the covenantal Creation Project comes together in and through the Person of Christ.

Humiliation before Exaltation

We might do well to pause here for a moment to reflect on the remarkable fact that the Old Testament dwells far more upon the victorious ascendancy and rule of the Promised One than with His being dishonored and put to shame by His enemies before coming to the throne.  Even in the first promise in Genesis 3:15 the serpent is said to crush the heel of the woman’s seed before He vanquishes the serpent.  In Genesis 49:10 and Numbers 24:17 speak only of His glory, as does Micah 2:13 and 5:2.  Psalm 22:1-21 is the only other passage so far in the progress of revelation where a similar shameful treatment is recorded, but there the specific individual remains prophetically uncertain until the death of Jesus.  In Isaiah the prophecies in 7:14; 9:6-7; 11:1-10; 32:1; 40:10 all refer to the reign of the Lord, there is no mention of any suffering.  This will be the consistent theme of Isaiah from chapter 54 onward.

We shall observe the same phenomenon all the way through the Prophets.  Zephaniah 3:15-17 and Jeremiah 23:5-6 and 33:14-16 teach us to expect someone who will usher in righteousness under His purview.  The “smiting stone” of Daniel 2 and the great Ruler of Daniel 7:13-14 again draw the reader’s attention to the glory of the Coming One, not to His misery.  Zechariah’s post-exilic visions do briefly mention that Yahweh will be valued at thirty pieces of silver (Zech. 11:13), and then there is the enigmatic pronouncement that “they will look on me whom they pierced” in Zechariah 12:10, but otherwise that writer’s more Messianic predictions follow the descriptions of splendor we find nearly everywhere else (e.g. Zech. 2:10; 3:8; 6:12-13; 8:3; 9:9; 14:3-5, 9, 16-17).  Finally, Malachi 3:1-3 and 4:1-3 raise the same expectations. (more…)

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Covenant in Isaiah (Pt.3)

Part Two

The Intertwining of the Covenants: A Little Summary of the Coming Kingdom

In these kinds of passages Isaiah presents a picture of the future kingdom of the Branch that is glorious in many respects.  It is fair and just and safe and beautiful.  After the initial battles, there will be a realization of the dream of world peace, brought about by the great mass of people turning to the true God; a New covenant era.  Additionally, the beautification of the earth, the desolate places made verdant, and the increase in natural productivity, will be matched by the pacification of the animal world.  This might readily be seen as a New covenant effect on the Noahic covenant.  Peace, both outward and inward, will not be the elusive thing for which men have unsuccessfully sought throughout history.  It will be present as a felt reality.  It will be a natural part of human experience.  And humanity will not be left to itself, but will know itself to be under the benevolent and judicial eye of the everlasting One.  For God Himself, through “Immanuel,” will dwell on the earth in Jerusalem,[1] and all eyes will be on the great nation of Israel.  This is where the first two parts of the Abrahamic covenant, together with the Priestly and Davidic covenants come in.

What happens in the Prophets is that the covenants of God intertwine.[2]  Even parts of the Mosaic covenant are refocused in the New covenant.  The New covenant is the key, because through it the other divine covenants can be realized.  The great obstruction of human sin is dealt with.[3]

This is the outlook of the prophetic witness we have studied so far.  It will be repeated and expanded as we move forward.  The future kingdom will be wonderful in many ways.  The believing will find “perfect peace” (Isa. 26:3) and “learn righteousness” (26:9).  In fact God will work it all within them (26:12. Cf. 35:17).

Many of these great themes are present in Isaiah 32.  There is the pouring out of the Spirit in 32:15, which is followed by the revitalization of the wilderness and super abundance of the field.  But a noteworthy thing is that these normally uninhabited places will be places of justice and righteousness (32:16).  The ethical and the physical are beautifully intertwined in the passage.

Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is counted as a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.  – Isaiah 32:15-17

In his Religio Medici, the 17th Century polymath Sir Thomas Browne supposed that while there is only one world open to the senses, there are two open to the reason; the visible and the invisible.[4]  It is my belief that the end of the Creation Project is where the two worlds unite in our sensory experience as well as in our understandings.  That is what is portrayed by the Prophet here.  “Peace,” that elusive dream often rather rudely confronting us on preachy bumper-stickers and placards, will indeed be “felt” in the former nether regions of the earth when the righteous King reigns (Isa. 32:1).

But it will not be completely perfect.[5]  Already we have read that the Messiah, if I may at this point call Him by that title, will still have to keep sin in its place.  When the last book of the Bible tells us that this “Lord of lords and King of kings” will rule the nations “with a rod of iron” (Rev. 19:15-16), it is because it is picking up on the language of Psalm 2.  Isaiah has also described how “He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth” (Isa 11:4).  Micah, in the midst of predicting a scene of the kingdom (Mic. 4:1-8), has to report the continuance of idolatry (Mic. 4:5a. cf. Zech.13:2-6).

The “Little Apocalypse”

What has been called “the little apocalypse” in Isaiah 24-27 begins with a description of God’s wrath upon earth (24:1-23),[6] before introducing an era when God “will swallow up death forever, and… wipe away tears from all faces” (Isa. 25:8).  Yahweh says that He will expand “all the borders of the land” (Isa. 26:15), which obviously recalls the Abrahamic oath of Genesis 15:18-21.  Judgment gives way to blessing.  There is even a mention of resurrection (Isa. 26:19 cf. Job 19:25-26), places this section at the time of the Lord’s establishment of His kingdom.  Pain is substituted for joy because God “will establish shalom,” having done all their works within the redeemed (Isa. 26:12; 27:9).  This will be an era of true justice, not just politics under the name of justice (Isa. 26:9); an era of a resurgent and resplendent Israel (Isa. 27:6).

In sum, Isaiah’s Little Apocalypse shows that a global kingdom follows global tribulation.[7]

————————————————————————————–

[1] So many covenant theologians assume that these prophetic references to a glorified Jerusalem are to New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven (Rev. 3:12; 21:2), because their theological covenants force them to.  However, “heavenly Jerusalem“ is not a concept that occurs in the Old Testament.” – See Andrew T. Lincoln, Paradise Now and Not Yet: Studies in the Role of the Heavenly Dimension in Paul’s Thought with Special Relationship to His Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), 18-19

[2] Thomas E. McComiskey refers to the way the “redemptive” or “promise covenants” (e.g. Abrahamic) work in tandem with what he calls the “administrative covenants” (e.g. Mosaic).  Hence the covenants function “bicovenantally.”  – The Covenants of Promise, 139-177.  His work is stimulating, but the Abrahamic covenant is not a redemptive covenant.  Only the New covenant contains the means of redemption.  Furthermore, McComiskey holds a necessary correlation between Israel and the Church on this bicovenantal pattern (Ibid, 189-190).  This fails, for example, to account for the raising of specific expectations by God in the three strands of the Abrahamic covenant and the repetition of these expectations under New covenant conditions.

[3] As we shall see, the New covenant itself is embodied in the Messiah, making Him the center of the covenantal picture of the Bible.

[4] Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and The Garden of Cyrus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), edited by R. H. A. Robbins, 37

[5] Note, for example, that not until the creation of the new heavens and new earth is there “no more curse” (Rev. 22:3).

[6] In Isaiah 24:5 we read of the earth’s inhabitants breaking “the everlasting covenant.”  The phrase is found in relation to the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9:16, and I believe that is the covenant Isaiah mainly has in mind here (John D.W. Watts, Isaiah 1 – 33, 318).  Still, I think Motyer is correct in saying that human beings have failed to live in right relationship to God within the terms of every divine covenant.  See his discussion in Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, 199.  Less likely in view of the Noahic connections is the view that it may convey a less technical sense meaning the relationship between man to the Word of God under which he is to live, as in e.g. Harry Bultema, Commentary on Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1981), 236-237.  The term is also found in reference to the New covenant in, for example, the Book of Hebrews (Heb. 13:20).  In each of its usages the onus is not on “eternity past” but upon the future.  It will take a work of God Himself to rectify the persistent failure.

[7] Michael J. Vlach. He Will Reign Forever, 167

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt. 2)

Part One

Isaiah 11

A great monarch, called the “Branch” (Isa. 11:1. Cf. 4:2) will be possessed of the Holy Spirit (11:2).  His wisdom and justice will be equal to Yahweh (11:2-4).  Already Isaiah has taught us that this person will be miraculously conceived by a virgin (7:14 cf. Gen. 3:15); and no wonder, because He will be “Immanuel” – God with us.

Now we understand more clearly the import of Micah’s words about the coming One, “Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2), and our thoughts are turned to “the one who breaks open” of Micah 2:13.  In Isaiah chapter 9 we come across an extraordinary personage “called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isa. 9:6).  He is of Davidic origin (9:7), just as this mighty and benevolent king in Isaiah 11:1 (cf. the Ruler from Bethlehem in Micah 5:2).  The details are clamoring for attention: the Prophets speak together of a great Potentate who will hail from Judah (Gen. 49:10; Mic.5:2), from David’s line (1 Chron. 17:12-14; Isa. 9:7).  He will rule in wisdom and righteousness and equity, aided by God’s Spirit (Isa.11:2, 4-5).  As Dumbrell indicates, His concern with righteousness and faithfulness (Isa. 11:5) shows His allegiance to God’s covenants.[1]

The Gift and Names of a King

But this person will be more than just an ideal human king.  His ancient provenance (Mic. 5:2), and special titles (Isa.7:14; 9:6) show Him to have close affinities with Yahweh Himself.  He will be “wonderful,” like no other ruler in human history.  Isaiah 9:6 refers to Him as “mighty God” (El Gibbor).[2]  Whoever this person of Isaiah 2 and 11 is then, even from the prophet’s perspective, He is very possibly divine!  By “everlasting Father” or “Father of eternity” is probably meant “protector of the people,” although He will remain so in perpetuity.[3]  The verse ought never to be misconstrued as equating this king with God the Father.  Although the description of Him as “everlasting” points to His divinity, the name “Father” does not.[4]

The first three names of Isaiah 9:6, along with the promise of the virgin born “Immanuel” in Isaiah 7:14,[5] could easily lead someone to the conclusion that God Himself will be this promised Ruler, this “great light” (Isa. 9:2).  Who else could preside over a world where the reaper could overtake the sower? (Amos 9:13).  Or bring about shalom among men and among the animal kingdom? (Hos. 2:18).  And if one is making connections with previous revelation, then who else could vanquish Satan (Gen. 3:15)?  The Psalmist had spoken about an individual so exalted that He was seated at God’s right hand until the kingdom was given to Him (Psa. 110:1).[6]  In fact Psalm 45:6 alluded both to His divine nature and the “scepter of righteousness” that He would wield (cf. Gen. 49:10; Num. 24:17; Psa. 2:8-12).

The fourth name of Isaiah 9:6 is “Prince of peace.”  This peace is what Micah 4, Isaiah 2 and 32 envisage.  The Prince of peace doesn’t negotiate peace, He exudes peace!  His shalom influences the coming New covenant Kingdom which He is present in.

The early chapters of Isaiah’s prophecy bring many strands of hope together, and they all coalesce around one man, whom the prophet speaks of variously as the Branch, Immanuel, the Servant.  Further on in the Book more information will be added, although some of it will be perplexing in light of what has been said (i.e. Isa. 53).  Yet it will not be contradictory.  But the strong kingdom promises within the great covenants (Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic), require a special key to unlock them.  That key is salvation from sin.

There is no kingdom or participation in the kingdom without atonement.[7]

Will atonement too be accomplished by this Divine Ruler?  And if so, how will He accomplish it?

The Man who is the “Branch”

The answer to these questions lies ahead of us.  The reintroduction of the “Branch” from the Davidic line alludes to a kingly figure who will rule, not only over Israel, but the whole created order.[8]  As such the person of the “Branch” is a king par excellence.[9]  But in the setting of Isaiah 11 there are more extraordinary things of which to make mention.

After the opening description of the Branch of verses 1-5 there comes an enthralling description of a transformation of the instinct and temperament of the wild beasts of the earth:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. – Isaiah 11:6-9 (more…)

Covenant in Isaiah (Pt. 1)

This post and those to follow are extracts from a draft chapter in the book ‘The Words of the Covenant: A Biblical Theology’ Vol. 1 (forthcoming d.v.)

The prophet Isaiah prosecuted his ministry between around 755 to 685 B.C.[1]  Isaiah has a lot to say about both the developing picture of the Creation Project and the person of the promised King who will reign upon the earth.  His presentation of both of these broad themes furthers the developmental picture of the covenant program greatly.

The Prophet before his God

Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord in chapter 6 of his book helps us to understand the rest of what he had to say.[2]  The prophet is confronted by the unimaginably majestic vision of the throne room of God, being brought face to face with the King of the universe (Isa. 6:5b).  In this environment he quickly becomes acutely aware of his own decrepitude and unworthiness.  He is a sort of microcosm of the people of Israel to whom he is sent, and to every reader of his work.

The vision of the holy King in Isaiah 6 grants a glimpse of God, albeit terrifying, but with a lining of hope, that not only enables us to make (some) sense of God’s difficult words in the book, but also invites us to examine ourselves personally and corporately…[3]

The prophet sees his own sin before denouncing the sins of Israel, and is given many indications of sin’s vanquishing by the Judge on the throne.  Restoration, salvation, healing, and harmony are brought before the chosen race in this book; especially in and through the Messiah, whom Isaiah likes to call God’s “Servant,” in the second main division of the work.  Although there is an irony in that the prophet’s message will only accelerate Israel’s decline.[4]

Be that as it may, the hope which punctuates this book originates directly from the One who sits exalted on the throne.  If there was no hope from that quarter there would be no point in asking “Who will go for us?” for it would only be a fool’s errand of one doomed sinner telling every other doomed sinner what bad things God had in store for them all.  The vision of God in chapter 6 may be strategically placed so that, as Oswalt comments: “Just as the man of unclean lips had to abandon all hope before being cleansed by fire, so too must the nation.”[5]

The Lord (‘adonay) is seen in a temple (Isa. 6:1),[6] and the whole vision concerns the created earth (6:3).[7]  The fact that the Almighty cleanses the prophet before He asks for a volunteer (6:7-8) shows that a redemptive mission is in His mind.[8]  Isaiah goes forth “for Us” (the plurality that is the Lord[9]).  And even though there will be judgment against willful sin (6:9-10), yet in the end some, the “holy seed,” will be saved (6:13 cf. 4:3).

The Introduction to the Book

As Isaiah’s prophecy begins he wastes no time in coming to the point about Israel’s (i.e. Judah and Jerusalem’s) spiritual condition.  Isaiah employs several memorable images to show the people their abandonment of God: they are “laden with iniquity” (Isa. 1:4), “the whole head is sick, the whole heart faints” (1:5).  The trouble is the people don’t think (1:3).  Still, God tries to reason with them:

Come now, and let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. – Isaiah 1:18-19

It is unclear whether this is simply a statement that we reap what we sow, or is also a prophetic oracle, looking at the cleansing action of God that will qualify His people to inherit what was promised to them many centuries earlier.  But as the first chapter draws to a close, Isaiah foresees a time when God will turn His people back to Himself.

I will turn My hand against you, and thoroughly purge away your dross, and take away all your alloy. I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.  Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and her penitents with righteousness. – Isaiah 1:25-27 

With the benefit of hindsight we know that at no time was there a national repentance that led to Jerusalem being known as a “city of righteousness.”  The prophet is definitely on predictive ground again.  Furthermore, although it is not given the name, these are New covenant words; true righteousness will only come once the Law is satisfied. (more…)

Covenant in Micah

Having seen the prophetic emphases of Amos and Hosea, I want to turn to Micah the Moresthite (c.742-685 B.C.).  He too brought scathing indictments against his people.  At one point he accuses them of having risen up as an enemy against their God (Mic. 2:8).  There is no let up until the end of chapter two where these enigmatic lines appear:

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob,
I will surely gather the remnant of Israel;
I will put them together like sheep of the fold,
Like a flock in the midst of their pasture;
They shall make a loud noise because of so many people.

The one who breaks open will come up before them;
They will break out,
Pass through the gate,
And go out by it;
Their king will pass before them,
With the LORD at their head. – Micah 2:12-13

Notice the mention of the remnant, which is always in Micah a reference to those among Israel who will be saved.  Verse 12 envisions a gathering of the remnant, but for all that it foresees a large company of people brought together.  The scene is one of restoration and peace.  The thirteenth verse is a bit more difficult to break down.  The identity of “the breaker” (parats) is settled once we understand the parallelism with “the king” and “the Lord” later in the verse.  This is none other than the great prophetic figure found in Genesis 3:15, 49:8; Numbers 24:8-9, 17; and Deuteronomy 18:15-19.  At this juncture, around the latter part of the 8th Century B.C., this noble personage is still somewhat of a dark figure.  But if we put these things together we come up with a victorious Hero who will vanquish Satan, a King from Judah who will lead a restored Israel, who will come in a future day, and who will also be the great Prophet of His people.

If we jump to chapter 5 we come across the well known prophecy in 5:2,

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting

In this oracle Micah names the actual birthplace of the coming King.  Naturally, it is in Judah because that is where Jacob had predicted that He would come from.  The geographical connection between Micah 5:2 and Genesis 49:8 shows that they are speaking about one and the same person.  But the prophet adds a bit more information.  This Ruler is clearly connected with the Davidic covenant (even though the word cannot be translated as “king”).  The fact that there is a stable continuity between Jacob (c. 1850 B.C.), David (c. 1000 B.C.) and Micah (c. 700 B.C.) again shows that God’s covenant word does not alter its meaning or become “transformed” as the centuries pass.  Prophecy is steady so that faith in God can be firm.  Indeed, the added specificity of the birthplace of the Ruler necessitates this.

Of course, this side of Calvary the interpreter has to decide whether or not the passage is speaking of the first coming of Christ (I am assuming the identity of this Ruler is Christ), or of the second coming of Christ.  Believers in Micah’s day did not have this quandary.  For them the mighty Ruler to come will be born in Bethlehem, and this too is how the scribes inquired of by Herod saw it (Matt. 2:5-6), although they also called Him the Shepherd of God’s people.  More inferred than plainly taught, the function of this Ruler will be to bring unity and blessing to the nation corresponding to the covenants with Israel.  This certainly did not occur at the first advent.  But here we might begin to notice an important fact about predictions concerning this exalted figure, and that is that most of the prophecies concerning Him (Christ) hold the two comings (as we now know of them) together as one work.  We shall see this over and over again in Isaiah and other places (e.g. Isa. 9:6-7; 40:3-5; 52:13-53:12; 61:1-2; Zech. 9:9; Mal. 3:1-3).  The two comings are viewed together.  This same phenomenon is found in relation to Genesis 3:15; the crushing of the heel of the Woman’s Seed was at the Cross.  The crushing of the serpent’s skull by the Woman’s Seed is still in the future: in fact my opinion is that it awaits the closing of the thousand years in Revelation 20; the culmination of the Creation Project.

If we take this view of the two comings forming essentially one work it is apparent that the work of Christ is not yet complete.  Certainly the role of the Suffering Servant is finished (Jn. 19:30. Cf. Acts 3:13, 26), but there is much more to do!

But another matter confronts the reader of the verse: does this Ruler’s activity, though set in the future as to His role for Israel, declare to us that He has a special provenance?  He is said to be “of old” (qedem), “from everlasting” or “from ancient times” (olam).  How is this to be understood?  By any margin this is a mysterious statement.  Some more liberal commentators have tried to resolve the tension by making this statement refer to the Davidic line.[1]  But the subject under discussion is not the line of David but one particular Ruler from David’s birthplace.[2]  This individual has “origins” in the ancient past.  As McComiskey says,

The word qedem can indicate only great antiquity, and its application to a future ruler – one yet to appear on the scene of Israel’s history – is strong evidence that Micah expected a supernatural figure.[3]

Another writer has said that “The phrases of this text are the strongest possible statement of infinite duration in the Hebrew language.”[4]  The obvious ties to both the Davidic and the Abrahamic covenant should be noted.  This Ruler will bring about the full fulfillments of these great covenants.

Moving back one chapter the prophet gives us a depiction of the coming kingdom of the Ruler.  What we are told here will become common as we read the prophetic literature.  It is this-worldly but it is another world.  There is an evocation of tranquility that seems scarcely possible in our turbulent world.

Micah 4:1 locates the prophecy of 4:1-8 “in the latter days”, which, although it is not definite enough to place at the end of time (viz. after the second coming when Israel will turn to the Lord – Deut. 4:29-30), seems only to fit comfortably there.  The scene is idyllic, almost like the Arcadia of Virgil.  We read about the exaltation of the mountain of Yahweh.  Is this metaphorical only?  Perhaps: perhaps not.  It is too early in the Old Testament chronology to tell.  What is more certain is that people (am) of the nations of the world will go up to it.  This will not surprise any reader who remembers Genesis 12:3 or 22:18. Even the commission given to Israel in Exodus 19:6, although it was not fulfilled under Moses and Joshua, suggests to us that the Divine intention was for Israel to act as a spiritual magnet to the rest of the nations.  The second verse spells this out for us.  The peoples of the world are depicted as encouraging one another to go to the house of God (the Temple) in Jerusalem to worship.[5]

The next verse compliments verse 2 by describing the repentance which comes to the nations.  There is one (“He”) who causes this turning.  One can be sure that “He” is not a member of the United Nations.  No, this is either God above or it is God’s Representative here below.  The “Ruler” of 5:2 fits the bill nicely.  He is extraordinary in that He achieves what no man has come close to achieving: the cessation of war.  Here surely is the “Prince of peace” of whom Micah’s contemporary Isaiah speaks (Isa. 9:6).[6]

(more…)

Covenant in Amos

Amos (active c.765-760 B.C.)

Amos is a simple shepherd and gatherer of figs to whom the word of the LORD (dabar YHWH) comes.  He cries against both Israel (2:6) and Judah (2:4; 3:1).  A major concern of his is social justice.  Amos certainly has much to say by way of reproof to “the whole house of Israel”, and most of the first seven chapters concern themselves with the moral resistance of Israel to their covenant God.  However, despite the strong current of moral justice in the Book, when the prophet’s task is spoken of it is mainly in terms of prediction.

Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets – Amos 3:7 (NASB)

The “counsel” that follows is a forecast of doom and captivity for the northern tribes.  But in chapter nine the prophecy begins to extend out beyond the time of the prophet.

Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” says the LORD – Amos 9:8

The sins of Israel will be dealt with through punishment, but the nation itself will not be completely destroyed.  This will be a permanent refrain coming from the prophetic literature; judgment followed by restoration and blessing.  The big question is, when will this occur?

Just three verses later we find this promise:

On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the LORD who does this thing.

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.  I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.  I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,” says the LORD your God. – Amos 9:11-15

Everybody knows that a portion of this passage (i.e. 9:11-12) is cited by James from the LXX in Acts 15:15-18.  I shall of course deal with James’s use of Amos in the proper place, but in this context it seems pretty clear what is being set forth.  When put into the mouths of the prophets as Seers and foretellers, the phrase “on that day”or “in that day”, (which is especially common in Ezekiel), seems to indicate the future Day of Divine interposing; that is, the future “Day of the Lord” or its wonderful aftermath. [1]

For the prophet Amos and his contemporaries; indeed, for Jews in Old Testament times, the raising up of the booth of David would have had only  one meaning: the restoration of the Davidic line and kingdom in right relationship to and pursuance of God, enjoying the covenant blessings of God.

The reference to those among Edom and the Gentiles who are God’s (“called by my name”) would remind hearers of God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations in Genesis 12:3; 22:18; and in the case of the former, Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17-19 would come to mind.[2]  It does not mean that these people groups will be included in some expanded “Israel.”  There is a demarcation in the text which should not be trammeled by preferential kinds of eschatology – the kinds that have no place for a restored Israelite nation.

Later Obadiah would speak of “saviors” who would come into Edom once it became incorporated into Yahweh’s kingdom (Obad. 21).  Amos 9:11 comfortably embraces both Abrahamic and Davidic covenantal expectations.

What comes next involves several concepts which will be repeated in the prophets: (1) the unusual productivity and blessing upon the land (“the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed” – Amos 9:13); (2) the return of Israel’s captives and the rebuilding of cities to dwell in; and (3) guaranteed perpetuity in the land that God gave them.[3]  Indeed, Amos records God’s pledge that the land of Israel is “their land” (Amos 9:15).[4]  So even though much of Amos is concerned with societal woes and short-term prophecy, the very end of the Book looks to the great hope of a united Israel in right relationship to God dwelling in its own land.  This would come to pass in the last days.[5]

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[1] I will have to examine “The Day of the Lord” in another place.

[2] See John H. Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 250-251

[3] E.g. Isa. 35:1-2, 6-7; 55:13; Jer. 31:12; Ezek. 34:26-27; 36:33-38; 37:21-28; 47:12; Joel 2:18-19, 21-27; Zech. 8:11-13; cf. Lev. 26:40-45.

[4] In Ezekiel we read of God calling Israel “my land” (Ezek. 34:5) but then calling it “their own land” in settings both of rebellion (Ezek. 34:17), and of final restoration (Ezek. 37:21).  For Amos, it is still Israel’s land even when their sins have absented them from it (Amos. 7:17)

[5] See Gary V. Smith, Interpreting the Prophetic Books, 76; Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Preaching and Teaching the Last Things, 87; even William J. Dumbrell, The Search for Order, 79.  Although lying within the critical tradition, the assessment of Brevard Childs is that in Amos 9:11, “The discourse moves into the realm of eschatology (11, 13).  It turns on the possibility of a new existence after the end has come.  The promise concerns the raising up of the shattered ‘booth of David’ – that is, David’s larger kingdom, which can again lay claim on the land.  No human ruler can achieve this feat; the initiative lies solely with God.  The hope is miraculous and logically incomprehensible.  It is placed within the eschatological framework of the last days.” – Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 407

The Covenants in Hosea (Pt.2)

Part One

The Book of Hosea continues to pour out its condemnations of the malpractices of Israel (in particular the northern tribes spoken to ‘synecdocheally’ under the heading of the largest tribe, Ephraim), but at the end of chapter 5 there is a passage which expresses another truth that will seemingly run in tandem with God’s wooing of Israel as described in chapter 2:14f.

I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense.
Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me. – Hosea 5:15

The scene is of God retiring from the scene until such a time as His people acknowledge the fact that they have continually sinned against Him.  The theme is found earlier in Deuteronomy 30:1-6 where the prediction of worshipful obedience transcends any state of affairs known after that time.

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. – Deuteronomy 30:6

Here we have language which will much later be equated with the New covenant.  Perhaps we can see this better by reading the following passage from Deuteronomy 4:

But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the LORD your God and obey His voice (for the LORD your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them. – Deuteronomy 4:29-31

Along with a clear nod to “the covenant of your fathers”, which refers to the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob[1], we see again the note of distress and then repentance, but specifically “in the latter days.”  It is my belief that Hosea 5:15 is alluding to this same eschatological situation.

This note of distress and restoration is seen in later prophets like Ezekiel 43:9-11 where the prophet is told to describe the temple vision to the people once they become ashamed of their sins.  Again in Jeremiah 29:11-14 there is a similar theme.  It is arguable that this latter passage more properly refers to the return from Babylon than to the eschaton, and we do not oppose the interpretation.  There is more going on there though, and I will try to address the eschatological undertones of the passage later when we reach Jeremiah.

The sixth chapter of Hosea continues with the same strain as chapter five ended with, and it is not easy to see why Hosea 6:1-3 is not Hosea 5:16-18!  Still, the verses are as they stand are these:

Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up.  After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.  Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.  – Hosea 6:1-3  

The first verse puts the words of repentance into the mouths of future Israel.  There is also expectant hope because of God’s hesed or lovingkindness (an important word for Hosea).  The enigmatic terminology of the “after two days” and “the third day” (which states the same thing in two ways since “after two days” is “the third day”) have been understood in many ways.  But since nothing definitive can be said about the designations it is perhaps best to take the meaning as “in a short time” or “it won’t be long” and leave it at that, although it could be three literal days between the repentance of the people and God’s saving response.  If the context is considered the speed of God’s revitalization of His people is contingent upon their acknowledgement of their offence.  Therefore, the two or three “days” response happens quickly upon Israel’s mass repentance at the end.[2]  As verse three makes clear, this is no half-hearted repentance; Israel will seek out the knowledge of Yahweh (contra Hos. 4:1; 7:16) with the eagerness with which they look for the life-giving rains.

As far as the famous covenant passage in Hosea 6:7 is concerned, I have already addressed the issue earlier in this work.  In summary, (a) the standard interpretation of covenant and new covenant theologians that the prophet is referring to the biblical Adam and some covenant in Eden is question-begging and indeterminate.  Even if Hosea was speaking of such a covenant, the impossibility of locating the terms of the oath make it a vain effort to follow this view.  (b) It is the opinion of many that the town of Adam (Josh. 3:16) is being referred to.  This would require some historical defection at Adam to which Hosea is pointing.  In that case the covenant he speaks of is the Mosaic covenant (as per Hos. 8:1).  (c) The third alternative is to translate adam as “dirt” and interpret the prophet as saying that the people have treated the (Mosaic) covenant like dirt.  As Douglas Stuart claims::

Here in Hosea [berit] “covenant” appears only for the second time.  In 2:20 [in the context of marriage] the term denoted the future universal covenant.  In the present passage the Mosaic covenant is clearly at issue.[3]     

Finally, (d) The fourth view translates the Hebrew phrase as “like men” and interpret it as the sinful human bent to transgress God’s Law.  Hence, in three of the four views the identity of the covenant in Hosea 6:7 is the Mosaic covenant.  The notion that it looks back to a nebulous covenant in Eden seems as unnecessary as it is indeterminable.

Despite the depressing repetitiveness of their sins, there will eventually be a return and a whole restoration in fulfillment of the covenants with Israel (14:1-8).[4]

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[1] So e.g., Scot J. Hafemann, “The Covenant Relationship” in Central Themes in Biblical Theology, eds, Scot F. Hafemann & Paul R. House, 25

[2] This way of understanding Hosea 6:2 has the advantage of treating the ordinal (“the third day”) as a very short time period and not a vast stretch of history.

[3] Douglas Stuart, Hosea – Jonah, 111

[4] For more comments about the identity of the covenant in Hosea 6:7 see chapter 5.

The Covenants in Hosea (1)

A Draft from the book ‘The Words of the Covenant’

Hosea (active c. 755-725 B.C.) is best known for his on/off relationship with the harlot Gomer and the message God entailed in it.  Hosea had married Gomer and she (predictably) committed adultery and was put away by the prophet.  But then the prophet was told to take her back!  What was the meaning of this story?

Upon the naming of his third child with Gomer we read this:

Then God said: “Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your God.  “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, `You are not My people,’ There it shall be said to them, `You are sons of the living God.’

Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel! – Hosea 1:9-11

Here is a paradox.  God seems to be all through with Israel (“you are not My people”[1]).  And yet the very next assertion is taken from familiar words found in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 22:17; 32:12), with the accompanying promise that Israel will yet see God’s blessing.  This theme of punishment followed by blessing occurs many times in the prophets (cf. Jer. 46:28).  Verse 11 foretells the future unification of the sundered kingdoms (cf. Ezek. 37).

Vital to the understanding of the first chapters of this book is the answer to the question of whether the woman whom the prophet marries in chapter 3 is Gomer or someone else.[2]  If it is indeed Gomer then it illustrates chapter 2 (on which see below) as well as the note of final grace and forgiveness which is prominent in the book.  Just as Gomer was married to Hosea and committed adultery against him but is taken back, so Israel was married to God, divorced but then re-married to Him (see 2:19-20).  In prophetic terms chapter 3 pictures God’s intention to stick to His covenant with Israel until the end, even though He will “put them away”, yet, at long last He will save the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.[3]

Hosea 2 is sandwiched between the episodes of the prophet and his promiscuous wife which illustrate it.  It could be viewed as an expansion on 1:9-11.  The first half of the chapter envisages Israel as chasing after her various paramours but unsuccessfully.  God, her husband, will “hedge up her way” (2:6) so that finally she will come to her senses and return to Him (2:7).  This returning will come after punishment because Israel forgot the Lord (2:9-13).  But then the mood turns to one of comfort and blessing.  The about-face in verse 14 is quite attention-grabbing.  From the people’s willful neglect of their covenant Lord we might expect a full stop and a brand new idea.  But this is precisely what we do not get.  Instead it is God Himself who displays astonishing grace in promising to win His people back.[4]  It is God who will restore Israel.  He will save her.  Even the Valley of Achor, that notorious place of trouble, will become a theater of singing and hope (2:15).  Hosea references the Exodus which held special significance for the identity of the nation.  He then promises that “in that day”, some future day, the relationship between Him and Israel will be like that of a husband (Ishi) and wife (2:16).  This closest of all relationships is chosen by God and is found in other prophets (e.g. Isa. 54:5).  When one considers the message being communicated by the early chapters of Hosea, that of the marriage to and putting away of a prostitute and then the voluntary remarrying of the same woman, it speaks volumes of Yahweh’s respect for His covenants.[5]

The closing verses of chapter two are very expressive.  Within them one encounters God promising to “allure” Israel back to Himself so that His people call Him “Husband.”  Covenant is about relationship, and here we see the depth of the relationship that God wants, and intends to have, with Israel.  Who can read verses nineteen and twenty and not sense the great longing of God for the reconciliation and “betrothal” that these verses talk about?  That special connection will require an environment suitable for its expression, and so after they have renounced the false lords (baalim) of the past (2:16-17), the natural world will be adapted to provide a setting beautiful, peaceful, and productive.

In that day I will make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field,
With the birds of the air,
And with the creeping things of the ground.
Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth,
To make them lie down safely – Hosea 2:18

Now the Lord brings in the animal kingdom utilizing the creation language of Genesis 1.  The verse is a less well known companion to the famous “the wolf will lie down with the lamb” passage in Isaiah 11.  The peace in the natural world will be extended to the human world, where it is predicted that the weapons of war will be destroyed and people will live safely.

The “covenant” that will be made is a peace covenant encompassing the entire Creation Project.  The only covenant that has been made with the natural world is the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9:12.

(more…)

Repost: DOES DIATHEKE MEAN “LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT” IN HEBREWS 9:16-17?

Most of our English Bible versions translate Hebrews 9:16-17 this way (I have provided vv.15 and 18 for context):

And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. 16 For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. (NKJV, vv. 16-17 are in italics)

Or the ESV:

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. (ESV vv.16-17 in italics)

With the translation diatheke as either “testament” or “will” the reader is led to conclude that these verses are not talking about the new covenant. In verse 15 the Greek word diatheke is translated as “covenant.” The same translation (“covenant”) is repeated in v.18.

If I were to give all the occurrences of diatheke in Hebrews you would see that, apart from 9:16 and 17 the word is uniformly translated “covenant.” One doesn’t have to think hard about why this word is rendered as “covenant” in these 16 other instances. The contexts make it very clear that the writer is referring, either to the Mosaic Covenant or Law, or to the New Covenant which replaces it. And one doesn’t have to seek too far for proof of this. Hebrews 9:15 contrasts the “first covenant” with the “new covenant,” as does verse 18. The chapter itself reinforces the contrast and the appropriate translation “covenant.”

Why translate diatheke, which has been expressed as “covenant” everywhere else in the Book, as “testament” or “will” in vv.16-17? The answer is because it has been assumed that “the death of the one who made it” refers to a “testator” as per a modern “Last Will and Testament.” For we all know that when a person makes a will it only comes into force when they are dead. Thus, one writer stated,

In the New Testament the diatheke as a ‘last will’ is once brought into connection with the sacrifice of Christ… – Geerhardus Vos, “Hebrews, the Epistle of the Diatheke,” in The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. 13, No.4, [1915], 601.

But is he right? What is it in the context which demands the switch from “covenant” to “testament,” other than this assumption that a will is being referred to simply because of “the death of the one who made it”? It seems to me that the whole case depends upon the supposition that diatheke can only mean “last will and testament” in Hebrews 9:16-17. There are several reasons for believing this to be a faux pas:

1. The meaning of diatheke in Hebrews 9:15 is “covenant.” This is clear because the writer is referencing the Mosaic “covenant” in the preceding verses (vv.11-13). If the word meant “last will and testament” in v.15 the connection with the Mosaic Covenant in vv.11-13 would be lost and the writer’s whole argument rendered suspect. Such a switch would create an equivocation within the argument. That is, it would have the author mean two things by one word in a confusing way. This problem comes into sharp relief once chapter 8 is considered. The superiority of the “better covenant” (e.g. Heb. 8:6) demands it be contrasted with the Mosaic Covenant, and hence, that it be itself a true covenant and not a last will and testament. This understanding is assured by the contrast in 8:7 which see. Following on from this, Hebrews 8:8-12 gives the longest quotation of the OT by any NT writer. Is this quotation to do with a testament or a covenant? The answer is impossible to ignore. It is to a “covenant” (OT berith), not a testament!

2. But secondly, the meaning “covenant” makes perfect sense. George H. Guthrie, an acknowledged expert on Hebrews, writes:

Interpreters often have read 9:16-17 in terms of “will” or “testament,” but these verses should be read, in their context, as speaking of the establishment of a covenant… “The one arranging [diatithemi] it,” occurring in participial form, in 9:16-17, refers to the sacrificial animal that must die for a covenant to be established… This fits perfectly with the argument of 9:18-22, which deals with Moses’ inauguration of the Sinai covenant with the sprinkling of blood (Exod.24:3-8). – in G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson, editors, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old, 973.

3. When one adds to this the critical observations of P. T. O’Brien this position is weakened yet further. O’Brien’s full discussion can be found on pages 328-332 of his recent The Letter To The Hebrews (in the Pillar series). I shall condense his argument below using several quotes:

O’Brien says,

a. “As we have seen, the context of v.15 seems to demand the sense of ‘covenant’ because only covenants have mediators[underlining mine], while in v.18 mention is made of the ‘first diatheke‘, namely, the Sinai event and hence can only be a covenant.”

b. “What our author says in vv.16-17 does not correspond to any ‘any known form of Hellenistic (or indeed any other) legal practice.’ A Hellenistic will was secure and valid when it was written down, witnessed and deposited, not when the testator died. Further, the distribution of the estate could occur when the testator was still living.”

Indeed, don’t we see this very thing in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, where the son took his inheritance before the father had died?

c. The wider context of Hebrews with our author’s view of inheritance and his emphasis on the cult appears incongruous with the model of the secular Hellenistic testament.

from Peter. T. O’Brien, The Letter To The Hebrews, Pillar (2010), 329-330

I conclude from all this evidence, both internal and external, that there is no good reason for translating diatheke as “testament” in the sense of “last will and testament” in Hebrews 9:16-17. Thus, we commend the following translation of these verses as given below:

“For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only over the dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it [the one who must die] lives.”