Biblical Covenantalism

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

Part Two

The New Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second Coming

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

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

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

Hope

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

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

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

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

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

Kingdom

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

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

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

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

Part One

The Theme of Covenant

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

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

Abrahamic Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Priestly” Covenant

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

Davidic Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As an example, Psalm 33:11 declares,

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

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

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

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

Creation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(more…)

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

Part Three

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

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

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

As Niehaus reminds us, the covenants of God,

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

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

The Durability of the Davidic Covenant

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

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

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

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

Again, God Means What He Says

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

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

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

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

—————————————————————————–

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

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

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

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

Part Two

God’s Covenant with David

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part One

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

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

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

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

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

Samuel

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

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

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

The Humiliation of Dagon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…)

Ten Lines of Evidence for Interpreting Ezekiel 40-48 as Depicting a Literal Temple

Image: Tom Vanderwell

Here is a piece which originally belonged in some correspondence I had with a covenant theologian.  I have added a few things, but I think it makes a decent stand-alone article. 

Some amillennialists think that the original hearers of Ezekiel couldn’t comprehend a future glorious kingdom where Israel is regenerate, and Messiah reigns in justice and righteousness from Jerusalem.  That they couldn’t see a time where priests serve God in a new temple.

I think they could in fact do this from attending to the following passages: Num. 25:10-13; Deut. 30:6f., or Psa. 2, 89, 105, 106, Isa. 2, 11, 26-27, 35, 43, 44, 45, 51, 62; Jer. 23, 30, 31, 33, or Hos. 2:16f. or Mic. 4, or Zeph. 3, or indeed from Ezek. 34, 36-37.

It seems that Ezekiel’s near contemporary Zechariah (6:12-13, 8:1-3; 14:16f.), and Malachi (3:2-3) believed these things too. Zechariah, for example, predicts a future temple built after Jerusalem has been changed topographically where the King is worshiped at the temple (Zech. 14).

No premillennialist, or Dispensationalist (or Biblical Covenantalist) would say that Ezekiel’s audience could know the time when the temple would be built.  They could only know that it would be built.  They could know this because Ezekiel’s temple could only be constructed…

a). once Israel were no longer under the Mosaic covenant – because the service etc. of Ezekiel’s temple does not agree with Moses

b). after topographical changes occurred which would make the huge project possible

c). once the glory of the Lord was ready to return to bless Israel and dwell with them forever.  That didn’t happen in Nehemiah’s day, and it hasn’t happened yet, so logically it must either be the future (or else these chapters form one of the greatest circumlocutions in all of literature!)

Again, Ezekiel didn’t know that the Messianic Kingdom would last a thousand years. He didn’t have John’s Revelation (some who have the Book of Revelation still don’t know that Christ will reign a thousand years!). We don’t have to demonstrate anything that wasn’t revealed after Ezekiel’s time to realize that his original audience knew he was referring to a future temple.

But here are ten evidences that Ezekiel meant us to understand him as referring to a literal temple building complex that will be erected in future Israel.

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1. Ezekiel calls it a temple over and over.  E.g. In Ezekiel 40:5, 45 – where the priestly function is mentioned; in 41:6-10 – where its chambers are described in pedantic detail; in 42:8 – where the length of the chambers depends on their position relative to the sanctuary; in 43:11 – where God declares: “make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws. And write it in their sight, so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes, and do them.”  How can any reader take these details seriously and find their fulfillment in the NT church?

Moving forward in the passage, in Ezekiel 43:21 a bull is to be offered as a sin-offering outside the house; in 45:20 – an atonement is made for the simple on the seventh day of the month; in 46:24 – sacrifices are boiled at designated places; and in 48:21 – the huge allotment for the sanctuary is measured (it is very different to New Jerusalem in Rev. 21!).

2. There are laws to perform in the temple (Ezek. 43:11-12).  Quite how one can perform these commands in the church is a mystery beyond the mystery of the church itself.

3. Ezekiel stipulates two divisions of priests, only one of whom (Zadokites) can approach the Lord (44:15).  These Zadokites are given land separate from other Levites (48:11).

4. Ezekiel refers to New Moons and sacrifices (46:1, 6).  New Jerusalem has no need of moonlight (Rev. 21:23).

5. The tribes of Israel are given specific allotments of land all around the temple (Ezek. 48)

6.  The two temples at the beginning and the end of the Book of Ezekiel form a structural arc.  The first temple is literal.  Nothing is said about the more detailed temple at the end of Ezekiel being a mere symbol.  In fact, in Ezekiel 8:3ff. “the visions of God” recorded what really did occur (cf. 40:2), not what would symbolically happen.

7. In Ezekiel 10 the Shekinah leaves the actual temple in Jerusalem by the East Gate.  In chapter 43 it returns via the East Gate and remains.

8. A sanctuary is mentioned in the new covenant chapters (Ezekiel 36 & 37).  For example, after Israel has been cleansed, God declares: “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.” (Ezek. 37:26. Cf. 43:7).

This indicates something about the timing of the fulfillment of the temple prophecy.  This agrees with the timing indicated in the last verse of Ezekiel: “the name of the city from that day shall be, ‘The LORD is there” (Ezek. 48:35)

9. At least three times Ezekiel is commanded to pay close attention to specifics: 40:4; 43:10-11; 44:5.  The symbolic interpretation ignores these details when seeking to explain the meaning of the vision.  If an interpretation passes over what God has told us to pay close attention to, that interpretation must be suspect.

10. A future temple is necessary in light of God’s everlasting covenant with the Zadokites’ ancestor Phinehas (Num. 25:10-13; Psa. 106:30-31. Cf. Jer. 33:14f., Mal. 3:1-4).  Zechariah 6:12-13; 14:8-9, 16f., describes temple conditions in Israel which have never yet existed, but which match Ezekiel 36-48.

Please look up the references above and see if I have distorted what the verses say.  I have simply allowed the Bible to speak.  If someone doesn’t believe these evidences and instead wants to interpret a portion of the Bible that is longer than First Corinthians as a “word-picture” or “type”, then let them explain their interpretation from the text.  I think that is a reasonable position.

 

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…)