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CONTEMPORARY HERMENEUTICAL THEORY AND CONSERVATIVE INTERPRETATION (2)

Part One

Footnotes follow on from last time.

The Hermeneutical Landscape

The philosopher of religion Gregory Clark admits that, “[some] sources regularly describe the variety of hermeneutical approaches practiced today as ‘dizzying’.”[22]

In closing his article Clark writes:

“Hermeneutics as a discipline is as wild and woolly as it has ever been, and its future shape and even its existence are impossible to predict.”[23]

Reading the “movers and shakers” in evangelical hermeneutics today is a little foreboding. It might be well to start off then by reminding ourselves of a standard definition of hermeneutics:

Hermeneutics…is both a science and an art. As a science, it enunciates principles, investigates the laws of thought and language, and classifies its facts and results. As an art, it teaches what application these principles should have, and establishes their soundness by showing their practical value in the elucidation of the more difficult Scriptures. The hermeneutical art thus cultivates and establishes a valid exegetical procedure.[24]

It would be helpful to add to this Ramm’s observation that it “stands in the same relationship to exegesis that a rule-book stands to a game.”[25]  In addition, Ramm added that what the interpreter is looking for is the single-meaning of any passage: “But here we must remember the old adage: ‘Interpretation is one; application is many.’ This means that there is only one meaning to a passage of Scripture, which is determined by careful study.”[26]

Contrast Ramm’s words with those of the prominent British Old Testament scholar David J. A. Clines who writes:

I have been impressed in this study [of Esther] by the value of as many strategies as possible for reading a text. As a critic of the text, I should hate to be restricted by a methodological purism. What I have noticed is that different strategies confirm, complement or comment on other strategies, and so help develop an integrated but polychromatic reading.[27]

Or again,

My experience with Psalm 23 was enough to convince me that ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’ are not categories to be applied to interpretations, that, as far as I could see, a text can mean anything at all, and that I myself was (oxymoronically) an absolute indeterminist.[28]

Clines exults that he can explore the text of the Bible with complete methodological abandon. This freedom has not come to him through the mere exercise of the imagination. It is a result of studying the philosophical hermeneutics of people like Roland Barthes and Richard Rorty, both of whom teach that subjectivity is desirable in reading a text.[29]  Objectivity is a mirage, a dream perpetuated by the sort of naiveté demonstrated only by intransigent ultra conservatives.

It behooves us then to briefly chart some of what has been going on in the world of mainline hermeneutics so that we might better access what conservative interpreters are being influenced by, not to mention what dispensationalists are increasingly likely to come up against.

Schleiermacher

Modern hermeneutics started with F. D. E. Schleiermacher (d. 1834). Operating from a background that mixed German Pietism and Kantian Idealism, Schleiermacher believed that to confine biblical hermeneutics to a set of previously drawn up “rules of interpretation” was to decide the outcome of ones exegesis before the text had been analyzed. He stated that for any interpretation to take place the interpreter must provisionally know something about text itself. This he referred to as “preunderstanding.”[30]  There must, he said, be some preliminary understanding of a subject, say, “love,” before that subject can be comprehended from the page. As R. E. Palmer puts it,

“Is it not vain to speak of love to one who has not known love, or of the joys of learning to those who reject it? One must already have, in some measure, a knowledge of the matter being discussed.”[31]

Schleiermacher, then, proceeded to divide hermeneutics into two components, the linguistic and the psychological.[32]  The linguistic or grammatical approach, with which we are all familiar, whereby, “the reader needs to use objective, grammatical methods to acquire an exhaustive knowledge of original languages and the historical and literary contexts of a text.”[33] This he believed in strongly, and, in fact, he made several important clarifications along this line.[34]  But this was not enough. For Schleiermacher, and for many mainline interpreters since his time, the reader has to become connected with the original author’s psyche at the time and place he wrote. This psychological aspect he called “divination.” As he himself said, “The divinatory is that in which one transforms oneself into the other person in order to grasp his individuality directly.”[35]

There must be an attentive acculturation of the reader to the personality of the writer. The reader must “reexperience the thoughts of the author”[36]  He must not only enter his world but, with imagination and empathy, read the author’s intellectual and emotional experience, even his sub-conscience.[37]  If there is any sympathy between subject and object there is an “inspiration” already in the reader which allows him to do this.[38]

Schleiermacher didn’t believe the interpretation ended at a certain point in the process. There would be constant interplay between the reader and the text and the world of understanding of both.[39]  Not only that, but the new understanding generated by the process teaches the reader’s understanding (that is, his “preunderstanding”) before he sits down to reread.

“The fuller (or more accurate) understanding “speaks back” to the preunderstanding to correct and to reshape it. This revision contributes to a better understanding. Hence, to reread a “difficult” book, or even to undertake successive readings, may bring about a deeper understanding of it”.[40]

There is no doubt about Schleiermacher’s influence upon hermeneutical theory. He prepared the ground for all the hermeneutics theorists down to the present day.[41]

Gadamer[42]

Hans-Georg Gadamer (d. 2002), was a student of both Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann. His work on hermeneutics, particularly his tome Truth and Method have been enormously influential. Gadamer is responsible, perhaps more than any other, for shifting the emphasis of interpretation away from authorial intention and on to the reader.[43]  He did this through the rhetorical device of the “two horizons” – the horizon of the biblical text and the horizon of the modern interpreter. The horizon of the reader (also called the “Horizon of Meaning”) involves not only the reader, but the methodological parameters set down, usually unconsciously, by the community of which he is a part. Possible meanings, then, are circumscribed by the interpretive community. As the complexion of the community changes, so do the parameters of viable interpretation and thus the range of possible meanings.[44]  By contrast the “Horizon of the Text” is that “set of assumptions that underlie a text and establish its point of view within its own historical circumstances.”[45]

The aim of hermeneutics is to seek “for the place where the horizons of the text and the interpreter intersect or engage.”[46]  This concept may at first seem innocent enough, since one cannot deny that because of the different historical, cultural and psychological life-situations of ancient author and modern reader one can never be certain that one has fully understood the author’s meaning, only that one has very probably understood it.[47]

But this isn’t what Gadamer means, for he goes on to say that each reader’s situation is different: One cannot affirm the existence (and importance) of one horizon and not others. When we – as twenty-first century American evangelicals – understand Scripture, we do so on the basis of our own horizon.[48]

Thus, one must take into consideration the cultural context of the reader, and, since we all have a cultural context, my interpretation of a biblical passage has no more right to validity than, say, a different interpretation by someone from India.[49] As one writer illustrates the matter,

A linguist asks a group made up of Africans and missionaries to tell him the main point of the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. The Europeans speak of Joseph as a man who remained faithful to God no matter what happened to him. The Africans, on the other hand, point to Joseph as a man who, no matter how far he traveled, never forgot his family.[50]

Where does this leave us as interpreters?  For many followers of modern hermeneutical theory it casts more or less doubt upon the idea of objectivity in Bible interpretation.[51]  For this reason Gadamer has been described as standing “on the boundary-line between modern and post-modern thought.”[52]


[22] Greg Clark, “Contemporary Hermeneutics,” in Scot McKnight & Grant Osbourne, editors, The Face of New Testament Studies, (Apollos, 2004), 115.
[23] Ibid, 117.
[24] Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.), 20.
[25] Ramm, 11.
[26] Ibid, 113.
[27] Quoted by Craig G. Bartholomew, “Postmodernity and Biblical Interpretation,” in Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Gen. ed., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 604.
[28] Ibid.
[29] See W. Randolph Tate, Interpreting the Bible: A Handbook of Terms and Methods, (Peabody, MT: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006).
[30] Anthony C. Thiselton, The Two Horizons, (Exeter, UK: The Paternoster Press, 1980), 103. This book, more than any other, is responsible for much of the re-thinking about hermeneutics that has been going-on within evangelical scholarship. Thomas contends, “This… work radically altered the way that many evangelicals interpret the Bible.” – Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002), 18.
[31] Cited in Thiselton, 104.
[32] David K. Clark, To Know And Love God: Method For Theology, (Wheaton, Ill, Crossway Books, 2003), 104-105.
[33] Greg Clark, “General Hermeneutics,” in, eds., Scot McKnight & Grant R. Osborne, The Face of New Testament Studies, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 109.
[34] David S. Dockery, Biblical Interpretation Then and Now, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 163. Hirsch called Schleiermacher’s aphorisms, found in the first part of his lectures on Hermeneutik, “among the most profound contributions to hermeneutics.” – E. D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), 263.
[35] Cited in Thiselton, The Two Horizons, 107.
[36] Greg Clark, “General Hermeneutics,” 109.
[37] Dockery, Biblical Interpretation Then and Now, 163.
[38] Roy A. Harrisville and Walter Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 72-73.
[39] Thiselton, 104.
[40] Anthony C. Thiselton, “Hermeneutical Circle,” in Gen. Ed., Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, 281.
Note. Schleiermacher spoke of a hermeneutical circle, but the idea of a “spiral” was seen as closer to the mark. A good definition of the hermeneutical spiral is found in Thiselton’s conception of it when he states that “the emphasis lies not only on the inter-action between the parts and the whole, but on a process of revision which modifies the interpreter’s exploratory understanding in the light of the text.” – Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics, (London: Marshall Pickering, 1992), 222.
[41] Schleiermacher gave hermeneutics a much wider brief than it had enjoyed prior to his time. He basically made it a way of knowing, not just the text before the reader, but the reader’s world. He moved it into the realm of epistemology.
[42] I move straight from Schleiermacher to Gadamer to save time.A fuller study would have to take into account the work of Dilthey, Heidegger, and Bultmann.
[43] Gadamer emphasizes the text as a distinct voice independent of the author.In his hands this ends up handing interpretive authority to the reader.Hence, the radical form of “reader-response” theory.
[44] Tate, Interpreting the Bible, 170.
[45] Ibid, emphasis added.
[46] Harvie M. Conn, “Normativity, Relevance, and Relativism,” in ed., Harvie M. Conn, Inerrancy and Hermeneutic, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), 188.
[47] Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation, 17-18, 255, 263.
[48] Bruce Ellis Benson, ‘“Now I Would Not Have You Ignorant”: Derrida, Gadamer, Hirsch and Husserl on Authors’ Intentions,” in eds., Vincent Bacote, Laura C. Miguelez and Dennis L. Okholm, Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics, (Downers Grove, Il: IVP, 2004), 189.
This is the text of a Symposium held at Wheaton College in 2001. The essays in the book clearly illustrate the kind of “downgrade” which is in process within at least some evangelical institutions.
[49] Thus, there arises the problem of “contextualization.” Upon which see, David K. Clark, To Know And Love God, 99-131. In my opinion Clark goes too far in his development of an “Evangelical” approach to contextualization by not sufficiently seeing the need to critique differing evangelical “cultures.” An even more surefooted appraisal of contextualization which takes the whole “Seeker-sensitive” phenomenon into consideration is David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).
[50] Conn, “Normativity, Relevance, and Relativism,” 188-189.
[51] One might think of postconservative theologians like F. LeRon Shults.
[52] Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics, 314.

I Will See You Again

Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. – John 16:22

The Lord Jesus spoke these words to His disciples – although Judas had gone – before the events surrounding His arrest, trial, and death rushed in upon Him.  He was instructing the disciples about His leaving them to return to the Father who sent Him, and He was preparing them for their experiences and their ministries to come. 

Among the several matters that Jesus brought up was the sorrow and suffering that would inevitably come upon them because of their allegiance to and love of Him.  On a personal level, it was going to be difficult to say goodbye to their friend and Master; although they did not yet know just how painful that was going to be.  It was also going to be difficult serving Christ after He had gone.  The world hated Jesus and it would hate them.  There would be some who would even believe that in putting the disciples to death they were actually serving God!  When it came to what we might call “positive reception of the world” these men had little to look forward to.  They would “have sorrow.”

Yet alongside of their sorrow and their trouble they would also be blessed.  For one thing, Jesus promised that it was to the disciples’ advantage that He was going away, for the Holy Spirit, whom He called “the Comforter” or “the Counselor” would come in His place.  Because of the Spirit’s work with them they would learn  and grow and do great things for God.  The Holy Spirit would enable them to “abide in Jesus” and so be very fruitful.

As dependent as they would always be upon Jesus there was another promise that He left them with which must have raised their spirits.  They would see Jesus again!  This parting was not to be final.  They would see their Lord and Savior and Friend and their hearts would rejoice.  Moreover, no one would be able to take away their joy.

How does this speak to us?  We have not seen Jesus.  We have not walked and talked with the Master as the disciples did.  True enough.  But we have met Him.  We are known by Him and by the Father, and we do have the Holy Spirit residing within us.  This world is till hostile to Jesus and to His teachings.  It will not welcome us with open arms if it detects anything of Jesus Christ about us.  So we must face up to the fact that our sojourn down here will not be all chocolate and roses.  But there is a reunion coming.  And it will be a full reunion; a face to face meeting; a surpassing experience of relief and rest and, yes, joy.  Our joy will last and will be unimpaired by regret or sickness or the remnants of sin fighting from within.  Jesus has chosen us to serve Him here and now in “this present evil world” (Gal. 1:4).  That is just for a time.  But then there is a more permanent and delightful service to which He will call us. There is a Kingdom coming in which “the world” cannot share, and to which we belong.  It is Christ’s Kingdom of unending joy.

       

I Waited Patiently…

I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me,
and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible
pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and
established my steps.” – Psalm 40: 1-2.

It is so hard to wait on the Lord. Especially when one is in trouble or hurting and there just isn’t anyone else who can help. Truthfully, that is not a bad place to be in, since our natural propensity is to lean on God very half-heartedly most of the time. If we want a good spiritual road check I suggest that all we do is to realize how quickly and easily we slip back into the driver’s seat of our lives whenever we think that things are within our own control. Limited dependence on God is the Christian’s default position and the cause of many of his troubles. What God wants from us; what He has always wanted from men and women is total dependence. This is one of the reasons God puts us to waiting for things. If circumstances are against us and nothing is happening to change them it is second nature for us to want to manipulate the situation so the ‘things get done.’ In most cases things don’t change and we have to wait for God to do something.

David understood this. He knew who was in control, and he “waited patiently for the LORD.” David faith caused him to see both that God hears and that He considers. That is why this Psalm twice refers to the thoughts that God has toward us (vv. 5, 17). If we are sure that God is thinking about us, that “He knows what we need before we ask” we have more than sufficient reason to allow faith to settle us. Not that we shouldn’t pray for God to help us quickly. Twice also David asks for just this (vv. 13, 17). That is not a contradiction of his attitude in verse 1, since patience is necessary if God decides not to act when we would like Him to.

Let us not forget that Psalm 40 is both a record of God’s past and present dealings with the author. On the basis of what God did in the past (v. 2) David can have assurance in the present. And what had God done? He had delivered his saint from a desperate situation, described as “a horrible pit” and “miry clay.” In other words, a place of anxiety and discomfort; a position that looked for all the world as if it would only get worse. But God saw and at the right time, when David’s heart and mind had been trained in reliance upon his Maker.

What is significant about God’s deliverance is how full it was. Described by David as a “rock,” a solid point from where he could go forward. But it didn’t stop there. God also “established” his steps. His providence made a sure path for the writer’s feet. It is a great gift from the Lord when He clears all obstacles out of our way and then tells us that we can go forward.

Image by Servant’s Place

Do Not Worry About Your Life

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on… Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? – Matt. 6:25-26

How different our modern sense of security is from people who lived one hundred years ago, never mind two thousand years ago!  Pensions and stocks and 401Ks, and retirement – the fail-safes of contemporary life – these were unknown and beyond the ability of believers to do anything about for most of history.  Not that any of these are bad things; it is only prudent to “store up” for the future if you can do so.  But in this world investments and savings can evaporate overnight (which is what has happened to many because of the Coronavirus), and pensions cannot always be relied upon (because of various forms of mishandling).  California, for example, has a colossal bill for teachers pensions that it seems ill able to afford.   Moreover, some people are simply not able to afford to retire.  What is to be the outlook of God’s people when it comes to these kind of questions?

The Christian is called to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).  Although this does not mean we are not to think ahead, it does mean that we are to look to God for all things.  Our Lord taught His disciples to pray “give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11), and the words of our text today are an enlargement upon that prayer.  God wants us to depend upon Him.  He wants us to exercise faith in His ability and willingness to look after His loved ones.

There is a bigger principle here: it has to do with God’s role as Creator and our response to Him as creatures.  It is to be a daily interaction, and a daily dependence.  And for most believers in history, that is just what it has been.  The question is, has this changed?  Is this now not what God wants us to do?  Are we rather to fend for ourselves?

Again, before addressing the point head on I want to be clear that those who have been given the wherewithal to save for retirement should see it as God’s provision for them ahead of time.  They have a responsibility to save.  But those who do not have that opportunity; maybe because of a change in circumstances, or because they have chosen a lower paying job to be able to serve the Lord where they believe He wants them to serve, can and ought to trust in these words of Jesus.  Jesus words are for always.  He is our Head, our Lord and Master, our Keeper.  He can be trusted.  David knew this:

I have been young, and now am old;
Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken,
Nor his descendants begging bread. – Psa. 37:25

Do we find things to worry about?  Are there things that Satan can use to take our eyes off of God?  Yes, and finances are one of the best.  We can and should tell ourselves that God will not leave us helpless and alone.  He has promised to look after us.  In times like these that is a very reassuring truth.

The Covenantal Landscape of the Old Testament (1)

From the forthcoming book ‘The Words of the Covenant: Old Testament Expectation’

If one surveys the contents of the Old Testament with both eyes upon the divine covenants, what one comes away with is a massive sense of expectation. The simply-worded Creation chapter (Gen. 1) displays a purpose and goal for the world which God is moving forward. The simplicity of the wording conveys an important hermeneutical truth; that what God does is directly in line with what He says (i.e. God’s words equal God’s actions). This can be tested in numerous points throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Gen. 1:3, 6-7, 11-12, 26-31; 6:7-13; 11:7-9; 2 Ki. 1:3-4, 16-17; 5:10, 14; Dan. 4:16, 25, 32-33).

This movement towards a goal is seemingly interrupted by the calamitous fall of our first parents and the autonomous thinking that it brought about. While seeming innocuous, this default of naive independence from the authority of God and His words has led mankind to every false notion and violent act in our bloody history. It has also caused God’s people to recalibrate what God has said by passing it through the apparatus of independent interpretation. In the long term this is what is chiefly responsible for the varied schools of thought in Christian theology. But in the Hebrew Bible it was a major cause, through reevaluation of God’s word, for Israel’s defection.

The covenants that Yahweh made were intended to counter man’s sinful default of independence by drawing attention to the grand motifs within the Creation Project that He is sustaining. These covenants may be seen as amplifications of God’s plain speech about central planks in His program of history. Because they express the outline of the Creation Project, which in turn is embedded in God’s decrees, the covenants that God made with Noah, Abraham, Phinehas, and David are unalterable, their oaths being unilaterally entered into by God alone. Although conditions were appended to the covenants, it is crucial to understand that these conditions were not included within the oaths. Therefore, although they could and did hinder the fulfillment of the covenants, they could never force their cancellation or their reallocation. The bilateral Mosaic covenant, being a covenant of law given to law-breakers, could only stem the tide of Israel’s sin and provide a sense of community and belonging which would sustain the Jewish race, although not forever.

Aside from Yahweh, there are two main protagonists in the Hebrew Bible; the nation of Israel and the coming King who would arise out of Israel. Israel was given the Mosaic covenant, but had to be rescued from its condemnation. The person of the King would do that by fulfilling its demands of righteousness, and suffering vicariously (Isa. 53:4-6; 10-12), and by ushering in a New covenant to replace the one made at Sinai (Jer. 31:31-34; Isa. 49:6-8).

The need to replace the Mosaic covenant with another “New” covenant can be found as far back as Deuteronomy 30:6, and is found repeated at several junctures, including Psalm 98:3; 130; Isaiah 25:8-9; 46:13; Ezekiel 36:24-28, and Zechariah 13:1. The outstanding promise is in Jeremiah 31:31-34. There it becomes clear that this New covenant will supersede the Mosaic covenant. The New covenant brings with it the essential ingredient of salvation which it alone possesses.

But there is a fascinating twist regarding the New covenant, for whereas the other covenants contain a divine pledge to a person or persons, and may have included animal sacrifice (certainly in regard to the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Mosaic covenants), the New covenant goes further by designating God’s Servant as the covenant itself (Isa. 42:6; 49:8)! As already said, this Servant is a person, not Israel, and this person must face death on behalf of others (Isa. 53). So, the extraordinary connection of the New covenant with the Servant becomes something to watch as revelation unfolds.

The Servant is the Branch is the Promised Seed

Since the temptation of Eve in the garden of Eden and the fall of Adam, God has promised to send a Conqueror who would destroy the Serpent (Gen. 3:16). This Conqueror is referred to as the Seed of the Woman in Genesis 3, but He appears in the prophecies of Jacob as a King from Judah (Gen. 49:10), as a “Star” out of Egypt who routs His enemies in Numbers 24:8-9, 17, and as the “Branch” who will subdue, judge and beautify the earth and exalt Jerusalem (Isa. 4:2-3; 11:1-10; Jer. 23:5-6; Zech. 3:8), seeing to it that the lines of David and Levi are maintained, although not in an unbroken succession[1] (Jer. 33:14-26). It is also He who will build the last temple (Zech. 6:12-13).

This man is also called Yahweh’s “Servant” in, for example, Isaiah 42:1-7 and 49:5-7, who will save the Gentile nations and redeem Israel,[2] restoring the entire earth. Amazingly, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 portray Him as reigning in justice, yet suffering the indignation of men and God. He suffers and dies innocently, yet as part of the plan of Yahweh (Isa. 53:10). And He will be rewarded and highly exalted. Daniel also speaks of His demise on behalf of others in Daniel 9:26, where He refers to Him as Messiah (anointed).

It is this coming King who as the Servant is said to be given “as a covenant to the people” (Isa. 42:6; 49:8). Once these passages are linked with the substitutionary nature of His suffering and its relation to securing pardon and justification “for many” (Isa. 53:11), it starts to appear that this great One is the pivot around which the whole Creation Project and its associated covenants turn. This King Messiah pulls every covenant hope into His orbit.

The coming of the Messiah is normally presented as Him vanquishing Israel’s enemies and bringing in justice and peace. Isaiah has Him coming in avenging might (Isa. 63). Daniel has Him smashing the kingdoms of man (Dan. 2). After crushing His enemies, He comes to rule from Jerusalem (Jer. 33:14-15; Zech. 1:17).

A “problem” arises between this unimpeded picture of His arrival and the occasional references to His suffering and death (Psa. 22; Isa. 53; Dan. 9:25; Zech. 13:6). How can He come in such irresistible power and yet be overpowered? The Old Testament does not tell us directly, though it provides us with clues which subsequent revelation will fit together. The closest thing to an outright explanation is perhaps Zechariah 12:10 where, in the common setting of God’s future judgment, we are suddenly told “they will look on Me who they pierced.” This implies that the people “pierced” Him previous to His coming in judgment and salvation. To step into a New Testament vantage-point for a moment, what we find is that the first and second comings of Christ are merged in the Old Testament, with the emphasis usually placed upon things that occur at the second coming.

One more vital consideration; we must never forget that according to Psalm 110:1, Micah 5:2 and Isaiah 9:6-7 the promised King is divine. Therefore, to the standard messianic passages we must add those texts which speak of Yahweh Himself as dwelling with men in the Kingdom of God. We must also not avoid the inclusion of passages like Ezekiel 43:1-7; 48:35; Joel 3:17, and Zechariah 1:16; 8:1-3; 14:9, 16-21 as pointing to Messiah. As one author has stated, “The Old Testament has its own messianic light.”[3] And it is a good deal brighter than many people realize.

——————————————————————————-

[1] The curse upon Jehoiachin (Coniah) in Jeremiah 22:28-30 essentially illustrates this. Although Jehoiachin lived on in captivity and had seven sons (1 Chron. 3:17-18), he was written as childless. This appeared to defeat the Davidic covenant, but God would find a way around the problem. Compare John Bright, Covenant and Promise, 180-181.

[2] Redeeming Israel, He cannot be Israel.

[3] John H. Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch, 238.

To Be Meek

Then Hananiah the prophet took the yoke off the prophet Jeremiah’s neck and broke it.  And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Even so I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all nations within the space of two full years.’ ” And the prophet Jeremiah went his way. – Jeremiah 28:10-11

What is meekness?  We know that it’s important and that God prizes it.  We know that Jesus was “meek (or gentle) and lowly of heart” (Matt. 11:29.  We are told that “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Psa. 37:11; Matt. 5:5).  Meekness is a good thing!  But what exactly is it?

The Greek word translated “meek” in Jesus’ own description of Himself bears the connotation of mildness and gentleness.  It can also mean “humble.”  But does that get us to the real idea of meekness?  Not fully.  The “meek” who will inherit the earth are those who are for the most part powerless, or, if they have power, do not wield it as if it is their’s by right.  A meek person is one who has a proper understanding of their position before God and men.  As mere men and women we are only human, and to be human is to be faulty, to be mistaken, and too often, to be unwise.  For all the positive things we may be thankful for, none of us can escape our sins or our finiteness.  Sins can be forgiven, and God “remembers that we are dust” (Psa. 103:14), but we can forget!

The Apostle Paul tells us that we have “this treasure,” by which he means the light and glory of salvation, “in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7).  These “earthen vessels” or “jars of clay” are not to be gloried in.  Rather, they are to be kept under strict watch (see Rom. 6:11-13; 7:18; 1 Thess. 4:4).  As for our minds, well, it is easy for the most intelligent people to play the fool.  How little we really know about the world, and how apt we all are to give our own faults a pass while thinking we can spot the faults of those around us!  We need a slice of humility and a good dose of meekness.

The passage for today provides us with a good illustration of meekness.  Here is Jeremiah, the great Prophet of the Lord; a man who has faithfully and sacrificially served God and delivered an unpopular message to king and people.  And here is Hananiah cutting an impressive figure, fawning before the priests, and deliberately humiliating God’s man in the process.  Hananiah contradicts Jeremiah’s prophecy and belittles him in front of everyone.

What is Jeremiah’s response?  He simply walks away.  How many of us would have tried to think some choice words for the occasion, trying to save face?  Here is a man of God in more than word but in deed.  He is humble.  He is meek.  He knows his place and is content to leave the outcome to God.  His role is to speak, and then to retire.  Our role is to serve and not to seek things too high for us; to look to God for the result that He wants, and that, surely, is enough..

 

Waiting on the Lord

I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me,
and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible
pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and
established my steps.” – Psalm 40: 1-2.

It is so hard to wait on the Lord. Especially when one is in trouble or hurting and there just isn’t anyone else who can help. Truthfully, that is not a bad place to be in, since our natural propensity is to lean on God very half-heartedly most of the time. If we want a good spiritual road check I suggest that all we do is to realize how quickly and easily we slip back into the driver’s seat of our lives whenever we think that things are within our own control. Limited dependence on God is the Christian’s default position and the cause of many of his troubles. What God wants from us; what He has always wanted from men and women is total dependence. This is one of the reasons God puts us to waiting for things. If circumstances are against us and nothing is happening to change them it is second nature for us to want to manipulate the situation so the ‘things get done.’ In most cases things don’t change and we have to wait for God to do something.

David understood this. He knew who was in control, and he “waited patiently for the LORD.” David faith caused him to see both that God hears and that He considers. That is why this Psalm twice refers to the thoughts that God has toward us (vv. 5, 17). If we are sure that God is thinking about us, that “He knows what we need before we ask” we have more than sufficient reason to allow faith to settle us. Not that we shouldn’t pray for God to help us quickly. Twice also David asks for just this (vv. 13, 17). That is not a contradiction of his attitude in verse 1, since patience is necessary if God decides not to act when we would like Him to.

Let us not forget that Psalm 40 is both a record of God’s past and present dealings with the author. On the basis of what God did in the past (v. 2) David can have assurance in the present. And what had God done? He had delivered his saint from a desperate situation, described as “a horrible pit” and “miry clay.” In other words, a place of anxiety and discomfort; a position that looked for all the world as if it would only get worse. But God saw and at the right time, when David’s heart and mind had been trained in reliance upon his Maker.

What is significant about God’s deliverance is how full it was. Described by David as a “rock,” a solid point from where he could go forward. But it didn’t stop there. God also “established” his steps. His providence made a sure path for the writer’s feet. It is a great gift from the Lord when He clears all obstacles out of our way and then tells us, “This is the way; walk ye in it.”

Photo by Servant’s Place

The Gift of Quietness

When He gives quietness, who then can make trouble? – Job 34:29a

It has always been easy to neglect personal communion with God.  The matters which lie right in front of us call for our time and attention, and if there are any of those two things left at the end of the day, well, we’re tired and we want to “turn off.”  God gets the scraps of our time.  But our relationship with our Father in heaven cannot be well kept up with fleeting prayers and momentary meditations.  And if we stopped to look at things aright, we would see that His claims upon us are primary.  It’s not as if we live these lives of ours in secret, cordoned off from God’s providence.  Psalm 139:1-17 shows us that the Lord knows us through and through.  God can facilitate our way if we slow down for Him.

Job was a man who was in deep distress and confusion, and he said some things which furnished plenty of proof of it.  But he also said some things which were hopeful and which he knew to be true.  It was Job who testified that “I know my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25), and it was he whose faith shone out in his exclamation “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15).  Satan tries to persuade us that because things are not working out the way we hoped God can’t be trusted, but Job’s words are certainly true.  We might not be able to understand why everything is going awry, but we can know that God is worthy of our trust – always.

In this verse it is not Job who is the speaker.  It is the younger man Elihu.  But it is a sentiment that Job at his best would have heartily agreed with.  I can remember a time in my life when I was very depressed.  Every day (for many years) was a struggle.  I trudged through the hours (emotionally speaking), as I lived out my existence.  I do not reveal this to garner sympathy – the Lord delivered me from it all  along time ago – but I mention only so that I can record an experience.  One particularly bad night I felt that I couldn’t take another day of it.  I cried out to God for help.  I then feel asleep emotionally exhausted.  In the morning it was like I was a different person.  I was permeated by peace.  It was a deep and powerful and yet “light” thing.  I was suffused by it.  It was without any question not mine.  It was given to me.  It was wrapped around me by Someone Who cared for me.  It didn’t last for more than a few days, but the knowledge that my Father had given it, and that such “shalom” was my destiny in Christ, was all I needed.

The text asks us, “When He gives quietness, who then can make trouble?”  Notice the quietness or tranquility is given.  It includes a sense of utter safety and belonging.  It subdues all fears, and answers – though not in words – every doubt.  I believe emphatically that one day every saint of God will be surrounded by this “quietness,” and no one and nothing will be able to upset it.  Grace and peace is addressed to us in the New Testament letters.  Jesus words to His discouraged disciples are words to us too:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 

So we can expect trouble in this world.  We shall have peace!  Today, wouldn’t it be a good idea for us to spend more time with such a God of Peace?

 

Progressive Revelation and the Two Testaments: A Quick Thought

An interesting phenomenon in regard to the reading of the Old Testament and the New is that whereas the Old Testament was written over a period of approximately 1,300 years – taking Job as the earliest book (c.1750 B.C.) and Malachi as the last book (c.450 B.C.).  During that time history witnessed the beginning of the nation of Israel under Moses, and the dominance and eventual waning of Egyptian and Babylonian dynasties, plus the Hittite, Assyrian, Persian empires, and the onset of the Greek empire.  Israel rose to become a powerful state in the days of David and Solomon; then split into two kingdoms until both parts went into captivity.

The story of Israel dominates the Old Testament, yet that book also includes the account of creation and fall.  It speaks of the world before the great flood – a world that is buried beneath the rocks and stones and seas.  The flood came some 2,500 years before the call of Abraham (although no one can date the flood precisely), which itself was around 500 years prior to the Exodus and the writing of the books of the Pentateuch.

Accordingly, there is a great mass of data that must be collocated and explained, and that is without introducing all of the prophetic content within the Hebrew Bible.

What this amounts to for progressive revelation is that if a person is going to truly track the unveiling and development of God’s word chronologically he must situate himself within the various biblical milieus which pass before his eyes.  He (or she) will have to try to match the voice of the protagonist being described (e.g. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc) with what is being revealed about then and their times.  Moreover, since prophecy is such a significant part of that revelation any study of the progress of revelation will need to include the cumulative impact of the prophetic word through the different eras.

But when we arrive in the New Testament we are up against something different; a relatively condensed time-frame in which God discloses His word.  For my part I believe that the Gospel of Matthew is very early: written in the 40’s A.D.  That was the view of the early Church and I believe John Wenham made a brilliant defense of Matthaen priority in his book Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke.  So if we start with a date of 41 A.D. for Matthew and end with the writing of John’s Revelation and circa 95-96 A.D., we get a 55 year difference.  When we compare this with the 1,300 year gap between the first and last book of the Old Testament the contrast is striking.

Just as with the time covered by the Old Testament is larger than the time in which it was written (circa 3,500 years at least), so it is with the New Testament.  But the variance in time span is not nearly so pronounced.  The birth of Jesus was around 6 B.C. and John wrote Revelation in 95 or 96 A.D.  This means that the total time covered in the New Testament narrative is a little more than a century.  When progressive revelation is thought about within a window of 100 years, as opposed to 3,500 years, we again see huge disparity.  Whereas the Old Testament period allows for a prolonged progression, this is not the case with the New Testament.

What this means is that progressive revelation is either accelerated in the New Testament, or else it continues at about the same pace or is slower than in the Old Testament.  As a matter of fact, I think a case can be made for all three ways of seeing it.  If one looks at doctrines such as the deity of Christ, miracles, the birth, identity, and makeup of the Christian Church, and the coming of Christ again in power; all these things are crammed together in a relatively few pages and compounded in a brief span of time.

To sharpen the focus, a perusal of even the earlier writings of the New Testament: the Thessalonian Epistles (c. 49-51 A.D.), the Corinthian Letters (c. 52 & 56 A.D.), Romans (c. 56-58 A.D.), Ephesians and Colossians (c. 62-63 A.D.) speak to many of these things in a mature and profound way.  This is all packed into a mere 15 years!

There is one area where the emergence of doctrine must be emphasized, and that is in the Life of Jesus recorded in the Gospels and the overspill of that Life in the earliest chapters of the Book of Acts.

In the Gospels, the Synoptics especially, the onus is on Israel and its Messiah.  The annunciation passages in Matthew and Luke are borne out of the cumulative expectations created by the Prophets.  The fact that a messenger from heaven reinforces that expectation must not be glossed over by a hasty reading of the chapters from the perspective of the Church.  This is true also of places such as the kingdom parables in Matthew 13, the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 (Mark 13), and the teaching in Luke 19, 21, and Acts 1 through 3.  The Book of Hebrews might be very profitably interpreted within the same atmosphere as these important chapters in the Gospels.

The doctrines of the Church are compressed within a very small time-frame.  It should not be assumed therefore that the last book of the Bible deals with just that short time-frame and the revelation it contains.  Since the Revelation alludes to the Old Testament more than the other New Testament books it seems reasonable to think that it falls into line with those Old Testament books and the expectations raised in them.