General Revelation (Pt.4)

Part Three

God’s revelation is woven into the ‘warp and woof’ of everyday living. This is because General Revelation and Special Verbal Revelation work together in unison.  This is most important to keep in mind.  When God gives someone something like, revelation or ability, never works against Himself, He always gives in accordance with His will and His decree for the gift to be used.  So it is with the gift of General Revelation.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. – James 1:17

General Revelation and Special Revelation in the Scriptures both work together according to the intention of the revealing God.  We see this in Psalm 19 where ‘nature’ and ‘word’ are both revelations of God working together.

We see this also in Eden where Adam and Eve are placed in a revelatory environment and then are told how to function within it.  That is, God uses General Revelation, the naming of the animals, the creation mandate, to bring Adam to do several things:

First – to delineate and define animal characteristics in his naming of them, therefore using the abilities that God has given to him.  Those abilities themselves are revelatory, and we should link them to the phenomenal world in order to find out about the world.  This is the mandate for science and scientific endeavor in the world.

Second – God uses General Revelation in Eden so that man realizes his need of a suitable companion during the process of his scientific investigation and naming of the animals. But then the activities of Adam and Eve in the Edenic environment is prescribed also by the Word of God.  This is most important.  By the Word of God, given for example through the creation mandate itself – which is a verbal mandate – and the prohibition in Genesis 2:17, our first parents were given parameters within which to operate.  But within those verbal parameters there was a great deal of freedom to interact and respond to the natural realm.  It was never intended that God would leave us in a nonverbal atmosphere to find our way without another word from the Creator. General Revelation and Special Revelation are two sides of the one system of Divine communication.

After the Fall

After the fall of man the verbal aspect changes because Special Revelation was not at first instrumental.  That is, God did not use something else like a book or a prophet to speak to us, but spoke directly and personally in his own presence there in the Garden to Adam and Eve.  But after sin ruptured the relational and spiritual facets of the God / man connection, it became necessary for Special (verbal) Revelation to take other forms with only selected individuals hearing the voice of God.   It also became necessary for that verbal revelation to have a different content, where the denunciation of man’s wicked heart and the promise of future redemption played a major role.  It didn’t need to take any kind of role at all in the Edenic environment.

Yet the General Revelation, which now operates with the data of a fallen creation, and is effective despite it; and the Special Revelation, which operates within that fallen creation and interprets it, are still essential and are still meant to work together; they never work independently of each other, and so they must never be characterized as working independently of each other.

Certainly, they are different, but they are not self-supporting.  Each relies on the other:

General Revelation is non-verbal and non-redemptive, but requires an initial verbal identification and description.

Special Revelation is verbal and is both condemnatory and redemptive, but it operates within the created realm, which itself reveals God.

We can further examine this interplay between General and Special Revelation by studying the Noahic Covenant, and in doing this, also understand the different roles played by these two forms of God’s disclosure.  (See Genesis 8:15-9:17).

Notice here that the Noahic Covenant is the first covenant we find in the Bible.  This covenant is a covenant given by God on behalf of not only man, but on behalf of every living creature on the earth.  Because every living creature was affected by the Flood and its destruction, every living creature there by the will of God is included in the terms of this first covenant.  Therefore, this covenant has to do with the way that God is going to work in history in General Revelation, in the working out of his plan in history.

Now this means there is a connection between the “nature” and the plan of God.  But we couldn’t know this without Special Revelation.

The sign of the covenant is the rainbow.  People have noticed that this bow is rested and  is a bow without arrows.

The bow is an excellent symbol, particularly as it is now transformed into a thing of awe and of beauty.  It reveals the fact that God is a Judge over the wickedness of man, but will not revisit the earth with a global flood (Special Revelation).  But it also a symbol to us of our privileged relationship to God because it is a thing of great beauty (General Revelation), which only humans appreciate.

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General Revelation (Pt.3)

Part Two

The “Nature” Psalms

A good place to look for the doctrine of general or natural revelation is the so-called Nature Psalms.  But we might pause here to correct the title “Nature” Psalms, because although they have been classically referred to as that, it is not a very accurate name; it straightaway gives the impression that the psalmists are looking at nature and are deriving their views of God from their analysis of it.  But these Psalms (e.g. 8, 33, 104, 145), are actually Creation Psalms.  They are hymns to the God who has created all things. Therefore, they look at the effects of God’s working, and so they ought to be examined from a believing point of view.  We see God in these things just as the psalmist did, and our reaction to them should be that we are overwhelmed by the power, by the majesty, by the greatness of God, and that we worship Him for it.  These Psalms point to God.

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens. – Psalm 8:1

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.  He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him.  Praise the LORD! – Psalm 148:13-14

Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great!  You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. – Psalm 104:1-2

One of the main lessons then of these Creation Psalms is that God is far greater than what he has made.

The first and foundational truth in the Creation Psalms is that Yahweh has taken the initiative to communicate with us in every way possible.  He has given himself a constant witness in the creation around us and every time we open our eyes or ears we are reminded of the great Creator of all things. – Michael Travis, Encountering God in the Psalms, 122

At least the writer of Psalm 19 thinks so, and so does Paul in the New Testament. God has not remained silent.

So when we look at Psalm 19, perhaps the most clearly pronounced of the creation hymns, we see that it expounds the clarity of General Revelation to all men:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament show his handiwork – Psalm 19:1

So the wonder of the heavens, the demonstration that is put on for us in the skies, both the morning sky, the afternoon sunshine, and the night sky, these things declare our glorious God; they show us that God is God majestic.  We see the great blue of the sky, or the gathering storm clouds, we see the wonderful contrasts in the natural world, and we wonder at the wisdom of what we might call the ‘God’s eye for beauty’.  We look at the stars and we just cannot fathom the power, the might, and the greatness of a God who would make all of those stars, burning so far away, millions upon millions of them, in millions of galaxies, and only mention them in passing in Genesis 1:16.

Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. – Psalm 19:2

In verse 2 we are told that there is a communication going on from day to day, from the creation to the creature – man: “night to night reveals knowledge”, they impart knowledge to us, provided we open our eyes and our hearts.

There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. – Psalm 19:3

The testimony is universal, a General Revelation.

Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. – Psalm 19:4-6

The whole day, from sun up to sun down (v.6), is an ongoing witness to the revelation of the glory of God; it speaks to us of the reality of our Creator.  We recognize it intuitively when we look at it, when we listen to it, when we experience it.  There is a resonance between ourselves and the created environment. (more…)

General Revelation (Pt.2)

Part One

General Revelation is not potential knowledge, but actual knowledge.  The phrase “gnontes ton theon” in Romans 1:21, translated as “[they] knew God” implies knowing God already.  If that is the case, a theological apologetic witness to God utilizing only the world around should be aimed at awakening and reminding the sinner to what they have suppressed, and elucidating what is presently known.  When we look at the world, we are always reminded of our Creator.

Now, it is true that men can and do shut out that reminder, they can quieten the voice of conscience and the voice of memory (both of which are revelational to a degree).  When they then put forth their numerous alternatives; religions and philosophies, and argue for their truth over against the Christian truth claim, they are doing nothing more than exhibiting the results of their ongoing distortion of God’s revelation in them and around them.

But however low man may go, man is still the image of his Creator; spoiled, confused, and corrupt at turns though he may be.  He has eternity in his heart (Eccles. 3:11), but he has set himself against his Maker and will not be reconciled.

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. – Romans 8:7

God has made man upright but man has sought out many wicked devices (Eccles. 7:29). Sinful man’s reception of God’s General Revelation is certainly blighted, but it is never destroyed.  As one leading theologian put it,

Holy Scripture teaches that God very definitely, consciously, and intentionally, reveals himself in nature and history in the heart and conscious of human beings. When people do not acknowledge and understand this revelation, this is due to the darkening of their mind and therefore renders them inexcusable. – Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics I, 340

In man’s ontic and noetic poles; in his being and his knowing, he still knows God, although in a distorted and corrupted way, because of his inner corruption.

An Impotent Witness?

Does this mean that because of the corruption of man’s heart General Revelation is impotent as a witness to God?  No, it is resoundingly clear that just because man in his sinfulness suppresses and distorts and then reconfigures this revelation, and then projects a pseudo-revelation which does not have God in it, he does it always rebelliously.  This is why Paul tried to speak to the Greeks in Athens to bring out this imprisoned knowledge.  (more…)

General Revelation (Pt.1)

Revelation, be it in nature, within ourselves, or inscripturated in a book, is always God’s prerogative.  It always comes from God, and man is designed to receive it.  Man is not the one who starts with himself and discovers God in the universe, rather God discloses himself, and man ought to take immediate notice of God’s self-revelation.

Let me start with a basic definition of general revelation:

General Revelation is God’s self-disclosure in nature and in the psychological aspects of man.

The Range of the Revealed

I am not saying that the physical aspects of man are not revelatory, they are, but I include those within the general heading of nature. So material nature and also our psychology are both revelatory of the Triune God, the God who reveals himself in the Scriptures.  They are not revelatory of any other god for the simple reason that there is no other god who can reveal himself, and therefore the revelation that we see is the revelation that we ought to ascribe to our Creator.

Because of the connections between the human psyche and nature, the material world (what God has made) is revelational, not the other way round.  This brings together the fact of divine revelation with the expectancy for divine revelation. We know that God has revealed Himself because He has told as in His Scriptures and He’s put it all around us. We expect that God reveals Himself in the world because of what He’s told us about Himself.

The Second Person is the revealing Logos of God, the Word of God.  As He is the par excellence verbal revelation of God, then we should fully expect to receive a verbal announcement from Him as His creatures. Therefore, the necessity of Scripture and the rationale for Scripture are brought together in the Logos.  The necessity of Scripture comes about because of the discordance between God and sinners.  The rationale for Scripture stems from the need for a permanent record of God’s word about Himself and creation to fallen humanity.  These can be viewed in the Person of Christ.

Moving from the Logos Doctrine to general revelation helps us to keep ourselves on the right path regarding the latter.  As we will see, there are many evangelicals who have taken wrong paths, the paths congregating around natural theology.  But personal revelation, wrapped up in the Triune God, is built into what He has made, and His reason also for making it, and this personal element is woven into the ongoing plan of God we see in history.  Carl Henry wrote,

While nature has no will of its own, no capacity for moral choice, its forms and structures are nonetheless given and sustained by the Logos of God. Pervaded by God’s divine presence and power, it is an intelligible order serving moral purposes and a realm of providential fulfillment. – Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority – Vol. 2, 97

We ought to expect this if we have our doctrine right, because God is personal and has made earth as an environment suitable for us; not just suitable to live and breathe in, but an environment that is suitable for us to investigate and to marvel in.

Therefore, when we look at a tree, a flower, or a summer sky, we’re seeing something that is personally given to us, personally fashioned for our delight. Therefore, when we look at the movement of history, the God who made the tree and the sunset is the God who guides history.  ‘Yes’ in a fallen world, ‘yes’ in a world that is full of evil, and yet there is goodness in it and this God can be seen even in the darkness by those of us who have been given light by the Holy Spirit, on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world.

Still Biblical Revelation

The thing that we need to realize straightaway is that general, or if you like “natural” revelation, has got to be incorporated within a biblical viewpoint; it is not something that we have discovered and named. “General Revelation”, although we give it that name, is revealed to us through the Word of God.  It is revealed to us for what it is.

Because of the Fall, the sinfulness of man, and the noetic effects of sin upon our minds, we cannot see nature for what it really is; neither can we look within ourselves and see ourselves for what we are, and when we try to do that without reference to God’s revelation in Scripture, then we come away with idolatry and with an illusion. (more…)

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.

 

The Book of Psalms and the Biblical Covenants (Pt.5)

Part Four

The Christology of the Psalms continued…

Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension in Psalms 16:10 (resurrection), and 68:18 (ascension).

Psalm 16:10: “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.”

It is not fully apparent in Psalm 16 just who the “Holy One” is.  David is the author of the psalm, but would David call himself “the Holy One”?  It is this passage the apostle Peter quotes and applies directly to the Risen Christ in Acts 2:25-30.  Sheol was the place of departed souls and generally has negative connotations in the OT.  David appears to be speaking of it, not as a place of his temporary punishment, but of separation still from the presence of God.  If this is true then the hope of resurrection, and an ascension of some kind, is certainly in David’s mind as he writes, and it is this that Peter picks up and uses.

Psalm 68:18: “You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men, Even from the rebellious, That the LORD God might dwell there.”

This is another psalm which is applied to Christ by a New Testament writer.  This time it is Paul in Ephesians 4.  From the context of the original quotation we see that the Lord is spoken of, and the captivity that He has taken captive is in the positive sense of deliverance from oppressors.  The apostle Paul utilizes this verse to teach that Christ, while triumphing over the powers, has ascended and has in some way ‘captived’ the captives.  Without getting into the question of who the “captives” are, we can see that the text is employed to teach, among other things, the ascension of Christ.

Christ’s Second Advent is implied in places like Psalm 46:8-11.  The passage is akin to the Divine Warrior passages in the Bible (e.g. Exod. 15:1-11; Psa. 68; Isa. 63:1-3) where God comes unchallenged.  One sees a similar thing in Psalm 50:1-6, where “The Mighty One” (v.1) shines forth “out of Zion” (v.2).  He comes as a Judge (v.6), and the judgment seems climactic.  Verse 3, with its mention of a devouring fire (Cf. Mal. 3:2; 4:1); and verse 4, with its call to universal judgment, encourage us to see the returning Lord in the passage (Cf. Rev. 19:11-19).

So we can see that Messiah in His person and work is predicted in the Psalms.  These messianic psalms are a powerful witness to Israel’s expectation of a coming Ruler who would be God’s means of restoring His people to Himself, although their Christology has been ignored by many Jews.  In a long footnote George Peters explained that later Jewish interpreters modified the messianic interpretations of ancient rabbis to evade Christian who would try to point them to Jesus Christ by them.[1]

There is one more psalm to which we have to turn.

Psalm 110

It is hard to imagine a life setting for this psalm.  It is perhaps the clearest messianic passage in Psalms.  As it is the most quoted passage in the New Testament and only seven verses long I shall reproduce it below:

1 The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”

2 The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!

3 Your people shall be volunteers in the day of Your power; in the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning, You have the dew of Your youth.

4 The LORD has sworn and will not relent, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

5 The Lord is at Your right hand; He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath.

6 He shall judge among the nations, He shall fill the places with dead bodies, He shall execute the heads of many countries.

7 He shall drink of the brook by the wayside; therefore He shall lift up the head. – Psalm 110:1-7

The first verse has Yahweh addressing David’s Lord (Adonai) in such a way as would not have been acceptable in Israelite culture.  David did not have anyone other than Yahweh whom he would know as his master.  This raises awareness of the divine character of David’s Lord.[2]  Would David have arrogated to himself the honor to sit at God’s right hand?

Two aspects of Christ’s Threefold Office are seen from Psalm 110: King and High Priest.  In Psalm 110:2 the Yahweh speaks to David’s Lord, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies.”  The rule is to come from Zion.  Ruling over enemies recalls Psalm 2 (cf. Dan. 7:13-14).  But the people of Zion (“Your people”) will be fully committed in their zeal for His reign and righteousness (Psa.110:3).

In the fourth verse David writes something very striking, though the surprise is diminished by our familiarity with it.  The King of verses 1 and 2 is also a Priest; and not just any priest, but one in the order of Melchizedek.  Melchizedek is found in one chapter in the Book of Genesis, in the time of Abraham (Gen. 14).  As far as revelation goes up to this point, there was no clue of any priestly “order.”  And after the establishment of the order of Levi in Mosaic times, this was hardly to be expected.  For another thing, since the kingly line was from Judah, there was no royal claim on the priests office, and those who presumed to take it, like Uzziah, were severely reprimanded (2 Chron. 26). (more…)

The Book of Psalms and the Biblical Covenants (Pt.4)

Part Three

The Christology of the Psalms

Everyone knows that from an evangelical perspective there are a number of psalms that are designated “Messianic.”  In surveying some of the categories above, it has already been impossible to avoid encountering the doctrine of Christ.  Christology surfaces in many of the Psalms, although the main “Messianic Psalms” are Psalms 2, 22, 69, 110, and 118.  These five are so-called mainly because they are employed by the New Testament writers to relate in some way to aspects of Jesus Christ’s life and ministry.[1]  If we quickly survey these five Psalms we find that,

Psalm 2 speaks first in verse 2 of Yahweh and His Anointed (Meschiach) in the context of rampant and universal antagonism.  Despite this enmity the “Son” will rule on the earth.

Psalm 22 describes the terrible suffering of the Messiah; His isolation in the midst of His enemies.  But there is a hint of what is to come.

Psalm 69 is used by John to refer to Christ’s feelings when He cleansed the Temple.

Psalm 110 contains statements which cannot be applied to any other but Jesus.  This includes a special priesthood and kingship.[2]  I shall look at this text in some detail.

Psalm 118 is a Hallel Psalm which speaks among other things of Jesus’ rejection and eventual exaltation.

So right off the bat from these briefest of descriptions of just five “Messianic” Psalms, the following Christological facts:

  1. Messiah is the chosen One of God and is hated by the nations.  There is a special relation to God and a corresponding reaction to that relation from the world.
  2. Messiah is to suffer at the hands of His enemies.  This means that God’s enemies will be permitted to take God’s Anointed and make Him suffer for having this special relationship with God.
  3. Messiah will be zealous for pure worship.  This implies an impurity and hypocrisy in the prescribed worship of the religious leaders of the day.
  4. Messiah will triumph over His enemies and will rule the nations.  One day all political concerns will be placed in one hand!  There will be many who exercise limited authority, but these will do so as service for the Lord of Lords.
  5. He will also supply a necessary intermediary function between His people and God.  As there will be no High Priest from the Levite line Jesus Himself has taken the role but as representing the Melchizedekian line.  Spiritual and political realms will come together in Messiah Jesus.
  6. Messiah will first suffer rejection, but this rejection will result in the destruction of those who reject Him, while insuring His adoration and praise.  Messiah’s humiliation and exaltation are connected with God’s judgment and God’s restoration of mankind to a fully appreciative and worshipful relationship with their Creator.

The Psalms Provide Us with a Picture of Christ

Without exploring every detail of these Psalms I now want to fill in the portrait of Christ with which the NT makes us familiar from data gleaned from within the Psalms.  I shall not trawl through each psalm individually.  Rather I want to draw from the Book in much the same way one might draw from, say, Romans, to teach Bible doctrine.  We expect to see Jesus in the Psalms, because He has Himself gone there; for example, when He expounded things concerning Himself to the men on the Emmaus road in Luke 24:44.

The basic categories into which we shall divide a presentation of the Person and Work of Christ are these[3]: Preexistence, Deity, Humanity, Sinlessness, Threefold Office, Sacrificial Death, Resurrection and Ascension

Christ’s Preexistence can be traced in Psalm 40:6-8:

Sacrifice and offering You did not desire;
My ears You have opened.
Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.

Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.

I delight to do Your will, O my God,
And Your law is within my heart.

Who is the person spoken of in verse 7?  In the immediate context it probably refers to the attentive worshipper; the “scroll of the book” being the Law[4], and perhaps, more particularly the covenant stipulations therein.[5]  But a deeper prophetic meaning is discernible.  It seems to predict the coming of someone.  The verses portray one who is completely in God’s hand, and who is willing to render any service; perhaps even self-sacrifice.[6]   The writer of Hebrews has here followed the Greek OT (LXX) rendering of Psalm 40:6.  Instead of referring just to the ears, the Greek refers to the “body”, i.e. the whole person.  But there is nothing odd going on here.  The parenthetical clause which speaks of “ears dug out” is a synecdoche and simply implies that if the speaker has a person’s ear he has all of them.  This is how the writer of Hebrews sees Christ.  As a recent book on Christ’s pre-existence puts it:

The language of the passage appears most consistent with that of personal preexistence, with the one receiving the body already in some other form.[7]

(more…)

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…)

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.


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