Illumination of Scripture

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Eph. 1.17-19 NIV)

 

The Spirit of wisdom and revelation references Isaiah 11.1-3 which speaks of the seven-fold Spirit which rested on Jesus during His ministry. Since Pentecost, every Christian possesses the Spirit. Though Paul doesn’t say it explicitly, the implied thought, of how the Spirit communicates ideas is by hearing (in the Ephesian’s case) the scriptures read. The NIV rendering is probably the closest to the intent of what Paul prayed for concerning the Ephesians among whom he previously ministered. To help understand his words the context needs to be recognized by how the early church met and operated.

Paul and Jesus both utilized the synagogue and authenticated its ongoing function. Paul told his protege Timothy to practice the same three functions which characterized the synagogue: give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (1Tim. 4.13 NET). We call Christian weekly meetings church gatherings to distinguish them from non-Christian Jewish observances but the ideas  are identical. The main purpose of this weekly meeting was schooling the community of believers. At the beginning of the Jewish nation’s institution, Levites were scattered among the tribes in part for explaining the Law and answering judicial questions (see Dt. 33.9-10, Mal. 2.4-6). The synagogue was not primarily for worship since the Tabernacle observances preserved the redemptive theme. Of course, this is not to say that learning about God and His word is not sanctifying, it is, but in a different and complimentary way. By knowing God better, worship becomes more meaningful. The Christian weekly meeting preserves the redemptive theme by observing the Lord’s Supper. Also, by The New Covenant’s provision of the Spirit, the weekly gathering is the corporate temple (see 1 Cor. 3.17 where Paul uses the plural).

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians specifically asks for three separate items:

1.“Knowing” God more comprehensively. This is never achieved apart from scripture and God’s Spirit. The Spirit was directly instrumental using holy prophets to record His words. These godly men were carried along by the Spirit to produce scripture (see 2Pet. 1.21). Additionally, the eternal Spirit gives continued insight to every subsequent generation about this revealed truth, hence illumination. Paul notes the primacy of God’s word by recounting that the Jewish people had a great heritage in receiving, collating, and preserving scripture: What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. (Rom. 3.1 NIV)

2. Realizing the “hope” of what Christ has in store for His people both now and the resultant storehouse of eternity: “…the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.” Too many Christians believe the lie of scoffers who ridicule the invisible realities. This is a subtle appeal to focus on what can be sensed with human faculties instead of operating by faith. They want us to rely on ourselves to make the world better instead of obeying Christ to transform individuals and therefore society. They want us to focus on the temporal state that is subjected to cosmic evil rulers and to forget the glorious reality of Christ’s Kingdom: Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted on the earth. (Ps. 46.10 NIV)

3. God’s “power” for life while in the body. This is specifically temporal in nature since it will be unnecessary for the Spirit to inform us of our supernatural abilities during the eternal state. Jesus tells us the resurrected redeemed will be like angels: But those who are regarded as worthy to share in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. In fact, they can no longer die, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, since they are sons of the resurrection. (Lk. 20.35-36 NET)

 

Context Dictates Usage, not Word Definitions

Craig Keener gives sage advice for understanding and interpreting the bible:

 

Context is the way God gave us the Bible, one book at a time.  The first readers of Mark could not flip over to Revelation to help them understand Mark; Revelation had not been written yet.  The first readers of Galatians did not have a copy of the letter Paul wrote to Rome to help them understand it.  These first readers did share some common information with the author outside the book they received.

We’ll call this shared information “background”: some knowledge of the culture, earlier biblical history, and so on.  But they had, most importantly, the individual book of the Bible that was in front of them.  Therefore we can be confident that the writers of the Bible included enough within each book of the Bible to help the readers understand that book of the Bible without referring to information they lacked.  For that reason, context is the most important academic key to Bible interpretation.

Often popular ministers today quote various isolated verses they have memorized, even though this means that they will usually leave 99% of the Bible’s verses unpreached.  One seemingly well-educated person told a Bible teacher that she thought the purpose of having a Bible was to look up the verses the minister quoted in church!  But the Bible is not a collection of people’s favorite verses with a lot of blank space in between.  Using verses out of context one could “prove” almost anything about God or justify almost any kind of behavior–as history testifies.  But in the Bible God revealed Himself in His acts in history, through the inspired records of those acts and the inspired wisdom of His servants addressing specific situations.

People in my culture value everything “instant”: “instant” mashed potatoes; fast food; and so forth.  Similarly, we too often take short-cuts to understanding the Bible by quoting random verses or assuming that others who taught us have understood them correctly.  When we do so, we fail to be diligent in seeking God’s Word (Proverbs 2:2-5; 4:7; 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:15).

One prominent minister in the U.S., Jim Bakker, was so busy with his ministry to millions of people that he did not have time to study Scripture carefully in context.  He trusted that his friends whose teachings he helped promote surely had done so.  Later, when his ministry collapsed, he spent many hours honestly searching the Scriptures and realized to his horror that on some points Jesus’ teachings, understood in context, meant the exact opposite of what he and his friends had been teaching!  It is never safe to simply depend on what someone else claims that God says (1 Kings 13:15-26).

I discovered this for myself when, as a young Christian, I began reading 40 chapters of the Bible a day (enough to finish the New Testament every week or the Bible every month).  I was shocked to discover how much Scripture I had essentially ignored between the verses I had memorized, and how carefully the intervening text connected those verses.  I had been missing so much, simply using the Bible to defend what I already believed!  After one begins reading the Bible a book at a time, one quickly recognizes that verses isolated from their context nearly always mean something different when read in context.

We cannot, in fact, even pretend to make sense of most verses without reading their context.  Isolating verses from their context disrespects the authority of Scripture because this method of interpretation cannot be consistently applied to the whole of Scripture.  It picks verses that seem to make sense on their own, but most of the rest of the Bible is left over when it is done, incapable of being used the same way.  Preaching and teaching the Bible the way it invites us to interpret it—in its original context–both explains the Bible accurately and provides our hearers a good example how they can learn the Bible better for themselves.

If we read any other book, we would not simply take an isolated statement in the middle of the book and ignore the surrounding statements that help us understand the reason for that statement.  If we hand a storybook to a child already learning how to read, the child would probably start reading at the beginning.  That people so often read the Bible out of context is not because it comes naturally to us, but because we have been taught the wrong way by frequent example.  Without disrespecting those who have done the best they could without understanding the principle of context, we must now avail ourselves of the chance to begin teaching the next generation the right way to interpret the Bible.

Many contradictions some readers claim to find in the Bible arise simply from ignoring the context of the passages they cite, jumping from one text to another without taking the time to first understand each text on its own terms.  To develop an example offered above, when Paul says that a person is justified by faith without works (Romans 3:28), his context makes it clear that he defines faith as something more than passive assent to a viewpoint; he defines it as a conviction that Christ is our salvation, a conviction on which one actively stakes one’s life (Romans 1:5).  James declares that one cannot be justified by faith without works (James 2:14)—because he uses the word “faith” to mean mere assent that something is true (2:19), he demands that such assent be actively demonstrated by obedience to show that it is genuine (2:18).  In other words, James and Paul use the word “faith” differently, but do not contradict one another on the level of meaning.  If we ignore context and merely connect different verses on the basis of similar wording, we will come up with contradictions in the Bible that the original writers would never have imagined.

The importance of context in Bible study

Devotions in Proverbs

For many years my daily bible reading included a chapter of Proverbs. It is an easy scheme to follow since there are 31 chapters in our modern division of this book. So today being the 9th of the month, to follow this plan would be to read ch.9 of Proverbs. As with any bible reading plan care must be taken to not become eccentric (off center) in our bible knowledge and understanding. Therefore, it is also important to read and understand all the rest of revealed truth contained in the bible. Personally, I like to listen to the NIV bible while I commute. I will usually let the CD cycle through several times before I change to the next one. Of course, while on the road, driving is the first responsibility and listening to the bible secondarily. Often I will hear something significant to be followed up with research for when I arrive home where I can apply all my attention and consult resources for further study.

Anyway, Don Carson (Charlie Moule’s favorite fundamentalist) has good thoughts on the truths of God’s word in Proverbs 27:


IN REFLECTING ON PROVERBS 27, I shall draw attention to five independent proverbs:

(1) “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Prov. 27:6). This is one of a substantial number of proverbs scattered throughout the book that despise flattery and insist that wise people not only administer rebuke in a kind and thoughtful way, but accept it and learn from it. For instance: “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning” (Prov. 9:8-9). “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise” (Prov. 15:31). This is a very different world from a culture in which people are simply encouraged to find themselves or express themselves.

(2) A number of proverbs, one of them in this chapter, value loyalty: “Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father” (Prov. 27:10). That sort of value is social; it transcends the “me first” mentality of individualism run amuck, and thus comports well with the New Testament emphasis on the corporate wholeness of the church.

(3) “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17)—which again is impossible where rabid individualism holds sway. Pastors and scholars know their thinking is sharper if they take time for honest interaction with their peers.

(4) “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man” (Prov. 27:20). Few sentences sum up so briefly and so evocatively the bottomless acquisitiveness of fallen human beings, the lust for things and power, the drive for possession, control, and novelty. A moment’s reflection, and Death and Destruction become not only the standard of what it means never to be satisfied, but also what characterizes “the eyes of man.”

(5) “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives” (Prov. 27:21). This could simply mean that after a person has gone through the crucibles of affliction, the approval rating, as it were, is assigned by the valuation of his or her peers at the other end. But it is more likely that praise itself is in some respects the ultimate test of character. You can tell as much about people (and maybe more) by how they respond to praise as you can by how they respond to adversity. Ask football heroes, movie stars, and people in church too rapidly promoted. Perhaps this is the ultimate crucible. It does not destroy us; it exposes what is there, and very often it is not much.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/loveofgod/

Review: Did Adam Exist? by Vern S Poythress

Here is a book I hope to explore soon. Vern Poythress is a favorite author of mine who has explained well many theological issues. This review whets my appetite for Poythress’ examination of this important subject.

The Domain for Truth

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Vern Poythress is quite the Renaissance man; or more appropriately I should say he’s quite the Reformation man. With degrees in Mathematics from Cal Tech and Harvard balanced with a theological degree in apologetics from Westminster and also New Testament studies at Oxford, Poythress over the years have shown himself to be quite a capable scholar when it comes to discussion of various disciplines from the Christian Worldview.  When I learned that the editors for the “Christian Answers to Hard Questions” series has selected Poythress to write in defense of the historicity of Adam, I was quite delighted.  The debate on the historicity of Adam has been a source of contention the last few years in Evangelical circles and survey of the literature reveal that it involves the discipline of biology, Old Testament studies and Ancient Near East studies.  Given the inter-disciplinary nature of the debate, Poythress’ ability to navigate…

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What Does “We are God’s fellow-workers” in 1 Corinthians 3.9 Really Mean?

Daniel B. Wallace

Translations and Commentaries

The King James Version in 1 Cor 3.9 reads, “we are labourers together with God…” This unambiguously suggests that Paul and Apollos were considered in some sense on the same level with God. Of course, ‘in some sense’ covers a multitude of possibilities, but there nevertheless seems to be an underlying tone of synergism and mutual credit. (A similar translation is in the French Nouvelle Version2: “nous sommes ouvriers avec Dieu,” and in La Sacra Bibbia: “Noi siamo infatti collaboratori di Dio.”)

Most modern translations take a more neutral stance, translating 1 Cor 3.9a as “we are God’s fellow workers” (ASV [‘fellow-workers’], RSV, NASB and NASB 1995, NKJV, ESV, NIV), “we are God’s coworkers (HCSB, TNIV, and NAB2 [‘co-workers’; 2010]), “we do share in God’s work” (NJB), “wir sind Gottes Mitarbeiter” (Luther 1985), or “nosotros somos colaboradores de Dios” (Reina Valera2).

But…

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92. “The Spirit was not yet” John 7,39

Herman Grobler demonstrates how scribes seeking to inform sometimes cause questions about what the original author said. A recognized concept is “proficiency enables clear and simple explanation.” Herman has done this with John 7.39.

Bible differences

“The Spirit was not yet” John 7,39
What should one do when the source manuscript you are copying has a sentence that is open for misinterpretation? Should you just copy what is written, or should you add that which you might suspect had been left out by the previous scribe?
Young’s Literal Translation of 1898 gives the exact words as is found in the oldest Greek manuscripts John 7,38-39: “`If any one doth thirst, let him come unto me and drink; he who is believing in me, according as the Writing said, Rivers out of his belly shall flow of living water;’ and this he said of the Spirit, which those believing in him were about to receive; for not yet was the Holy Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
These words are open to misunderstanding. Could John be thinking that the Holy Spirit did not exist until Jesus…

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The Great Commission Part 3: Application

Great thoughts from Dan Wallace.

Daniel B. Wallace

This is the third of three blogs on the Great Commission (Matt 28.19–20). In the first one I talked about the grammar of this passage and concluded that the standard English translation, “Go and make disciples… baptizing… teaching” is an accurate representation of the idioms of the Greek text. In the second blog I discussed the historical setting and noted that the command was given to the disciples to evangelize by going out of Jerusalem and to the Gentiles. The mission was eccentric rather than ethnocentric. That is to say, the apostles were to go out of their way to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to those outside of Jerusalem, including non-Jews. We also argued that in doing this, the apostles had to abandon 1400 years of food laws that had been ingrained in them, in their history, in their traditions. The gospel was for all people and…

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holy, holy, holy VS happy, happy, happy

Walter Bright on “how” God fulfills our deepest needs: It is through holiness.

Walter Bright

I have never met anyone who doesn’t dream about being happy. There is this thing inside us that long for a happy life. I don’t think happiness  is a bad thing to want. Our loving heavenly Father planned for our happiness. The very idea of “Shalom”  in the Bible – “nothing missing – nothing broken” speaks to that fact that God provides for our happiness.

 However, I also think most of go about looking for happiness The wrong way.

We seek to fill that God-Shape Vacuum (that only He alone can fill) with things that don’t satisfy.

First Things First

Most people do not know better, so they go about seeking happiness the wrong way. They go for pleasures of all kinds, but it leaves them empty and longing for more. They go for status, fame and money, but soon realize that these things just can’t deliver true happiness. They…

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Doubtless You Are the People, and Wisdom Will Die with You! (Job 12.2)

Don Carson on Job: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/loveofgod/

 

JOB’S RESPONSE TO ZOPHAR TAKES UP three chapters (Job 12-14), the first of which was part of yesterday’s reading. There Job accuses Zophar and his friends, in scathing language, of mouthing traditional platitudes and thinking their utterances are profound: “Doubtless you are the people, and wisdom will die with you!” (Job 12:2). Job adds: “But I have a mind as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know all these things?” (Job 12:3)—that is, the things to do with God’s sovereignty, greatness, and unfathomable power and wisdom. So Job spends most of chapter 12 reviewing and deepening this vision of God’s greatness.

But here in Job 13, Job takes the argument a step farther. The common ground he shares with these three friends is plain enough: “My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it. What you know I also know; I am not inferior to you” (Job 13:1-2). The question is what to make of God’s transcendent sovereignty. His friends use this base to argue that such a God can certainly sniff out evil and punish it; Job himself now turns the argument in a different direction.

First, far from prompting him to cringe in fear, reflection on who God is prompts Job to want to speak with the Almighty, to argue his case with God (Job 13:3). His conscience really is clear, and he wants to prove it. He is convinced that if he could get a hearing, at least God would be fair and just.

Second, by contrast, the miserable friends merely smear him with lies (Job 13:4). They are “worthless physicians”—i.e., they do nothing to help Job in his pain.

Third, and worse, Job insists that they “speak wickedly on God’s behalf,” that they “speak deceitfully for him” (Job 13:7). They cannot find concrete evidences of gross sin in Job’s life, yet they think they are speaking for God when they insist Job must really be evil. Thus in their “defense” of God, they say things that are untrue and unfair about Job: they “speak wickedly on God’s behalf.” How can God be pleased with their utterances? Ends do not justify means. It is always important to speak the truth and not fudge facts to fit our theological predispositions. Far better to admit ignorance or postulate mystery than to tell untruths.

Fourth, Job himself, for all that he wishes to enter into dialogue with God, is still not speaking as an agnostic. True, Job wants his day in the divine court. But for him, God is still God, and so he confesses, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). Even the alternative reading (NIV footnote—the issues are complex) acknowledges that God is God: the difference is in Job’s response.

What Rainbows Really Mean (In the Bible)

by Jerry Shepherd: http://www.therecapitulator.com/rainbow-flags-proudly-may-they-wave/

 

In the city in which I reside, Edmonton, Alberta, the mayor and city council have decided to fly a rainbow flag over City Hall for the duration of the 2014 Winter Olympics.  In doing so, they join a number of other cities across Canada which have decided to do the same, including Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, and St. John’s; subsequently, Calgary has joined the group as well.  Perhaps there will be others. I believe this may have happened in some US cities as well.

Now, my reaction to this is mixed.  On the one hand, I am extremely and pleasantly surprised and delighted by this development.  I don’t often have occasion to drive downtown by City Hall; but I think that, sometime during the next week-and-a-half I will do so, just to be able to say that I did indeed see it with my own eyes, and not just in a photograph or news video.

On the other hand, though, to say that I am surprised by this action is, to say the least, quite an understatement.  Actually, I am absolutely shocked by this decision.  And, that so many cities across Canada have decided to do this is completely mind-boggling.  That Edmonton and Calgary have done this is, perhaps, not as surprising, since these cities are located in what could arguably be referred to as Canada’s Bible-belt.  But that Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver have decided to do this is nothing short of seismic.  I never thought, in the current societal context of tolerance and pluralism, that these large metropolitan areas would have given such explicit endorsement to Judeo-Christian religion by prominently displaying one of its most important symbols.

Nevertheless, despite my shock, I am, as I said, extremely delighted by this.  Indeed, part of my rejoicing over this development is that it affords me the opportunity to do a biblical-theological blog post about something which is currently so front and center in the news.

There are four places in the Bible where a rainbow plays a very significant role.

(1) Genesis 9

At the end of the flood narrative, when the waters have finally receded and Noah and his family have disemb-ark-ed (bit of a pun!), God enters into a covenant with Noah and with all humanity.  The relevant passage comes in vv. 9-17:

9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you–every living creature on earth.  11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come:  13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.  16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”  17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

The rainbow, in this passage, serves as the sign of the covenant that God makes with Noah and all life on the face of the earth.  Now, one very important thing to point out about this passage is that there is no word in the Hebrew of the Old Testament that actually means “rainbow.”  The word which is translated as “rainbow” in this passage is the Hebrew word qeshet, which, in 71 of its 75 occurrences in the Old Testament, simply means, “bow”; that is, the battle bow, the instrument that one uses to shoot arrows.  Indeed, perhaps a majority of modern commentators on Genesis understand that, even though the word qeshet in Genesis 9 is, in fact, referring to the rainbow in the sky, the rainbow itself is serving as a symbol of the battle bow.  God has finished warring against the earth in destroying all life by the waters of the flood.  Now, to symbolize his promise to never again destroy all life on earth by the waters of a flood, he “hangs up his bow,” much as a gunslinger in an old western “hangs up his gun,” promising never to use it again.  Interestingly, in this passage, even though the bow is, to be sure, a symbol for humanity to see, the text actually states that it is really more a symbol for God to look at: “Whenever the bow appears in the clouds, I [God] will see it and remember . . .”  So the “bow” or “rainbow” in this passage is symbolic of God’s warring activity against the earth in the flood.  When God looks at his “bow” which he has hung up in the sky, he will remember that he “has hung up his guns” and not destroy all life on earth by means of a flood again.  The colors of the “rainbow” are fairly irrelevant. This is not a “Care Bear” rainbow; rather it is a bow which is symbolic of the warfare that God conducted against the earth in the flood.

(2) Ezekiel 1

Perhaps the most famous chapter in the book of Ezekiel is the very first one, where “Ezekiel saw de wheel.”  Ezekiel has this vision by the Kebar River in the land of Babylon, where he lives among a community of exiles from Judah.  Without going into all the exegetical details, I would simply summarize this chapter as follows: Ezekiel is given a vision of a “contraption,” consisting of four living creatures and four very large wheels.  On top of this contraption there is a flat platform, and on top of the platform there is a throne on which the Lord Almighty is sitting. What becomes clear in this vision and in the rest of the book of Ezekiel is that this “contraption” is actually a war chariot.  The Lord Almighty, on top of the chariot, is about to wage war.   And the nation against whom he is about to wage war is his own nation, the people of Judah.  Ezekiel’s message to the exiles is that the country from which they have been exiled, the land of Judah, is going to suffer yet more punishment on account of their rebellion against the Lord, and that the Lord is going to wage warfare against his own people by way of the devastation Babylon will execute on the people of Judah.

At the end of the chapter, after having described the living creatures, the wheels, the platform, and the throne, Ezekiel finally describes the one who is sitting on the throne, the Almighty, the Lord:

26 Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.   27I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.   28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.  (Ezek 1:26-28

For only the second time, and last time, in the Old Testament, there is a reference to a rainbow.  But again, just as in the Genesis 9 passage, the word translated “rainbow” here is qeshet, a word that normally refers to the battle bow.  This is highly significant, given the warfare imagery in this chapter.  Again, even though the word qeshet is referring to a rainbow, the rainbow itself in this passage refers to the battle bow.  Notice that Ezekiel says that the bow “surrounded” the one sitting on the throne.  Below I have inserted a drawing based on ceramic that comes from the ninth century BC, three hundred years prior to Ezekiel.  It depicts the Assyrian deity, the storm-god Asshur, flying through the heavens with a drawn bow, preparing to shoot his arrows at some enemy.  Note, however, what this bow actually is.

Asshur is seen here against the background of a sun disc.  Either the sun disc itself, or another circular object (a rainbow?) set against the sun, has turned into a battle bow in Asshur’s hands.  Asshur with the aura of the sun surrounding him, and perhaps a rainbow as well, is pictured here as a storm god, a warrior deity.

When God gives Ezekiel the vision which is recorded for us in chapter 1, he does so, utilizing symbolism and imagery with which Ezekiel would have already been familiar.  Again, this is not a “Care Bear” rainbow.  It is, rather, symbolic of the warfare that God is about to conduct against the people of Judah on account of their centuries of rebellion against his rule.  There is no mistaking what God is communicating to Ezekiel in this vision.  God is sitting on his throne, riding his war chariot, and surrounded by a brilliantly shining rainbow, i.e., battle bow, with which he is about to shoot his arrows at his enemies—in this case, his own people who have been in rebellion against him.

Will things be any different as we go into the New Testament?

(3) Revelation 4

There are only two places in the New Testament where a rainbow is mentioned; both are in the book of Revelation.

In Revelation 4:1-3, John relates what he saw:

1After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”   2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.  3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.

Any serious scholar of the book of Revelation will tell you that in order to understand this book you also have to be acquainted with the book of Ezekiel.  Notice how the scene here and the scene in Ezekiel 1 compare.

First, in both, there is a vision of the Lord on his throne.

Second, in both, the Lord is surrounded by a rainbow.

Third, note that in Rev 4:5, John records that “From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder.” The same phenomena are in the vision in Ezekiel 1 (vv. 4-5, 13-14, 24).

Fourth, the living creatures from Ezekiel 1 show up again in Rev 4:7-9.

Fifth, the warfare theme which we already saw in Ezekiel 1 is operative again in Revelation 4 and the chapters that follow.  Revelation 4-5 has to do with who is able to able to open the seals which, when opened, will unleash horrible vengeance and destruction against the enemies of God and the enemies of his people.  The Lamb, in the center of the throne, is found worthy to open these seals.

Whether or not the rainbow serves the same function as it does in Genesis 9 and Ezekiel, that is, as a battle bow, perhaps cannot be determined exactly.  But, in light of these comparisons, one thing does seem sure.  The description of the rainbow in Revelation 4 is not for the purpose of engendering warm and fuzzy feelings.  Rather, the rainbow encircling the throne contributes to the imagery of the awesome warrior God who sits on that throne.

(4) Revelation 10

Very briefly, note that even one of God’s servants, one of the angels, gets to be accompanied by the rainbow:

1Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars.   2 He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land,  3 and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke.   4 And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.”   5Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven.   6 And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay!   7 But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.”  (Rev 10:1-7)

It will be sufficient to note here that, again, the context is one of the judgment; indeed, judgment at its grand finale—”There will be no more delay.”

So, hopefully, you can see now why I was absolutely delighted when all these municipal governments decided to overtly display this Judeo-Christian symbol on flags over their respective city halls.  But, surely, you’ll also understand why I was so shocked that they chose this particular symbol, indicative of God’s righteous judgment against everything that he considers to be wicked and sinful, things that are listed in passages like Romans 1,  1 Corinthians 6, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, 1 Timothy 1, and other places in the New Testament.  It is amazing that so many governmental leaders would give witness to the righteous judgment of God.

Okay, I know, I know.  This is not the reason they are flying this flag.  But, this would not be the first time something like this has happened.  The Gospel of John records that one day the high priest spoke out in the Sanhedrin, arguing that they should put Jesus to death because it would be “better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:50).  John, then, goes on to tell us that Caiaphas “did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one” (vv. 51-52).  Commentators and scholars sometimes refer to this and other similar incidents in the Bible as that of someone “speaking better than they know.”   God, in his sovereignty, orchestrates things in such a way that people unwittingly, despite their own intentions,  give witness to his greatness, his majesty, his holiness.  Perhaps, in the case of these flags, this is one more example of such a phenomenon.  Proudly may they wave.

Absence of Evidence is Not Evidence of Absence

From Justin Taylor’s blog: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2014/02/14/are-camels-in-genesis-archaeologically-anachronistic/

 

Are Camels in Genesis Archaeologically Anachronistic?

camels1

Christianity Today has an excellent round-up of some evangelical scholars reacting to the work of two researchers at Tel Aviv University who used radiocarbon dating on the bones of camels found in ancient copper mines south of the Dead Sea to suggest dating near the end of the 10th century BC (centuries after the patriarchs). TheNew York Times reported the alleged implication: “Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times.”

Here is an excerpt from CT‘s piece:

Two recent academic papers written by evangelical scholars—Konrad Martin Heide, a lecturer at Philipps University of Marburg, Germany; and Titus Kennedy, an adjunct professor at Biola University—both refer to earlier depictions of men riding or leading camels, some that date to the early second millenium BC.

Among other evidence, Kennedy notes that a camel is mentioned in a list of domesticated animals from Ugarit, dating to the Old Babylonian period (1950-1600 BC).

He concludes, “For those who adhere to a 12th century BC or later theory of domestic camel use in the ancient Near East, a great deal of archaeological and textual evidence must be either ignored or explained away.”

In an interview with Christianity Today, Kennedy said that he noticed archaeologists who work in Israel and Jordan seem to date camel domestication later than those who work in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

“[Israel] doesn’t have much writing from before the Iron Age, 1000 BC,” he said. “So there aren’t as many sources to look at. Whereas in Egypt, you have writing all the way back to 3000 BC and in Mesopotamia the same thing.” Based on Egyptian and Mesopotamian accounts, Kennedy believes domestication probably occurred as early as the third millennium BC.

He also believes the TAU researchers not only ignored evidence from outside Israel, they also assumed too much about their own research. “All they really tell us is that at that particular place where they were working they found some camel bones that they interpreted as in a domesticated context between the ninth and 11th centuries BC,” Kennedy said. “It doesn’t tell us that camels couldn’t have been used in other nearby areas earlier than that.”

Archaeologists usually remember that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” The absence of evidence for Hittites once fueled some 19th-century debates over the Bible—until the vast Hittite empire was discovered in Anatolia. Questions about the Book of Daniel once focused on the absence of the prominently featured Belshazzar from Babylonian king lists—until it was discovered that Belshazzar was actually the son of Nabonidus, and co-regent.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Branch

Jeremiah 33.14-16 records the initial promise that the Divine Davidic King would be the True Vine (Branch) in righteousness: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” At the time this promise was given through Jeremiah the Kingdom of Judah was about to fall to the Babylonians in 586 BC. Jeremiah’s words of judgment had been unheeded by Judah’s leaders, how much more the promises of restoration and the ultimate promise of the Messiah. Never the less and despite the false prophets both in the exile of Babylon and with the besieged in Jerusalem, God was not done with Israel. God’s promise to the Patriarchs was inviolable: Through the Seed of the woman and Abraham’s Seed One would arise to crush the serpent’s head. Later the promised line was narrowed to David’s descendent who would also be King forever. It was necessary for any redeemer to be connected to the human race and to be able to trace his lineage back to Adam. God chose Abraham to father the line of the Messiah, the Seed, who would bless all nations (see Gal.3.16).

Previously, Israel was pictured as a vine that the Lord brought out of Egypt and settled in The Land. Ps.80 records this imagery: You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its branches to the sea and its shoots to the River. The Promised Land was an ideal place to grow grapes and viticulture was central in the agricultural year. With this imagery Israel was well familiar and later would even adorn the Second Temple with a huge vine covered in gold. The figure of the vine was Israel’s predominate image.

Isaiah 5 is a lament over the vineyard of the Lord: Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?     And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry! (vss. 1-7)

Jeremiah’s Branch therefore would be the True Vine which yielded righteousness unlike Israel. This speaks of a righteous substitute who would provide His righteousness on humanity’s account. This hearkens back to the sacrifices of the Tabernacle and later, the Solomonic and Second Temple. The worshiper would place his hands on the sacrifice and symbolically transfer his sins to it. Everything that happened to the sacrifice afterwards was deserved by the one who brought it. Redemption in Israel was about substitution, the unblemished for the guilty. This imagery prefigured Christ.

Contrast the time of Jeremiah with the scene in 70 AD when the Second Temple was destroyed by the hands of the Romans and God never renewed the sacrifices since the Ultimate Sacrifice for human sin already occurred when Christ shed His blood at Passover about 40 years earlier. Also, it should  be noted when the Church was in its formation in Acts 6 that many priests became Christians: And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (vs.7). It is fair to infer that these priests recognized Christ as the fulfillment of the sacrificial system.

This brings us to the renewed promise of the coming of The Branch in Zechariah. Now the promise of Babylon’s demise is fulfilled and the people are returning to the land about 535 BC. Joshua (same name as the Greek version of Jesus), son of Jehozadak was High Priest when the word of God came to Zechariah concerning the Branch: Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. (3.8-9) Here, Joshua son of Jehozadak, is spoken of as a sign referring to a greater fulfillment: Joshua (Jesus) who would lead His people into the ultimate Promised Land of eternal life. This High Priest Jesus would receive the serpent’s fatal bite on the heal (Gen.3.15) and secure redemption by paying the penalty of Adam’s (and therefore all humanity’s) sin.

Again Zechariah speaks of The Branch in chapter 6 and says that Joshua’s name (Jesus) will be the name of The Branch: “Take from them silver and gold, and make a crown, and set it on the head of Joshua, the son of Jehozadak, the high priest. And say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord. It is he who shall build the temple of the Lord and shall bear royal honor, and shall sit and rule on his throne. And there shall be a priest on his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” (vss.12-13)

There were two authorities in Biblical Judaism: the Davidic King and the Jewish High Priest. Notice how Paul in Acts 23.5 apologizes for calling the High Priest a “whited wall” by quoting- “don’t speak evil of the ruler of your people.” Also, Paul previously had authority to arrest Jews in Damascus from the Jewish priests. Therefore, the Jewish High Priesthood functioned as a sort of religious authority while the Davidic King acted as the civil authority. God promises to combine the offices of priest and king through the Branch, the promise given in Zechariah 6.13: “And there shall be a priest on his throne”

Now the question becomes how these two offices would be combined since the High Priesthood is exclusive to the sons of Aaron while the Messiah is of David’s line of Judah. The answer derives from the prophecy of a new high priesthood, one in Melchizedek’s order: The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” (Ps.110.1-4)

Jesus the Messiah came as High Priest at His first advent (notice how John the Baptist, himself a son of Aaron, announces Jesus: “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”). Only Jesus by the power of an indestructible life could both pay for humanity’s sin and rule eternally. The change in the priesthood required a change in the law: Jesus by His blood cut the New Covenant (see Jer.31 and Heb. 8) where the promise that “all would know the Lord” would be fulfilled 50 days hence after the crucifixion at Pentecost when the Spirit was given to believers so as to know the Lord in a personal way. Therefore this Branch (Jesus) is the True Vine: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (Jn.15.1).