Sunday, December 31, 2017

From the Third to the Second

Bruce Waltke has this thing where he gets a student, who the class does not know, to stand in front of the class without saying anything about himself. The students cannot say anything to him and he cannot say anything to them. They must start talking about him, his background, his likes and dislikes, etc.

The point of the exercise is to show that one cannot know anything about another individual without that individual communicating himself to them. This, in turn, is to show that one can know little to nothing about God without God revealing Himself to man.

Hence, God's communication to us in the Bible is vital in knowing God. Without it, we can know nothing about Him. Nothing is confirmed. We are merely guessing. Guessing cannot even produce an accurate description of another human person, and that is a being for which we have analogous knowledge to make our guesses. We have no familiarity with any being like God, so our speculation does not even have an analogy or shared experience around which it can throw a rope. This means without revelation one cannot know God at all.

However, Waltke also makes the point that the goal of this knowledge is not just to have knowledge about God. It is necessary to speak of God and theology in the third person. God and His revelation is the object of our study in the third person, and of course, this sets us at a distance from God all by itself.

The goal of third person knowledge of God is moving that knowledge to the second person. The goal is to move the "He is like this or that" discourse to "You are like this or that and I respond to you in such and such a way." The goal of studying God via His revelation, then, is not merely to have a knowledge of God, but to have a right relationship with the true God who has revealed Himself.

Many a seminary student has talked about the deadness of what they are learning at seminary, I think, because they do not realize that the third person is a necessary step to get to the second person, but that it is only the step to get there, not the destination of their learning.

One might say that all false religion is either talk about God without talking to God or talking to God without talk about God. We often forget that the former is just as much a form of apostasy as the latter.

Hence, if our discussions of God do not lead to a submissive relationship with God as our Lord, even if our knowledge of Scripture is complete, we will have failed to grasp the purpose of the Bible.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Andy Stanley's Evangelistic Approach

Moore and Stanley had a conversation about their approaches to preaching/evangelism that I think is very telling of the seeker movement and why it is so large in a culture of secular humanism. The exchange can be found here

In many ways, I understand Stanley's concern about removing the side debates about the Bible, but this is not the way to deal with that problem.

The interesting thing here is that Stanley thinks that nothing is lost in approaching the unbeliever this way. In fact, however, something very important is lost. 

Stanley's method removes the obstacle of God's authority over the unbeliever. What it does is attempt to get the unbeliever, who is being acknowledged in such an exchange as the authority, to grant authority to the Scripture. Since so and so is an eyewitness, you ought to listen to him. Since so and so is Jesus' brother, you should decide to give him a hearing. Since you would agree that these authors have something to say you should listen.

Moore's method, however, is one that retains the authority of God. You need to listen because God who has authority over you, whether you like it or not, whether you agree with it or not, has said this, and hence, you should listen.

One retains the authority of God and one attempts to get people to lend their authority to the Bible as authoritative over their lives.

This is essentially the difference between respect and fear, something about which I've often written. Respect is something a secular humanist who sees himself as the authority can give to some other entity as he agrees or disagrees with its position of authority. Ultimately, he grants authority to it as he pleases. 

Fear, however, is recognizing that something or someone has authority whether you grant it to them or not. It really doesn't matter if you would agree that Matthew is a good eyewitness. If it is the Word of God, it has authority and is true whether you grant it or not. 

This, in fact, is why seeker movements are so large. The primary obstacle for our secular humanistic culture, and for sinners in rebellion against God as a whole, is God's authority overriding their own. Remove that and you get a very big church. Retain that and your church often becomes very, very small. 

So I am positive this approach works, if by "works" we mean it gets more people to accept the facts about Jesus. It, unfortunately, never drives the person in rebellion away from his or her autonomous worldview, and thus, he or she never submits to Christ as the Lord of their thoughts and lives. What we save them with is what we save them to, and this "Finneyesque" method of convincing people to remain faithful to their own self-authentication of the Bible as God's Word is giving us very big churches with very few true believers who are told by the Bible that they must abandon the self to be His disciple.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Biblical Theology XIV: Job

The Book of Job is a postexilic work that deals with the problem of suffering in the form of dispute literature. Dispute literature is where a text presents alternate viewpoints of an issue in the attempt to supply clarification to what are usually very simplistic understandings of life, resulting in a more balanced understanding of life.

Theology: The issue that Job is addressing is the simplistic view that if God is sovereign, and He rewards righteousness without anything else more powerful than He is to prevent Him from doing so, then the righteous should never suffer. The book then presents God as sovereign over all things, even the powers of evil forces (e.g., the adversary), and yet, displays that calamity befalls the wicked and the righteous alike. The book then addresses the sub-argument that if the righteous are not exempt from God placing tragedy upon them, and therefore do not deserve such judgments, God would be unjust. Job’s friends come into the mix to argue that all men deserve God’s judgment upon their sin, and that Job is suffering, not as an innocent, but as a sinner who deserves punishment. Job maintains that he is righteous and does not deserve what God has done to him. Elihu then comes in to tell them all that they are wrong, and he brings a more balanced perspective. Finally, God answers Job, not by providing an answer for why Job has been plagued with suffering, but rather that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, that the creation and act of sustaining creation is highly complex and beyond Job’s ability to comprehend, and that Job, therefore, should trust that God, who does understand how to create and sustain, knows what He is doing even if Job does not. God never tells Job why He, specifically, placed all of this suffering upon him, only that Job does not understand how creation works and He does.

In this regard, the book is meant to be a clarification to the truism that if one does good or evil he will receive back the same. Although this is, in fact, true, it is also true that often when one does good he receives back evil and when one does evil he receives back good, showing a far greater complexity than the simpler karmic idea associated with a misreading of prophetic or proverbial literature, which deals with something specific and not generic rules governing all of life.

The book also interacts with the theology of the Book of Genesis, using much of the same language and time period to make its point. Where Genesis argued that God is sovereign and is working all things, even suffering and evil, toward the goal of final creation and salvation, the Book of Job argues that it is not always possible to understand how a particular instance of suffering works toward that the good. Instead, (to state it in terms of the butterfly effect) when the instrument of suffering (the initial state) cannot be seen to connect to the salvation of the world and its final creation (the final state), the believer needs to trust in God who can see it and is working toward that goal.

Ethics: Man is not in the position to judge God. When he does, he will inevitably do so from ignorance. The book is to create a humility within the reader, as it argues that humans are simply not capable of understanding the complexities of life and how they work out toward God’s good work in creation. When they question God in their suffering, they do so from the illusion that they understand their situation and life as a whole. This is an arrogance that leads to belief in oneself over God.

Likewise, man is not in the position, apart from divine revelation that gives commentary to a particular situation, to judge why any particular calamity befalls another individual. It is possible that tragedy finds the wicked for their wickedness, but it is also possible that it finds the righteous for no obvious reason. The finite condition of man gives him no ability to interpret the events of life, neither his nor that of someone else, one way or the other. The Book of Job simply argues that instead of asking why God did this or that, or how event X fits into plan Y, believers need to simply note that God knows what He is doing and has an ultimate reason for it (i.e., the completion of all created things). How a particular tragedy fits into that ultimate reason may never be known by anyone but God Himself. Hence, Job calls us to a mistrust in our own analysis of individual events and to a radical trust in God who creates and sustains the entire cosmos and all life within it.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Biblical Theology XIII: Esther

The Book of Esther is part of the section of the Ketubim called megillot "scrolls," and is a later postexilic work meant to address the situation of the Jews in a time of uncertainty.

Theology: The Book of Esther is the only book in the entire Hebrew Bible that does not mention the name of God. Neither the name YHWH nor the designation Elohim is said anywhere in the book. The closest one gets is an allusion to God without using His name in 4:14.

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

This is a means to communicate the author’s theological point that God seems absent from life in the same way that He is absent from the book. However, although God is not mentioned explicitly in the book, His work on behalf of delivering His people is still going on. In other words, though God seems to be completely absent at times, He is still very present and working among His people.
The reversal of fortune theme found throughout the book is meant to convey this very idea that God is at work behind the scenes, and because of this, what “seems” will be the outcome of something will not necessarily be the true outcome due to God’s intervention through His people.

Ethics: Because God is working in the world behind the scenes, those who seek to plot against His people will have their ill-will turned back upon them, but His people He will save and honor.

 The plot of the book is centered on festivals. The word for “festival/banquet” occurs twenty times in the book, but only twenty-four times throughout the Hebrew Bible in its entirety. This is to highlight the festival that is held in commemoration of God’s saving acts in a time when God seemed distant and absent from the lives of His people. The idea is that the works of God are to be remembered in times when God seems absent, so that one does not lose faith during those times simply because God is not making Himself known explicitly. Instead, one should have faith that God is present and continuing to work even though it looks like He is absent. It also means that one should take courage and keep doing the work of God that brings life and salvation to His people during those times, since He is, indeed, still working through His people at those times as well; and it is primarily through His people that He works in the world so that some dramatic unveiling of Himself in every generation is unnecessary and even counterproductive. What this tells us is that God is absent so that we intervene and attempt to do the good in the world that we otherwise would just put on God to do, and thus, live in a world where God does all of the good work, and we remain unchanged sloths who abdicate our roles as God’s images in the world. God’s absence is an invitation to participate in His work. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Kill Your Neighbor as Yourself

Traditions run deep. The truth of the matter is that most of those who claim the name of Christ have tradition and experience, not the Bible, as their primary authority in determining the truth of a matter. I find it most difficult to convince anyone with a biblical argument if they are in love with the particular traditions the Bible critiques.

One of the most notable is the idea that Christians should give kingdom resources to unbelievers because “everyone is our neighbor.” I’ve argued against this idea before, but wanted again to put this major principle of Western religion into biblical perspective by pointing out a glaring discrepancy.
If “neighbor” refers to everyone, believer or unbeliever, covenant member or pagan alike, then how does the phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself” in Leviticus jive with the commandment to destroy every unbeliever in the area?
As for the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is going to give you as an inheritanceyou must not allow a single living thing to survive. Instead you must utterly annihilate them – the Hittites,  Amorites,  Canaanites,   Perizzites,   Hivites,   and Jebusites   – just as the Lord your God has commanded you (Deut 20:16-17)

Liberals can only support their unrevealed, speculative religion by viewing the Bible as a human expression about God, but not an accurate revelation from God. Of course, this makes the Bible a lie, since these texts are portraying God as saying this. So it cannot be merely a human opinion that is off, but a complete lie. One can, therefore, turn around and say that the one text contradicts the other because one is a correct expression of what God thinks and the other is not (how one knows it’s a correct expression without the confirmation of divine revelation is beyond me).

Instead of taking the liberal, apostate route, however, the other way to see these two as complementary rather than contradictory is to read the Leviticus command in context, and understand that “neighbor” refers to fellow covenant members, not pagans. The whole verse makes that clear.

‘You must not deal unjustly in judgment:  you must neither show partiality to the poor nor honor the rich. You must judge your people fairly. You must not go about as a slanderer among your people. You must not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake.   I am the Lord. You must not hate your brother in your heartYou must surely reprove your people so that you do not incur sin on account of him.  You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the members of your peoplebut you must love your neighbor as yourself.  (19:15-18)

Notice here that “neighbor,” in the second great commandment, is in the context of fellow covenant members described by multiple terms throughout the context. The clause in which it appears is in a contrastive parallelism with the previous clause that also makes this clear. The phrase, “sons of your people,” which functions as a gentilic in ancient Near Eastern and biblical literature, meaning “members of your people group,” identifies the phrase, “your neighbor.”

Hence, whether inclusive, unrevealed, Western religion likes it or not, the Bible is not contradictory on the matter. God commands the Israelites to love one another as themselves and He also commands the Israelites to obliterate their enemies, the Canaanite groups that makeup unbelievers among them. It is not inclusive, but extremely exclusive.

When Jesus quotes it, He is quoting the actual law, not twisting it to mean something else. We know this because, in the text, He is being asked what is the greatest of the commandments. He quotes this, then, as one of the greatest commandments as it is stated in Leviticus. He is not giving a new teaching, and He does not add to the teaching. He simply clarifies in the parable of the Good Samaritan that one should be concerned about being a neighbor, i.e., that he is acting like a covenant member to other professed covenant members.

Hence, Christians are identified by those who “love one another,” who “love his brother,” “to do good to all people, specifically speaking, to believers,” and they do to Christ whatever they have done “to the least of these brothers of Mine.” Neither the New Testament or the Old ever place a love for the pagan as an identity marker that shows the Christian’s love for God as evidence of salvation.

The reason why this is the case because those who are the image of God in terms of their role work toward filling up the earth with God’s covenant people, and not for the creation and preservation of the wicked. What has changed is the means through which God deals with the pagan in our midst. We offer love to them by inviting them into the kingdom. However, we do not give them the kingdom, even a small piece of it, apart from their being united to Christ through faith.

Hence, love for the brother always involves giving kingdom resources to him when he is in need. Love for the pagan is inviting him into the kingdom so that he can partake of those kingdom resources; but without faith, nothing of the kingdom should be given to him other than that invitation, and if he rejects, he should be warned that even what he has will be taken away from him, as only those in Christ will inherit the world.

If everyone is our neighbor, however, you would just give them those kingdom resources apart from Christ because apparently they get the kingdom without Christ anyway (a Christless Christianity that binds humans together as "neighbors" without any need for Christ).

So which of these statements is not the biblical one?
A.     “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
B.     “Do not allow a single living thing to survive among the cities you are going”
C.     “Everyone is my neighbor.”

I think the Bible makes the answer to that question very clear.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Biblical Theology XII: Ezra-Nehemiah

What is often broken into two books actually forms a single book that argues that restoration is sanctification. Ezra-Nehemiah relates how the people needed purification and restoration, not just the city and temple, and it does so by interweaving the two together throughout the narrative.

Theology: Ezra-Nehemiah makes the argument that to rebuild God’s people means to rebuild God’s temple and city as a symbol of Israel’s holiness. The irony of the book is that in the reestablishing of the temple and the city this symbol of holiness instead serves as a contrast to the uncleanness of the people, and the need for the people to be cleansed and “rebuilt” in the same way that the temple and city are reestablished. Ezra ends with a call for the people to repent by divorcing their foreign wives.

The success of building the city and the temple correspond to the faithfulness, or lack thereof, of God’s covenant people. If they are unfaithful again, they will be scattered again. The threat of the rebuilding corresponds to the threat of unholiness. This ties the city and temple to the faithfulness of Israel. The work ends with the temple and city restored, the people repenting, reading the law and recounting the history of Israel together with a recommitment to the Mosaic covenant. God has restored His people, but, as the work states, they are still slaves in their own land, so exile, to some degree, continues until Israel is completely faithful and has completed the atonement for their iniquity.

Ethics: The building of the temple and the city, and the threats against their restoration serve as a symbol for the internal threats against the restoration of Israel (i.e., the building of the covenant people via covenant children) perpetrated by the unfaithful. In Ezra, it is marrying foreign wives and having children with them. In Nehemiah, it is oppressing the poor via excessive taxation so that they cannot feed their children.  

Therefore, as in the DH, and throughout the Bible, to marry a foreign wife is to commit apostasy and to attack the purity of God’s people. This is a constant concern in post-exilic literature, as it was the sin that is seen as the catalyst leading to idolatry and Israel’s downfall. By arguing that God has been faithful in preserving Israel via a remnant, and that strict records have been kept to ensure this fact, the author is arguing that to marry foreign wives is to undermine God’s work in this regard. However, the main concern is faithfulness to the religion of YHWH more than it is an ethnic concern.

 “The people of Israelthe priestsand the Levites have not separated themselves from the local residents who practice abominable things similar to those of the Canaanitesthe Hittitesthe Perizzitesthe Jebusitesthe Ammonitesthe Moabitesthe Egyptiansand the Amorites. Indeed, they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sonsso that the holy seed  has become intermingled with the local residentsWorse still, the leaders and the officials have been at the forefront of all of this . . . Shall we once again break your commandments and intermarry with people of these abominations? Would you not be so angered by us that you would wipe us out, with no survivor or remnant?  (Ezra 9:1-2, 14)

The issue, then, is one that concerns covenant faithfulness. The “holy seed,” which is a concern for whether the children will be brought up in the covenant or go off to other gods or alternate forms of Yahwism that God has not authorized via revelation. In essence, to marry an unbeliever is not creational because it threatens the prospect of faithful covenant children.

The answer, under a polygamous system, was to divorce the unbelieving wives and to have children with believing wives instead. In this situation, this is the most creational move to make. This differs from Paul’s teaching, not because both authors disagree, but because both are looking to fulfill what is most creational (i.e., what fulfills the creation mandate the best in the situation without sinning against God further). Under monogamy, to stay with an unbelieving spouse is more creational. Under polygamy, when marrying another woman is not considered adultery yet, to remove the unbelieving woman and have children with believing wives is more creational. Hence, after much deliberation, the elders in Ezra decide that this is the best route to take in repentance.

The work is filled with prayers and acts of repentance, arguing that repentance has both an aspect of confession before God and a course of action to take so that one does not continue on in the sin, and therefore, becomes holy. Hence, the proper response to rebuke is to repent and to obey God’s commandments. It is also a corporate concern and not merely a matter of one’s private business. The thrust of all of this is that God’s people are to be holy, and they will not be restored fully in the land until they become so. The book, therefore, contributes to the later eschatological idea that those who are restored to the land/earth are those who are made holy by their worship of God, which is through faith in the covenant, repentance, and obedience to what He has commanded. One cannot exist without the other.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Biblical Theology XI: Chronicles

The Book of Chronicles is not merely a supplement to the historical books of the Bible. Instead, it functions as the interpretive key to them by emphasizing the themes within them. In other words, it is the last book of the Hebrew Bible that seeks to take the message of the books and urges its readers to take all of the books together, theologically and ethically, within a covenant framework. The book is concerned only with David’s line in Judah and does not deal with Northern Israel as the Book of Kings does.

Theology: The book begins with Adam and ends with the decree to rebuild the temple in Ezra-Nehemiah. Excerpts from the Psalms and Prophets are interwoven throughout the book. By doing this, the Chronicler wishes to argue that the Hebrew Bible is to be interpreted as a faithful record of God’s promises to fulfill the creation mandate through Abraham’s descendents as His worshipers via the Torah and those who are bound to David’s offspring. The Davidic promise plays a big role in the book, and it includes the temple.

“I declare to you that YHWH will build a house for you! When your days are full enough for you to go to your fathers,  I will raise up your descendant,  one of your own sonsto succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build Me a houseand I will establish his house forever. I will become his father and he will become my sonI will never withhold my ḥesed from himas I withheld it from the one who ruled before you. I will put him in charge of My house and My kingdom foreverhis house will exist forever.”  Nathan told David all these words that were revealed to him. (1 Chron 17:10-15)

In one sense, the promise is about Solomon, but it becomes clear that the Chronicler, writing in the postexilic era, is certainly aware that Solomon’s throne does not exist anymore. Instead, he makes the argument that David’s descendent will rule over the temple and the kingdom forever. The Chronicler, then, is bringing out the Messianic inferences of what is argued for in the Deuteronomistic History, and adding the idea that the temple is a part of that promise. Because of this, the decree to rebuild the temple displays the sure promises of God that the Messianic promise given to David will also come about, and that all of the covenant promises, many of which God has already fulfilled, are sure to come to pass and to give Israel a future hope.

The temple, or parts of the temple, are restored by the good kings, and all of the people participate in restoring it. This is to contribute to the idea that the restoration of the temple will come about when the Messianic King takes his throne over God’s people.
Israel is not lost but a remnant remains and they are each given a role to play in God’s kingdom to come.

The themes concerning worship surrounding God’s Word and the Temple, the Priests, and the Davidic King are emphasized as the essential elements established in the covenant promises of God. All of these are necessary means to create/establish God’s people. Worship includes proclaiming and obeying the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (i.e. the whole Scripture).

Throughout the first half, David’s followers are emphasized as warriors who overcome the nations, not because of their size, but because YHWH goes before them. It is God who gives Israel its inheritance, not the size and strength of its people. Hence, the might of the empires that have, now, and will rule over God’s people is not a sign that the promises to give them the inheritance will not be fulfilled.

What God began in Adam will be fulfilled through the Messianic King who rules over God’s temple and kingdom, and the size of the world’s empires that may oppose him are of no significance.

Ethics: Only those who seek the Lord with undivided minds by obeying His Word and repent of their sin, however, will partake of this future hope. Both individual and corporate repentance play a big part in the book. This begins with David’s repentance for the census. After this, Rehoboam repents and God does not destroy Jerusalem because of it. Asa pulls down the foreign altars and Asherah poles. Hezekiah leads the nation in repentance, as does Josiah. Manasseh repents after being devastated by the Assyrians. This is to convey that the appropriate response to the Word of God is obedience and repentance when it has not been obeyed. Hence, Josiah leads the nation in a national repentance when the lost law has been discovered in the temple. The proper response to the Bible, then, is to trust/believe, repent, and obey.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Turtle Soup: Steinem Still Doesn't Get It

One of the most popular stories of the pop-feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, is one where she thinks she has this epiphany about a turtle she tried helping when she was young. The story is told by her as follows:

"I took geology because I thought it was the least scientific of the sciences," she told an audience at Smith College.
"On a field trip, while everyone else was off looking at the meandering Connecticut River, I was paying no attention whatsoever. Instead, I had a found a giant, GIANT turtle that had climbed out of the river, crawled up a dirt road, and was in the mud on the embankment of another road, seemingly about to crawl up on it and get squashed by a car.
"So, being a good codependent with the world, I tugged and pushed and pulled until I managed to carry this huge, heavy, angry snapping turtle off the embankment and down the road.
"I was just putting it back into the river when my geology professor arrived and said, 'You know, that turtle probably spent a month crawling up that dirt road to lay its eggs in the mud by the side of the road, and you just put it back in the river.'
"Well, I felt terrible. But in later years, I realized that this was the most important political lesson I learned, one that cautioned me about the authoritarian impulse of both left and right.
"Always ask the turtle."

What I find absolutely amazing about this story is the fact that Steinem didn't interpret her own experience correctly as to not see the glaring contradiction between this story and her own push of pop-feminism. 

First, Steinem thinks the take away is that you should always "ask the turtle." But ask the turtle what? The turtle can't talk. It isn't doing what it personally, as an individual entity from other female turtles, wants to do. Steinem seems to be attributing an individual pathos to the turtle that it doesn't have. Instead, what Steinem has misread in the original scenario, and apparently doesn't get it years later, is the BIOLOGY of the turtle, and what the turtle's biology means for what the turtle is doing in life.

Second, by misreading the biological needs of the turtle, Steinem actually does harm to the turtle and what it needs to do to fulfill that biological need.

I find it absolutely astonishing as to how blind feminists are in their cult that they can't see what is right in front of them. She then goes on to misapply her misunderstanding of the event to how she interacts with people. Talk about adventures in missing the point.

The most obvious application of what is actually going on, i.e., that Steinem didn't listen to the biological nature and subsequent needs of the turtle, and thought she knew what was better for it, is that this is exactly what she has done with women.

Steinem, very early on, refused to admit the biological differences between men and women (yes, you read that right). She became more nuanced later on, but still interprets the difference as a Gnostic would (emphasizing mind over biology). She didn't listen to the biology of men and women, and as a result, ended up doing a massive amount of harm to women, children, husbands, families, society, the workplace, etc. The amount of devastation her views have had on society, and the fact that her brainwashed cult of admirers think she has a good ideology, is mind-boggling. What she did actually might have killed the turtle (egg impaction). She might as well have made soup out of it, and then had everyone call her a hero for saving it.

In the same way that she didn't get that the biological nature of the turtle dictates what is best for the turtle, she doesn't get that the biological nature of the woman dictates what is best for the woman. She spent her life tugging and pushing and pulling women to do something other than what their biological makeup was telling them to do. But Steinem's ideology didn't allow her to see the lesson about biology and role. And what should we all conclude from that lesson?

"Always ask the turtle."

Biblical Theology X: Kings

The Book of Kings makes up the second half of a work that was started in the Book of Samuel, and ends the larger work of the Deuteronomistic History. In the LXX, the books are called 1, 2, 3, 4 Kingdoms; but they really make up a two-part work (like Luke-Acts or Ezra-Nehemiah).

Theology: The theology of God’s sovereignty continues in the Book of Kings. God decides the kingship, but it is through the deception of Nathan and Bathsheba that He brings it about. Kings, however, emphasizes the Sinai Theology, where God must be worshiped through His Word. This is displayed by sacrificing only wherever the ark is located, which is now in Jerusalem. To sacrifice anywhere else is to say that one can worship God through another means than through His Word. Hence, the two alternate places of worship via a golden calf at Dan and Bethel are condemned, as are the high places. The temple is built and becomes the place at which Israel is to sacrifice. The ark, which is characterized as having nothing in it but the two stone tablets containing the law, is moved into the temple. Again, the book is temple-centric because it is Word-centric, as is deuteronomic theology in general. One can only worship the true God through it and apart from it, God cannot be worshiped. All other forms of worship are forms of idolatry and in service of pagan deities that are really demons and not gods. This is true even when the name YHWH is being used to describe pagan worship. YHWH is not like any other of the gods of men. He does not really live in temples, nor is he limited by geographic boundaries. Solomon declares after building the temple: God does not really live on the earth!  Behold, if the sky and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this temple I have built!” (8:27).  

Other gods are crafted by human hands as idols, and if backed at all are backed by demons, who have no ability to act unless YHWH allows it for His own purposes. Other religions are not treated as though they are manifestations of the one true God, but rather as demonic and man-made. They are referred to as empty things, foul things, refuse, and the gods are given twists on their names that disrespect them (e.g., Baal Zebul “Exalted Lord/Baal” is turned into Baal Zebub “Lord of the flies,” i.e., a dung heap).

The prophets play a big role in the book as those who call the kings back to the law, and even challenge the kings when they have sinned against God. The DH makes the argument that the prophets who call people back to God’s law and are confirmed by miracles are the true prophets, and all other prophets are false. Hence, the center of the Book of Kings consists of the stories of the prophets, featuring Elijah and Elisha.

Ethics: Communal justice plays a big role in the book. David charges Solomon to enact justice upon those who did evil toward him during his life, and upon those who brought about guilt upon his household. Solomon executes Joab for the murders of Abner and Amasa in order to remove the bloodshed from his own dynasty. However, Joab and his descendents remain guilty forever for the crimes of Joab. This is important, since God will “execute” Israel because of its unjust deeds via the northern deportation and the southern exile, thus showing that God washes His hands and His house of their deeds, even though He uses all things, even their evil deeds, for His purposes. Kings thus makes a distinction between the ultimate cause of all actions, i.e., God, who does them for the just and good purposes and the secondary agents acting out their evil desires, who are responsible and judged for the evil they do. For instance, Abiathar the High Priest is judged for aligning himself with Adonijah, but this happens to bring about the judgment decreed by God upon Eli and his descendents years before. Like God, it was beneficial to David when wicked men killed his enemies, but David still enacted justice over the wicked men, thus removing from himself the guilt of their sins. The idea is that if one is connected to an evil deed via a federal relationship then the only way to rid himself and his descendents of this deed is to enact justice instead. This plays an important role in the book as the kings who do evil like their predecessors are building judgment up against themselves and their descendents, but those kings who do what is just stay that judgment for a time. Justice/righteousness is therefore the remedy of judgment, and the kings who obey God’s law hold judgment at bay from God’s people. The kings who do evil bring judgment upon all the people. In this regard, both God’s sovereignty over evil and the human responsibility to do what is just are harmonious concepts.

Since justice plays a huge role in the book, the wisest king, Solomon asks for wisdom in making just decisions, and through this he becomes the example of what a king over God’s people should look like. The promise is given many times in the book that if the king obeys God’s laws, he will establish the throne forever and the people will not be abandoned. Unfortunately, however, as the author also made the point with David, none of these kings are the one Israel needs, as they too fail to become all that the Messianic King should be. Hence, he too is only a type. Each of the kings will either be completely wicked or they will simply be lacking in some way, thus arguing that the seed of David is still to come.

    There is also the ethical principle of the older trumps the newer. The older revelation/religion must take precedent over the supposedly newer revelation/religion in the story of the man of God and his interaction with Jeroboam. The old law is found under Josiah and it must be put in place over newer ways of thinking and practice. This is connected to the larger theology of the book that affirms the supremacy of what God has revealed over the opinions of cultural ethics. God will judge those who disregard His law because a new situation arises where it is easier to follow cultural custom. This is the distinction in the DH between what is right in “their own eyes” versus what is right “in the eyes of YHWH.”

Throughout the book, as seen earlier in the DH, specifically in Judges, marrying a woman of another faith is seen as the equivalent of apostasy, and is tied to Israel’s downfall. This begins with Solomon marrying foreign wives for whom he sets up altars and place of worship and is reiterated with Ahab marrying Jezebel, which results in one of the worst apostasies in Israelite history. What is communicated, therefore, is that marrying an unbeliever is an act of rejecting the covenant with YHWH. Connected to the creational principle that runs throughout the Scripture, it is to reject the covenant of the imago Dei, which sees marriage as the means to create and cultivate, i.e., fill up the earth with, covenant children.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Debunking Bad Arguments of Skeptics

Biblical Theology IX: Samuel

What is divided up between 1 and 2 Samuel in most English translations is actually a single book entitled “Samuel.” In reality, Samuel-Kings constitute what should be considered volume 1 & 2 of the same work.

Theology: The book teaches that God is the sovereign king over all things, and determines everything that will occur. He closes and opens Hannah’s womb. Eli’s sons do not listen to his rebuke and repent because the Lord decided to kill them instead. Armies win or lose at the Lord’s say so. Courage and cowardice are from the Lord. He sends out His spirit or evil spirits according to His will.  He raises up what kings He wishes to rule and also puts them down. He decides what people will think and by what advice they will be persuaded (e.g., Absalom with Ahithophel and Hushai).

The theme concerning the necessity of a king is brought out once again as the high priest, Eli, and his sons, are wicked and are displayed as needing to be placed under a priest/king in order keep the priests in check. The book also contrasts two kinds of kings in an effort to argue that it is not just any king that Israel needs to govern the people with the law, but a king that acknowledges YHWH as the sovereign King over all things and follows Him. Hence, Saul is contrasted with David as one who does whatever he pleases as though he has absolute power, whereas David is accountable to God and repents when he abuses his power, seeking to acknowledge YHWH as the true sovereign King with absolute power.

Hence, the king “after God’s own heart” is David. The phrase refers to the fact that David is the king that God wants in contrast to Saul who is the kind of king the people initially ask for. Allegiance to David is displayed as allegiance to what is just and to YHWH. In contrast, Saul is presented as the enemy of God and God’s people. This is especially displayed, not only in his attack of David, but of his killing of Ahimelech the High Priest, the 85 priests with him, and the men, women, infants, and livestock of Nob.

        In contrast to the idea that YHWH is a localized deity who rules over Israel alone, He is presented as stronger than all other gods, even in their own territories and temples. He is said to be the only true God. Hence, He is also able to deliver their armies into the hands of Israel. This is a theme that is developed throughout the Deuteronomistic History, and really throughout the Old Testament, but it becomes a major theme in Samuel, and especially in the Book of Kings. The book even begins with the ark of the covenant captured and taken before the Philistine god Dagan, who is found one morning prostrate before the ark and the next morning prostrate with its hands and head cut off. A plague breaks out in the Philistine cities in order to show that the gods of the Philistines offer no protection from YHWH, and YHWH is recalled by the Philistines as the God who defeated all of the Egyptian gods on their own turf. This is a major departure from ancient Near Eastern thought, where a foreign god was only capable of defeating a people group in their own land if they had offended their gods. In the theology taught by Samuel (and the Bible in general), however, YHWH is stronger than the Philistine gods in their own arena, even when His people have been defeated in war because of their unfaithfulness to him. In other words, the ability of YHWH to defeat all other gods is not due to those gods allowing him to do so, but because He is the true sovereign king over all of them, and they are unable to defeat Him. Hence, He will bring victory to His people through their allegiance to His king, as long as the king has allegiance to Him.

Ethics: Samuel is really a theological book. The only ethics in it are really the encouragements for its leaders to remain faithful to YHWH, and have an allegiance to the messianic (i.e., anointed) king. This is displayed in David’s allegiance to Saul even when Saul wants to kill him (1 Sam 24:3-7; 26:9-11) and his reaction to the reported regicide of both Saul and Ishbosheth (2 Sam 4:9-12). Specifically, however, it’s a call to have one’s allegiance with the righteous king who is chosen by YHWH. One can see the argument of the DH developing from the need of the people to have a king who functions as a national ruler/judge/deliverer to the need of the people to have a righteous king who functions also as a priest who represents God in both His strength and character. Written at a time that Israel has no king, and David is dead, one can see the authors reaching out toward the Messianic king of the future, and arguing that only when the righteous Davidic King rules Israel will God’s people be rescued from their enemies and have peace. David’s sins are meant to show that even David is not this king, but is an imperfect type.

The Davidic Promise

2 Sam 7:8-16 “So nowsay this to my servant David: ‘This is what YHWH of hosts says: I took you from the pasture and from your work as a shepherd to make you leader of my people Israel. I was with you wherever you wentand I defeated all your enemies before you. Now I will make you as famous as the great men of the earth. I will establish a place for my people Israel and settle them there; they will live there and not be disturbed any moreViolent men will not oppress them againas they did in the beginning and during the time when I appointed judges to lead my people IsraelInstead, I will give you relief from all your enemiesThe Lord declares to you that he himself will build a dynastic house for you. When the time comes for you to dieI will raise up your descendantone of your own sonsto succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for my nameand I will make his dynasty permanent. I will become his father and he will become my sonWhen he sinsI will correct him with the rod of men and with wounds inflicted by human beings. But my ḥesed will not be removed from him as I removed it from Saulwhom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will stand before me foreveryour dynasty will be forever.’” 

2 Sam 22:51 He gives His Messianic king a link between heaven and earth; 
He is faithful to His Messiah, 
to David and to his seed forever!