Posts Tagged ‘Old Testament’

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An Evil Job Well Done: The Book of Job, an introduction…

July 6, 2012

One might wonder why we should seek an answer to the existence of evil in the world.  In attempting to find an answer it is impossible not to deal with some very difficult concepts and even painful, corrupt imagery.  However as rational beings created in the image of an orderly God we seek orderly explanations for the chaos which confronts us.  So into the darkness we peer; but as theists, furthermore as Christians, we learn most about the darkness by studying the attributes of light.  To put it into different terms we are best served to gain an understanding of evil through gaining an understanding of the God which evil opposes.  Fundamentally we seek to answer the age-old question of compatibility and consistency: how can the God revealed to us in attributes of love, kindness, mercy, justice and fairness co-exist with the mystery of lawlessness at work in this world?[1]  There are many approaches to this question.  Atheists, by their very nature, must simply deal with the evidences of evil laid out before them without the slightest ability to define, contain or confront the problem absent the contrast of God.  Absent the God of light, atheists have only shadows amid darkness.   Thus evil must and can only be answered, with satisfaction, by theists.

Among theists there exists a number of theories attempting to reconcile the existence of God with the presence and activity of evil.  For Christians the task remains to examine their world in light of God’s revelation to them in His word.  Within the pages of Scripture is revealed the character and attributes of the God who created all things, all things were created by Him, and apart from him nothing came into being that has come into being.[2]  The truth underlying that statement is easy to gloss over, but one does so at great peril to his understanding of God and the created realm.  One must bring against the existence of evil and suffering the recorded truth that God created all things in existence.  This may be done with cool reflection in the pages of commentaries and systematic textbooks, but when this truth intersects human life and experience the task becomes painfully difficult.

When seeking to understand evil against the backdrop of God’s recorded character few venues exists with the relevance of the book of Job.  This obscure book about an little known man from an unknown time provides the Christian with perhaps the greatest opportunity outside of the gospels to gain a picture of God in relation to the activity of evil and the result of man’s suffering in the world .

The reader of Job is provided with an outsiders perspective “that a sophisticated story-teller is at work, teaching us something about the nature of human life: while life for Job on the inside is hell, life viewed from above seems to have some kind of structure and purpose.”[3]  We shall now examine the books structure and purpose.

Overview

            The book of Job does not lend itself to concise review.  While not the longest book in the Old Testament, its complexity and depth of meaning and form have defied consensus.  Is it a narrative? Yes.  Is it a book of ANE poetry? Yes.  Does it belong in the genre of Biblical wisdom literature? Yes.  Is it Hebrew in origin? This is unknown, “the atmosphere of the book is non-Israelite and patriarchal.”[7]  There is a strong Aramaic flavor to the vocabulary and more hapax legomena and rare words than any other book in the Bible.[8]  For some, the book is an indispensable tool for addressing theological/philosophical issues such as suffering and pain.  For others the book is merely a story of a man, his loss, his search and his discovery.[9]  Regardless of the viewpoint or interpretation, there lies within Job a truth which seems to connect with the human condition.  Moreover, Job gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of God’s interaction with the created order that is unequaled.  In light of this we shall proceed to outline the book for our purposes.  Job can readily be broken into three segments of dialogue: the prologue (1:1-2:13); the poetic dialogues (3:1-37:24) and the Divine speeches (38:1-42:6).[10]

The Prologue

In the prologue we meet Job and learn of his situation and meet most of the characters of importance.  Job, his wife, children, and servants occupy the earthly realm.  God, the sons of God, and the Adversary occupy the divine council presumably in the heavens.  From the opening lines evil begins to factor into this story.  Job is described by the narrator, and later by God, as a man “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.”[11]  Despite Job’s efforts to flee evil, evil is in pursuit of him.  When the divine council convenes in chapter 1, we see the one called the adversary come among the sons of God into His presence.  The Adversary or “הַשָּׂטָ֔ן”[12] is addressed by God and posed with a question, from this we learn that the adversary goes to and froe about the earth.  The next question is all the more relevant to the story,” הֲשַׂמְתָּ  לִבְּךָ  אֶל־עַבְדִּי אִיֹּוב ” literally ‘have you set your heart on my servant Job.’[13]  God seems to be inquiring about the desire of the Adversary, not merely about his consideration.  We are not informed as to whether or not Job has been desired previously by the adversary;  but it is now clear that Job is in his sights and the game is joined.  In a very crucial step, God grants the adversary permission to strike Job’s possessions.  Which the Adversary does, eliminating via murder Job’s servants (1:15; 1:17); theft Job’s livestock (1:14; 1:17); fire from heaven for Job’s sheep and servants (1:16); and wind for Job’s family (1:19).  Here we see the proliferation in Job’s life of three elements of what is considered evil; metaphysical evil, moral evil, and natural evil.

Metaphysical evil was manifest in the out-stretched hand of the Adversary, who un-benounced to Job and all surrounding parties was manipulating the various hardships befalling him.  Moral evil was present in the acts of theft and murder committed by the Sabines and Chaldeans who raided Job’s flocks and killed his servants.  Natural evil was present in the fire, which consumed Job’s sheep and the great wind which obliterated his children.  This triad of trauma leaves Job with only four servants and his wife.  The testing is continued and escalated in the next chapter.

The prologue concludes in chapter 2 with a resumption of the divine counsel, a second inquiry concerning Job and a second permission granted the adversary to advance Job’s suffering just short of death.  The adversary strikes Job with what are literally “evil sores” covering his entire body.[14]  Job, despite his loss and affliction has yet to curse God, and as a result, has maintained his character.  That character will be tested and show signs of strain as he begins, intellectually, to come to grips with his condition and interact with the next four characters entering the scene.  The prologue sets the stage for the dialogue to follow in the subsequent chapters.  In an ironic twist the reader is made aware of facts that Job and his friends will struggle in vain to discover.  The reader enters chapter 3 and the poetic dialogues knowing three pertinent facts, One. Job is blameless; Two. All suffering “falls within the sweep of God’s sovereignty;” and Three. Some suffering is related to sin and some suffering is “not directly related to any sin.”[15]

The Poetic Dialogues

Chapters 3 through 37 contain, next to Isaiah, the greatest concentration of biblical poetry outside of the Psalms.  The poetry is embedded in a series of speeches.  These speeches form a verbal interplay between Job, his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar and the young man Elihu.  Having been denied access to the heavenly court envisioned in chapters 1 and 2, Job essentially sets up a tribunal sitting at the city gate, surrounded by his friends, holding court.[16]  But if it was his intent to try God, he soon finds that he himself is the defendant.  His friends rather than coming to his defense serve as witnesses for the prosecution; and Elihu seems more than willing to offer some unsolicited closing arguments indicting Job and his friends while defending God.

If we gained an insight into the Divine interaction with evil in the prologue then the poetic dialogues will provide an illuminating picture of human conceptions of evil, wickedness and suffering.  Job initiates the dialogue with a critique of creation and his placement in it.  Job’s lament in the face of such meaningless suffering is the manifests itself in the cry to be uncreated.[17]  In the midst of these cries and demands for justice, Job repeatedly affirms God’s existence and His character.  Job’s lament is that his own experience is not lining up with the way God is supposed to act toward the righteous.  D.A. Carson in his book, How Long O Lord, describes Job’s speeches in this way:

Job’s speeches are the anguish of a man who knows God, who wants to know Him better, who never once doubts the existence of God, who remains convinced, at bottom, of the justice of God–but who cannot make sense of these entrenched beliefs in the light of his own experience.[18]

While Job attempts to reconcile reality with God, his friends are determined to redefine that reality based on the human condition.

Each of Job’s friends seeks to educate him on the human condition and the proper response to misfortune. In regards to this condition, Eliphaz addresses the role of the innocent in chapters 4-5.  Zophar follows in chapter 11 with a discussion on judgment that rightly befalls the wicked, and resumes in chapter 20 affirming that suffering awaits the wicked.  Bildad continues in chapter 13 describing the necessity of punishment and in chapter 25 the depravity of man.

Each also addresses the proper human response to what appears to be the judgment of God.  Bildad argues for repentance in chapter 8.  Eliphaz promotes a healthy fear of God in Chapter 15 and the necessity of humility in chapter 22.  Throughout this barrage of instruction Job listens and responds.  Rather than capitulating to their reason he uses their arguments to build his case for his own innocence.[19]  These speeches serve as stepping stones amidst the stream of Job’s thought; he will use each to slowly make his way to a right understanding of God.  But before he can achieve closure, he must contend with Elihu.

Elihu provides a lengthy and nuanced, if not original, line of reasoning.  He is above all concerned with two things, establishing his own authority to speak and defending God against charges of injustice.  For Elihu, God is blameless and sovereign able to do as he pleases for loving-kindness or correction.[20]  In this line of reasoning he is slightly more Theo-centric in his arguments than the previous speakers.[21]  But overall his purpose seems to be as a lead up; setting the stage for God’s appearance and a general change in tone during the divine speeches.

The Divine Speeches

Few passages in scripture are more profound, and from the standpoint of the reader more anti-climactic, than God’s dialogue with Job in Chapters 38-42.  As with all trials the judge is the last to speak and His words carry the greatest weight.  What is often found objectionable by readers of this book, is the apparent lack of empathy and lack of justification God provides in His address to Job.  “God does not answer Job’s questions about the problem of evil and suffering, but He makes it unambiguously clear what questions are unacceptable in God’s universe.”[22]  God, in a series of eighty rhetorical questions[23], gives Job a glimpse of the universe which far exceeds his capacity to understand.  Job did not have National Geographic, most likely very little understanding of the world outside his own region.  Yet God uses the world as His schoolroom, granting Job a greater knowledge of himself, his world and of God.[24]  The “poem that God speaks out of the storm soars beyond anything that has preceded it in the book.”[25]  God displays his mastery of the heavens above in chapter 38; and the earth below in chapter 39.  God describes his mastery of what is feared on earth through the taming of Behemoth in Chapter 40.  And He assures Job that that which is not seen in the chaos of the sea, leviathan likewise, is under His control in chapter 41.  This display reduces the once proud and verbose Job to the simple confession of repentance.  Whether Job gained a point-by-point refutation of his complaint or not seems meaningless to him.  That God has spoken is enough for Job.[26]  Job is subsequently renewed by God, his friends are rebuked, and Elihu is relegated to silence.

Ultimately the book closes by proving of God’s intent to show “that a human being can love God, fear God, and pursue righteousness without receiving prompt reward.” [27] Indeed the pursuit of God may occur and may be made all the more meaningful through the experience of evil and suffering.  Through all God is sovereign and in control over the suffering that man experiences and the evil which instigates it.

In part Two of the introduction we shall continue our discussion of evil in the book of Job by exposing the book to three forms of theodicy, with the purpose of gaining a clearer picture of God’s purpose behind evil and suffering.


[1] The Mystery of Lawlessness as described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. “for the mystery of lawlessness is already at work…”

[2] John 1:3

[3] Craig G. Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd. Old Testament Wisdom Literature: a Theological introduction. Downers Grove: IVP Academic. 2011. 135.

[4]The belief that the source of evil is the given ability man possesses to choose freely, and that suffering results consequently from the sinful exercise of the free-will.

[5] The belief that source of evil is found in the lack of God’s good creation, evil itself does not exist but rather is merely the absence of good, suffering is then seen as merely an incidental part of God’s creation.

[6] For our purposes the text of Job can be broken down into three primary segments: the prologue (1:1-2:13); the poetic dialogues (3:1-37:24) and the Divine speeches (38:1-42:6).  Bartholomew, 136.

[7] William Dumbrell. The Faith of Israel: a Theological survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2002. 254.

[8] Ralph L. Smith. Introduction to the book of Job. Southwestern Journal of Theology 14, No. 1 (1971): 6.

[9] Francis Anderson. Job: an Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: IVP 1976. 64.

[10]Bartholomew, 136.

[11]Job 1:1; 1:8; 2:3 The evil mentioned in each is the Hebrew word ” רע ”  rah’ which appears 15 times in the book of Job, 6 times within the two chapters of the prologue. “ רע   ” among its 663 different uses it is translated some 442 times in the Old Testament as “evil” including Genesis 2:9 in the “tree of knowledge of Good and evil”  the discovery of which heralded the fall of man and the beginning of sin on earth. (BDG)

[12]Much has been written on whether or not this is in fact the one described in the New Testament as Satan.  The fact that the noun has the article would seem to suggest that it is in fact a definite title rather than a name.  However, the actions of this adversary speak much larger than his title.  For he seems to thrive on opposing God and His creation, seeking to see the creation renounce its creator, which is consistent with the role of the serpent in Genesis 3.  Even his movements seem consistent with that of the devil who is also described as roaming about the earth seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

[13] The interrogatory phrase ,לִבְּךָ   הֲשַׂמְתָּ  or “Have you set your heart?” is often translated “have you considered,” combining the two words into one abstract meaning.  However, לִבְּךָ or ‘leb’ is translated some 508 times in the Old Testament as heart.  It seems more literal to see this as the workings of the heart rather than the conideration of the mind.  Seeing the adversary’s apparent relishing of his task in returning a second time into the divine council and provoking God yet a second time, seems to point perhaps to some desire on his part to see Job curse God.

[14]  “מִכַּף רָע ” Here ‘ra’ is used again, translated literally as ‘evil boils’.

[15] D.A. Carson. Job; Mystery and Faith. The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology Vol. 4 No.2 (Summer 2000): 41.

[16] Robert Fyall in his book  Now my Eyes have seen You: images of creation and evil in the book of Job. (Downers Grove: IVP. 2002.)  posits  that there exists within Job a host of legal imagery which serves as a major “literary device which integrates the narrative procession and theological motif.” (31)

[17] “Chapter three is Job’s lament: like Jeremiah (20:14-18), he wishes he had never been born.” Carson, Job. 41.

[18] D. A. Carson. How Long of Lord: Reflections on Suffering and Evil. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 1990, 2006. 146.

[19] One could argue that by the end of their dialogue they had reached such an impasse, as “the three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.” (Job 32:1)  Carson, How Long… 147.

[20]Job 37:13

[21] Even though Elihu appears to be more orthodox in his arguments, the irony is that his arguments “continually contradict the threefold affirmation in the prologue (1:1, 8, 2:3) and God’s confirmation of Job in 42:7” Bartholomew, 143.

[22] Carson, How Long.. 151.

[23] Bartholomew, 144.

[24] Anderson, 269. The two, knowledge of self and of God, “always go together in the Bible.”

[25] Robert Alter. The Art of Biblical Poetry. New York: Basic. 1985. 87.

[26] Anderson, 269.

[27]Carson, Job., 43.

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Only the Lonely: Our Need, His Provision…

May 29, 2012

“Loneliness was the first thing that God’s eye named not good.” – John Milton

(Photo Credit: The National Geographic)

From the very beginning of time, recorded in scripture, we see that mankind was created to reflect the image of God.  Fundamental to making that image complete was the creation of relationships.  “Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR own likeness…” (Gen 1:26)  God is a relational being, a Triune God who is three persons in one being, each one relating to each other in perfect harmony.  Mankind reflects this relational reality.  God look out upon His good creation and behold it was all good.  The earth beneath; the sky above; the birds in the skies; the fish in the seas; all of it was very good.  And yet one thing in the litany of divine creation was not good.  After creating man from the dust of the earth and tasking him with the dominion of earth, it was determined that it was “not good” for man to be alone.

Now it is important to note that the Bible does not record that man was lonely.  There is no sign that Adam wandered about God’s good creation bemoaning his status.  Eden represented perfect harmony between man and creation, God and man. It was God who looked upon the scene and determined that man needed suitable help.  So man and woman were created in the image of God to exercise dominion and aid each other in the multiplication of the image of God across creation.

We were created to be together.  Men and women, in marriage.  Parents and children in families.  Brothers and sisters in harmony.  Individuals in communities, clans, cities, nations.  This tendency to group is as evident in natural general revelation as sunshine and seasons.  Every corner of the globe reflects man’s tendency and propensity to gather into groups, multiply and exercise dominion over their space.  This is seen in marriage, which is by far the most universal human cultural institution.  All of this was greatly effected by the Fall.  The Fall radically reoriented all human relationships. As we see in Genesis 3, the very act of procreating became marked by pain, and all relationships fell victim to enmity and strife.  Brother’s would kill brothers, Husbands would rule over wives, wives would undermine their husbands.  The contention would spread out into cities and towns and entire nations through wars and feuds.  But from the outset, a seed was planted and promised, One who would crush the head evil and shatter the scepters of the wicked.  One who would draw all nations to Himself and break down barriers of political and relational strife.  Upon the cross, there was such a man.

We need each other because we were created to be in relationships, reflecting the image of the triune relational God.  Where sin marred this reality of our relationships, the gospel of God’s grace literally breathed new life into the dry bones of our communities.  The Gospel is power.  Power to overcome the greatest strife, power to dissolve the most intractable debates, and power to sooth the deepest hurt.  God sent His son to that we might have life, abundant life, together in a body called the church.

Christ, himself reflected this, in that He did not act alone.  Supernaturally He was attended by the Father, empowered by the Holy Spirit, doing nothing apart from their will or ability.  Naturally, He formed a community, calling disciples and tending to His family.  He equipped not individuals, but groups.  His great commission was not given to any one man, but to the whole body of those who called upon Him as Lord. Through Jesus all of our constructed barriers are removed and our relationships are restored; so that, whether we are rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, Servant or master, we are all one in Christ Jesus.  We have now a foretaste of what is to come, when we will exist peacefully together in relationships living solely for the glory of God.

So it is not good for you to be alone.  If you are alone in spirit, know that there is One who stands ready to rush in and provide eternal comfort to your forlorn soul, if only you would call upon Him, confessing with your mouth and believing in your heart that Jesus is Lord.  If you know God but are alone relationally, then seek out the other members in the body of which you are apart, the church.  For they exist, as your brothers and sisters, to share your burdens as well as your joys; to give you a foretaste of Godly community to come.d

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The Mighty Have Fallen: Evil Opposition in Isaiah 14…

May 29, 2012

Part 4 Evil Opposition in Isaiah 14…

In the past three posts we have introduced the concept that there is a textual and thematic connection in scripture which serve to give us a picture of the means and method of Evil’s opposition to God and His chosen Messiah.  We have looked at the characteristics of Evil opposition in Genesis and throughout the Old Testament, and we have examined a heightened type of this opposition in the Absalom Narrative in 2 Samuel 15.  Now we turn our attention to the presence of this opposition in Isaiah 14.

Isaiah 14:12-20 is often used as a text to describe the character and even origins of Satan.[1]  For our purposes we will assume the majority position that this passage in Isaiah, while directed at the king of Babylon, is also alluding to the fallen one, Satan.[2]

The passage comes in the middle of a taunt that Israel is to direct, by order of Yahweh, at the king of Babylon.  Here Babylon is the force in opposition to God’s anointed.  Many of the elements needed for evil opposition are present.  Pride, self-exaltation (14:13), murder (14:17) and a certain demise. (14:19)  Verse 19 shall be our primary focus.  I maintain that Isaiah has Absalom prefigured in this passage and especially in verse 19.  While one could certainly argue that the pride and self-exaltation on display would be common to any number of opposition narratives within the Bible; verse 19 serves to narrow our focus and tie this text to Absalom’s narrative.

Verse 19 is as follows:

       “But you have been cast out of your tomb

Like a rejected branch,

Clothed with the slain who are pierced with a sword,

Who go down to the stones of the pit,

Like a trampled corpse.

(Isaiah 14:19 NASB)

While the Hebrew text does not support many lexical links between this passage and 2 Samuel 18, we will explore the conceptual similarities at work.  In Isaiah, we have one who is cast out; who is like a “loathed branch, clothed with the slain;”  who is “pierced with a sword;” and is thrown down, buried in a pit, with stones.  Within this verse we see a four elements that the two texts share in common.  First we can see that the figure is cast out. Absalom was cast out as he fled from the scene of battle. (2 Sam 18:9)  Second, Samuel describes Absalom as being caught in the branch of a tree, figuratively clothing the branch of a tree with his slain body.  Third, He is pierced with a sword by Joab.  Fourth Absalom is buried in a pit covered with stones. (2 Sam 18:15,17)  Ultimately he is denied the right to be buried like a king, failing to be united with his royal heritage in burial. (Isa. 14:20)

These similarities are striking and serve to add meaning to both the text in 2 Samuel and this text in Isaiah, which allows the careful reader to see a greater nuance in the reproach against the King of Babylon.  Though he is like Satan in his pride and Absalom in his actions, he shares the fate of both.  He will be cast down, and meet his end like those who are a “loathed branch, clothed with the slain,” “pierced with the sword”, “buried in the pit.”  A certain end for one who opposes Yahweh.

Is Isaiah 14 speaking of Satan when it describes one “fallen from heaven… cut down to the earth…”? Most likely yes.  Is Isaiah 14 recording a taunt from Israel meant for the king of Babylon? Yes.  Is it also giving us a picture of evil opposition as seen in the Absalom narrative?  I believe that it is.  But it is also giving the reader a picture of another opposition scene.  I believe that both the Absalom narrative and the Isaiah passage, in addition to reflecting meaning on each other, serve to craft an image of a greater opposition yet to come.  We will now look how both of these passages serve to reflect and inform the narrative of Christ’s betrayal at the hand of Judas.


[1] “It is possible that there is a reference to the fall of Satan… Isaiah uses language that seems too strong to be referring to any merely human king.” Wayne Grudem Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2000. 413.

[2] It is true that some commentators disagree with this assessment and view the exalted language as mere poetic imagery, (See John D.W. Watts Word Biblical Commentary on Isaiah 1-33, Waco: Word Pub. 1985. 212.)  Watts argues that there is little linking the account of the fall of Satan in Rev 12 with the description here in Isa 14.  It seems more plausible that this passage as pointing to Satan, “not directly but indirectly, much like the way the kings of the line of David point to Christ.” (See Geoffrey W. Grogan. Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol 6, Isaiah. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1986. 105)

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Et Tu Absalom?…

May 26, 2012

Part 3: Absalom and David…

The story of Absalom’s rebellion, for our purposes, begins in 2 Samuel 15.  David is king over Israel.  Absalom has a desire to become judge over the people of Israel. (15:4)

-Absalom deceives his father, gaining permission to go to Hebron, ostensibly to make an offering, but his goal is to have it proclaimed throughout the land that “Absalom is king.” (15:10)

-Once Absalom leaves, the King (David) flees Jerusalem, crosses the Kidron valley, and arrives on the Mount of Olives to weep and pray. (15:23,30)

-Chapters 16-17 describe Absalom’s efforts to curse, pursue and kill David as well as David’s flight from his son.  In Chapter 18 David raises an army, led by Joab, and defeats Absalom’s forces. (18:7)

-Absalom flees, his head is caught in a tree and he was hanged. (18:9)  Joab arrives, pierces Absalom with the sword and buries him in a obscure pit covered with stones. (18:15, 17)

-Absalom’s revolt is unsuccessful and David returns as King, arriving at the city gate, and all the people came before him. (19:8)

All the threads of evil opposition are present within this story.  There is one to be opposed, a type of the messiah, in this case King David; and there is one actively engaging in opposition.  Absalom’s action is rooted in pride, and manifests itself in self-exaltation, deceit, and murderous desire.  In these actions he displays opposition to God’s anointed king and implicitly opposition to God Himself.  This opposition is his end, both in practice and in fact.  He succumbs to a bruised head, is cast to the ground, and denied the burial reserved for those of royal pedigree.

In isolation within the biblical text this story would seem exciting but rather benign.  But what I hope to show is that there is far more at work in this narrative in light of two other biblical texts.  The evil represented in the actions of Absalom is nothing less than Satanic opposition of God’s anointed, which points forward to the ultimate act of opposition against Christ.  To bolster this claim it will be helpful to look at the Absalom narrative in light of a chief text used to describe Satanic opposition, Isaiah 14:12-20; and later to examine in it relation to Christ’s betrayal by Judas.

In the Next Post, Part 4 we will examine evil opposition as outlined in Isaiah 14.

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Evil Opposition in Scripture: A Series…

May 25, 2012

Part 1. Introduction…

From the moment of the Fall there has been a tension present in history.  Adam and Eve felt it and hid themselves in response to it.  God described it in the curse of the serpent and the promise of the Seed.  Cain displayed it with the murder of his brother.  From Cain on, there were a long line of those who embodied it and fell victim to its effects.  The “tension” in question is presence of evil opposition to God’s anointed.  The tension of messianic opposition is rooted in Genesis 3, and branches out through scripture.  Present along with the proto-euangelion in Genesis 3 is also a proto-opposition that bears witness to the type and fate of those who will seek to oppose the seed of the woman.

Where the allusion to the messiah is present, so too is the specter of His opposition.  The presence of these two forces together creates a palpable tension that pulses through the narrative of the Bible.  Each side is marked by characteristics that point forward to their ultimate fulfillment.  Messianic characteristics found in individuals within the text point us to Christ as judge, lawgiver, king, and Immanuel.  Likewise the characteristics of the opposition point us to their ultimate fulfillment in Satan as adversary, deceiver, self-exalting murderer, and defeated one.

This evil opposition and its characteristics can be seen in individuals throughout the text as they seek to oppose the will of God, often as they oppose His chosen people Israel.  As the types for Christ become more pronounced and specific within the text so does the type for Satan.  Our purpose here is to examine this character of evil opposition, its source, its mean and its in end the text.  We shall attempt to prove that there is a link between three passages of scripture that inform our understanding of the presence of evil opposition to anointed of God.

First we will examine the story of Absalom and his rebellion against his King in II Samuel.

Second we shall center on the figure represented in Israel’s taunt of Isaiah 14, “the son of the dawn” and I will argue that Isaiah has Absalom in view in this passage.

Third we will see how both of these Old Testament texts point forward to Judas’ opposition to the Messiah King in the gospels.

Finally we shall draw these texts together and try to make sense of their common characteristics.  By looking at these texts we desire to increase our understanding of both the opposition; Satan, and the One being opposed; Christ.  To that end, as we peer into the darkness may the marvelous light of God may be more pronounced; that we might gain hope by seeing the futility of those who oppose God.

In the Next Post, Part 2, we will discuss the characteristics of evil in Scripture.

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Love and the City: The Greatest Text for Urban Witness…

March 12, 2012

Cities are truly miraculous places.  Tense with progress and teeming with energy and vibrancy.  Harvard economist Edward Glaeser in his great book, The Triumph of the City states that, “Cities are the absence of physical space between people and companies.  They are proximity and closeness.”  While this is true, we as Christians must look beyond the physical existence of cities and recognize the hand of God in forming them and drawing people into them.  As I have said in previous posts, God creates proximity so that those searching for Him might find Him.  Acts 17:26-27 reads: “he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their dwelling place, that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him, Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” 

While the world is content to use the metrics of absence to describe the city, we must do more.  Cities are not mere accidents of economics, nor are they defined by the absence of space between people.  Cities and their character are defined by the presence of God and the proximity to His witnesses.  Witness is key.  God has drawn these people together so that His glory might be seen by the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time.  There is a reason that Pentecost and Peter’s sermon did not occur in the desert, or in some far-flung cave.

This brings us to the manner of our witness and how to engage with those in the city.  Cities breed adventurous apathy.  The opportunity to succeed in the city is great, but so too is the presence of failure.  People come to cities with a sense of adventure, but soon become apathetic to the prevalence of failure around them.  People cold and unconvinced by pleas for attention and messages of truth.  With this in mind,we must ask ourselves, how can we break through?

Though there are many texts in Scripture that speak to the means of and the need for evangelism.  One text reigns supreme in my mind for engaging the city.  I have seen it on display, used by church planters throughout NYC over the years of engaging that city.  I am not talking about Matthew 28 or Acts 1:8, or Acts 17.  The text that speaks to our task  is this:

 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away…  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
  
(1 Corinthians 13 ESV)

It is not enough that we have the intellectual capacity to engage the minds of the city, or the media savvy to captivate the eyes of the city.  We must have love.  Pure, sacrificial love that wants nothing in return.  It does not matter if we desire to serve the needs of the city, or are willing to move into it and sacrifice blood and treasure to reach it.  We must love the people in the city, and display that love through service.

This passage informs both the task at hand and the promise of how to fulfill it.  It is not easy to love the those who question your motives, or those who are openly hostile to your efforts.  The only remedy for the apathy of the city is continual, persistent, abiding love witnessed in deeds of selfless followers of Christ.  A love that bears all and endures all.  We must create churches of faith, we must preach the hope that is in Christ alone, but above all we must be willing to love when we are not loved in return.  We must be willing to serve others, be patient with others, and be kind to others.  I am not speaking of a social gospel, that tends only to physical needs.  Rather a gospel that uses the meeting of physical needs through service to proclaim through deed and word the lavish love of God.

Surely this was modeled by God who stayed faithful to the faithless Israel.  Surely this was heard from Christ as He forgave those nailing Him to the cross.  What remains to be seen and remains to be heard, is whether or not our proximity to others will bear witness to God’s love in us.  May our growing presence in these cities be marked not by the mere absence of space; but by the abundance of God’s love lived out in service.

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An Eye for an Eye: the Rules for Revenge…

February 9, 2012

In considering Sermon on the Mount, one is constantly confronted with statements that seem all to common though frequently misread.  It is amazing when you listen to popular culture, to hear the tell-tale signs of Biblical influence.  How often have we heard the statement “an eye for an eye” in regards to revenge or retribution.  Absent its Biblical context these phrases have very divergent meanings.  And absent the Sermon on the Mount and Christ’s revelation regarding God’s Law, we are prone to misuse and mistake God’s Law for our license to sin.  In Matthew 38-42 Jesus defines the scope of Christian ethics in relation to other people.  He begins by challenging the assumptions of His listeners and confounding their tendencies.  Here we will ask and attempt to answer two questions; What was the original intent of the OT law regarding “an eye for an eye”? and Did Jesus contradict this law?

What was the original O.T. Intent in the law of an eye for an eye?

An eye for an eye – This is an exact quotation found in three OT passages (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21) and reflects the principle of lex talionis a Latin phrase from, (lex = law and talionis = retaliation = literally the “law of retaliation”)  Mankind is prone to an excess of sin in every area of life, and in seeking justice there is no exception.  This principle serves to “rein in reckless blood vengeance,”[1] such as we find in Genesis 4:23-24, where Lamech boasts that he will return abundant vengeance on those who have done him wrong. If Cain is avenged 7 times, then Lamech 70 times.”  To prevent such excess this principle was instituted, to insure that the punishment would fit the crime.  This principle was meant to inform the law courts on the appropriate level of punishment needed for offense and to provide an end to unlimited blood-feuds between wronged parties. However, by the time of Jesus, this was being misused as a license to pursue vengeance.

The Old Testament “did not allow an individual to take the law into his own hands and apply it personally. Yet that is exactly what rabbinic tradition had done. Each man was permitted, in effect, to become his own judge, jury, and executioner. God’s law was turned to individual license (permit to act, freedom to take a specific course of action), and civil justice was perverted to personal vengeance. Instead of properly acknowledging the law of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth as a limit on punishment, they conveniently used it as a mandate for vengeance-as it has often been wrongly viewed throughout history. What God gave as a restriction on civil courts, Jewish tradition had turned into personal license for revenge. In still another way, the self-centered and self-asserted “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees had made a shambles of God’s holy law.”[2]

We see this same perversion being addressed occurring earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, concerning divorce. (5:31-32 and Matt 19:8)  Where additions were made to God’s law not to alter His law, but because of the hardness of the human heart.  “God gives by concession a legal regulation as a dam against the river of violence which flows from man’s evil heart.”  Jesus here is addressing and focusing on the heart of His disciples, not the law of God.

Does Jesus contradict The OT Law?

No. Jesus did not come to end the law but to fulfill it.  To redeem the law, which did not exist to provide a license to sin through legalism, but to guard the hearts of Israel, expose sin, and provide for sins redemption through sacrifice.  “Jesus opposed the rabbinic interpretation of the Law, rather than the Law itself.”[3] In the Old Testament the principle of lex talionis  (the law of retaliation, “eye for an eye.”) was meant to be used and applied in the judiciary process, “this is not the sphere of application in Matthew.  Jesus does not overthrow the principle of equivalent compensation on an institutional level that question is just not addressed but declares it illegitimate for His followers to apply it to their private disputes.”[4]


[1] Dockery, David. Seeking the Kingdom: the Sermon on the mount for Today. Wheaton: Shaw Pub. 1992. 61

[2] MacArthur, John.  Matthew 1-7 Macarthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Quarles, Charles. The Sermon on the Mount. Nashville: B&H pub. 2011. 146.

[4] Allison, Dale. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel of the According to St. Matthew, Vol 1. T&T clark Pub. 2000.  542.