The Eternal Covenant

Within the pages of the New Testament, the word covenant comes up over 30 times. It might be surprising to find out that most of the time, it is not the “new” covenant. In fact, the term “new covenant” is only found about 10 times, and that includes in Hebrews 8 when quoting Jeremiah. The question that forms in my mind is why the new covenant is not utilized so much more regularly, if what God is so zealous for is a new covenant that is “better” than the old. Yet, when we read the conclusion of Hebrews, it is not the new covenant that the author mentions in his benediction, but the everlasting, or eternal, covenant.1 For the author of Hebrews, while there was much argument given about the “new covenant” being the “better covenant”, the conclusion was a blessing through the blood of the everlasting covenant.

Apparently, if we are to use easy deduction, the everlasting covenant is the same thing as the new covenant.2 It is the same Messiah, the same Shepherd, the same blood, and the same glory of God that is being worked in you, through your being made complete in every good work to do His will. Shall we then expect that there is somehow a disconnection, or even two different covenants for two different peoples? No, but the eternal covenant is the common thread that links all of history unto the end of the age. Whether we are looking into the past, and seeing the great promises that God has given, or whether we are looking unto the future, and reading the prophecies of David ruling over Israel, we can see the term “eternal covenant” used in both cases. Abraham was promised the Land and the inheritance as an eternal covenant, and David was also promised an heir that would sit upon his throne forever as an eternal covenant. Yet, the prophets use this term in eschatology as the moment when all Israel is saved, and David rules over them, and the nations themselves study war no more.

What are some of these passages that I’m speaking of?

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to me. Hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you – the sure mercies of David. Indeed I have given him as a witness to the people, a leader and commander for the people. Surely you shall call a nation you do not know, and nations who do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you.

Isaiah 55:1-5

And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the foreigner shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But you shall be named the priests of the Lord, they shall call you the servants of our God. You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory you shall boast. Instead of your shame, you shall have double honor, and instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be theirs. For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery for burnt offering; I will direct their work in truth, and will make with them an everlasting covenant. Their descendants shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people. All who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the posterity whom the Lord has blessed.

Isaiah 61:4-9

Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in my anger, in my fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be my people, and I will be their God, then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all my heart and with all my soul.

Jeremiah 32:37-41

Notice that these passages, with the potential exception of the first, cannot simply be explained away as pertaining to the church. The very people who were scattered are the people who are regathered. The very cities that were made desolate and a wasteland are the ones that are rebuilt. The very people who were in judgment, driven away in God’s anger, wrath, and fury, are the ones who God declares that will be brought back to this place, the very place from where they were scattered, where they will be given one heart and one mind – which Paul quotes and says that we should have now3 – that they may fear God forever, for their own good, and for the good of their children after them. You can’t rid this promise from the very people who are under judgment. Just like Paul expresses that his heart in speaking difficult and reproving things to the Corinthians was not in hostility, but rather to show his great love for them,4 so we see that Jeremiah 32:37-41 ends with God saying that He will plant “them” in “this land”, with all of His heart, and with all of His soul. That quote is God quoting His own command unto Israel in Deuteronomy 6. Just as Israel shall love the Lord their God with all of their heart and soul, God is zealously proclaiming that the glory that shall be theirs, an eternal inheritance where heaven and earth touch, is the display of God loving Israel with all of His heart and with all of His soul.

Shall we attempt to pass by this? Shall we attempt to negate this? Who are we to claim the potter should have made us more glorious than He made others? Are you in the place of God? Do you not know that after Jeremiah 31 comes Jeremiah 32? And do you not know that after Jeremiah 31:31-34 comes Jeremiah 31:35-37? And do you not know that in that passage God declares that the new covenant is not for Gentiles that have taken the place of ethnic Israel, through whatever circumstances, but for the very ones that God led out of Egypt by His own hand? This is what makes it eternal. It is everlasting because from the beginning, and even before the foundation of the world, God has destined that He would have a people who would be made into His image and likeness, and whatever people that might be, it would be Israel. Ziba, the servant of Saul, loved David, and David loved Ziba, even though he was not ethnically Israel. Does that stop him from receiving honor in being counted as part of Israel? Such a question shows the lack of understanding God’s perfect love.

It does not seem like God is an either/or kind of God. Does the inheritance mean a heavenly inheritance? Yes. Does it mean an inheritance of the land of Canaan that has been promised Abraham? Yes. Isn’t that contradictory? God forbid that you should think that. When God establishes an eternal covenant, says that ordinances shall be for all generations, an everlasting ordinance, a statute forever, what other wording could God have used to say that this is going to last forever? How can we take this as meaning only until the heavenly thing comes into being through this hidden or mysterious entity called the church?

God is simply not trapped by these sorts of methods. We can’t make a claim on God that He has to fulfill, because His word says so, and we know His word. The land, the people, the priesthood, and even the law are all reflections of things in heaven. Just as there were twenty four priestly families, there are twenty four elders before the throne of God. Just as there is an altar in heaven, there is an altar upon the earth. The startling conclusion of the prophets is that when they saw the earthly things being destroyed or taken away captive, they did not dis-include the heavenly, eternal things from what was being destroyed and taken away captive.5

We have rightly perceived that the earthly things, commanded in the first five books of the Bible, are patterns of eternal things. What we have not rightly concluded is God’s care (or lack thereof) of the earthly things. The eternal covenant is the embodiment of all of God’s words throughout the Scriptures, and come together throughout the life of all of His saints. The sublime scandal is the specificity of God to choose, and that His choosing is His prerogative. He shall have mercy upon whom He shall have mercy. And, if God is truly the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then His choosing and election is not something separated from love or “fairness”.6 The great rage against God’s election is not from any fault in God, but from our own arrogant high mindedness, being wise in our own conceit, and thinking more of ourselves than we ought.

1Hebrews 13:20

2Specifically, when comparing the passage of Hebrews 13 with the statements given of the new covenant.

3Romans 15:6, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Philippians 2:2

42 Corinthians 2:4

5Jeremiah paints this vividly in Lamentations 2:1, when his response of seeing the people being taken away captive is that God has cast “the beauty of Israel” from heaven to earth. Yet, these are the ones in judgment, whom we would have assumed are not “in heaven”, but rather too much in the earth. Even if that is true, it does not disqualify that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places, and that we are ambassadors, and that we are in the world, but not of the world. Where do you think such statements come from? They come from the very concepts painted in these sorts of verses and passages in the Old Testament prophets about ethnic Israel, even disobedient ethnic Israel.

6Since when is it appropriate to put such condescending thoughts upon God’s character? If God chooses something, it is in His wisdom and character that He chooses. Maybe that is the problem. We are altogether not like Him, and we don’t think like Him. The sin that God indicts Israel with in Psalm 50:21 is that they thought Him to be like them, and now we are performing the exact same sin.

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You Are the Sons of the Living God

 

I recently had a friend visit from Colorado, and we decided to attempt to go through Hosea while she stayed here. These are the sessions… the Hosea files.

Does God Really Test Us?

I believe we have a misnomer. It revolves around two words: testing and proving. Our English language adapts. It changes. For example, when my father was young, you could say that you feel gay, and people would understand you meant happy. If you were to say that you feel gay in modern society, happy probably wouldn’t make it onto the list of interpretations that you might be meaning. When my father was young, cool meant chilly. Now, cool means hip, or in style. Words adapt and change meaning and connotation from generation to generation. When we read our English Bibles, something that we ought to do is ask what the word actually means. When we read, “The Lord thy God put thee to the test,” does the word test mean something other than test?

Many times we have words that we use, and those words might be technically correct, but they have a connotation with them that is not correct. What we imply by using certain words or phrases is extremely important to be aware of. What does God testing us mean? I find that Job 1 gives the most solid answer. We find haSatan, the accuser, coming before God to accuse Job. God, then, says to Satan that his servant Job is a righteous man. God allows Job to undergo testing, to see whether God’s testimony about him is true. What is the point of the test?

We cannot conclude that God tested Job, and if Job were to have failed that test that he would undergo judgment. God had complete faith in His servant Job. In God’s eye, this wasn’t a test. This would be like challenging me as a grown man to tie my shoes as a test. I’ve performed this task thousands of times in my life, and it is no longer a test to see whether I can tie my shoes. This is God’s mindset. He doesn’t see it as a test. You want proof, Satan, that Job is a righteous man? I’ll give you proof. God allows the suffering to prove Job’s faithfulness and righteousness. To then say that it is a test brings false implications. We can try to justify the word by saying we’ll explain what we mean, but the fact still remains that the term simply has wrong implications. It might be possible that in 1611 when the King James translators used the word test that test did not have wrong implication. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But why perpetuate that word when we know that it does not imply the correct connotation? That connotation of God giving us a test to see whether we are able to live up to His requirement is contrary to everything that God reveals Himself to be in Scripture. There is a vast difference between testing and proving, and the difference needs to be noted.

Christmas and the Theology of God

I’m currently in one of the last stretches of writing out the first volume of a systematic theology. This means I’m looking forward to writing out volume 2 on the doctrine of God. Who is God, and what does He reveal Himself to be? In this Christmas season, one of the things that I find interesting is that our messages and our writings are often not reflecting who God reveals Himself to be, but rather some sort of self projected image of what we aspire to be.

It has always amazed me that when you go to church during the Christmas season, instead of talking about the birth of Christ, the messages seem to surround the cross. Baby Jesus was just born, and now we’re already trying to kill Him. Whether we talk about the shepherds, the star and magi, the son who was promised to be born, or the baby in the manger, it all seems to revolve around the savior being crucified, and not around the savior being born. What we miss in this is that we neglect the message of hope. God is with us. Not because He died, but because He is alive. He is Emmanuel.

God has revealed Himself through many diverse ways. I’ve been thinking about this, because as I’m reading through the various theology books about God, I’m finding that most of the discussion revolves around His attributes, and not around God Himself. It’s like we think in order to describe someone we must explain what they look like. But God doesn’t explain Himself in this way. Instead, He says He is a husband, He is the God of Israel, He is merciful, He blesses to thousands of generations, but curses to only 3-4. God’s descriptions of Himself are not revolving around His attributes, but around the very core of who He is.

When Jesus was born, He reveals the character of God just as much as His crucifixion. He was born in a manger, because God has always identified with they who have no place to rest their head. The angels come to the shepherds, because God has always commanded that His shepherds would take care of their flocks, even when it is dark, even when it is night, and all around us is fear and trepidation. The humility of God is revealed in this: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 

God stripped off his outer garment, taking up the clothing of a servant of all, not finding equality with God something to be coveted, but rather cast aside His deity to become man. He took off that garment of glory in order to become one who had no excellency that humanity would find Him altogether glorious. He became human, and indeed even the servant of all, washing the feet of His creation, through the water of the Spirit, and through the eternal hope of the restoration of all things. Jesus’ birth is about the Kingdom of God. It is about how God has not abandoned us. It is about Israel restored, and Israel redeemed. It is about the eternal bliss that has always been available to us, ever since the “and God rested on the seventh day”, but we’ve always considered it something far away and outside and afterward.

This Christmas season, let us reconsider the birth of our savior. Let us take hold of these things, and instead of going straight to the cross, lets dwell here in the birth. Maybe when we can grasp some of these things, even with a mustard seed of faith, we might find Christmas to once again be revolutionary. May grace and peace be upon you all, amen.

A Brood of Vipers – Matthew 3:7-12

There are a few things going on here that are cultural references, and a few things that are Scriptural. So, first lets deal with this first section. When the Pharisees and Sadducees come to John, he calls them a brood of vipers and asks them who told them to flee from the wrath to come. What’s happening here?

Go back to Genesis 3:15. There are two seeds. There is the seed of the woman, who shall be the deliverer, later expressed in the term Messiah. Then there is the seed of the serpent. When you read through Genesis, you have two seeds presented at all times. There is Cain, and Abel/Seth. There is the wicked generation, and Noah. There is the nations at Babel, and Abraham. There is Ishmael, and Isaac. There is Esau, and Jacob. The seed of the serpent isn’t specific to a people group, but rather a concept. There are a people who consistently oppress and persecute the people of God, and it doesn’t matter if they are called Philistines, Egyptians, Assyrians, or Chaldeans.

Something begins to shift in the history of Israel, though. Solomon uses slave labor to build his palace and some military bases. But God said to not have slaves, because you were once a slave in Egypt. Here is the topsy-turvy kingdom: Israel, the new Egypt. Under Rehoboam it gets worse. The northern kingdom of Israel doesn’t ever have one good king. The southern kingdom of Judah has a handful. Over and over again in the prophets, what we read is that they are in outrage over the fact that the leaders are mistreating the people. In fact, such strong language is used in certain places (Jer 10:25, Mic 3:1-3, Zeph 3:3, etc) that it says the leaders of Israel are actually eating and devouring the people.

The leaders have become the seed of the serpent, at enmity with the seed of the woman and with God. Therefore, they are a “brood of vipers”.

But let’s not be hasty. It is easy to point fingers. What exactly were the Pharisees, anyway? In the first century, you could call the Pharisees the conservatives, and the Sadducees were the liberals. They were the leaders of the people. The Pharisees, in their great learning and understanding, were the ones who helped the people to understand the Law, so that Israel might follow it and obey. According to the Pharisees’ belief, if they could only reform the people of God back unto holiness and righteousness, then the Messiah would come. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were hired Roman officials – Jews who betrayed their own people. Therefore, the high priests, priests, and the scribes were often Sadducees hired by Rome to keep the people in check.

I’m not going to point out what I find to be obvious. In our Christianity today, there are Pharisees and Sadducees. There is no point in me putting names with those titles, because the truth is that if you can’t discern it, then you probably fall into one of those two camps. And John the Baptist calls them a brood of vipers. The difference between much of what is called Christianity today and the Sadducees/Pharisees is that at least the Pharisees/Sadducees understood that John and Jesus were talking about them…

What about this wrath to come?

Again, when you read the prophets, any “wrath to come” that is mentioned is associated with the Day of the Lord. There might be prophecies against certain nations (I’m thinking of Isaiah 37-39 currently) that had an immediate expectation, but the vast majority were beyond the immediate. It’s as though the prophet was beholding the seed of the serpent within these rebellious nations, and wasn’t merely prophesying concerning Assyria, Babylon, or Moab (or any other nation), but beyond them to an ultimate “seed of the serpent”, which is the mystery of iniquity, which the New Testament calls “Antichrist”. It is this one, the Antichrist/False Prophet, that we read Jesus will destroy with the brightness of His coming.

What is the coming wrath? It is the return of Jesus, and the outpoured fury upon the nations who have gathered against Israel at Har Meggido (Armegeddon). We read in passages like Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 14, and Revelation 19:11-21 about the destruction of this army that gathers. We read in other passages, such as Zechariah 14:16-17, Isaiah 19:21, and Daniel 7:11-14, about how there are nations who are judged, but not condemned and cast into the pits of hell with Jesus’ return.

Thus, to get back to what John is saying to the Pharisees, I think that we need to be keen on the understanding of the apostles in that first century. Peter calls Jerusalem “Babylon” at the end of his first epistle. When you read Revelation 17, the language used in regard to the 10 nations attacking the woman comes straight from the prophets in regard to Israel and Judah’s judgment. In Zechariah 14:14, there is a subtle hint that even Jerusalem/Judah itself will fight with the Antichrist against the coming of the Lord. God alone knows, but what we can be truly certain of is that God has consistently spoken that the wicked of Israel shall not endure unto the end, but shall taste of the wrath of God during that final expulsion and sifting through the nations.

We can ask the question of why this is being said here. It makes sense to say it if we’re dealing with the Day of the Lord, but this is Jesus’ first coming. I would challenge you to go to Malachi 3 and read it. Couple that with Matthew 21:33-43. Even though this isn’t the final last days dealing of God, it is quite clear that Jesus has indeed taken the Kingdom from the leaders of Israel and given it to they who will produce it’s fruit (the tax collectors and sinners of Israel, and later in Acts even the Gentiles).

“Therefore bear fruit to repentance…” Again, the concept of bearing fruit is not foreign in the consciousness of the Jewish people. John isn’t being clever and inventing something new. Even Isaiah the prophet calls Israel God’s “vineyard” (Isaiah 5) – the Hebrew word gan. God planted Israel, He cultivated Israel, and yet He only found bad fruit. Tell Me, O Israel, what I did wrong! The answer, of course, is that God did nothing wrong. Therefore, John is telling these people, “Bear fruit to repentance.” You who have consistently been that barren vineyard, or, even worse, been the ones producing bad fruit, repent of your wickedness, and turn unto the Lord. They know what tshuva means (Hebrew word/concept of repentance).

In the book of John, Jesus is speaking to the Jews round about Him. And in chapter 8, the Jews respond that they have Abraham as their father. It’s as if being genetically Jewish is all they think they need to inherit the Kingdom. They don’t even realize that Abraham was called to be the father of many nations because of his character, and not simply because of God’s sovereign choosing. Certainly God’s sovereign choosing played into it, but don’t think that God would have chosen Nimrod instead. There is a character, a certain mindset and lifestyle that reflects who God is, and it was that very thing that was being chosen.

God can raise children of Abraham from the stones.

Why?

It wouldn’t be too much for God to do so, but I think we should understand that John was pointing to that hill outside Jerusalem, where it says that the Messiah will step foot upon (Zech 14:5).

What stones are upon that hill?

They are graves.

God can raise them up out of the graves, and you will completely miss it, because you have hardened yourself, and have refused to consider that God is an actual person, and not some concept that we fiddle with.

We come back to the concept of agriculture and producing fruit. What do  you do when a tree refuses to bear fruit? You cut it down and use it as firewood. Therefore, John has no hesitation or timidity in pointing out that the ax is already at the root, just like it’s always been, and the fire of God is already upon you. This is the vision of the prophets. Everything is immanent; everything is life and death; everything is now, even while it yet might be millennia in the future. Eternity has no concept of time. Time cannot contain eternity. Eternal moments break the constraints of time, so that they who are eternal can perceive the reality of past, present, and future in a manner that affects all of past, present, and future. We’re affected by our past, and we also effect the past. We’re affected by the future, and we also effect the future.

In verse 11, John again brings up the issue of repentance. He says, “I baptize you with the water of repentance…” Baptism itself, as far as I can tell, comes from the concept of mikveh. A mikveh was the ritual of washing yourself with water to make  yourself clean. You find this in Exodus 19, that God says to Moses that the people need to wash their clothes and be made clean before Him. You find it again in Psalm 51:2, that David asks to be washed in order to be made clean. Ezekiel 36:25 speaks of clean water being poured out upon the House of Israel to make it clean – again, a reference to mikvah. In Leviticus 17:15, we have the mikvah prescribed in regard of becoming clean again after eating something that has died of natural causes or by beasts (that which you didn’t kill).

For a mikveh, you would immerse yourself in moving water. The rabbis talk about how this takes you out of your regular mode (in the air), and puts you in a state less familiar (floating submerged in water). It’s like birth, and has deep significance tied to it from a baby that leaves the womb, and now therefore is coming forth into the air for the first time. You are no longer unclean, but now as clean as a baby, you enter again into the air and society in right standing with HaShem (God).

In this last segment, when John begins to express what the Messiah shall do, again we find that much of it goes back to the prophets. He isn’t saying anything new. John is building upon what has already been said, and what is already being believed. For example, look up these verses: Psalm 1:4, Isaiah 1:31, 27:4, Jeremiah 7:20, 15:7, Malachi 4:1, and Amos 9:8-10.

I think the “Holy Spirit and fire” is not two separate things, but one. It’s like when you say it is raining cats and dogs. It doesn’t mean that it rains cats in one spot, but dogs further up the street. It’s just a saying, for one, but we all understand that they go together. In fact, the whole point of the outpouring of the Spirit in the prophets (Jeremiah 31:31-37, Ezekiel 36:21-27, Joel 2:25-32, etc) was that there was both the outpouring of the Spirit and the cleansing of the House of Israel, but also the judgment and recompense upon the nations in the Day of the Lord. You cannot escape it. This outpouring is always placed at the end of the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, at the threshold of the coming of Messiah, the Day of the Lord, when there shall be signs  in the heavens, and fire and devastation. The Spirit of supplication and grace poured out upon Israel in Zechariah 12 is the same timeframe as the previous verses:
“And the governors of Judah shall say in their heart, ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem are my strength in the Lord of hosts, their God.’ In that day I will make the governors of Judah like a firepan in the woodpile, and like a fiery torch in the sheaves; they shall devour all the surrounding peoples on the right hand and on the left, but Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her one place – Jerusalem. The LORD will save the tents of Judah first, so that the glory of the House of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall not become greater than that of Judah. In that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who is feeble among them in that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel of the LORD before them. It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.”

Let us conclude, then. This passage is incredibly suggestive of end times events. That which John is speaking of cannot simply be constrained to the first coming of Jesus. And yet, there is a reality in which they were exactly constrained to the first coming of Jesus. The leaders really were cast off of their own tree – the ax already being at the root. They were cast off and wild branches were grafted in. But that isn’t for you to boast, but for you to tremble. Behold the goodness and severity of God. Goodness to you, should you continue in the ways that you have been taught by Christ, yet severity to those who harden themselves to become full of bad fruit. This is a now word, because many do neglect the most basic principles of the faith, and yet it is also a future word, because the King shall come, and when He does, we shall again see the outpouring of the Spirit and fire.

Death of the Firstborn – Exodus 12:29-36

In these two verses are many thoughts that stir within me. First, I see that this plague comes at midnight, and think about how the ten virgins are all sleeping, but at midnight the groom comes (we know that five of them don’t make it in, but the point is connecting the two midnights here). Then I also have another end time consideration of how when Babylon falls, in Revelation 18, all the nations mourn for that fall. This is reflected in the prophets as well.

Typically the way that we read this passage is to see the death of the firstborn as the climactic end of Egypt. Finally Israel is set free and permitted leave. I have a different view, however. It isn’t that this isn’t a climax, for it is indeed the final plague upon Egypt. Yet, when we’re reading Exodus, we find that at the Red Sea is another conflict, and one of epic proportion. God is not yet finished, because Pharaoh is not yet finished. When we conclude the 15th chapter, it is finally at that point where Israel is truly free.

It does so happen in this passage, though, that Israel is liberated, and finally outside of the land of Egypt, headed toward that glorious Promised Land. As the LORD had spoken, she despoiled the Egyptians, asking her neighbors for silver and gold and articles of value. In Pharaoh’s response (verse 31), it is the first time that he addresses the people as “Israelites”. Every other time, if he even addresses them, it is “people”, which sounds much lower and lesser than an actual people. In the first verse of Exodus, the oppression was beginning to be explained with this term, and now finally at it’s close it is being used again. They are Israelites, and not merely slaves.

Because of the death of the firstborn, which will later be contrasted in chapter 13 by the blessing of the firstborn, all of Egypt fears for their lives. All the plagues up to this point have damaged property, killed animals, and caused bodily harm, but nothing has been so devastating as to kill in a moment a mass part of the Egyptians. With fear, the Egyptians send Israel out hastily. For this reason, in Deuteronomy 16:3 the unleavened bread is called “the bread of affliction”, which is contrasted later with the bread of heaven (manna) that Israel receives in the wilderness. These contrasts that are made show the vicissitude of the Exodus, just as much as the ecstatic ascent unto Sinai.

There is a melancholy, because they are leaving the land that provided much luxury for them, but at the same time a rejoicing at finally being rid of the slavery and oppression. Within the next few chapters, we’ll find the Israelites complaining and grumbling over and over again. Think of it this way, if you were forcefully uprooted from your home, sent into the heat and intensity of a desert, and not given the proper rations for food and water to make the journey, not knowing where you’re going or how to get out, and all that you have leading you is this Moses fellow who might or might not have been this way before, would you grumble? I would.

But this is Passover. We haven’t yet come to that.

Here we find emphasis being put upon the Israelites following the word of Moses. Why? What is so important about that?

Moses is the prophet, which in this case is more than just a man. He is the mouthpiece of God, and beyond that, he is God unto the people. Later we’re going to see that he has horns (like a crown) and a staff (like a ruler). Moses is the ‘king’ of Israel, which was a title for God alone. Yet, back in Exodus 4, God told Moses that he shall be “Elohim” unto Pharaoh. Here it is as well, that even unto the children of Israel, Moses is likened unto God. To follow the words of Moses is to follow the word of God, for the two have become one. So it is with the apostle and prophet, that when we follow their words, we follow the words of God. It is established by word and deed, for Paul confesses often that he didn’t just speak idle words, but gave demonstrations of power. If you think those demonstrations consisted of miracles and healings, then you have sadly mistaken what Paul is saying. It might well have, but let us not forget that with the anointing, the words themselves are demonstrations and events.

To hear the word of the apostle or prophet is to hear God. That kind of hearing, coupled with faith, will bring about salvation to the uttermost. It strikes life into the heart, and causes the listener to be quickened by the very same Spirit that is enabling the speaker. For Israel to obey the words of Moses is more than a statement of their disposition. This shows their obedience unto God, and the receiving of the same quickening that has come upon Moses at this point. We’ll see later that there is something greater imparted unto Moses, which will then be prayed over the elders and imparted.

Out of Egypt I Call – Matthew 2:13-15

This passage is one of those passages that we need to be careful with. It is in vitriolic opposition that the Jews mock such a quotation of the prophet Hosea. For many Christians, we don’t know the prophecy being mentioned, and often don’t even know it is from Hosea. When we go back and look at the passage, like I did when I was young in Christ, we’re often baffled by what Matthew is saying. “Out of Egypt I call my son.” In Hosea 11:1, the context is quite obvious and explicit. It means nothing in relation to the messiah, and is explicitly in regard to Israel.

How could there be such a blunder on behalf of Matthew?

There are a couple things that we need to note. I’ve already gone through the first one to mention (see here). Matthew parallels the life of Jesus with the ‘birth’ of Israel. There are multiple aspects of Jesus’ life that reflect Isaac’s birth, Israel being in Egypt, the exodus, crossing the Red Sea, the forty days journey across the desert, the three temptations in the wilderness, coming to Sinai, and then receiving the Law. The whole point is that just as Israel must go through these circumstances, so too does/must Messiah go through them. It’s a pattern, and we need to be mindful of that. Just as Messiah went through these circumstances, so too shall Israel go through them – yes, even Calvary.

The other aspect that we need to notice is that the Old Testament has a pattern of saints who go down to Egypt. Under various circumstances, we find that none other than Abraham, Joseph, and subsequently Jacob, Israel, Moses (told to return to Egypt), throughout Leviticus through Deuteronomy the emphasis is upon how God brought Israel out of Egypt, Balaam prophesies that because Israel has been brought out of Egypt that God shall consume the nations, Solomon was an ally of Egypt, even had his chariots sent from Egypt, the enemies of Solomon flee to Egypt (1 King 11), and even Jeremiah was taken away into Egypt, where tradition says that he eventually went to be with his fathers.

My point is this:
God has established a pattern throughout Scripture regarding Israel and Egypt. We think of Babylon being the big enemy, or even Assyria, or the Philistines. Yet, somehow this enemy, the Egyptians who persecute and oppress God’s people, also have a positive affinity with God’s people. There is a conundrum here that Jesus was taken into Egypt for protection, just like Abraham, just like Joseph found favor in Egypt, just like Jacob and all his sons found favor, and just like Israel was often an ally with Egypt. Why would God desire that it is to Egypt that Joseph and Mary would flee with Jesus? Why not some other land nearby, like Asia Minor (which I know isn’t extremely close, but neither is Egypt), or even into Samaria? Why not stay within the Israel/Palestine region, and just go outside the jurisdiction of Herod? Why flee all the way to Egypt?

There is something within the mystery of God regarding Egypt, which is intertwined with Israel. When you read the prophets, there is mixed opinion concerning Egypt. Even within the same prophet, you might find one statement of judgment and condemnation toward Egypt, only to find later a blessing. For example, within the same chapter, Isaiah 19, we find statements of judgment upon Egypt that would make you to assume they will be wiped off the map. Yet, the chapter ends with asserting that Israel, Egypt, and Assyria together will have a highway between them, and the three together will be a blessing in the land. It even ends with God saying, “Blessed is Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”

This makes me uncomfortable.

We, as Christians, often like to think of God as being the one who comes in judgment in the last days, rectifying the oppression, and condemning the wicked. We like to view God as the guy in the sky who damns. We see the Old Testament God as a God of judgment and wrath and anger. Yet, the God of the New Testament is a God of love, of compassion, and of hope. However, here we have in the Old Testament a text regarding judgment and mercy, working hand-in-hand together, in a manner that is offensive to our religiosity.

I got to sit down with a man a couple days ago. While talking, he mentioned that he has been reading the Gospels recently. His words are something that I’ve also often felt. “I don’t think I know Jesus…” You read the words of this guy, and you have immensely practical statements about flesh and blood tangible things. Yet, at the same time, these tremendously practical statements about tangible things are also very spiritually focused. Somehow they are interwoven. You have these statements that need little or no interpretation, and then sandwiched in the middle between these statements are small statements that are elusive in our understanding. He makes statements that are full of love and compassion, and then sometimes in the very next statement speaks such harsh words that  you wonder how this guy can be the epitome of “love”.

Do you know this God? Better yet, do you love this God? The one who can barely be comprehended, this God who often says something that boggles the mind, is that your God? Is that who you rejoice in? Or, are you left reading this and scratching your head?

I don’t think I can sufficiently answer to why God would have Jesus taken to Egypt. That is beyond my understanding, and yet it fits perfectly with all that I know God’s wisdom to be. I love this God. It’s so contrary to everything that I’ve expected, and yet so entirely exactly what I expect and desire for God to be.

Hail and Locusts – Exodus 9:8-10:20

I’ve been attempting to put a post for each plague, but it was when I began to dread coming up with something to say that I realized I need to figure out a better tactic… So, I’m doubling this one, and hopefully I’ll have something to write. For those of you who don’t know, this blog is pretty well a platform for me to just write out my thoughts as they come, and so there is never a “second draft” that ends up coming up. Instead, all of the grammar or spelling mistakes are evidence of the “first draft”.

With the Ten Plagues, what has caught me is that these were all somehow related to battling one of the gods of Egypt (see this post). This morning I read of how the Philistines captured the ark of God (1 Sam 4), how they put it with their god Dagon (1 Sam 5), and other various cities, and the Philistines received plagues. Therefore, they sent the ark back to Israel (1 Sam 6). This got me wondering whether that might be another instance where God plagued the Philistines according to their gods, just like we find again with Elijah praying for there to be no rain…

Within the Bible, when we find hail as a plague, it is specific to devastating an entire empire. I think of Joshua 10-12, where they are fighting the five kings, and God sends the hailstones that kill more people than Israel did. The final time of hail is mentioned in Revelation, but not just once. We find in Revelation 6:12-17 that part of the sixth seal (which I believe is the return of Jesus) has hailstones. In Revelation 8:5, we find hail again. In Revelation 11:15-18 (which I believe to also be the return of Jesus), we have hail mentioned again. Again in Revelation 16:17-21, we find that part of the seventh bowl is hail. We trace the same description, thunderings, lightning, and hail, throughout the whole of Revelation. It is my understanding that these are not separate storms, but the same one, the events leading up to it being retold through different language and symbolism each time.

It is interesting with the hail in Exodus that God gives the command of warning. Moses tells the Egyptians to bring their animals inside, and don’t allow your family or servants to go outside. They who heed the warning are saved, but they who are foolish and don’t believe are killed. Is that not exactly how God does things? Even with the serpent on the pole, you had to look up to the serpent in order to be saved. Those who are unwilling, because of unbelief, don’t get healed of the plague of snakes. The truth is that the snakes (spiritually) were already there devouring the children of Israel in their unbelief. Similarly, the Egyptians were already devastated and destroyed, through the worship of these gods that are not God. The hail was only a physical “guerrilla theater” to make manifest the spiritual reality.

When we come unto the locusts, we have another instance where we find locusts having an end time significance. Of course, Deuteronomy 28 talks about the enemies of Israel swarming into the Land and eating the fruit of the children of Israel like locusts, and this is a plague for disobedience unto God. Joel picks that up in the first two chapters of his book, and so we find these “locusts” that come into Israel and have horses and destroy much more than just the crops. In fact, the “locusts” of Joel are said to be part and parcel of the Day of the LORD!

The prophetic mind sees these similarities. He intuits the plan of God, that these sorts of plagues and judgments are not simply “one time events”. It’s not, as the commentators suggest, a plague of locusts that invaded Israel during the time, or soon after the time, of Joel. And, to the other commentators who are smart enough to catch it, it is not as though Joel is prophesying the invasion of Babylon, and therefore it’s over and been fulfilled. The plague in Egypt is an eternal phenomenon. It resounds outward through history even unto the present age. The Israel, like modern Israel, that has become Egypt in all her practices shall face the same plagues – locusts not being excluded. There is an immanent storm coming, just as all the prophets foresaw, and that “immanency” doesn’t mean it has to happen within a certain timeframe. Imminence in the Bible is a matter of spiritual condition. Because you are spiritually already in this place, the physical outworking is only a matter of time.

Therefore, we can string together the Egyptian plague of locusts, realizing that it is the judgment of God upon a people who trust in their crops as their provision, the locusts of Joel 1-2, and the locusts of Revelation 9. They are interwoven, because God deals with His people in cycles and patterns. God sends judgment upon Sodom, and then in Ezekiel 16 tells Judah that they saw Sodom’s fate, and they saw northern Israel’s fate, and yet they persist in their disobedience as if God won’t judge them… Here it is that Israel has seen Egypt’s plague, they have seen the locusts in the time of the Old Testament prophets, they saw the significance of the locusts as being an invading army, and yet still they persist in their unbelief and iniquity. This is sadly the case of many Christians as well.

What other option is there, but to send again the plagues forewarned, but this time, as it says in Leviticus, seven times more fierce?

Notice Exodus 10:7. The servants ask Pharaoh, “Do you not yet know that Egypt is destroyed?” Is this true? Was Egypt already destroyed? Why, then, does God not relent? And why does Pharaoh not yet relent? I think that the servants were correct, but once again, it was not the physical statement yet being made. Something happened in Egypt, which history attests to, where it caused for the death of Pharaoh, his son, and the demise of Egypt altogether. When we consult the history books, we find that there was a time when the wife of Pharaoh actually sent to the Hittites looking for a husband to carry on the dynasty of Egypt. At that time, the Egyptians threw away their gods and started a whole new religious system. If interested, you can find the info here.

I suppose the question is now to turn toward ourselves, eh? Are we following the LORD in a manner distinct from the majority of Israel? Is our relationship with God much more paralleled with the saints of the Old and New Testament, or is it true that we are very much shallow and not even close to expressing the same faith? And, maybe the most pressing question, what are we going to do about it? Will it take plagues from God before we begin to reform our ways?

Boils – Exodus 9:8-12

This is another plague that we find featured later in the book of Revelation. To help give some reasoning to why these Egyptian plagues continue to recur, I think that what we need to understand is that the plagues of Egypt were not singular, isolated events. What I mean by this is that God speaks to Israel in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 that He shall send these selfsame plagues upon Israel if they are disobedient. So, for example, when you read in Deuteronomy 28:27 that God will sent this exact same plague (boils) upon disobedient Israel, we shouldn’t be surprised.

These are the judgments of God. Upon the false gods of Egypt does God send judgment, but let us not forget that over and over again Israel’s disobedience is due to their forsaking God. It isn’t simply that Israel is disobedient because they don’t keep the kosher diet. Throughout the whole of the Old Testament we have cycle after cycle of Israel casting aside their LORD to embrace other foreign deities. These plagues against Egypt were to speak against the gods of Egypt. The plagues against Israel were to speak against the gods of Israel.

Thus, when we come to Revelation, we need to have this sort of comprehension. Why do we find replicas of the Egyptian plagues in the book of Revelation? It is because Revelation revolves around Israel, not just the land, but the people. Israel is being judged, and specifically the Jerusalem that will embrace an antichrist figure (namely, the beast) over and above her true King.

We’re stuck between the rock and hard place. On one side we see the Egyptian plagues being for the sake of Israel’s deliverance. On the other side, we see the Egyptian plagues repeated in Israel’s history, and even prophesied as coming upon them at the end of the age. If we take this too far, we are liable to expecting that the Jew is simply cursed, and that there is no means of salvation upon them. If we don’t take it seriously enough, we will embrace the modern state of Israel in a manner that the Jew and Israel can do no wrong.

Let us be clear: God has bigger plans than simply plaguing the Egyptians within these passages. Let also be clearer: God has bigger plans than sending judgment upon disobedient Israel. There is never a mention of God desiring to destroy Egypt within the book of Exodus. Instead, there are statements of the Egyptians coming to know Him, Pharaoh coming to know Him, and judgment being sent upon the gods of Egypt. Similarly, the prophets never prophesied destruction of Israel. Instead, they prophesied of a remnant to survive, and that remnant coming to know the LORD their God.

With these boils, we need to be careful how we treat the text. If we simply clap our hands at how far God will go to deliver His people, we do much damage. If it is only analogy, only a spiritual assuaging of the kingdom of darkness, then what significance is there at all? We often place ourselves in the text far too quickly. Israel itself is in the midst of this, watching as the Egyptians are receiving these plagues. At the same time, there is indeed a spiritual phenomenon taking place, and it does indeed have application to us in our present day.

Boils themselves are mentioned as coming upon Job as well. This man was not being judged, and yet Satan buffeted him. Are the boils themselves something that only God sends? No. These boils are so crippling that the magicians can’t even show their faces before Moses. Job despised them and their torment so much that he literally scraped them off of his skin with broken glass and pottery.

What might it be that you and I can find within this? Is there hope? Do you feel sympathy for the Egyptians? Are they mere innocent victims? Why would God say that He is sending judgment upon their gods, and then so ruthlessly affect the people themselves?

It is precisely here that we have a question worth an answer. Why would God inflict the Egyptians if His desire is to inflict the gods of Egypt? When you examine the cultures around the world, the culture is influenced and manipulated by the demonic forces at play behind them. There is an unseen realm, what Paul calls the principalities and powers. To what degree are people given over to those demonic powers, and to what degree are they acting of their own volition? That itself is the question of the mystery of iniquity. Just as the incarnation of Jesus revealed to us the freedom of God to reveal Himself to humanity, and the freedom of humanity to receive that revelation, so it shall be revealed at the end of the age just how manipulated humanity is by those demonic powers, and how much humanity itself has been “depraved”.

These aren’t happy thoughts, but they’re necessary. I’m not sure I have sufficient answers to the questions raised. I only have my own intuition, which is questionable to say the least.

I Will Make A Ransom – Exodus 8:20-32

Within the fourth plague, it begins again with Moses meeting Pharaoh at the river. This is how the first plague commences. Here God begins something new. Now the children of Israel are being distinguished from the Egyptians. The Hebrew wording here is not “to make a distinction”, at least not in the strict English connotation of those words, but rather, “to make a ransom”. God tells Pharaoh that He shall “make a ransom” of Israel, and within that “ransom” is the distinction and deliverance of Israel from this plague. The obvious connotation from this is that if they’re delivered from the plague, they will also be delivered from Egypt.

It is here that we have a quite interesting dialogue. Pharaoh doesn’t seem to assert his authority over God this time. Outside of the fact that Pharaoh is the one who declares, “I will let them go”, you can’t seem to make out much of any notion that Pharaoh is denouncing God’s power, or yawning at such a thing. Whereas from the miracles performed before the first plague unto the previous plague, every time Pharaoh as been unimpressed and unburdened. Previously, the magicians claimed it was the finger of God to perform the third plague. Pharaoh wasn’t phased.

There is the reasoning back and forth, almost like a bartering. Pharaoh tells Moses to sacrifice in the land of Egypt, but Moses says that this will result in Israel being stoned. Many commentaries express that they don’t know why this would be the case. If we simply look at ancient Egyptian religion, we find that the lamb was a sacred animal. Moses knew that God required the lamb to be slaughtered, just like Abel knew before there was the giving of the Law. In the relationship of faith with God, there is something intuited and communicated to the inner man that allows one to know that it requires the sacrifice of the lamb, and not simply of a chicken, pig, or some other animal. Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the LAMB, and not the goat, bull, or deer.

This was a sacred animal to the Egyptians. Therefore, Moses knew they must leave to sacrifice it. I find it interesting, though, that later God will demand of Israel to sacrifice the Passover lamb in Egypt before they leave. Not only does He require this, but then also demands they put the blood on their doorposts for all of Egypt to see!

What begins as Pharaoh attempting to keep Israel within Egypt turns into him suggesting that they can leave, but not very far… Don’t venture three days out; just stay here in the region. This is not what God has said, and therefore there is no deal. The devil does this with us too. You can be a Christian; there is no problem with that. Just don’t start living in a righteous manner. Keep your drinking, your promiscuity, and other acts of the flesh, and you can call yourself whatever you want. When we refuse this, it turns into not going too far. Sure, live righteously. Tell people that sin is wrong, and don’t mince your words. Just don’t start to tell people that the mindsets that they have are wrong. Don’t start living by a different wisdom. Make sure that you keep your job and live by the conventional wisdom of the age. Go into debt, enslave yourself to your occupation and the bank, fill your life with so much that you have no time for prayer or Scripture reading, and then among all the piles of laundry and household chores, you can remind yourself that you’re doing fine because you’re going to church every Sunday and not doing the despicable things.

I just described to you the majority of conventional Christianity in the West.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because Pharaoh will harden his heart and not let you go. You have an advocate with the Father, who is not simply the one who cleanses you from sin and your sacrifice of atonement, but is your Moses who stretches forth His rod and declares, “Let my people go!” It is the rod of iron that Jesus holds. To His people, it is the rod of God, the very rod that brings comfort to the sheep. To Satan and his darkened kingdom, it is the rod of God, the very rod that shall smash in pieces all of his kingdom and all of the nations he has deceived.

This plague is significant because of the discourse that we find here. It’s significance is found in the reality of knowing that God is on our side, and as long as we won’t give up, neither will He. He will plague the darkened kingdom, even sending it into darkness, in order to bring you out into deliverance. To exodus Egypt in this kind of “spiritual” sense is to come out of sin, come out of the false mindsets and attitudes of the world, and to come face-to-face with the living God. It is in that wilderness that Israel heard the voice of God and received the marriage covenant. It is there that we hear our hearts being beckoned, and if you won’t harden your hearts today, as you did in the rebellion, you can enter into that rest.