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Acts 21, The Will of God, and a Literary Example

May 2, 2022 Comments off

I haven’t posted here at this blog lately, because instead I’ve been writing articles around a different theme, at a new blog site.  For those who are interested, visit my posts at https://ourblessedhope.wordpress.com.  Our Blessed Hope:  Thoughts on Imaginative Christian Writing (particularly J.R.R. Tolkien so far).

The following is a sample article — also at this link.

A recent Sunday sermon was on Acts 21, and in this incident, especially verses 11-14, I was reminded of a similar illustration from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers  — and Faramir’s last words with Frodo.

These verses in Acts 21 tell of when the prophet Agabus visits and makes a “bad news” prophecy, that trouble awaits the apostle Paul in Jerusalem:   the Jews of Jerusalem would bind Paul and hand him over to the Gentiles.  The people, on hearing this, plead with Paul not to go to Jerusalem.  But Paul insists on going to Jerusalem, proclaiming his willingness to be bound and even to die in Jerusalem, and then the people accept this, saying “The Lord’s will be done.”

As harsh as Paul’s experience ended up being, Tolkien’s picture of a similar type of thing appears to be of even worse circumstances —  with great details to engage the reader and to strongly identify with the characters.   This illustration in turn can give us a greater appreciation of the actual trials experienced by the apostle Paul.

In the Middle-Earth event, the place is that of known danger, of some great, ancient evil — Cirith Ungol.  Frodo at first does not know its name, and can only describe the general direction and path of this entrance into Mordor that Gollum has described.  Faramir plays a role similar to Agabus and the people who heard Agabus’ prophecy:  first, in the prophecy of extreme danger, and then — like the people who heard Agabus — strongly advising Frodo not to go there.  Yet, like the apostle Paul – and in a way that both Jesus and Paul in Christ’s steps showed us — Frodo keeps to the will of God (as pictured in the Council of Elrond, and the great task that he must accomplish).  After giving the warnings to Frodo, and seeing Frodo’s determined choice and willingness to his work, Faramir — like the people who accompanied the apostle Paul, in similar effect did the same:  Since he would not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done.”

It is this feature in Frodo’s character, as well as later events that happen to him, that is in mind when Frodo is commonly referred to as the representation of the Priestly Office of Christ — along with Gandalf the Prophet and Aragorn the King, for the types of Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King in Tolkien’s epic work.  A few excerpts for consideration, from the scene in The Two Towers:

‘Frodo, I think you do very unwisely in this,’ said Faramir. ‘I do not think you should go with this creature. It is wicked.’

‘You would not ask me to break faith with him?’ ‘No,’ said Faramir. ‘But my heart would. For it seems less evil to counsel another man to break troth than to do so oneself, especially if one sees a friend bound unwitting to his own harm. But no – if he will go with you, you must now endure him. But I do not think you are holden to go to Cirith Ungol, of which he has told you less than he knows. That much I perceived clearly in his mind. Do not go to Cirith Ungol!’ … …. Of them we know only old report and the rumour of bygone days. But there is some dark terror that dwells in the passes above Minas Morgul. If Cirith Ungol is named, old men and masters of lore will blanch and fall silent.’

Then a further plea:

It is a place of sleepless malice, full of lidless eyes. Do not go that way!’

Frodo’s response:  ‘But where else will you direct me?’ said Frodo. ‘You cannot yourself, you say, guide me to the mountains, nor over them. But over the mountains I am bound, by solemn undertaking to the Council, to find a way or perish in the seeking. And if I turn back, refusing the road in its bitter end, where then shall I go among Elves or Men?  … ‘Then what would you have me do?’

Faramir: ‘I know not. Only I would not have you go to death or to torment. And I do not think that Mithrandir [another name for Gandalf] would have chosen this way.’

‘Yet since he is gone, I must take such paths as I can find. And there is no time for long searching,’ said Frodo.

‘It is a hard doom and a hopeless errand,’ said Faramir. ‘But at the least, remember my warning: beware of this guide, Sméagol. He has done murder before now. I read it in him.’

Faramir’s final words on this subject:

He sighed. ‘Well, so we meet and part, Frodo son of Drogo. You have no need of soft words: I do not hope to see you again on any other day under this Sun. But you shall go now with my blessing upon you, and upon all your people. … If ever beyond hope you return to the lands of the living and we re-tell our tales, sitting by a wall in the sun, laughing at old grief, you shall tell me then [Faramir’s questions about Gollum, and how Gollum had been involved with possessing the great ring of power]. Until that time, or some other time beyond the vision of the Seeing-stones of Númenor, farewell!’

An important element in both the Bible story in Acts 21, and the similar type of event in Lord of the Rings, is that the main character, the protagonist, is heading into great danger.  For Paul it certainly meant bonds, being whipped and physically abused, and (for all he knew) death.  For Frodo it meant likely death, and indeed we see in the later events, that Frodo (again similar to Gandalf and Aragorn) did experience a type of death  that is like to the real sufferings of Paul as well as Christ.

Yet, when Agabus gave that prophecy to Paul, nothing in the prophecy itself indicated to the recipient (Paul) that he should thus change his course and direction, and avoid the place that would provide such a negative experience.  A common life saying I’ve heard from a local acquaintance goes something like, “if I knew the place where I would die, I would avoid that place like the plague.”  Such is our natural reaction, to avoid pain and suffering.  But the call of God on the life of a Christian, as shown in the 1st century experience of the apostle Paul, and shown for us in the best of tales and epic sagas, takes precedence.  As Elisabeth Elliot observed (see previous post), the great heroes went on their adventures, facing great difficulties, because of the promise of great reward.  Paul the apostle certainly had this heart, knowing the love of God which constrains us, with a willingness to suffer, since (Romans 8:18) our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the future glory.  Frodo, too, realized the importance of carrying out his mission — to destroy the evil works of Sauron the Dark Lord, to bring peace and safety and happy lives to the people of Middle Earth, to free them from their fears and the threats and bondage of Sauron.

Premillennialism …. and J.R.R. Tolkien and Lord of the Rings

March 19, 2022 Comments off

I’m rereading “Lord of the Rings” (see previous post on the Christian Worldview and Tolkien), this time in a one volume Kindle edition.  Now I recall also, from reading the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien a few years ago, that in one letter he mentioned his belief in premillennialism:

but certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth.  We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile’.  … As far as we can go back the nobler part of the human mind is filled with the thoughts of sibb, peace and goodwill, and with the thought of its loss.  … Of course, I suppose that, subject to the permission of God, the whole human race (as each individual) is free not to rise again but to go to perdition and carry out the Fall to its bitter bottom (as each individual can singulariter).  And at certain periods, the present is notably one, that seems not only a likely event but imminent.  Still I think there will be a ‘millennium’, the prophesied thousand-year rule of the Saints, i.e. those who have for all their imperfections never finally bowed heart and will to the world or the evil spirit.

In Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” we can see several things that serve as good illustrations of premillennialism.  One part of this, our expectancy in this age, is brought out early on, in chapter 2 of Fellowship of the Ring.  At this point Bilbo has left the Shire, Frodo has taken possession of Bag End, and Gandalf has gone away, only returning occasionally over the next 17 years.  During this time, unusual events are occurring in the world, rather like eschatological events.  Most of the Hobbits are caught up in their everyday lives and uninterested in anything outside their little world.  Yet Frodo is intently observing, and diligently seeks out whatever news he can get, from the dwarves and Elves that pass through the Shire.  Later on, Sam is likewise listening to outside news and wondering about it.

The equivalent in our world, is well expressed by J.C. Ryle in his commentary on Luke 21.  From Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse, verses 25-33.  From Ryle’s commentary:

The general duty which these words should teach us is very plain. We are to observe carefully the public events of the times in which we live. We are not to be absorbed in politics, but we are to mark political events. We are not to turn prophets ourselves, but we are to study diligently the signs of our times. So doing, the day of Christ will not come upon us entirely unawares.

Are there any signs in our own day? Are there any circumstances in the world around us which specially demand the believer’s attention? Beyond doubt there are very many. The drying up of the Turkish empire,—the revival of the Romish church,—the awakened desire of the Protestant churches to preach the Gospel to the heathen,—the general interest in the state of the Jews,—the universal shaking of governments and established institutions,—the rise and progress of the subtlest forms of infidelity,—all, all are signs peculiar to our day. All should make us remember our Lord’s words about the fig-tree. All should make us think of the text, “Behold, I come quickly.” (Revelation 22:7).

Book 6 in Tolkien’s epic (in Return of the King) notes the dawning of a new era, the ending of Middle Earth’s Third Age and the beginning of the “Fourth Age.” This Fourth Age marks the defeat and destruction of Sauron and his kingdom — the Dark Lord, representative of Satan and his evil kingdom.  The Fourth Age is marked by peace, safety, and good and wise government.  The king, Aragorn descendant of the great kings of earlier ages, has “returned.”  The time of the Stewards of Gondor — like God’s people, described as stewards in this time before Christ returns — has come to its proper end.  The kingdom has been established anew, with the line of the kings of Gondor, starting with Aragorn, reigning over a world at peace and the enemy defeated.

Tolkien has given this great picture, in this literary work, of how believers should be watching and ready for Christ’s Return, and then of what the Millennial Kingdom will be like.

I am planning to consider more of such ideas, how we see Christian truth in great literary works such as Tolkien’s, in future posts.

For those interested, here are some good online resources, that have provided similar type articles about Christianity related to Tolkien and other imaginative fiction:

 

Classic Historic Premillennialism: Nathaniel West, Daniel’s Great Prophecy (1898)

February 12, 2022 4 comments

Several years back I read Nathaniel West’s The Thousand Year Reign of Christ.  Recently I read another of West’s books, this time his commentary “Daniel’s Great Propecy,” sometimes titled “The Eastern Question” (available online here).

This commentary on Daniel has also been a good read, from another of the historic classic premillennialists.  S.P. Tregelles’ Daniel commentary is well known, and West’s has been considered by many as the next best, of a similar quality; I find that I actually prefer West’s writing.  Nathaniel West was about 50 years later (this book in 1898), and one of the later historic premillennialists of this era.  Only David Baron, who wrote his now classic Zechariah commentary in the 1920s, was later than this time.

In Daniel’s Great Prophecy, West continually links various scriptures together in sets, with numerous scripture references for various eschatological events, and throughout much of the book treats the theme of “Warfare Great” along with fascinating observations – from a historical perspective of the late 19th century — about the military power of Europe at that time.  Remember that this was just 16 years before the outbreak of World War I, a time when the “spirit of the age” was strongly postmillennial with great ideas about Utopia and man’s wonderful “progress.”  Yet in 1898 West observed, relating to the text of Daniel, the development of modern warfare technology “within the last 25 years.”

Another strong emphasis from West is the broad overview and significance of history, the epic nature of all history as unified and as God’s purpose and moving toward God’s stated end.  A few examples of this:

There can be no question that the book of Daniel, containing the first mention of the great idea of the succession of the ages and of the growth of empires and races, is the first outline of the philosophy of history.

Like a blazing head-light cast across the centuries and illuminating the whole track of time, shines the announcement that human history is the result neither of chance nor fatality, nor of man’s will alone; that the events of nations and the actions of men, although the product of their own free will, are yet pursuant to a pre-determined plan of God, Most High, who “removes and sets up kings, gives wisdom, to the wise and knowledge to them that understand; who reveals secrets, knows what is in the darkness, and in whom light dwells;” that history has an appointed goal to which it must attain, and that the rise, rule and revolution of empires, their apogee, decline and fall, have already been decreed, recorded, and must eventuate according to the will of God.

I’ve heard that during WWI, at least some Christians were excited about seeing the “last days” soon approaching.  The SGAT – Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony – still in existence today, was founded in 1918.  In hindsight, we realize that the time for Christ’s Return was still not yet.  Of course we, now over 100 years closer to the end, can see even more of the “end times staging” in the events of the last century.

As an aside, while reading Nathaniel West, a feature of his literary style suddenly reminded me of where I had seen that same type of writing before:  a scene from The Hobbit, where Bilbo starts talking to Smaug the Dragon and describes himself with many adjective phrases which refer to previous events of the book, of “attributes” of himself as “the thief.”  West, similarly, often writes very long sentences that contain numerous clauses and adjective descriptions extolling the greatness of our Redeemer God and His many deeds.  It’s interesting to note that Tolkien, writing The Hobbit, was only one generation after Nathaniel West, and so this similarity may reflect general writing styles of English authors during that time.

Above all, in West’s writing is seen a firm, solid commitment to God’s word and love of the truth, and great summary statements affirming this.  In closing, a few such quotes:

It is not that a man’s convictions are either the measure or the test of “Truth,” or his emotions a proof, that his creed is right. The Holy Spirit often dwells in sanctifying power where he does not dwell as an illuminating power in the deep things of God, and time embalms the errors it does not destroy, and creeds are propagated from father to son. But it is that the long, prayerful, and independent study of the truth — with a sincere desire to know it, and a heart honest enough to receive it — does bring with it a self-evidencing and self-interpreting light, by which the truth is sealed to the conscience in the sight of God, with a certitude transcending all conjectures, and superior to all the changes of human feeling — an “assurance of understanding” in the mystery of God.

And

The question is not what “views” do I hold, but what “views” hold me, and what their ground, and whence their origin?  “it matters not what I say, what you say, what he says, but what saith the Scripture.”

Suffering and Joy: Thoughts on Corrie Ten Boom and Elisabeth Elliot

January 19, 2022 Comments off

From my recent reading, a common theme is suffering, and hope, brought out in different ways.  I’ve re-read in audio format, Corrie Ten Boom’s “The Hiding Place,” which I last read nearly 30 years;  this time I noticed more in the story than when I first read it — in part due to my own knowledge and experience gained through the years since.  Some of the content is of course a difficult topic, the descriptions of concentration camp life and suffering of so many during those years.  It also ties in with what I’ve also recently read from and about Elisabeth Elliot, including a new book recently published (2019) from the content in a series of lectures she did in 1989.  “Suffering is Never For Nothing,” is now in book format, published in 2019.  The full video series, six lectures plus a Q&A, are available at Ligonier here at no charge.

Suffering, and suffering experienced by Christians, is one of those age-old topics, as old as the book of Job, and one that many find it helpful and indeed necessary to study, to help them understand their own personal experience.  Here I think of Charles Spurgeon, who took a great interest in studying the subject of suffering, in his early ministry years –because he was experiencing a lot of suffering.  Another helpful series, mentioned in a previous blog post a few years ago, is Dr. Mark Talbot’s Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals series, “When the Stars Disappear: Trusting God When We Suffer.”

One particular point, explicitly brought out in Elisabeth Elliot’s biography is a “hard truth,” the recognition that sometimes the prayer for physical safety is not answered — and we’re not just talking about elderly people close to death from natural causes.  John Elliot and the other four missionaries were brutally murdered.  Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie suffered greatly in the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany, and Betsie died there.    Elisabeth Elliot in her talks provided several other examples from people she knew, some more recently as well as the martyrdom of John and Betty Stam in the 1930s.  She had met Betty Stam at her dinner table, among the many missionary guests in her home as a young child.  As Elisabeth Elliot said in this series years later:

I tell you this because maybe it’ll help you to see that I’ve been forced, from the circumstances in my own life, to try to get down to the very bedrock of faith.  The things that are unshakable.  God is my refuge.  Was He Jim’s refuge?  Was He his fortress?  On the night before those five men were killed by the Waodani, went into the Waodani territory, they sang, ‘We rest on thee, our Shield and our Defender.’  What does your faith do with the irony of those words?

The chapters/lectures in Elliot’s series include the topics of Gratitude, Offering (the sacrifice of thanksgiving, giving oneself as a sacrifice; reference Romans 12:1), Obedience, and Transfiguration; in this last one, she really brings out another great truth, the theology of the cross, referencing scripture and our natural world (the seed must be put into the ground first) about the paradox that life comes out of death.  Joy comes out of suffering, and great joy comes from great suffering.  Here, Elliot specifically mentioned Corrie Ten Boom as another example.  Jeannette Clift George, the actress who had played the role of Corrie Ten Boom in the movie version of The Hiding Place, had been asked what characteristic of Ten Boom had most impressed her; the actress’s answer was, Corrie Ten Boom’s joy.

As others have noted, Elisabeth Elliot tended towards stoicism and suppression of emotions in her response to suffering – though maturing over the years.  Each person of course is different, in how long it takes them to learn the hard truths and lessons about life.  Joni Eareckson Tada, in her introduction to Elliot’s book, observed that even after 9 years of being a quadriplegic (when she met Elisabeth Elliot, both of them speaking at a conference) she still had a more mechanical and technical understanding about suffering.  It took Joni a few more years of quadriplegia and chronic pain “to help me see there was more–much more–to suffering than learning its theological background and benefits.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 — “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” — is another scripture I recalled while reading both of these books.  One event that Corrie Ten Boom described, during their time in the concentration camp, was the presence of fleas in their barracks.  Her sister Betsie referenced 1 Thess. 5:18 and insisted that they directly thank God for everything they were dealing with — including the fleas. Corrie protested that particular part; she could not find it in herself to thank God  for the fleas.  (Some time later, she learned that the reason their guards left them alone, and so they could have Bible studies in their barracks, was because of the fleas.)  But the text says to give thanks in all circumstances — not necessarily for the specific bad things.  Elisabeth Elliot points out that she did not thank God for the cancer (her second husband) or for the murder (first husband), and she didn’t need to thank God for those.  “But I do need to thank God that in the midst of that very situation the world was still in His hands.  The One who keeps all those galaxies wheeling in space is the very hand that holds me.  The hands that were wounded on the cross are the same hands that hold the seven stars.”

Corrie Ten Boom’s experience included observing God’s wonders in Providence, and seeing God’s hand in every event that occurred in their daily prison ordeal, along with a few supernatural, miraculous events.  On the day that Holland was conquered by the Nazis (May 1940), Corrie experienced a vision — like a dream, but while she was awake during the middle of the day; and the vision occurred a second time a few weeks or months later —  a scene of her and several family members, specific people in her family, all gathered up into a wagon and being taken away to a place she knew they did not want to go.  When the event occurred a few years later, she also recalled that vision, now comprehending its meaning.

Amazing providences also occurred, God’s answers to her prayers, in how she was able to hold on to the two most important items she had — her Bible and a bottle of vitamins/iron (necessary for her sister’s health) — and keep them with her at the Ravensbruck camp.  Such was a seeming impossibility, humanly speaking, in the circumstances.  Yet God arranged for a few distractions, and it happened more than once, that the woman ahead of her was thoroughly searched, and the woman behind her, but she was told to hurry up and move along.  That Bible became their lifeline, their solace and comfort: for herself, Betsie, and several other women as they were even able to hold Bible studies (yes, with the fleas as well).  Then came the supernatural provision in the small bottle of vitamins, that continued to pour out a drop at a time, day after day, for her sister Betsie and many other women — well past the time when she knew it should have been empty.  Betsie reminded her of the woman with the flour and the oil that never ran out (where Elijah stayed).  As Corrie noted, it was one thing to believe God did such things thousands of years ago — another to see it now.  Then a new supply of vitamins came in, smuggled in from a friend in another barracks.  That very day, her original bottle dried up, nothing more in it.

Through the stories of these Christians who have gone before, it is amazing to see how God really does work in each situation and provides what is needed, His daily grace, even in extreme situations, and even when those events do not end up well, humanly speaking:  Corrie’s sister dying in the camp, Elisabeth Elliot’s husband and four other men savagely killed.  But the Lord always keeps us safe in the Beloved — our spirits, our souls, are safe in His hands, regardless of what happens.  We are always with Him, and He is always with us:  as described in the hymn “Sovereign Ruler of the Skies” — “Thee at all times will I bless, having thee I all possess.”  and “I and mine are all thy own.”  As Elisabeth Elliot related, we don’t always understand why, but we learn to trust God and His great love for us, and enjoy His presence.  In closing, a few more words from “Suffering is Never for Nothing”:

God’s presence did not change the fact of my widowhood.  Jim’s absence thrust me, forced me, hurried me to God, my hope and only refuge. … And this is the part that brings me immeasurable comfort: The universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality and enter upon the liberty and splendor of the children of God.  … God, through my own troubles and sufferings, has not given me explanations.  But He has met me as a person, as an individual, and that’s what we need.  Who of us in the worst pit that we’ve ever been in needs anything as much as we need company?   … If your prayers don’t get answered the way you thought they were supposed to be, what happens to your faith?  The world says God doesn’t love you.  The Scriptures tell me something very different.

On Bible (Manuscript) Contradictions: Number Differences, and Major Differences (Judges 19:2)

December 27, 2021 5 comments

In apologetics study, one focus is on addressing the skeptics’ claims of supposed “Bible contradictions,” and here I appreciate such blogs as the “Domain for Truth” series answering the skeptics to show that such supposed conflicts are not actually conflicts when we correctly understand the meanings of words, such as in genealogies and direct descendants versus multiple-generation ones:  the Bible languages did not have differing words for “son” versus “grandson” or “great-grandson” as we have in English, for instance.

But another area of contradictions, that I have recently looked at, is that of textual variant contradictions:  where one set of manuscripts has one word, and other manuscripts have a different word, and a real contradiction exists, in that the two differing meanings cannot both be true, and are mutually exclusive.  This comes up especially when reading the King James text as compared to modern English translations, and interacting with KJVO people.  Most of these differences are relatively minor; yet some feel that even a number count difference is worth some study time and then writing about — insisting that the number in one manuscript is correct, over the other number; as for example in Luke 10:1 and 17, did Jesus send out 72, or 70, to preach?  An online article that addresses this 72/70 question then concludes that “The King James Bible is always right. Accept no substitutes.”

It’s well and good to put forth reasons and good logical arguments in support of one particular view over another (72 instead of 70).  But then consider the following other textual problem in the KJV/NKJV and MEV (all based on same manuscript sets):  in these translations, 2 Chronicles 22:2 states that Ahaziah was 42 years old when he became king.  However, the same KJV/NKJV/MEV in the parallel passage, 2 Kings 8:26, state his age as 22 years old; in fairness to the MEV and NKJV, both of these translations add the footnote of  the parallel text 2 Kings 8:26, “twenty-two.”  These same three texts agree in 2 Chronicles 21:5, 20, that Ahaziah’s father Jehoram was 32 when he became king, and reigned 8 years — meaning that he was about 40 when he died, and his short life is noted as the result of God’s judgement upon him for his great wickedness.

The obvious way to understand this is that Ahaziah was 22 years old, not 42 (which would put him at 2 years older than his own father!), but the KJV/NKJV/MEV retained their faithfulness to a specific set of manuscripts – even retaining this obvious number error found in a particular set of manuscripts of 2 Chronicles 22.  But to insist, after examination of a different text such as Luke 10, that ‘the King James Bible is always right,’ goes beyond what ought to be claimed; clearly the King James translation, by its limiting to only certain manuscripts, does include errors such as in 2 Chronicles 22:2.

But aside from the small differences such as numbers, there are at least a few Bible texts where even one word in differing manuscript sets makes a great difference in the understanding of that text.  One example I recently encountered was Judges 19:2, and the word which describes the woman — in some manuscripts, as “played the harlot,” others “was unfaithful”, while others have “became angry.”  According to one version of the story, the wording in KJV and similar translations, this woman had been a-whoring with one or more men in sexual immorality.  Further, according to some Bible teachers (including, for instance, the MacArthur Study Bible notes) — and going beyond even what that version of the text says — the Levite should never have married her in the first place because she was already a harlot before he married her.  This view then sees a type of divine retribution, lex talionis, in that the woman at the end experienced what she had previously done in her own sin.  From the Matthew Henry commentary, as one such example:

(Referring to the woman returning to her father’s house): Perhaps she would not have violated her duty to her husband if she had not known too well where she should be kindly received. Children’s ruin is often owing very much to parents’ indulgence.  …

Many bring mischief of this kind upon themselves by their loose carriage and behaviour; a little spark may kindle a great fire. …  In the miserable end of this woman, we may see the righteous hand of God punishing her for her former uncleanness, when she played the whore against her husband, v. 2. Though her father had countenanced her, her husband had forgiven her, and the fault was forgotten now that the quarrel was made up, yet God remembered it against her when he suffered these wicked men thus wretchedly to abuse her; how unrighteous soever they were in their treatment of her, in permitting it the Lord was righteous. Her punishment answered her sin, Culpa libido fuit, poena libido fuit—Lust was her sin, and lust was her punishment. By the law of Moses she was to have been put to death for her adultery. She escaped that punishment from men, yet vengeance pursued her; for, if there was no king in Israel, yet there was a God in Israel, a God that judgeth in the earth.

The other meaning of the word in Judges 19:2, became angry, of course gives us a very different view of this same text.  The narrative itself, outside of that phrase in verse 2, says nothing that would suggest that the woman was a harlot — no mention of any other man or men; the husband actually comes to her trying to win her back, only to later — when his own life was in peril — send her out to the mob, and then the next morning addressed her casually, a ‘let’s go’ attitude.  Certainly in any other setting — without the meaning given in some manuscripts in verse 2 — the narrative suggests instead a man of poor character, with a bad-temper, similar to what is observed in our day the social situation of an abusive man who regrets his bad temper after the fact and comes to the injured party (such as the abused wife) promising that it won’t happen again; and then after some time, the bad temper does return — when things aren’t going well, the old nature resurfaces.

Other articles have addressed this specific passage in more detail, regarding the two possible meanings of 19:2, such as this post written for general audience.  In my online searching I also came across a 17 page (PDF-format) academic paper,  “Was the Levite’s Concubine Unfaithful or Angry? A Proposed Solution to the Text Critical Problem in Judges 19:2,” which looks at the details of the different manuscript sets, and sets forth a case that the original and earliest wording was “and she was furious with him,” which at later points in time was changed to the rendering in the MT (and KJV group) of ‘played the harlot.’  The Abstract:

Judges 19:2 poses a text critical problem that has vexed scholars for over a century. According to the MT, the Levite’s concubine left her husband and returned to her father’s house in Bethlehem because she had “played the harlot against him.” According to LXXA , the woman left her husband because she was “angry with him.” However, no other Greek, Latin or Aramaic variant of the verse supports MT or LXXA. This article proposes a new hypothesis for understanding the relationship among the various textual variants of Judg 19:2. It will be argued that the earliest Vorlage used the verb עבר in the hitpa‘el form which has the meaning “to be furious”. This Vorlage is reflected in LXXA . Later scribes then read the verb עבר in the qal form that has multiple meanings that depend on context. LXXB translated the verb in Greek with the meaning of “to move on”. In contrast, Pseudo-Philo interpreted the verb with the meaning of “to transgress”. The MT, which emended “to transgress” to “to play the harlot”, represents the final stage in the redaction process.

Manuscript contradictions is an interesting topic, with differences that sometimes can have major interpretive differences.  As the scholarly paper linked above notes in the introduction: Was the woman unfaithful to her husband or did she become angry with him? Clearly, a story that revolves around a common place conjugal disagreement is a very different narrative than a story that describes the consequences of a woman’s adultery and abandonment of her husband. …. The relationship among the various textual variants of this verse has interested scholars for over a century.

All such contradictions, of course, must be taken on a case by case basis by looking at the various English translations as well as any other texts that reference the same person or event (if such are available), as well as considering the different manuscripts and the actual sense and context of a narrative passage.

Thoughts on Missionary Work, and Christ’s Return

December 16, 2021 Comments off

The two things — the only things — to which I can look forward now are the coming of Christ and my going to the Waodani.  O, if Christ would only come–but how can He until the Waodani are told of Him. — Elisabeth Elliot, from her journal

Through the years I’ve picked up on some of the history of the “modern missionary movement” that started in earnest in the 19th century — such as the 19th century activities referenced in Spurgeon’s sermons (he occasionally spoke at special Society meetings for the purpose of missions work), along with things I learned in a visit to Hawaii in the early 2000s, and occasional reading about some of the great missionaries (such as Hudson Taylor and Adoniram Judson) and a few martyrs in historical accounts.

Another part of the missionary movement, though, is from the mid-20th century.  This last summer, taking advantage of an audio-book library, I read the audio versions of Elisabeth Elliot’s first book, “Through Gates of Splendor,” followed by Steve Saint’s “End of the Spear,” and learned the details of this event, the five martyred missionaries in Ecuador back in the 1950s; and it is an interesting story, along with Steve Saint’s follow-up several decades later.  Now I am reading a third book on this topic (a hard-cover book loaned from a friend at church), Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, part 1 of a biography of Elisabeth Elliot.  This book, by Ellen Vaughn and published in 2020, tells of Betty (Howard) Elliot, from early life, through her years at Wheaton College, then through the missionary years up through 1963 — and fills in a lot of the details of the events that Steve Saint had made mention of, how the American missionary women established contact with the Waodani tribe in the years shortly after the men were killed, and the spreading of the gospel to that remote jungle tribe — along with mention of the missionary work among other native tribes in South America. 

Nearing the end, I am enjoying this book even more — so many interesting things in it, and not least because of the applicability to my own situation– what I can so well relate to in my own experience,  seeing several personality characteristics in the difficult person she worked with (Rachel Saint) and similarity to someone in my own life.  Somehow it is encouraging to read about another believer who had similar experiences of being misunderstood and accused of unbelief and heresy, and finding that there have been others before who have such strong and difficult-to-deal-with personalities.

From the middle chapters in the book, the time soon after the murder of the five missionaries, comes an interesting statement from Elisabeth Elliot’s journal at the time — as she was still dealing with the trauma and the turmoil of thoughts, and seeking the Lord’s will after what had happened (from page 165): 

I long now to go to the Waodani.  The two things — the only things — to which I can look forward now are the coming of Christ and my going to the Waodani.  O, if Christ would only come–but how can He until the Waodani are told of Him. … Or if only I could die–what a blessed release.  But I do not ask to be released.  I ask to be made Christ-like, in the inmost part of my being.

Her theology was better than that, in recognizing God’s Sovereign purposes and that He has determined the time of His Return, and God cannot be manipulated by our actions.  (Though Betty still had much to learn through suffering, and God’s providence in the years ahead.)  Yet it fits in the overall picture of world events, and an interesting point,  as another of the end times indications.  Christ’s Return is now that much sooner than it was back in the 1950s, and along the way the native tribes of Ecuador, including the Waodani tribe, did indeed hear the gospel; and quite a few have come to saving faith.  Christ did say that this gospel would be proclaimed throughout the whole world, before His return, Matthew 24:14.

The preterists’ idea that this had somehow been accomplished in the 1st century — referencing the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 1:8, that “your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (and yes the gospel had been spreading throughout the general Roman world, so that people generally in those parts had at least heard something about the gospel) — really falls short of the full explanation, as such a narrowing and limiting of our infinite God, who has intended something far greater and far more extensive than what was done in the 1st century alone.  

On the other hand, a dispensational idea I came across several years ago — that Matthew 24:14 does not have any reference to the missionary work of spreading the gospel around the world throughout the ages, but instead is referring to a specific event that occurs in Revelation 14:6-7 — also misses the full truth.  Revelation 14:6-7 certainly will play its part too, during the Great Tribulation; yet Christ’s statement about the gospel being proclaimed throughout the whole world surely must, and does, include all of Christian history, including the worldwide missionary work of the last 200+ years.  Further, the professing, historic Church throughout the centuries has understood Matthew 24:14 as related to the Great Commission. 

The great story of how that has been accomplished, the spread of Christendom throughout the world, in the differing ways throughout the millennia, is itself quite interesting, a lengthy tale with many different particular stories, of all the many ways that God has used individuals at different places and times to save His elect people.  The gospel message indeed has been heard by all types of people — the great, the small, the rich, the poor — from “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.”  In medieval times it was accomplished by the conversion, at least outwardly expressed, of key leaders of the Gentile nations, after which it was understood and assumed that all of that nation would now be considered part of Christendom — Constantine with the Roman Empire, and later the conversion and civilizing of the Vikings, for instance.  The immediate effects of such efforts were to bring basic “Western civilization” to the heathen nations, to bring in the form and outward expression of serving the one true God.  Individual conversions of some of the people in those lands then followed.  The early centuries also saw the gospel reach to some groups in far east Asia, as far as India — though always as a minority there, never becoming the mainstream dominant religion there.  

The missionary work post-Reformation included the early work of John Eliot (no direct relation to the Jim Elliot of the 20th century) in 17th century Puritan New England, among the native tribes there — including his use of an “informant” who taught him their language, followed by his development of a written form of Algonquian and the first Bible printed on American soil, this one in the Algonquian language (as the first book printed, on the first printing press in the colonies).  John Eliot’s techniques were of course used later in the much larger-scale missionary work begun in the 19th century, with William Carey and later efforts, through the 20th century and the work of groups such as Wycliffe Bible Translators. 

That too is an interesting part mentioned in this biography of Elisabeth Elliot:  the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators was one of the missionaries who came to Central America in the early 20th century, with ambitious plans to print and distribute Spanish language Bibles – only to discover the great numbers of tribes there (and throughout Central and South America) that spoke many different languages, all unique, and that did not know any Spanish.  William Cameron Townsend, who founded Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1942, was among the characters in the events surrounding Betty Elliot (and the other missionaries in Ecuador) during her years there in the 1950s through early 1960s. 

This early years biography of Elisabeth Elliot touches on so many interesting aspects of the 20th century missionary work in Ecuador, in addition to the other items mentioned above.  It has been a great read, as a time for me to reflect on missions work as it relates to the season of these last days, and to appreciate and think again upon the spread of the gospel around the world, one of the great promises in God’s word that we have seen come about, in the story of Church History and to this day.  Yes, as Christ promised us, the gospel has been and is being preached throughout the world — “as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”  

Judges: Apostasy and Political Anarchy, and a Type for the Second Coming

December 9, 2021 Comments off

In my study through the book of Judges, now to consider the last 5 chapters, which serve as an appendix to the main book:  two stories of events that occurred at the very beginning — just before the events starting in Judges 3.  Joshua and the leaders associated with him had passed from the scene.  Before this study, these last 5 chapters were ones I read 1-2 times per year in my regular Bible reading, but did not think about too much, as to why these stories are here, their placement in the book, and the purpose they serve along with lessons to learn from them.

Alan Cairns’ final lecture on Judges is a summary overview of these last chapters.  Of particular significance:  the connection between spiritual apostasy and political anarchy.  Both of these are present in these last chapters:  there was no king, no one in charge, and so everyone did what was right in their own eyes.  As Cairns observed, wherever we find spiritual apostasy we also see political anarchy:  and wherever we find political anarchy, the spiritual apostasy is also there.  Though recorded in reverse sequence (the beginning, at the end of the book), it was the situation in these last chapters, encompassed in these two events, that caused the Lord to bring judgment and mercy to the people, to begin that cycle of apostasy – judgement – repentance by the people – a judge sent as deliverer.  

For further reflection, and to see a type here for our time and Christ’s Return:  we see increasing apostasy and increasing political stability, that which leads to anarchy.  Yet we have God’s word and His promises sure, regarding the end to come.  In the prophetic events yet to come, we will see the great punishment coming — the Great Tribulation.   But just as God had mercy upon the apostate Israelites, and did not leave them in that situation:  God will yet show His mercy after the judgment — the chastening — has done its work in His people, the elect.  In the time of the judges, God brought trial and tribulation, and then sent them judges — who were types of our savior God, the Lord Jesus Christ.  So, in this great OT type, along with the prophetic word regarding the future, we have the great hope of His return, in seeing our salvation drawing near  (Luke 21:28 ).  As the apostle Paul said, Romans 11:32, “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.”

Jephthah: His Character and His Vow

November 1, 2021 3 comments

In my continuing study of the book of Judges, with the help of a very well-written commentary, I now have a much greater understanding of and appreciation for Jephthah — one of the Judges that has often been misunderstood and who has received a bad rap in modern times.   A common idea in teaching today is of Jephthah as a rough and crude warrior, or a “religious hypocrite” (without any scriptural exposition to backup that assertion) who fully imbibed the pagan culture of his day and actually killed his daughter in a burnt sacrifice — an idea taught, for example, in the MacArthur Study Bible and by those associated with TMS. 

Yet a closer look at the details reveals a very different picture of Jephthah: a man who experienced great difficulties in early life — the shame of his parentage, and rejection by his family (Judges 11:1-2).  He then was far away from the formal worship of Israel, with “worthless men,” the rejects of society — yet, as commentator George Bush rightly observes, The mode of life here indicated, is precisely that which was followed by David, when his reputation brought around him men of similar character to these followers of Jephthah. Jephthah was thus lacking in full, proper instruction in God’s word, and his ideas of the true God were tainted by the pagan customs around him.  Yet in Jephthah we see a man given grace –God’s grace to overcome the shame and rejection of his early life. We also see a godly, pious man who took God seriously, and who uttered words before God with the utmost sincerity.  As described in verses 9 through 11, he is somewhat cautious with those who had rejected him — not unlike Joseph who first tested his brothers in Egypt — and then was willing to go with them — indicating forgiveness, not continuing in bitterness and anger toward them. Then, Jephthah spoke all his words (the agreement between the elders of Gilead and Jephthah as their leader) before the Lord in Mizpah.  Jephthah also shows great concern and knowledge of his nation’s history, and great diplomacy in how he deals with the Ammonites — first seeking peace, to talk with the enemy before going to fight and kill.

In Judges 11, yes we have his rash vow, one that he really should not have made, but we also see the example of his daughter.  Whatever the details of Jephthah and his daughter’s lives (the mother is nowhere mentioned, so we do not know what happened to her), we see the daughter walking in godly, humble submission to her human father and to God’s will for her life, through her father’s vow. Jephthah’s daughter does not come across as the offspring of a “religious hypocrite,” but a child brought up well and not rebellious — instead, her having whatever understanding of God that her father had, so that she showed such honor to him. Indeed, as George Bush here remarked: if she believed when she uttered these words, that she was to be put to death, neither Greece nor Rome, with all their heroes and heroines, can furnish an instance of sublimer self-sacrifice than this of the humble maid of Israel. Had it occurred among these boasting people, instead of the plain unvarnished tale of the sacred historian, we should have had it pressed on our admiration with all the pomp of eloquence. Indeed it cannot be doubted, had but Jephthah and his daughter been heathens, that the very persons, who now find in the transaction nothing but a pretence for vilifying the Scriptures, would then have extolled the whole as exhibiting the finest example of the most noble constancy, the most disinterested virtue.

Bush’s commentary, Notes, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Judges, is especially helpful in its lengthy treatment of Jephthah’s vow in its two parts: first, the actual words and the making of the vow, and secondly, the later fulfilling of the vow.  Alan Cairns’ sermon on this part of Jephthah’s life (“A Portrait of Jephtha”)  agrees with the same conclusions as presented by Bush, though without the lengthy explanation and details more appropriate for a commentary than the format of a sermon.  

As noted in the commentary, scholars have taken four different interpretations of the words of Jephthah’s vow in verses 30-31, different grammatical variations to try to explain away what Jephthah actually vowed — such things as translating the last clause as “or” offering it up as a burnt offering.  Bush examines the actual Hebrew wording and these variations, concluding (as do nearly all English translations), that the wording really does support the idea that Jephthah intended to offer a human sacrifice, a  burnt offering, and that he expected that it would be a rational, intelligent creature coming to meet him (an act of volition) — and not a mere animal.  Quite possibly, Jephthah had in mind that the sacrificial victim would be one of his household servants. 

That this rendering supposes Jephthah to have had a human sacrifice in his thoughts when he made the vow, is undeniably true, and without doing violence to the letter we know not how to avoid this conclusion.  The evident bitterness of emotion which he betrayed, on meeting his daughter, clearly shows that he then looked upon himself as bound by the tenor of his vow to make her life a sacrifice. … the anguish which he now expressed appears too intense and excruciating to be caused by any thing but the conviction that she must die—die a martyred victim to his precipitate vow.

After the lengthy section addressing these two verses, Jephthah’s making of the vow, and then in sequence addressing (rather briefly) the intervening verses, Bush’s commentary then provides great observations and what he feels is the best explanation of what actually unfolded in the fulfilling of the vow — acknowledging that every interpretation has some difficulties, but that this view has the fewest difficulties and makes the most sense of the text.  Jephthah at first really did expect to offer up his daughter as a burnt sacrifice, as exhibited in his great anguish upon first seeing her.  Then, over the next two months, he became better instructed regarding the Mosaic law and acceptable sacrifices.  After all, who would have given the actual burnt offering?   The priests at the tabernacle would not do so — they who did know the Levitical law.  Jephthah himself could not have, for that would also have been against the Levitical law, that offerings were actually made by the priest.  Another interesting point is the circumstance and the geography:  the tabernacle was at Shiloh, in the tribe of Ephraim — and we also find Jephthah, right after the triumph over the Ammonites, in a battle with the men of Ephraim.  

This makes it in the highest degree improbable that he should, in the very heat of the quarrel, have gone into the heart of that tribe to offer such a sacrifice, even had it been lawful. If then, there is the utmost reason to believe that such an offering was not made by the high priest or any inferior priest—that it was not made by Jephthah himself—and that it was not made at Shiloh, the appointed place of sacrifice, what reason is there to suppose it was made at all?

The remaining verses indicate mention of the daughter remaining a virgin, and that he did to her according to his vow.  The evidence strongly indicates that he fulfilled the vow, not in the way he originally intended, but in a way that fulfilled the spirit of the law — that his daughter was made “dead to him” in that she was given to lifelong service at the tabernacle, and he would have no descendants, his line would be cut off.

As to the idea of tabernacle service, and that in fulfilling this service she could never marry, two additional considerations.  First, regarding a custom of children dedicated to the Lord’s service:

On what custom was it founded? Is there an intimation of any thing similar in any other part of the Scriptures, or in any thing relative to oriental manners and usages? We know of nothing, and must sit down resigned in our ignorance. Yet we think the inference fair, that children, both sons and daughters, were occasionally dedicated by Jewish parents to the perpetual service of God at the tabernacle or temple, as we know was the case with Samuel, though he, in after life, seems to have obtained a dispensation from the vow of his mother. Where this was the case with youthful females, it is probable the custom obtained of their retiring for a season in groups from domestic scenes to sequestered places, in token of regret at being thereby excluded the privilege of a place among the ancestors of the future generations of Israel, and perhaps of the Messiah.

Regarding the objection, that Samuel and Samson were both dedicated to the Lord, and yet were able to marry — we observe here the difference regarding young men and women.  The woman in marriage is under the control of her husband, who could have overruled and interfered with her duties to God; she would not have been free to fully serve God, with the same liberty and  in the same way that the husband has.

Some of the concluding remarks from the commentator, George Bush (emphasis added):

From all the circumstances, the probability, we think, is very strong that Jephthah availed himself of the provisions of the law, in respect to devoted persons and things; in other words, that during the two months’ interval, he had become better instructed in regard to the subject of vows in general under the Mosaic statutes, and ascertained that a dispensation, in his case, was practicable. We have already remarked that vows were encouraged under the law, and that besides the ’herem or anathema, persons or things might be devoted to God. But where this was the case, the law permitted that a valuation should be made of the devoted person or thing, and that the money should be regarded as a ransom for it, or an offering be presented in its stead. If a human being were devoted, the estimation was to vary according to the sex or age of the person, Lev. 27:2–13, but for an adult female, it was thirty shekels of silver. 

Now supposing that Jephthah, at the time of making the vow, had no distinct recollection or knowledge of this law … yet is it conceivable, that when the execution of it was postponed for two months, and the affair had become notorious throughout the nation, and was the subject of general discussion and great lamentation, there was no person in all Israel who once thought of this law? Would not the agonized father, besides devoting to it his own intensest study, consult the priests on the subject? And would not the priests acquaint him with the provisions of the law in reference to a case of casuistry like the present? And what would naturally be the result? Could he fail to come to the conclusion, that such a sacrifice as he first intended was not only unlawful, but in the face of the numerous pointed prohibitions against it would amount to nothing short of downright murder? … Under these circumstances, would he, could he persevere in his original intention? 

Is it not more probable, that after deep deliberation in concert with the authorized expounders of the law, he yielded to the conviction, that although his solemn pledge did not originally contemplate any such alternative, yet it might be embraced in the provisions now alluded to—that it might come under the class of redeemable vows?… It was not an act of willful disregard of the divine statutes relative to this point, but one rather of misapprehension and infirmity, though from its rash and reckless character by no means innocent. He was still, we may suppose, ready to humble himself before God in view of his precipitancy, and while he paid the ransom price that delivered his daughter from death, piously resolved, by way of punishing himself for his rashness, to fulfill his vow in her civil excision from among the living. He accordingly, we conceive, consigned her henceforth to a state of perpetual seclusion and celibacy—of living consecration to God—and in this manner ‘did unto her his vow,’ though in a mode of execution, which did not, in the first instance, enter into his thoughts.

Another interesting point, as to why the text ends as it does, stating that Jephthah did to her according to his vow — without mentioning the details:  Jephthah was a leader, a judge, and the story of his vow became well known by all the people.  Yet the Levitical system regarding vows is such a serious matter, never to be taken lightly or disregarded.  To include the full details of what actually occurred, that Jephthah “only” consigned his daughter to lifetime service to God and she was not killed, could possibly signal to the common people the general idea to lightly esteem vows, that vows could be altered and changed willy-nilly.  We certainly know that throughout Israel’s history such did become a problem, of people taking vows in wrong ways and breaking their vows –texts such as Matthew 5:33-37) and Jeremiah 34:8-11 come to mind.  

In the commentator’s words:

we may suggest in reply, that the Spirit of inspiration may have framed the record as it now stands, marked by a somewhat ambiguous aspect, in order to guard against a light estimate of the obligation of vows. We do not affirm this to have been the design, but it is certainly conceivable that if it had been expressly stated that the vow in its literal sense had not been performed, it might have gone to relax somewhat of the apprehended sacredness of all such votive engagements, and led men to think that God himself might easily dispense with them. Whereas, as it is now worded, and would be perhaps most naturally understood, it would inspire far other sentiments, and lead men at once to be very cautious in making, and very punctilious in performing their vows.

This commentary on Judges, by 19th century writer George Bush, and in the list of Charles Spurgeons’s recommended commentaries, is well worth the Logos purchase and the time for reading it.  Nowhere before in all my reading, including of sermons and online articles, have I read such a thorough examination of all the data, and thorough responses to all the possible questions and objections that have been raised concerning Jephthah’s vow and its fulfillment.

Judges 9: Abimelech as a type of the antiChrist

October 27, 2021 3 comments

Continuing in the book of Judges, both Alan Cairns and George Bush (commentary, “Notes, Critical and Practical, on the book of Judges”) have some interesting observations regarding the rather sordid events of Judges 9, the story of Abimelech and the people of Shechem.  

As George Bush noted, Jotham gives the first parable in the Bible — in this case, a fable.

this veiled form of instruction has always been in high repute, whether in conveying wholesome truths to the ear of power, or inculcating lessons of wisdom and justice and duty upon the obtuse and unreasoning multitude. … ‘The people of the East are exceedingly addicted to apologues, and use them to convey instruction or reproof, which with them could scarcely be done so well in any other way.  A short fable, together with its ‘moral,’ is more easily remembered than a labored argument or the same truth expressed in abstract terms, and hence it is that we find this vehicle of instruction so frequently employed in the Scriptures.

Alan Cairns, in his message on Judges 9 (February 1990), connects the account of Abimelech to prophecy and eschatology, and describes how Abimelech is one of several OT “vivid foreshadowings” of the antiChrist to come.  Abimelech comes in the line of OT types, starting with Cain who slew Abel; also, Nimrod of Babel; Pharaoh, and (after Abimelech) Goliath of Gath who defied the armies of Israel.  

Abimelech is, an outstanding picture or parallel of antiChrist, a message for the last days.  The scene is Israel in the midst of Baal worship, a time of great apostasy — Babylonianism, antiChristianity — so often seen in the book of Judges.  This apostasy and Baal worship is also seen throughout history, and is at the heart of Bible prophecy.  Cairns goes on to describe such apostasy, relating the events of Judges 9 to similarities with Revelation 17 and 18.  Just as this apostasy occurred in Shechem, known for the sordid events of Genesis 34, “where the virgin daughter of Israel lost her purity,” so the future great apostasy centers on a great city, a city of ancient immorality and with political power.  Cairns remarked on the modern-day Christian concern about communism:  but communism is not here to stay, it is not the final enemy of the people of God, and communism is not mentioned in the Bible. 

Cairns relates the items in Jotham’s fable to those who will not take part in the End Times apostasy:

  • The olive tree — its oil, which in God’s word represents the Holy Spirit; those who have this oil will have nothing to do with apostasy.
  • The fig tree — we should be fruitful, and we should be sweet; strong, and firm, but not bitter and contentious.  God’s people will not embrace the system of antiChrist, the rule of an Abimelech.
  • The vine — in Psalm 80, the vine is a picture of the redemption of Israel.   The redeemed want no part of apostasy.  Those who please God will not give up their new wine, which cheers God and men (Judges 9:13).

An additional parallels between Judges 9 and Revelation 17-19: in Revelation 17, the very nations and kings that raised her up, turn against her. In Judges 9, the great criminals of the apostasy were judged:  the men of Shechem, and then Abimelech.  Likewise, in Revelation 19 Babylon the system falls, Rome falls, the beast falls, the false prophets fall — all the great actors come under God’s judgement.

God’s sovereignty comes through:  God sent the evil spirit in Judges 9.  Our God is on the throne.  After Abimelech and that age of apostasy, we are shown the events of Judges 10.  God’s grace continues; God sent good judges after that evil time.  Jotham was vindicated, and the prophecy of Jotham was fulfilled.  So too, great things will occur during the future Great Tribulation — the two witnesses, and those who stand for God.  The Spirit of God is not and will not be removed from the world.  He’s the omnipresent God.  The Holy Spirit will be so active; God is moving to save a great number, an innumerable multitude, during the Great Tribulation.  Our God has not abdicated; His kingdom rules.  There  is a sense in which Christ will yet be crowned, and the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ.  Yet He is reigning now also, at the right hand of God.

The commentary from George Bush also includes some great statements of wisdom, the greatness of God throughout the story of Abimelech:

There now lies the greatness of Abimelech; on one stone he had slain his seventy brethren and now a stone slays him; his head had stolen the crown of Israel, and now his head is smitten. O the just succession of the revenges of God!

The ephod [Gideon’s ephod] is punished with the blood of his sons; the blood of his sons is shed by the procurement of the Shechemites; the blood of the Shechemites is shed by Abimelech; the blood of Abimelech is spilt by a woman. The retaliations of God are sure and just, and make a more due pedigree than descent of nature.’

That they who thirst for blood, God will at last give them their own blood to drink.  The weak in God’s hand can confound the mighty, and those who walk in pride, he is able to abase.

Abimelech’s conduct, in this particular, affords but another proof that he who has a wicked purpose to serve will not stick at a lie to accomplish it, and that those who design ill themselves are ever ready to charge similar designs upon others.  Nothing is more common, in the providence of God, than for the revenues of sin to be made a plague and a curse to those that amass them.

Both Bush’s commentary and Alan Cairns’ series on Judges are helpful in this study through the book of Judges, showing so many interesting points as well as scripture parallels and types of Christ as well as other future things such as the antiChrist and the Great Tribulation.

Christ’s First and Second Comings:  In the Type of Ehud

September 10, 2021 7 comments

As I continue listening to Alan Cairns’ sermons, now in a series on the book of Judges, I notice a lot of similarities in the Spirit in him and qualities in Charles Spurgeon.  Cairns’ ministry was about 120 years after Spurgeon, yet many common preaching features. From a sermon on Judges 3:  allowing the Spirit to lead in determining what to preach on for any given Lord’s Day, rather than  rigid, scheduled, pre-planned series; and remarks about those who had sat under his preaching ministry for many years, and still unmoved and not saved.  Cairns, like Spurgeon, also believed Revelation 6, the first seal, was referring to Christ and not the AntiChrist (unlike most other premillennialists), and had a very optimistic view regarding the great spiritual blessings we now have.  Like Spurgeon, Cairns firmly stated his belief in the future millennial reign of Christ, yet expected great things of God, true revival, in this age.

Apparently Charles Spurgeon never preached a sermon on Ehud, the second of the Judges of Israel.  But if he had, the sermon would have been quite similar to this one from Dr. Cairns in 1989.  In “The Train of Christ’s Triumph” we see Ehud as a type of Christ, and both Christ’s First and Second Comings in the story of Ehud in Judges 3: Ehud’s individual work and victory over Eglon; and then, his blowing the trumpet to rally the people to follow him. In this type, we see freedom from sin and judgment, fellowship (they followed Ehud), and the people as followers in the king’s army.  

First, Ehud did the conquering work, slaying Eglon — like Christ’s defeat of Satan at Calvary.  Here, the mighty message of freedom; the bondage of sin broken by the power of Christ, and our reconciliation and redemption.Then, Ehud blew the trumpet, rousing the people to leave everything and to follow him.  The trumpet can be seen as a representation of the Lord Jesus Christ:  having triumphed at Calvary, calling to people to leave all and follow him.
Fellowship:  Ehud’s trumpet blast announced what he had done, and for the people to leave their sheepfolds, their earthly occupations, their fears and worries of Moab, to leave all–and come out in open fellowship with this mighty conqueror.  Christ’s victory, the reality of this type:  the victory only profits those who have been brought into fellowship with Him.

The Crusade of Victory:  Ehud’s leading the people, can be seen as a type of the progress and triumph of the Gospel.  Christ led His church, the New Testament church.  We are reminded of the essence of the Christian life:  to enter in experimentally, into what Christ has accomplished for us at Calvary.  Pentecost was their first taste of victorious service for Christ.  Then, in Acts 1:8, the apostles were given their commission:  in the conquest of Calvary.  They are going to conquer them (Jerusalem, Judea, the world) with the gospel.  He has gone into His Eglon, and come out victorious.  He’s the conqueror.  Those men could challenge the world, and conquer the world, and they did. 

Judges 3:27 describes the mountains of Ephraim; and the children of Israel went down with him from the mountains.  A spiritual application and type here also:  When God’s people spend time in the mount with their conqueror, then they come down with irresistible power.  

In the first part of Ehud’s story, he slayed Eglon.  Christ’s First Coming was in humiliation, largely unknown, unheralded.  In the second part of Ehud’s story, he blows the trumpet.  Here we have a picture of Christ’s Second Coming, with power, with hosts and armies of glory, and the blowing of the last trumpet. 

The full sermon is powerful, convicting, and well worth listening to.  Cairns brings home the importance of the Christian’s experience, the power of God for the Christian church, and the importance of serious prayer.  Cairns — again, very similar to Spurgeon’s sermons of optimism with reference to this age — noted that the church no longer had the vision of God’s word for His church, the vision had been lost — because of a peculiar notion of the Second Coming and millennial reign.  ‘Well, we can expect nothing too much in this day and age, and we’ve postponed all expectations until Christ’s victories until the millennium.'”  

Cairns considered the reason why we don’t see revival, but instead apostasy:  this is all an excuse for carnal laziness.  God had given a mandate to the apostles, and a message, and a promise of the mighty results that He would give.  

Nothing in scripture says that God has withdrawn the message, the mandate, or changed the promise.  A cloak in most cases, for our own carnality.  Cloaked in the respectable garments of theological language and theological excuses.  …. The Lord Jesus Christ is not coming back for a church in defeat, or a church in reverse-gear or a church that has only the memory and the theory of the power of the Holy Ghost.  He’s coming back for a church whose lamps are trimmed, whose witness is bright, whose experience of God is real, and whose knowledge of revival is intimate.  He has never changed that.

From our viewpoint today, over 30 years later and the apostasy of the professing church increasingly more apparent, I observe that, yes, God still has that message, mandate, and promise — and yet, clearly God has used that “carnal laziness” to bring about what He has purposed for the last of the last days, that this age would end in failure, in increasing apostasy– and not in revival.  Yes, God does have His people, who have real experience of God, the virgins whose lamps are trimmed.  But such will not be the characteristic of the majority, of the overall professing Church.  As God has also purposed and revealed in His word, the people at the Second Coming would be asleep (both the virgins with their lamps trimmed, as well as the others who did not have oil), and “when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”  (Luke 18:8

Amid his words about the trumpet, that call to challenge the world and to conquer this world for God, Cairns acknowledged that God is sovereign, and He does not promise that every day will be a Pentecost.  Along with mention of the 1850s Prayer Revival in the US, and emphasis on the importance of prayer, he related a story about a preacher in Romania (then behind the Iron Curtain) and their real persecution and hard suffering, and that man’s interaction with a Western-thinking evangelist.  The only places where revival occurs today, are places where people are poor, and where their lives are in danger.  It is not happening in the West, because of the carnality of God’s people at ease.

We are still in God’s good hands, in spite of this.  After all, in Revelation 5, it is the Lamb who opens the seals, it is He, the Lamb, who unfolds these terrible events.  We’re in the hand of our Savior.  The seven trumpet blasts in Revelation represent serious, solemn markers of God’s progressing purpose during the last of the last days, this last period before the return of Christ.  We look forward to the last trumpet, that time of deliverance from sin and bondage, and entering into the full enjoyment of that deliverance. 

Biblical eschatology must include Christ’s First coming.  Sensationalism comes from forgetting Christ’s First Coming and speculating about dates and ideas that are not even in the Bible–such as the notion of Russia being in the Bible (when it is not, the similar sounding word does not mean Russia), and since the US isn’t mentioned in the Bible it’s going to be blown to bits.  Here I also recall J.C. Ryle’s emphasis upon both “the cross and the crown.”

Some more great observations from this sermon, and the hope we have:

… those not premillennial, you don’t believe Christ will reign upon the earth.  I’m not too worried about it; you’re going to learn.  It won’t keep you from heaven, but will make life a little more difficult for you.  … the childish rubble they will come up with to try to deny that 1000 year reign of Christ.  He came, He conquered, He gives His church a mandate, a message, and a promise, and He’s coming back in mighty final glory.  Do you have that hope?  Has your soul ever been gripped with those things?