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Andrew Bonar: Leviticus, Covenantal Premillennialism, and Ezekiel

April 3, 2017 1 comment

As part of the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge, for the commentary I’m currently reading Andrew Bonar’s classic and highly-recommended commentary on Leviticus (1846).  I’m a little over halfway through, and greatly appreciate it, as a verse by verse, chapter by chapter commentary that is straightforward reading for the layperson, with many good devotional thoughts.

I have read other works by Andrew Bonar, including his Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms, and (earlier this year) his biography of Robert Murray McCheyne, which I especially enjoyed.  I like reading his perspective as a covenantal premillennialist, a view not often seen today, due to the over-reaction by many Reformed against the errors of dispensationalism–to the point of rejecting even what has historically been affirmed by Reformed / covenantal theologians.  For Bonar, in the Reformed tradition, saw the unity of scripture (Old and New Testament), and noted in Leviticus many types (figures, allegories) of Christ—yet also affirmed what the scriptures say regarding Israel’s future and how the scriptures describe the future millennial age.

Here, from Bonar’s commentary – published in 1846, years before dispensationalism had taken hold of much of evangelical Christianity – come some interesting thoughts regarding Leviticus and the last chapters of Ezekiel, regarding the future millennial temple.  He notes (as did the later dispensational writers) the differences in this temple as compared to the previous tabernacle and temple, and relates the types and shadows of Leviticus to their educational, instructional purpose:

Is it not possible that some such end as this may be answered by the temple which Ezekiel foretells as yet to be built (chap. Xl., &c.)  Believing nations may frequent that temple in order to get understanding in these types and shadows.  They may go up to the mountain of the Lord’s house, to be there taught his ways (Isaiah 2:3).  In that temple they may learn how not one tittle of the law has failed.  … Indeed, the very fact that the order of arrangement in Ezekiel entirely differs from the order observed in either tabernacle or temple, and that the edifice itself is reared on a plan varying from every former sanctuary, is sufficient to suggest the idea that it is meant to cast light on former types and shadows.  … As it is said of the rigid features of a marble statue, that they may be made to move and vary their expression so as even to smile, when a skillful hand knows how to move a bright light before it; so may it be with these apparently lifeless figures, in the light of that bright millennial day.  At all events, it is probably then that this much-neglected book of Leviticus shall be fully appreciated.  Israel—the good olive-tree—shall again yield its fatness to the nations round (Romans 11:17).  Their ancient ritual may then be more fully understood, and blessed truth found beaming forth from long obscurity.”

The commentary itself includes many references to New Testament passages as well as the Psalms, to give a complete picture of the Levitical worship and what various texts in Leviticus symbolized or paralleled elsewhere.  As for instance, the concluding remarks on Leviticus 1 relate the sacrifices found here to the original sacrifices and features of Eden, explaining these details of God’s progressive revelation from earlier to later Old Testament revelation:

Let us briefly notice that the rudimental sketch of these offerings, and the mode of their presentation, will be found at the gate of Eden.  …  Just as we believe the Hiddekel and Euphrates of Genesis 2 are the same as the Hiddekel and Euphrates of later history; and the cherubim of Genesis 3 the same as those in the tabernacle; and the “sweet savour” of Genesis 8:21 the same as that in Leviticus 1:9 and Ephesians 5:2; so do we regard the intention of sacrifice as always the same throughout Scripture.

In Mosaic rites, the telescope was drawn out farther than at Eden, and the focus at which the ground object could be best seen was more nearly found.  But the gate of Eden presents us with the same truths in a more rudimental form.

… opposite to this sword [at the gate of Eden], at some distance, we see an altar where our first parents shed the blood of sacrifice—showing in type how the barred-up way of access to the Tree of Life was to be opened by the blood of the woman’s bruised seed.  …when we find clean and unclean noticed (Gen. 8:20), and in Abraham’s case (Genesis 15:9,10), the heifer and goat, the turtle and the pigeon, and also “commandments, statutes, and laws” (parallel to Lev. 26:46), we cannot but believe that these fuller institutions in Leviticus are just the expansion of what Adam first received.  The Levitical dispensation is the acorn of Eden grown to a full oak.  If so, then may we say, that the child Jesus, wrapped in his swaddling-clothes, was, in these ceremonies, laid down at the gate of Eden!

Aslan of Narnia, ‘The Shack,’ and the Second Commandment

March 1, 2017 3 comments

Tim Challies recently posted an article that provides a good contrast between ‘The Shack’ and the Aslan character of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series.  I find such articles interesting, as they consider and contrast different types of literature–in answer to the many superficial comparisons made by people who would lump all fiction into the same category.  In a post last year, I referenced a good online article that examines in detail seven key differences between Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter in reference to the literary use of magic.

Challies’ post provides similar comparison between the Chronicles of Narnia and another newer fiction work, The Shack, noting three key differences:  these are different genres of literature, portray different characters, and teach different messages.  He makes good points concerning the difference between Narnia and The Shack in overall terms, of the type of fiction and especially the serious doctrinal error being taught in The Shack.

Challies notes these differences, and then concludes that because of these differences, The Shack violates the Second Commandment, but Aslan the Lion of Narnia does not.  As he points out, The Shack has characters representing all three members of the Godhead:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, whereas Narnia only represents the second person of the Trinity, the Son.  However, I think Challies’ answer on one particular point is weak:  his assertion that Aslan is like Christ, a Christ-like figure rather than actually representing Christ:

Aslan is a Christ-like figure, but is not Christ. We should expect to find a general but not perfect correspondence between the words and deeds of Aslan and the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. A right reading of Narnia does not lead to the declaration, “Aslan is Jesus,” but the realization, “Aslan is like Jesus.” Lewis meant for Aslan to evoke a kind of wonder that would cause the reader to search for someone in the real world who is equally awe-inspiring.

The Narnia stories, through the “general allegory” fiction, present many Christian doctrines.  True, not all doctrines are brought out within the context of the seven stories—and a few of the doctrines presented are Arminianism and “wider mercy” (both in The Last Battle: the dwarves with free-will, and Emeth the saved pagan).  Yet it is clear that Lewis intended an actual identification of Aslan with Christ, and not merely “to evoke a kind of wonder that would cause the reader to search for someone in the real world who is equally awe-inspiring.”  Keep in mind the following specific points.

  • In the original volume (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) Aslan only dies for Edmund.  However, in The Last Battle the last Narnian king (Tirian) holds to an atonement belief that encompasses all Narnians:

He [Tirian] meant to go on and ask how the terrible god Tash who fed on the blood of his people could possibly be the same as the good Lion by whose blood all Narnia was saved.

  • At the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund that they cannot return to Narnia because they are too old, and adds that he is known by another name “in your world” and that they will come to know him better by that name.

“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan.
“Are—are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
“I am [in your world].’ said Aslan. ‘But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

The ending of The Last Battle provides Lewis’ clearest and direct identification of Aslan with Christ.  His stepson Douglas Gresham, in an email discussion years later, also specifically pointed this out. Notice the use of the capital letter in the pronoun He:

And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion…And for us this is the end…But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

So, while The Chronicles of Narnia clearly is a different genre of fiction, and clearly teaches a different message than the blasphemy of The Shack, the question of Aslan in reference to the Second Commandment and images representing God, is not so clear cut.  From googling, I found a few other articles that have previously considered this question–at the time of other movie releases such as Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and the Disney version of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”  A sampling of these includes people who recognize the close connection of Aslan to Christ, and thus do consider the portrayal on film of Aslan the lion as a Second Commandment problem.  One example is R.C. Sproul Jr’s comments at the Ligionier blog:

The root of idolatry, however, is here—images move us at a basic level, and evoke worship in us, worship that God abhors. I first felt this watching another movie that presented an image of Christ—The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. When Aslan first appeared on the screen my heart swelled and like a teetotaler taking his first drink, a health nut tasting his first Twinky, I thought, “Oh, so this is what He warned us about.” I was taken up, enraptured, spellbound because of the sheer majestic beauty of the Lion.

This discussion from 2005 at the Puritan board is also helpful, a Reformed perspective on the question of Aslan and other fictional works, especially this observation:

To me, a devout Christian writing a story about a Lion who is a king and gives his life for his people is a bit too obvious not to be seen as a direct representation of Christ.

Furthermore, since the second commandment applies equally to all the readers and viewers just as much as it did to Lewis himself, does his authorial intent really even have any bearing on people’s own obedience to the commandment when they see Aslan and purposefully think of Christ?

So, while Challies’ article is helpful for pointing out the major differences between Narnia and The Shack, it misses the mark in his attempt to downplay the role of Aslan as not really representing God the Son.  Lewis’ writing and intent was rather obvious, of Aslan representing Christ, the Son of God — as Lewis saw it, Christ as He would choose to reveal Himself if such a world as Narnia existed.  For further study, the following article looks at the many parallels between Aslan and the Son of God: Symbolism and the Identity of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia.

I did not say to myself ‘Let us represent Jesus as He really is in our world by a Lion in Narnia’: I said ‘Let us suppose that there were a land like Narnia and that the Son of God, as He became a Man in our world, became a Lion there, and then imagine what would have happened.’

James White, and Islamic Sharia Law Versus the Mosaic “Holiness Code”

February 7, 2017 2 comments

In a recent group discussion concerning James White’s conversation with a Muslim, it was stated by one person that some Christians (theonomists) are just as bad as Muslims with Sharia law, for wanting to impose the Mosaic law — “and I wouldn’t want to be under either system.”

I haven’t studied theonomy in detail, but to compare Sharia law to the Mosaic law is a very flawed idea, on several levels.  One very obvious difference here: has any theonomist or group of theonomists actually imposed Mosaic law, on any modern-day society?  But at a more basic level, this idea is an example of modern-day evangelical confusion regarding the role and purpose of the Old Testament law.  I also find it especially ironic that the same group that hosted James White for a discussion with a Muslim, is apparently quite unaware of James White’s own teaching and view on this very issue.  White’s sermon series “The Holiness Code for Today” (series available here), a recent series through the Levitical law, responded to this very mistaken idea – as he even said, an idea prevalent among unbelievers as well as many evangelicals – that the Mosaic law is some type of  “iron age, outdated morality only for the Jews”  (and now, even considered by some to be on the same level as Islamic sharia law).

As noted in a few recent blog posts (this one on Leviticus 19, also this one), James White explains (the historic Protestant view) that we recognize the overall moral precepts in God’s law, including the moral law as applied to the particular circumstance of the nation Israel as a nation of God’s people, a people in covenant with Yahweh.  The Mosaic law (Israel’s civil and ceremonial law) was not a harsh, obsolete code for an ancient Near Eastern civilization; it also was not a “covenant of works” requiring strict obedience to every precise point as a works method of salvation.  Mankind was always saved in the same way, by faith in God’s redemptive work, both before and after Calvary.  Yes, the Jews of the first century had turned the Mosaic code into a “works salvation” but that was not its purpose from the beginning, as is clear from many Old Testament texts, particularly passages in Deuteronomy and the Psalms.  Though it is true that some texts describe the Mosaic law as a burden, this view ignores the reality of the many scriptures that describe the Old Testament law in very positive terms.  The Mosaic law was instead a specific application of God’s unchanging moral law, to the situation of Israel as a nation, laws civil and ceremonial and meant to govern the people of God in their daily life.  Thus, the whole Bible stands together – there can be no excuse that in our day we don’t need to study the Old Testament; God’s moral law does not change, and we can benefit from study of the Mosaic code by considering, for each law, the moral precept behind the particular circumstance.

By contrast, here is sample of actual laws in the Sharia law system, a system that has actually been implemented in certain societies throughout history:

According to Sharia Law: (Basic Laws of Islam)

  • Theft is punishable by amputation of the right hand.
  • Criticizing or denying any part of the Quran is punishable by death.
  • Criticizing Muhammad or denying that he is a prophet is punishable by death.
  • Criticizing or denying Allah, the god of Islam is punishable by death.
  • A Muslim who becomes a non-Muslim is punishable by death.
  • A non-Muslim who leads a Muslim away from Islam is punishable by death.
  • A non-Muslim man who marries a Muslim woman is punishable by death.
  • A man can marry an infant girl and consummate the marriage when she is 9 years old.
  • A woman can have 1 husband, who can have up to 4 wives; Muhammad can have more.
  • A man can beat his wife for insubordination.
  • A man can unilaterally divorce his wife; a woman needs her husband’s consent to divorce.
  • A divorced wife loses custody of all children over 6 years of age or when they exceed it.
  • Testimonies of four male witnesses are required to prove rape against a woman.
  • A woman who has been raped cannot testify in court against her rapist(s).
  • A woman’s testimony in court, allowed in property cases, carries ½ the weight of a man’s.
  • A female heir inherits half of what a male heir inherits.
  • A woman cannot drive a car, as it leads to fitnah (upheaval).
  • A woman cannot speak alone to a man who is not her husband or relative.
  • Meat to eat must come from animals that have been sacrificed to Allah – i.e., be “Halal”.
  • Muslims should engage in Taqiyya and lie to non-Muslims to advance Islam.

Just a sample list from among a huge body of law.

Seriously – where is the moral precept behind these Sharia laws?  Anyone who honestly studies the Mosaic law will recognize that it is not merely some ancient-age law code, and that it was nothing that should be compared to Sharia law.

In addition to White’s study, another good reference for understanding the Mosaic law is A.W. Pink’s The Divine CovenantsI do not agree with everything in Pink’s work, and especially in the Davidic and New Covenant section Pink went too far astray into the spiritualizing hermeneutic — but that is another topic.  However, the section on the Sinaiitic covenant is quite helpful, as here he considers the ideas of various commentators and responds with good scriptural arguments to the idea that the Mosaic covenant was a “works salvation” covenant.  For consideration here, an excerpt from this section that looks at the Mosaic law and the scriptures in great detail:

at this point we are faced with a formidable difficulty, namely, the remarkable diversity in the representation found in later Scripture respecting the tendency and bearing of the law on those who were subject to it. On the one hand, we find a class of passages which represent the law as coming expressly from Israel’s redeemer, conveying a benign aspect and aiming at happy results. Moses extolled the condition of Israel as, on this very account, surpassing that of all other people: “For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?”  Deut. 4:7, 8). The same sentiment is echoed in various forms in the Psalms. “He showed his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them” (Ps. 147:19, 20). “Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them” (Ps. 119:165).

But on the other hand, there is another class of passages which appear to point in the very opposite direction. In these the law is represented as a source of trouble and terror—a bondage from which it is true liberty to escape. “The law worketh wrath” (Rom. 4:15); “the strength of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56). In 2 Corinthians 3:7, 9 the apostle speaks of the law as “the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones,” and as “the ministration of condemnation.” Again, he declares, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse” (Gal. 3:10). “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law” (Gal. 5:1-3).

Now it is very obvious that such diverse and antagonistic representations could not have been given of the law in the same respect, or with the same regard, to its direct and primary aim. We are obliged to believe that both these representations are true, being alike found in the volume of inspiration. Thus it is clear that Scripture requires us to contemplate the law from more than one point of view, and with regard to different uses and applications of it.

Spurgeon: Hezekiah’s Pride

January 26, 2017 6 comments

I always appreciate Spurgeon’s sermons, as they always provide good material for devotion and meditation.  Yet Spurgeon, as with all of us, had his high marks, better sermons—though this is somewhat subjective; we all have our favorite sermons.  Spurgeon’s textual preaching often shows itself in heavily allegorical sermons, in which Spurgeon makes great points, all biblically correct—yet what does it have to do with this particular passage of scripture?  Thus, Spurgeon’s best sermons, for me at least, are the ones that most relate to the actual text, a more expository style of considering the content of the text itself.  In previous posts I have noted a few of these, such as one about King David and his wife Michal’s scorn. I recently read another good, on-topic sermon, from the 1866 volume:  sermon #704, about the last recorded incident in Hezekiah’s life—his visit with the Babylonian ambassadors.

In this sermon Spurgeon considers all the circumstances of the event and temptations for pride: Hezekiah’s background up to this point; the great favor he had been shown, the miraculous deliverance from the Assyrian army, the sun changing its course for him. Spurgeon even adds another interesting point, one that we have lost a sense of in our day of modern medicine, a point also brought up recently by Al Mohler:

Halfway through the lecture, Oberman, through no fault of our own, became exasperated with the class. “Young men,” he said, “you will never understand Luther because you go to bed every night confident you will wake up healthy in the morning. In Luther’s day, people thought that every day could be their last. They had no antibiotics. They didn’t have modern medicine. Sickness and death came swiftly.”

This idea certainly is brought out frequently in the reading of Spurgeon and other pre-20th century preachers—the uncertainty of life, of death at any time—and thus Spurgeon observed this in Hezekiah’s case also:

Remember also that he (King Hezekiah) had this to try him above everything else—he had the certainty of living 15 years. …Mortals as we are, in danger of dying at any moment, yet we grow secure; but give us 15 years certain and I know not that heaven above would be high enough for our heads, or whether the whole world would be large enough to contain the swellings of our pride. We would be sure to grow vain-gloriously great if the check of constant mortality were removed. The king might in his self-complacent moments have said to himself, “Not only am I thus immortal for 15 years, but the very heavens have been disturbed for me. See what a favorite of heaven I am!” He did not say with David, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars which You have ordained, what is man, that You are mindful of him?”

Spurgeon also addressed the issue of our relationships and offenses, how we expect more from those closer to us, and how God expects more from us, His people, than from unbelievers:

When we admit persons into intimacy and reveal our hearts to them, we expect them to act toward us with a tenderness and a delicacy which it were utterly unreasonable to expect in strangers, and we judge their actions by a peculiar standard; we weigh as it were, the actions of ordinary men in the common rough scales which would not turn with an ounce or even a pound, but the doings of our friends we weigh in such sensitive balances that even though it were but a feather from the wing of a fly the scale would turn. It is a solemn thing to be a favorite of heaven, for where another man may sin with impunity, the beloved of God will not offend without grievous chastisement.

Another sin of Hezekiah’s was his unholy silence concerning his God.  When given the opportunity of meeting the Babylonian ambassadors, he should have been giving praises to God instead of boasting of himself.

Meanwhile, mark that Hezekiah sadly made up for his silence about his God by loudly boasting about himself. If he had little to say of his God, he had much to say about his spices, his armor, and his gold and silver; and I dare say he took them to see the conduit and the pool which he had made, and the various other wonders of engineering which he had carried out. Ah, brothers and sisters, etiquette lets us talk of men, but about our God we must be silent. God forbid we should defer to such a rule. Hezekiah did as good as say, while he was showing them all his wealth, “See what a great man I am!”

After considering the numerous aspects of Hezekiah’s sin – including his delight in the company of the unbelieving ambassadors, leaning toward alliance with them, and putting himself on their level, focusing on material possessions – this sermon considers the punishment and the pardon.  The consequences are not removed, but we must humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. For our own application, several lessons:

  • See, then, what is in every man’s heart.
  • tremble at anything that is likely to bring out this evil of your heart.
  • cry out every day against vainglory, and
  • see the sorrow which it will bring you, and if you would escape that sorrow imitate Hezekiah and humble yourself.
  • Finally, let us cry to God never to leave us.

Spurgeon’s conclusion on this last point is a great prayer, so needed by all of us:

Lord, keep me everywhere! Keep me in the valley that I murmur not of my low estate! Keep me on the mountain that I become not giddy through pride at my being lifted up so high! Keep me in my youth, when my passions are strong! Keep me in my old age, when I am conceited of my wisdom, and may therefore be a greater fool than even the young! Keep me when I come to die, lest at the very last I should deny You! Keep me living, keep me dying, keep me laboring, keep me suffering, keep me fighting, keep me resting, keep me everywhere, for everywhere I need You, O my God.

 

Puritan Works: Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

December 30, 2016 1 comment

jeremiahburroughsOver the Christmas weekend I finished reading another Puritan work, the last one for the year 2016 — a classic, recommended book on a topic I often struggle with:  contentment.  The complete book is available online here.

Starting from the key text of Philippians 4:11, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content,” Burroughs expands on what it means (and what it does not mean) to be content, and that it is something to be learned.  As usual with the Puritans, this work consists of a collection of sermons on the topic, with good thoughts for meditation, positive as well as negative (why not to grumble) considerations.  Much of the content references the particular hardships of the 17th century, with frequent mention of the recent plague (the plague of London), as well as the situation of discontent for people in poverty, or who once had more abundance in material benefit than they do now.  While the particular circumstances, the secondary causes of discontentment, are quite different in our age, the precepts and the heart issue are timeless, part of the fallen human condition in every age.  The lesson of contentment includes being thankful for what we have, being content with less than perhaps we once had, content with less than others have, and recognizing the perils and additional responsibilities of those who do have more in material goods.  Also, the lesson of God’s providence, that our will should be the same as God’s providential will and operative will.

Burroughs concludes by noting the tendency of that age, and thus he did not see the need to address the second part of the text, about learning to abound:

Now there is in the text another lesson, which is a hard lesson: ‘I have learned to abound.’ That does not so nearly concern us at this time, because the times are afflictive times, and there is now, more than ordinarily, an uncertainty in all things in the world. In such times as these are, there are few who have such an abundance that they need to be much taught in that lesson.

Topics addressed in this book include the difference between natural contentment and godly (gracious) contentment, noting that some people are naturally more at ease and contented than others, and the quality of difference between these types of contentment:

The one whose disposition is quiet, is not disquieted as others are, but neither does he show any activeness of spirit to sanctify the name of God in his affliction. … he whose contentment is of grace is not disquieted and keeps his heart quiet with regard to vexation and trouble, and at the same time is not dull or heavy but very active to sanctify God’s name in the affliction that he is experiencing. … the desire and care your soul has to sanctify God’s name in an affliction is what quietens the soul, and this is what others lack.

and

Those who are content in a natural way overcomes themselves when outward afflictions befall them and are content. They are just as content when they commit sin against God. When they have outward crosses or when God is dishonored, it is all one to them, whether they themselves are crossed or whether God is crossed. But a gracious heart that is contented with its own affliction, will rise up strongly when God is dishonored.”

As to motives for thankfulness, a good reminder of a most basic yet important point:

Set any affliction beside this mercy and see which would weigh heaviest; this is certainly greater than any affliction. That you have the day of grace and salvation, that you are not now in hell, this is a greater mercy. That you have the sound of the Gospel still in your ears, that you have the use of your reason: this is a greater mercy than your afflictions. That you have the use of your limbs, your senses, that you have the health of your bodies; health of body is a greater mercy than poverty is an affliction. … Therefore your mercies are more than your afflictions.

The lesson of contentment, though, is one of those things that is easier to read and study, but harder in actual practice – as I experienced even during the weeks of reading Burroughs’ book.  Just when I think I’ve learned contentment in the overall big picture, the major areas of life outside of my control, I stumbled and fell into discontent one afternoon over a very trivial matter; the Romans 7 struggle, hating self and weeping over sin – though not despairing.  Burroughs’ conclusion also recognizes the difficulty of fully learning the lesson of contentment:

I am afraid that you will be longer in learning it than I have been preaching of it; it is a harder thing to learn it than it is to preach or speak of it. … this lesson of Christian contentment may take more time to learn, and there are many who are learning it all the days of their lives and yet are not proficient.  But God forbid that it should be said of any of us concerning this lesson, as the Apostle says of widows, in Timothy, That they were ever learning and never came to the knowledge of the truth. Oh let us not be ever learning this lesson of contentment and yet not come to have skill in it. … Here is a necessary lesson for a Christian, that Paul said, he had learned in all estate therewith to be content.  Oh, do not be content with yourselves till you have learned this lesson of Christian contentment, and have obtained some better skill in it than before.

Sundry Laws: James White on Leviticus 19

December 26, 2016 1 comment

Continuing in James White’s Holiness Code series, the following three messages look at Leviticus 19:

Many misconceptions have abounded regarding this chapter.  Some have taken a superficial look at what seem to be miscellaneous or “sundry” laws, all thrown together, and treat this chapter as a justification for claiming that the Mosaic law was “all one law,” with no distinction between moral, civil and ceremonial aspects.  The general idea that the Mosaic law, and especially Leviticus 19, was “only for the Jews,” persists with many evangelicals, who have discarded this portion of God’s word as completely irrelevant to Christians today.

Then, especially ironic, are the unbelievers who quip that we should put aside all those antiquated, “iron age morality” ideas, and just love our neighbor as ourselves; they who object to the words against homosexuality, found in Leviticus 18 and 20, are completely unaware that the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is also found here – sandwiched in between those two chapters, here in Leviticus 19.  Leviticus 19 also answers the modern evangelical idea that in the Old Testament age everything with Israel was all about externals only, nothing about their heart motive (the erroneous NCT idea that Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” was something completely new and unknown before that point:  verse 17 says “you shall not hate your brother in your heart.”

White instead approaches Leviticus 19 from the perspective of Israel as the covenant people of God; how should the people of God live?  Similar to handling the book of Proverbs, we look at the context – which in this case is not necessarily the immediate verses around it, but the same idea expressed elsewhere in God’s word—in this case, similar passages in Deuteronomy.  The context includes also the actual practices of the pagans surrounding Israel, and also, especially, the moral precept behind the laws, which pertain to our relationship to our neighbor as well as or our relationship to God (such as verses 26-31, in reference to idolatry – the negative commands as well as the positive in verse 30).

What about verse 19, the laws forbidding the breeding of different kinds of cattle, the sowing of different kinds of seed, or garments of different materials?  Some of the laws were not in themselves moral, but had the purpose of keeping God’s people separate from the rest of the world.  These laws emphasized separateness, dedication and purity (not mixing, no division, in regards to your cattle, seed, and garments).  Another interesting feature, seen in these laws, is that to be in covenant relationship with God meant a disadvantage, in the world’s economy, compared to other people.  The laws regarding cattle, seed, and garments, brought a disadvantage compared to the worldings – as did laws in this chapter that curbed greed and provided for the poor (harvesting, gleaning the fields, verses 9-10) .  Unregenerate Israelites would chafe under the restrictions, but the true, regenerate believer in relationship with God (and such did exist in the Old Covenant era; mankind have always been saved by faith, some Israelites were regenerate believers) would be willing to accept these disadvantages, trusting that God will take care of us and He is first in our lives.

James White’s “The Holiness Code for Today” is a very interesting and edifying series, one that looks at texts generally ignored and not taught in sermons or Bible teaching.  Later lessons in this series look at Leviticus 20, chapters in Deuteronomy, and will address the issue of slavery in the Bible, noting the differences between Hebrew slavery, Roman slavery, and our own, much later history, American Slavery.

Apologetics and the Law: James White’s “Holiness Code For Today”

December 14, 2016 1 comment

A few weeks ago a friend linked a great response of James White to the “West Wing” Bible Lesson, a sharp and witty response to an atheist’s ridicule of Christianity in reference to the Mosaic code. James White here responded to one of several such sarcastic remarks that originated several years ago in a letter from an atheist to Dr. Laura, this particular one: “My neighbor was working today (sabbath) so I murdered him. This is correct?”

Excerpted from the West Wing program that featured this same content:

“I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be?”

“While thinking about that, can I ask another? My chief of staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it OK to call the police?”

… “Here’s one that’s really important, ‘cause we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point?

“Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side?

“Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?

From the comments at the James White note (above) I learned of a full series that James White did on this very issue, “The Holiness Code For Today,” begun in 2014 and recently completed (August 2016), preached at Phoenix Reformed Baptists for both Sunday morning and evening sessions. The full series of 38 lectures is available here.

I’m now about ¼ of the way through this series, in lesson 10 of a great series that approaches the “holiness code” (generally seen as Leviticus 17 through the end of the book) from an apologetics perspective, equipping Christians with serious, thoughtful responses to the secular unbelieving world.  The introductory lectures set the tone and the background, acknowledging our increasingly secular world and hostile unbelievers who mock by asking tough questions — and the truth, the right response to such challenges.  As White mentioned, googling “holiness code Leviticus” or “iron age morality” will indeed bring up some rather interesting anti-Christian web pages.  This portion of scripture especially deals with the evil and abomination of homosexuality, and this series responds to the common objections of those in our day who would try to deny or twist these texts into something that no longer applies to us in our age.

The introductory messages provide the overall setting and perspective regarding the holiness code and the real problem that unbelievers have.  As White well said in this lessonNo one will ever hear or honor the law of God, who hates the God of the law. No one will ever honor or hear or bow to the law of God, who hates the God of the law, and that’s the real issue.

Among the highlights: the importance of looking at the historical context, of Israel surrounded by pagan religions and practices, a nation in stark contrast to the standards of its neighbors; whereas our society today cannot fully appreciate this, from a time reference of a post-Christian culture, a society that has enjoyed the common grace benefits of the Judeo-Christian worldview – a society that is, sadly, quickly heading back to paganism.  Also, we must not look at these laws, the ones given to Israel in the Leviticus holiness code, from a pragmatic view, of trying to determine “why” He did so, “the real reason” for each particular law.  A common example of this is the modern “explanation” as to why the Israelites were forbidden to eat pork, trying to rationalize it due to supposed modern discoveries of science.  Instead, our starting point should be, that these laws were commanded by God; God forbid these things, and we may never discover the reason why.

In response to those who think that the Mosaic law in its entirety was “only for the Jews” and a part of “iron age morality” no longer applicable:

First, as noted in these chapters, the Canaanites were judged by God, were spewed out – the land itself said to vomit them out for their abominable practices.  They did not have the Mosaic law, nor any prophets sent to them, yet they were still held accountable and judged, based on the light they had; reference Romans 2.

Secondly, it is true that these sexual behaviors, including homosexuality, were a part of the religious rituals of the Canaanites.  That does not mean, though, that the underlying idea is in itself okay; people cannot reason that, because the Canaanites were doing such things in their religious practices, thus homosexuality in a different context is okay, in a “loving, monogamous (homosexual) relationship.”  Leviticus 18 simply states the abomination itself:  a man lying with another man.  Leviticus 18 says nothing that would restrict the meaning to only those religious ceremonies.

White also references the various scriptures and usages of the Hebrew word for abomination – pronounced as “Toe-ay-Vo” (I have no idea of the spelling in Hebrew letters).  The first occurrence is found in Genesis 43 (Hebrews were loathsome to the Egyptians), but the second and third are found in Leviticus 18 and 20.  Other uses throughout the Old Testament, including several places in Isaiah, include the abominable idolatry of the Israelites. Throughout, the meaning of the word is clear, of something detestable; none of us would want to be considered as such, before God.  The early church used the Greek Septuagint, and in the New Testament we find that Paul uses (in 1 Corinthians 6) the same Greek word for abomination, as what is found in the Septuagint in Leviticus 18.

All the above and so much more is available in just the first ten lessons of this series.  The upcoming lessons consider the distinctions of law (moral, civil and ceremonial) and deal with the specific content of Leviticus 18-21 as well as a few passages in Deuteronomy.  I find this series edifying, a topic that is especially helpful to study in our day and age, and I look forward to listening to the rest of the series.