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‘Sheep without a Shepherd’ and the Old Testament Mediatorial Kingdom

December 6, 2013 Leave a comment

From my daily genre Bible reading, including recent readings in Ezekiel and Numbers, the following observation.  Ezekiel 34 is a well-known text on the subject of the shepherd and the sheep, and the wicked shepherds who did not take care of the sheep; Jesus in John 10 expands on and identifies with this figure as well.   But in also reading through the Pentateuch, comes an interesting “first mention” of the idea of sheep without a shepherd.  Sheep and shepherds are of course introduced generally in Genesis, with Jacob meeting Rachel – and the subsequent chapters of Jacob’s contribution to Genesis.  But Numbers 27:16-17  contains the first mention of the idea of a people needing a shepherd to lead them so that they be not “as sheep that have no shepherd.”

The scene is near the end of Moses’ life, and Moses’ request for someone to succeed him in leading the people that now are a nation – and the request is granted, in Moses’ assistant Joshua. Here I am also reminded of the kingdom concept as brought out in Alva McClain’s “Greatness of the Kingdom,” including his point that the mediatorial kingdom began in history under Moses.  We often think of the Old Testament kingdom as specifically that established under the monarchy (King Saul, then David and Solomon), but the concept began in history with the Exodus from Egypt, the covenant nation established before God,  with God as their king and Moses their leader.  Numbers 27 brings this out, in this first reference to this concept, in the matter of leadership succession within this mediatorial kingdom.

The idea of “sheep without a shepherd” does not appear in the scriptures again until several hundred years later, during the divided kingdom and the early prophets: first in the account of Micaiah’s prophecy of Ahab’s destruction (1 Kings 22:17 and 2 Chronicles 18:16):  I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd.”  Judgment is in view here, that the king (Ahab) is destroyed, and the people are without a leader.  The next time the concept is mentioned is the later prophets associated with the Babylonian exile, the end of the mediatorial kingdom in Old Testament history:  Jeremiah 23:1 and 50:6, followed by this as the topic of Ezekiel 34.  How fitting it is, and brought together in the daily genre reading of different sections of the Bible, to see this unity and overall theme seen throughout the Bible including Old Testament history and prophecy:  the concept of sheep without a shepherd introduced near the beginning of that mediatorial kingdom, then at two points of judgment, earlier in the decline (the time of Ahab) and again at the end of that era of Israel’s mediatorial kingdom, just before the “times of the Gentiles” began.

From Egypt to Canaan: Insights from a Study through Exodus and Numbers

January 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve been enjoying going through S. Lewis Johnson’s “From Egypt to Canaan” series (from 1985).  This series started in Exodus, and then skips over some parts while focusing on various incidents in Exodus and Numbers, all related to the theme of the people in their wilderness wanderings.  I’m now more than halfway through, up to Numbers 20, and have learned a great deal.

One thing I’ve learned from this study is how to connect the Old Testament passages with the specific New Testament texts that relate back to the passage in question.  Now this is the way to truly interpret scripture, not by going beyond the text and speculating about other possible “allegorical” meanings, yet going beyond the actual Old Testament text to include the actual New Testament applications that relate to the text:  letting scripture interpret scripture.  Frequently in this study, SLJ refers to passages such as 1 Corinthians 10 and various chapters in Hebrews, where Paul and the writer of Hebrews specifically comment on the wilderness wanderings.

Now to several specific observations from this series:
The miracles in Exodus are never again discussed as being important, later in the Bible (because the people were in unbelief)  — until Revelation, which tells of the future judgements which are very similar to the ones done to Egypt.  Here too is a great answer to those who interpret the Bible with too much of a naturalistic bent.  Just as the judgements in Exodus were supernatural events performed by God, without any human agent, so too will be the judgments described in Revelation.  God will get all the glory there too, and He will not share it with man, even to such notions as ascribing the actual cause of the end-times judgments to human nuclear war.

The giving of the law — a very interesting point is brought out in Exodus 17.  The law was proposed before it was ever imposed.  Had the people of Israel recognized that they could not keep God’s law, the actual living under the Old Covenant would not have occurred, and the time until Christ’s First Coming could very well have been much sooner.  The people willingly accepted the terms of the Old Covenant, saying “we will do it,” which only showed their true heart condition, that they did not understand their own sinful nature.

Typology
A type is really just another word for an example, or an illustration.  S. Lewis Johnson often points this out, emphasizing that typology does not include other things that some people often think of when they think of a “type.”  SLJ also gives many examples of true typology — of the illustration and what it corresponds to — throughout this study.

Typology and the two incidents where Moses struck the rock
The first incident, in Exodus 17, has Moses using the rod to strike the rock.  The rod used is the one Moses used to strike the Nile and turn its waters to blood.  The striking of the rock here illustrates Christ as “our smitten rock,” the one punished with the rod, and suffers and sheds blood.

In the later incident in Numbers 20, Moses is told to use the rod that is before the Lord (Numbers 20:9), which indicates a different rod, the one belonging to Aaron that had just blossomed and brought forth almonds in the previous chapter.  Speaking to the rock suggests our going to the Lord with our needs.  Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word for “rock” here is a different Hebrew word than in Exodus 17.  The Hebrew word for rock in Exodus 17 is a rock that is sharp.  The Hebrew word “rock” in Numbers 20 refers to elevation.  SLJ notes that often the words in Hebrew are used interchangeably, but thinks that this difference could be significant here — and further indication that the typology in Numbers 20 conveys the idea of Christ (the rock) elevated, and speaking to the rock illustrates our access to Christ, who has been exalted.

As S. Lewis Johnson observes:

If you turn back to Exodus chapter 17 and you were able to look at the Hebrew text at that point, you would find that the word for rock there is the word tswur.  That word is often associated with a sharp kind of rock, whereas the word that is used in chapter 20 of the Book of Numbers as the word cela and cela is the word that is often associated with elevation.  This distinction between these two words is not always observed.  That is the general sense of the two words and if that is true, it further supports the idea.  We not only have Moses told to speak to the rock, but we also have a different word for rock that suggests an elevated rock and of course the elevated rock would go very well with the idea of a high priest who is at the right hand of the Majesty on High.

Moses ruined the typology by striking the rock instead — an illustration that would suggest that Christ has to suffer more than once.  Yet this incident also shows God’s marvelous grace:  even when His people are disobedient, God still will bring forth the intended blessing, such as here where God still provided the people with  water.

Typology and the priesthood of Aaron
Numbers 20 also tells of Aaron’s death.  Here we see the flaw in the Aaronic priesthood — the high priest dies.  Yet Aaron as priest is an illustration, as he represents the function of the priesthood of Christ.  Melchizedek as a priest represents the person of Christ.

The Sin Unto Death
Numbers 13 and 14 tells of the tragic turning point at Kadesh Barnea, where the people refuse to go into the land.  The people finally reach a point where it is too late to repent, they must experience the judgment of 40 years in the wilderness.  It is very probable that out of the whole nation of Israel, there were more than just two saved people (Caleb and Joshua), yet they all reached a point where they experienced the final consequence of a sin that lead to their death in the wilderness.

S. Lewis Johnson here discusses the “sin unto death” spoken of by John in 1 John 5, pointing out that there is sin that leads to death, as distinguished from sin that does not lead to death.  1 Corinthians 11, and Acts 5, also describe situations where believers went too far and because of their sin they died.  As Johnson remarks, there are some Christians that are good for heaven, but not so good for earth — and so God takes them away, that they not bring further shame to God in their lives in this world.  The deaths of Moses and Aaron, as their punishment for disobedience in Numbers 17, is yet another example of the “sin unto death.”  Moses and Aaron too were forgiven of their sins, yet because of that sin they were not allowed to go into the promised land.  The daughters of Zelophehad also point out that their father did not take part in the rebellion of Korah, but died for his own sins — another example of distinction between the saved who nevertheless die because of their sins, as compared to the unsaved who died as a result of the rebellion of Korah.