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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!

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.

 

2017 Challies’ Reading Challenge: Theology, A.W. Pink’s “Divine Covenants”

January 10, 2017 1 comment

I’m still listening to James White’s “Holiness Code for Today” series, but have now begun the 2017 Challies Reading Challenge for electronic (non-audio) books. I prefer to skip around in book order, and so the first book I’m reading is one about theology:  A.W. Pink’s “The Divine Covenants.”

awpinkIn the past I’ve read Pink’s well-known The Sovereignty of God, a short but helpful one on that topic, but generally have avoided him, instead reading other authors on topics I was more interested in.  Also, what I knew of him –particularly his life story of one who isolated himself, ending up as a  recluse, not participating in any local church, including what is well summarized in Dan Phillips’ post a few years ago  — was another reason to “return the favor” since he had no interest in the church.  The premillennialist part of me also has avoided one who had switched from classic dispensationalism, to amillennialism, and who is known for  some excesses of over-allegorization.

Yet in my studies over the last few years, confessional Baptist theology (1689 London Baptist Confession), Pink’s name has come up as one who held to 1689 Federalism.  The recommended book list from the online Reformed Baptist group includes a few recent ones, as well as Pink’s “Divine Covenants,” which is available free online here. The book is organized in chronological sequence of the theological/biblical covenants: the everlasting covenant (often called the “covenant of redemption”), then the Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Sinaitic, Davidic, and Messianic (New Covenant), followed by a concluding section called “The Covenant Allegory.”  I’m now about halfway through, in part 5, the Sinaitic covenant, and find the book very instructive.  A few parts I disagree with, particularly his hermeneutic and treatment of the land promises, a few chapters in the Abrahamic covenant part.  Here I agree with covenantal premillennialists such as Horatius Bonar, whose “Prophetic Landmarks” book responded with sharp criticism to the spiritualizers of his day, and particularly Patrick Fairbairn; and Fairbairn is one of the scholars frequently quoted by Pink.

Of note, each section includes good background material regarding the individuals and the setting (Adam, Noah, Abraham), along with excerpts from previous commentators and Pink’s own views at particular points; as one example, Pink believed that Adam remained lost, an unregenerate person, contrary to the more common view about Adam.

Pink goes beyond the usual more superficial look at the covenants as “unilateral, unconditional,” to emphasize three important parts of each covenant, which reveal both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.  Each covenant features 1) divine calling, grace, election;  2) obedience; and 3) the reward / God fulfilling His promises.  In the Noahic covenant:

God maintained the claims of His righteousness by what He required from the responsible agents with whom He dealt. It was not until after Noah “did according to all that God commanded him” (Gen. 6:22) by preparing an ark “to the saving of his house” (Heb. 11:7), that God confirmed His “with thee will I establish my covenant” (Gen. 6:18) by “I establish my covenant” (9:9). Noah having fulfilled the divine stipulations, God was now prepared to fulfill His promises.

Similarly in the Abrahamic covenant:

The order there is unmistakably plain. First, God acted in grace, sovereign grace, by singling out Abraham from his idolatrous neighbors, and by calling him to something far better. Second, God made known the requirements of His righteousness and enforced Abraham’s responsibility by the demand there made upon him.  Third, the promised reward was to follow Abraham’s response to God’s call. These three things are conjoined in Heb. 11:8: “By faith Abraham, when he was called [by divine grace] to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance [the reward], obeyed [the discharge of his responsibility]; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” . . .

Many scriptures indeed indicate Abraham’s obedience, and show the moral law and obedience to God present in and required by the patriarchs, long before the Mosaic/Sinaitic covenant.  Here I also think of a similar text (not specifically mentioned yet relevant)—Ezekiel 33:24-26, which marks a contrast between Abraham and the idolatrous Israelites of Ezekiel’s day, and the moral difference:

 “Son of man, the inhabitants of these waste places in the land of Israel keep saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he got possession of the land; but we are many; the land is surely given us to possess.’ Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord God: You eat flesh with the blood and lift up your eyes to your idols and shed blood; shall you then possess the land?  You rely on the sword, you commit abominations, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife; shall you then possess the land?

Pink well summarized these features of the later covenants, as “nothing new” but true throughout God’s covenants, including the everlasting covenant (Covenant of Redemption):

The above elements just as truly shadowed forth another fundamental aspect of the everlasting covenant as did the different features singled out from the Adamic and the Noahic. In the everlasting covenant, God promised a certain reward unto Christ upon His fulfilling certain conditions—executing the appointed work. The inseparable principles of law and gospel, grace and reward, faith and works, were most expressly conjoined in that compact which God entered into with the Mediator before the foundation of the world. Therein we may behold the “manifold wisdom of God” in combining such apparent opposites; and instead of carping at their seeming hostility, we should admire the omniscience which has made the one the handmaid of the other. Only then are we prepared to discern and recognize the exercise of this dual principle in each of the subordinate covenants.

“The Divine Covenants” is well-written, looking at the different views of commentators and responding to various errors that have been taught, noting the scriptures that do not  agree with those ideas.  Throughout, too, are great quotes affirming the importance of scripture and refuting wrong attitudes that some have toward God’s word; the following excerpt I appreciate, in response to an idea still popular with many evangelicals today:

There is a certain class of people, posing as ultraorthodox, who imagine they have a reverence and respect for Holy Writ as the final court of appeal which surpasses that of their fellows. They say, ‘Show me a passage which expressly states God made a covenant with Adam, and that will settle the matter; but until you can produce a verse with the exact term “Adamic covenant” in it, I shall believe no such thing.’ Our reason for referring to this paltry quibble is because it illustrates a very superficial approach to God’s Word which is becoming more and more prevalent in certain quarters, and which stands badly in need of being corrected. Words are only counters or signs after all (different writers use them with varying latitude, as is sometimes the case in Scripture itself); and to be unduly occupied with the shell often results in a failure to obtain the kernel within.

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.

Studies in Deuteronomy II: Moses, and the Tribes of Reuben and Gad

September 1, 2016 Leave a comment

Continuing in Chantry’s study through the first chapters of Deuteronomy: a look at Deuteronomy 3:12-22, the account of the Trans-Jordan land given to the 2 ½ tribes, in this lesson.

This particular story is mentioned in several places: the original event in Numbers 32, Moses’ reference to it here in Deuteronomy, plus follow-up in the book of Joshua.  Study of the Deuteronomy text includes the original incident; this is a situation regarding “what Moses didn’t know.”  Moses did not know that the Trans-Jordan should even be given to Israel — the promise was always about the land west of the Jordan River; and Moses did not know the heart motives of the men who came to him asking to have that land.  Heinitially suspected them of their motives, as being like the previous generation that discouraged their fellow Israelites to not go in and take possession of the land.  Were they really hoping to get out of helping in the conquest of Canaan?  Or were they honest all along, planning to do as what they explained to Moses after his initial judgment?  Moses, as well as us reading it, do not know their thoughts on this point.  What Moses did was hold them to their words, their vow – and as the story later unfolded, they were true to their words and went out in the lead, at the front of the army.

Other considerations here:  though Moses had not known it, clearly God had purposed for this part of the land  — the trans-Jordan (east of the Jordan River) – to be a part of Israel, and thus it would be parceled out to some of the tribes.  Yet the way in which it was distributed, did not come directly from God’s directive, but as a request from the leaders of those tribes.  Looking at the overall situation, their desire to have that land was not really the wisest choice.  They willingly put themselves geographically apart from the heart of Israel – on the frontier and fringe of society.  The Jordan created a natural barrier; at certain times of the year – due to flood stage – the Jordan could not easily be crossed. These tribes isolated themselves, as further away from the place of worship – a situation that Chantry likened to our day in the case of Christians who are more distant and frequently not at church due to their past choices such as their occupation (having to work on Sundays).

Though not mentioned in this lesson, we do see the concern that these tribes later had when, in Joshua 22, they set up a replica of the altar to God on their side of the river, indicating that generation’s desire to stay connected to the rest of the nation.  Later history of Israel, though, does confirm the overall problem, their unwise choice: this area was quick to apostatize, and 2 Kings 10:32-33 tells us that this land was the first area to be taken away by the Assyrians: In those days the LORD began to cut off parts of Israel.  Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Valley of the Arnon, that is, Gilead and Bashan.

 

Studies in Deuteronomy — I: The Giants

August 25, 2016 1 comment

I’ve been listening to Tom Chantry’s recent series through Deuteronomy (only completed through Deut. 4, and apparently on break at least for the summer): a good series with many interesting points regarding the first few chapters of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 2:8-23 is one of those seemingly dry narrative texts in which Moses provides detail about various races of giants, historical data of events that had already taken place in which one people group had replaced another.  We tend to ask, why is this in the Bible and what has it to do with us?

The lesson on this text (“There Be Giants”) first considers the issue of “giants,” with some interesting facts concerning the average heights of different people groups throughout history.  The “giants” were people of relative height compared to other groups of people.  Historical evidence such as uniforms on display at museums indicates that even at the time of the U.S. Civil War (150 years ago), people were overall shorter than today; medieval armor indicates the same regarding Europeans of a few hundred years ago.  Throughout history there have been very tall people, those close to 7 feet up to perhaps 8 feet; today we often see them as NFL football players, and Americans today on average are, compared to historical norms, at the higher end.  Because of the relative length of the ancient measurement, the cubit, we don’t know exactly how tall some of these ancient people were.  The bed (or possibly coffin) of Og the king of Bashan describes the largest recorded size, of a ‘giant’ who was not a ‘freak’ (such as Goliath in relation to the Philistines) but an actual ruler.

The more important lesson from this chapter, though, is that of God’s sovereignty over the nations.  Though the book of Daniel is more well known for directly addressing this, in God’s word we find the same truths taught in multiple places, the same teaching that affirms the unity of all scripture.  The Deuteronomy text especially points out that even nations of giants, those people especially gifted with physical strength, were defeated and no longer around.  The people of Israel needed to not fear the inhabitants of Canaan (as their parents of 40 years earlier, at Kadesh Barnea).  We likewise can learn from this: nations which appear as very strong and powerful, will yet topple.  It is God who raises up nations, and God who brings them down to ruin.

As Chantry well observed, as application for us, especially in reference to politics and government, in this (once again) U.S. election year:

The strength of men is meaningless in the face of divine sovereignty. Why did all of these nations fall? Because God said that it was time for them to do so…nations, just like men, live under the decree of God. We do NOT create our own future. Now that’s an important thing for us to contemplate in an election year, is it not? Because every candidate of every political stripe is going to sell that message one way or another. ‘We are going to create our future’, and they’re going to ask you, as a voter, ‘what sort of a future are we going to create?’ It’s a helpful thing for the Christian to sit back and say, no, no, we do not rule the future. God rules the future. God determines. Governments retain their power only so long as God permits. That’s not intended as a rabble-rousing statement. I’m not indicating that we or any other Christian ought to take up arms against the government. I’m merely observing a reality. It is a reality of scripture and a reality of history, that governments retain their power only so far as God permits. And when that power ends, it ends; and sometimes it ends with startling speed. We cannot put confidence in history. … We live under the decree of God, and God does with nations as He does with men. He does whatsoever He wills.