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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.”

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

December 9, 2021 Leave a comment

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.

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?

Judges 2-3, Thorns in the Side, and Experience and Providence

September 1, 2021 1 comment

Several years ago when I was referencing a sermon series in 2 Corinthians and the Apostle Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a blog reader here noted the word study and Old Testament references to “thorns,” which gives indication that when Paul used this term he was referring to the Judaizers who were causing such agitation for him; they were his “thorn in the flesh.”

One of these mentions of “thorns in the side” comes from Judges 2:3, the Lord’s pronouncement to the people of Israel, who had broken the covenant with Him.  Therefore, the Lord would no longer drive out the inhabitants of the land; rather, they (the peoples dwelling among them) shall be thorns in your side.  

As I continue through the book of Judges, chapters 2 and 3 mention the people being tested — a theme referenced elsewhere such as in Deuteronomy 8 and 13 — to know whether the people would be true to the Lord, to walk in His ways, to keep His commands.  Here, Judges 2:22: so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not,”  and again in Judges 3:1 and 3:4 — the surrounding nations were left to test Israel.  So, the nations were left as a “thorn in the side,” as something that could snare them, and then described also as a test, to see if the people would keep the ways of the Lord, or not.  

Then another reason is mentioned for this new providence from God:  for later generations to know military discipline and war.  The surface level explanation brings to mind the idea of military tactics and actual battles of war.  Yet, as George Bush’s commentary points out, this text includes a deeper level of meaning, beyond this first idea that he describes as an inadequate view. 

The term ‘to know,’ must in fairness be interpreted according to its usual Scriptural import, which is to have not merely an intellectual, but an experimental knowledge of any thing. By those therefore who ‘had not known all the wars of Canaan,’ we understand those who had not with confiding faith, with lively zeal, and from a prompt and grateful spirit of obedience, entered into and persevered in those conflicts with the Canaanites which God had enjoined.

As they had grossly failed in their duty in this respect, and had not ‘known’ these wars as they should have done, their children, according to the righteous economy of Providence, were appointed to reap the bitter fruits of their neglect. They were to know to their cost, to be taught by sad experience, the trouble, vexation, and annoyance that should come upon the successive generations descended from those who, by their culpable remissness, had so righteously incurred this afflictive judgment.

(From George Bush, “Notes, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Judges: Designed as a General Help to Biblical Reading and Instruction.”)

Such a great point made here, and a fuller explanation of this text. Indeed, Judges 3:4 notes that the testing’s purpose was to know “whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord” — commandments (to their fathers by the hand of Moses) which clearly encompassed a lot more than just battle tactics used by Joshua and those immediately after Joshua. We can see the application to our own spiritual warfare–and our great failures, with the bitter consequences of past neglects. So true it is, that we must often learn this way, through sad experience of our failures. God chastens and disciplines His children. (Ref. Hebrews 12:5-6.) Yet, praise God, He does not leave us there. In the book of Judges, the people sometimes were oppressed for many years (in one example in Judges 3, for 18 years), but when they learned to cry out to God, to seek Him earnestly, God again brought deliverance. We learn from these examples (ref. 1 Corinthians 10:11), and likewise seek God, knowing that He will answer us when we call upon Him, in true repentance, as we seek Him earnestly.

Study: The Book of Judges, and Othniel as a Type of Christ

August 26, 2021 3 comments

I’ve started a study on the book of Judges.  A local church Bible group is doing a study of it, and though it didn’t work out to attend that one, the book of Judges is a good study topic, a book not often thought of for Bible study yet, as always with God’s word, quite appropriate and relevant for our day.  

Dr. Alan Cairns (see previous post) did a 23-part series in the book of Judges (1989-1990)– not covering every chapter and verse but on quite a few passages, starting with Judges 1 and 3 in a look at the life of Othniel, the first judge.  For more detailed study of all 21 chapters, verse by verse, a good commentary I found, from an author recommended by Charles Spurgeon, is “Notes, Practical and Expository, on the Book of Judges,”  by 19th century scholar George Bush  — a distant relative/ancestor of the recent U.S. Presidents.

Judges is a book relevant for our time, an age of apostasy, as Dr. Cairns noted in his first sermon.  The particular apostasy he noted was the influence of Roman Catholicism and surveys showing the lack of doctrinal knowledge by Protestants (who by their answers to questions appeared to believe Roman Catholicism instead of Protestant theology).  The apostasy is much more pronounced now, a generation later. 

Othniel was the first of the twelve Judges in the Book of Judges — along with a 13th, Abimelech.  From the references to him in Judges 1:13, and again in Judges 3:9-11, here are some interesting observations about Othniel, including ways that he can be considered a type of Christ.  

First, Othniel’s name means “Lion of God,” and our Lord is referred to also as a Lion, the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.”  Like Christ, Othniel was called by God, raised up for conflicts and for conquest.  Othniel delivered the people from their bondage (Judges 3:9).  Othniel purchased his bride (Judges 1:13), again a type/illustration of what Christ accomplished for His people. 

From Bush’s commentary on Judges chapter 1, another interesting observation:  life for the Israelites during this era was not always one of conflict and falling away.  This book highlights the times when the people were disobedient, and the continual cycle of disobedience, punishment, and deliverance — through a judge brought to the scene, to deliver the people and bring them back to the Lord. Yet peaceful times, many years at a time, are mentioned in brief sentences, years we are told almost nothing about.  In Othniel’s day, for instance, after the war and conquest by Othniel we are told that the land had rest for 40 years (Judges 3:11). 

Here I recall a “Chronicles of Narnia” scene in which C.S. Lewis depicted this idea, that there are times of peace during which little appears to happen, punctuated by great dramatic times of conflict and conquest:  the children entering Narnia had only visited at the major, important times of crisis in the land’s history, but the Narnians recalled living through the ordinary, routine years of peace.  So with the book of Judges, we do see a lot of conflict, and a lot of apostasy throughout, but (by God’s grace) there were respites, times of peace for the Israelites.  Of these years, though, we are only told the consequence, in the terrible reality of human sin and depravity:  those years of peace only brought about complacency and worldliness, for the people to forget about God and to quit serving Him.  Then another era of oppression, also lasting several years at a time, would come, before God would again send another judge to deliver His people.

The first chapter of Judges has a few other positive lessons, from the good things that occurred before the disappointments:  Judah and Simeon worked together as a team (Judges 1:3-5).  One group was stronger and the leader (Judah), and Simeon assisted.  Commentator George Bush notes the lessons: 


Judah therefore must lead in this perilous enterprise; for God not only appoints service according to the strength and ability he has given, but ‘would also have the burden of honor and the burden of labor go together.’ Those who have the precedency in rank, reputation, or influence, should always be disposed to go before others in every good work, undismayed by danger, difficulty, or obloquy, that they may encourage others by their example. … [Regarding Simeon]: ‘Observe here that the strongest should not despise but desire the assistance even of those that are weaker. It becomes Israelites to help one another against Canaanites; and all Christians, even those of different tribes, to strengthen one another’s hands against the common interests of Satan’s kingdom.’ Henry.

Another commentary I’ll be referencing along the way is the well-known Matthew Henry commentary, a standard go-to commentary for most books of the Bible for his insights and applications in the details of these texts. (As seen in the above excerpt from Bush, he also included selections from Matthew Henry in his commentary.)  All three of these — the two commentaries, and Alan Cairns’ sermons series, are good study helps as I continue this study, past the first chapter and through the rest of the book.

Bible Timeline Chart/Map of History

January 27, 2021 1 comment

Here is something interesting, which I recently learned of:  Adams’ Synchronological Chart or Map of History.  It’s available in book fold-out form from book publisher sites such as this one.   A gift from an online friend, this fold-out chart shows all human history, from a biblical timeline perspective starting at creation at 4004 BC, up through 1878, a look at most world history up to the last 140+ years.  At a glance it shows in parallel, a synchronization, of each century in the timeline (with smaller divisions of 10 years within each century), to show major Old Testament events along with all other known secular history events and the rulers of the Gentile nations in the world.  (A major update, to bring it into the 21st century, would be nice, but has not been done as far as I know.)

It’s a fascinating view of world history, sometimes referred to as His Story: the work of God through the years, from creation and antiquity, through to near-modern times.  For instance, the section on the High Middle Ages will show, at a glance, the names of all the different Kings and Queens of Europe at any given time, a helpful addition to my study (several years ago) through English Medieval history.

 

The early pages include the lifespans of the major biblical figures, including Adam, Methuselah, and Noah, and show how their lives spanned across so many years from creation, through the flood, until the first several hundred years after the Flood.  This link includes a photo (sideways on a computer screen) of the full chart. 

Another interesting resource, available also in PDF online, is Floyd Nolen Jones’ The Chronology of the Old Testament: A Return to the Basics.  I’ve only glanced through a few sections so far, but it’s a very detailed look at dating the Old Testament chronology, including the ages of the patriarchs and dates of  Old Testament events, looking at all the evidence and various views.  This work also argues for the creation date of 4004 BC., and (same as Adams’ Synchronological Chart) has the Exodus lasting 215 years; the 400 years of affliction started with Abraham’s seed, before they actually went to Egypt.  A few years ago I first came across this idea (up to that time I’d thought of the 400 years as meaning 400 years actually in Egypt), mentioned in this previous post.  Another section addresses the Genesis texts concerning Jacob’s age, that he was 77 at the time he came to Laban; I recall discovering this several years ago, from basic math on the years of Jacob’s age at various events.

Here are links to a few other of my posts on creation, with the focus on the earliest writings and early history of the nations:

The Christian Mindset: Proverbs 3 Study

November 24, 2020 Leave a comment

When Christians think of the term ‘worldview’ or ‘mindset,’ it’s common to associate this with the objective truths of the gospel, of a set of Christian truths and their application — possibly encompassing apologetics, a Christian “worldview” conference, or a church class on the errors of CRT or other false teachings infiltrating the evangelical church.  But there is another way to think of this, not in terms of the objective, external doctrines of Scripture, but the inner life, the “orthopraxy” that is manifested outwardly from the inner heart attitude, the fruit of biblical wisdom. 

The general, national evangelical scene of recent years, and the trials that the country and world have faced, have revealed a disconnect, with widespread shallow thinking and lack of discernment among many in professing Christendom. In response to this, the current local church recently taught a 12-part Wednesday night series on “The Christian Mindset.”: a study in Proverbs 3:1-12 and its five key teachings, as a helpful study to improve one’s biblical focus and discernment.

These 12 verses in Proverbs 3 start with an introduction (verses 1-2), the setting of Solomon teaching his son, imploring his son to remember his father’s teaching, for the benefit of keeping his commandments:  long life and peace.  Then, verses 3 through 12 come in five sets, or stanzas, key ideas, such that this scripture passage can be seen as a meta-narrative on the Christian life.

  • REMEMBER God’s steadfast love and faithfulness (verses 3-4)
  • Trust in the LORD, acknowledge God (verses 5-6)
  • Humility:  Fear the LORD, turn from evil, do not be wise in your own eyes (verses 7-8)
  • Honor the LORD with your wealth (verses 9-10)
  • “Kiss the rod” and submit to the LORD’s chastening and pruning (verses 11-12)

Several lessons emphasized the foundation, the significance and importance of remembering God’s great steadfast love (Hesed) and Faithfulness (Emet) to us.  These terms appear in scripture, and frequently together, throughout the Old Testament.  Hesed, which translates to seven different English words including the words mercy and steadfast love, occurs about 250 times total and over 100 times in the Psalms.  God’s love is also compared to a rock — rock-like stability and protection to His people — such as in Deuteronomy 32:4.  Interestingly, the Hebrew word for Love, Ahove, is the term that describes sentimental love, from one person to another, also referring to the human love of things, such as Esau’s food that Isaac loved.  Yet steadfast love is a different word with a much deeper and stronger meaning.  

Other Old Testament texts expand the picture of what is taught in Proverbs 3:3-4, such as the importance of remembering what God has done, as shown in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.  The Israelites were to rehearse before the priest their history and what God had done for them. and to praise God for His goodness and the bounty that God has given—the land flowing with milk and honey. 

The next two verses (5-6) about trusting in the LORD:  additional verses include Isaiah 12:2, Psalm 112:7, and Psalm 125; Those who trust in the Lord are like mount Zion, which cannot be moved.  The study here also referenced John Piper’s “Future Grace” teaching:  gratitude works for past events, but “malfunctions” as a motivator for the future.  Thus, our primary motivation for living Christian life, is confidence in future grace.  Cross-reference also James 4:13-16, “if the Lord wills,” along with “lean not on your own understanding.”

Verses 7 and 8 , on humility: Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking about yourself less. There is a proper fear of the LORD, and even a proper dread (see Isaiah 8:13), as we are to fear God, the one who has power to throw both body and soul into hell.

Then comes the part about money and stewardship, verses 9-10:  honor the LORD with your money.  It’s not a particular quantity or percentage, but the heart attitude and sacrificial giving.  Again, Proverbs 3 is supplemented with many other scripture texts:  1 Timothy 6 about the love of money, Jesus’ words that we cannot serve two masters.  It’s about honoring the LORD in this way, and here we can also reference 1 Samuel 2:30, the LORD’s words to Eli the priest:   for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.

The fifth, last stanza is the topic of discipline, also referred to as discipline, chastening, or pruning, a topic I recently explored in this recent post, a look at a Charles Spurgeon devotional and Hebrews 12:7-8.  This truth is likewise addressed in many places, including here in the Proverbs 3 “summary statement.”

The full “hymn” here in Proverbs 3 is a great summary of these five key emphases that we should all aim at in our daily Christian walk, as the Christian mindset.

Habakkuk, Genesis 3:8, and ‘A Day of the Lord’?

September 14, 2020 2 comments

A recent sermon series, “The Gospel According to Habakkuk,” has included a lot of good points on the law, gospel, trials and suffering, judgment, and more — all from the minor prophet Habakkuk.  Going through the first complaint-response and then Habakkuk’s second complaint, up to the beginning of chapter 2, includes many issues in Habakkuk’s struggle.  One’s basic orientation / disorientation, and reorientation toward life (after working through a very difficult time) is seen in Habakkuk’s experience, and often in the lament Psalms.

One of Habakkuk’s issues, of judgment, relates to understanding of the term apocalypse, which (as we know) means to uncover or reveal something.  Revelation is the actual English translation of the Greek term of apocalypse.  Here, though, one idea seems rather novel, something that I haven’t come across in the historic Reformed and Puritan commentaries:  the idea of many small ‘Day of the Lord’ judgment events — a wide definition that even includes Habakkuk’s experience.  In this sense, any event in one’s life that brings trials and difficulties, is a small ‘Day of the Lord’ event, one that helps each of us prepare for the coming final Day of the Lord.  The term ‘Day of the Lord’ thus refers to many different historic events, occurring throughout history and not limited to the future Second Coming.  Overall, yes, this makes sense, in that every difficulty presents itself as a growth opportunity, with a choice of faith or pride; we can humble ourselves, look to God in faith, and learn what God would have us learn (I especially think of Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot), or answer with pride and self-righteous anger.  As pointed out in this series, the recent events (including the response to the covid-19 pandemic) have revealed a lot of shallow and superficial Christianity, a lot of self-righteous pride, rather than humbly considering what it is that God wants us to learn.

Then we come to Genesis 3:8, which describes Adam and Eve hiding from LORD God in the cool of the day.  The new idea mentioned here takes a different interpretation:  this was not a comment on the weather, but God coming in judgment to Adam and Eve; the term ‘cool,’ sometimes translated as wind, can also mean spirit, and so this verse is describing a terrifying judgment scene rather than a casual conversation with God.  The sense of Genesis 3:8 is quite different than what is found from reading Reformed and Puritan commentaries such as John Calvin, Matthew Henry, or John Bunyan’s (unfinished) commentary on Genesis 1-11.  The text here is compared to other Old Testament texts that describe the terrifying experience such as what Moses and the Israelites heard on Mt. Sinai, and references in the prophets — such as Jeremiah 46:10 (about Egypt), Ezekiel 30:2-4, Joel, and Zephaniah 1:14-16.  Joel 2 — again, according to this view — is fulfilled in Acts 2.  This view then makes an even greater leap, to state that all of the Old Testament ‘Day of the Lord’ prophecies were fulfilled at the Cross.  Only the New Testament passages about the future Day of the Lord are still considered relevant, referring to Christ’s Second Coming.  Further, Revelation 1:8, which describes John being in the spirit “on the Lord’s Day” is equated with the Day of the Lord.

From all of this, it seems to me that general application of scripture — about how we learn and grow from our trials, as events that reveal our hearts and provide opportunities to repent and grow in faith — has been mixed in with doctrinal teaching about the prophetic scriptures that address the Second Coming of our Lord.  Both ideas are important and should be taught, yet that does not require conflating the two ideas as done here.  I’m also reminded of other modern-day doctrinal innovations such as this previous post coming out of the ‘Redemptive-Historical’ school of thought.  Again, I don’t find such ideas in the Reformed and Puritan commentaries, and wonder why modern teachers seemingly have the desire to come up with new interpretations rather than standing by traditional, historic teaching.

In closing, I appreciate this commentary excerpt from John Bunyan on Genesis 3:8:

“And they heard the voice of the Lord God.” This voice was not to be understood according, as if it was the effect of a word; as when we speak, the sound remains with a noise for some time after; but by voice here, we are to understand the Lord Christ himself; wherefore this voice is said to walk, not to sound only: “They heard the voice of the Lord God walking.” This voice John calls the word, the word that was with the Father before he made the world, and that at this very time was heard to walk in the garden of Adam: Therefore John also saith, this voice was in the beginning; that is, in the garden with Adam, at the beginning of his conversion, as well as of the beginning of the world (John 1:1).
“And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” The gospel of it is, in the season of grace; for by the cool of the day, he here means, in the patience, gentleness, goodness and mercy of the gospel; and it is opposed to the heat, fire, and severity of the law.

James Boice on the Prophet Habakkuk (Part 2)

August 19, 2020 Leave a comment
As mentioned in the last post, James Boice did a 5 part series on Habakkuk (as well as teaching through all the other minor prophets).  Boice’s sermon dates are not that easy to determine, as he did not typically reference the year or specific events — unlike S. Lewis Johnson, whose sermons are fairly easy to date given the frequent date references.  Yet in this case, Boice mentioned a recent PCRT conference on the topic of Revival, and specifically that one of the messages was given by John Richard DeWitt.  It turns out that this conference was held in 1982, “Come, Change Our World”  (audio recordings available here) — which also explains Boice’s frequent references to revival, as what Habakkuk probably had on his mind.
Habakkuk 2:4 is a well known verse, cited three times in the New Testament:  Romans 1:17, Hebrews 10:38, and Galatians 3:11.  Here, James Boice pointed out the Greek construction with three parts — “the righteous” “by faith” “will live” — and that each of these New Testament texts provides an exposition of one of the three parts.  Romans provides the commentary on “the righteous,” Hebrews on the phrase “by faith” (with the great “hall of faith” Hebrews 11 soon after the Habakkuk reference in Hebrews 10), and Galatians adds the commentary on “will live,” how the righteous will live.
In the third chapter, Habakkuk has finally been brought from his earlier self-righteous angry attitude, to a God-ward focus.  Here we can see the value of a prepared composition and poem.  Yes, spontaneous prayer has its place and value, our daily talking with God, but Habakkuk’s prayer shows reverence for God, a focus on God that is not filled with the uncomfortable uhs and “ands” in our everyday speech.  Habakkuk’s earlier chapters included references to himself, and he considered God’s attributes.  But what really helps, to reorient our life back to God, involves more than just intellectually understanding God’s attributes.  What helps to get past the complaints, is to also remember and affirm God’s past actions, what God has done for His people in the past.  Habakkuk was terrified as he considered the coming judgment — verse 16:
I hear, and my body trembles;  my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me.
 and so now, what gets Habakkuk going again, is to remember God’s mighty acts of the past, and how God had delivered His people.  It is after this focus on God and recalling God’s actions for His people, that Habakkuk can truly trust and rejoice in the Lord, expressed in the final verses (17-19), a great poem and song of hope:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the deer’s;
    he makes me tread on my high places.