Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Ezekiel’

The Moral Law, “My Sabbaths” and Ezekiel

October 15, 2015 6 comments

For today, I first note the theme of a recent book and a few blog posts — in response to the ‘New Calvinism’ emphasis today — concerning so many other Reformed teachings beyond the basic 5 points of Calvinism. David Murray at the HeadHeartHand blog has begun a series, with There’s More to Calvinism Than the Five Points of Calvinism and There’s more to the doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace, in which he notes the doctrine of creation, doctrine of providence, doctrine of revelation; I could go on and on: the grace of justification, the grace of adoption, the grace of sanctification, the grace of assurance, the grace of the sacraments, the grace of repentance, and so on. See how many doctrines of grace there are? And we haven’t yet touched the THE doctrines of grace. There are way more doctrines of grace than THE doctrines of grace.

Reformed Baptists (Richard Barcellos, Sam Waldron and a few others) have recently published “Going Beyond the Five Points: Pursuing a More Comprehensive Reformation” (kindle version available for $9.99), a collection of several essays about the 1689 Confession / Reformed Baptist theology (more than just the 5 points of Calvinism); I have started reading it and may post more specifically on it later.

Now to the topic of moral law and the Sabbath: in my ongoing genre-reading through the Bible, lately I have been reading through the first half of Ezekiel (end of the ‘OT history’ list) and the last chapters of Isaiah (beginning of the Prophets list), and certain impressions come through very strongly. The theme of judgment on apostate Israel is especially prominent in this section of Ezekiel (chapters 20 through 23), as generally elsewhere throughout the prophets, with contrasts between the wicked and their wicked acts, and the righteous and their righteous acts. At this point Israel had become worse than the Canaanite nations that the Lord had driven out before them; thus Israel was also removed from the land. As I’ve read previously from Phil Johnson, even the Canaanite nations were held accountable by God for a basic moral law (reference Romans 2:14-15), a law they were judged by even though they did not have the special revelation given to Moses, the written form of the Mosaic law.

Throughout the judgment passages in the Old Testament is the point that God detests and actually hates the ceremonial observance of apostate Israel – because they were not doing so from the heart, but merely with their lips, going through the motions only. Again and again this point is made, of the wicked ceremonial observance along with moral injustice, and the call to repentance, to return to the Lord and to do righteousness. Reference here Isaiah chapter 1, which describes apostate Israel’s Sabbath observance–within the context of their ceremonial law (verses 13-14): “Bring no more vain offerings; ​​​​​​​incense is an abomination to me. ​​​​​​​New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations- ​​​​​​​I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates.”

But then turn especially to Ezekiel 20 through 22, passages of strong judgment against Israel; interestingly enough, in these pronouncements of judgment, the Sabbath (a moral Sabbath, always referred to as “My Sabbaths”) is stated eight times (six in Ezekiel 20, and two more in Ezekiel 22), as something that apostate Israel was NOT doing and that they SHOULD do. Consider several of these references:

20:13 They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned.

20:16 because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols.

20: 19-20: I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules, 20 and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.

20:21 They did not walk in my statutes and were not careful to obey my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths.​​​​​​​​

20: 23-24: I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols.

22:8 You have despised my holy things and profaned my Sabbaths.

Clearly (and logically), if on the one hand God hated their wrong-hearted observance of ceremonial law and rebuked them for their “new moon and Sabbath” – and yet so many times in Ezekiel alone He charged them with wrongdoing, forsaking God’s law and profaning His Sabbath – our God is referring to two different concepts of “Sabbath,” and He is especially concerned with a higher, moral concept of a Sabbath (the 4th commandment), not merely the ceremonial observance of their Sabbaths done in connection with the Mosaic law.  Further — and contrary to the teaching of NCT (New Covenant Theology) — this understanding of God’s moral law, of greater importance than Israel’s ceremonial law, was revealed and understood in the Old Testament, and known by Old Testament saints; God’s moral law was not something missing or incomplete or some “lower standard of morality” that had to be “raised” to a higher level of “the law of Christ” that was unknown before His First Coming.

 

Classic Premillennial Views: Ezekiel’s Temple (Nathaniel West)

December 2, 2014 1 comment

Occasionally the question comes up, what does historic premillennialism believe regarding Ezekiel’s Temple and the Sacrifices? It must first be noted that this is really a secondary issue, not an essential of any form of premillennialism – and further, that even dispensationalists have differing views. H.A. Ironside and a few others have taken the Scofield Bible’s “secondary” explanation of a literal temple with symbolic language for the sacrifices.  Another good, basic reference is an article regarding Charles Spurgeon’s eschatology, which notes Spurgeon’s speculation regarding the future millennial temple:

  1. During the millennial kingdom there may be a temple or “Christian Structure” built on the Temple Mount for worship of God.
  2. During the millennium there may be some forms of Old Testament ceremonial adherence (Sabbaths, News Moon, etc.), but that those forms will be modified to be appropriate for the church.

Nathaniel West’s classic work “The Thousand Year Reign of Christ” (1899) supplemental material includes a full essay, “The 1000 years in Ezekiel,” on the question of where Ezekiel 40-48 fit within the premillennial timeline. After establishing that this temple exists during the 1000 year intermediate state — and not any time in the past, and also not as something purely idealistic (with no reference to any time, and not during the Eternal State – Nathaniel West shares some interesting points regarding the idea of the temple itself as well as its “bloody sacrifices,” including how the text can be understood to follow the literal hermeneutic and as typical language, in a way that does not violate the principle of literal language yet not contradicting other biblical teachings that conflict with “bloody sacrifices.”

Following are some excerpts from this material, which is not available online, but only in existing used print copies.  (Note: emphasis is in the original text.)

It is enough, for our present purpose, to state where we fully believe these Chapters belong, and their connection with the “first resurrection,” even as (apostle) John has briefly stated the connection of the 1000 years, in the same way. …

The locus of the whole scene of the New Israel, in their New Land, redistributed and transfigured, their New Temple, New City, and New Cult, is between the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment at the end of Ezekiel’s “Many Days,” 38:8, Isaiah’s “Multitude of Days” Isaiah 24:22, Hosea’s “Third Day” 6:2, and John’s “1000 years,” 20:1-7. That is the region where they belong. That bloody sacrifices seem a stumbling block, never can avail to dislodge the section from its place in prophecy or history. The picture is a picture of restored Israel from an Exile-point of view, when the Temple was destroyed, the City laid waste by the king of Babylon, Israel’s instituted worship wrecked, and the prophet-priest, Ezekiel, was moved by “the hand of God” to comfort the exiles of Gola!” (noted in the footnote, the prophecy in Ezekiel 40-48 was written in October 572 B.C.)

 

It covers, perspectively, the whole temporal future of the people, and bleeds the Restoration, the non-Restoration, the Abolition, the future Restitution, all in one. Isaiah had chiefly dwelt upon the prophetic side of the kingdom, in thrilling terms, Daniel dwells upon the kingly side and, to Ezekiel it is given to paint the priestly side of it. … And, as all the rest speak, so does he, in Old Testament terms, and paints in Old Testament colors, yet not without the most startling modifications of the Mosaic worship;–not legislating the “rudiments of the Pentateuchal priest-code,” but amending, abolishing, and adding to it, changing it,–a sign of fading, not advancing, Mosaism.

One thing we know, beyond dispute, viz., that “Israel” of the Millennial Age is a converted people, “serving God in newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” How much of Ezekiel’s typical picture will fade in the fulfillment, how much brighten to intenser glory, we may not decide. Nor does this impinge on the doctrine of “exact accomplishment.” It neither asserts nor denies. It leaves to the future, problems the future only can solve. It refuses to reconcile apparent contradictions by the adoption of a principle of interpretation which, if logically carried out, would end in the denial of Christianity itself. It waits. The early Jewish Christians adhered to their Jewish rites long after their conversion on the day of Pentecost. They worshiped still in the Temple. At any rate, the future will bring the solution. … We can agree and with Kahle, feel sure, that “it is not for us to determine how much of these closing predictions of Ezekiel will be literally fulfilled, how much not, when Israel has turned to the Lord with all their heart.” We may not go to the length of Baumgarten and Hess who, perhaps, press the literal, in some respect, to the quick, but we may follow men of scholarship and greatness in the knowledge of God’s word, like Crusius, Delitzch, Nagelsbach, Hofmann, Neumann, and agree, even with Kuenen and Graf, in this, that “it is vain, either to idealize, or seek to spiritualize, the many of minute details of these Chapters.”

Further:

The relations described are too perfect to allow us to see in this picture a representation, beforehand, of the restored Church of Zerubbabel and Joshua, of Ezra and Nehemiah, such as was afterward related historically. Or, is it the consummated Jerusalem, the Eternal City of God? For this again, the relations are too limited, too specifically Jewish. And yet there are elements, even in the oracles of Ezekiel, that do not find expression in the architectural plan framed after the Mosaic pattern. The Temple is seen standing on a high mountain. This feature, and the Temple-River swelling as it goes, show that the whole is more than a new architectonic for the building of God’s house, or a new revision of the Law, or the Restoration of the State. It is a prophetic vision in which the Church of God and the Temple, are presented in glorified form. And yet the detailed descriptions are of such a kind, the walls, the chambers, and the doors, that they yield a real architectonic of which a plan may be drawn, complete as that of the temple of Herod or Solomon. The Mosaic cultus here, is typical prophecy.

and

Attempts have been made to crane up this picture, and its separate features, by artificial means, to the height of the New Testament revelation, by putting a spiritual meaning into everything, or an outward fulfilment has been claimed by which even the bloody sacrifices must be logically ascribed to converted Israel. Really neither the one nor the other view accords with New Testament teaching.

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

December 6, 2013 Leave a comment

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

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

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

The Four Living Creatures in Ezekiel and Revelation (B.W. Newton observations)

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Benjamin Wills Newton, in “Thoughts on the Apocalypse,” (Works of Benjamin Wills Newton, volume 14) provides some interesting thoughts concerning the Cherubim mentioned in Ezekiel and again in Revelation.

The cherubim, or “living creatures,” in Revelation 4 symbolize one aspect of the redeemed:  the power “which the Church is to exercise in the hour of its glory.”  Newton notes that the cherubim join in with the elders (Revelation 5:8-10) in saying “Thou hast redeemed US unto God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” (Note: some translations use the third person ‘people’ instead. Yet their golden bowls are also said to be the prayers of the saints.)  The cherubim, as with the 24 elders, also act as priests in intercessory prayers.  We may find some difficulty, perhaps, in attaching symbols so different as those of the elders and of the cherubim to the same body — the Church: but it is a difficulty necessarily consequent on the blessed truth, that the Church is “the fulness of him who filleth all in all.”

Why the Four Living Creatures in Ezekiel are with the wheels (But no wheels in the Revelation vision)

What can be more significant of the resistless course of almighty power? These terrible wheels, combining the movements of four, without losing the unity of one — each one advancing swift as the lightning, in its straightforward course, not to be resisted by any strength or checked by any impediment — each going upon its sides and yet none revolving — moving at once northward and south ward and eastward and westward, and yet being but as one wheel — nowhere absent but everywhere present in the perfectness of undivided action, afford the mysterious, but fitting, symbol of the omnipotent agency of the power of Him before whom “all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say unto him, ‘What doest thou?'”

In the Revelation, however, the cherubim are not, as in Ezekiel, acting in the earth. In Ezekiel, they were seen below the firmament of crystal; but in the Revelation they are withdrawn from the earth into the presence of the throne, within the sea of crystal; and this, because of Israel’s sin. “I will go and retire into my place, till they acknowledge their offence.”

But the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, the fall of Jericho, the deliverance of Elisha when multitudes of unseen hosts surrounded him, the destruction of Sennacherib, and many other like interventions of the omnipotence of God, are proofs of what this power was able to effect, and what it once did effect, on behalf of Israel and Jerusalem. But the vision of this power was shown to Ezekiel, only that he might bear witness to its withdrawal. He saw it gradually depart, until at last it was hidden in heaven; and accordingly, in the Revelation, we find it there; but no wheels were seen, only cherubim, and they in rest, save only toward God; for their agency in the earth has for the present ceased; nor will it be restored until the order of the millennium begins.

The beasts of prophecy are to be contrasted from the living creatures, as we consider the difference between the government by the Gentile powers and the future government of God:

When the beasts of Daniel were permitted to establish themselves in the earth, and to tread down Jerusalem, that holy and blessed agency represented by the living creatures of Ezekiel and the Revelation was withdrawn from the earth; and as soon as those beasts have fulfilled their course, the “living creatures” will return. One of the great objects of the Revelation is to contrast the condition of the earth whilst under the last great “beast,” with its condition when it shall be again brought under the heavenly agency of the cherubim.

Parallels Between Israel’s Exodus and Christ’s Second Coming

November 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Ezekiel 20:35-36 — And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. 36 As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares the Lord God.

As has often been observed by Bible teachers, and I’ve noticed in my own Bible readings, the similarities between the book of Revelation end-times judgments, and the past judgment plagues on Egypt, are striking.  Both accounts involve descriptions of ruined water, famine and pestilence, locusts, and frogs, for instance.  As a biblical response to naturalist-minded believers, this parallel is a strong argument for the very supernatural power behind the future judgments.  These events will not be the result of man’s technological innovation, nuclear war fallout or any other disaster that man can inflict on this planet — any more than the plagues in Egypt were of man’s doing.  The fact that the people in Revelation 6 cry out for the rocks to fall on them and hide them from the wrath of God, from the wrath of the Lamb, ought to be obvious enough proof that the people there realize just Who is responsible for their plight:  not mankind in some global nuclear warfare.

All of the above texts show implicit similarities and parallels — we can see the similarities, but nothing explicit in the texts to link Egypt with the future.  In my recent Bible readings (in a modified Horner Bible Reading), though, I noticed a direct mention of the similarities between the two events.  I especially noticed Ezekiel 20:36 — which makes an explicit comparison between the Exodus from Egypt and the Second Coming judgment.  Where Exodus and Revelation describe actual plagues on the land and people, and the rest of the Pentateuch describes the wilderness wanderings, Ezekiel 20 tells us that Israel will face judgment, at the Second Coming, similar to that previous one.  So here we even see a parallel sequence between the two events:

Past (Exodus) Event Future (Second Coming) Event
1. Great plagues of judgment on the Egyptians Great plagues of judgment on the whole world
2. Israel removed from its land of sojourning Israel removed from its land where it was gathered in unbelief
(Daniel 9:27, 2 Thess. 2:4, Matt. 24:15-21, Rev. 11:2)
3. Israel tested and tried in the wilderness Israel regathered (ref. Matt. 24:31) and tried/judged in the wilderness
(Ezekiel 20:35-36)

It’s an interesting parallel, if I read and understand the scripture correctly.  However, I checked a few commentaries, such as the MacArthur Bible Commentary and Thomas Constable’s online commentary, and these both see verse 35 as referring to the Jewish dispersion of the present age. Yet Constable’s commentary, citing Scofield, does see verses 36 to 38 as referring to the future Great Tribulation:

“The passage is a prophecy of future judgment upon Israel, regathered from all nations . . . The issue of this judgment determines who of Israel in that day will enter kingdom blessing (Ps. 50:1-7; Ezek. 20:33-44; Mal. 3:2-5; 4:1-2).”  (The New Scofield.)

When taken as a whole, I don’t see how verse 35 is referring to the present day scattering, when the previous verse (20:34) clearly begins a section describing a gathering of the people who had been previously scattered:  I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out.  In verse 35 they have already been regathered, so the commentary notes for verse 35 in the MBC and Constable don’t make sense of the narrative sequence.  Instead, it seems that verse 34 begins with the current situation (the countries where you are scattered) and takes us into the future, when they are brought out and gathered — a yet future event.  It even could be said that all of this is future, since some biblical texts indicate a scattering of the Jews during the tribulation:  a first gathering in unbelief (begun in 1948) to allow the building of the tribulation-era temple and the seven year covenant with antiChrist, then a scattering at the mid-point of that 7 year covenant, followed by a regathering (in belief) during the Great Tribulation / Day of the Lord and preparation to enter into the Millennial Kingdom.  Such is my original understanding, as shown above, and so I still find this an interesting sequence, especially considering the parallel to the Exodus from Egypt and its sequence.

The Three Falls of Satan: A Look at Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Isaiah 14 (see these message from S. Lewis Johnson, Isaiah 14 and Systematic Theology) is one of the key passages that gives us information regarding Satan. Ezekiel 28:12-16 tells us the origin of sin in the fall of Satan, and Isaiah 14 tells us of the nature of that fall, in his five “I wills.”

Some Bible teachers believe that Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 are actually talking about the human characters — the king of Tyre and the king of Babylon. However, it is important to note that often in the Bible God addresses Satan “through” another person. Obvious examples include Genesis 3, in which God addressed Satan through the serpent, and the case of Jesus’ rebuke of Peter with the words “Get thee behind me, Satan.” As Believer’s Chapel teacher Dan Duncan also noted in reference to Ezekiel 28, the first part of that chapter is directed towards “the prince of Tyre” (the human ruler) whereas the next section is spoken to “the king of Tyre.” As I previously noted in my readings through Ezekiel, the word prince is used many times there to denote human leaders — as also in 2 Samuel David is called “the prince.”

S. Lewis Johnson states that Satan’s fall occurred before Genesis 3, pointing to what Paul says (Romans 5:12), that “sin entered the world” — it already existed with Satan, and “entered” our creation. Scripture doesn’t give us the details concerning the time interval between Satan’s fall and man’s fall, and so SLJ does not comment any further. The Ezekiel text says that Satan was in the garden of Eden when he fell, but it does appear to be a different act of rebellion that came before man’s sin in Genesis 3.

Scripture tells us of three falls of Satan, one past and two yet future:

  • From the third heaven (God’s throne) to the second heaven (our atmosphere), while still retaining access to the third heaven as mentioned in Job
  • From the Second Heaven to the Earth (Revelation 12)
  • and finally, from Earth into the abyss and then to the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20)

Isaiah 14 looks specifically at the future event of Satan’s third fall. Isaiah so often travels into the future and describes events in the far-future, as though they have already occurred — what a mighty and awesome God we serve, a God we can trust because He not only knows the future but has planned it according to His purposes. Like Martin Luther, we can confidently assert the final victory over Satan — “for lo, his doom is sure.”

Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Recent Bible Readings: Horner Bible Reading Update

August 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Another update from Bible readings, in my daily walk through the different Bible genres in a modified Horner Bible Reading Plan.  As always, this genre plan of reading Bible chapters in parallel, with selections from each of several (eight) sections of the Bible, provides some interesting cases of readings that go together.  Consider the following recent readings, two selections both read on the same day:

Some other good observations, scripture thoughts from Bible reading:

For encouragement, Phillipians 3:15 , Job 33:16-26, 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4 and 13, 2 Thessalonians 3:5, and 2 Timothy 3:12

Observations from reading through history and the prophets:
In 1 Kings 1:7 I noticed again the mention of Abiathar the priest, who now must be at least 42 years older than when he was first introduced in 1 Samuel 22, as the young son of Abimelech the priest, the one that managed to escape from Saul and Doeg.  After all, David has now reigned for 40 years, and 1 Samuel 22 was at least two years before that, before David spent time in Philistine territory.  By now Abiathar’s son Jonathan, also mentioned in 1 Kings 1, is also a priest.  Yet what a different person, now hardened and turned against David to support Adonijah.  By the end of 1 Kings 1 he is deposed from the priesthood, as yet another fulfillment of the words spoken to Eli by the prophet Samuel so many years before.

1 Kings 4:31 mentions Ethan the Ezrahite, indicating that he must have been a contemporary of Solomon.  This time I remember the name as the author of Psalm 89, a passage that S. Lewis Johnson spent some time discussing in reference to the Davidic covenant.

This time through Ezekiel, I have especially noticed the many references to the word “prince” as descriptive of the human ruler, usually the ruler in Jerusalem but sometimes other uses such as Ezekiel 30:13 in reference to the ruler of Egypt.  As pointed out in SLJ’s Davidic covenant series, the Lord God is the king, and the human ruler, David (and his descendants) is the prince.  This designation of prince throughout the earlier chapters of Ezekiel, makes the references in Ezekiel 44-48 more understandable–as referring to the human ruler over the people.  Knowing the use of that word, prince, throughout the many earlier chapters, makes it obvious that of course in Ezekiel 44-48 it’s not talking about Christ — as even some of the passages in Ezekiel 44-48 indicate, that the prince is a separate person than the Lord God (reference Ezekiel 44:3, The prince himself is the only one who may sit inside the gateway to eat in the presence of the LORD).

The Misuse of Scripture: Examples from Romans and Ezekiel

July 1, 2010 Leave a comment

From recent Bible readings comes Romans 10:1, part of Paul’s discussion about Israel and God’s election in chapters 9 through 11.  The ESV translates the verse as, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”  The NIV translates the “for them” as “Israel,” and though that apparently is not in the original texts, the context is clearly talking about Israelites.  Yet often that verse has been pulled out of its context and listed as a reference in a prayer list, for “the salvation of our loved ones.”

Perhaps such is a valid application.  I certainly cannot think of any other Bible verse to use if one wanted to list a Bible verse reference to go with the topic of praying for salvation for friends and family members.  Over the past few years I have noticed that the local church emphasizes prayers for salvation of loved ones in far greater proportion than the occurrence of such prayers in the Bible.  Often these prayers are especially said in regards to the many unsaved children — “God save our children.”  Some time back I blogged about this more passive parenting attitude in some churches, noting that the scriptures often teach the importance of proper training and discipline instead of that more passive, fatalistic approach to God’s sovereign grace.  I would now add that the Bible says nothing about praying for the salvation of our loved ones (children or others), unless one counts this prayer of Paul in Romans 10:1 — which is really talking about something quite different from general prayers for individuals.  Of course there’s nothing wrong with praying for lost loved ones, and as believers it is something we naturally do quite often — and yet it’s never mentioned in the New Testament, which focuses more on actions and behaviors, such as obedience of children to parents, slaves to masters, etc. as ways in which we “work out our salvation” and show our belief by how we live.

It’s really not uncommon, though, for people to reference a particular scripture and apply it to something completely unrelated to what the text is actually saying.  Given that even preachers do so, the layperson who applies Romans 10:1 to prayers for lost loved ones can be more easily excused.

Interestingly, many of the common misapplications of scripture, like Romans 10:1, involve texts that specifically deal with Israel — passages which Gentiles in the Church Age give other, unintended meanings to.  A great example of this is Ezekiel 37:1-10, a text clearly talking about the restoration of Israel, yet so often taught as being about the resurrection.

Spurgeon had some great words to say concerning this misuse of Ezekiel 37:  (Sermon #582, from 1864):

This vision has been used, from the time of Jerome onwards, as a description of the resurrection and certainly it may be so accommodated with much effect. … But while this interpretation of the vision may be very proper as an accommodation, it must be quite evident to any thinking person that this is not the meaning of the passage. There is no allusion made by Ezekiel to the resurrection and such a topic would have been quite apart from the design of the Prophet’s speech. I believe he was no more thinking of the resurrection of the dead than of the building of St. Peter’s at Rome, or the emigration of the Pilgrim Fathers! That topic is altogether foreign to the subject at hand and could not by any possibility have crept into the Prophet’s mind.

He was talking about the people of Israel and prophesying concerning them. And evidently the vision, according to God’s own interpretation of it, was concerning them and them alone, for, “these bones are the whole house of Israel.” It was not a vision concerning all men, nor, indeed, concerning any men as to the resurrection of the dead—it had a direct and special bearing upon the Jewish people. This passage, again, has been very frequently and I dare say very properly, used to describe the revival of a decayed Church. This vision may be looked upon as descriptive of a state of lukewarmness and spiritual lethargy in a Church when the question may be sorrowfully asked—“Can these bones live?” . . . But while we admit this to be a very fitting accommodation of our text, yet we are quite convinced that it is not to this that the passage refers. It would be altogether alien to the Prophet’s strain of thought to be thinking about the restoration of fallen zeal and the rekindling of expiring love. He was not considering the Reformation either of Luther or of Whitfield, or about the revival of one Church or of another.

No, he was talking of his own people, of his own race and of his own tribe. He surely ought to have known his own mind, and led by the Holy Spirit, he gives us as an explanation of the vision. Not—“Thus says the Lord, My dying Church shall be restored,” but—“I will bring My people out of their graves and bring them into the land of Israel.”