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The Center of Biblical Theology: Including the Wisdom Books

April 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Going through James Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, the central theme is obvious enough within the Law and Prophets: the Pentateuch, then Joshua-Judges-Samuel-Kings, and the major and minor prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, plus the twelve minor). As Hamilton observes, though, previous attempts to describe a central theme of biblical theology did not include the wisdom books.

So here, after considering the previous scholarship regarding a biblical center of theology and the commentators who could not “fit” a central theme throughout scripture that works with the wisdom books (especially Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes), God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment includes a good theme-study through the book of Psalms, along with interesting details concerning how we approach reading the wisdom books in their context within the Old Testament canon of the law and prophets.

The fear of God so prominent in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes is informed by the holiness of Yahweh that breaks out against transgressors such as Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10). The voice of wisdom that cries out from these books is not spouting philosophical speculation on right and wrong; it is the song of a holy siren, wooing readers to return to the Law (Torah) and the Prophets. For instance, Proverbs 29:18 proclaims, ‘Where there is no vision the people are let loose, but as for the one who keeps the law, blessed is he.’ The word rendered ‘vision’ is a term often used to describe the visions of the prophets…. Disregarding the visions of the prophets is like walking blindly toward a precipice, but the danger is not an abstract fall from an impersonal height. Rather, the danger lies in defiling the holy God by transgressing his boundaries. Yahweh is a God of justice, and “the ways of a man are before the eyes of Yahweh, and all his paths he observes” (Prov. 5:21). The fear of judgment leads to salvation.7

Hamilton includes many details concerning specific psalms within each section, within this overall summary approach to the Psalms and its five “books” (sections).

Psalm 1 and 2 set forth the two main points which are followed throughout the rest of book 1: emphasis on the Torah and the inward life (Psalm 1), along with focus on the Messiah King and the external threats and enemies to defeat (Psalm 2). The rest of book 1 (Psalms 1-41) centers on these points, highlighting the afflictions faced by the Messiah (in type: David), which are the sufferings through which he will enter his glory.

Book 2:  Psalms 42-72. Salvation comes through judgment to God’s glory, through the agency of the Messiah, son of David, king in Jerusalem.  This section occurs during the time period of 2 Samuel 7-10, the time of David’s power growing, through his conquering and expanding. Then comes David’s sin with Bathsheba (Ps. 51) followed by more affliction and opposition.

Book 3:  Psalms 73-89.  These psalms concern the era of Solomon and the subsequent kings in the Davidic line. Here we have expressions of the hope of the world, intermingled with anticipations of judgment day. At the close of this section, judgment has fallen — but hope has not died.

Book 4:  Psalms 90-106. Here are expressions of faith while in exile.  This section has a “Moses dimension,” with Moses named 7 times in book 4; Moses is only mentioned once outside of this section. Hope grows stronger, and the future hope is built on the foundation of what God has done in history: from creation (Psalm 104), through the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Joseph, then Moses and Exodus. (Psalms 105-106). The future hope is placed on Yahweh’s history of glorifying himself in salvation through judgment.

Book 5: Psalms 107-150. These psalms begin with the return from exile as already accomplished. This section especially features the eschatological triumph of Yahweh through the conquering Davidic king. The new exodus and return from exile begin through the agency of the Messiah.

 

 

Old Testament Studies: Promise of A New Eden

March 13, 2014 2 comments

In my recent studies in the Old Testament I’ve looked more closely at the theme of return to creation, a return to Eden.  Previous material (reading and sermon teaching) often emphasized the Abrahamic covenant and everything that flows out from it – the Davidic and then the New Covenant – and our salvation which is rooted in the Abrahamic promises.  But as others have pointed out, the promise of redemption starts much earlier even than Abraham, back to the seed promise in Genesis 3; and the concept of covenants pre-dates Abraham, back to Adam and then Noah.

James Hamilton, in God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, frequently notes the link between the early nation Israel and Eden, the Promised Land described as a new Eden (as in the following, cited in this previous post):

the Promised Land almost becomes a new Eden. The Lord will walk among his people in the land, just as he walked in the garden (Gen. 3:8; Lev. 26:11–12; Deut. 23:15). Like the fertile garden of Eden, the Promised Land will flow with milk and honey. On the way to the Promised Land, the camp of Israel is even described in Edenic terms.

Also this interesting reference, from David Baron’s Israel in the Plan of God, commentary on Isaiah 51:3 (“​​​​​​​For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord.”)

How glorious a transformation! From a state of total barrenness into another Eden, with all its fertility and beauty, and instead of its present condition of utter desolation it shall be like “the garden of Jehovah,” as glorious as if it had been directly planted by Himself for His own joy and delight.

Searching through the Bible for references to Eden, or the garden of the Lord, reveals more of this theme in the prophets, that restored Israel will be “like the garden of Eden”  (Ezekiel 36:35, Isaiah 51:3), like a watered garden (Isaiah 58:11 and Jeremiah 31:12).  The same figure is used in reverse as well, as in Joel 2:3:  “The land is like the garden of Eden before them, but behind them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them.”  Ezekiel and Zechariah’s description of the future restoration of Israel and its temple structure includes a river flowing out, another likeness to the garden of Eden, bringing everything at the end back to the beginning in Eden.

Hamilton further notes the correspondences between Eden and Israel itself.  Compare Numbers 24:6, Balaam’s description of Israel, with Genesis 2.  Both passages mention the Lord God, and the words planted, garden, river, and trees:  Like palm groves that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the Lord has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters.  Also consider the following correspondences between the description of Eden (Genesis 2-3) and passages about the tabernacle (in the Pentateuch) and the temple (including the description of the future temple):

(From God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, Table 2.3. Correspondences between Eden and the Tabernacle and Temple.)

Correspondences Eden Tabernacle/Temple
God walking among his people Gen. 3:8 Lev. 26:11–13; Deut. 23:14; 2 Sam. 7:6–7
Holy tree/blooming lampstand Gen. 2:9 Ex. 25:31–40; 1 Chron. 28:15
Gold and precious stones Gen. 2:11–12 Ex. 25:7, 11, etc.
Entered from the east Gen. 3:24 Num. 3:38
Guarded by cherubim Gen. 3:24 Ex. 25:10–22; 26:1; 1 Kings 7:29
Food/bread Gen. 2:9 Ex. 25:30; 1 Kings 7:48
Priest who “works and keeps” Gen. 2:15 Num. 3:7–8; 8:26; 18:5–6
Rivers flowing out Gen. 2:10–14 Ezek. 47:1; Joel 3:18; Zech. 14:8

Typology and Parallels Within the Old Testament: Exodus and the Conquest of Canaan

March 7, 2014 2 comments

Continuing through James Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, I’m now reading the section on the former prophets.  Hamilton’s work brings out an interesting aspect of typology:  not merely the illustrations and pictures (types) concerning the correspondences between Old Testament persons, events, or institutions, and New Testament fulfillment.  Typology can also include correspondences between one Old Testament event and a later Old Testament event.  Herein we observe the central theme of scripture, repeated throughout the unfolding story of God’s work with the nation Israel:  God’s Glory as the ultimate purpose of His works, accomplished in Salvation through Judgment.

Considering the Old Testament “Prophets” section and its beginning chapter (Joshua), Hamilton observes several interesting parallels between the Exodus experience and the later conquest of Canaan:

1. Explicit comparison between the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus) and the later crossing of the River Jordan (Josh. 4:23)

2. The judgment of circumcision:  Moses’ sons in Exodus 4:24-26.  Then, the conquest generation in Joshua 5; Through the judgment of circumcision, the reproach of Egypt is rolled away (Joshua 5:9).

3. Angel of the Lord appearances of God: to Moses (the burning bush); then to Joshua in Joshua 5, the meeting with the Captain of the Host of Yahweh

Just as Moses drew near and inspected the burning bush, Joshua draws near the man with the drawn sword (5:13). Just as Moses was instructed to remove his sandals because of the holy ground, so Joshua is told to remove his (5:15). These historical correspondences connect the beginnings of the triumphant exodus to the beginnings of what is hereby guaranteed to be the triumphant conquest. There might be an escalation of significance in that whereas Moses was resistant to what Yahweh commanded him to do and is not said to have worshiped, Joshua not only does not question and object, as Moses did, but he worships (5:14)

4.  Likeness to Eden

This man with the drawn sword stands to the east of the land, at its entrance, creating an intriguing connection between the land Israel is crossing over to possess, and the land from which Adam and Eve were expelled.15 The way to Eden was guarded at the east by a cherubim with a flaming sword (Gen. 3:24). Similarly, Balaam likened the camp of Israel to a garden planted by Yahweh (Num. 24:6), and as he made his way to their camp, he met the angel of Yahweh, who had a drawn sword in his hand (Num. 22:22–35). With Yahweh in their midst, Israel has recaptured something of the Edenic experience. As they cross into the land, Israel moves in the direction of the reversal of the curse.

5.  Yahweh pursues His glory: He hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus) to accomplish His purpose of the Exodus.  Then He hardens the hearts of the Canaanite kings of the land, to accomplish His purpose of bringing the people into the land, the conquest.

As well summarized, God’s purpose in these great events:

The typological connections between the exodus and conquest set forth in Joshua 4:23, where the crossing of the sea is compared to the crossing of the river, and 5:13–16, where, like Moses, Joshua unshods his feet on holy ground, join with other features in the text17 to indicate that Yahweh’s goal at the conquest is the same goal He had at the exodus. There He wanted all to know that He is Yahweh. He pursued His glory—the proclamation of His name—by saving Israel through the judgment of Egypt. At the conquest, Yahweh causes the inhabitants of the land to know that He is God (2:9–11), He makes Israel know that he is among them (3:10), and He makes the peoples of the land know His might (4:24). Just as Yahweh hardened the heart of Pharaoh to accomplish His purpose at the exodus, so He hardens the hearts of the kings of the land at the conquest (11:18, 20).18 Just as Yahweh demonstrated His glory at the exodus by saving Israel through the judgment of Egypt, He demonstrates His glory at the conquest by saving Israel through the judgment of the peoples of the land.

Deuteronomy, God’s Sovereign Election and Man’s Responsibility

February 28, 2014 Leave a comment

My recent reading has included study on sections of Deuteronomy, as for instance this recent post, David Baron’s exposition of Deuteronomy 32, The Song of Moses.  The overall book of Deuteronomy also comes up in James Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, with a good overview study of the book and its major themes including the great truths of God’s sovereign election and man’s responsibility.  A great summary of this point:

Israel is urged to choose life, to love Yahweh, to cleave fast to Him (30:19–20). They have a real choice, but their ‘chooser’ will always select sin because Yahweh has not given them the heart they need.  But they will make their choice, and they will be judged for the rightness or wrongness of the choice they make. The fact that Yahweh promises to change their ‘chooser’ by circumcising their hearts does not remove their responsibility for the choice they will make. Nor does it make Yahweh unjust if He chooses not to change their ‘chooser’, or if He chooses only to change the ‘choosers’ of those He chooses. People are responsible. And Yahweh is sovereign.

Through the Torah (the Mosaic law) the people of Israel are to know and love their God, and to understand how to live in a way pleasing to God.  A large portion of Deuteronomy can be seen as an expansion of and commentary upon the Ten Commandments.  Deuteronomy 5 recites the Ten Commandments, and chapters 6 through 25 explain:

Commandment Chapters in Deuteronomy Exposition
1. No other gods 6-11 Love and worship Yahweh
2. No idols 12-13 Central sanctuary and false
gods
3. Name 13–14 Holiness to Yahweh
4. Sabbath 14-16 periodic duties
5. Parents 16–18 Authority: judge, king,
priest, and prophet
6. Murder 19–22 Life and Law
7. Adultery 22-23 Regulations on sexuality
8. Theft 23-25 Property
9. False testimony 24-25 Truthfulness
10. Coveting 25 Unselfish levirate marriage

The last chapters of Deuteronomy, after this exposition of the ten commandments, address the root issue of human nature as in the specific case of the people of Israel.  Having been given every positive inducement to obey, and the warnings about not obeying, as Hamilton observes:  obedience would seem to be a reasonable consequence. Reason alone, however, does not govern the human heart. Sin never makes sense. In order to obey, one must have a circumcised heart. Circumcision of the heart, however, is not something one does to oneself. One must be given what one needs by Yahweh himself, and Moses declares to Israel that Yahweh has not given them the kind of heart they need (Deut. 29:3).

God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: The Book of Genesis

January 14, 2014 1 comment

Continuing in Hamilton’s “God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment”, a look at this theme as seen in the book of Genesis.  As noted in Hamilton’s introduction, this work is a look at the central theme, the “center of biblical theology,” throughout the Bible.  As such, the treatment of Genesis (and later books) is overview rather than a detailed expository look, and assumes familiarity with the actual Bible books.

Creation is first considered, and here Hamilton points out the similarity between Creation, especially Genesis 2 and the Garden of Eden, and the later tabernacle and temple.  Hamilton also briefly looks at the other creation accounts, with excerpts from the other ancient near-East religions, which indeed show how the God of the Bible is so unlike the gods of the ancient Babylonians and other early pagan religions.

God’s directive to Adam and Eve has similarities to the later worship, and indeed, the later promised land of Canaan  appears as something like Eden:

the Promised Land almost becomes a new Eden. The Lord will walk among his people in the land, just as he walked in the garden (Gen. 3:8; Lev. 26:11–12; Deut. 23:15). Like the fertile garden of Eden, the Promised Land will flow with milk and honey. On the way to the Promised Land, the camp of Israel is even described in Edenic terms.

The main idea presented is the contrast between the curses in Genesis 3:14-19 and the blessings to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, and the outworking of the curses in people’s lives along with the “seed of the woman” bringing deliverance (salvation) out of the judgment.

Curses Blessings
Seed conflict (Genesis 3:15) All the families of the earth will be blessed in you (Genesis 12:3; 22:18; 26:4)
Gender conflict (Genesis 3:16) I will make you a great nation (barren Sarah shall have a seed) (Genesis 11:30; 12:2; 17:16)
Land conflict (Genesis 3:17-19) To your offspring, a great nation, I will give this land (Genesis 12:1–2, 7)

The seed conflict (the seed of the serpent versus the seed of the woman) is seen at the individual level:  Cain versus Abel, Ishmael — Isaac, Esau – Jacob, and even the sons of Israel with Joseph. Collectively, the theme is seen several times also:  Pharaoh and Egypt to Abraham and Sarai (Genesis 12:10-20); the Kings of the World (Sodom) versus Abraham and his men, Lot, and Melchizedek in Genesis 14; Abimelech and the Philistines versus Abraham and later Isaac (Genesis 21 and 26); and the men of Shechem versus Simeon, Levi and Dinah in Genesis 34.

Again, this approach is of basic, surface-level correspondences of these events, rather than a detailed expository treatment of each of these events.  Hamilton does recognize the role of Joseph’s brothers against Joseph as a temporary role. I also recall S. Lewis Johnson’s teaching, as well as the information from sources regarding the tablet theory of Genesis, to consider more of Ishmael’s overall life – whereas Hamilton restricts his comments about Ishmael to the specific incident in Genesis 21: the son of Hagar mocking Sarah’s son Isaac.

Gender conflict, brought out after the fall:

  • Usurping women (Genesis 3:16) – Sarah’s attempt to have the seed come through Hagar (Genesis 16); Lot’s daughters with Lot (Gen. 19:30-38); Rachel’s magic mandrakes and Leah’s purchase of them (Gen. 30:14-16); Tamar’s trap for Judah (Gen. 38:14)
  • Marital disharmony:  Sarah’s dispute with Abraham (after the incident in Genesis 16 with Hagar), and Rachel’s dispute with Jacob (Genesis 30:1-2)
  • Husbands abusing their wives (“He will rule over you”): Abraham’s use (twice) of Sarah for his own protection; Isaac repeating that with Rebekah; Jacob’s hatred of Leah
  • Death in childbearing (“I will multiply your pain in childbirth”):  Rachel dies in childbirth (Benjamin’s birth)
  • Barrenness:  Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel
  • Non-marital relations:  Abraham and Hagar; the men of Sodom; Lot and his daughters; Dinah violated; Reuben and his father’s concubines; Onan and Tamar, then Judah and Tamar; and Potiphar’s wife

The Curse on the Land, followed by Blessing:  Genesis 5:29 gives the first hint of restoration, when Lamech names his son Noah, saying “Out of the groundthat the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.”  The land promise in Genesis 12 further develops that hope. In spite of the curse on the land, and the fact that men do have to toil on it, “God blesses the fields and flocks of Abraham (Gen. 12:16; 13:6; 21:22; 24:35), Isaac (26:12–14), and Jacob (31:5–9; 33:11). And then, through unexpected turns of events, the whole earth is blessed in the seed of Abraham, as Joseph provides food in the famine.”

Hamilton concludes his presentation of “God’s glory in salvation through judgment” in Genesis:

 God confirmed his promised mercy when he declared to Abraham that his seed would overcome the curses, and then the promises to Abraham were passed to Isaac, then to Jacob. Genesis closes with promises of a king from the line of Judah, in the splendor of Joseph reigning over Egypt, pattern of the coming seed of the woman, seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the earth have been blessed. Salvation comes through judgment, setting forth the grandeur of the glory of God.

The Old Testament establishes the universal significance of Israel in God’s purposes by showing that the nation of Israel has inherited God’s charge to Adam to be fruitful and multiply. The wickedness of Adam’s descendants resulted in the flood, and God charged Noah with the same task he had given Adam. The wickedness of Noah’s descendants resulted in the confusion of language at Babel, and the task given to Adam and Noah passed to Abraham and his seed. Thus, the statement that “the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Ex. 1:7) connects Israel to Adam and foregrounds the cosmic significance of what God is doing in Israel.

God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: Introduction to James Hamilton’s Work

January 7, 2014 2 comments

GodsGloryBookI recently purchased the Kindle version of this recommended work by Hamilton – currently $9.99 through Amazon Kindle, a 640 page book.  I had heard of Hamilton over the last year or so, from Dan Phillips’ recommendation, and have appreciated reading a few of Hamilton’s blog posts. I don’t agree with Hamilton in every area; he is historic premillennial, but of the historicist variety (the events in Revelation 6-18 are symbolic of the whole church age), but from what I’ve read in his blog posts, excerpts from his commentary on Revelation, he does understand the premillennialism in Revelation, including also the identification of the woman in Revelation 12 as Israel and with reference to Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37.

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment is Hamilton’s biblical theology, a “center” theme of a recurring pattern seen throughout the Bible, the one unifying overall theme:

The center of biblical theology will be the theme that is prevalent, even pervasive, in all parts of the Bible. … In broadest terms, the Bible can be summarized in four words: creation, fall, redemption, restoration.

The first chapter is introductory material, explaining his purpose for writing this book and arguing the case for why we should have a “biblical theology” with one central theme.  This chapter has a scholarly style, including a survey of the existing literature on this topic, including theologians (such as D.A. Carson) who argue that we should not look for one theme but a group of several main themes.  Hamilton also acknowledges that many different ideas have been suggested as the “main theme” of the Bible – leading some scholars to conclude that there really is no one central theme.  But Hamilton argues that this theme includes many sub-themes; promise-fulfillment is here, as a part of “salvation through judgment” – God promises to save and judge, and He fulfills these promises by saving and judging.  Yet promise-fulfillment is not the complete overall theme, but a sub-theme.  Salvation and judgment reveal God’s steadfast love and his holiness. God reveals his holiness and his steadfast love not as ends themselves, however, but as means to the end of displaying his own glory.

Hamilton’s overview of this recurring theme is well summarized here:

The whole cosmos is created, is judged when man rebels, is redeemed through Christ’s death on the cross, and will be restored when Christ returns, but this also happens to the nation of Israel and to particular individuals. For instance, God’s word creates Israel as a nation when, having already called Abraham out of Ur, God calls the descendants of Abraham out of Egypt and gives them his law at Sinai. The nation falls at Sinai, is redeemed by God’s mercy, and, in a sense, is restored through the second set of stone tablets. This pattern is repeated again and again in the Bible. .. God’s word creates David as king of Israel, David falls with Bathsheba, he is redeemed after coming under the judgment of the prophetic rebuke, and he is restored and allowed to continue as king.

In significant ways the Gospels interpret the death and resurrection of Jesus in these terms. It is as though his death is the climactic moment of exile, the moment when the temple is destroyed (cf. John 2:19), and his resurrection begins the new exodus (cf. Luke 9:31). This story of salvation history is a story of God’s glory in salvation through judgment. Those who believe in Jesus have been saved through the salvation through judgment of the exile and restoration he accomplished in his death and resurrection, and we are now sojourning, passing through the wilderness on our way to the Promised Land, looking for that city with foundations, where the Lamb will be the lamp.

The table of contents looks interesting: he considers this theme specifically with reference to every book of the Bible, in sequence from the Torah through the New Testament.  As he notes in the first chapter, he covers the Old Testament books in their Hebrew Bible sequence (which is different than the standard sequence in the Christian canon).  I like that approach, which agrees with my current 9 list reading plan and the OT lists in Hebrew book sequence  (see this original post and the follow-up 9 list variation).

As I read through this book I may post updates with my summary, notes and my own thoughts, concerning Hamilton’s treatment of this theme in the different sections of the Bible and specifically in each of the Bible books.