Thursday, February 21, 2019

Does Jesus Fulfill God's Promise About David's "House?"

Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.
According to 2 Samuel 7:16, David will always have a descendant on the throne of Israel. This promise appears to be unconditional. Indeed, many interpreters look at passages like the one made directly to David as being fulfilled in Jesus. Well, yes and no.

One big problem with the view that God's promise to David is unbreakable is the fact that, between Zerubbabel (not really a king) and Jesus, there was a really long dry spell of no Davidic kings. Half a millennium!

Interpreters can cite references that look back to God's promise to David and seem to anticipate Jesus (Isaiah 9:7; 11:2). We can take note of Matthew's detail of Jesus' ancestry as Matthew traces it through David and the kings of Judah (Matthew 1:1, 6-12). We can recognize that Jesus is identified as the son of David in the gospels (Luke 1:32-33 and many references of Jesus as "son of David" by people he encountered in the gospels).

We run into some trouble when we read passages like Jeremiah 33:19-26.
19 The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: 20 Thus says the LORD: If any of you could break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night would not come at their appointed time, 21 only then could my covenant with my servant David be broken, so that he would not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with my ministers the Levites. 22 Just as the host of heaven cannot be numbered and the sands of the sea cannot be measured, so I will increase the offspring of my servant David, and the Levites who minister to me.
23 The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: 24 Have you not observed how these people say, “The two families that the Lord chose have been rejected by him,” and how they hold my people in such contempt that they no longer regard them as a nation? 25 Thus says the LORD: Only if I had not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, 26 would I reject the offspring of Jacob and of my servant David and not choose any of his descendants as rulers over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes, and will have mercy upon them.
According to these two oracles, God's promise to David that he will always have a descendant on the throne of Israel is as unbreakable as God's covenant with day and night. But this passage refers to God's promise to David's family in the same breath as God's promise to Levi's family. In other words, the perpetuation of the throne of David and the perpetuation of the levitical priesthood are equally certain. But we know that the levitical priesthood was put to rest by Jesus (being a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, Hebrews 5:5-6; 7:11-12, 17). Jeremiah's oracles in this place look like another unfulfilled prophecy since there is no way to explain how the promise was fulfilled for the Levites!

The problem, the way I see it, is that we are not understanding God's covenantal promises correctly. Even when they appear to be unconditional, they really are conditional. God's promises can be resisted. Consider this passage, also in the book of Jeremiah, that warns that God's promise to David is in jeopardy of failing because of the people's sinfulness.

Jeremiah 11:4-5
For if you will indeed obey this word, then through the gates of this house shall enter kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants, and their people. But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.
Even David understood God's promise to be conditional.

1 Kings 2:1-4
When David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. Then the LORD will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’
In the case of the citizens of Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah, the idea was that, while God's promise to David seemed unbreakable, the people could push back with their ungodly ways and deny fulfillment of God's promise. In fact, they had to push back really hard; but when the Babylonians came to town, it was over.

The New Testament church was constantly on the lookout for ways that Jesus fulfilled God's promises. Those connections identified Jesus as the Messiah of God. Nevertheless, many of those connections link back to promises that were unfulfilled in their original intentions. (I do not mean to imply that the church misused Scripture. Their reading was valid for their day). In the case of the perpetuation of the levitical priesthood, it just flat never happened.




Appendix:

A fascinating oracle that relates to this discussion appears in Isaiah 24. In that oracle, the prophet identifies another seemingly unbreakable promise, the rainbow promise (Genesis 9:16) to be conditional.

Isaiah 24:5, 18
The earth lies polluted
    under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
    violated the statutes,
    broken the everlasting covenant.
Whoever flees at the sound of the terror
    shall fall into the pit;
and whoever climbs out of the pit
    shall be caught in the snare.
For the windows of heaven are opened,
    and the foundations of the earth tremble.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Genesis 27: Should we agree on everything?

Genesis 27:36
Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright; and look, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”
It is interesting that the writers and prophets of the Old Testament are not all in full agreement with everything. In this case, Hosea is sympathetic to Esau when he said,

The LORD has an indictment against Judah,
and will punish Jacob according to his ways,
and repay him according to his deeds.
In the womb he tried to supplant his brother,
and in his manhood he strove with God. (Hosea 12:2-3)
Hosea is somewhat sympathetic to Esau but also to anyone who has been mistreated by Israel in more recent times to the prophet. He may even be thinking about the nation of Edom that is called by her ancestor Esau. That kind of thinking is not universal in the Bible. In fact, the man Jacob is generally treated as an upstanding hero in most places.

It is frustrating to see denominational leaders attempt to get everyone to agree on everything. It comes across like they are wanting people to stop thinking for themselves and just accept what the leadership says they should think. That is the definition of a cult. If Jesus is our cult leader, then so be it; but if church leadership starts telling us what to think, then that is a problem. Not even the writers of the Bible agree on everything.

Genesis 26: unmerited favor

Gen 26:12-14
Isaac sowed seed in that land, and in the same year reaped a hundredfold. The Lord blessed him, and the man became rich; he prospered more and more until he became very wealthy. He had possessions of flocks and herds, and a great household, so that the Philistines envied him.
Here is the take-away from this chapter. Isaac did not deserve this blessing; but God is not about being fair as much as he is about grace. This blessing is unmerited, as is our own salvation that we enjoy and appreciate.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Genesis 25: Abraham in the afterlife. Patriarchal period? What about Rebekah?

Genesis 25:8
Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.
Abraham was gathered to his people? What does that mean? Here are some useful thoughts:

NKJV Study Bible (Thomas Nelson):
A burial. The phrase also indicates that there is an afterlife (see Genesis 15:15; 35:29; 49:33).
John Walton, NIV Cultural Study Bible:
This expression finds its roots in ancient views about burial and afterlife. Both the practice of burials in family tombs and the view of continuing social relationships in the afterlife retain the concept of the ancestors as a distinguishable group. One’s place in the family of deceased ancestors was just as central to one’s identity as one’s place in the family in the land of the living. The living family honored the deceased both individually and corporately through a variety of practices that did not stop after burial.
John E. Hartley, Understanding the Bible Commentary:
The phrase gathered to his people refers to the idea that the deceased became numbered with his departed ancestors. This language, which occurs only ten times and only in the Pentateuch, hints at a belief in some type of life after death.
See also 2 Samuel 12:23; Genesis 37:35

So, while being gathered to one's people seems to be a euphemism for being buried (1 Kings 14:20 and many like it), It seems to betray a very early belief in an afterlife. The concept of life after death may very well be much older than many assume.

Gen 25:22-23
The children struggled together within [Rebekah]; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.
And the LORD said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.”
While this historical period is customarily identified as the Patriarchal Dispensation—when God spoke to the patriarchs—God spoke to the female heads of household too! Women have always been in personal relationship with God and they did not need their husbands to mediate for them. (Recall that Sarai boldly called upon Yahweh to take her side against her husband Abram in Genesis 16:5). This biblical history ought to inform the notion of gender based roles in the modern church and Christian families.

If Isaac would have paid better heed to Rebekah's revelation he would have spared his family a lot of trouble.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Emotionally conflicted God

God is consistent in character. Consistent character is definitely the meaning of the "God does not change" statements in the Bible (1 Samuel 15:29; Numbers 23:19; James 1:17). Nevertheless, God experiences emotions and sometimes those emotions are conflicted.
Jeremiah 12:8
My heritage has become to me
like a lion in the forest;
she has lifted up her voice against me—
therefore I hate her.

Jeremiah 31:3
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Well, what is it? Does God hate God's people or does God love God's people? The answer is that God sometimes has a love-hate relationship with God's people. God's actions in history have betrayed both relational passions toward God's people.
Jeremiah 10:24
Correct me, O Lord, but in just measure;
not in your anger, or you will bring me to nothing.
Jeremiah realized that God is sometimes so angry that, if God punished his people during that angry spell, it would be the end of them. God needs a cooling off period before punishing. Similarly, we humans should cool off before we perform any punishment to our own children.

How can we accept a God who is sometimes emotionally conflicted? The reason we should accept this God is:
  • because God is consistent in character and faithful to covenant/promise.
  • because the God of the Bible is the only God that exists.
  • because a responsive God holds to account the actions of those God loves.
The less we are committed to covenant relationship with God, the more arbitrary God's emotional disposition toward us may seem. God has positioned God's self into a divinely vulnerable position because God is totally committed to relationship. We are the ones who wander away from God. In a relationship, the one who is most committed to it is the one most vulnerable to grief and pain. God has exposed God's self to that kind of damage. Would we renew our own promisses to be faithful to God?

Does this revelation about God's emotions bring God down to the level of humans? No. We need to be careful about assuming God is just like us. It is true, however, that we are a lot like God. It means something to be created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Humans experience emotions that originated at the divine level. Emotions are not in themselves evil. I am even talking about negative emotions like anger and jealousy. The question is if your emotions control you or if you control yourself while experiencing these very strong emotions. God works to prevent God's motions from ruling God just as we are expected to prevent our own emotions from ruling ourselves.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Genesis 24: Looking for a sign from God

Gen 24:11-15
He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water; it was toward evening, the time when women go out to draw water. And he said, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. Let the girl to whom I shall say, ‘Please offer your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”
Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, coming out with her water jar on her shoulder.

Why don't my prayers for a sign ever get answered? Why do some people see signs everywhere when they are no signs at all?

Part of the answer may have to do with the fact that, in this case, God was interested in who Isaac married and (as the servant mentioned in his prayer) God was invested in the long term vocation of Abraham's seed.

It is noteworthy that God did answer the servant's prayer but not in the way it appears on the surface of the text.

The servant's prayer asks for God to chose the girl who responds in a particular way to a request for a drink. The prayer does not ask for the girl chosen by God to respond in a certain way to a request for a drink.

When Rebekah responds in the prescribed way, the servant hopes God will choose her. Evidently, through some prophetic means, the servant is able to determine that Rebekah is indeed the girl for Isaac (Genesis 24:21).

Genesis 24:67
Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
Notice the order of the events that sealed the union of Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac
(1) took her to bed,
(2) "took her" as his wife,
(3) loved her.
The order is a nice order and actually the typical order even in western marriages. In the "dating" phase, couples typically believe they are in love; but successful marriages include a period of growing in love which is more lasting than the emotional high that dating couples feel. Isaac experienced the same marital love that all Christian marriages should pursue.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Genesis 23; Bereavement

Abraham's request for a place to bury Sarah is quite poignant to me.
"I am a stranger and an alien residing among you; give me property among you for a burying place, so that I may bury my dead out of my sight." (Genesis 23:4).
Here are some points to be noted:

* Dead Sarah belonged to Abraham.
* Abraham managed to bury Sarah in property that now belonged to Abraham.
* Death separated Sarah from Abraham.

After a time of grief, it was time for Abraham to let go of his dead wife. It was necessary for Abraham to accept his loss. Abraham expressed his grief but not over an extended period of time. He would cherish her memory. He also needed to get on with the practical matter of setting her remains to rest. He needed to bury her away from his sight. She needed to be buried in a place of her own in order to help the living to remember her.

Since Abraham now owned property in the land of his sojourn, he was moving toward fulfillment of the divine promise that Abraham's seed would inhabit that land (Genesis 15:17-21).

Death, by definition, is separation. We can observe separation in this account of Sarah's death. Abraham deeply felt her separation from himself.

Sin results in spiritual death. In the book of Romans, death is all about loss of hope, judgment and separation from God (Romans 5:12, 18, 21; 6:23).

Death is always grievous; but to believers, there is hope of being reunited in the next life (1 Thessalonians 4:13); so there is some measure comfort for those who grieve.