The Gospel of Peace: Hearing the Message of ‘Shalom’ in the Book of Isaiah

peaceIsaiah has sometimes been called ‘the fifth gospel,’ and for good reason. It is filled with good news about the salvation God will bring in Christ. And the more time we spend in the book, the more we discover themes of salvation, justice, righteousness, and peace.

On this note, we can learn much about the message of Isaiah by tracing various themes through the book (e.g., Zion/Jerusalem, kingdom, servant, etc.). Today I want to trace the theme of shalōm (peace, well-being). By keeping an eye on this theme, we can see how the whole book hangs together and how God, the maker of light and darkness, shalom and calamity (Isa. 45:7), has brought peace to a people who have rejected peace in their pursuit of wickedness.

In fact, as we will see, the way that God makes peace with rebellious sinners in Isaiah follows the contours of the gospel. Or perhaps, stated better, the gospel we come to know from the apostles finds it origins in the promise of peace in Isaiah. Let’s take a look. Continue reading

Ten Truths about God’s Incommunicable and Communicable Attributes

joshua-fuller-9QF90iLO0q0-unsplashIn his theological summary of Christian doctrine, Our Reasonable Faith, Herman Bavinck provides a number of illuminating points about the attributes of God—namely, their incommunicable and communicable attributes. Here are some of Bavinck’s observations listed under ten points.

1. The Language of incommunicable and communicable is most effective in holding together God’s transcendence and immanence.

The effort to take account of all the data of Holy Scripture in its doctrine of God, and to maintain both His transcendence of and His relationship to the creature, led the Christian church to make a distinction very early between two groups of the attributes of the Divine being. these two groups were variously designated from the early church on. The Roman church still prefers to speak of negative and positive attributes, the Lutheran of quiescent and operative attributes, and the Reformed churches of incommunicable and communicable attributes.

At bottom, however, this division amounts to the same thing in all of these churches. The purpose for each of them is to insist on God’s transcendence (His distinction from and His elevation above the world) and on God’s immanence (His community with and His indwelling in the world). The Reformed names of incommunicable and communicable attributes do better justice to this purpose than the names which the Catholics and the Lutherans employ. The insistence on the first group of attributes saves us from polytheism and pantheism; and the insistence on the second group protects us against deism and atheism. (134–35) Continue reading

Rescue Those Who Are Being Taken Away to Death: Remembering What is At Stake in the Abortion Debate

sebastian-grochowicz-qri3tMKrc84-unsplashExchanging Darkness for Light and Speaking Light to the Darkness (Sermon Audio)

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
— Isaiah 5:20 —

This Sunday is Sanctity of Life Sunday and with it, we remember the lethal decision of the Supreme Court in 1973 to legalize abortion in our country. In the 47 years since Roe v Wade, and its accompanying case (Doe v Bolton), more than 61 million babies have been aborted in our country.

Put into perspective, this means that 61 million babies created by God, made in the image of God, and created for the glory of God, have been killed in the place where God brings life into the world. A mother’s womb should be the safest place on earth, yet in our day it has become one of the most dangerous.

At the same time, countless lies have been used to deceive women to pursue abortions. Uncertain or unaware of other options, institutions like Planned Parenthood have preyed on women, presenting abortion as their only hope. In other instances, men (fathers, boyfriends, and husbands) have pressured women to have abortions. And still other women vulnerable to lies, have aborted their babies because they believed it was the best way out of their situation. Continue reading

What’s in a Name? How Names in the Bible Reveal Meaning and Lead Us to Trust in the Name above All Names

namesFor to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government
shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  
— Isaiah 9:6 —

What’s in a name? In the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, we find a helpful introduction to the way names are used in the Old Testament. Here’s what it says,

In the OT names not only looked to the circumstances of a birth (e.g., Jonathan means “Yahweh has given [a son] ”; Reuben means “Look! A son”) but could also wish a blessing (e.g., Isaiah means “Yahweh’s salvation”; Immanuel means “God be/is with us”). Royal names could change when a person attained the throne. Several Israelite kings had their names changed by their overlords, showing that they were under authority of an outside power (e.g., the name of Eliakim was changed to Jehoiakim by the Egyptians, 2Ki 23:34). Others seem to have adopted their own throne name, as some have suggested for Azzariya/Azariah (meaning “Yahweh aided”) adopting the name Uzziah (meaning “Yahweh is my strength”). King David was identified at his death by four titles: son of Jesse, man exalted by the Most High, anointed by Jacob’s God, Israel’s favorite singer (2Sa 23:1).

Sentence names in the ancient Near East. Most names in the ancient world make statements, i.e., they are self-contained sentences. Many of the statements are about a deity. One can easily recognize the deity name in names such as Ashurbanipal, Nebuchadnezzar, or Rameses. Anyone even casually familiar with the Bible has noticed how many Israelite names end in -iah or -el, or start with Jeho- or El-. All of these represent Israel’s God. This type of name is called a theophoric name, and affirms the nature of the deity, proclaims the attributes of the deity or requests the blessing of the deity. One way to interret the titulary of this verse [Isaiah 9:7] is to understand it as reflecting important theophoric affirmations: The Divine Warrior is a Supernatural Planner, The Sovereign of Time is a Prince of Peace. (Note: the word “is” is not used in such constructions, as all names demonstrate). Continue reading

Sinai and Zion: How Learning the Terrain of God’s Holy Hill Helps Us Read Isaiah

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[This blogpost is one of many on Isaiah, this month’s focus book in the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. For more resources on Isaiah, see here].

In the book of Isaiah, the word “Zion” and the concept of the Lord’s holy mountain is prominent. Yet, Zion is not something that only appears in Isaiah, it is a theme that runs through Scripture. In the days ahead, I hope to put a few notes down on this concept.

For starters, consider the observations of Stephen Dempster, author of Dominion and Dynasty: A Study in Old Testament Theology. Describing the connection between Zion and Sinai, he writes (on an old blog that had so much promise . . . but little fulfillment :-):

I have been just reading and thinking about the whole relation between Sinai and Zion. Hartmut Gese’s chapter on The Law in his book Essays in Biblical Theology is extremely stimulating. . . . Gese makes the point that the Torah given at Sinai was given to one nation and there was an exclusive emphasis on it—a wall of separation was erected between the Holy and the Unholy. When the covenant was made and the atonement was made, representatives of Israel were allowed to ascend the mountain and eat and drink with God. The text clearly says that they saw God and were not harmed (ch. 24). They had unbroken fellowship with their Creator. Continue reading

The Literary Structure of Isaiah: Five Tour Guides to Help You Stay the Course

pexels-photo-697662.jpegThe book of Isaiah is sixty-six books, just like the Bible. And it is divided into 39 chapters and 27 chapters, just like the two Testaments–old and new. Therefore, we should organize Isaiah around this bipartite division, right?

Well, maybe . . . not.

Somewhere along the line, I’ve heard this line of thinking. And for years, I operated with this basic understanding that there is one seismic break between Isaiah 39 and 40, making the one book two. Add to this a number of well-worn proof texts for systematic theology—e.g., verses about Christ’s virgin birth (7:14 and 9:6–7), his sacrifice (52:13–53:12), and the grossness of sin (64:6)—and I accumulated a lot of disconnected knowledge about this glorious book.

It was not until I began reading Isaiah as whole book, however, that the message of Isaiah began to come to life. I am still learning that message, but having a mental map of the whole book has been a game-changer. And thankfully, that map has been aided by a number of tour guides—books and teachers that have helped me find my way in Isaiah.

The Need for Teachers . . . According to the Bible

This is how it should be. God gives teachers to the church to instruct in God’s Word (Eph. 4:11–12). And we would be fools to ignore them.

With the wisdom of ages past and those who have devoted themselves to the study of the Bible in the present, we can and should gain a better understanding of Scripture. Indeed, whenever we enter a new book of the Bible, one we do not know well, our best course of action is not to hide ourselves away in our room until we determine its meaning. We should seek the assistance of those who have gone before us. Such dependence on faithful teachers does not put human wisdom above the Bible, it listens to the Bible, acknowledges the gifts of God, the goodness of reading the Bible in community, and seeks to know God’s word with the help of others.

With that in mind, here are five scholars, tour guides, who have provided an outline of Isaiah. While each organizes the book differently, their collective witness gives us insight into things we should be looking for when we read. At present, I am persuaded Barry Webb’s outline is the most persuasive, but I am still learning. Continue reading

Getting Into the Poetry of Isaiah 5, So That Isaiah 5 Can Get Into You

tanner-mardis-612668-unsplashIsaiah is one of the most beautiful books of poetry ever written, but it takes work to follow his verse. This means that to understand his message means following his train of thought—poetic thought. If you are like me, reading poetry may not come easy. If you are a reader of poetry, who loves to linger long over lines of verse, you will be at an advantage with Isaiah. Either way, you can and should learn (to love) the poetry of Isaiah.

Here’s an example of how one chapter is organized. By following the logical order, i.e. the poetical structure, of Isaiah 5 you will be better positioned to understand the passage.

In Isaiah 5 we find a word of lamentation and judgment all rolled into one. It begins with a lyrical parable (vv. 1–7) and ends with a word of impending judgment (vv. 26–30). In between, Isaiah weeps and explains why God is going to destroy his holy mountain. Consider the outline and how this structure helps us read Isaiah 5. Continue reading

How Royalty Changes the Abortion Debate

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3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. 9 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
— Psalm 8:3–9 —

The “royals,” Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, are in the news again, making a splash about “de-throning” themselves, or at least trying to take a less prominent role among British royalty. That news, coupled with this month’s anniversary of Roe v. Wade—the Supreme Court decision that opened the door to abortion on demand and led to more than 61 million unborn babies being killed in the womb—made me think of an article I wrote a few years ago.

When The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) revamped their website, this post was lost. So I’m posting it again. The argument still stands and we should consider the damaging effects of “de-throning” the image of God and treating babies as less than royal. By contrast, when we recognize that babies—unborn, born, and grown—as the image of God are “royal” by nature, it has massive implications for how we consider abortion in our day.  Let’s consider. Continue reading

Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament: More Than 120 Notes on the Book of Joshua

joshua07This week we finished up our series on the book of Joshua. Here is a run down of all the notes, sermon, and related resources that we put together for that marvelous book.

120 Notes on (Almost) Every Chapter of Joshua

  1. Getting to Know Joshua, Son of Nun, and Joshua, Son of God: Or, 10 Things About Joshua 1
  2. Rahab’s Redemption: 10 Things About Joshua 2
  3. Baptism in the Jordan River: 10 Things about Joshua 3–4
  4. 10 Things about Joshua 5:1–12**
  5. A Text Filled with Types: 10 Things About Joshua 5–6
  6. How God’s Judgment upon Achan’s Sin Teaches Us to Find Grace in Christ: 10 Things about Joshua 7
  7. 10 Things about Joshua 8**
  8. His Mercy is More: 10 Things about Joshua 9
  9. Under His Feet: 10 Things About Joshua 10
  10. The Last Battle: 10 Things About Joshua 11–12
  11. 10 Things about Joshua 13–19**
  12. The Wisdom of God at Work in Israel and the Church: 10 Things About Joshua 20–21
  13. Old Testament Instruction for the New Testament Church: 10 Things About Joshua 22
  14. Love God, Flee Idols, and Remember That Jesus is with You: 10 Things about Joshua 23
  15. Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament: 10 Things about Joshua 24

** Placeholders for future ’10 Things’ on these chapters. Continue reading

Keep Zion in View: Help for the Beleaguered Reader of Isaiah

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If you have started the Via Emmaus Bible reading plan, you may be thinking about now: Isaiah a big book—a big, confusing book. If so, have no fear, you are not alone. One of the first times I read Isaiah—Isaiah 13–19 in particular—I just gave up.

This post is written so that you won’t follow that same path.

When I gave up reading Isaiah, I had no idea how to read Isaiah, or any other Prophet. I was trying to read Isaiah like I read Paul or John. I was looking for a nugget of truth or application in every verse, or at least one in every paragraph. However, that’s not the way to read Isaiah. Isaiah is like climbing a mountain—literally and literarily!!

In the book of Isaiah, Mount Zion is the goal and each section of the book keeps coming back to his holy hill. The effect is a pronouncement of salvation and judgment in surround sound. Yet, you wouldn’t know that the first time you read the book. (However, Isaiah 2:1–4 does supply a help key to the rest of the book). And thus, to get the most out of reading Isaiah, you will need to see the big picture.

Indeed, reading Isaiah can feel like putting a puzzle together without the box top, if you don’t have the big view in mind. But if you have the boxtop, i.e., a picture of what the whole book is about, it makes the reading understandable and far more enjoyable.

That’s the goal of this post—to give you a few boxtops for Isaiah. The following videos, sermons, and literary outline, therefore, are a few ways to get your bearings in Isaiah. May they help you read this big and wonderful book with less confusion. Continue reading