Where Grace and Justice Meet: A Canonical Reading of Exodus 34:6–7

guido-jansen-400639-unsplash.jpgThe Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
— Exodus 34:6–7 —

Exodus 34:6–7 is one of the most important passages in the Bible. It’s also one of the more problematic. For how can God be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and quick to forgive but also unwilling to forgive the guilty (“who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children . . .”)? Doesn’t God’s self-revelation contain, at its heart, a significant contradiction?

Some have thought so, even solving the dilemma by debating the compositional history of Exodus 34, or denying its literary unity (see Ross Blackburn, The God Who Makes Himself Known155). But for those who read Exodus as God’s inspired Word, such critical workarounds don’t work. Thus, we must consider how God’s mercy and justice are not two opposing attributes that bring conflict into God’s character. Instead, they are two aspects of God’s undivided holy nature, which reveal themselves perfectly in God’s relationship with his creation.

On this subject Ross Blackburn has been helpful as he reads Exodus 34 in light of the whole canon, with special attention to Exodus 20:5–6. Following Blackburn’s canonical exegesis, we can press deeper into the nature of God’s holy character and then work forward in redemptive history to see how Exodus 34:6–7 informs God’s mercy and justice in places like Jonah 3–4 and Nahum 1, where Exodus 34 is in both books but in different ways towards the people of Nineveh.  Continue reading

The Good News of God’s Vengeance: Nahum’s History and Literary Style

nahum05.jpegWriting about the misguided disinterest many generations of Christians have had towards the Minor Prophets, Thomas McComiskey states,

The corpus of biblical books we call the Minor Prophets has not enjoyed great prominence in the history of biblical interpretation. It is not difficult to understand why this is so. Where is the edification for.a modern Christian in a dirge celebrating the downfall of an ancient city? How can the gloomy forecasts of captivity for Israel and Judah lift the heart today? The Minor Prophets seem to have been preoccupied with nations and events that have little relevance to today’s world. How unlike the New Testament they are! (McComiskey, The Minor Prophets, ix)

If disinterest is a common feature with the Minor Prophets, Nahum may be one of the most ignored or unknown books of this already unknown section of Scripture. Written as a “war-taunt” against Nineveh, the book is replete with God’s judgment on this wicked city. Yes, in response to Jonah it repented of its evil (see Jonah 3), but a century later God sent Nahum to prophesy that the time of this city’s prosperity was over.

Reading this book nearly 3000 years later, we can easily miss its message because its diplomatic history, image-filled poetry, and covenantal theology make its message difficult to grasp. Yet, as McComiskey rightly avers, “A careful study of these prophets [Nahum included] reveals that many of the themes they expound transit the Testaments. They speak of the love of God as well as his justice. Their prophecies are not all doom, but are often rich with hope” (The Minor Prophetsix)

Certainly, this is true with Nahum. In the midst of its darkness and gloom, there are nuggets of gold which the worshiper of God can trust and treasure. As Nahum 1:15 says, “Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace!” There is good news in Nahum and it benefits the student of the word to wrestle with the whirlwind revealed in this poetic prophet. Still, to understand the fullness of the message it will require careful study (Psalm 111:2; 2 Timothy 2:7).

So, as we get ready to study this book for the next few weeks, let me highlight some of these features—namely, the history behind the book, the poetry in the book, and the good news which emerges from this book. Continue reading

Let Us Behold (Not Begrudge) Our Gracious God (Jonah 4:1–11)

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Let Us Behold (Not Begrudge) Our Gracious God
(Jonah 4:1–11)

This Sunday we brought our study of Jonah to a close. After looking at the big picture of Jonah (Jonah 1–4), diving into his storm of disobedience (Jonah 1), going under the waters of Jonah’s baptism (Jonah 1:17; cf. Matthew 12:38–41), inspecting Jonah’s prayer (Jonah 2), and learning what true repentance looks like (Jonah 3), we set our gaze on the God of sovereign grace.

By reading in Jonah in conversation with Genesis 4, Exodus 34, and 1 Kings 19, to name but a few passages, we learned what Jonah 4 says to us about our hearts and God’s. Just as the other chapters examined the heart of the reader, Jonah 4 does so all the more. It finishes with Jonah’s rage and God’s question, and it prompts the reader to ask: Will you begrudge God’s grace too?

You can listen to the message online. Discussion questions can be found below as well as a few additional resources. Continue reading

Fire in the Soul: A Few Reflections from Together for the Gospel 2018

t4g.pngFor the last ten years, God has kindly provided me a season of refreshing every other April in the city of Louisville through a gathering known as Together for the Gospel. When I began going, I lived in that city as I studied at Southern Seminary. In 2010 our family moved fifty miles north to Southern Indiana. And in 2010, 2012, and 2014 I made the hour drive to attend the conference (Living in Northern Virginia, I now find it hard to believe you go 50-miles in under an hour). Twice in those years I drove that distance by myself; soon to see many friends, but alone in my participation from my church.

Like many who attended that conference I rejoiced in the time together, but also lamented the lack of interest from my church.

Fast forward to this year, and I stand amazed at God’s kindness in letting me worship God with 12,000+ people from all over the world and with 20 people from our own church. For three days, it was a joy to hear messages from Mark Dever, H.B. CharlesLigon Duncan, Matt Chandler, and others, but what was most encouraging—most amazing to me!—was sitting in Section 210 with 20 brothers from Occoquan Bible Church. As David sang, “the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:5).

For this last week at T4G, I praise God for his kindness in surrounding me with so many like-minded brothers in Christ. I marvel that 20 men from age 16 to 60-something would be willing to make a 10-hour drive to spend 3 days worshiping God. Little could I have imagined such a fellowship a few years ago, which heightens all the more my anticipation for how God might use the seeds sown last week in the lives of our church.

Here is a sampling of the encouragement we received last week from some of the brothers who went from our church.  Continue reading

“On the Third Day”: What Jesus and the Apostles Saw When They Read the Old Testament (Guest Post by Bruce Forsee)

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Guest Post

Dr. Bruce Forsee is seasoned pastor whose theological reading of Scripture is very good. As he and his family have visited our church, I’ve enjoyed getting to know him over the last few months. I gladly share his insights on Christ’s resurrection. This particular post first appeared on his website, where he is beginning to write articles very similar to what I post here. Let me encourage you to check it out.

“He was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures”
– 1 Corinthians 15:4 –

At Easter we think about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the central event in our redemption. It’s what all of history has pointed to, and it was foretold immediately after the first sin (Genesis 3:16). Jesus knew that he had come to die, and he taught his disciples not only that he would die and rise again, but specifically that he would rise on the third day. “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).

The apostle Paul indicates that the third-day resurrection was even indicated in the Old Testament. In 1 Corinthians 15:4 he claims Jesus “was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  In OBC’s recent sermon series on Jonah, we’ve been reminded that Jesus Himself pointed to the experience of the prophet Jonah as a sign that he would die and rise in three days (Matthew 12:40). If Jonah’s “resurrection” on the third day pointed to Christ’s resurrection, this prompts the question: Are there other “third day” references in the Old Testament that signified Jesus’s greater resurrection?

The answer is a resounding “Yes.” See the list at the end of this post to begin to consider all the “third days” in Scripture. Continue reading

A Repentant Prayer or a Faithless Fake? What Jonah 2 Teaches Us About Our Hearts

kristine-weilert-88989-unsplash.jpgEarlier this week, I observed the way Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving cited or alluded to many Psalms. Today, I want to consider what this may mean for Jonah and for us who read his book.

To get a handle on the meaning of Jonah’s prayer, we must answer this question: Is Jonah’s prayer a genuine word of repentant thanksgiving, one that faithfully cites many Psalms? Or is his prayer a faithless fake that masquerades under a smokescreen of Scripture? To answer that big question lets look at four smaller questions.

  1. What do we know about the historical Jonah?
  2. What do the Minor Prophets indicate about Jonah?
  3. What does the book of Jonah say about Jonah?
  4. What does the prayer itself reveal about Jonah?

By answering these questions, we should have good chance of rendering a verdict on Jonah’s prayer and what it is intended to communicate to us. Continue reading

An Evidence of Repentance or Hypocrisy: Why Does Jonah 2 Cite So Many Psalms?

aaron-burden-534684-unsplashIt is striking the way Jonah 2 employs language from the Psalms. For those familiar with the Hebrew Psalter, it would be difficult to hear Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving without reflecting on other inspired Psalms. Just as songs which recycle older lyrics or melodies remind us of previous songs, so Jonah’s prayer should bring to our memory many lines in the Psalter.

Here is a verse by verse comparison. Clearly, the use of the Psalter is intentional, but I wonder why. Is the use of the Psalms an evidence of Jonah’s return to righteousness? Or is it something else? Could it be an instance where the Jonah’s lips draw near to God, but his heart remains far away? Should we automatically assume his use of Scripture is a sign of repentance? Or could it be that his prayer of thanksgiving without any stated repentance, as in Psalms 32 and 51, is actually an indicator of Jonah’s unrepentance.

Tomorrow, I’ll circle back to answer that question. But today, let me know what you think. Why does Jonah’s prayer recycle so many Psalms? Check on the comparison below and let me know what you think.
Continue reading

The Sign of Jonah: Swallowed in Death, Raised in Life (Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:38–41)

jonah04The Sign of Jonah: Swallowed in Death, Raised in Life (Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:38–41)

While the world went looking for Easter Eggs and basketball games this weekend, the church of Jesus Christ remembered the resurrection of our Lord. More valuable than anything an egg can offer, and more reliable than any team we cheer; the resurrected Christ offers us forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who turn from sin to trust him.

This is what we celebrated on Sunday (and every Sunday). And at our church the focus was on the sign of Jesus, as found in Jonah 1:17.  Amazingly, some eight centuries before Christ’s death and resurrection, we learn that the God of Israel took the rebellious actions of Jonah and turned them in “sign” pointing forward to Jesus. As Jesus himself says in Matthew 12:38–41, Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the fish foreshadowed his own death and resurrection.

You can listen to the sermon online. You can find discussion questions and further resources below.   Continue reading

Seven Good Words: The Work Jesus Did on the Cross

goodfriday04.jpg. . . they crucified him . . .
— Luke 23:33 —

For six hours Jesus body hung on the cross. Nailed to the tree, another crucified enemy of the state, Jesus labored to breathe as pain racked his body and mockers filled the air with vitriol. Tempted by Satan one last time to save himself (see the words in Luke 23:35, 37, 39), Jesus remained, inching closer death. Still, the end of Jesus’ life was not a passive surrender to the inevitable. Just the opposite, it was the climax of his earthly labor.

Indeed, Luke only uses three words to speak of his crucifixion. He revels not in the physical agony Jesus experienced. Rather, the good doctor focuses on what the cross meant. His testimony is a work of theology, not autopsy. For him, the importance of Jesus’s death was not found in the physical pain, but in the message it sent to the world. Like the other Evangelists, he tells us that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (19:10), and on the cross we find the climax of Jesus’ work of salvation.

And thus, to understand the cross we must ponder what his cross means and what the final work of Christ meant to accomplish. And to do that we can and must follow the lead of Luke and the other Gospels, who capture the final moments of Jesus’ life with seven different sayings on the cross. Continue reading

How the Cross of Christ Crucifies Sin

crossAs we prepare for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, consider this meditation from Alexander Watson, a 19th Century British curate in the Church of England. In the 1840s he preached a week-long series of sermons on  Christ’s seven words from the cross. And in his first sermon on Luke 23:34 (“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”), he closed with a powerful reflection on what Christ accomplished on the cross—namely, salvation from sin.

In other words, Christ’s death does more than grant clemency to guilty sinners. Christ’s death justifies guilty sinners and frees sinners to pursue a life of increasing holiness. In other words, Christ’s death does not just save us in our sin; it saves us from our sin. While awaiting the redemption of the body, the cross of Christ effectively saves us from the consequences, causes, and corruptions of sin so that we can flee from sin, crucify our flesh, and pursue good works.

Tragically, the life-giving message of holiness can be lost in a truncated message that only focuses on guilt removal. Therefore, we need to give attention to every aspect of the cross, including the hopeful message of holiness exemplified by Watson.

On the finished work of Christ that empowers Christians to pursue holiness, he writes,

The atonement for sin is a finished act. The application of that atonement is a continual work. That portion of our Lord’s priestly office which consisted in his giving himself a ransom for the sins of the world has been accomplished, and can be no more repeated. “By one offering he has for ever perfected them that are sanctified, and there remains no more sacrifice for sin’’ (Heb. 9:26). But this consecration of his redeemed by his one offer does not exclude—but rather it involves, and requires—the continued mediation and intercession of him who is our great high priest, the one who offers prayer for us continually. And since it is his death upon the cross which gives to Christ’s mediation its meritorious efficacy and acceptable savor in God’s sight, we may be well assured that it will not avail for those in whom it does not work the conquest of sin and the presence of penitent desires after holiness.  Continue reading