‘Then They Will Know That I Am the Lord’: How Seeing the Structure in Ezekiel Shows Us the Gospel

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This post is part of a series of resources for the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan. This month I am focusing on Ezekiel.

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24 “And for the house of Israel there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord God. 25 “Thus says the Lord God: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. 26 And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt.Then they will know that I am the Lord their God.”
Ezekiel 28:24–26

Galatians 3:8 says that God preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham. As he promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations, God revealed his gospel purposes for the world. This truth has many implications, but one of them is that the gospel is something that goes back to the beginning—even to the Garden of Eden (see Gen. 3:15). Accordingly, whenever we read the Old Testament we should expect to find gospel promises of salvation and hope. Even in books that focus on the righteous judgments of God, there will be promises of grace and forgiveness.

This is the gospel message—that God will make a way of salvation for those who deserve eternal condemnation.

God gave this promise to Israel first (Rom. 1:16–17), but he always intended for his salvation to go from Israel to all the nations (Gen. 12:1–3; cf. Rom. 9:25–29; 10:18ff.). In the New Testament, we learn how this works. But we also find how this works by reading the Old Testament in light of the New. In the Prophets especially, we find new covenant promises that are given to Israel and the nations.

Over the last two months, I have focused on Isaiah  and Jeremiah and the gospel hope found in each. This month, I turn to Ezekiel. And again the pattern of salvation and judgment remains. The message of the gospel is found scattered throughout Ezekiel, but it is also seen in the book as a whole.

In this blogpost, I want to offer some help on how to read Ezekiel, so that you can see the gospel in Ezekiel. Like Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel is challenging because it is so large. But it is also challenging because of how Ezekiel speaks and acts. Therefore, to get a better grasp on the book, I am turning to one of my seminary professors and his book on Ezekiel.

Daniel Block taught Old Testament when I went to Southern Seminary, and his collection of essays on Ezekiel (By the River Chebar: Historical, Literary, and Theological Studies in the Book of Ezekiel, 2013) nicely complements his massive, two-volume commentary on Ezekiel. In class, I remember him saying that his kids grew up with Ezekiel in the house, as he spent fourteen years (!!) working on his two commentaries. To such labor, we are indebted. And to those who read his work on Ezekiel, they will find excellent scholarship and great help for reading this prophet.

In what follows, I am summarizing Block’s introductory notes to Ezekiel. Continue reading

The Covenants with Abraham and Israel: One or Two?

mick-haupt-eQ2Z9ay9Wws-unsplash.jpgIn his commentary on Deuteronomy, Daniel Block considers the relationship between God’s covenant with Abraham and his covenant with Israel. Entitled “the covenant with your forefathers” in Deuteronomy 4:31, he asks whether this is a reference to God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (cf. Exod 2:24; 6:4; Lev 26:4)? Or a reference to the covenant God made with Israel at Horeb (Deut 4:13)? Or is it somehow a reference to both?

In eight points, Block shows why it is best to see these two covenants as organically related. Instead of singularly referring to the covenant with Abraham or the covenant at Horeb, he explains that God’s covenant with Israel continues the covenant with Abraham. Adding legislation to the original covenant with Abraham, it extends the promises to Abraham and adds national stipulations for Abraham’s offspring. In this way, Block helps us read Moses on his own terms and to see how the biblical covenants relate to one another. Here’s how Block explains it: Continue reading

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth: Daniel Block’s Answer to a Feminist Reading of Nahum 3

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In the Bible there are many explicit images, stories, and words. Read Genesis 34, Genesis 38, Ezekiel 16, the Song of Songs, or Paul’s use of the word skubala (Philippians 3:8) and you will come in contact with holy writ that would require an ‘R’ rating if put to film. Yet, because the medium of God’s Word is not visual, but literary, it both reveals and conceals graphic content.

In the wisdom of God, he has given us Scripture that is both explicit as to sex, violence, and all manners of vice, all the while retaining its holy perfections and purity. Still, not all interpreters of God’s Word are able to “see” this. And sadly, many bring their biases to the text of Scripture, and instead of letting the pure word of God renew their minds, they distort God’s Word, even portraying God in blasphemous ways.

One such example of this comes from Judith Sanderson’s commentary on Nahum 3. Since our church is preaching through Nahum right now, I felt it might be helpful to highlight this passage, especially the way Sanderson comments on Nahum 3:5–6:

5 Behold, I am against you, declares the Lord of hosts, and will lift up your skirts over your face; and I will make nations look at your nakedness and kingdoms at your shame. 6 I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle.

In the Women’s Bible Commentary, a commentary with an unashamed feminist perspective, Sanderson interprets the judgment oracle against Nineveh as portraying God as someone who “rap[es]women when angry.” In full context, this is what Sanderson says,  Continue reading

Hermeneutics: How should 21st Century Christians Read the Old Testament?

So here’s the question, posed by Josh Philpot: Should 21st century Christians reinterpret the OT in light of the NT the way the apostle’s did (in preaching and teaching)? Or, was there a specific hermeneutic used by the apostles (through divine revelation, of course) as the church began? Or, should we maintain the original intent of the OT author in the same way that we do for NT authors? Would this deemphasize the Messiah in the OT?

So much has been written on this subject lately.  These mere responses are just scratching the surface on a subject that has much history and much need for further exegetical examination.

My first thought is, Why would anyone want to intrepret the Scriptures, the OT in particular, in manner other than the apostles? Dividing the OT from the witness of the NT seems inherently Marcion, except with a priority given to the OT. With so many hazardous methods of correlation espoused throughout church history, the way that the apostles read the Scripture, as inspired readers and writers, seems best. Evaluating and judiciously employing their mode of interpretation seems to be the most biblically consistent way of reading the book that had a single Divine author.

I don’t think that the apostles ripped Scripture out of context, as some assert. Instead, being steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures, discipled by Jesus himself, and uniquely led by the Holy Spirit, I give them pride of place in being able to interpret the OT. We know Jesus saw himself in the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, and it only makes sense that those who walked with him after the Resurrection had their eyes and minds opened to see (Luke 24:31, 45) and understand how all the OT pointed to Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 10:6; 2 Cor. 1:20; 2 Pet. 1:19-21). While we twenty-first centuries may have difficulty putting the testaments together, so did the apostles–until Jesus Christ explained the Scriptures to them (cf. Luke 24).  At which point, it appears that the apostles with the finality of the resurrection, couple with the instruction of the Christ, and the leading of the Spirit saw the light.   So, I gladly sit at their feet.

Personally, my method of interpretation has been influenced by Richard Lints three-fold approach found in his book, The Fabric of Theology, introduced by Steve Wellum, where we must read the text in its literary context–exegetically, epochally, and canonically.  As Daniel Block, a strong proponent of authorial intent, once said, “We must put ourselves in the shoes of the author to discern his original intent.” I agree, however, we cannot stop there and draw mere moral principles. We must move to the second horizon, the epochal context. Like Walter Kaiser, we must read the text in light of its antecedent theology and see how the text fits into its immediate historical and cultural context and its place in the storyline of Scripture. Finally, though, we must see the text in light of the entire canon of Scripture. We cannot think that God is making up the story as he goes. Jesus completing fulfills the OT Law, because when Moses was receiving the Decalogue, God was making preparations for Jesus to come and as the telos of the law (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 10:4). Only when we read the Bible in light of all three contexts or horizons can we properly discern the authorial intent and the intention of the Author and Perfecter, Himself (cf. Heb. 12:2).  For instance, only in light of the coming of Jesus Christ does the annihilation Israel’s make sense. Without the “Big Picture” and the light of the NT, these ostensible commands for genocide do not have a context.

While I concede that the apostles, being inspired by the Spirit, had a measure of authoritative interpretation and inscripturation that we do not, I think that should encourage twenty-first century Christians to look to their interpretative model all the more, not discourage exegetes from looking at their model. Would it be better to look to the allegorical method of Alexandria? Or the demythologization of Bultmann? Or the trajectory hermeneutic of William Webb? Or even the historical-literary model of Robert Stein?  No, it seems much better to give attention to Peter, Paul, and John. Those who deny NT light to illuminate OT Scripture minimize the unity of the Bible, disregard Jesus’ statement that all Scripture points to him (Luke 24:26-27, 44-46; John 5:39), and neglect an interpretative method that maintains full biblical authority, encourages a forward-looking, hope-giving biblical eschatology, and esteems Jesus Christ.

All that to say, in reading the OT like the apostles (or at least attempting to), Jesus Christ is most highly exalted and most closely rooted in the biblical contours of the canon. So I affirm the apostolic reading of the Scripture, and humbling attempt to see how the OT and NT fit together, unified in Christ (Eph. 1:10).

I know I haven’t figured it all out.  I haven’t come close.  But as I read the Scriptures, the gospel of Jesus Christ comes alive as I see the shadows of Christ in the Old Testament and His substance in the New Testament.  To that end, I will keep reading the whole counsel of Scripture, looking for Jesus.  What about you?

Sola Deo Gloria, dss