From Noah’s Baptism to Jesus’ Crucifixion: A Study in Typological Escalation

fishJesus is the goal of redemptive history. In Ephesians 1:10 Paul observes that God has “[made] known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him.” In Galatians 4:4, Paul has the same eschatological view in mind: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son . . .” And Hebrews too observes the climactic arrival of the Son of God: “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . .” (1:1). In short, the apostles, as model interpreters, understand all redemptive history to be leading to Jesus.

Consequently, it is not surprising to find that the typological structures of the Old Testament escalate until they find their telos in Jesus. In other words, Scripture begins with glimpses of the pre-incarnate Christ and gradually adds contour and color to the biblical portrait of the coming Messiah.

Over time, such glimpses of grace are developed and made more concrete as the types (i.e., events, offices, and institutions of the Old Testament) repeat and escalate. One prominent event that is repeated in the Old Testament is that of “baptism.” As Peter observes in his first epistle, baptism corresponds (lit., is the antitype, or fulfillment) to Noah and his life-saving (make that humanity-saving) ark (1 Pet 3:20). It is this typological thread that I want to consider here. It is my aim to show that not only do Old Testament “types” prefigure Christ and his work of salvation, but they also grow in intensity and efficacy as the Incarnation of Christ nears. Continue reading

The Exodus-to-Temple Pattern

Jeffrey J. Niehaus argues convincingly in his Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology that a regular and repeating pattern of salvation occurs in the Ancient Near East (ANE).  He writes, “The basic structure of the idea is this:”

A god works through a man (a royal or prophetic figure, often styled a shepherd) to wage war against the god’s enemies and thereby advance his kingdom.  The royal or prophetic protagonist is in a covenant with the god, as are the god’s people.  The god establishes a temple among his people, either before or after the warfare, because he wants to dwell among them.  This can mean the founding (or choice) of a city, as well as a temple location.  The ultimate purpose is to bring into the god’s kingdom those who are not part of it (Jeffrey J. Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008], 30).

Developing this basic schema, Niehaus demonstrates how the Old Testament and New Testament recapitulate this eschatological temple-building motif.   This pattern can be witnessed in the life of Moses, when YHWH calls the reluctant shepherd to defeat Pharaoh and liberate Israel, with the ultimate goal of tabernacle worship with God’s covenant people.  Moreover, in the life of David, YHWH summons a shepherd to crush the head of the enemy, to free the people of Israel, and to establish his covenant people in the land—a land where YHWH has set his name.  The culminating act of temple-building in 1 Kings is the high point of the OT, and sets the stage for a greater Spirit-anointed, Divine warrior/savior, who will construct the final dwelling place for God in the NT.

The same kind of pattern can be found in a variety of New Testament passages. Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7, Paul’s preaching in Acts 13, 17, and passages like Ephesians 2:11-22, and the whole book of Revelation show the exodus-to-temple pattern outlined by Niehaus.  In fact, in regards to the work of Christ, Niehaus writes,

God wages war through his Son and prophet, the Good Shepherd, Jesus, against the powers of darkness.  He liberates people from those powers and establishes them as his people by a new covenant.  He establishes a temple presence, not only among them but in them (the church and individually its members) (ibid., 31).

They look forward to a heavenly city (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 11:10; Rev. 21:2).  Theologically, it is important to remember that these people were God’s enemies…until he waged warfare, set them free from their vassaldom to sin, and established his covenant with them, making them his own vassals…Christ is also Creator or Co-creator.  He creates a “new heaven and a new earth,” with a temple presence that recalls Eden with its river and tree of life” (ibid, 31-32).

Reading the Bible along these lines, it is becomes apparent that the God of the Bible works in a regular and repeating way throughout redemptive history, and that the NT writers were conscious of these biblical-theological structures and interweaved them into the very fabric of their thinking, preaching, and writing.

For a short list of resources that observe this phenomenon, see See David Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002); Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997);  the articles found in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theologyed. T. Desmond Alexander and Simon J. Gathercole (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2004).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Gospel-Motivated Generosity is a Mark of True Obedience

Some of the largest philanthropists in the world are non-Christians.  Agnostics love to give to their Alma Maters as much as Christians; and the generosity of many believers does not always spring from gospel-centered reflection on Jesus Christ.  Accordingly, we need to think more carefully about the relationship between believing the gospel and obeying God’s commands to give generously.

Among many places in the Bible that address this subject, Exodus teaches us that obedience, in general, and giving, in particular, are motivated by grace. Yesterday, we saw how obedience was a result of the Spirit’s work.  Now today, I want to reflect on how God brought about obedience in the people of Israel, and how he does something similar in our lives.

He does not accomplish obedience in us through demand (alone), threat (alone), or reward (alone).  Each of these speech-acts are important in their own right, but ultimately God does something more powerful to effect change in us.  Something we should take note of, in order to live lives according to the gospel.

The Cause of Israel’s Obedience

In Exodus 35, Moses called for Israel to give gold, silver, precious wood and fabrics for the construction of the tabernacle.  If you read carefully, you will notice that he doesn’t badger, manipulate, or threaten.  He asked plainly, and the people gave generously.  In fact, the giving was so abundant that Moses had to tell Israel to stop giving (Exod 36:5-7).  This should immediately cause us to ask: How?  Why did Israel who days earlier made a false God, now give with such generosity?  Was this a guilt offering?  Or was something else going on?

To begin with, lets read Exodus 35:20-29 and then lets make a few observations.  Moses records,

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the LORD. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the LORD’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the LORD had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the LORD.

Observations on Gospel-Centered Giving and Obedience

In these ten verses, we see a wonderful model of grace-inspired giving.  If what Moses describes speaks of the totality of Israel, it is likely that all of Israel gave from hearts that were stirred up in affection for God.  Thus, the giving was great because of God’s earlier grace in not only saving them from Egypt but in sparing them from the wrath they deserved because of the Golden Calf debacle.

There are a number of things to notice in these verses that pertain to obedience and giving.

First, the generosity was not motivated by guilt.  Moses did not badger, demand, or manipulate.  He called and Israel responded.  Apparently, something had happened between Aaron’s call for gold and Moses’ call.  The only text standing in between is God’s gracious revelation which presumably accounts for the change.  Moses records that Israel’s hearts/spirits moved them.  Here is the lesson: true obedience, true giving, true Christianity (in the OT and the NT) is a matter of a changed heart, not just a winsome sales pitch.

Second, if you want to produce giving people, you don’t use outward means of solicitation.  Sure, pep talks, testimonies, and logical reasons for giving can be produced.  But in the long run, Christians will give in direct proportion to their heart-felt understanding of the gospel.  If someone is born again and their mind is taken captive to the gospel, they will be quick to give to the work of the gospel.  Now of course this is according to their means—and it was in Israel, as well.  But those committed to seeing the gospel go forward should be asking themselves, what can I do financially to further the ministry of my church or the ministry of gospel-preaching missionaries.

Third, grace is what motivated Israel.  It is not coincidental that such generous obedience follows from God’s revelation to Moses and the renewal of the covenant in Exodus 34.  God’s character was revealed and pronounced with grace and goodness, this in spite of Israel’s wrath-inviting sin.  Thus, grace seems to be the reason why Israel had such a change of heart. Just the same, grace should motivate you and I in our obedience, giving, and in everything else.

What We Are Missing

I think this is something that is often missed.  And it is missed by pastors as much as it is missed by anyone.  Such gospel ministers who “save” people with the gospel and then try to produce growth and discipleship through the law. But it is not just pastors, parents are just as culpable, as they  focus on rules and making their children submit, instead of winning their hearts by the grace of God.

Somehow in efforts to produce good Christians and good children, we have missed the way God motivates through his inspired servants.  Moses was overwhelmed by God’s glorious grace in Exodus 34, and he spoke about YHWH’s abundant grace for the rest of his life–just read Deuteronomy.

Likewise, Paul when writing to the Corinthian church urged them to give, not with appeals to conscience or legal demands.  Rather, he called them to give out of glad hearts, hearts overflowing with thanksgiving in the gospel. Notice what he says in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

In these words, the great gospel missionary reminds the Corinthians of God’s abundant grace, total sufficiency, and he spurs them on to give so that they might see greater gospel fruit—the lost being won to Christ, the gospel reaching new peoples, etc.  He motivates with the gracious gospel.  So should we.

The Deeper Problem

Still, the deeper problem is not that we motivate others with the law and calls to do better.  We do the same with ourselves.  A number of years ago, I asked a prominent Bible teacher how he has remained faithful in the work of the Lord.  His answer surprised me.  Instead of appealing to God’s word, or the Spirit, he simply said that every day, he simply made the choice to keep following God.

I guess for him, it had worked, but I know too many people who have failed at the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of Christianity.  Indeed, I think God wants us to fail at self-sufficient sanctification.  I would even say, that the man who said his obedience to the Lord came from simply doing it everyday was radically dependent on the promises of God and the power of the Spirit.

But therein lies the problem: The way he walked by faith in God’s gospel was assumed, not articulated.  Sure, he depended much on the word of God.  In another conversation, he said, he studied a different book of the Bible every month and that over decades he had been through the Bible countless times.  Thus, he was radically dependent on God’s word and captivated by its vision of Christ.  Still, he did not communicate that when asked about how to remain faithful.

Thus, we need again and again to point out from God’s Word how and where we find motivation for holy living.  Such obedience is motivated by the gospel and nothing else, and here in Exodus we find an excellent example of a people who gave richly because they had received richly.

May we do the same.  May we risk, give, and live for Christ not out of the goodness of our hearts, but rather because of the goodness of God proclaimed and promised in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Until he comes, may we live in radical dependence on God’s grace, and may we trust that his grace will be sufficient for all that he calls us to do.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

Spirit-Empowered Service is a Mark of True Obedience

For the first thirty-four chapters in Exodus, the people of Israel are consistently stiff-necked.  Their speech is marked by grumbling; anxiety, fear, and accusations characterize the disposition of their hearts; and more than once Moses has to intervene on their behalf to protect them from God’s wrath.  However, after Moses returns from Mt Sinai, something surprising happens.  Instead of being disobedient, breaking God’s word, as they do with the Golden Calf, they are now remarkably obedient.  In fact, chapters 35-40 repeat again and again, how Israel has fulfilled all of God’s words.  Instead of having hard-hearts, their hearts are ostensibly willing (cf. 35:20-29).

It is striking to see how this people has changed.  Which makes me ask: How?  How did they become obedient?  And how should their change–I don’t want to say conversion because Psalm 95 tells us that most of these Israelites died in their unbelief in the wilderness–impact the way we understand God’s work in our lives today?

Today and tomorrow, I will point out two things in the text of Exodus that show us what impacted their hearts to make a change.

The Power of the Spirit

One of the main reasons why Israel expresses obedience is the work of the Holy Spirit, equipping and enabling Israel to make the tabernacle.  Now, the work of the Spirit in Exodus is not quite the same as the gift of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.  The Spirit is not regenerating and dwelling in these saints, so much as he is empowering them to work.  Nevertheless, with that caveat in place, the Spirit effects obedience as he equips these Israelites to carry out the functions of building the tabernacle.

This Spirit-caused change is seen when we compare Israel’s idolatry in Exodus 32 to their God-directed service in Exodus 35-40.  In Exodus 32, idleness at Sinai led to idolary, but with the Spirit (and just as important, as spirit-filled mediator in Moses), God moves Israel to heed God’s word and build God’s place. Thus, we see that obedience–if only external and temporary–is accomplished by the Spirit.  We see this in Exodus 35:30-35.

Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver–by any sort of workman or skilled designer.

Clearly, the tabernacle of God could not be completed by men, as men.  They needed God’s help.  Thus, the skill, intelligence, knowledge, and craftsmanship in all sorts of design-work was necessarily given by the Holy Spirit.  I think, by extension, we can say that everything God commanded required the work of the Spirit.  Just the same, for God to be pleased with our works, it requires faith (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6), and what does Galatians 5:22-23 say?  Faith is a fruit of the Spirit.

So here is the point: All Israel’s skilled hands were gifted by the Spirit.  Thus, every inch of the tabernacle and all its component parts were made by men, but not without the Spirit.  God’s dwelling was a Spiritual creation.  In trying to understand the relationship between God and man in this setting, I would propose that its construction must be analogous to inspiration. Just as the Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, so that the minds and hands of free men could write exactly what God wanted—without error; in the same way, God’s spirit guided men to make his dwelling place.

To say it another way, in one sense, Moses, Bezalel, and the skilled workers built the tabernacle; but in another more ultimate sense, God himself built the tabernacle.  Since everything was done according to his word and by his Spirit, the obedient Israelites worked exactly as God intended.  In true Spiritual freedom they built God’s dwelling place.

So now lets go back to the original question: What caused Israel’s obedience?  My answer is that it was the Spirit.  Though, there are other factors, without the Spirit there would not be the ability or the willingness to fulfill God’s word.  But with the Spirit, stiff-necked Israel is able to obey God’s word “perfectly.”  That is, God is totally pleased with the tabernacle to the point that his Spirit descends upon the man-made tent as soon as it was completed.

Traversing the Covenantal Divide

So how might Christians apply this reality today?

Fast-forwarding these realities to the New Covenant, we need to realize that the scope and locus of the Spirit is wider and closer, respectively.  As to the former, the Spirit now works in all nations and in all peoples.  He is no longer restricted to Israel.  Rather, He  is given to everyone for whom Christ died.  Likewise, his work is more interior.  He no longer works externally on those people whom God has chosen for service (think of Saul); rather, he circumcises the heart, indwells the believer, and saves all those in whom he dwells.  He does not simply gives gifts; he is the down payment for salvation.

In this way, Exodus shows how the Spirit effects obedience, but in the whole canon of Scripture, we find that the testimony of God is that the Spirit works in greater ways today.  For in Israel, the same hands that built the tabernacle were attached to bodies that died in the wilderness because of unbelief.  Not so today, the Spirit saves eternally.  While David feared losing the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51, that is not a fear New Testament believers should ever have (Eph 1:13-14). In all, while there is continuity between the people of Israel and the church, there is greater discontinuity.

With all that said, as we return to the question of obedience, it is clear that the Spirit is the responsible party for our faithful service. With the tabernacle, the people were moved, led, guided, directed by the Spirit of God, and thus they were able to obey fully because God enabled them to obey and do the work.  Today, it is still the Spirit who causes us to walk in the statutes of the Lord (Ezek 36:26-27), and indeed if there is or will be a change in our lives, it is because of the power and influence of the Spirit.

Let us pray unto the Father to pour out his Spirit in our lives and in our world, so that Christ would be reflected in the lives who have been purchased by his blood.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


Introducing Bezalel: A Temple-Building Son of Judah

Introducing Bezalel

One of the main characters in Exodus is a man whose name only appears three other times in the whole Bible, and then only in genealogies in Chronicles and Ezra.  His name is Bezalel and he plays an enormous role in the construction of the tabernacle. Exodus 31:1–5 introduces him saying,

The LORD said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship,  to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.

Though Moses is given the vision of the tabernacle (Exod 25:40), and the people are called to furnish the materials (25:1–8; 35:4–9), it is the Spirit-endowed skill possessed by Bezalel that made it possible for the tabernacle to be constructed.  This is re-emphasized in Exodus 35:30-35, but it is Exodus 38:22 that I want to highlight.  There Moses records that “Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the LORD commanded Moses.”

Now it is obvious why Bezalel is mentioned in Exodus.  He is the chief foreman on the tabernacle project.  He is given skill and the wisdom of the Spirit to accomplish the task.  However, the more amazing point is this: Why is it important that Bezalel’s family lineage be mentioned?  Of course, it is nice to know a little background on the guy, but is that it?  I think there is something more going on… what you might call prophetic typology.

Type, Ectype, and Archetype

Can you think of anyone else from the tribe of Judah, who obeyed God’s law to build a tabernacle?  How about David and his son Solomon.  In the history of Israel, it is recorded that God gave David a vision of the temple, and that David passed on this architectural plan to Solomon (1 Chron 28:11-19).  Moreover, like Bezalel, YHWH gave Solomon unsurpassed wisdom in order to construct the tabernacle (1 Kings 3:10ff).  Thus, in a very real way, Solomon with his Spirit-endowed wisdom was a greater Bezalel.  Bezalel was the type; Solomon the ectype, or to say it another way, a greater installment of the temple-builder par excellence who was still to come.

In the New Testament, we find that the temple-building typology of Bezalel and Solomon is picked up in Jesus Christ.  Jesus who is a son of David, and a son of Judah (Matt 1:1-17) is the one who perfectly obeys the law of Moses (Matt 5:17).  Moreover, as Matthew describes “something greater than Solomon is here” (12:42b).  Then in Matthew 16:18, Jesus himself says that he is building a church, one that will never be destroyed by death, sin, or Satan.  He alludes to the “rock” which conjures up pictures of the temple mount, and he says that he is going to found his temple/church on Peter and the other apostles. (See G. K. Beale on how Matthew 16:18 relates to the temple mount, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God187–88).

Thus, in his death, Jesus becomes the cornerstone of a new temple.  Indeed, Paul uses temple imagery to describe what Jesus is doing by the Spirit.  He writes in Ephesians 2:19–22,

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The confirmation of the Bezalel-Solomon-Jesus typological structure finds further support in Hebrews, where the author compares and contrasts Moses and Jesus (Heb 3), and says that our Christ is not simply a servant in the house, he is “the builder of the house” (v. 3).  Accordingly, he deserves greater glory—more glory that Moses (and by extension Bezalel) who constructed a tent in the desert; more glory than Solomon who constructed a superlative temple in Jerusalem.  These typological dwellings were splendid in their own time and place, but compared to what Christ is doing in his church, they are dull and decrepit.

The Gospel of Temple Building Son of Judah

What a vision!  In Bezalel and later in Solomon, the Spirit of God is preparing the way for Christ to come.  The typology is not just a retrospective analogy between Jesus and Bezalel.  Rather, set in history, God has set aside Bezalel as a son of Judah, to become a temple-builder, so that when Christ comes into the world, we would see an entire history of Spirit-filled men from Judah building a dwelling place for God with his people.

Once again, we see in Exodus the way Christ is foreshadowed.  He is the substance from which Bezalel is the historical shadow.  It is a glorious reminder that all Scripture points us to Jesus, and that on every page of God’s inspired text, we see glimpses of our savior reflected in the saints who are shaped by the Spirit of Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Who Is Jesus?

Who is Jesus?

In his commentary, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory, Philip Graham Ryken gives an excellent answer to this essential question.  Notice how he uses the typology of Exodus with its people, language, events, and descriptions to explain who Christ is.

Jesus is the Moses of our salvation, the mediator who goes for us before God.  Jesus is the Lamb of our Passover, the sacrifice for our sins.  Jesus is our way out of Egypt, the deliverer who baptizes us in the sea of his grace.  Jesus is our bread in the wilderness, the provider who gives us what we need for daily life.  Jesus is our voice form the mountain, declaring his law for our lives. Jesus is the altar of our burning, through whom we offer praise up to God.  Jesus is the light of our lampstand, the source of our life and light.  Jesus is the basin of our cleansing, the sanctifier of our souls.  Jesus is our great High Priest, who prays for us at the altar of incense.  And Jesus is the blood on the mercy seat, the atonement that reconciles us to God.  The great God of the exodus has saved us in Jesus Christ.

This is our Christ  He is understood not in the romantic views of our own making, but rather he is known through the revelation of God’s word.  Moreover, he is known from the descriptions of the Old Testament.  This means that failure to know the Old Testament necessitates an inability to know who Jesus the Christ is.

May we continue to press into the text of the Bible–Old and New Testaments–to see him!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Creator and His Creation: For Which Do We Give Thanks?

Tomorrow, most of the country (USA) will sit down to enjoy turkey, dressing, and a bevy of other tasty plates.  While consumerism, multiple helpings, and televised football encroach on the meaning of the day, for intentional Christians, Thanksgiving really can be a wonderful time of year to contemplate God’s goodness, his faithfulness, and his provision.  Yet, even here, there is the temptation to dwell more on the creation given, than the Creator himself.

Here is what I mean.  For so many of us, thanksgiving can devolve into holy shout-outs for traveling mercies, physical protection, or some kind of vocational or relational blessing this year.  Don’t get me wrong, these things are all worthy of giving thanks!  However, what makes those praises any different than a conservative Mormon family, or the Islamic single who gives praise to Allah for passing grad school, or the sober agnostic who gives indescriminate thanks for three clean years?

I think at Thanksgiving it is possible to focus so much on God’s creational blessings, things we gladly share with the world, that we forget the greater blessings of knowing God.  Or to say it another way, we muffle praise for the Creator by filling our mouths and our plates with praise for the creation.  This is where the Bible comes to lovingly lifts our eyes to behold a greater vision of God, one that will give us reasons for thanksgiving that outstrip anything we might share with the Mormon or Muslim.

Exodus 33:18: A Glimpse of Glory

When Moses prayed to see God’s glory in Exodus 33:18, God responded that he would show him his goodness and his name.  Yesterday, we considered the goodness of God.  Today, we will meditate on the latter, the name of God, to see how the name of God has the potential to elicit more genuine praise and thanksgiving than turkey, dressing, and a new career ever could.

Parachuting into the text, lets notice the name of God as revealed to Moses.  Moses records in Exodus 34:5-9,

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The 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.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

Now lets unpack this glorious word with consideration to four aspects of God’s name.

God’s Name is Gracious

While he is unswerving in his demands, he is gracious in his approach to Israel.  This is true in the fact that Israel is still alive, but also in answering Moses’ prayer and descending on the mountaintop to proclaim his name.  And his name, not coincidentally, is the definition of grace.  In fact, expounding on the name he revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14, YHWH says in Exodus 34, when he passed by,  “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”   The reiteration of his proper name, stresses the continuity of his personhood and the weight of glory, but more descriptive in this apposition is the fact that the four-fold description beams of grace and love.  While God could have rightfully pronounced his name as judicial and holy, deliberate in condemnation and abounding in wrath; YHWH stresses his mercy and love.

God’s Name is Wise

This method of redeeming grace is wiser than any human religion. God’s wisdom is seen in his patience.  His name describes him as one who is “slow to anger,” which means that he is not out of control or overtaken by passion.  Yet, at the right moment, he is capable of great wrath. Wisdom knows when to be gracious, when to be just.

It has been noted by R.C. Sproul and others that God is not infinite in patience.  He is slow to anger and quick to forgive, but he is not infinite in his forebearance.  Yet, unlike short-sighted humanity, he is not confused by when to move from grace to judgment.  Moreover, as Romans 2:4 will say later, his seasons and instances of kindness and slowness to anger are motivations to repent and believe.  In this way, God manifests his inimitable wisdom. 

God’s Name is Loving and Just  

This wisdom is balanced in verse 7. He is a God of love—covenantal love.  The emphasis of this passage is on that reality.  Like a perfect husband, he is loyal to his bride.  Like a father, he loves his own—not based on condition or performance of his people; rather, his love overflows from his own delight in rescuing a people for his own possession.  Thus the love he has for us is depends solely on his choice to love us, not in our choice to love him.

At the same time, he is a God of perfect justice.  In the same place where he describes his overwhelming love, he says, “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 fourth generation.” Unlike fickle judges and hung juries, God will perfectly execute judgment on the guilty and comfort for the afflicted (cf. 2 Thess 1:6-10). 

God’s Name is Glorious 

In all these ways, YHWH proves himself to be the infinitely glorious God.  He is worthy of eternal worship because of these manifold perfections.  In Exodus 34:8-9, Moses models a heart that is overwhelmed with this glory.  While he has not “seen” the glory of God’s face, he has heard his name and has been overwhelmed.  Even as he sought to look at the glory of God, verse 8 records, that he stopped looking at God’s glory to worship with head down. Moses lowers his head and repents for his own request.  In God’s presence he is overwhelmed by God’s glory.

Such a feeling should accompany the Christian’s experience.  It is not constant and it is not often, but it is real and unmistakable.  In my own life, I can think of no less than two times when I was struck by such a sense of God’s glory and it is a pride-crushing, self-forgetting experience of his manifold beauty and grace for allowing you to even know Him.  Such an experience confirms existentially what we know expositionally.  God is glorious, and thus the only appropriate way to respond is life-long, indeed eternal, worship!

Give Thanks to the Creator, not Just For His Creation

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, may we not only thank God for the good things he has given us in creation, though by all means we should do that.  Do not merely offer great praise for the benefits of the gospel that secures our redemption,  though you should meditate long on those priceless realities.  But above all, and perhaps in contradistinction from every other Thanksgiving, offer thanksgiving to God for who he is and how he has made himself known to you!  Such praise is based on the greatest motivation to praise–God’s glory.  Moreover, it offers you reason to give thanks even when life has been hard this year and every fiber of your being feels like pouting or screaming.  When we behold the eternally glorious God, whose works are breath-taking and whose name is beautiful, we have endless reasons to give thanks–in empty times and full times.  This is the blessedness of contentment, but even more it is a kind of thanksgiving that can only be offered by a born-again believer.  May we offer such glorious praise to Christ his thanksgiving, and may all who know us, know that God is gracious and compassionate, loving and just, worthy of all their praise!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


Gospel Logic from Psalm 103

Gospel Logic Remembers God’s Covenant Faithfulness.

This week we have been taking especial note of the way biblical characters think.  Since our mind is the seat of all change in our lives, and because God’s word has called us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:1-2), and because God has supplied us in his Word with all that we need for cognitive transformation (2 Pet 1:3-4; cf. Ps 19:7-11), we ought to think often about how we can fill our minds with gospel truths, and to know where to find such thoughts when times of trouble come–and they will come.

One of those places of personal gospel proclamation is Psalm 103. Today, we are simply going to point out a nine truths from Psalm 103–truths that have the power to lift weary souls and engender hope in the hearts of the desperate.

Gospel Logic speaks to himself; it does not listen to himself (v. 1).

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

Gospel Logic reminds oneself of the comfort that memory brings; poor memory is one of the first steps towards misery (v. 2). 

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, . . . 

Gospel Logic recalls God’s history of personal faithfulness (v. 3-5).

Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Gospel Logic revisits God’s history of redemptive faithfulness (v. 6-7).

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

Gospel Logic ruminates on the name and character of God (v. 8-12) 

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Gospel Logic does not try to make oneself larger, smarter, or more succesful in order to find security or comfort; rather, it embraces and admits weakness and delights in God’s unconditional electing love for them (v. 13-14).  

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

Gospel Logic reasons that this trial is short-lived and will not pass into the new creation; meanwhile the promise of God’s eternal weight of glory keeps our hearts anchored to God’s goodness (v. 15-19).

As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

Gospel Logic does not try to reduce God’s sovereignty, it does not delight in man’s free will.  It delights in the One whose reign is absolute and meticulous (v. 19).

The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

Gospel Logic offers a sacrifice of praise based on God’s infinite worth, not based on the presence of joy in my heart.  Whether we feel it or not, God is radiantly beautiful, and he is always worthy of worship. (v. 20-22)

Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!

May we read Psalm 103 today and be spurred on towards love and good deeds as we hear the gospel: Soul, bless the Lord!  And forget not all of his benefits… Such gospel logic will sustain us in this life, and it will find eternal expression in the age to come.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Moses’ Gospel Logic

Yesterday, we saw how Abraham wrestled with God’s word in order to believe his promise (Gen 15:6) and to sacrifice his son (Gen 22:1ff).  We called such thinking that gave precedence to God’s revelation over our reasonable (or unreasonable) feelings “Gospel Logic.”  Today, we turn to Exodus 32 to see how Moses engaged in the same kind of thinking.

A Sinful People in Need of Something…

1 Corinthians 10 points to Exodus 32 as a universal example of what not to do. Poised to receive God’s order of service for true worship, Israel gets impatient (Exod 32). They hire Aaron to make new gods, and on one of the forty days that Moses in on the Mount of Sinai, the people of Israel sin against God and break the covenant that had just been ratified in Exodus 24.

On the mountain, Moses receives word from the Lord, “And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” (Exod 32:7-8).

What is Moses to do?

On the way down the mountainside, he hears the drunken sound of pagan worship in the camp (32:18-20).  He gets to the base camp, and he smashes the tablets.  The covenant is broken.  In the scenes that follow, Moses inquires of Aaron (32:22-24) and commissions the sons of Levi to slaughter their own family members in order to avert the wrath of God (32:25-29).  The day is done.  The people are undone.  Night falls.

Exodus 32:30 records a new day.  The day of judgment has passed, but the threat of the plague remains (v. 35).  What will Moses do?  Surely he was thinking the same thing.  The covenant people of Israel have broken their wedding vows, and something must be done.  Not a passive man, Moses sets off to inquire of God telling the people, “You have sinned a great sin.  And I will go up to the Lord, . . . ” (32:30).

What would he do?  What would he say?  The rest of verse tells us, “perhaps I can make atonement for your sins.”

Atonement.  This is what the people needed.  But how would he accomplish this.  The plans for the tabernacle were destroyed.  The sin was so great, and God’s holiness was so much greater what would he do?  How would he plead his case?  Such questions lead us to see how Moses reckoned the matter, and in his offer, we will see how gospel logic at work.

Moses Gospel Logic: From Sinai to Eden and Back Again

To understand fully how Moses might have arrived at his self-sacrificing offer, we need to consider the antecedent theology that Moses would have had, and that he would have drawn upon to plead his case and make his offer.

Atonement, and the need for blood sacrifice, was common throughout the ancient near east.  Accordingly, Israel as they worshiped around the golden altar made sacrifices.  While they needed divine instruction for true sacrifices, they did not need information on how to sacrifice.  While they did not have the book of Exodus, they had ample knowledge of the sacrifices offered In Egypt.

But where did these come from?  From God, where else?  Pagan sacrifices are echoes of the first sacrifice, the one God made in the Garden.  Indeed, sacrifice in general terms was imprinted on human civilization from the Garden of Eden forward. Remember: When Adam and Eve sinned they needed a covering, and so God killed an animal an clothed them.  The seed of substitution was sown in this act, and it was passed from God to Adam to Abel.

(For a biblical exposition of these patriarchal and pagan sacrifices, see William Symington, On the Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ [1834], pp. 66-92; likewise, for a helpful explanation of the way pagan worship corresponds to the original pattern passed down from Adam and Noah, see Jeffrey Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology)

As the biblical testimony goes, not all offerings were of equal value.  In Genesis 4, Abel’s offering was based on his faith (Heb 11), but what was his faith in?  Surely, it based on the revelation conveyed to Cain and Abel’s parents, modeled in Genesis 3, that said bloodshed was needed. By contrast, Cain’s offering was faithless, because he refused to believe the need for shed blood.  Instead of substitutionary offering, he brought fruit from the field.  His offering was not according to God’s word, it did not substitute life for life, and thus it was not acceptable to the Lord.

If Moses was indeed retracing the history of God’s atonement and means of provision, he would have next thought of Abraham and Isaac.  In what would become Genesis 22, YHWH commands Abraham to offer his son. This is far more than an animal sacrifice, something Abraham (and Moses) had done plenty of times.  Now, God was upping the ante.  He was testing Abraham (22:1), and he was setting in redemptive history a portrait of a substitution—a divinely provided lamb in place of Abraham’s seed (people of faith).

Like Abel, Abraham had to make this offering in faith–faith in God’s word.  As we saw yesterday, this is exactly what God’s friend did.  Thus, he believed that God could raise his son from the dead.  If indeed Moses was pondering all that God had revealed to him in the law on Sinai, and all that God had done in Israel’s history, it is little wonder that Moses concluded that perhaps his own substitution might become the means by which Israel would be saved.

Putting this gospel logic in dramatic prose, James M. Boyce imagines what the night might have been like,

The night passed, and the morning came when Moses was to reascend the mountain.  He had been thinking.  Sometime during the night a way that might possibly divert the wrath of God against the people had come to him.  He remembered the sacrifices of the Hebrew patriarchs and the newly instituted sacrifice of the Passover.  Certainly God had shown by such sacrifices that he was prepared to accept an innocent substitute in place of the just death of the sinner.  His wrath could sometimes fall on the substitute.  Perhaps God would accept… When morning came, Moses ascended the mountain with great determination. Reaching the top, he began to speak to God (Quoted in Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus, 1013).

Concluding Thoughts

Like Abraham, Moses practiced Gospel Logic.  He reflected on the character of God, God’s revealed word, the sin of the people, and like Abraham who reckoned that God could raise the dead, Moses conjectured, maybe, just maybe God might take me in place of my people.  So Moses, with boldness and selfless love for God’s sinful people laid himself on the altar: “No if you would on forgive their sin.  But if not”–and here is where the offer comes–“please me from the book You have written” (Exod 32:32).

In the end, his offer is not accepted (32:33-34), but not because the idea is wrong, but because the substitute is blemished.  Even though Moses was not complicit in the crime, he was a son of Adam and by nature incapable of atoning for the sins of the people.  Relatively speaking, he was innocent, but time would reveal that in his own heart lay a dark distrust for God and a willingness to strike the rock when God said speak (Num 20:10-13).

Moses was not the perfect substitute.  Yet, his intercession foreshadows the one whose self-sacrifice would be accepted.  Moses receives God’s word to continue to lead the people which implies that the story will continue, the hope of the true Messiah remains. This is good news for Moses, Israel, and us.  And Moses example of wrestling with the Lord like Abraham and Jacob should remind us to press into the truths of God’s word and to find solace in the darkest nights.

When God’s wrath was ready to consume Israel, Moses Gospel Logic reckoned that “perhaps” he could intercede.  We must reckon in the same fashion, not that we can intercede for others (although see Paul in Romans 9).  No, we must reckon with greater  confidence that because in Jesus Christ there is no “perhaps,” all that we ask in his name will be accomplished.  This is God’s promise to us in John 14:13-14, and it is based on the inexhaustible merits of Christ.  In his priestly service, Jesus was gladly received by the Father, and as the Father’s beloved Son, all that he does and asks, is answered.  This is our good news.

May such knowledge of our great high priest comfort us today, and beckon us not to lose heart for tomorrow.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Prayer as a Theological Problem

Moses Prayer: A Problem in the Making

Moses’ prayer not only provides a powerful example of intercession; it also presents a major theological problem: Does Prayer Really Change Things?

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the text makes Moses look like the good guy—the one who is emotionally stable–while God himself, looks like the bad guy.  To our twenty-first century sensitivities the impassible God looks bi-polar. Yet, such a reading misses the point and misunderstands God. Nevertheless, Exodus 32-34 is a hard one for understanding God’s relationship to the world. How should we understand Moses’ prayer and its effect?  Does he really change God’s mind? Let me make a couple observations.

  1. God is Moses’ maker.  He gives him life, breath, and everything else. As Moses learned in Exodus 4:11, God makes man mute or able to speak.  Voicing his prayer depends on God.
  2. YHWH sends Moses to be Israel’s mediator.  Thus, if Moses is advocating for Israel, it is because he is fulfilling God’s will for him. In other words, God’s pronouncement of judgment is matched by his provision of a mediator.
  3. Moses prayer is based on God’s previous promises.  Moses is only doing what God has previously revealed, commanded or promised. He is not opposing God; he is obeying God. His prayer flows from God (and his Word) back to God.

Letting the Whole Counsel of Scripture Speak

These observations are a start, but they don’t get us all away around the track.  We need a more full understanding of how God can both answer prayer and initiate prayer.  Fortunately, the doctrines of salvation and the Trinity give help.

First, Prayers do not shake the heavens, unless God has first saved us.Only those prayers offered by Christians who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ are acceptable to God.  Only those who know God and are known by him can offer effective prayer—can pray according to the will of God. Thus, prayer depends on God, and his saving initiative. This is true for the believer today, and for Moses who was a man called by God and given the Holy Spirit (cf. Num 11:16ff).

Second, prayer that is powerful and effective is Trinitarian.  The Father receives our prayers through the Son.  In Exodus, this is foreshadowed, where Moses himself is a type of Christ, interceding for his people.  In this way, Moses, who is human and not divine, is thrust into an office that is intended for the God-Man Jesus Christ. So, our prayers are powerful as they are lifted to the Father, through the Son.  But what of the Spirit?  Looking for help in all the Scripture, we find that we must pray “in the Spirit.”  We find this stated twice in the New Testament (Eph 6:18; Jude 20) and explained in Romans 8:25-26.  So lets read:

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

If we listen to what Paul is saying, the Spirit is the one who directs and empowers our prayer. Indeed, we cannot pray apart from the Spirit.  Prayer that is pleasing to God is initiated and guided by the Holy Spirit, which means that prayer mysteriously puts the believer somewhere between the Spirit and the Son on the way to the Father.  We do not become part of the Trinity, but when we pray we are participating in a spiritual dance of sorts with the Triune God. Therefore, true prayer is necessarily Trinitarian, and thus all the prayers of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, and New Age Spiritist are worthless.  The Living God rejects them all.

Back to Exodus

So what should we say? Does Moses change God’s mind?  Yes and No.

Yes, Moses prayer changes things.  Verse 12, Moses asks God to “relent” and verse 14 confirms that God “relented.”  I fully believe that if Moses had not prayed, God would not have relented and Israel would have been wiped out.  Moses prayer was instrumental.  But did it change God?

No, Moses doesn’t change God or what God was going to do.  On the surface, it looks like God got mad, Moses stepped in the middle, and saved Israel by changing God’s mind.  But that is a very man-centered view. It makes God little better than a moody old man.

Still better: Moses prayer, while it is genuine, real, and passionate, is also Scripted.  The sovereign God who answers his prayer, also gives him his prayer.  That is to say that God sent Moses to intercede for Israel.  God circumcised Moses heart and gave him a passion for his people.  And then in this moment, Moses responded to the circumstance by pleading God’s mercy.

Maybe you are saying, “I still don’t understand.  How can Moses prayer be free and effective, and Scripted?” Let me take one more stab at it, again recruiting the analogy of other Scriptures.

  1. His prayer is not based on his own inventive reasoning.  Everything he says is based on God’s previous promises.  In this way, the Script is the Scripture.  God’s word, written on his heart.
  2. As we read the testimony of Romans 8, we learn that when we pray, God helps us, and gives us the words.  This is true in the OT and the NT.  So, he is praying by the Spirit.  Confirmation of this is seen in Numbers 11, when it says Moses is filled with the Spirit.
  3. Further testimony in the Bible says clearly that God knows the words that we will speak long before they cross our lips (Ps 139:4).  But even more amazing is that Scripture doesn’t say that God just knows our speech, he gives it to us.  Proverbs 16:1, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.”
  4. Going one step further, since the mouth speaks what is in the heart (Matt 12:34), God must also be in charge of what is in the heart; which is confirmed in Proverbs 21:1, when Solomon records, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD, he turns it wherever he will.”

In the end, some may say, this is too deep, too mysterious.  And I agree that it is mysterious.  But I disagree that it is too deep.  God made you to go deep with him (Prov 25:2), and the reason why so many Christians are bored in church and flirt with pornography, gambling, and materialism is because they have never gone deep with God.  Here is the truth, as we go deep with God, the sovereign Lord who made us and redeemed us will fills us with joy eternal, and he will give us power to say no to ungodliness.  Moreover, he will enervate our prayer with life like we have never before experienced.  Moses prayer is a theological problem, but it is one worth thinking about deeply because it reveals so much of God.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss