Isaiah’s Search for Godly Offspring: A Storyline for the Son(s) of God

josue-michel-eCZ24v-sQyM-unsplashAnd what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.
— Malachi 2:15 —

Maybe’s its odd to start of meditation on Isaiah by citing Malachi, but as I will show, Malachi 2:15 encapsulates a key theme that runs through the book of Isaiah—namely, the presence of godly offspring in the place of God’s dwelling (Zion). From the beginning to the end of Isaiah, the search for godly offspring is a central theme that holds the book together. And if we are going to understand the message of Isaiah—and not just verses from Isaiah—we need to see how it fits together.

The Search for Godly Offspring Begins

When Isaiah begins, he immediately brings us into God’s courtroom, where Yahweh, the sovereign ruler  of the cosmos is bringing a judgment against his people Israel. Isaiah 1:2–4 reads,

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: “Children [sons] have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” 4 Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring [seed/s] of evildoers, children [sons] who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.

Here is the problem: God had redeemed the seed of Abraham in order to make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6). Yet, by the eighth century B.C., during the reigns of “Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (1:1), the city of God had become corrupt. Jerusalem traded in iniquity, so that wickedness marked all their ways and evil impelled all their intentions. As Isaiah 1:1–18 makes clear, the godly offspring were absent. And as a result, Isaiah 1–5 recall God’s intentions to empty Zion of all wickedness, so that he could once again create sons and daughters who would bear fruit for his glory.

This vision is how Isaiah begins his prophecy, and it helps us to see how the whole book will proceed. That is to say, by paying attention to the overlapping themes of sons and seeds (i.e. offspring), mothers and daughters, childbirth that succeeds and childbirth that fails, we get a clear(er) picture of what God is expecting of Israel and what God is planning to do for his rebellious people.

In truth, anyone who has been around church on Christmas knows the famous verses of Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6–7. But I suspect most don’t know how those verses fit into the structure of Isaiah and how the whole book anticipates the birth of Christ and the new birth promised by him (see John 3).

One way we misread Isaiah is to climb aboard the promise of Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14 and make it a connecting flight to Matthew 1:23. Positively, this approach may heighten our confidence in the predictive nature of the Old Testament—a truth I gladly affirm—but negatively, it fails to understand what Isaiah 7:14 means (in context) and how all of Isaiah is anticipating the virgin birth of God’s Son.

While direct flights are great when traveling from coast-to-coast, they are not advisable when seeking to understand the Bible cover-to-cover. And thus, in what follows I will trace the promise of seeds, sons, childbirth, and motherhood through Isaiah to show how the whole book anticipates the coming of Christ and all those children who will be born by the Spirit—the godly offspring that God has formed in his new covenant people. Continue reading

Who Can Stand Before His Cold? A Biblical Meditation on God’s Snow

black wooden fence on snow field at a distance of black bare trees

“He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs;
who can stand before his cold?”
— Psalm 147:17 —

As we sit in Northern Virginia under blue skies and a blanket of snow, we wait for roads to be cleared and power to return. Yesterday, in less than six hours our warm Sunday turned into a cold, icy, snowmaggeddon Monday. And as of Tuesday, many were still waiting to be freed from the accumulated ice crystals on I-95. Let’s pray for them.

For those who do have power, though, but no place to go, perhaps it would be worthwhile to redeem the extra time today with a brief meditation on God’s Word and the power of God’s weather. As Job 37:13 says, “Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen.” What does God cause to happen? Everything in creation. And as this verse implies, nothing happens on the earth that God did not intend in heaven.

Such sovereignty demands our respect. And more than respect, it calls for us to tremble before the One who is our Maker, Sustainer, and Engineer of every snowflake. To aid in that proper response to God, I wrote up this devotion a few years ago, when we were inundated with thirty inches of snow. Today, as we sit waiting warmer days, and praying for the care of those who are suffering cold, we would do well to reflect on the God who made the world and who designed cold to be a means by which we would tremble—physically tremble—before him.

He is God. And we are not. And may our dependence on him in this day and in every snowy (or sunny) day help us to respond to him with reverence and adoration. If you have time, here’s the meditation that traces the theme of snow through the whole Bible. Continue reading

Sex and Culture: What Scripture and a Freudian Sociologist Have to Say To Modern America

people gathered near building holding flag at daytime

“Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.

— Leviticus 18:24–28 —

A few weeks ago, our church restarted its Tuesday discipleship night, which means we have begun again our study of Leviticus. And this week, we looked at Leviticus 18 and its detailed prohibitions against sexual sin. While many parts of Leviticus are foreign to modern readers, this chapter is not. Sadly, sexual sin continues to overrun our world, ransack our families, and invite the judgment of God. And in Leviticus 18, we find a long list of prohibitions that outline ways that men and women deviate from God’s design and invite God’s destruction. And as we will see, that destruction is not just personal, it is also national. Therefore, Leviticus 18 has much to say to us today and the judgment of God that comes upon nations that celebrate and promulgate sexual immorality.

Yet, we cannot make an immediate jump from Leviticus 18 to ourselves, not without seeing how this passage fits in Law of Moses and the rest of the Bible. While initial impressions of this text make it easy to connect God’s judgment on Canaan to the widespread sexual immorality of our day, superficial connections often misapply God’s Word. Moreover, we need to step back and understand how God can bring a judgment on Canaan, or any other nation, when in fact Israel is the only geopolitical nation who has ever been in covenant relation with God. To put it differently, we need to see how Leviticus 18 fits into the larger plans of God’s creation. For this in turn will help us make sense of the way Leviticus 18 finds fulfillment in a passage like Romans 1 and in our world today.

So, in what follows I will (1) set Leviticus 18 in the context of creation, (2) explain from the text what vomiting from the land means, (3) make connections to Romans 1 and God’s ongoing judgment on sexual sin, and (4) illustrate how the Bible finds confirmation in the historical research of a British sociologist, J. D. Unwin. (N.B. We start with Scripture and illustrate with social sciences, not the reverse.) Continue reading

Obeying God and Obeying God’s Servants: Five Truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17 (pt. 1)

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Photo Credit: Greg Southam / Postmedia in The Edmonton Journal

Ever since writing on the harm of endless masking, teaching on the limits of Romans 13 (see here, here, and here), and considering how Levitical instructions about quarantine laws might help us think wisely about social distancing and sheltering at home, I’ve received numerous emails expressing deep sorrow for the ways churches have responded to Covid-19. With any such email, I always want to affirm the authority of the local church and her elders, as well as admitting the challenges faced by every church and my inability to speak to the inner workings of another church’s decisions. The problems our church faces are the not the problems that your church faces, and vice versa. Still, across the board, it does seem that one abiding problem that divides many evangelicals is how they understand passages that instruct obedience to governing authorities.

Most recently, a brother asked if our church had preached on 1 Peter 2:13–17. To date, we have not, but going through 1 Peter right now, we will—this weekend, in fact. Thus, leading up to that message, I want to consider again how that passage teaches us to think about the Christian’s obligation to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (see Mark 12:17), or as Peter puts it, to submit to every governing authority (v. 13) and to honor the emperor (v. 17).

Notably, Peter’s instructions are set in a context quite different than Christians in North America, and his words arise from an historical letter, the context of which we must remember in order to get the sense of his instructions regarding the state. So before making five points from the text, let me make a couple preliminary remarks.

Four Notes About the Context of 1 Peter

First, Peter addresses emperors and various governors. Obviously, we do not have emperors, but elected officials. So we must make applications accordingly, including the fact that in a democratic republic the people play a role in governance.

Second, we currently do not have the threat of persecution like the early church did, but neither do we possess the freedoms that we once did to exercise our faith without concern. James Coates’ arrest, the ongoing intimidation tactics of Canada’s health officials (see photo above), the meddling of governors instructing churches how to order their worship, and the need for the Supreme Court to weigh in on churches gathering (see here and here) remind us that religious liberty is on shaky ground.

Third, the command to submit to authorities comes in a letter where the supreme authority of Christ is repeated throughout (see esp., 1 Pet. 4:11; 5:11). Christ’s authority relativizes the commands that Peter gives. Peter doesn’t discount obedience to the state, but his letter does orient the church to Christ’s greater authority. The details of this (re)orientation will be outlined below.

Fourth and last, the persecution of the church in 1 Peter assumes a conflict between church and state. In other words, when the Gentiles slander the church, it will include the Gentiles who lord it over the church and exercise authority in ways that contradict the laws of God. For this reason, it is impossible to read 1 Peter 2:13–17 and draw the unqualified application that doing good is doing whatever the governing authorities say. Rather, as we will see, doing good starts with God. And all obedience to earthly governors must be in keeping with our heavenly citizenship and eternal king. To that end, let’s consider five truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17. Today I will focus on 1 Peter 2:13 and the first and most important truth—Putting God First. Tomorrow I will fill in the details from 1 Peter 2:14–17. Until, let’s consider the main overarching truth. Continue reading

Getting to Know God’s Foreknowledge: A Survey of the New Testament

silhouette of mountain under starry night

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout
the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,
through the sanctifying work of the Spirit,
to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.
— 1 Peter 1:1–2 NIV —

On Sunday, I preached the first message in sermon series on 1 Peter. Considering the opening salutation, we spent most of our time getting to know Peter, his audience (the elect exiles scattered in Asia Minor), and the triune God—Father, Spirit, and Son. As with many of Paul’s letters, Peter packs a robust theology into his greeting. And one phrase in particular is worth noting: “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”

More fully, we have Peter addressing elect exiles who are “chosen” (see 1 Peter 2:4, 9) “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” In the ESV, the distance between the addressees and the source of their election stands in relative distance, with the five regions of Asia listed in between. This matches the way that Greek reads, but it can miss how Peter is qualifying “elect exiles” with verse 2. For this reason, the NIV supplies a repetition of elect, when it says “those who are chosen.” See above.

Still, the translation of the Greek is not as difficult as understanding what “according to foreknowledge” means. Is this a tacit admission that God chooses his elect based upon their future faith (an Arminian view)? Or is it a case where God chooses his elect based upon his free and sovereign grace without any consideration of what his creatures will later do (a Calvinistic view)? Or is it something else?

However one interprets this phrase, we can acknowledge this is one of those places in the New Testament where Christians do disagree on how to understand the biblical doctrine of election and predestination. I have written on this subject (here and here), preached on it (Ephesians 1 and Titus 1), and you can find an excellent treatment on this topic in Robert Peterson’s biblical theology, Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Response.  

Still, the particular question of foreknowledge deserves a particular answer, and in what follows here, I will survey the use of the word “foreknowledge” (proginoskō) in the New Testament to see what we can learn. As we go, I will show why the best way to understand this word, and its use in 1 Peter 1:1–2, is to affirm God’s sovereign, eternal, and unconditional election of individuals to salvation. In other words, foreknowledge, as I will show below, should be understood as a word that conveys “loved beforehand” or even “loved by God before the world began.” Thus, 1 Peter 1:1–2 should be read as Peter addressing God’s elect, who were predestined in love before the foundation of the world. That’s the conclusion of the matter, now let’s consider the biblical support.  Continue reading

25 Exegetical Truths about Justice: A Summary from Psalms 97–101

cloud05Over the last five weeks, I have been outlining an approach to righteousness and justice that stands on an exegetical study of Psalms 97–101. In what follows I will summarize those studies and show the way righteous justice is . . .

  • found in God’s kingdom,
  • communicated by his justification of sinners,
  • mediated from heaven to earth through his royal priests,
  • triumphant over all sin and unrighteousness, and
  • established in his household.

As I have stated many times, the order of God’s righteousness and justice is important. And here is summary of the steps that we find in Psalms 97–101. Continue reading

A Biblical Case for the Church’s Duty to Remain Open

man raising his left hand

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

But Peter and John answered them,
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God,
you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
— Acts 4:19–20 —

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
— Acts 5:29 —

Since March of this year, the church in America has faced a host of challenges related to COVID-19, gathering, and government. While health concerns legitimately initiated the emergency closure of churches, reopening them has too often been dictated by governors making up and then remaking requirements. Such pronouncements have not only impacted churches gathering, they have raised concerns about the very nature of the church. What does it mean to gather? Can we do church online? For how long? Et cetera!

While Americans have enjoyed unusual freedom to gather and worship in our country, this is not the first time churches have faced the (1) task of articulating their greater commitment to God in order to worship, and (2) in accepting the consequences of those actions. To that point, John MacArthur and the staff at Grace Community Church have written an article explaining why now is the time to obey God and not man—when man commands the church not to meet.

Their God-honoring, Word-saturated, church-protecting words are worth considering. You can find the whole article here, but let me highlight one point that has been of greatest concern to me during the Coronavirus pandemic. Here’s what they say:

Continue reading

Justifying Justice: A Sermon on Psalm 98

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This week’s sermon on Psalm 98 continues our series in the Psalms which looks at the theme of God’s justice. Last week, we learned that God is the source and standard of justice. His kingdom is the place where his justice comes from heaven to earth.

This week, we see how God brings justice to the earth through the just justification of the unjust. This truth is most clearly articulated in places like Romans and Galatians, but we also find it in places like the Psalms. And this week I show from Psalm 98 how we can better understand God’s justifying justice. You can listen to the sermon or watch the video below.

Continue reading

Judgment Then Salvation: Seeing the Good News in Isaiah 13–27

jon-tyson-XmMsdtiGSfo-unsplashIsaiah 13–27 is perhaps the most challenging portion of Isaiah to read and understand. Yet, it plays a significant role in impressing the weight of God’s glory on the reader. Jim Hamilton has rightly argued that God’s glory is found salvation and judgment, and no book confirms that argument better than Isaiah.

Indeed, to feel the weight (N.B. In Hebrew, the word glory, kavod, comes from the word heavy, kavēd) of God’s glorious salvation, we need to come to grips with God’s holy judgment. And no part of Isaiah presses us down into God’s judgment like Isaiah 13–27. That may be one of the reasons why these chapters are difficult, but I would suggest there are others too.

In what follows I want to look at why this section is hard to understand. Then I want to show how these chapters fit together and what we can gain from them. May these reflections help us to read Isaiah and see the glory of God in his salvation and judgment. Continue reading

Love God, Flee Idols, and Remember That Jesus is with You: 10 Things about Joshua 23

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashJoshua 23 is the penultimate chapter in the book and a call for Israel to make an ongoing, ultimate commitment to Yahweh. Here are ten things about this chapter to help us understand its main point with applications for us today.

1. Joshua 23 is the second of three assemblies that close the book of Joshua.

In the last three chapters of Joshua, the book comes to a close with three assemblies. In chapter 22, an emergency meeting is called when the Western tribes fear that the Eastern tribes committed idolatry by building an altar on the banks of the Jordan. In chapter 24, Joshua leads the nation to renew their covenant with Yahweh. But in Joshua 23, before that formal process of agreement, Joshua gives a more personal appeal for Israel to love God with all their heart and to guard themselves from idolatry.

In this way, Joshua 23 serves as a bridge between Joshua 22 and Joshua 24. It unites the three chapters with the theme of idolatry—or rather, a warning against idolatry. More specifically, this chapter focuses on the leaders in Israel, who are listed in verse 2: “elders, leaders, judges, and officials.” Importantly, as Joshua comes to the end of his life (vv. 1–2, 14), he is looking to this next generation of leaders to keep covenant with God. This shows how the nation prospers when the nation has faithful leaders (cf. 24:31). Continue reading