The Wisdom of God at Work in Israel and the Church: 10 Things About Joshua 20–21

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashAfter seven chapters about dividing the land, Joshua 20–21 focuses on two types of cities in Israel—cities of refuge (ch. 20) and cities of Levites (ch. 21). From the role of these cities, we learn a great deal about God and his plans for his people—both in Israel and today. Here are ten things about Joshua 20–21.

1. Joshua 20–21 are unified with Joshua 13–19.

While many commentators legitimately distinguish the distribution of the cities in Joshua 20–21 from the distribution of the land, the order of the chapters shows us how Joshua 20–21 provides balance to a chiastic structure that ranges from Joshua 13–21.

A Introduction (13:1) – Joshua was old and advanced in years

B1 Remaining Lands (13:2–7)
B2a Eastern Lands with Moses (13:8–33)
B2b Western Lands with Joshua (14:1–5)

C Caleb (14:6–15) – Son of Judah Receives the Future Royal City of Hebron

D1 Judah (15:1–63) – The Greatest Emphasis is Placed on Judah
D2 Joseph (16:1–17:18) – Ephraim and Half of Manasseh

E Levi (18:1–10) – The Center of Israel’s Worship at Shiloh

D1’ Benjamin/Simeon (18:11–19:9) –  2 tribes associated with Judah
D2’ Five (19:10–48) –  5 tribes associated with Joseph

C’ Joshua (19:49–51) – Son of Ephraim

B1’ The Cities of Refuge (20:1–9)
B2a’ The Levitical Cities Outlined (21:1–8) – Primary Focus on Sons of Aaron
B2b’ The 48 Levitical Cities Listed (21:9–42) – Primary Focus on Aaron and Hebron (vv. 9–19)

A’ Conclusion (21:43–45) — All that God had promised the forefathers has been fulfilled

The importance of this literary structure is what comes in the middle, namely the arrangement of the land around the tabernacle (Josh 18:1–10). From this central feature, we are keyed to see how the association of Aaron with Hebron foreshadows the later connection between David and the priesthood. Moreover, the role of the Levitical cities helps us to understand how the whole nation was blessed by the Levitical priesthood and how the Levites directed the attention of the people to God’s dwelling place.

In what follows, we will see how these priestly themes recur in Joshua 20–21. Continue reading

The Strength That God’s Sovereignty Supplies and the Judgment God’s Sovereignty Justifies

pexels-photo-32625610  The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11  The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations.
12  Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
— Psalm 33:10–12 —

Throughout the book of Joshua we see the personal presence of God. In battle after battle, Yahweh fights for Israel. Through his appointed leader Joshua, God brings justice on a land whose sin has finally come to judgment (cf. Gen. 15:16), and he brings salvation to Israel, as more than 31 city-states rise to fight God’s people (Joshua 12)..

Indeed, if there is any theme that recurs in Joshua is God’s sovereignty over the affairs of the nations. As Psalm 33:10 puts it, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.” Yet, God’s sovereignty does more than run roughshod over the affairs of men. His personal actions in the world actually bring to fruition the sins of the nations, which in turn demonstrates his righteousness in bringing judgment on evil. Simultaneously, his covenant promises lead his people to bold action. Rather than passively waiting for God to act, God’s actions impel his people to follow suit.

Joshua teaches us, therefore, how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility work together. In particular, we see God’s sovereignty in his judgment and salvation. And for those of us who are seeking to know God and his ways in the world, it is worth our time to consider both. In what follows, we will consider how these often confused and competing themes (God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility) work in harmony. Continue reading

The Lord is a Warrior (Joshua 10)

joshua07The Lord is a Warrior (Joshua 10)

Standing on the shores of the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army buried under the water, Moses leads Israel to praise God for his powerful victory. And in Exodus 15:1–3, he sings,

1 Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. 2 The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 3 The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name.

This song of Moses rejoices in the God who defeated Pharaoh and his army. And inspired by the Holy Spirit, God teaches us who he is and how we are to worship him. As verse 3 says, “The Lord is a warrior” and he deserves our praise as such.

Today, this image of God as a warrior is not often appreciated. Instead, God, and especially God the Son, is presented in softer colors. As Dale Ralph Davis has put it, “The popular image of Jesus is that he is not only kind and tender but also soft and prissy, as though Jesus comes to us reeking of hand cream” (Joshua, 88).

Think what you will of hand cream, but the truth remains—Jesus as victorious warrior has been replaced by Jesus as a mild-mannered, emotive counselor. Certainly, Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor and one who knows our pains and plight, but he is also a strong and mighty ruler whose enemies are being put under his feet every day.

In Sunday’s sermon, we considered God as a Warrior. From Joshua 10, we saw how the LORD rained down hailstones on the wicked and went to war, defending his people. Moreover, we saw how Joshua, God’s Savior, prayed and judged—two themes that must be kept with salvation. All in all, Joshua 10 presents a corrective to any view of Jesus that only thinks of him in sentimental terms.

You can listen to the sermon here. Response questions and additional resources can be found below. Continue reading

His Mercy is More: 10 Things about Joshua 9

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplash

After a week away from outlining the details of Joshua, we return to see in Joshua 9 ten things about God’s mercy.

1. The theme of Joshua 9 is mercy.

While geographical and personal details, not to mention extended dialogue, fills Joshua 9, the main message is one of God’s mercy. This is mildly surprising since God does not speak in this chapter and the people of Israel don’t seek his counsel. However, that the people of Gibeon are not destroyed but given a place of service in God’s tabernacle is strong indication of the mercy that God has for people marked out for destruction.

As Kenneth Mathews notes, “Because of their service to the Lord at the tabernacle, they [the Gibeonites] live at the centerpiece of Israel’s unity and worship.” In other words, “by grace those initially outside the covenant are brought near to God” (Mathews, Joshua, 84). Continue reading

What is the Bible? And What Does It Do?

theoWhenever we talk about inerrancy, we must begin by defining what the Bible is.

In philosophical parlance, this discussion relates to the nature or ontology of the Bible. Defining the Bible rightly matters because Scripture is more than a functional handbook for religious followers of Jesus. The Bible it is the very Word of God.

Yet, even this lofty claim requires clarity, and so here are five considerations about the Bible’s ontology from Kevin Vanhoozer (Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and Wisdom80):

1. Scripture is not a word from outer space or a time capsule from the past, but a living and active Word of God for the church today.

2. The Bible is both like and unlike every other book: it is both a human, contextualized discourse and a holy discourse ultimately authored by God and intended to be read in canonical context.

3. The Bible is not a dictionary of holy words but a written discourse: something someone says to someone about something in some way for some purpose.

4. God does a variety of things with the human discourse that makes up Scripture, but above all he prepares the way for Jesus Christ, the climax of a long, covenantal story.

5. God uses the Bible both to present Christ and to form Christ in us.

Getting the Bible right does not secure good interpretation or practice, but getting the Bible wrong does. So we should aim to rightly understand what Scripture is and what it is intended to do—namely, lead us to Christ and make us like him.

Yesterday’s post considered the matter of interpretation, but that discussion depends on getting the Bible right, which these five points help us see. To the end of reading the Bible and becoming conformed to Christ, may we continue to labor and pray.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Inerrancy and Interpretation: Kevin Vanhoozer on Map-Making and the Meaning of God’s Word

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What is inerrancy? And what does it mean for a picture to be true? And what does it mean for the Bible, which is filled with pictures (similes, metaphors, parables, etc.) to be inerrant?

For those who affirm biblical inerrancy, as I do, questions like these enter into a wide-ranging debate about Scripture and hermeneutics. This is especially true when we appreciate how the truth of the Bible is not grounded in logical abstractions or mathematical proofs; it is grounded in the triune God who has spoken of himself in a book that comes together as a progressively revealed story. In other words, truth in the Bible is unlike any other book. It is not only God’s truth, but in a book composed of various genres, its truth is also conveyed through forms of speech whose truth is not easily ascertained or readily appreciated.

Again, what does it mean for a picture to be true? (For an interesting look at this problem from a wholly different angle, see Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Picture Problem“).

In Pictures at a Theological Exhibition: Scenes of the Church’s Worship, Witness and WisdomKevin Vanhoozer has an illuminating chapter on the nature and function of Scripture with special attention to the doctrine of inerrancy. Moving the conversation about inerrancy beyond claims of veracity, he rightly documents what Scripture is (its ontology) and what Scripture does (its function).

In what follows, I want to share his nine qualifications about inerrancy and give a short summary of each point. For clarity sake, all the enumerated points below are his; the expansions are mine with multiple quotations from his chapter. Continue reading

Glory from Beginning to End: Ten Things About Psalm 29

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashIn preparation for Sunday’s sermon, here are ten things about Psalm 29.

1. Psalm 29 is the third creation psalm and third “mountain top” in Book 1 of the Psalms.

This point is easier to show than to tell. In the following graphic, we see how Psalms 8, 19, and 29 stand at the center of various chiastic structures (“mountains”) in the Psalter. (You can hear how this outline works here).

Book 1

Arranged in this way, we might read Psalms 8, 19, 29 together and see how the God of creation was to be worshiped by mankind (Ps 8), in response to the word of God (Ps 19), and in the temple (Ps 29). Even more, we can see how glory connects these creation psalms together.

Psalm 8 says God crowned mankind with glory and honor. Psalm 19 speaks of God’s glory displayed in creation. And Psalm 29 speaks of God’s glory coming into the temple. In all of these ways, we discover how manifold God’s glory is.

2. The creation imagery of Psalm 29 recalls the ancient battle songs of Israel.

For instance, the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15) uses creation imagery to describe God’s power to destroy his enemies. Deborah’s song (Judges 5) does the same. And according to Derek Kidner, this is a common way ancient Near Eastern songs were composed.

Early Canaanite poetry was similar in this respect.. Whether David was building the psalm out of an ancient fragment, or turning to a style that would recall the old battle-hymns of God’s salvation, the primitive vigour of the verse, with its eighteen reiterations of the name Yahweh (the Lord), wonderfully matches the theme, while the structure of the poem averts the danger of monotony by its movement from heaven to earth, by the path of the storm and by the final transition from nature in uproar to the people of God in peace. (Psalms 1–72142). Continue reading

Glorifying God in the Grind of Life

christ.jpegQ. What is the chief end of man?
A. To glorify God and know him forever.
— Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1 —

There is nothing more important than knowing why you exist. And nothing provides a better answer than this: You were created to glorify God.

Speaking to the people he was redeeming from the nations, God says in Isaiah 43:6–7,

I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Speaking of the purpose of redemption, Paul says a millenia later that God predestined, called, and justified his people, so that he could glorify them (Rom 8:29–30). While God does not give his glory to another (Isa 42:8; 48:11); he does all things for his glory, including making mankind in his image to reflect his glory to the world.

Indeed, Habakkuk 2:14, echoing Numbers 14:21 and Isaiah 6:3, says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Indeed creation exists as a canvas for God’s glory and mankind exists to know, enjoy, and magnify God’s glory.

It is impossible to read the Bible for any length of time without running into this theme. And it is equally impossible to find our purpose or God’s purpose for us, without attending to this lofty ideal. Yet, because it is lofty, the idea of God’s glory may seem unreachable or mysterious. What does it mean to live for God’s glory, or Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 10:31—to eat, and drink, and do all things for the glory of God?

That’s the question I will be trying to answer tonight as our college and career ministry kicks off it’s first meeting. In the coming weeks, our church will host a college and career gathering at 7:00pm on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. The goal is to equip Christians, explore topics of faith for Christians and non-Christians, and to provide a place of mid-week fellowship for those in this seasons of life.

Because the glory of God is so central to life—and also so enigmatic—we will spend our summer thinking about how the glory of God presses into all areas of life. Indeed, we will not fully comprehend God’s glory in our earthly life, nor in eternity—where we will always be experiencing more of his glory—always satisfied and seeking more.

That said, here’s a part of tonight’s lesson, plus a list of future topics we’ll consider. Continue reading

Fighting the Good Fight of the Faith by Following the Good Lord and Fixing Our Eyes on the Invisible God (1 Timothy 6:11–16)

livingchurchFighting the Good Fight of the Faith (1 Timothy 6:11–16)

Flee wickedness. Pursue righteousness. Fight the Good Fight. Take Hold of Eternal Life.

These are the commands that Paul gives Timothy as he finishes his letter to his true son in the faith. They are good for us today too. Scripture calls us to run from sin and race towards Christ. But how? What will motivate us, strengthen us, and enable us to finish our race?

On Sunday I answered these questions from what Paul said to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:11–16. Consistent with Paul’s words of encouragement, the apostle never said  “just do it.” He always gave Christ-centered motivations and God-directed visions to help the followers of Christ run their race with perseverance. Sunday’s sermon focuses on the same thing, encouraging us to read this glorious passage “backwards” in order to let the glory of God strengthen our godliness.

You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions and additional resources can be found below. Continue reading

Ten Truths About the Hidden God Who Reveals Himself

cloudsIn evangelical theology, the doctrine of God’s revelation is primary. Man does not ascend into the heavens, nor pull God down to earth (Romans 10:5–17). Rather, we find in creation and in Scripture that God has spoken and that he is a speaking God (Psalm 19). That said, there is a corollary doctrine that must be remembered—the doctrine of God’s hiddenness.

God is not only a speaking God; he is also a hidden God (Isaiah 45:14). Because of the Fall, every child of Adam and Eve is born outside of Eden and estranged from the God who speaks. To say it differently, while Adam was put in the Garden of Eden to enjoy communion with God, sin made it impossible for man to have immediate access to God. Therefore, in this age, God remains hidden to those in Adam (Rom 5:12–21) and invisible to those who know him, as well (1 Tim 6:16). Accordingly, as much as we consider the doctrine of God’s revelation, we must realize—and stand amazed—that his revelation comes from a position of hiddenness that is equally biblical.

Tracing out a biblical doctrine of hiddenness, A. Oepke and R. Meyer in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, provide a thorough-going survey of God’s hiddenness in the Old Testament. Though giving too much credit to the place of mystery religions, which trade in the currency of hiddenness, and employing a higher-critical approach to the Old Testament, they provide a fruitful study understanding the God who hides himself from sinful man.

Therefore, in what follows, I summarize their findings and highlight ten truths about God’s hiddenness and revelation. These ten points are found in their article on the cluster of New Testament words for “hidden” (κρύπτω, ἀποκρύπτω, κρυπτός, κρυφαῖος, κρυφῇ, κρύπτη, ἀπόκρυφος). The general flow of thought and the block quotations all come from their article.[1] Some of the Scripture passages listed below are cited in their work, others have been added in order to flesh out the doctrine of God’s revelation. Continue reading