Ten Things About Deuteronomy 4:32–40: Or, What It Means for God to Speak from the Midst of the Fire

10 thingsIn preparation for Sunday’s sermon on expositional preaching, here are ten observations from Deuteronomy 4:32–40.

1. Future hope (vv. 25–31) is based on God’s past actions (vv. 32–39).

Grammatically, verse 32 begins with the word “for” (ki). This opening word reveals the relationship between verse 32 and what comes before it. Previously, verses 25–31 explained the future mercies of God—what Yahweh promised to do to restore his people (vv. 29–31). Verse 32 explains why Israel can have confidence in this future grace. Because God saved Israel from Egypt with omnipotent power, so we can trust he will act in power again to restore his people in the future. In short, Israel’s future hope (and our hope) stand on the powerful working of God’s grace in the past.

2. Covenant obedience (v. 40) is also the past actions of God (vv. 32–39).

On the other side of verses 32–39, we find another implied reason for action. Covenant obedience (“keeping his statues and rules”) is motivated by the redemption of God from Egypt and the revelation of God’s word at Sinai. In short, just as God’s previous works of salvation strengthen our future confidence in God, they also call for faithfulness. Continue reading

The Historical Background of Psalm 74–75: A Case for Reading Psalms with 1–2 Chronicles

the-psalms.jpgIn 2017 I preached a sermon on Psalms 73–89. In it, I argued the historical background of Book 3 followed the historical events of 2 Chronicles (as this image illustrates). From this reading, Psalms 74–75 find a historical connection in Shisak’s invasion recorded in 2 Chronicles 10–12 (ca. 930 BC).

Many commentators place the “temple-smashing” description of Psalm 74 at the Babylonian destruction of the temple (ca. 586 BC). Surely, the later dating is plausible, but in my reading the textual evidence is equally, if not more, plausible for an earlier reading. And I tried to show that in the sermon.

This week, we recorded a new Via Emmaus podcast and the question about history came up again. So what follows are a few notes on Psalm 74–75 and why I believe it is best to read Psalms 73–89 in parallel with 2 Chronicles.

Take time to read, consider, and let me know what you think. If Chronicles runs parallel to the Psalms and vice-versa, then it opens large vistas in how to understand both books. Continue reading

A Kingdom of Priests: Washed, Worshiping, Working, and Witnessing (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9)

priestcolorA Kingdom of Priests: Washed, Worshiping, Working, and Witnessing (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9)

Are you a royal priest? How do you know? What is a kingdom of priests? And how does that really apply today? Is this title for individuals? Or should it be a community identity?

Many questions swirl around the biblical idea of priesthood. And on Sunday we considered Peter’s words to the church: “You are a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). In examining his words, we learned that they go back to Exodus 19:6 and come in the context of worship on the mountain God.

By examining Exodus 19:6, therefore, in its original context and comparing it to 1 Peter 2, we were able to learn how God makes a priestly people, what a kingdom of priests do, and how this title of royal priesthood applies to us today.

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

From Genesis to Exodus to Jesus: What Biblical Typology Might Say about Modern Day Israel

rob-bye-103200I have often read and taught on the temple-imagery in Genesis 1–2, where the Garden of Eden is portrayed by Moses as the prototypical tabernacle. I have also read and taught how the tabernacle in Exodus and the temple in 1 Kings are meant to re-present the original garden sanctuary. Still, there are many who wonder if this is a fanciful connection made up by creative interpreters, or if it is truly in the text. Interestingly, these are often the same people who often make up fanciful connections between Scripture and modern day Israel.

In what follows, I want to share a helpful summary of why we should read Genesis and Exodus together, how those chapters are designed to lead us to Christ, and how a right understanding of the biblical narrative anchors our hope in the person and work of Christ, and not the machinations of modern day Israel.  Continue reading

The Church as Christ’s New Creation: How a Multi-Ethnic Church Fulfills God’s Promises to Israel

tung-wong-70780This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
— Ephesians 3:6 —

In Ephesians 2 Paul spends a great deal of time explaining how the Jews and Gentiles are no longer divided by covenant or country, but instead have become in Christ ‘one new man in place of the two’ (v. 15). This “two becomes one” theme culminates and crystalizes in Ephesians 2:18–21, when he says that the temple Christ is building is comprised of Jews and Gentiles. He writes,

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

Amazingly, in these verses, Paul highlights at least three ways in which the temple is comprised of Jews and Gentiles.

  1. He says that Christ preached peace to those who were far off and peace to those who were near (v. 17), which is to say Christ preaches peace by his Spirit to far off Gentiles and near(er) Jews. There is not a different message for each group and there is certainly not a different covenant. Rather, the same message of Christ-centered peace is offered by Christ to all people—whether Jew or Gentile.
  2. He says both Jews and Gentiles have access in one Spirit to the Father (v. 18). Indeed, in Christ those who were once near do not have a greater access than those who were far off. Like John and Peter (John 20:4), one may have arrived at the empty tomb sooner than the other, but the first one to Christ did not get a greater blessing. So it is with Jews and Gentiles in Christ—both have access to the triune God and neither have more access than the other.
  3. He says Gentiles, who were once separated from the blessings of God (Ephesians 2:11–12), and Jews, who once clearly had multiple advantages over the Gentiles (see Romans 3:1–2; 9:4–5) are now fellow citizens. Indeed they are fellow members of the household of God, such that only with one another can the temple of God be joined together.

In short, Paul’s explanation in Ephesians 2 of reconciliation makes clear that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, but instead there is one new covenant people who possess all the same blessings in Christ. Continue reading

More Than Could Be Asked or Imagined: Four Surprising Ways Christ and His Church Fulfilled the Promises to Israel

ben-white-197668When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
— Ephesians 3:4–6 —

In Ephesians 3, Paul explains how the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church was a mystery hidden to the Old Testament people of God. In the strongest fashion he explains how Christ’s cross created “one new man” (2:15), tearing down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. The result in Ephesians 3:6 is that Gentiles are “fellow heirs” (sugklēronomos) , “fellow members of the body”(sussōma), and “fellow sharers (summetoxa) of the promise in Christ Jesus”.

In these three desciptions, Paul uses the strongest terms to explain that the status of Jews and Gentiles is equal in Christ. No longer are the people of Israel advantaged over the Gentiles, as it was under the Sinai Covenant. Now in Christ Jews and Gentiles share equal statues. As Paul teaches, both are condemned for their sin and thus both redeemed by God’s free gift of grace—not by law-keeping. This makes all participants in Christ’s new covenant equals, brothers and sisters, co-heirs with their Lord.

Still, to get a handle on this newness in Christ, it is equally important to understand how the apostolic teaching was new—new to the first century believers and new to anyone today entering the church today. On that newness, Clinton Arnold gives a succinct outline of the ways in which the plan of God was previously unknown but now revealed through the gospel.

Under four points, he identifies (1) the means, (2) the Mosaic law, (3) the manner, and (4) the magnitude as constituting something different and greater than could be seen by the Old Testament saints. Here’s what Arnold writes (Ephesians, 190), Continue reading

The Beauty of the Incarnation

When God created the world, he filled it with splendor and beauty.  The sky above flashes a myriad of colors, and the world below is covered with majestic mountains, lush valleys, winding rivers, hidden lakes, and fields filled abundant wildlife.  All of which highlight the wise creativity of our God.

The beauty of our planet is so pervasive, that many give their lives for the preservation of the environment or the thrill of filming the most exotic locales.  Yet, God’s beauty is not just seen in creation.  The pages of history, while smeared with darkness and death, display a redemptive beauty that in the end will swallow death.  Aside from the death-defeating resurrection itself, nowhere is the jaw-dropping beauty of God’s sovereign story-telling more evident than in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Thus, as we think about aesthetics and the beauty of God in creation, history, and redemption, we must behold Christ’s humble beginnings.

Continue reading

To What End Is The History of Israel?

John Bright, a noted Old Testament scholar who influenced the likes of Graeme Goldsworthy, concludes his massive book, The History of Israel, with these insights about the history of Israel:

The history of Israel would continue in the history of the Jewish people, a people claimed by the God of Israel to live under his law to the last generation of mankind.  To the Jew, therefore, Old Testament theology finds its fruition in the Talmud.  The hope of the Old Testament is to him a thing yet unfulfilled, indefinitely deferred, to be eagerly awated by some, given up by others (for Jews are probably no more of one mind where eschatology is concerned than are Christians), secularized and attenuated by others.  Thus the Jewish answer to the question: Whither Israel’s history?  It is a legitimate answer and, from a historical point of view, a correct one–for Israel’s history does continue in Judaism.

But there is another answer, the one the Christian gives, and must give.  It is likewise historically legitimate, for Christianity did spring from the loins of Judaism.  That answer is that the destination of Old Testament history and theology is Christ and his gospel.  It declares that Christ is the awaited and decisive intrusion of God’s redemptive power into human history and the turning point of the ages, and that in him there is given both the righteousness that fulfils the law and the sufficient fulfillment of Israel’s hope in all its variegated forms.  It affirms, in short, that he is the theological terminus of the history of Israel.  It is on this question, fundamentally, that the Christian and its Jewish friend divide. . . . History really allows no third answer: Israel’s history leads straight on to the Talmud—or the gospel.  It has in fact led in no other direction (John Bright, The History of Israel2nd Ed., 467)

Whether one is inclined to affirm Covenant Theology or some form of Dispensationalism, three things stand out in this quote and are worth noting about the relationship between Israel and the Church.

Continue reading

For Your Edification (6.7.2012): The Southern Baptist Convention Edition

This edition of FYE is dedicated to the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention.

Getting Ready for New Orleans. A few weeks ago, Eric Hankins and about 350 other distinguished signatories released the ““A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”  In ten points, it articulates affirmations and denials about a number of important topics concerning the doctrine of salvation.  This statement is important on a number of fronts.

For Southern Baptists, it is important because of what it means for our convention; for non-Southern Baptists, it is important because it tells the watching world what the largest Protestant denomination America is contending with at this moment in time–and the issue is the differing views of salvation as defended by Calvinist and Non-Calvinist alike.

Because this topic is so important, this week’s FYE is devoted to rounding up some of the most helpful statements around the web.  But first, let me state my discouragement and my optimism that comes from these recent discussions.

As to discouragement, it is sad that the unifying work of the Great Commission Resurgence has met the resistance of this document.  As Albert Mohler has rightly and most helpfully pointed out, these men have every right to express their beliefs, to make them public, and to engage in dialogue about doctrine.  Praise God, the discussion is about the nature of salvation, and not the inspiration of the Bible or the permission for clergy to marry homosexuals.  Nevertheless, the statement does belie a party spirit that goes against the good work that has been going on in the SBC since the infamous dialogue on election in 2006.

Now more hopefully.  I am optimistic that this document with clear points of affirmation and denial will bring light.  I pray it will bring to light what Scripture teaches on the subject of salvation and that both sides might see where they are weak.  But even if such light is not shed on the Scripture–which I am praying will take place–light will be shed on the true condition of our convention, and hopefully this itself will cause us to seek the face of God more earnestly, more jointly, and more continually.

Discouraged and yet not despairing.  That is the Christian way, right?  Paul thought so.  His words are appropriate in these days.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

May that be our prayer: As jars of clay, may we not follow others clay pots; may we instead rest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is worth being crushed for his sake, so that other future generations might know him.

Surely, in New Orleans, there will be much heat, but may we pray for light.  While it would be relaxing to enjoy a placid convention in the ‘Big Easy’; may God be pleased to give us grace to do the hard work or self-sacrificing cross-bearing, attentive listening, and golden-ruled cooperation.  Doctrines that tell of God’s glorious gospel are worth suffering to understand, to articulate, and to proclaim.  They are worthy of serious reflection, but even as we labor to nail down the doctrinal positions we affirm, may we not forget the cooperative unity that is already stated in the Baptist Faith & Message and more importantly, may we not forget the Son of God who was nailed down for us.  May we follow in his lead, boldly speaking truth but always in a manner that is pleasing to the Father.

In preparation, here are a few things to read to be prepared for the Southern Baptist Convention.

The current document that governs all SBC entities and which unites the Southern Baptist Convention: The Baptist Faith and Message 2000

The document released at SBC Today on May 30, 2012: A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

Here is an explanatory piece with lots of sound bytes from Baptist Press: “Statement on Calvinism draws approval, criticism

Joe Carter, at The Gospel Coalition, highlights a number of other articles and reasons why this discussion is so important for the larger evangelical community: “FAQ’s : Southern Baptists, Calvinism, and God’s Plan of Salvation

Baylor History Professor, Thomas Kidd gives a concise history of Baptists and the divergent traditions that have always marked our conventions: “Traditional” Baptists and Calvinism

Pastor Jonathan Akin’s response: A Response to “Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

President Albert Mohler’s response: “Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk

Former Pastor and SBC President, Jerry Vines, responds to Dr. Mohler: “It’s Time to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

LifeWay’s Trevin Wax reminds us the difference fifty years makes: “Southern Baptists, We’re Not in Zion Anymore

Professor Malcolm Yarnell’s call for prayer: “The grace of unity: a prayer for the Southern Baptist Convention

My response to Malcolm Yarnell: “Unity in the SBC

Pastor Tom Ascol is in the middle of a series of responses to the Traditionalist statement.  In his replies, he gives biblical reasons for concern with the statement.  However, he also points out that W. A. Criswell, a Southern Baptist statesman admired by Traditionalists and Calvinists, would not have been able to sign the document because of his doctrinal affirmation of Calvinism: Could W.A. Criswell have signed this statement?

All told, there is much to discuss.  The elephant in the room has the spot light shining on it, and Southern Baptists of all persuasions need to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  We do need to pray together and to return to Scirpture to understand one another and to work together for the preaching of Christ and him crucified to peoples who have yet to even hear the name of Christ.

Going to New Orleans in just a few days, that is my hope and prayer, that God will be glorified by Southern Baptists working towards reaching a consensus accord such that Traditional and Calvinistic Baptists might be able to move forward together proclaiming Christ to our neighbors and the nations.

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