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 Sword of the Lord: In Nineveh and Now (Nahum 1:9–2:13)

nahum05The Sword of the Lord: In Nineveh and Now (Nahum 1:9–2:13)

What did Jesus mean when he said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34)? On Sunday, we considered that question from the book of Nahum.

The connection between Matthew and Nahum is found in the fact that Nahum presents the sword of the Lord in all of its flame and fury, while Jesus comes to first extinguish the Lord’s wrath in his own flesh. Then, after his resurrection, he now has all authority to carve out a new community and one day bring judgment on all flesh.

All of these features are considered in this week’s sermon. You can listen to this sermon online. Discussion questions are below,  as well as additional resources. Continue reading

The Gospel Is Better Than Amnesty

amnesty

Guest Post by Jonathon Woodyard

Good paintings tell stories.

Think of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. It tells the story of Jesus and his disciples sitting down for the final meal before the crucifixion. Jesus would drink the Passover cup before being sacrificed as the Passover lamb.

The good news of Jesus is more than a story. But it’s not less. It is the most important story on the planet. And it is the truest of true stories. Many have attempted to paint pictures that rightly tell the story of the gospel. Sometimes these paintings are painted with words, instead of paint and a canvas.

These gospel paintings are often necessary because the gospel must be explained. It is a message made up of propositional truth. That means it must be understood. John Piper writes, “the gospel is not only news. It is first news, and then it is doctrine. Doctrine means teaching, explaining, clarifying. Doctrine is part of the gospel because news can’t be just declared by the mouth of a herald—it has to be understood in the mind of the hearer” (Piper, God is the Gospel, 21).

In order for hearer’s to understand the gospel, a number of different word pictures have been painted. Some compare the gospel to paying your speeding ticket, or serving your prison sentence. Like creation itself, the word-pictures available are gloriously endless.

One such picture is that of amnesty. The good news of Jesus is compared to a government, possibly a king, declaring amnesty to those who have committed a crime against the state. The question is whether or not the picture of amnesty is the best picture to paint. Continue reading

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


Sermon Notes: Exodus 34:6-7 In Biblical-Theological Context

The Context of Exodus 32-34

Exodus 32-34 are at the center of the tabernacle section (Exodus 25-40).  They function as a break between the instructions (25-31) and the construction (35-40). But the break is not just literary, it’s relational.

After all that God has done for Israel—remembering them in Egypt, redeeming them from slavery, making his covenant with them—Israel returns the favor by committing spiritual adultery.  In Exodus 32, God’s people make a graven image, and bow before it.  This invokes God’s wrath, but it also sets the stage to display YHWH’s mercy and grace.

Exodus 34:6-7 is the capstone of this passage, and in these two electric verses, we find the center of Old Testament Theology in God’s revelation to Moses (see Jim Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment for a full development of this idea).  These verses are programmatic for the rest of the Bible and they read,

The LORD passed before [Moses] 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.”

To know our God, it is vital to understand these passages in context and content. To better acquaint ourselves with this passage, notice three ways that God’s revelation on Sinai functions much like the cross in the New Testament.

1. Like the cross of Christ, these chapters show God’s mercy and his justice. Like a perfect kaleidoscope, they radiate the colors of God’s severity and kindness (cf. Rom 11:22).  In the New Testament, wrath and mercy meet at the cross; in the Old Testament they meet here.

2. Like the cross of Christ, the role of Moses is that of God-given Mediator.  In other words, he stands between God’s holy wrath and Israel’s rebellious sin.  In this way, as he pleads for mercy, he foreshadows Christ.  But lets not make the mistake that Moses or Christ change God’s mind; in both cases, the God who metes out perfect justice, also sends his a mediator to plead for pardon.  In this, there is the beautiful mystery that God who seeks to destroy Israel, is first the God works to save them.  He listens to Moses’ prayer, because he sent Moses to pray.

3. Like the cross of Christ, this episode shapes the rest of the OT (and NT). Exodus 34:6-7 is quoted throughout the rest of the Bible, and gives shape to all that follows.

This verse is picked up in places like Num 14:18. When Israel rebels against Moses, Moses quotes Exodus 34:6-7 in full as he pleads for Israel’s pardon. In the Psalms, it is often cited to remind Israel of God’s gracious character (cf. 86:15; 103:7).  But in the prophets, Nahum stresses God’s wrath: “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (1:2-3). Even Jonah quotes the verse, saying it was this reason that he did not go to Nineveh, because the reluctant prophet knew God would forgive them if they repented.

Exodus 34:6-7 is so programmatic because of the way it expresses God’s relationship with the world.  YHWH is unchanging (Mal 3:6), yet people are not.  Thus, God has made a world in covenant with him.  Which means: Those who keep covenant will receive grace, mercy, and forgiveness (thru atonement).  However, for those who reject or ignore him, he loathes. His anger burns red-hot. His patience is slow, but not infinite.

Finally, Exodus 34:6-7 is fulfilled in Christ himself. In John 1:14, the beloved disciple introduces Christ saying, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  The connection with Exodus 34:6-7 is in the last phrase.  The God who is abounding in steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness (emeth) is fully revealed in Christ who is full of grace (charis) and truth (aletheia).

This is our God.  Though, Scripture reveals him progressively over time, he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  The Old Testament God and the New Testament God are not juxtaposed, rather, as I recently heard D. A. Carson say, the New Testament vision of God is simply more clear and precise–this is true with God’s love and his justice.

May we this week, worship the God of Sinai and Calvary, and learn to know him in his faithfulness to forgiveness and judge.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss