Finding Life in Leviticus 19: Ten Gospel Notes for Social Justice Warriors

commandments-311202__480The Ten Commandments are listed twice in the Old Testament—once in Exodus 20; once in Deuteronomy 5. They are also explicated at least twice. After each list (Exodus 21–23 and Deuteronomy 12–25), Moses specifies and applies the Lord’s “ten words.” This means that we do not need to wait for Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7) to get an inspired interpretation and application of these commands. There is, within the Torah itself, explanation and application.

In fact, there is one other passage on the Ten Commandments which stands between Exodus and Deuteronomy. In Leviticus 19 Moses records the holy standards of God and makes personal application to the people of Israel. In reading this chapter recently, I took note of ten observations related to the content and context of these laws. I share them here to help us to better understand the good purposes of God’s Law, and specifically to show how many modern desires are best fulfilled by God’s all-sufficient Word.

In short, Leviticus 19 is not an archaic list of do’s and don’ts; it is actually a personal application of the Law which deals with so many of the issues Social Justice Warriors seek out. Only because these “laws” are grounded in the personal, holy love of Israel’s God, they retain their life-giving shape—something that no human set of ordinances can ever do.

Take time to read Leviticus 19 and consider how these laws give life by leading members of God’s covenant to trust in him. Continue reading

Evidence of Design: Lexical and Thematic Unity in Genesis 3–4

chiasm_textGod’s Word is inspired by God, but it is also written by men. And in many cases, these men show incredible literary skill in penning God’s Word. One thinks of Psalm 119’s acrostic praise of God’s Word or Jonah’s detailed use of chiastic structures as examples of authors employing literary devices to shape and structure their God-given, God-inspired words.

The same is true in Genesis 3–4. In a section that is often whisk-away as myth or relativized as poetry, we find that the historical details of Cain and Abel are written with incredible attention to literary style (i.e., history in poetic form). The number of words, the narrative parallels between the first family (ch. 4) and the first sin (ch. 3), and the repetition of expression are just a few ways Moses employs poetics structures to stress the main points of this historical narrative.

In a day when bold and italics were not available and space was limited, these structures evidence the main point of his writing. Moreover, they capture the way in which human authorship is “fully human” (i.e., marked by conventions of human speech). Divine inspiration does not cancel out man’s humanity in his writing. Rather, it improves his acuity, frees his will, and empowers his words. This is what Peter means when he says “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Genesis 3–4 as a Test Case

Considering this, we look at Genesis 3–4 as an example of this literary design, where Moses under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote with incredible attention to detail—hence allowing us to interpret with great detail. What follows are some of the observations Gordon Wenham has made to show the lexical and structural detail of Genesis 3–4. Continue reading

‘Do Not Muzzle the Ox’: A Logical, Intra-biblical, and Eschatological (but not Allegorical) Reading of Deuteronomy 25:4 in 1 Corinthians 9:9

 

paulDo I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop,
– 1 Corinthians 9:8–10 –

When Jesus describes the value of the sparrow in Luke 12 and says, “Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (v. 7) is he speaking allegorically? What about when he tells the elaborate parable about the four soils (Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23) or the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24–30, 36–43)? The answer will depend on how you define ‘allegory,’ but most will not see Jesus’ comparison with the sparrows as an allegory, even as many do see Jesus parable as incorporating allegorical elements.[1] What makes the difference? And do we rightly read allegory, without allegorizing?

Allegorical Literature vs. Allegorical Interpretation

In truth, there are in Scripture elements of allegory. When Jesus explains some of his parables by saying, “The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil” (Matthew 13:38–39), he is speaking in allegory. Allegory by definition is

A work of literature in which many of the details have a corresponding “other” meaning. The basic technique is symbolism in the sense that a detail in the text stands for something else. Interpreting an allegorical text must not be confused with allegorizing the text. To interpret an allegorical text is to follow the intentions of the author. Allegorizing a text  implies attaching symbolic meanings to a text  that was not intended by the author to be allegorical.[2]

This distinction between between allegorical literature (e.g., The Pilgrim’s Progress) and allegorical methods of interpretation (e.g., Origen’s approach to the Bible) is one of the most confused and confusing aspects of modern evangelical hermeneutics. To be sure, Scripture includes multiple instances of allegory.

  • When Jotham told his story of the bramble who would be king, he used allegory (Judges 9).
  • When Nathan confronted David in his sin with Bathsheba, he employed allegory (2 Samuel 7).
  • When Jesus told his parables he often intended for one element (“the field”) to stand for another (“the world”). This is allegory.
  • Paul even understands the story of Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 16ff) to be written “allegorically” (Galatians 4).[3]

In each of these instances, the author’s intent is allegorical. (Except the last example, Galatians 4, is best understood as typological writing in Genesis). Therefore, the extant literature is allegorical, which requires any literal method of interpretation (i.e., one that aims to understand and reproduce the authorial intent) to read the passage “allegorically.” But—and this is where the confusion comes in—in reading the biblical allegory, we must not allegorize the text. And even more, we must not adopt an allegorical method because we find some allegories in Scripture.

But this brings us to the text in question (1 Corinthians 9:8–10): Did Paul use an allegorical method in his quotation of Deuteronomy 25:4? And if he is allegorized a passage from the law—a genre not given to allegory—can we do the same? Or did he, like Jesus with the sparrows, make a simple comparison between oxen and men? Or did he do something else entirely?

Logical, Intra-biblical, Eschatological: Tracing Paul’s Argument

Following the lead of John Calvin, Richard Hays, and others, I will argue that Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 25:4 is (1) logical in its structure (not fanciful), (2) textual (not twisting the original context of Deuteronomy), and (3) theological (specifically, eschatological). But in no way is it allegorical. Continue reading

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

Seven Things to Know About Elders

eldersEarlier this week, I highlighted three things about elders in the New Testament: (1) the term ‘elder’ is interchangeable with pastor and overseer; (2) elders function as a plurality of leaders in the local church; and (3) elders may or may not be compensated, which is to say an elder may be vocational or non-vocational.

Today, I want to pick up where I left off and add to the picture of elder leadership in the New Testament. What follows are seven truths about elders—three concerning the title (presbuteros) and four concerning the function of elders in the New Testament church. Again, this list won’t cover everything, but it is intended to show what Scripture says about this vital office. Continue reading

Seeing God’s Holiness in the Pentateuch

mosesOver the summer I took ten weeks to preach on the holiness of God in the Old Testament. Or, that’s what I intended to do.

Somewhere in Numbers, I realized that I needed to limit my Old Testament sojourning to the forty years Yahweh led Israel through the Wilderness. Even then, I didn’t have time to consider all that Numbers says about God’s dealings with Israel.

What I did preach and what I pray our church saw, however, was a God relentless in his pursuit of his holiness. Continue reading

What Good is the Book of Numbers?

serpentFew books in the Bible hide their riches better than the book of Numbers. Concealed by an accountant’s title (‘Numbers’) and begun with a lengthy census (ch. 1), the casual reader of Numbers may come to the honest, but mistaken, notion that this is a boring, impractical book.

However, Paul has the exact opposite feeling. In 1 Corinthians 10, he says that the events of Numbers (along with everything in the five books of Moses) “were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (v. 11). Specifically, Paul lists Israel’s sexual immorality at Baal-Peor in Numbers 25 (vv. 7–8), the incursion of serpents in Numbers 21 (v. 9), and the grumbling of Israel which occurred throughout the exodus journey (v. 10).

In truth, Paul reminds us that these ancient words are ever true and that in God’s wisdom they were written down for me and you. To put it more generally, the book of Numbers is not simply a book of Jewish history, a record of priestly duties, and medicinal wound care for scabs and leprosy victims. Oh no. It is more. It is a book of Christian Scripture that points us to Christ. Continue reading

What’s Going on in Genesis 1–11?

genesisSince Julius Wellhausen suggested that the first five books were not written by Moses, there has been an endless discussion between biblical scholars about the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Some have suggested that it is a compilation document written over time from the various viewpoints of various redactors. For others, its poetic form proves that it is mythological account of creation, on par with other pagan etiologies. However, following the likes of G. K. Beale, it seems best to see any interaction between Moses and other ancient Near Eastern religions (and there certainly was familiarity and interaction) as polemical attempts to esteem Yahweh-Elohim as the sovereign creator of all things.

There are many reasons for affirming the historical nature of Genesis 1-11 and the singular authorship of Moses, but perhaps one of the most awe-inspiring is the literary arrangement of Genesis 1–11. Borrowing from the observations of others, let me suggest two suggestive patterns in Genesis 1-11 that show how carefully Moses, schooled in Egypt and inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote a record of Creation, Fall, Judgment, Salvation, and New Creation. Continue reading

Noah and Moses: Priestly Prototypes

noahIn his commentary on the Noah story, Gordon Wenham observes a number of ways that Noah and Moses are typologically related to one another. In a section that asks how God’s mind was changed towards mankind after the Flood, he rightly suggests that the sacrifice of Noah had a propitiatory effect on God’s anger (Gen 8:20–22).

In developing this point theologically, Wenham posits two things: (1) the acceptance of every sacrifice requires the antecedent grace of God and (2) the sacrifice of Noah serves as a “prototype of the work of later priests.” (Genesis 1–15190). In other words, Wenham deals with both the character of God that is both holy and gracious; and he contends that in order for sinful man to enjoy God’s mercy and avoid his wrath, a priestly sacrifice is necessary.

Assigning to Noah a priestly role, he then relates Noah’s function to that of Moses another priest of God (cf. Ps 99:6). He cites R. W. L. Moberly with approval.

The striking similarity between the flood and Sinai, between Noah and Moses, is of great theological significance for the interpretation of each story. . . . The world, while still in its infancy, has sinned and brought upon itself Yahweh’s wrath and judgment. Israel has only just been constituted a people, God’s chosen people, yet directly it has sinned and incurred Yahweh’s wrath and judgment. Each time the same question is raised. How, before God, can a sinful world (in general) or a sinful people, even God’s chosen people (in particular), exist without being destroyed? Each time the answer is given that if the sin is answered solely by the judgment it deserves, then there is no hope. But in addition to the judgment there is also mercy, a mercy which depends entirely on the character of God and is given to an unchangingly sinful people. (At the Mountain of God92; cited by Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 191)

Moberly is exactly right on at least two accounts. Continue reading

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