The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God

Synopsis: The time and place of Jesus was on of political stability and religious zeal as the restoration of Israel was anticipated. Jesus teachings were radically different from his contemporaries. The following essay provides a brief summery of the expectations and political alliances so contrasts and comparisons may be developed between these and Jesus’ teaching. While this essay does recognise that Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom of God, it focuses on the parables given in Matthew 13 maintaining their prominence in the ‘kingdom of God’ theme. It concludes that Jesus’ teaching on the teaching of God does not ally him with any of the political or religious movements of his time and stands unique.

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The Roman province of Judah in the first century was a place of political instability which eventually led to the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.. Many held hopes for an uprising of a Messiah to restore the kingdom of Israel, while others saw the Roman Empire as providing a future for Israel. It is within this mix of political and religious movements that Jesus emerges and teaches about the kingdom of God in a manner that was radically different from contemporary views, and yet at the same remained entirely consistent with Scripture.

Messianic expectations within Judaism leading up to the first century A.D. were not unique. These had been part of Israel’s heritage. At the centre of Jewish expectations concerning the kingdom is the office of Messiah. While the Greek equivalent of this title, “Christ” would be applied to Jesus (Luke 2:11; John 1:41, 4:25), it was also used of others in the Old Testament. The term ‘messiah’ most often meant ‘anointed’ and referred to kings (1 Sam 12:3, 5; 16:6; 24:6, 10 for example). It was through the office of King that an everlasting kingdom was promised as part of the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:13). It was this promise of an everlasting kingdom that formed the basis of hope for the restoration of Israel (Psalm 89; 132; Isaiah 9:5-7). The political situation in Israel leading up to the first century A.D. intensified expectations of the Messiah and the establishment of the kingdom of God.

Though Israel had indeed returned to the land after exile (Nehemiah), they did not regain their sovereignty. As such, by the end of the millennium, they were a Roman province in a strongly Hellenised region. For the most part Jews resented this foreign occupier, and the Hellenistic culture that had also come. However, the expression of this expectation differed between several movements. Metzger helpfully categorises four of these groups into two different categories with two different responses. He identifies religious movements as including Pharisees as extremists and Sadducees as moderates; and political movements as including Zealots as extremists and Herodians as moderates.[1] It is helpful to understand these movements as background of Jesus teaching concerning the kingdom.

•1)    Pharisees

The term ‘Pharisee’ has been taken to mean “the separated ones” and first appeared under the rule of John Hycanus (135-105 B.C.). The Pharisees had their origins in the Hasidim movement who were allied with the Maccabeans in their struggle against the Seleucids (early second century B.C.). However, this group was not interest in the contest for political supremacy after the struggle. The Pharisees turned their attention to strict observance of the law, prophets, writings, and oral traditions. They were zealous to apply the old law to contemporary situations and keeping the Sabbath. They also believed in the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection.

•2)    Sadducees

The Sadducees had their origins in the Zadok, the priest of King David’s time (2 Samuel 8:17). They held the Torah as being canonical, and had no place for oral traditions. They were also anti-supernatural, and did not believe in angels, or the resurrection. Politically, they did not resist Rome. They were more open to Helenisation than other groups, and were willing to ally themselves to the dominant political power.


 

•3)    Essenes

The Essenes were a Jewish community that resembled monastic communities in early Christianity. They held property in common, led simple lives, and like the Pharisees strictly observed the law, and were even stricter with the Sabbath. They lived apart from the rest of the community and did not partake in temple sacrifice believing the religious establishment to be corrupt, and with good reason. Herod, a foreigner, had rebuilt the temple,[2] and was served by priestly class, the Sadducees, concerned to keep the Roman authorities pleased since theologically and politically they were in agreement with the Herodians.[3] They also believed the promises of God were fulfilled in the history of there community.

•4)    Zealots

While not a religious group, Zealots opposed tributes being paid to a pagan emperor, and used violence as a means of liberating Israel from Rome. Hence their actions were extremist and disruptive.

•5)    Herodians

The title ‘Herodian’ was used in reference to Jewish supporters of the Herodian dynasty. It is likely that most Herodians were Sadducees, though the title could have also applied to other groups and individuals. Apart from being allied to the dominant political power, there were other reasons for embracing Herodian Rule. Herod had complied to the Jewish expectations of the Messiah by claiming his ancestors were exiles of David’s house in Babylon, ruled an area that equalled the kingdom of David, built splendid buildings, established a palace for himself in Jerusalem, and rebuilt the temple. Hence, there was good reason for supporting the Herodian dynasty.

It is also known a number of other individuals rose up claiming to be the Messiah. In Pilate’s time, a Samaritan prophet had led his followers to Mount Gerizim in search of the holy vessels. Theudas, mentioned by Gamaliel (Acts 5:36), ventured to split the Jordan River providing his followers a safe passage alluding to the time of Moses.  A Jew from Egypt anticipated the collapse of the walls of Jerusalem at his command allowing free access into the city. It may have been this individual for whom Paul was mistaken (Acts 21:38). Jesus himself also anticipated many false Christ’s and prophets (Matthew 24:5, 11, 23-26).[4]

It is against these expectations, politics and theologies of the fore mentioned groups that Jesus teachings about the kingdom of God must be considered. It is important to recognise that Jesus teaching on the kingdom of God is not reduced to one section of any one of the four gospels, Luke informs his readers that Jesus mission was to teach about the kingdom of God (Luke 4:43). Hence, all of Jesus’ teaching can be traced back to the kingdom of God theme. However, there does seem to be a concentrated section of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God in Matthew.. These teachings are given as parables. The phrase “the kingdom of God (or ‘the kingdom of heaven’ in Matthew) is like”, or a phrase simular, occurs fifteen times as an introduction to a parable throughout the synoptic gospels (Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 43, 44, 45, 47, 52; 18:23; 20:1; 22:2; 25:1; Mark 4:26, 30; Luke 13:18). The meaning of the term ‘parable’ is broad, though in the gospels it generally refers to a contrast (Luke 18:1-8), or a comparison (Matthew 13:33).[5] The purpose of the parable was to provoke a response by the hearer.[6] The fact Jesus used parables to teach the kingdom of God must say something about the kingdom itself and the ministry of Jesus. The rise of Jesus as Messiah could not be ignored as in the examples of those who assumed this office previously. Jesus and his teaching on the kingdom of God demanded a response. For this reasons, Matthew 13, contains several such parables, will be closely examined, and the manner in which Jesus interacts with Jewish expectations of the kingdom will be noted.

The parable that is of most likely importance is the so-titled ‘Parable of the Soils’ (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15), for in Mark’s account, the importance of this parable is stressed (v13). In Matthew account, the importance of this parable and the parables following is also stressed by Jesus asking his disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” (v51). Understanding this parable is prerequisite to understanding the other teachings of Jesus and his works. In explaining the Parable of the Soils to his disciples, Jesus quotes Isaiah to indicate that his words are preparing people for judgment – a theme that will occur twice in the chapter (vv30, 48-50). This is so the judgement is not on the account of God. The fact that Jesus’ hearers did in fact understand something of what Jesus said on other occasions when he spoke in parables is evidenced by their actions (Mark 12:12; Luke 20:19), though they did not accept his message. Hence, the fulfilment of Isaiah does not rest on Jesus. Rather, it rests on those who do not accept Jesus message (Matthew 13:14).

It is not co-incidental that Jesus is using the image of planting. In the Davidic Covenant, the image of planting is used in reference to Israel being established so they would no longer suffer their enemies as part of an everlasting kingdom. While Luke understands the seed that is sown as the ‘word of God’ (Luke 8:11), Mark simply understands the seed that is sown simply as the ‘word’ (Mark 4:14). However, Matthew understands the seed that is sown as the ‘word of the kingdom’. Hence, not only do Jesus’ words bring about judgement, they also inaugurate the kingdom of God as Israel is replanted in the person of Jesus in the people’s accepting of his word. There is nothing unusual about the imagery Jesus uses in the parable. Jesus’ listeners would have often seen seed being scattered by hand, or be allowed to trickle from holes in a sack. Neither is there anything unusual about the yield. Though tenfold was average for much of Palestine, returns of up to one-hundred fold were possible and considered to be a tremendously good harvest.[7] Jesus expectation is always for a good yield from those who respond to his teaching as the lowest figure nominated is thirty-fold – still very much above what would be expected. In relation to the religious and political movements of Jesus day, it is clear at this point that the kingdom of God would not be established by such programs. Rather, the kingdom of God would be inaugurated in the person of Jesus. Matthew’s record of Jesus discourse continues on to consider the nature of the kingdom over several parables.

In the so-titled ‘Parable of the Weeds’ (vv24-40), Jesus demonstrates his kingdom is not what his contemporaries would have expected. Jesus uses a normal scene of a sower planting his wheat crop (v24). There is nothing unusual about weeds growing up with the crop. What is unusual in this parable is the weeds on this occasion were as a result of sabotage (v25). So much so, the volume of weeds prompted the servants to enquire to their master (v26). For this reason it is unusual scenario, one that would have shocked those listening to Jesus. The particular weed is known as ‘tare’. Hendrikson notes in the early stages of development, the tare closely resembled the wheat crop, and hosted a fungus poisonous to both animals and humans if eaten.[8] When interpreting the parable for his disciples (vv37-43), Jesus identifies the wheat seed as being ‘the children of the kingdom’ sown by the Son of Man (v38), and the tares as being ‘the sons of the evil one’ sown by the Devil (v39). The fact that Jesus closely identifies the children of the kingdom with the sons of the devil in the points of reference of wheat and tares is a strong indication that he does not have in mind the contemporary political views of the Kingdom of Israel verses the Roman occupation – two entities easily distinguishable from the other. Instead, the seed of the enemy to which Jesus is referring to, though does not identify at this stage, has close resemblance to the seed of the children of the kingdom and has grown up with them. Hence, the enemy is not an external entity to Israel. Rather the enemy is already part of Israel to be removed at a later time of final judgement. To discuss judgement would imply resurrection which would place Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom as being very different from those of the Sadducees.

Another aspect to this parable is the removal of the weeds. Keener notes “…fields were normally weeded in the spring, but if the weeds were discovered too late … harvesters could cut the wheat just below the head, leaving the shorter tares to be cut separately.”[9] The offer of the servants to pull the weeds out perhaps suggests that the normal time for removing weeds had not yet past, hence the response of the sower to permit the weeds to grow would have come as a surprise (vv28, 29). This suggests that the kingdom that Jesus had in mind would be a mix of the children of God and the sons of the devil until the final judgement at the close of the age (vv30, 40-42). Such a teaching would have been contrary to the religious programs of the Pharisees who were intent on avoiding unclean people, and the Essences who separated themselves from the broader community.[10]

The so-titled ‘Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast’ continue to demonstrate the kingdom of God as being different from people’s expectations (vv 31-33). Keener recognises that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed known in Palestine.[11] Nonetheless, it was a small seed capable of growing into a large shrub, normally only four feet, it could grow as much as fifteen feet. The unexpected element to the parable is not its size, rather its function. While birds could normally perch in a mustard tree, they were not able to nest in it as portrayed in the parable. In simular fashion, Jesus likens the kingdom to yeast in three measures of flour. As insignificant as the yeast may appear in such a large quantity of flower, it is nonetheless able to raise enough bread to feed one-hundred people.[12] By telling these parables, Jesus is identifying his kingdom as something small and insignificant, not a political or religious movement to be concerned about. Even still, the influences of this kingdom would gradually be recognised.

Despite the seemingly insignificance of the kingdom, Jesus asserts its worth. In privacy with his disciples, he tells three more parables. Two expressing the worth of the kingdom, so-titled ‘The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl’ (vv44-46), and one reiterating the mixed nature of the kingdom, so-titled ‘The Parable of the Net’ (vv47-50), as Jesus had just taught in ‘The Parable of the Weeds’ (vv24-30, 37-43). In the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl, both scenarios were possible within the culture. Keener remarks that “Treasures were often buried for safekeeping”, and consistent with Keener, Hendricksen perceives that this would have been most likely done during times of strife. It was possible that the owner of the treasure had died before telling anyone of its location, leaving a peasant or worker to discover it by chance.[13] The surprise in this parable is the one who discovers the treasure actually has the resources to enable the purchase of the land on which the treasure is hidden, and they are prepared to part with those resources to gain the land that they may have rightful claim to the hidden treasure. Similarly, the same method of thinking is applied with the following parable with a pearl. If indeed the initial three parables are given in contrast to the contemporary kingdom expectations, than it would follow that these two parables are a continuation of that contrast. The possessions forfeited serve as a point of reference for contemporary kingdom expectations, and the hidden treasure and the pearl serve as a point of reference for the Kingdom of God. By telling the disciples these parables, Jesus is clearly teaching his disciples their need to forfeit their Jewish expectations kingdom of God and embrace what he has been teaching.

In his final parable, Jesus reiterates the mixed nature of the kingdom of God, and according to Hendricksen, that is all he does.[14] While all the points of reference are simular, Hendricksen has overlooked the change in the listening audience which can drastically affect the manner in which a parable is understood. It is not until verse 36 that Matthew tells his readers that Jesus had left the crowd. Therefore, ‘The Parable of the Weeds’ is given to the crowds, including the disciples, while ‘The Parable of the Net’ is given to the disciples only. There is also a shift in the point of reference for the Kingdom of God. In the former, the Kingdom of God is portrayed as having to compete with the enveloping circumstances which have been going for some time. However, this is about to change as the Kingdom of God is inaugurated by Jesus will be a mixture of all kinds (v47), and this is the type of kingdom which the work that the disciples will be partaking in. The thrust of this parable would not have been lost on some of the disciples whom Jesus had told will be fishers of men (Matthew 4:18-19). This would drive home the point that the work that the disciples were to be involved with was not to be a separatist movement as they may have imagined. Separation would be at the initiative of angels only (v49). Again, this teaching would have been contrary to that of the Pharisees.

Jesus radical teaching on the kingdom of God places him outside the main schools of thought in first century Judaism, and thereby stands unique. Through the gospels, opposition to Jesus can be detected from all these groups, with the exception of the Essenes who are not mentioned in Scripture. Clearly Herod, the Pharisees, and Sadducees all conspired against Jesus (Matthew 2:13, 16; 16:1; 26:3-4), and the Roman guard had no respect for him either (Matthew 27:27-31). Though there is not any know opposition from the Essenes, it is known that Jesus considered his disciples to be in the world, not separated from it (John 17:14, 16). Jesus teachings concerning the kingdom of God stood apart from contemporary expectations for one very good reason as Jesus explicitly told Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36). According to Jesus’ teaching the kingdom of God demanded repentance from contemporary views, and would not be consummated by political or religious movements, or by any other human initiative. Rather, it would be consummated at the time of judgement by the initiative of God.

 

Bibliography:

Betz, Otto.              ‘Messianic expectations in the context of first century Judaism’, in Christology in dialogue, ed. Robert F. Berkley and Sarah A. Edwards, Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 1993.

Caragounis, Chrys C.,     ‘Kingdom of God / Kingdom of Heaven’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Hendriksen, William.       New Testament commentary: Matthew. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973.

Hoehner, Harold W.        ‘Herodians’, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Metzger, Bruce M.  The New Testament, its background, growth, and content. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1965.

Snodgrass, Klyne R.       ‘Parable’, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Tenney, Merrill C.   New Testament Survey. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing co., 1961.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

 


 

[1] Bruce M. Metzger, The New Testament, its background, growth, and content (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1965), 46.

[2] Otto Betz, ‘Messianic expectations in the context of first century Judaism’, in Christology in dialogue, ed. Robert F. Berkley and Sarah A. Edwards (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 1993), 35

[3] Harold W. Hoehner, ‘Herodians’, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 325

[4] Otto Betz, ‘Messianic expectations in the context of first century Judaism’, 37

[5] Klyne R. Snodgrass, ‘Parable’, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 593

[6] Klyne R. Snodgrass, ‘Parable’, 597

[7] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM (Downers Grove, Illinios: InterVasity Press, 1993).

[8] William Hendriksen, New Testament commentary: Matthew (Edinburgh, United Kingdom: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973), 563

[9] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM.

[10] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM.

[11] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM.

[12] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament on CD-ROM

[13] William Hendriksen, New Testament commentary: Matthew, 575

[14] William Hendriksen, New Testament commentary: Matthew, 578

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October 24, 2007 Posted by | Essays, Gospels, New Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A comparison of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke

Synopsis:The four accounts of Jesus life and ministry vary in their content. Some of their content can be found in all four while other parts are unique to that particular gospel. Even the content which is shared can vary in detail. The following essay examines the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke as an example of two gospels sharing information, though differing in there theological emphasis. The essay assumes the integrity of both accounts, and regards them both as legitimate accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. Overarching themes of both gospels are identified and substantiate by the content of each gospel. It is within the context of these overarching themes which the similarities and difference between the two accounts need to be considered.

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A brief reading of the gospels reveals that they all address one issue – the person and ministry of Jesus. In this, a great amount of overlap can be found among the gospels, more so among the synoptics. If all four gospels are about the ministry of Jesus, the question may be posed, why have four gospels been written? Yet within the similarities of overlap, numerous differences can be found in the gospels in the way of variations in the text of individual passages, additional or abbreviated material, and reordering of events. The gospels of Matthew and Luke will be surveyed in order to observe the similarities and differences in these texts. These two gospels have been chosen due to the similarities they share.

From the seventeen parables found in Matthew and nineteen in Luke, six are held in common. From the twenty miracles found in both Matthew and Luke, thirteen are held in common.[1] Both Matthew and Luke give details on Jesus’ infancy (Matthew 1:18 – 2:23; Luke 1:5 – 2:52); the preparatory ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-20); the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 3:13 – 4:1-11; Luke 3:21 – 4:15); Jesus’ ministry in Galilee (Matthew 4:13 – 19:1; Luke 4:16 – 9:62); and Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem, passion and ascension (Matthew 21-26; Luke 19-24). In these accounts difference can be observed in the particulars. Generally, Luke gives more details in these accounts. The greatest difference between the gospels is Luke’s coverage of Jesus’ Judean ministry which is unique to his gospel (10:1 – 18:14). To understand the reasons for these similarities and differences in Matthew and Luke and the way they have been structured, the theology and purpose of both gospels will be considered.

Gospel of Matthew

The main concern of the gospel of Matthew is to demonstrate how Jesus and his ministry are a continuation and a fulfilment of the Old Covenant. Several features of the gospel and their contribution to the main concern will be briefly considered.

1) Jesus’ Identification with David

The gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus mentioning two key figures in Israel’s heritage (1:1). The first of these figures is David. The mention of David connects Jesus to the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:1-16) as the one whom through David’s throne would be established forever. Matthew shows that the kingship of Jesus is recognised from his birth by foreigners (2:1-2, 11), and that Jesus claim to the throne is asserted by Jesus himself (12:42; 22:44), especially by his provoking actions during his final entry into Jerusalem (21:1-11). This aspect of Jesus identity is recognised and accepted several times throughout the gospel by social outcasts and general public (9:27; 12:22-23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15). Jesus’ kingship was also recognised by Roman authorities who regarded it to be such a threat, infanticide was employed to prevent the rise of a rival king (2:16). Despite the responses from Rome and the general public, the religious establishment rejected Jesus’ kingship outright (27:41-42, this could be the issue behind the lack of repentance as Jesus compares himself to Solomon 12:38-42).

2) The identification with Abraham and fulfilling the Covenant as Israel

The second key figure Matthew mentions is Abraham. The identification of Abraham links the ministry of Jesus to the Abrahamic covenant, and the promises of land, nation, and blessing (Genesis 12:1-3). Though Israel received something of the promise, what they received was lost at the time of exile, and (they) never received the fulfilment of that promise. Jesus’ inaugurates the fulfilment of the promise by becoming Israel for Israel. This is a strong theme in the gospel as Jesus and his family is forced to flee from the infanticide of Herod to return to Israel at a later time. Matthew makes the comment that this was to fulfil the Scriptures thus identifying Jesus as a second Israel (2:15, Cf. Hosea 11:1). This identification with Israel is important as consideration is given to the reconstitution of the law.

3) The Miracles of Jesus

Jesus’ identity as the ‘Son of David’ also has implications for the Kingdom of God. The Son of David was to be sent “…by God specifically to the people of Israel to bring them salvation and deliverance by healing them of their diseases.”[2] Hence four out of the nine references to the ‘Son of David’ are given in the context of healing to support this theme (Matthew 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30, 31).

The idea of Jesus being sent specifically to Israel is also stressed. As Jesus sent out his twelve disciples on mission he instructs them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6). However, though Jesus was indeed sent to Israel, as he personifies and reconstitutes Israel, he would also become a blessing to the nations fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). This appears to be the case in Jesus’ healing of the daughter of a Canaanite woman (15:21-28). Though Jesus was sent to Israel, the blessings of theocratic rule would extend beyond Israel and to the nations.

Not only does Jesus’ healing ministry have implications of Jesus’ identity, it also has implications for the Kingdom of God. Matthew understands Jesus miracles as the inauguration of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 11:2-6; 12:28). McKnight also suggests the healing ministry is also connected to atoning sacrifice. Matthew understands Jesus’ healing ministry as a fulfilment of the image of the suffering servant (Isaiah 53. Cf. Matt 8:16-17

).  However, Matthew does not apply this passage to explain Jesus’ death. Instead, there is a clear foretelling of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice as the Son of Man (20:28). It may be in this instance Matthew is using the title ‘Son of Man’ to refer to one who is authorised by God.[3] Again, these assertions add to the identity of Jesus, and his importance in salvation history.

4) Identification with Moses and Israel

          The identification with Moses implies the reconstituting of Israel by Jesus. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation (4:1-11) contains explicit allusions to the accounts of Moses. Just as Moses spent forty days and nights with God (Exodus 9:18), so Jesus now spends the same time being tempted. Unlike the original Israel that failed, Jesus does not fail thereby creating faithful Israel. The allusion continues as Jesus constitutes a new community (4:18-22) and reconstitutes the law (5-7). The reconstitution of the law, commonly known as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, is fundamental to Matthew as Jesus dismisses Jewish tradition (5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43), restoring the standard of righteousness which he will fulfil as the new Israel for Israel.

5) Rejection of the religious establishment

The gospel of Matthew stresses the uniqueness of Jesus from Roman, and the Jewish religious establishment. As already has been noted, there was enmity between the Roman authority and Jesus shortly after his birth. The recording of Jesus coming from Nazareth and beginning his ministry in Galilee (4:12-13) would not have been viewed favourably by the religious establishment as inhabitants of Jeruselem despised the region – a sentiment echoed in John’s gospel (1:46).[4] Other examples of where the religious establishment would find Matthew offensive is in the instance of Jesus’ commendation of the faith of a Roman Centurion (8:10-11), and Gentiles being counted among his followers (4:24-25). Mathew also contains teaching which is explicitly against the religious establishment (5:20; 23:13-36).

All this demonstrates that though Jesus was not part of the religious establishment or Roman authority, he was nonetheless the fulfilment of Scripture and the continuity of the Old Covenant. Nine times in the gospel the life and ministry of Jesus are said to fulfil Scripture (Matthew 1:22; 2:15; 3:15; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:54). These are included in the one-hundred and thirty plus references in the Old Testament – more than the other gospels.

Gospel of Luke

It is quite clear that Luke (the author of both the third gospel and Acts) is aware of other accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry (1:1), and he is not about to repeat the same emphasis. While Matthew’s main concern to show continuity from the Old Covenant to the person and ministry of Jesus, Luke’s main concern is to demonstrate the break away from traditional Israel, to a new covenant in Jesus and its applicability to the entirety of humanity. This is not to say Luke perceived the person and ministry of Jesus as having no connection with the Old Covenant. Though the gospel presents Jesus as distinct from the Old Covenant, it is still concerned to demonstrate the person and ministry of Jesus as a fulfilment of Scripture (2:23; 3:4; 21:22; 24:44), and in the recording of events which resemble events contained in the Old Testament. In this, Luke provides a universal presentation of the ministry of Jesus in the sense that it is not restricted to national Israel – this same theme prevails throughout Acts. The manner that Luke achieves this will be briefly considered.

1) The break from traditional Israel

The ministry of John the Baptist is contained in all four gospels, though Luke provides much more detail including the prophecies and circumstances surrounding his birth. It is the events surrounding John’s birth that are mentioned first, before the events that surround Jesus’ birth. The reasons for this are apparent when the circumstances of John’s birth are considered.

          Several key points concerning John and his parents, provide powerful allusions to several Old Testament identities through whom God performed extraordinary works which had a profound impact on the history of Israel. Luke informs his readers that Zechariah and Elizabeth were advanced in years, and Elizabeth herself was barren (1:6). John, their promised son, was “…not to drink wine or strong drink.” (1:15). It was in these and similar circumstances that Isaac (Genesis 17:15-19), Joseph (Genesis 29:31; 30:25); Samson (Judges 13:2-5, 24), and Samuel (1 Samuel 1:1, 20) were born. Hence Luke gives clues that God is about to do something different in the history of Israel. To be sure, John does not claim to be the Christ. Instead, the ministry of John was to testify to the one who was Christ (3:15). Similarly, Jesus was born of a childless woman, though not due to barrenness (1:34). Jesus confirms John’s ministry by recognising him as the last of the Law and the Prophets (16:16; 7:6-28). Hence John’s ministry serves as a transition between New and Old Covenants.

2) The universality of the Gospel

As Luke intends to demonstrate the universality of the gospels, he records a number of events not contained in the other gospels. These events involve people who would not be considered worthy.

          Luke records the people to receive the angelic proclamation of Jesus birth were shepherds (2:8-20). Shepherds were a despised class as Hendriksen remarks, “…because of the very nature of their occupation, to observe all the regulations of the Mosaic law-and especially all the man-made rules superim­posed on that law!”[5] Nonetheless, these were among the first people to learn of God’s actions and respond to them.

          Other reordering of social expectations can be found throughout the gospel such as chapter 18. In verses 9-14, Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector, exemplary of a just and unjust person, and reverses the expected outcome (v14). In verses 15-17, Jesus welcomes children who have no social status, and exemplifies them for those who would follow him (v17).[6] In verses 18-30, Jesus dialogue with a rich young ruler reveals that entry into the kingdom can not be gained by human effort,[7] and those riches, often associated with observant Jewish leaders, hampered people from entering the kingdom. Similarly, Jesus tells of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus, and again, the expected outcomes are reversed (16:8-31). Jesus also warns against the entrapments of riches and comfort (6:24-26). To be sure, Luke is not asserting that the poor and oppressed enter the kingdom while the rich people are condemned. Following shortly after Jesus dialogue with the rich young ruler is the occurrence of a tax collector who is inherently rich, and is declared to be a ‘son of Abraham’ due to his repentance. Hence Luke is merely demonstrating those who would not be considered as being in the kingdom in fact are.

          Consistent with this theme is Luke’s treatment of the religious establishment. Though Luke records sayings of Jesus critical of attributes which may be true of religious authorities, there is no direct public criticism as there is in Matthew. Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (6:17-49), which appears as an abbreviated form of Matthew’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5-7) does not contain any comparisons to the teaching of religious authorities, or ‘you’ve hear said’ statements (Matthew 5:17, 21, 27, 33, 38, 43). Luke also records Jesus as receiving hospitality from Pharisees and being able to gently teach (7:36-50), though later invitations would not be so hospitable (11:37-52). Hence Luke provides little basis to dismiss the possibility of the religious authorities from entering the kingdom of God.

All these theological themes of Luke serve to introduce Jesus’ final commission to the Disciples (24:48); which Luke will espouse in his second volume.

Both Matthew and Luke share much of the material. However, they use their material differently to establish their own purposes. It is important to consider these purposes for understanding the individual accounts and events which form each gospel.

Bibliography:

Bauer, David R.      ‘Son of David’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Bock, Darrell L.      ‘Gospel of Luke’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Hendriksen, William        Luke. Banner of truth New Testament commentary. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978.

Hendriksen, William        Matthew. Banner of truth New Testament commentary. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973.

House, Wayne H.    Chronological and background charts of the New Testament, Academic Books, 1981.

Howard, Marshall, I.        ‘Son of Man’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Keeber, Craig S.      The IVP Bible background commentary, New Testament on CD-ROM. ((Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

McKnight, Scot.      ‘Gospel of Matthew’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

Riesner, Rainer, D.  ‘Galilee’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.


[1] Wayne H. House, Chronological and background charts of the New Testament, (Academic Books, 1981), 109-115. Totals my differ pending the definitions of ‘parable’ and ‘miracle’.[2] David R. Bauer, ‘Son of David’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 769.[3] Howard, Marshall, I. ‘Son of Man’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 776.[4] Rainer, D. Riesner, ‘Galilee’ in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. J. B. Green & Scot McKnight. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 253.

[5] William Hendriksen, Luke. Banner of truth New Testament commentary. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978), 149.

[6] Craig S. Keeber, The IVP Bible background commentary, New Testament on CD-ROM. ((Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1992).

[7] William Hendriksen, Luke. 831.

October 24, 2007 Posted by | Essays, Gospels, New Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2 Samuel 7 – The Davidic Covenant

Synopsis:

The following essay exegetes 2 Samuel 7. It maintains that the passage concerns the theological issues raised in the book of Samuel of Kingship and ‘rest’ and provides a theological program for them. The reasons for David’s desire to build the temple are explored, and are found to be based upon a secular understanding of temple, contrary to Yahweh’s covenantal purposes for Israel. The rejection of David’s proposal was due to its timing which leads to Yahweh gently rebuking David  and places the notion of ‘temple’ within a covenantal theology which requires the manifestation of ‘rest’. While the author of Samuel seeks to demonstrate that the requirement for rest was fulfilled by David, the final fulfilment of the promises will not realised by a political figure. Rather, these promises find their realisation in Christ.

—–

Throughout the book of Samuel (referring to 1 and 2 Samuel in their original form)[1] the transition from tribal league to monarchy takes place in Israel’s nationality. In this, any theological issues are raised. The main one being the fate of the previous covenants – Noahic (Genesis 9:9-17), Abrahamic (Genesis 15:18-19); Sinai (Exodus 19:3-6). Since Israel has rejected Yahweh as their King (1 Samuel 8:7), will his purposes as expressed in the previous covenants be fulfilled?

          It is this question that the Davidic covenant seeks to answer forming the theological pinnacle of the book (2 Samuel 7:1-16). Although the word ‘covenant’ does not appear in the account, the dialogue between Yahweh and David is nonetheless regarded as a covenant by other parts of Scripture (2 Samuel 23:5; Psalm 89:3, 34-36; 132:12; Jeremiah 33:21) and therefore 2 Samuel 7:1-16 needs to be regarded as a covenant.

The speech by Yahweh (vv6-16) was primarily intended as a rejection of David in response to his desire to build the temple. It is within this rejection that Yahweh’s covenantal purposes are preserved, and a theological program for Israel’s king is developed. By examining in detail Yahweh’s speech to David, and David’s response in prayer, the theological program for Israel and her monarch will be made clear. To understand David’s motives for wanting to build the temple, the events in chapter 6 leading up to the forming of the covenant need to be briefly examined.

          Chapter 6 records David’s capture of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a well fortified Canaanite city in the middle of the territory occupied by Israel. Although Jerusalem (or Jebus) had been conquered previously, Israel had failed to eradicate the inhabitants or sufficiently populate it themselves (Joshua 15:8; Judges 1:8; 19:11) thereby allowing it to become a Canaanite stronghold (2 Samuel 5:6). The capture of Jerusalem provided an ideal place for David to rule both northern and southern tribes as opposed to Hebron in the south. The bringing of the ark to Jerusalem was also advantageous in preserving the old traditions, and helped to ensure tribal loyalties.[2] Historical, the ark had been involved with Israel in the wilderness and finding places to ‘rest’ (Numbers 10:33; Deuteronomy 1:32-33). Therefore, the movement of the ark into Jerusalem would have seemed to indicate a new stage of ‘rest’ for Israel (6:12-15).

It is this manifestation of rest which seems to motivate David to want to build a temple (2 Samuel 7:2). Even though his desires are not made explicit in 2 Samuel 7, they are made explicit in 1 Chronicles 28:2 and 2 Chronicles 6:7. Baldwin asserts that it was the monarch’s duty to build a temple for the god – “… anything less would be a snub to the god who had given him his victory.”[3] In this, Gordon says that David wanted “… to crown his external achievements with the erection of the temple to Yahweh who has granted him his victories.”[4] However, the ‘rest’ mentioned in v1 was not permanent, secured ‘rest’. Notably, ‘rest’ in the unsecured sense is mentioned in other parts of Scripture (Joshua 11:23; 14:15). David’s task in this stage of Israel’s history was to make that rest permanent, as would be prophesied in the latter half of Nathan’s oracle.

It is because permanent rest had not been achieved that Yahweh refuses David as he asks the rhetorical question “Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?” Understood with 1 Chronicles 17:4, the rhetorical question carries with it negative connotations against David, emphasising his inadequacy to build.[5] The answer to Yahweh’s rhetorical question begins in v11b where the theme of ‘house’ is raised again. However, before the answer to the rhetorical question is given, a historical survey is given (vv6-9a), along with a covenantal theology in which the new covenant between Yahweh and David can be set.

          Yahweh begins the historical survey by appealing to the fact that he had never dwelt in house, nor had he commanded at any stage for a house to be built (vv6-7). Dumbrell states that “For some, the refusal is a prophetic affirmation of Israel’s conquest faith. The older nomadic faith could not entertain the proposal of a fixed residence for the Deity.”[6] However, such an understanding of the verses fails to take into consideration the entirety of the passage that goes on to anticipate the building of the temple, as Dumbrell goes on to point out (v13). This understanding also ignores Scripture’s great care not to locate God, as such that he may be contained. For instance, while Scripture declares that Yahweh’s throne is in heaven (Psalm 103:19), it also maintains that Yahweh is above heaven (Psalm 8:1; 57:11; 113:4). Therefore, just as the heavens cannot contain Yahweh (1 Kings 8:27; 1 Chronicles 2:6; 6:8) yet his throne is in heaven, so to the enthronement of Yahweh in a temple built by man must be considered.

          The problem was not the temple itself. Rather, it was the timing of David’s proposal. Yahweh had not commanded a house to be built because the time had not yet come. Beale, with his theology of temple, perceives before a temple can be built, the opposition must be defeated.[7] Though David had just defeated the Jebusites in chapter 6, there was much more land that needed to be subdued in fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant.  As noted before, the ‘rest’ mentioned in v1 was only a temporary rest which needed to be made permanent. This is the reason behind the rejection of David which is made clear in other parts of Scripture as being one who was preoccupied by war (1 Kings 5:3; 1 Chroniclers 22:6).

          Yahweh then goes to review David’s rise to power (vv8-9a). What is characteristic of these verses, along with the previous verses, is the reoccurrence of the personal pronoun ‘I’ followed by an event that has transpired. In this, Yahweh demonstrates that he is the one who has initiated everything that has happened.  None of it can be put down to human initiative. Therefore, neither would the building of the temple come as a result of human initiative. Yahweh would need to initiate the building of the temple, just as he initiated everything else.  It is in the following verses that the prerequisites for building are expounded and the program for the continuation of kingship is given.

The prerequisites for the building of the temple are given in vv9b-11. The allusions to the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants by mention of a great name, place and subjugation of enemies incorporate kingship into the covenantal framework. These promises are expounded further by the Psalmist in Psalm 89. The psalmist perceives the implications of what has been promised at this point in the covenant in declaring that Yahweh will sustain him, Yahweh’s anointed, against his enemies and subdue them (vv20-23). The mention of the exaltation of ‘his horn’ (v25) would also appear to be a reference to his strength and reputation. It would be through David that the promise of land given to Abraham would be fulfilled along with the anticipation of security in the Deuteronomic narratives (Deuteronomy 33:28). Through David, Yahweh would bring an end to the afflictions that Israel had suffered from the nation around her (Judges 2:18; 4:3; 6:9; 10:12). That David would be the fulfilment is evidenced by his actions against neighbouring nations, thereby providing national security and laying the foundation for a permanent rest (2 Samuel 8:1-14; 10).[8] Only in such a political climate can consideration be given to the building of the temple as a symbol of permanency.

Having established that the building of the temple will be as a result of Yahweh’s provision, and David’s responsibility is to make the ‘rest’ secure, Yahweh now returns to the question of ‘house’ (or temple. vv11b-16). In addressing the question, Yahweh declares that he will build David a house (v11b). In this, the word ‘house’ is played upon to give it the meaning of ‘dynasty’. Yahweh is indicating that he will build a dynasty, a royal line, for David in contrast to Saul’s whose line was cut short (1 Samuel 13:13-14). David is to have a son, and through this son, Yahweh’s promise to David of a dynasty will be fulfilled. His dynasty will have a permanence that will permit the building of the temple, as Yahweh declares “He is the one who will build a house for my Name…” (v13a)

          It is important to pause here and consider the phrase “for my Name”. In this phrase, Yahweh is asserting a correct theology of temple. The temple would not be where Yahweh would dwell. Rather, only his Name would dwell. This expression carries with it connotations of ownership thereby asserting Yahweh’s kingship over the land. Within this understanding, Yahweh’s imminence can co-exist with his transcendence.[9] So much so that Yahweh’s transcendence upon his temple does not always warrant the use of the formula of Yahweh’s Name. For instance, when David’s son, Solomon, built the temple as Yahweh had ordained, he spoke of Yahweh dwelling in the temple, only to later acknowledge the impossibility of Yahweh dwelling in the temple (1 Kings 8:13, 17).

          It is also important to consider the identity of David’s offspring (or ‘seed’ AV). As a reader under the covenant of Christ, the references to an everlasting throne and kingdom (vv13, 16), and the relationship between God and David’s offspring (v14), make it easy to the mistake ‘offspring’ is an exclusive reference to Jesus. However, it is difficult to see how the references of wrong doing and punishment apply with this understanding (v14). In Psalm 89, the Psalmist makes references to David’s offspring in plurality and not in the singular – “If his sons forsake my law…” (vv30-32). As Baldwin asserts “… the original implies not one generation but many.”[10] Therefore, ‘offspring’ needs to be understood as David’s descendants collectively, inclusive of Jesus.

          The kingdom promised to David’s son is to be an everlasting kingdom (vv14, 16). Initially, this seems to be contrary to the historical reality that the kingdom of Israel divided in 930 B.C., and the fall of Israel in 722 B.C. followed by the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.[11] However, it needs to be understood that what is being promised here in not a continual succession of Davidic kings. Rather, that Yahweh will always maintain the throne of Yahweh. As to what extent Israel’s king will enjoy the blessings of the promise will depend upon obedience (vv14-15).

          This aspect of accountability is reinforced by the father/son relationship the king was to enjoy with Yahweh. Again, this incorporates Israel’s kingship further into the Sinai Covenant. Historically, Israel has been addressed as Yahweh’s ‘son’ (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1), and these terms of sonship are now being applied to Israel’s King.[12] Just as Israel was liable to observe the Torah on account of exile (Deuteronomy 28:15, 25; 30:1-5), even though the nation of Israel was a fulfilment of Abrahamic Covenant which was also everlasting (Genesis 17:7), so to will the throne of Israel’s king be everlasting, though the king himself will be punished should he fail to observe the Torah as the Psalmist recognises (Psalm 89:30-32).

          It is this aspect of the promise of an everlasting throne that forms the basis for a hope of a return to the Davidic ideals. Despite having been taken into exile, the major prophets anticipated the day when Yahweh will set a descendant of David to rule over Israel (Isaiah 9:7; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15:16). However, such prophecy is not fulfilled by a King who merely restores the political status of Israel. Rather, the prophecies anticipate Christ who is the fulfilment of all covenantal theology (Matthew 5:17).

In his response in prayer, David recognises the significance of what has been promised him. David understands that the ramifications of what has been promised go far beyond national Israel. In response, David can only awe the magnificence of what Yahweh proposed to do through him, leading up to the perplexing statement “You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God!” (ESV v19).

          Psalm 110, which is consistent with the time of David,[13] can be helpful in understanding this verse. The Psalm is introduced as Yahweh speaking to a superior of David (cf. Matthew 22:44-45; Mark 12:36-37; Luke 20:42-44; Acts 2:34-35) who “…will guarantee the political extension of Israel…”[14] in fulfilment of the covenant (Exodus 19:3b-6). In this, the unique and privileged identity of Israel is preserved as Yahweh’s covenant people (vv23-24), along with Yahweh’s kingship of Israel (vv24-26).

The Davidic Covenant therefore addresses the issues that have risen out of a diversion from Yahweh’s kingship to a secular state. The covenant incorporates the secular institution of kingship into the purposes of Yahweh paving the way for the Christ who would fulfil Yahweh’s covenant purposes.

Bibliography:

‘Old Testament Chronology’ in The NIV Study Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985.

Anderson, A. A.    Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, United States of America: Word, Inc. 1989.

Dumbrell, W. J.  Covenant and creation, Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984.

Beale, G. K.       The temple and the church’s mission: a biblical theology of the dwelling place of God. New studies in biblical theology, 17. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Carlson, R. A.    David the chosen king: a traditio-historical approach to the second book of Samuel, Stockholm, Sweden: Almvist & Wiksell, 1964.

Dumbrell, W. J. Covenant and creation, Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984.

Dumbrell, W. J.  ‘The Davidic Covenant’, The Reformed Theological Journal, 39 May – August 1980, 40-47.

Gordon, Robert P. I & II Samuel: a commentary Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986 Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.

Soatini, Temanu. ‘The Relationship of the Davidic covenant to the Sinai covenant’. Disservice Exit Thesis. Presbyterian Theological Centre, 1997.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.


[1] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary (Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986), 19[2] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 230[3] Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel (Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 213-214[4] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 236

[5] A. A. Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, (United States of America: Word, Inc. 1989), 118

[6] W. J. Dumbrell, Covenant and creation, (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), 147

[7] G. K. Beale, The temple and the church’s mission: a biblical theology of the dwelling place of God. New studies in biblical theology, 17. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 63-64

[8] R. A. Carlson, David the chosen king: a traditio-historical approach to the second book of Samuel, (Stockholm, Sweden: Almvist & Wiksell, 1964), 118-119

[9] A. A. Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, 122

[10] Joyce Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 125

[11] ‘Old Testament Chronology’ in The NIV Study Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985)

[12] W. J. Dumbrell, ‘The Davidic Covenant’, The Reformed Theological Journal, 39 (May – August 1980), 45

[13] W. J. Dumbrell, ‘The Davidic Covenant’, 46

[14] W. J. Dumbrell, ‘The Davidic Covenant’, 46

October 23, 2007 Posted by | Biblical Theology, Essays, Old Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

1 and 2 Samuel

Synopsis:

          While it seems probable that the author of 1 and 2 Samuel did compile their work from various sources, the simple fact is the author compiled the book of Samuel under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to convey certain truths in fulfilment of their own concerns. As interesting as it may be to know where contributions to the book came from, such studies will not assist in understanding the purpose of the author’s presentation of the rise of David, and his relationship with Yahweh. Therefore, this essay will concern itself with the book of Samuel as a coherent work as the author intended it to be read. As such, this essay will consider the relationships between the narratives, and how they communicate that David was Yahweh’s sovereign choice. The narratives concerning David’s anointing, ascension, and the preservation of his kingdom will be considered in detail as motifs for the author’s thesis.

——

The purpose of the author’s presentation of David was to demonstrate how David was a man after Yahweh’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Before attention is given as to how the rise of David and the following succession narrative fulfils this verse, the verse itself must be taken into consideration.

          The way the NIV renders the verse – “the Lord [Yahweh] has sought out a man after his own heart” – gives the impression that there is something intrinsically appealing about Yahweh’s selection. Baldwin understands this verse as reflecting positively on David as one who is “… prepared to let the Lord’s will … be a guide for his life.”[1] While this can be said of David’s military campaigns, it barely applies to the rest of his life. Gordon understands this verse as Yahweh choosing a man according to his desires and as opposed to the people’s desires (1 Samuel 8:22).[2] The New Century Version perhaps offers a better rendering – “The Lord has looked for the kind of man he wants.” The lack of intrinsic appeal in David is certainly recognised by himself in response to the promise given him – “Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18). It is to this end that the author presents David as having ascended the throne on the basis of Yahweh’s sovereign choice, and not on his astuteness.

Through the presentation of David’s career, the author intends to demonstrate that: 1) David was not an expected, and thereby popular, choice; 2) David’s accession to the throne was not at the expense of Saul’s life, character, or rule; 3) the preservation of David’s kingdom was due to Yahweh’s provision, and not David’s astuteness.

•1.     David’s unexpected choice

David is first introduced into the narrative of Samuel as Yahweh’s chosen during a secret anointing (1 Samuel 16). David’s selection is not expected by all present. Even Samuel, who expected Eliab to be the succeeding king, had to be instructed otherwise by Yahweh (vv6-7). So unexpected was the choosing of David that he was not even presented before Samuel (v10). Instead he was out tending sheep (v11). Upon his presentation before Samuel, David is described as “… the youngest … with a fine appearance and handsome features.” (1 Samuel 16:11-12). This is a contrast to the tall, warrior figure that was personified in Saul that Samuel was originally looking for. The mention of his position in the family, Klein observes, is a continuation of Yahweh choosing the younger over the older in the Old Testament (cf. Jacob over Esau, Genesis 25:23; Ephraim over Manasseh, Genesis 48:8-22).[3] Therefore, by human standards, David would have hardly passed as a king thereby asserting Yahweh’s selection of him. Yahweh’s appointment of David is emphasised by the events and circumstances surrounding his anointing. David is said to have the Spirit of Yahweh upon him (1 Samuel 16:14), and his victory over Goliath is a further indication of Yahweh’s selection of David. [4]

•2.     David’s ascension to the throne

The author goes to great lengths to demonstrate that David’s rise to power was due to Yahweh’s sovereignty. David was liable to the charge of ending the Saulide dynasty (Samuel 16:5-9) Interwoven throughout the narratives of David’s ascension s the testimony from others that David would be King. This again emphasises Yahweh’s sovereign choice (1 Samuel 23:17; 25:31; 28:17), and even that of Saul (24:40).

          The author demonstrates that the relationship between David and Saul did not begin as one of enmity. David is portrayed as a servant of Saul, called to be in Saul’s court to soothe Saul’s anxiety caused by the evil spirit sent from Yahweh (1 Samuel 16:14-23). This relationship was changed at the initiative of Saul. David proved himself to be a mighty warrior, and the singing of David’s praises by the women stirred envy in Saul (1 Samuel 18:5-9). This marked a change in the relationship. The author remarks that, “Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had left Saul.” (1 Samuel 18:12). From this time on, Saul sought to eliminate the threat that David posed. Not the other way around as Shimei had supposed. The author records on two occasions Saul attempted to run a spear through David (1 Samuel 18:11; 19:10), and sent him on dangerous military missions hoping that he would be killed in battle, only to have David succeed in his mission (1 Samuel 18:24-27).

          Having failed to eliminate David discretely, Saul begins a murderous pursuit of David on the basis that David is his enemy (1 Samuel 19:17) which is recorded in chapters 22 – 26. In what shall be called the pursuit narratives, the author does record that on two occasions, David had an opportunity to kill Saul, yet does not (24, 26). Instead, David earnestly seeks reconciliation with Saul (24:22; 26:25).

          Interestingly, the two accounts of David seeking reconciliation with Saul are divided by the account of Nabal and Abigail (1 Samuel 25). In this account it becomes evident that vengeful murder is within David’s capability. The main concern in the passage is one of bloodshed which needed to be explained to David by Abigail (v26). Even though Nabal has wronged David, it would be wrong of David to spill blood in revenge, since it is for Yahweh to remove David’s enemies (v33), and this is to characterize David’s rule (v28). It is this insight of Abigail which shapes David’s theology in his next encounter with Saul. Not only does David refuse to take Saul’s life because he is Yahweh’s anointed (v9), he also anticipates Yahweh’s action in his death (v10). Therefore within David’s rise to power, the author acknowledges David’s murderous traits, which reappear in the succession narrative. However, he demonstrates that these have not been employed against the person of Saul thereby vindicating David from being implicated in Saul’s death or the breakdown of the Saulide dynasty.

          When Saul is killed, the author again demonstrates that David is not to be implicated in 1 Samuel 31. It is recorded that Saul died in battle taking his own life after being critically wounded (vv3-4). At the time, David had taken refuge among the Philistines. The author again stresses that David had not abandoned his King, nor his homeland. Rather, it was for self preservation that David sought refuge among the Philistines (1 Samuel 27:1). While among the Philistines, David, furthered Israel’s security in the Promise Land under the guise of fighting for the Philistines (1 Samuel 27:8-12), and enriched the towns of Judah with the plunder from war (1 Samuel 30:26-31). Therefore, David could not be charged with conspiring against Israel, or his king, Saul.

          Upon hearing of the death of Saul, David is recorded as being struck with grief along with his men (2 Samuel 1:11-13). Nor does David decorate the Amalekite who brought David the news. The Amalekite gives a different version to the events recorded in (1 Samuel 31:2-6). The Amalekite tells of how he killed Saul and had taken the crown from his head to present to David. The Amalekite’s motive in providing an alternate version would appear so he could earn David’s favour and be rewarded.[5] However, David perceives a greater issue at stake which is expressed in v14 – that the Amalekite had raised his hand against Yahweh’s anointed. Just as David had refused to lift his hand against Saul (1 Samuel 24:6; 26:11), and been kept from bloodshed (25:26, 33), so too he maintains his court with the same dignity. David, after further interrogation of the Amalekite, orders him to be executed (v15). David takes the same action upon hearing the death of Ish-Bosheth from Recab and Baanah (2 Samuel 4:7-12).        

          The author now vindicates David against the charge of eradicating the other members of the house of Saul. While a war does occur between the houses of Saul and David (2 Samuel 2:8 – 3:1), this was not instigated by David. Rather, they were instigated by Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, and was answered to by Joab, who was acting as David’s army commander. This is in contrast to David whom, in the meantime, was concerned that Saul had received a proper burial (2 Samuel 2:5-6). In the course of the war, Abner had killed Asahel, Joab’s brother (vv 18, 23) which provoked bitter rivalry between Joab and Abner. While David had managed to form reconciliation with Abner after Abner defected from Ish-Bosheth (3:9-10, 21), Joab had no knowledge of this, and sought vengeance against Abner by murdering him (3:27). Again, the author is concerned to distance David from the death of a member of the Saulide dynasty by including David’s speech in the narrative declaring his innocence, and cursing Abner and his family for his actions (3:28-29). Again the author is concerned to draw attention to David’s grief over the death of a member of the Saulide dynasty (3:31-35; cf. 1:11-12, 17-27). Such actions distant David from the demise of the Saulide dynasty, and demonstrate that David’s ascension to the throne was due to Yahweh’s election of David and not political manoeuvring. As the author records, “All the people took note and were pleased; indeed, everything the king did pleased them. So on that day all the people and all Israel knew that the king had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner.” (2 Samuel 3:36-37). So David was able to assume Kingship over Israel in place of the Saulide dynasty (5:1-5)

•3.     The preservation of David’s kingdom.

The so called “Succession Narrative” covers 2 Samuel 9 – 1 Kings 2. These chapters contain David’s management of his kingdom after ascending the throne. These are set against Yahweh’s covenant with David which contain the promise of an everlasting throne, and a son who would succeed David and build the temple (7:12, 13, 16). Throughout the Succession Narrative, David and his family are portrayed as having little or no astuteness, capable of deception and being deceived, immoral, and barely able to keep a grasp of his throne or kingdom. While there are many narratives that illustrate this throughout his 2 Samuel, the narratives of the war against the Ammonites, David and Bathsheba, Amnon and Tamar, Absalom’s revolt, and David’s return have all been selected for their interrelatedness, and crucial contribution in their portrayal of David as King.

          David lacks the astuteness that may normally be associated with a king which affects his administration of the kingdom. Upon the death of Nahash, King of Ammon, David sent his condolences to Hanun on the basis of an existing friendship (2 Samuel 10:1-2). While his intentions may have been sincere, his inability to discern the political environment and make effective communications to the Ammonites led to a breakdown in diplomatic relationships (vv3-4). The Ammonites had reason to be suspicious of David. His imperial activities in Moab and Aram (2 Samuel 8:1-9), along with the events of Saul (1 Samuel 11:1-11), provided evidence for the Ammonites to suspect David of ulterior motives. The author records that David also dedicated articles to Yahweh that had been taken from the Ammonites (2 Samuel 8:12). However, Gordon suggests that this was anticipatory of chapters 10-12 as there is no mention of actions being taken against the Amonites in vv1-8.[6] While this oversight led to the continuation of David’s imperial activities in the region against the Ammonites, securing Israel in the Promised Land (2 Samuel 10:7-19), future oversights would result in David’s downfall.

The account of David and Bathsheba marks the low point in David’s moral life (2 Samuel 11). The author informs his readers that the time was spring when it was customary for kings to go to war, though this time, David himself had remained in Jerusalem (v1). This is a variation on David’s activities during war. Previously, David had to “talk his way” into a battle (1 Samuel 17:32-37). The text also gives the impression that he was present on the battle field during his rise to power, the taking of Jerusalem, and expansion of his empire (1 Samuel 27:8; 30; 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 8:1-14). Later in David’s reign, the text makes it explicit that David was present on the battle field only to have his men refuse to have his company on future campaigns (2 Samuel 21:15, 17). On this occasion, David had been fighting against the Ammonites with Joab as his proxy while he remained in Jerusalem (10:7). Only when the situation deteriorated for Israel did David join the battle (v17).

          The author records David’s abuse of power to sleep with Bethsheba. Clearly she was not pregnant at the time since she is bathing to become ritualistically clean (v4).[7] It was as a result of sleeping with David that Bathsheba fell pregnant (v5). David realises he is in the wrong and seeks to cover up the scandal by encouraging Uriah to sleep with his wife (vv6-8). Uriah’s character in the narrative is interesting as he seems to personify what David’s conscience should have been. David’s initial cover up failed since Uriah had refused to sleep with his wife because as he explained, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open fields.” (2 Samuel 11:11). Noble concerns that David had previously maintained and acted upon (2 Samuel 7:2; 8) had now been abandoned by David for lust and the taking of what is not his, while Uriah, a Hittite (vv3, 6, 17, 24), maintains those noble concerns by refusing to take what is rightfully his.

          Having his initial cover up fail, David plots to have Uriah killed in battle by giving instructions to Joab, who does not hesitate to partake in David’s murderous scheme. David’s intention in the death of Uriah was to make it look like he died in battle, while David in his alleged mercy marries the now widowed Bathsheba who was carrying his child to avoid the appearance of an adulterous relationship. Notably, there is no expression of remorse on David’s part as recorded in relation to other deaths, nor any attempt by the author to distance David from the events or justify his actions. It is these adulterous and murderous tendencies that David passed on to his sons who would later threaten David’s Kingdom (2 Samuel 13). Therefore, David’s kingdom did not prevail on account of his morality.

The account of David and Bathsheba is immediately followed up by Nathan, the prophet (2 Samuel 12). When confronted with Nathan’s parable he is unable to perceive that Nathan is about to confront him with his actions concerning Bathsheba and Uriah. This inability will later serve to jeopardise his kingdom with the uprising of Absalom (2 Samuel 14). 

          Absalom’s sister, Tamar, had been raped by Amnon (2 Samuel 13:1-22), Absalom’s half brother by Ahinoam (2 Samuel 3:2). Absalom was born of Maacah (v3). In revenge, Absalom murdered Amnon (2 Samuel 13:28-20), then fled to Geshur to escape justice (v37). However, in escaping justice, Baldwin comments that Absalom also forfeits his succession to the throne.[8] That Absalom is next in line for the throne is slightly puzzling given that Kileab is David’s second born (2 Samuel 3:3). However, there is no other mention of Kileab in Scripture except for 1 Chronicles 3:1 where he goes under the name Daniel. Nonetheless, Absalom would express his kingly aspirations later on in the narrative.

          What began as a friendly gesture by Joab to unite an estranged son back to his father developed into a political uprising which saw David flee Jerusalem. Despite the grievous act committed by Absalom, David still long after him, and Joab sought to reconcile the two men (2 Samuel 14:1ff). Gordon comments that Joab was concerned with more than the reconciliation of father and son.[9] Absalom was now David’s heir-apparent, and needed to be in a position to succeed David. Joab used the woman from Tekoa to exploit David’s weakness in having a lack of astuteness. It is possible that David recognised Absalom’s rite of succession and realised he needed to be located in Jerusalem rather than left in exile. Though Solomon was the one sworn to succeed David (1 Kings 1:13), there is no account of such a promise in 1 or 2 Samuel. Only the general promise that Yahweh would raise up David’s offspring to succeed him (2 Samuel 7:12). However, Absalom had murdered, and thus David may not have considered him to be an appropriate identity for his royal court (2 Samuel 14:24).

          Upon Absalom’s return to Jerusalem, the author informs the reader that Absalom was highly praised for his handsome features which brought him attention and popularity (v25). It is of interest to the author’s presentation that he should make comment concerning Absalom’s appearance now rather than earlier in the narrative. The only other person to be distinguished from all of Israel because of their appearance in the presentation was Saul (1 Samuel 10:23). Therefore the comment anticipates the upcoming actions of Absalom.

          After five years of dwelling in Jerusalem outside the royal court, he forces his way back into the court by providing David with an ultimatum via Joab – “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there!”‘ Now then, I want to see the king’s face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death.” (2 Samuel 14:32). While there is no recorded conversation between David and Absalom, it is apparent that David restores him fully with a kiss (v33). This placed Absalom in a position where he was able to openly pursue his kingly aspirations indicated by his acquisitions of a chariot, horses and men (1 Samuel 15:1). He then set about a propaganda campaign exploiting David’s poor administration of justice, whether alleged or actual, for the next four years (vv2-6).[10] The fact there was tension between Judah and the other tribes of Israel upon David’s return from exile may suggest there was some truth in what Absalom was claiming (2 Samuel 19:41-43). With the support of the people, he was able to claim Kingship in Hebron, including support from key personalities from David’s court (vv10-12). Such a political move forced David to flee Jerusalem for the sake of his court (v14). Such a disaster needs to be seen as a result of poor management, and unwillingness to administer justice on David’s part.

          This not only had implications for David’s court. It also had implications for the covenant that Yahweh had formed with David. David’s “everlasting throne” had apparently come to an end (2 Samuel 7:16). David rightly recognised that the covenant would benefit all of humanity. Had this cosmic promise been abandoned because of David’s mismanagement? The answer is a resounding “no” as the author demonstrates Yahweh’s preservation of David.

           Though David has lost power, there are three elements in these narratives that work together to restore David to the throne. Firstly, the actions of Hushai served to give David more time to make preparations for war (2 Samuel 17:7-13). Hushai was effectively planted by David as a spy in Absalom’s court to frustrate the plans of Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:33). Hushai did this by appealing to David’s experience and reputation as a warrior making Ahithophel’s plan appear not as well considered, and best not followed (2 Samuel 17:14).

Secondly, David had the support of key people who were able to ensure David’s success. An unnamed owner of a well was prepared to conceal David’s two informers after they had been discovered by a young man who informed Absalom (vv17-19). Support was also given to David from those outside of Israel (vv27-29). This allowed David to prepare for war against Absalom.

Thirdly, just as David did not take the removal of Saul into his own hands (1 Samuel 26:10), David now refuses to end his son’s life (2 Samuel 18:5, 12), though probably more out of fatherly compassion than reverence. Notably, when David does hear of Absalom’s death, he mourns to the point of demoralising his troops (2 Samuel 18:33 – 19:4). David only stops mourning when confronted by Joab (19:5-8). Absalom is removed from power not by the direct intervention of David, rather by the freak accident of getting caught by his head in a tree while ridding his mule, and Joab and his men disregarding David’s command by ending Absalom’s life (2 Samuel 18:9-10). Again, the author distances David from the death of his rivals, and demonstrates that David’s enthronement was due to divine election and not human initiative.

The notion that David’s return to power, and the continuation was based on Yahweh’s intervention is further emphasised by his handling of affairs of Mephibosheth and Joab. In the affair of Mephibosheth, David is unable to distinguish the truth concerning Mephibosheth’s absence from his company when fleeing Jerusalem (2 Samuel 19:24-30; cf. 16:104). David’s resolve was to issue a compromised verdict ordering both parties (Mephibosheth and Ziba) to divide Saul’s estate. Again, the promotion of Amasa into Joab’s position (19:13) may have been an attempt by David to reunify the kingdom as Amasa had led the rebel army (17:25). However, this decision would result in another tragedy with the murder of Amasa by Joab (20:10).

Despite David’s faults, one thing may be said for David – he recognised Yahweh’s sovereignty. David knew it was for Yahweh to remove Saul (1 Samuel 26:10). David “inquired of the Lord” before embarking on military campaigns (1 Samuel 23:2, 4; 30:8; 2 Samuel 2:1; 5:19, 23), and in times of national disaster (2 Samuel 21:10). David was also repented when confronted with his sin as opposed to Saul, who while confessing attempted to justify his actions (2 Samuel 12:13; cf 1 Samuel 15:13-25). However, this seems to emphasise Yahweh’s sovereign choice of David rather than any positive reflection of his character. Before forming the covenant with David, Yahweh had to inform David just how sovereign he was (2 Samuel 7:8-11).

David fulfils the author’s purposes by providing an ideal model for kingship. While David himself is far from being pure and sinless, the most important aspect of David’s reign was that he was Yahweh’s sovereign choice. It is this aspect that makes the office of kingship compatible with the identity of Israel as Yahweh’s covenant people, and provides a theology of messiahship in anticipation of the fulfilment of the Davidic Covenant which came in Christ.

Bibliography:

Ackroyd, Peter R., ‘The succession narrative (so-called)’. Interpretation  35 (1981): 383-398

Anderson, A. A.    Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, United States of America: Word, Inc. 1989.

Dillard, Raymond B. and Tremper Longman. An introduction to the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995

Dumbrell, W. J. Covenant and creation, Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984.

Gordon, Robert P. I & II Samuel: a commentary Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986 Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel. Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.

Klein, Ralph W.  Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Samuel. United States of America: Word, Inc. 1983

Seaton, John.     ‘The rise and fall of King David in the purposes of 1 & 2 Samuel’. Dissertation Exit Thesis. Presbyterian Theological Centre, 1990.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007


[1] Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel (Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 105 [2] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary (Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986), 134[3] Ralph W.  Klein, Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Samuel, (United States of America: Word, Inc. 1983),  161[4] W. J. Dumbrell, Covenant and creation, (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), 140[5] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 208

[6] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 244

[7] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 253

[8] Joyce Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 252

[9] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 266

[10] Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 270

October 23, 2007 Posted by | Biblical Theology, Essays, Old Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Problems of Israel having a King

The Problems of Israel having a King

There was nothing wrong with the idea of Israel having a king. A monarch was to be an extension of Israel’s covenant experience. Kings were promised to Abram by God (Genesis 17:6), prophesied by Jacob (Genesis 49:10) and Balaam (Numbers 24:7), given provision in the law (Deuteronomy 17:14-20), and the book of Judges ends with expectation of a king (Judges 21:25, compare Deuteronomy 12:8). However, problems with kingship arose when the elders requested a king on ill-founded reasons and motives which opposed the purposes of God for Israel.

          There were two reasons behind the request. Firstly, the priesthood and justice systems had become corrupt (1 Samuel 2:12-17; 8:3, 5), and secondly, the Philistine threat of Israel’s occupancy of the promised land (1 Samuel 4:1-11, 6:1-12). Israel knew Yahweh had fought wars for her based on his promise of land (Exodus 14:13-24; Deuteronomy 1:30; 3:21-22; 7:17-24; 31:6-8; 31:23; 32:29-30; Joshua 1:5-7, 9; Judges 1:2; 6:16; 7:9; 11:29). Israel should have known from her own experience to examine herself as a covenant nation and depend on God for a solution. Instead, the elders of the people decided the best solution to their domestic corruption and the Philistine threat would be to “…be like all the other nations, with a [human] king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20).

          However, the request opposed God’s purposes for Israel (Exodus 19:5-6), and the statutes for the king prescribed by the law (Deuteronomy (17:14-20). Like the nation of Israel, the conduct of her king was to be different from the other nations. Israel’s king was to ensure her integrity as a covenant nation.

          The request to have a king like the other nations was a rejection of theocratic rule, and would hinder Israel’s capacity to worship Yahweh. This is why Samuel gives a bleak warning of the influence their desired king will have. The appointment of a king, outside the covenant relationship, would see a man usurp the position of God, and provided an oppressive alternative to theocratic rule. Such a king would not satisfy the criteria set by the Law. Acts of worship and gifts prescribed by the law that were offered to Yahweh would now be offered to the king. People, land and tithes that would otherwise be offered to the Yahweh (Leviticus 17:2-8, 27:14-25, 27:30,32) would be taken by the king (1 Samuel 8:11-13, 15-17; 18:2). This king would accumulate wealth and resources for his own use and war campaigns (1 Samuel 8:12), and consider himself above his brothers (1 Samuel 8:17).

          Despite Israel’s rejection of Yahweh as king, Yahweh in his grace gave them a king as the elders desired (1 Samuel 8:7). Within the reign of the first king, Saul took brave men into his service (1 Samue1 15:18-21; 18:2), introduced taxes (1 Samuel 17:25), and usurped the position of God by disobeying Yahweh’s instruction and declaring what was ‘good’ (1 Samuel 15:7-9). People credited their national security to Saul and David (1 Samuel 18:7), not Yahweh. Further to this, Saul thought he deserved more credit than what was given him (1 Samuel 18:8). Later in his career, Saul’s own power drove him on a murderous pursuit of David and his associates (1 Samuel 18:10-11, 20:33, 22:16-19, 23:7-29, 26:1-4,18) illustrating the inequality that had developed between the king and the people and the king’s. All of this illustrated contempt for Yahweh and his law.

          Israel’s second monarch, David, was more of a model king than the first, recognising Yahweh’s rule through the monarch. David regarded Saul as Yahweh’s anointed (1 Samuel 24:6,10, 26:9,11,16,23), though he was anointed as king long before Saul’s death (1 Samuel 16:1,13). David’s reverence of Yahweh and his purposes lead peace and security of Israel (2 Samuel 7:1). However, even this great king did not meet the statutes prescribed by the law. David took eight wives (1 Samuel 18:27, 2 Samuel 3:2-5, 11:27) and concubines (2 Samuel 15:16), and committed adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11). Though Israel’s international crisis had been resolved, corruption was still rife in her administration. King David’s misconduct served to set bad precedents for his subordinates (2 Samuel 13:1-29) which finally lead to domestic turmoil (2 Samuel 13-15).

The solution to Israel’s domestic problems was clearly not to be found in a human monarch. David was not the one to establish Yahweh’s house. Rather, Yahweh would establish his house (2 Samuel 7:11b). Yahweh gives David a history lesson in that it was him who established the nation of Israel and made her prosper, and it was him that made David king over Israel (2 Samuel 7:6-9). As part of the history lesson, Yahweh enters into a covenant with David reciting the historic themes of a name, a place and a people, applying them to the present problem with David. This implies Yahweh was Israel’s true king, and he is the one who will resolve Israel’s domestic and international problems.

The fundamental problem was Israel repeatedly broke Yahweh’s covenant, and moved out of relationship with him. The request for a king was only a symptom of this cause. The solution Yahweh would provide was to fix (nata’  òèÇðˆ) his people into covenant relationship with himself so they could no longer break his covenant and move out of relationship (2 Samuel 7:10).

Yahweh would do this through David’s offspring, or ‘seed’ (2 Samuel 7:12). This ‘seed’ cannot have its reference restricted to any one person or entity. Rather, ‘seed’ needs to be understood in a typological sense, inclusive of Solomon, Israel represented by David’s kingly line, and Christ[1]. David’s line will continue to have a relationship with Yahweh as a son (2 Samuel 7:14, compare Exodus 4:22). This relationship is intimate as it involves the punishment of wrong doing (compare Proverbs 13:24), perhaps alluding to the exile brought on by Israel’s unfaithfulness. Even still, David’s line is assured Yahweh will not withdraw his love from them (v15).

          Even though a temple, or house is built by David’s son Solomon, this is only in anticipation of Christ who would build a bigger temple, manifesting as Yahweh’s kingdom. Christ would be worthy of building Yahweh’s kingdom because of his divine origin, and have an everlasting rule as the divine king, and resolving the broken relationship between Yahweh and humanity.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007


[1]  Delitzsch, F.   Keil, C. F.            “Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes”, Vol. 2. William B. Eerdmans. Grand Rapids, Michigan – p347

October 23, 2007 Posted by | Biblical Theology, Essays, Old Testament, Religious | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How much is too much?

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion.

  

Preparation for Prayer

Psalm 37:1-7, 16-17

 

Do not fret because of evil men

or be envious of those who do wrong;

for like the grass they will soon wither,

like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good;

dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Delight yourself in the Lord

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;

trust in him and he will do this:

He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,

the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;

do not fret when men succeed in their ways,

when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Better the little that the righteous have

than the wealth of many wicked;

for the power of the wicked will be broken,

but the Lord upholds the righteous.

Prayer

Lord, again we thank you that we can gather in your name and meet as your people. As we meet as your people, it is our desire to thank you for all you’ve done for us, to pray to and to learn from you. Lord, we want to confess to you this morning that it’s easy to get swept up in getting more and more stuff. That we see the things that other people have got, and be jealous and want what they’ve got. Help us to see the bigger picture, Lord. Help us to put our trust in you, and seek out your purposes.

In Jesus name we pray.


 

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”  

                                                     

When too much is too much!

Who would like more stuff? More music, more clothes, more jewelry, more money? If you could have more of any one thing, what would it be? I certainly would like more stuff, and I’ll put my hand up for more money any day! But is this what we should be on about as Christians?

Now, I want to get one thing right from the outset. There’s nothing wrong with having stuff. There’s nothing wrong with having money and being rich. The Bible says that God can and does bless people with riches. There are plenty of rich people in the Bible. There are also plenty of poor people in the Bible, so God doesn’t bless everyone with riches. But the point is there’s nothing wrong with having stuff. What counts is our attitude to our stuff – whether we’ve got a whole lot or just the shirt on our back.

Jesus tells a story in response to some people squabbling over wealth. The story involves a farmer who’s just had a bumper crop season. He’s got more grain then he knows what to do with! “Praise God!!!” we might say. Not this guy. He sees his bumper crop and thinks “Early retirement! YIPPEE!!!” and starts making measures where he can put his feet up, and party every night.

Again, I want to say there’s nothing wrong with putting money aside for the future. It’s a good idea! But it’s a serious problem when we put our faith, our confidence in the stuff we have and not God. You see, all that stuff is temporary. It’ll all disappear one day. And we certainly can’t take it to heaven! It’s just foolish to think having stuff will solve all our problems, and God just thinks it’s a bad joke.

This is why Jesus says we’re to be rich toward God. We’re to put our faith and confidence in him. When life gets tough, which it will from time to time, we’re to turn to God, and ask him for help. We’re to seek God’s purpose in our lives by serving people and telling them about Jesus, and not our own desires.

What, or who, are you trusting in? Do you trust in your stuff? Are you hoping to get one more thing, and then everything will be ok? I hope not, because all that stuff will disappear and not be of any use to us at all. Or do you trust in God, and in what Jesus has done for you. I hope you trust in God and are seeking out his purposes, because it’s that relationship that will last, and go on forever.

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

October 19, 2007 Posted by | Devotionals, Parables, Religious | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Publication of Devotions

For the past 5 years, I’ve been doing church services from the Spastic Centre (Allambie Heights, Sydney) on a fortnightly basis. Each time I distrbute the a print out of the passage we use and my talk. As you might imagine I have dozens of these little talks by now. They’re exactly what I hand out at the Spastic Centre, so as devotions they’re a bit rough around the edges, but I think they still have value.

Feel free to use or distribute these any way you see fit. I expect to be publishing these once a fortnight. Continue reading

October 19, 2007 Posted by | Devotionals, Religious | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Joy of the Gospel

(Romans 5:1-11)

From chapter 3 of Romans we read how God has revealed a righteousness through faith in Christ Jesus. That those who have faith in Jesus will be justified. But how do we know? Where’s the evidence as to whether or not we’re justified? It’s not like we’re given some certification to show we’ve been justified. How do we know we have peace with God? How do we know we’ve been accepted by him? Particularly when life becomes hard and outright unbearable. Does God really care? Does being a Christian count for anything? Is the gospel what it’s cracked up to be?

Romans 5:1-11 forms the introduction of chapters 5-8 on the question of assurance. Paul’s introduction addresses three issues that appear to be a threat to our justification, before moving on to other aspects of assurance. Three issues that would appear as though we haven’t been accepted by God, and says that these things actually confirm we have been justified, we have been accepted by God. Rather than being the source of doubt and despair, we are to rejoice in them.

The kind of rejoicing Paul is talking about carries with it connotations of boasting. It’s the same kind of boasting that the Jews did in the law – “You who brag about the law…” (Romans 2:23). It is the same expression used by Paul when he tells the Corinthians to boast in the Lord – “Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”” (1 Corinthians 1:31). To rejoice means to tell your friends and to base your hopes on what you’re rejoicing about

 So what are the three things which we are to rejoice about? 1) the hope of the glory of God, 2) our suffering, 3) God himself.

the hope of the glory of God

What is this glory of God? Generally it means the intentions God has for humanity. To live in proper relationship with God and in each other. In New Testament terms, the glory of God refers to the image of Christ – “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The glory of God is also synonymous with salvation. Most of us would know the famous benediction “To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24). So Paul is talking about the image of Christ that we are gradually being transformed into, and will be completed in the new creation.

Paul mentions that the glory of God is something we fall short of – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). Previously, the glory of God has been a source of grief. We can’t live up to those glorious expectations that God has intended for us. But now that we have been justified through faith in Christ, that has been reversed. We now rejoice in, and anticipate the day when we will share in the glory of God. How can we do that? Because we have been justified. So rejoice in the glory of God.

•1.     our sufferings

We are to rejoice in our sufferings. By “suffering” I think Paul is talking about those inconveniences we experience every day in a fallen world. It could include persecution for being Christian, but I think we need to understand suffering in the broadest sense. It could mean taking the second best job, general rejection from friends, or not indulging in much desired activities. Paul says we are to rejoice in these sufferings.

Why are we to rejoice in our sufferings? It’s not a popular message today. According to the world, if we find ourselves suffering we go and find someone to sue, or spend a lot of money on things that will distract us from our suffering. Why are we to be different? Paul gives us 3 reasons to rejoice in our sufferings: 1) God uses suffering to make us more like Christ, 2) we enjoy the benefits of a relationship with God now, 3) we have been saved from God’s wrath.

  • I. God uses suffering to make us more like Christ

The fact of the matter is, if you’re breathing it’s a pretty good indication that you will experience suffering. For us as Christians, the question isn’t “how do we avoid suffering?” rather, the question is, how are you, who have been justified through faith, who enjoy peace with God and are rejoicing in his glory, how are you going to respond to suffering?

Suffering will affect us one of two ways. Firstly, suffering can corrupt you. That is, you can respond in such a way that you actually become further removed from what God intends for you. We’re tempted to kick and scream demanding our rights not giving a thought to our own responsibility or consequences, not unlike those in Romans 1:28-32. “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” Not to mention how easily we forget the hope of the glory of God.

Or secondly, suffering can refine us to be more like Christ. I read in one book that suffering “…becomes the divinely orchestrated means by which God strengthens … faithful endurance and hope by pouring out his own love and Spirit to sustain or deliver them in their distress”. If we remain mindful of the glorious knowledge that you have “…been justified through faith… have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And … rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2) then the end result can only mean one thing – that you become more and more like the person of Christ, and so strengthens the hope you have of the glory of God.

This is not easy. We want respect, we want recognition, we want acceptance, and when we don’t get it the natural thing to do is demand it. Personally, I find this very challenging. There’s a few people about the place who can testify how much I can kick and scream. But Paul says no. We rejoice in our sufferings. Now this doesn’t mean you become a door mat, and let people walk over you. But it does mean you are to remember that you are justified. You have peace with God. You rejoice in the glory of God. When my bike was stolen nearly 4 years ago, friends of mine, who aren’t Christians, wanted to engage in vigilante activity in revenge.  As much as I would’ve liked that, I said no. Praise be to God, they did what I asked. Did I pursue my legal rights? Yes. Bearing in mind who I was in Christ. Therefore, when you suffer, you are to respond differently.

You are to rejoice, knowing that God has complemented you with another opportunity to grow in the image of Christ, and display his likeness as a witness, as a shameless boasting, of what Christ has done for you.

  • II. We enjoy the benefits a relationship with God now.

This growing in the image of Christ leads to a greater conviction of the hope that we have of the glory of God. However, this hope isn’t a vague distant hope. It is a hope that we experience now as Christians, and it is a hope that will not fail us. Why? Because God is the one who has initiated this hope. It is God who pours out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. How do we know that? Because it was the same love that prompted God to send his son to the cross. Ultimately our hope isn’t founded on that moment of jubilation when we first understood the gospel. Our hope isn’t founded on the number of “Christian” things we did this week. Our hope isn’t founded on how vibrant our church is. Our hope is founded on the fact that Christ died for the ungodly. Christ died for the unworthy. Christ died for you. That is why we have a hope that will not disappoint. Because it’s got nothing to do with us. It’s got everything to do with God. God’s love came to us through Christ in our present condition – while we were warring against God. Therefore we ought to have every confidence in the hope of the glory of God on the basis of what God has done in Christ, and not only persevere with our sufferings, but to rejoice in them.

  • III. We have been saved from God’s wrath

Now, when we talk about being saved, we generally mean by that we have been saved from God’s impending judgement. But Paul has another perspective of God’s judgement in mind. Paul also speaks of God’s wrath being revealed from heaven NOW (Romans 1:18). This really struck me. I don’t know about you, but, I tend to think of the wrath of God in terms of fire and brimstone in the end times. And Paul does talk about God’s wrath in the sense of final judgment – “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5). But there’s also this second sense that God is revealing his wrath now. This is a world under God’s judgment. This is a world that has been condemned by God. This is the reason behind the rampant depravity that Paul lists. God has simply given men over to their desires (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). Wicked men do what they do simply because they do not have that basis of a proper relationship with God.

To give an example of how a world under God’s wrath operates, I was reading “A Beautiful Mind” the biography of John Forbes Nash, a mathematician who studied around 1930s – 1940s. In that book, the author talks about how mathematicians tried to reduce human behaviour down to a mathematical equation. Imagine that. You’re behaviour could be determined by adding up some numbers! This is study without God. This is study without the basis of who God is, or who we are.

But we, as Christians have been saved from this. It is part of being justified. We have the revelation of God, and we have a solid basis of how we’re to relate to the world. We know human behaviour can never be reduced to maths because we are made in God’s image, and all the complexities that go with it. For us who are studying, perhaps this is something to bear in mind. It doesn’t mean you can’t trust what non-Christians say. But it does mean you always ask “Does this fit in with what I know about God?” Again, this depravity finds its way into our entertainment. I must confess I’m feeling proud of my self because I have managed to watch 2 episodes of “Swapping Spouses”. For those who don’t know, it’s a TV show involving 2 families, and the two wives of the two families live with the other family for a week.

Now, at one level, this is an interesting social experiment – to see how someone would cope in a different demographic that they’ve haven’t had exposure to. At another level, it’s outright disturbing. Someone has actually thought that meddling with people’s family life would make a good entertainment. Someone actually thought that this would be a good program to promote and make money.

And it’s not just “Swapping Spouses”, but all these reality TV programs where, from what I can see, relationships come a distant second. Where people are perceived as objects to be manipulated to win the game. How can relationships, the very thing we were made for, be reduced to this? How can such behaviour ever be commended, or even tolerated?  Because God has handed humanity over to their own desires as part of his wrath. But God has grabbed us with his might, and brought us back in relationship with himself. We now have a basis for right living, and right relationships.

Therefore, when you suffer, rejoice, because you know you have been saved from God’s wrath.

we are to rejoice in God

Finally we rejoice in God. Rather then coming to us with judgement, God comes to us with reconciliation. We no longer dread God, but we rejoice in him. It’s because of God that we can have this different perspective on suffering. It’s because of God that we have been saved from his wrath. It’s because of God we have been reconciled back to himself through Jesus. If it weren’t for God, we wouldn’t be able to rejoice in our sufferings or our salvation.

How’s your Christian walk going? Is it bubbling over with thanksgiving and joy? Or is it dry and stagnant? Do you doubt your salvation because you suffer? Do you doubt that the gospel has the power to deliver you from God’s impending judgment? REJOICE! Know for certain that if you have faith in Christ, you have been accepted and justified by God. Take pride in the gospel, and boast about it. It is sufficient to deliver you from God’s impending judgment. We have been given a wonderful gospel, a radical gospel that demands a response of joy. Let’s look at the gospel afresh. Let’s examine our lives and the way we interact with the world, and respond to the gospel rejoicing.

October 6, 2007 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stewardship – the property manager in us all!

(Acts 4:32 – 5:11)

Stewardship is one of those issues we, as Christians, don’t really discuss. So when we use the word stewardship, what do we actually mean? I looked up steward in my English dictionary, and this was one of the definitions it gave: property manager: somebody who manages the property, finances, or household of another.

That’s an interesting definition isn’t it? Have you ever consider yourself to be property manager? Someone who doesn’t own the property themselves, but they are responsible for the property as if they do own it.

Well, if we are property managers, whose property are we talking about? God’s property! And our basis for us being Genesis 2:15 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

Now whenever I read this verse, I end up with an image in my head of Adam with a garden hoe doing the weeding. I think what is being presented here is much bigger then that. Man is being put in charge of everything God has just made. Not just a little English style garden bed, but the whole creation. In 1:28, we’re given a much broader presentation of the same command, “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

This presupposes that God created humanity as responsible creatures with abilities to make decisions. It concerns me when I here people talking as though God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit does everything for them, and they expect they will do everything for them. Now, I don’t want to take from God’s sovereignty. God is all knowing, all doing, ever present. God alone is to be glorified for whatever happens. And there is a time to be patient, and wait on God. But within God’s provision, we also exercise responsibility and choice. And I believe that is one of the ways God is glorified. Through us, as humanity, being the creature he made us to be by using the responsibility he created us with, God is glorified in that.

This is why we have this command to fill the earth, and subdue it. Implicit in this command is the idea to expand Eden so it covers the whole earth. Who’s going to do that? God? No. Humanity? Yes, as property managers. Who’s going to get the glory? Humanity? No. God? Yes, because creation belongs to him, not humanity. We see an instance of humanity exercising its authority in 2:19-20 “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.”

In this, we see humanity making decisions in the naming animals. But what is more striking is God’s actions in this. God is getting humanity to be part of his own creation process. Of all the creatures God had made, humanity was the only creature to be let in on God’s affairs, and have mastery over creation as property managers. Further, this responsibility and ability to make decisions is why God is able to give us commandments and prohibitions – “And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17). This commandment again implies humanity is able to make decisions and take initiative. Humanity is able to even make decisions contrary to God’s will. Otherwise, why would we need commandments?

This brings me to my next point – the current state of our stewardship. Humanity did do what is contrary to God’s will, and as a consequence, humanity suffered. Let’s have a quick look at what happened 3:1-7:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'”

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Did you hear the sequence of deception? Allow me to paraphrase: Did God REALLY say that? He can’t have meant that! If God is all good, he must’ve meant something else. In fact, God wasn’t really serious about the consequences. God is just trying to stop me having fun and doing what I want to do. In fact, God is one big party pooper!

And so we get a fundamental shift in thinking (verse 7). We’ve moved away from thinking of how we can honour God and promote his purposes, to what’s in it for me, how can I get something out of it? This way of thinking impacts every facet of life. It impacts the way we think about family, money, work, education, sex, charity, even church. You name it!

This kind of thinking is known as sin. We are sinful, and we live in a sinful world. If you don’t believe me, watch the news. In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul gives a list of acts that come from sin: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Jesus lists a few actions himself: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:19).

As you watch the news, see how many of these acts you can find in the bulletin. It wont be hard. This activity of sin in the world impacts our stewardship. It impacts the way we manage God’s property.

This is why we have the extremely rich, and extremely poor. Why North Koreans starve, while their government makes nuclear warheads. Why we hear of sexual assaults, rape, and murder. Why politicians squabble over votes, and outrages superannuation payouts. Why we would step over a homeless person to close a business deal. If we were to think about them, we’d probably throw out some spare change on the way, and call it ‘charity’. All because there has been this fundamental shift in thinking from how can I glorify God, to what’s in it for me?

However, in Acts 4:32-37, we find something completely different. We find a community of people who turn the effects of sin on stewardship on its head. We find people who are prepared to share their possessions, and not regard them as their own.

What could possibly have such an impact on people that they’re more concerned for the community then themselves? The gospel. The gospel had a profound impact on their stewardship.

In verse 33, we read how the apostles testified to the resurrection of Christ. But they also testified with great power. This meant they didn’t go around with a watered down version of the gospel. They didn’t hold back on the details. They spoke the gospel with all its fullness, and it impacted they hearts and minds of believers.

How is it that the gospel had such an impact? The death and resurrection of Christ has changed the way we approach God and each other. We can now approach God as forgiven people, with total confidence in the sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. And the resurrection of Jesus assures us that there is much more to live and hope for. For in the resurrection of Jesus we anticipate our own resurrection and inheritance of eternal life. A life of everlasting fellowship with God. We no longer live for this life alone, but we live for the life to come. Therefore, we now live as the people of God now.

This impacted the way they regarded they’re own property. They no longer saw their own property as something that belonged to them, but they saw their property as a tool for helping the needy: “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 4:34-35).

Now, I want to pause here and ask, to what extent this passage is an example for us to follow? Are we to sell all our belongings and take a vowel of poverty? No I don’t think so. note the clause in the verse. “from time to time.” This wasn’t the norm. Rather, it was the exception. The selling of property only occurred in response to need.

However it is an example to us in terms of attitude to possessions. Luke goes on to give two case studies to illustrate that property management is an issue of attitude, not action. There is no “get holy quick scheme” to be had in charity. Case study no.1: Barnabas. He sells a field and places the money at the disciples feet, presumably for distribution. No problem. Case study No.2: Ananias and Sapphira. They did the same. But the outcome is somewhat different. They both end up dead.

What’s the difference? The difference was one of attitude. Barnabas gave out of concern for the poor. Ananias and Sapphira did it for a show. They did it for applause. The problem wasn’t that Ananias and Sapphira held some back. I’m sure if Ananias and Sapphira went to the apostles and said, “look, we want to help out, but, we need a little something for ourselves”, their wouldn’t have been a problem. But Peter’s questioning reveals the deception. Peter’s question in v4 indicates that there was nothing compelling them to sell their land and give to the apostles. They could’ve done what ever they wanted with the land for all Peter cared! In fact, we have seen from 4:34 that this was not the norm. This was the exception in response to need that aroused. If Ananias and Sapphira wanted the money, they were welcomed to it!

So for what possible reason did they sell their property and give to the apostles? It was to gain the praise of men. Their conspiracy was uncover when Peter plainly asked the now widowed Sapphira, “is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” and she answered, “Yes, that is the price.” And they buried her next to her husband.

Stewardship under the gospel is primarily not about action. It’s not about ticking boxes. I also want to add a pastoral note that self sacrifice does not necessarily equate to good stewardship either. On my way back from holidays, I stopped by a friend’s place. She is severely disabled with rheumatoid arthritis, and though she is a fully grown adult, her body is the size of a five year old. As a consequence, her body can only handle small quantities of food. She cannot sit down to a full size meal like most people. So allot of her time is taken by eating lots of small meals. She also loves the Lord dearly, and longs to serve him. However, she feels that her dietary requirements are taking up to much time that she could be spending with the Lord and other people. Her resolve has been to skip meals. This may have an adverse effect on her health and she may even die. I spoke with her about this, and encouraged her, very strongly, not to skip meals as this would be counter-productive in her service to God.

Stewardship can be a very complex matter, and prayerful consideration must come before self-sacrifice. Stewardship is about a heart felt attitude in response to eternal life that Christ has won for us. Stewardship under the gospel is a concern to honour God and promote his purposes, specifically, to promote the gospel.

As Christians we should not be preoccupied with the Genesis 3 question – “what’s in it for me, how can I get something out it?” Rather we should be asking the gospel question – “How can I honour God, and promote his gospel?” I want to close with two challenging questions:

Question 1: Do you perceive all of your possessions – material, financial, physical, intellectual – as belonging to God, and you’re just the property manager?

Question 2: Are you concerned to see the gospel being promoted? Again, I’m not suggesting that we should take a vowel of poverty, or give huge sums of money to the church; but are you prepared to use what you have, with prayerful consideration, to promote God’s gospel?

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

October 6, 2007 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Questioning Times

(Psalm 44)

As Christians we are aware of God’s many provisions. And because of Jesus we can especially testify to God’s goodness towards us. So when hardship comes our way we are at times perplexed as to why bad things happen to God’s people.

Most Christians have been there. We’ve been cruising along in our Christian lives, and without warning, disaster strikes. A debilitating illness, financial difficulties, a relationship breakdown, a major accident, they all seem to strike randomly when we are least expecting it. We all struggle to understand the reasons behind disasters. We all struggle to incorporate it into our theology, and what we understand of the Bible.

But one thing is sure, we are not alone. In they heyday of the Kingdom of Israel, the Psalmist in Psalm 44 grapples with the same question. We don’t know what the disaster was, or when it occurred, but it was a disaster of exilic proportions (v13). The greatest blessing Israel had ever received was occupancy of the Promised Land, and there was no greater disaster that could have happened to Israel then to be driven from it. Whether or not the Psalm refers to the exile is debated. Nonetheless, we’re meant to understand that this disaster posed a major problem to Israel.

The problems of understanding how the disaster could have come about begin with the identity of Israel. You see, Israel was no ordinary people! These were people that God himself had brought out of slavery. He took this people from the Egyptians which treated them like dirt, to be his treasured possession. God took this people who, in human terms, had no special purpose in life, and set them aside for his eternal purposes (Exodus 19:5-6). This involved living under God’s rule as their King. To this end, God gave them a land where this could be done (verses 1-2).

So why on earth has a disaster come on Israel if they were set aside for God’s purposes? Well, maybe because the King made cuts in the defence budget. Maybe the technology wasn’t up to date. Maybe there wasn’t enough new recruits in the reserves. But this can’t be right! The Psalmist openly recognises that though they were out there on the battle fields of Canaan, their efforts would have been futile if it weren’t for the sovereign provision of God (verses 3-8). The most formidable weapons of the day in the way of the sword, bow and arrow, don’t rate a mention in what contributed to Israel’s victories in battle (v6). It was all God! All the praise and glory arising from and victories could only be given to God.

So why the sudden role reversal? Before, it was Israel’s enemies that were on the retreat and being humiliated (verse 5, 7). Now it’s Israel’s turn. They’re the ones on the retreat. They’re the ones being humiliated (verse 10). What about their relationship with God and being a treasured possession set aside for God’s purposes? It’s as if they’ve been sold out, and God’s getting the raw end of a bad deal (verse 12). An Israelite couldn’t even walk down the street without attracting criticism, or being the butt of a joke by other people (verse 13-16). What’s happened? They might as well have been thrown into exile (verse 11).

          Well, maybe exile has got something to do with it! God did decree if Israel was not careful to observe all the regulations set out in the law, God would scatter them among the nations and into exile (Deuteronomy 28:25, 64; 30:17-18). But things don’t add up on this account either. According to the Psalmist, they had been faithful to the covenant (verse 17); they hadn’t gone off exploring alternate lifestyles (verse 18); they hadn’t forgotten God, or what he had done for them by worshipping other gods (v20). In sum, they had been faithful just as God requested them to be! There was no obvious reason as to why Israel should be suffering.

Failing to come up with a logical explanation for what has occurred, the Psalmist comes to an amazing position of faith and realises two important facts.

Firstly, the Psalmist realises that for all the confusion and suffering, in some way God will be glorified, and his purposes will be achieved (verse 22). The Apostle Paul picks up the same verse and uses it in his letter to the Romans (Romans 8:36). In this part of the letter, Paul is saying despite the most trying sufferings, we will never be cut off from fellowship with God, which is God’s ultimate purpose for each of us. God’s ultimate purpose was perhaps not known to the Psalmist. But what he did know was that the disaster was not outside of God’s control, and nothing was going to thwart God’s purposes.

Secondly, because God was in control of the situation, there was nothing they could do to remedy the disaster (verse 25). But this also meant there was every reason to petition God to reverse the situation. In verses 9-14, the personal pronoun “you” is used six times in reference to God. The Psalmist is fully aware that this was God’s doing. And if God can get them into this mess, God can get them back out of it. It’s to God alone that the Psalms looks for a resolution to the disaster. But on what basis? Because of whom they are as God’s people? No! Because the Psalmist has just offered a lavish sacrifice in the temple? No! Because it would be really neat to walk down the street without hearing someone say, “Did you hear the one about the Israelite who…”? No! God is petitioned on the basis of his great love. On the basis of his character and who he is (verse 26).

No amount of theological reflection can ease the pain and struggles that often accompany disaster. Just ask anyone caught up in the recent bombings in London. To justify suffering would seem to go beyond human wisdom. Particularly when the reasons behind a disaster elude us. However, as Christians, we have fellowship with God whose purpose it is to reconcile people to himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus. As the Apostle Paul says, “God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32).

© The Student’s Desk, 2007.

October 6, 2007 Posted by | Articles, Bible Exposition, Religious | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment