The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

A Theological Approach to Relating to People with Disabilities

This paper was presented at the “Men Meeting the Challenge Conference 2011” 3rd September, organised by “Men for Christ Ministries”.

 

The Bible does not have a simple category for people with disabilities. It does not address the issue of disabilities directly. However the Bible does recognize disadvantaged people groups. These included the poor, the sojourner, the fatherless and the widowed. These were people that were at a social and economic disadvantage in the community of Israel. So it seems appropriate to also include disability among these disadvantaged groups; and by looking at how God approached the issue of disadvantaged people we can also see how He approaches the issue of disability.

 

In Leviticus 19:9-10 (23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21) the Bible speaks of these disadvantaged people and the provision that they were to enjoy. Scripture stipulated that food crops on the edge of fields, and any crops that were dropped or left behind in the process of harvesting, were to be left for disadvantaged groups. In this we recognize that being disadvantaged was not punishment from God. Nor were people who were disadvantaged to be treated like second classes citizens. They were recognized as members of the community. Note also, this provision was not a hand out. This provision did not allow these disadvantaged groups to sit around all day and do nothing. In order to eat, and provide for their family, they were to be involved with the on-goings of the surrounding community and they were to be responsible for their actions.

For our purposes of relating to people with disabilities, it is more then simply providing for immediate needs. There is a social dynamic that needs to be considered. That is, enabling the person to exercise their God-given abilities, as small as they may be, to become an active member within their community.

 

We see a similar approach in the ministry of Jesus. Through the gospels people are reconciled not only with God, but with other people. And how people are reconciled to other people reflects how they are reconciled to God. We see this in the way Jesus engages with people. In Matthew 20:29-34 we read how Jesus was going to Jericho when he met two blind men. And in this encounter we find Jesus asking the question ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ Now us modern, task orientated people, we read that and we might think, “Get with the program, Jesus!” It’s pretty obvious what these blind men want. They want their sights restored. So why doesn’t Jesus just heal them? Why does Jesus put the question when the answer is so obvious?

The answer to this is quite simple. This is possibly the first time in their lives that these two men have been treated like human beings. The culture tells a lot about the attitudes towards people with disabilities at the time. We know that from a well of information that such people were considered to be a blemish on the fabric of the holy society and it’s little wonder that the crowd told them to “shut up”. It was an embarrassing thing for a great teacher to be pestered by two blind men. Being pestered by two men who obviously been rejected by God because of their blindness!

So I want you to notice the gravity of what is happening here. It could be the first time that someone is placing themselves at the disposal of these two blind men. And it’s not just anyone who involves themselves to these two men. Matthew describes Jesus as the One who is faithful to God. So the one who is faithful to God is making himself available to people who are perceived as not faithful to God. For Jesus, it wasn’t simply a matter of enabling these two blind men to see, but to engage with them personally. And this was a restoration of their humanity as well.

 

Again we find the same thing happening in Luke 8:40-48 where we have a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. Now this is a woman of no status in the community. And she had no right to be in a place where she could access Jesus and touch him. All this woman wanted to do was get in, get healed, and get back out undetected. But Jesus concern goes beyond this woman’s physical needs. We find Jesus asking what seems like another ridiculous question, ‘Who was it that touched me?’ Now, if I was in the crowd and I heard that, I would have been rolling on the ground laughing! It is just a ridiculous thing to ask. There were people pushing and shoving Jesus in every direction. The scene of one of chaos, and out of all this chaos Jesus wants to know who touched him? It’s a ridiculous question. So why does Jesus ask the question? Again it’s about this personal interaction. It wasn’t enough for this woman to be healed of her bleeding. She needed her humanity restored. Someone unfit to be called a daughter of Israel, Jesus calls His daughter. She is restored into a relationship with Jesus. She becomes a daughter of The King! It’s more than having needs met.

 

Again in John 5 we find Jesus encountering yet another person with a disability. And again Jesus asked the man a pretty obvious question, “Do you want to be healed?’. But the question asked brings something out of the man’s character. That he doesn’t only need healing on the outside. He actually needs healing on the inside, and this is Jesus’ real concern.  Jesus heals the man and he is well. But what he says towards the end of this account is interesting. Jesus says to him, “Sin no more that nothing worse may happened to you.” What’s he  talking about? Is he talking about sinless perfection on earth? No he is talking about entering a right relationship with Him. You see, right through the account this man has been denying Jesus. His body might be healed. His physical needs may be met, and he is walking. But he is not right with God. Jesus is concerned with seeing him right with God. And when he says ‘so nothing worse may happen to you’ Jesus is not talking about a disability. He is talking about Hell. Jesus ultimate concern for this man is that he becomes right with God. It’s more than physical. It is more than having immediate needs met. It’s relational.

 

I’ve only picked out a few examples of how Jesus interacts with disadvantage people. If we read the gospels, we find again and again, it’s more than physical, and it’s more than immediate needs. It’s personal, and it’s eternal. If we are going to minister the gospel to people with disabilities, it needs not only to be physical. It also needs to be personal, and it needs to be eternal.

 

Well, how does this work in the church? In 1 Corinthians 12:22 Paul writes this, ‘On the contrary the parts from the body that seem weaker are indispensable and those parts of the body that we think are less honorable we bestowed greater honour. Our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty”. What does that mean? It is difficult to understand this verse in English mainly because it is difficult to understand this verse in the original Greek. And different commentators have different ideas of what Paul is on about, and I’m not entirely convinced. What I am convinced of is Paul’s vision for the church at Corinth was for each of the member of the church to serve other members so they can serve. The background that Paul was writing to was one where people were showing off so they can better themselves against other people. To this Paul says ‘no!’ Instead of showing off, use your abilities to help someone else use their abilities.

So I take it in the modern context, if someone is unable to contribute to the church, I do what it takes so they can contribute to the church. This may take more time, more effort, and even more resource. This can go against our task orientated culture but we need to stop and ask what are we trying to do? Are we trying to run programs? Or are we trying to build relationships? It may not be the quickest way of doing something. It might not be the most expedient way. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are building those relationships and we are building people up, presenting them mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28).

 

By way of conclusion, I hope we can see that: firstly the relationships that we have with people with disabilities needs to be based on the relationship that God has with us – a relationship of reconciliation. And secondly I hope we can see that relating to people with disabilities is much, much more than just providing a service. It is about building relationships, serving people in the context of a relationship. Not a relationship in the context of their needs.

 

© The Student’s Desk, September 2011

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September 2, 2011 Posted by | Bible, Biblical Theology, Essays, Religious, Talks | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon on the Mount: Living life upside down

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

What does it mean to be Christian, and live a godly life? Ask around today, and you’ll get several different answers: be good, don’t do bad stuff, go to church, be tolerant and love everyone, be excusive and follow only Jesus. Who’s got the right ideas? Who’s up the garden path?

            In Jesus day, the religious leaders know what it was to be godly. At least they thought they knew. They had regulations for every aspect of their lives that they could tick off to make sure they were following God. It sounded good in theory, but it left Jesus unimpressed. Hence we come to Jesus’ ­Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon we learn that living Christian lives isn’t about ticking boxes to stay in God’s good books. It’s an ongoing process of becoming more and more like God and continually moving in the direction of holiness. It’s a sermon that turned religious protocol and expectation upside down in Jesus’ day, and if we’re honest, it does the same today. That’s why we can understand Jesus instructions to us as living life upside down. It’s a sermon that challenges our expectations of the Christian life, and stretches us to live accordingly.

 

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 32

Lord, often we don’t rejoice in the things you rejoice in, and the things we do rejoice in your often despise. Yet you have drawn us into a relationship with us, and call each one of us ‘friend”. Help us to see life from your perspective. Help us understand what Jesus taught. And help us live our lives upside-down.

In Jesus name we pray.

Living life upside-down

Read: Matthew 5:1-10 

Going by worldly standards, who would you say the lucky people are? People with money and possessions? People who have extraordinary abilities? People who are famous? People who are powerful? People with a high education? It’s these kinds of people who the world calls lucky. But Jesus comes along and turns this way of thinking upside down. Jesus says no! It’s actually the lowly people, the down-and-outers, those who are doing it tough that are lucky. And it’s not just that they are lucky, they are blessed by God. They have God’s approval. They have God’s thumbs up.

So who are these people, and how is it that the unlucky are actually lucky? Jesus gives 9 characteristics of these people and gives reasons for them being blessed. The first 4 consider how the person relates to God, and the following 5 considers how the same person relates to the world.

The poor in spirit are those who recognise their helplessness. They know they can’t compete with the fast pace of the world. As such, these people don’t live by the standards of the world. These people long for the things of heaven and not the things of the world. It is by Jesus himself that people can enjoy the things of heaven.

Those who mourn are those who know they’re not worthy of God because of they’re sin. This is a wild statement to make because in Jesus’ day, plenty of people did things to make sure they didn’t sin and therefore we’re worthy of God – or so they thought. The reality is no one can ever be good for God. What God wants is for people to understand that, and cast themselves on his mercy. Because in God’s mercy, he sent Jesus to take away our sins so we would be good enough for God. It’s not about what we can do, but what God has done.

The meek are those who don’t seek revenge for wrong done to them. Has anyone had someone do something wrong to you? Of course! We all have. And the first thing we want to do is get back at them, right? But Jesus says no! It doesn’t really matter because God owns the whole earth anyway, and can give it to who ever he pleases. Squabbling over this and that doesn’t do anyone any favours because it’s all just temporary. We stand to loose it one day. But those who long for heaven, and depend on God’s mercy, they’ll inherit the whole earth. Again it is Jesus who makes this possible.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are like those who mourn. They want to live the way God wants but they know they can’t. Despite all attempts not to sin, they keep on doing the same old thing. Jesus says that they will be filled with righteousness. This will happen because Jesus will become their righteousness. Jesus will be righteous on their behalf. So instead of depending on their selves for righteousness, where there’s none to be found for anyone, they will depend on Jesus who is righteous.

The merciful are those who don’t bare grudges – sounds a bit like the meek, doesn’t it? They have a forgiving spirit, and love those who are suffering. Jesus says that the same kind of mercy we show others is the same mercy God will show us.

Those who are pure in heart are those who are honest and want to worship God in truth – consistent with the Bible. Many people today want to make God out of what they think, and in Jesus’ day, outward appearance were all that matter. Truth was dispensable. Not so with Jesus. Truth and purity were a great priority. And it just makes sense. If our hope is in heaven, if we mourn over sin in our lives, if we’re dependent on God for mercy and righteousness, then surely we want to know God as he really is and respond to him properly. In this way, those who are pure in heart will not only know God, but they will see God.

The peacemakers are pretty straight forward. They’re the ones making peace. But it’s more than that. God is already at work in the world to bring the world back to himself. This is called reconciliation, and God is doing this through the person of Jesus. So the peacemakers aren’t just running around saying “don’t fight!” They are doing the very work of God to bring people together in a proper relationship with God and each other. As such, these people will become sons of God, as surely as Jesus is THE Son of God.

The main point to all this is we need to have our focus on God. If we think we’re someone, and we can somehow earn our way to God, and we’re somehow more important then other people, and others owe us respect, then we’ll be focussing on ourselves, and only be giving lip service to God. That’s why Jesus doesn’t call the rich, or the able body ‘lucky’, because they have no reason to look beyond themselves. But if we’ve come to that point where we know we can’t depend on ourselves, there’s every reason to look beyond ourselves and the world. It is then we realise and there’s nothing in this world worth arguing and squabbling over, like two seagulls over a potato chip. Instead, we’ll be focussed on God and his purposes. That’s what makes us blessed, because it is that relationship with God that really matters.

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

July 26, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Gospels, Religious, Sermon on the Mount | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moses: The Beginnings of Hope

The Student’s Desk fortnightly devotion 

Introduction

In this series of devotions, we take a flying overview of the story of Moses. It’s an incredible story of the way God brings about his purposes out of hopeless situations. God really is God of the impossible. A feature that should stand out to us is time. Often we expect God to fit in to our lifestyle of instant coffee and microwave dinners, and get frustrated when God doesn’t seem to be responding to our prayers. However, God’s plan for his people would span the life of Moses, and the final acts of deliverance would only be experienced by the next generation. Not only that but the story of Moses is part of a bigger picture that began 4 generations ago when God promised Abraham that he would become a father to a nation, and that nation would be God’s own people. It was a promise that would culminated in the person of Jesus, and wont be fulfilled until his return. Who knows what God has in mind for our lives, and the purposes he has for not only us, but for generations to come! The story of Moses in a microcosmic way shows us how God brings about his ways by intimately working through people in ways we would never think of. The story of Moses teaches us to be patient and wait upon God’s timing; to marvel at the way God works and to have complete confidence in him; and ultimately, look to God for our salvation.

Prayer

Basis for Prayer: Psalm 121

Lord we can look at the world sometimes, or what’s even going on in our own lives, and feel intimidated, even scared. We can feel frustrated Lord, labouring day in and day out, and not get anywhere. So it is a great comfort to know that our help comes from you. That we’ll never find you sleeping, you’re always watching over us, keeping us from destruction no matter how difficult life gets. Lord these truths are so evident in the life of your people. As we look at the story of Moses, help as to be amazed at the way you work, and to know we can have our trust in you.

In Jesus name we pray.

The beginnings of hope…

Reading: Exodus 2:1-10

Sometimes we find situations that are just hopeless. It may be an event we’ve heard on the news, or it may be circumstances in our own life. And there appears to be no way out. No matter how hard we think, and try to fix the problem, we’re stuck there. But I want us to know that God knows when we’re stuck, and he does care deeply about us. Even when it seems nothing is happening, and we’re getting frustrated, God is at work to solve our problems in ways that we would never think of.

It’s at such a time in the life of God’s people the baby Moses was born. This was around 1,500 years before Jesus. Let me paint the scene: God’s people had migrated to Egypt and had become a large number of people – there were thousands of them! The King of Egypt, Pharaoh, began to worry about how many foreigners there were in his country. He was worried that one day they’d all run-a-muck and take over Egypt. So he hatched a plan, to stop this from happening. He had all God’s people put into slavery where they were forced to do hard work. But that didn’t work because they just became more and more numerous. So Pharaoh came up with another plan that was even worse than the first. Pharaoh was going to have every new born baby boy killed by throwing them in the river. NASTY! He did this for 2 reasons: 1) so little boys couldn’t grow up to be big soldiers and fight him, and 2) so that the only men the girls could marry would be Egyptians. God’s people were in serious trouble, and they couldn’t do anything about it.

But God was at work, and miracles were happening. A baby boy was born, and his mother was able to hide him for three whole months. Can you imagine trying to hide a baby with all the noise they make??? But then she got one up on the Egyptians. She made it look like her baby was thrown into the river just like all the others, but somehow survived the ordeal. Then who else should find the baby then Pharaoh’s daughter? Uh oh! This baby is a gonner for sure! There’s no way the Pharaoh will allow his daughter to keep a foreign baby! But no. Pharaoh’s daughter had pity on the baby, and took him to be her own. The plan has worked. Pharaoh’s daughter believed the baby had been thrown in the river and gave him the name ‘Moses’.

But we haven’t heard the best part. Moses’ sister is standing at a distance watching all this happen. Now royalty never bring up their own. They always have nurses or nannies to do the job for them. So Moses’ sister goes running up to Pharaoh’s daughter and offers to get a nurse for her. Pharaoh’s daughter says, “yep, go get one!” But who does Moses’ sister get? Mum! So not only does Moses get to live, but he gets to be raised by his Mum in the Royal Court. So Moses is going to get the best education, the best food, and the best lifestyle. The only catch is, Moses’ mum can’t let anyone know who she really is. But that’s ok, because there’s a much bigger issue at stake – the rescue of God’s people. We’ll get to see how Moses’ childhood plays a big part in this in the coming weeks.

Well so far, God’s people are still stuck in slavery. They’ll be in slavery for a while yet. In fact, things are about to get a whole lot worse for them. But already we have seen God busy behind the scenes setting up something big, even though we might be wondering what baby boys have got to do with people in slavery. For this reason, we can be confident that God is at work, even though it may not look like it. So we ought to be praying to God about the things we struggle with. We ought to be patient and wait for his timing, and his purposes. Because whatever God has in mind will be far better than what we could ever imagine!

© The Student’s Desk, 2008.

February 9, 2008 Posted by | Bible, Bible Exposition, Devotionals, Moses, Old Testament | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beliefs Page

Page added – Beliefs

Here I outline concisely what my core beliefs are as a Christian so visitors may know the theological framework for my papers.

February 6, 2008 Posted by | Religious, Site News, Theology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Religious Vilification in Australia

Synopsis:

The following essay addresses the issues of religious tolerance in Australia. It briefly explores the ethical theory that makes religious pluralism and multiculturalism possible before rejecting this theory for its incompatibility with Christianity. An alternate ethical approach is then developed based on the Bible exploring Old and New Testament attitudes to alternate belief systems, and their theology behind them. It is found that the Old Testament had little tolerance toward alternate belief systems, while the New Testament was more tolerant, though not within the church. The reasons given for this are the identity and mission of Israel, and the theological changes that occurred with Israel being personified in Christ. On the basis of these theological changes, there is now no biblical basis for the suppression of other belief systems, yet still recognises the need to limit religious freedom, though finding a basis for such demands without a Christian framework may prove difficult.
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Australia is recognised as a country with ethnic and cultural diversity with no state religion.[1] This implies that within Australian society there is representation of a large variety of beliefs and religions. As such, civil values include the ‘respect for the equal worth, dignity and freedom of the individual’ and ‘freedom of religion and secular government’.[2] That is, Australians are able to choose to practice any religion of their choice, or none at all, and not to harbour intolerant attitudes to other religious groups. Australians are also to share equality under the law regardless of ethnicity, culture, religion or political background.[3]  Such civic values pose interesting questions for those who believe the Bible as the authoritative word breathed by God, and wish to advance Christian beliefs and values. Issues of maintaining the exclusive claims of the Bible and advancing Christian beliefs in a multicultural and pluralistic society come with difficulties. While falsehood is a concern for those who are zealous for their beliefs, fairness between religious groups also needs to be maintained so that one group does is not subjected to vilification by another, or one group is shown favouritism over another. The underlying issue is in such a pluralist society is one of truth. Religious intolerance would restrict the advancement of falsehood, although this would also imply the advancement of Christian beliefs and values would need to be forfeited. Religious toleration would not restrict the advancement of falsehood, although presumably, Christians would share equal opportunity to advance their belief and values. Hence a tension exists between the claims of the Bible, and the rights of an individual. In order to establish an ethical response from a biblical perspective, the Bible’s attitude toward other religions in both the Old and New Testaments needs to be considered. However, it is also necessary to consider the ethical theory which has developed the contemporary values of Australian society.

The ethical theory which multiculturalism and pluralism have come from is most likely situation ethics as many of the features are consistent. Joseph Fletcher developed the theory in response to the failures of legalism and antinomianism.[4] The principles of this ethical theory are: 1) pragmatism – the criteria for discerning right answer is love. This principle is recognised in the representation of tolerance between belief systems. 2) relativism – the avoidance of absolute statements. This can be clearly seen in with religious toleration as it does not recognise any one group of having the truth in any absolute sense. 3) Positivism – that a person comes to faith through the exercise of reason or free will. 4) Personalism – the benefit for people is prioritised.[5] It is these measures which allow differing religions to co-exist. Such an ethical theory presents difficulties for Christianity. To be able to resolve these difficulties, a biblical ethic needs to be developed.

According to Song, The Christian church historically has not been tolerant of other belief systems. He cites Augustine arguing for the ‘use of coercion for the sake of the salvation of souls’; Thomas Aquinas arguing that the of ‘rites unbelievers and Jews should not to be tolerated’, and that heretics should be ‘constrained both for their own sake and the protection of others’; and John Calvin maintaining that part of the purpose of civil authority ‘included the protection of the outward worship of God and the defence of sound doctrine and the standing of the church’.[6] John Stott also mentions briefly the atrocities committed in the Spanish Inquisition as an indication of the intolerance that has occurred historically.[7] The commands in the Old Testament for the destruction of the Canaanites and their religion (Exodus 23:23-24; 19:1; Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 31:3-5) have been used in the middle ages to justify such intolerant positions.[8]

However, to use a deductive method to apply Scripture to the contemporary context has serious faults. Such methods do not give consideration to the context in which the Scripture was written, thus allowing the Scripture to be applied any way the reader sees fit; and neither does it give consideration to the contemporary context where the Scriptural and contemporary contexts can be compared and contrasted. Rather, before Scripture can be applied and thus deducing an ethic, a biblical theology of the Old Testament followed by the New Testament, through which the Old Testament is to be understood, must be developed.

To understand the purpose of the commands to destroy the Canaanites and their religion, consideration must be given to God’s relationship to the world, and Israel’s role in that relationship. The Bible asserts first and foremost that there is one God who made the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). This allows for ethical simplicity in that humanity is not answerable to competing authorities, thereby causing confusion. Rather, there is one God to whom humanity must give an account (Genesis 9:5; Psalm 33:13-15; Proverbs 5:20). Secondly, the world has fallen into sin through the rebellion of humanity (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 8:21). Instead of destroying what had been spoilt through sin, God chose to redeem creation (Genesis 3:15; Romans 8:23). It is the second point that is most crucial, as it is within this that the program of redemption of Israel and God’s commands to Israel are to be understood. Israel was raised by God out of slavery in Egypt in fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant, and would become the people in the land as a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:1-3). The way Israel would fulfil the Abrahamic Covenant was through her identity and moral obligations (Exodus 19:4-6). As a kingdom of priests, the entire nation of Israel assumed a mediatory role between God and the nations. It would be through Israel that the nations would come to know God and come to God. This implicated Israel’s moral obligation as a holy nation. In order to fulfil her mission as a kingdom of priests, Israel had to remain distinct from the other nations. This had implications for not only Israel’s religion, it also had implications for every aspect of her nationality. Israel’s distinctiveness ought to be attributed to her mission rather then her race. It would be through Israel’s nationality and relationship to the other nation that God would be revealed.

If the nation of Israel was to be a blessing to all nations, it seems contradictory that God should command Israel to destroy the Canaanites. However, Wright asserts that God’s blessing in eschatological terms and “… does not eliminate his prerogative to act in judgement on particular nations…”[9] Similarly, the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants did not prevent God from taking against future generations of Israelites in judgement. In fact, the destruction of the Canaanites was consistent with Israel’s mission. The purpose of God exercising judgement was that the God would be known (Ps 9:16; 59:13; 83:16-18; Isaiah 26:9; Ezekiel 11:10-12; 12:16), and making God known was part of Israel’s priestly office. The Canaanite nations and their religions contravened the first principle of biblical ethics by denying their accountability to God by worshipping a plurality of god’s which is inconsistent with the assertion of Scripture. This needed to be demonstrated historically. It should also be noted that it was not only the Canaanites who were liable to such judgment. In similarly manner, those within Israel who worshipped other gods were judged (Deuteronomy 13), and should the nation as a whole disobeyed the decrees set by God, they would be ‘vomited’ from the land as the Canaanites were (Leviticus 18:24-29). At the very least, these commands are not to be thought of as ‘racist’ or a basis for religious bigotry. Rather, they should be perceived as having their primary concern in the revelation of God.

However, despite the biblical-theological framework given for the Old Testament, these commands can not be directly applied to modern pluralism and multiculturalism for two reasons. Firstly, these commands were directed against a particular people group, and lack application to any other people group. The most likely reason for this is the destruction of the Canaanites had been anticipated from the days of Abraham for their sin (Genesis 15:16 [referred to as Amorites]). Secondly, in the course of redemptive history there has been a shift in the definition of the people of God and the locality of Divine revelation. While Israel defined the people and the locality of the revelation of God in the Old Testament, they failed in their mission through sin and rebellion (Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:20-21). It was only when Israel was personified in Christ that the identity and mission was fulfilled. Therefore, the people of God and the locality of the revelation of God is no longer political or national, rather they have been personified in Christ. It is Christ who has become the blessing to all nations, and not a political initiative. For this reason, Jesus refrained from political activity (John 6:15) and separatism (Luke 15:1-2; Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 5:25-34), taught extensively that the Kingdom of God is not what people expected (Matthew 13:1-52), and that it is not of this world (John 18:36). However, Christ did make political comments (Mark 12:14-17; John 19:11). Instead, he advanced his kingdom through preaching and teaching (Mark 1:38).

This shift in the definition of the people of God and the locality of Divine revelation influence the New Testament church. Nowhere in the New Testament is the church found to be lobbying political pressure, or suppressing a people group or belief system outside their own. While it needs to be acknowledged that the first century Roman Empire did not allow for such political lobbying, and the church’s numbers were small in comparison, the theological reasons based on the person of Christ cannot be overlooked. The result in influence was different belief systems became an opportunity to explain the gospel (Acts 17:16-34), and while partaking in sacrifices offered to idols is forbidden, eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol then sold at market is left to a question of conscious (1 Corinthians 10:18-33). Therefore, a greater extent of tolerance is present in the New Testament.

However, this new founded permissiveness does not allow for theological ambiguity. The Old Testament’s concern for the people of God was for their purity of life and doctrine, and the New Testament share’s the same concern. Throughout the New Testament, reprimands can be found against those who live impurely (1 Corinthians 5; James 3:5-12), and those who would introduce false doctrine into the church (Galatians 5:1-12). Leaders of the church are also told to guard their doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3; Titus 2:1). Such instruction is not extended to those outside the church.

The fact that these instructions do not extend to those outside the church does not deny the relevance of the gospel to them or the impending judgement against them. However, it is no longer the prerogative of the people of God to enforce this judgement as it was in the Old Testament (1 Corinthians 4:5). It is now Christ’s prerogative to execute God’s judgement (Matthew 3:12; 25:31-34).

Considering that the Old Testament expectations have been fulfilled in the person of Christ, who now is the only one who has the prerogative to execute God’s judgement, there is no biblical basis for justifying religious intolerance against non-Christian groups. Anti-vilification laws for religion should be understood as compatible with the Christian ethos, not because of the legitimacy of other belief systems, rather, because of the limitation of jurisdiction of the church. Instead, the church ought to focus its attention to its own purity of life and doctrine. Yet, this does not mean the church ought to be isolationist in its attitude since the New Testament church was involved with welfare (Acts 6:1-6). Apart from this, it is very difficult to deduce from Scripture how rights to religious expression are to be limited. Clearly the church can not indorse such practices as murder, mutilation or infant molesting. Yet without a Christian basis it is difficult to refute such practices. In Australia, such practices have been outlawed, so there is a basis for agreeing what is ethical. However, there are issues, such as homosexuality, on which there is no agreement in law. In these situations, the New Testament church simply aimed to persuade people’s opinion through appeal (Acts 17:16-34; 1 Thessalonians 1:3). While there are difficulties in such a method, this is perhaps the best way the Christians can advance their beliefs and values, while maintaining the dignity and respect for others.

Bibliography:

 

Adam, P. H. J.                   ‘Jesus’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

                                          Becoming an Australian citizen. Commonwealth of Australia, 2007.

Cook, E. D.                       ‘Pluralism’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Cook, E. D.                       ‘Situation Ethics’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Hill, Michael.                      The how and why of love: an introduction to evangelical ethics. Kingsford, Australia, Matthias Press, 2002.

Sherlock, C. H.                  ‘Holy war’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Song, R  J.                         ‘Religious Toleration’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Stott, John.                         New issues facing Christians today. London, Great Britain: HarperCollinPublishers, 1999.

Vardy, Peter and Paul Groesch, The Puzzle of Ethics. London, Great Britain: Fount, 1994.

Wright, Christopher J. H.    ‘Old Testament Ethics’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995.

Wright, Christopher J. H.    Old Testament ethics for the people of God (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004.

© The Student’s Desk


[1] Becoming an Australian citizen (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007), 1, 5.[2] Becoming an Australian citizen, 5.[3] Becoming an Australian citizen, 6.[4] E. D. Cook, ‘Situation Ethics’, in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. (Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995), 794.

[5] Peter Vardy and Paul Groesch, The Puzzle of Ethics (London, Great Britain: Fount, 1994), 125-126.

[6] R  J. Song, ‘Religious Toleration’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. (Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995), 851.

[7] John Stott, New issues facing Christians today (London, Great Britain: HarperCollinPublishers, 1999), 55.

[8] C. H. Sherlock, ‘Holy war’ in Dictionary of Christian ethics and pastoral theology. Edited by David J. Atkinson and David H. Field. (Downers Grove, Illinos: InterVasity Press, 1995), 448.

[9] Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament ethics for the people of God (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004), 473.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | Essays, Ethics, Religious | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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.

—– 

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