Sunday Meditation – Bring Them All In

Here you may suppose the Father to say, when driving his bargain with Christ for you:

Father: My son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them: What shall be done for these souls?

Son: O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shalt thou require it. I will rather choose to suffer thy wrath than they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.

Father: But, my Son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare thee.

Son: Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it: and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, (for so indeed it did, 2 Cor. 8: 9. “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor”) yet I am content to undertake it.

Blush, ungrateful believers, O let shame cover your faces; judge in yourselves now, has Christ deserved that you should stand with him for trifles, that you should shrink at a few petty difficulties, and complain, this is hard, and that is harsh? O if you knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in this his wonderful condescension for you, you could not do it.

John Flavel

The “Legalism” of Second Temple Judaism

What did Jewish people living during Second Temple Judaism believe about salvation? The New Perspective on Paul argues that Protestants have read the beliefs of Roman Catholicism back into the Judaism of the New Testament. Rather than trying to understand the beliefs of Jewish people on their own terms, the New Perspective believes that we have badly misread the original sources on early Judaism. Are Protestants correct that Roman Catholicism is repeating the errors of Second Temple Judaism in denying that we are saved by grace alone? Remember, the Reformation was never about the necessity of God’s grace for salvation, something both sides agreed on, but the sufficiency of his grace to save without human merit. Let’s briefly examine the original sources to see what they say.

One of the reasons Protestants have read first century Judaism as they have is because Roman Catholicism draws from Jewish apocryphal writings to establish their beliefs about salvation. Ecclesiasticus or Sirach 3:3 (not Ecclesiastes!) says, “Whoever honors his father atones for sin.” Ecclesiasticus 3:30 says, “Water extinguishes a blazing fire: so almsgiving atones for sin.” Wisdom 6:18 declares concerning Wisdom, “And love of her is the keeping of her laws, and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality.” Tobit 12:9 is quoted often to support the belief in indulgences: “For almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin. Those who perform deeds of charity and of righteousness will have fulness of life.” 2 Maccabees 7:9 recounts the story of Jewish martyrs who based their assurance of salvation on their martyrdom: “And when he was at his last breath, he said, ‘You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.'” 2 Maccabees 12:45 says that we can make atonement for the dead: “But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”

N. T. Wright has mocked the idea that Second Temple Jews were a kind of “proto-Pelagians” trying to earn salvation by pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. But Psalms of Solomon 9:7 sounds rather “Pelagian” to me: “Our works are subject to our own choice and power. To do right or wrong [is] in the works of our hands.” The Apocalypse of Zephaniah 3:5-7 states that our names are written in the book of life based on our good works: “I said, ‘O Angel who are these?’ He said, ‘These are the angels of the Lord Almighty. They write down all the good deeds of the righteous upon their manuscript as they watch at the gate of heaven. And I take them from their hands and bring them up before the Lord Almighty; he writes their names in the Book of the Living.” 2 Baruch 51:7 speaks of those who are, “Saved because of their works and for whom the Law is now a hope.” 4 Ezra 9:7-8 sounds rather “Catholic” when it says that we are saved by both faith and works: “And it shall be that everyone who will be saved and will be able to escape on account of his works, or on account of the faith by which he has believed . . . will see my salvation in my land.”

The writings of the Qumran community as revealed in the Dead Sea Scrolls reflect the common Jewish belief that sins can be atoned for apart from the shedding of blood. In 1QS 3:8 we read, “And by the spirit of uprightness and of humility his sin is atoned. And by the compliance of his soul with all the laws of God his flesh is cleansed by being sprinkled with cleansing waters.” With the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., modern Jews, together with Muslims, argue that God can forgive sin without his justice and wrath being satisfied against the sinner. But as Christians we know that there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood (Heb 9:22). God’s justice must be satisfied for him to be a righteous judge (Prov 17:15; Rom 3:24-26; 4:5). As for whether the New Testament views Judaism as “legalistic,” Paul answers that question in Romans 10:3: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.” I have also written on what Paul means when he speaks of “works of the law,” selections from the church fathers on justification, and Martin Luther on justification.

Sunday Meditation – Our Lasting Happiness

“When we do not trust in God we are trusting in ourselves, and we cannot experience victory in our own strength. We need to trust in God for a constant supply. The reason why God’s children fail so, in times of trouble, is because they do not trust God for new supplies of grace. We cannot perform new duties, and undergo new sufferings, with old graces. Our soul is weak in itself. It needs something to rely upon as a weak plant that needs a support. David was in temptation, afflictions, and discouragements. Satan was tempting, and his corruptions boiling. God had withdrawn his sense of love, leaving David for a while to himself. . . . So God’s children, when they are in trouble, can recover and comfort themselves by trusting and relying on God in their extremities.”

“It is our happiness to seek God. The nearer something is to the principle of something, the better off it is. Nearer to the sun, the more light; nearer the fire, the more heat; nearer to goodness, the more good; nearer to happiness, the more happiness. Therefore it must be the greatest happiness to draw near to God. God is everywhere with his presence, power, and providence, but there is a special gracious presence of God in the hearts of his children. There is a gracious nearness when the Spirit of God sweetly enlarges, comforts, supports, and strengthens his children. Like Mary we should choose the better part. As we love God we desire still further communion with him. We must beg the Spirit to set this upon our souls when other things lead us contrary. Let us labor to be convinced of the excellence of spiritual things.”

Richard Sibbes

Were the Earliest Israelites Monotheists or Monolatrists?

Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God. Christians are trinitarian monotheists who believe that the one true God exists eternally as three distinct coeternal and coequal persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who share equally the attributes of God or one divine nature. But there is another term known as monolatrism or monolatry which describes a belief in many gods while only worshiping one. Monolatrism is a form of polytheism, but what distinguishes monolatrism from traditional polytheism is that monolatrists only profess to worship one god while still believing that many gods exist.

Liberal Old Testament scholars such as Julius Wellhausen proposed that the earliest Jews were not actually monotheists, but monolatrists and that monotheism is a relatively late belief in Judaism which evolved from monolatrism which in turn evolved from traditional polytheism. This evolutionary view, a product of viewing all religions through the lense of the theory of evolution, is still dominant in secular scholarship. The belief that the earliest Israelites were monolatrists is used as an argument against the existence of the one true God of the Bible since he cannot be real if he evolved from paganism. They also argue that the origins of the Old Testament are pagan because the authors of the Pentateuch borrowed from the nonhistorical myths and stories of the nations around them. This argument is also used by those who believe in a “wider hope” who argue that polytheist members of other religions can possibly be saved because the early Israelites were saved despite their belief in polytheism.

A key verse that disproves the thesis of monotheism evolving from monolatrism is Exodus 15:11: “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” Exodus 15 is relevant to the question of what the early Israelites believed about God because it is considered by Old Testament scholars to be one of the earliest passages in the Hebrew Bible. The poetic language uses archaic expanded forms of Hebrew words in comparison to later shortened ones. The spelling of Hebrew words is one way scholars determine the date of a particular passage of Scripture. For example, the shorter spelling of David’s name is characteristic of older portions of the Hebrew Bible whereas the longer spelling signifies passages written at a later date. Brevard S. Child writes in his commentary on Exodus 15 that, “the tenses function in a way more closely analogous to Ugaritic poetry than to ordinary Hebrew poetry. The sequence of affixed and prefixed verbal forms is characteristic of the early Canaanite epic style” and that there is, “an impressive case for an early dating of the poem, particularly the tense stem and orthography.”

A liberal scholar might interpret this verse to mean that the Israelites believed that the gods of Egypt were real, but Yahweh was superior to them. Peter Enns, before his complete apostasy, says in his commentary on Exodus: “We should not read into this passage later idol polemics, such as we find in Isa 44:6-20, into Exodus 15:11 or 20:3. The passage in Isaiah (and other prophets) reflects a more mature time in Israel’s understanding of who God is, that there truly are no other gods.” But does a careful reading of the text support his thesis?

Exodus 15:11 is a monotheistic statement because the same exact language is used in portions of Scripture which even liberal scholars agree are monotheistic such as Psalm 35:10; 71:19; 113:5; Isaiah 44:7; and Jeremiah 49:19. It is an example of what is known as “an explicit incomparability formula” which is composed of the interrogative pronoun min “who?” followed by the preposition kaf “like.” The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament defines this formula as, “Expressing the incomparability of Yahweh. The question, which implies a negative answer, presupposes an individual’s realization that the ‘side-glance’ at something comparable, generally possible under all circumstances, is impossible here.”

If the Israelites believed that the gods of Egypt were real, they never could have said to Yahweh, “Who is like you?” If the Israelites were monolatrists, then one of the Israelites could have responded by saying that the gods of Egypt were like Yahweh in at least some sense since they truly did exist and therefore a comparison could be made even if Yahweh is far superior to them. The divine incomparability formula presupposes that none can be compared to Yahweh because even the possibility of the slightest comparison with him is viewed as impossible. If an Egyptian had said, “Who is like the sun god Ra?,” the Egyptians would have responded by saying that there were, in fact, many like Ra since many other gods exist even if they are lesser than him. Only a monotheistic worldview can account for divine incomparability statements. Monolatrists could never say to their god, “Who is like you?” since such a question would be absurd because many other gods do exist and thus a comparison could be made, even if it is a weak one.

The Israelites knew that the gods of Egypt had no real existence because God had clearly demonstrated this truth by means of the plagues which served as polemics against specific Egyptian gods. Each plague corresponds to a unique god of the Egyptians and demonstrates the powerlessness of their idols. The second to last plague, darkness, for example, corresponds with the Egyptian sun god Ra who was regarded as the most powerful of their deities. The plagues are the fulfillment of God’s promise in Exodus 9:14: “For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth” and Exodus 8:10: “Be it as you say, so that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God.”

A similar verse is Psalm 86:8: “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.” This verse, if taken by itself, could be interpreted as a monolatrist statement where the author believes that the “gods” have a real existence. But then verse 10 says, “You alone are God,” an unmistakably monotheistic statement. When Scripture speaks of “gods,” it does so in derision mocking the worship of false idols made by human hands. An example of this is Psalm 96:4-5: “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.” By identifying these gods as idols, the Psalmist is not saying God is quantitatively better than lesser gods, but qualitatively better than idols which have no real existence.

Sunday Meditation – Fullness of Joy and Sorrow

“He who was the object of eternal praises was, out of love for us, reviled and slandered as a drunkard, a glutton, a blasphemer, a mad-man, and possessed with the devil. He in whose presence was fullness of joy, was for the love of us, willing to become ‘a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.’ This love made God willing to be made a curse, to be sold as a slave, and the Lord of life to die a base, accursed, and cruel death. There was no sorrow like your sorrow, no love like your love. Was it not enough, dearest Saviour, that you were willing to pray, and sigh, and weep for us perishing wretches? Will you also bleed and die for us? Was it not enough that you were hated, slandered, blasphemed, buffeted, but you were also scourged, nailed, wounded, and crucified? Was it not enough to feel the cruelty of man? Would you also undergo the wrath of God? Was it not enough to die once, but to also taste the second death and suffer the pins of death in body and soul? O the transcendent love of Christ! Heaven and earth are astonished at it. What tongue can express it? What heart can conceive it? The tongues, the thoughts of men and angels are far below it. O the height and depth and breadth and length of the love of Christ! Our thoughts are swallowed up in this depth, and there we must be content till glory shall enable us to have no other employment but to praise, admire, and adore this love of Christ.”

David Clarkson

The Amazing Messianic Prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27

Did you know the Old Testament predicts the exact year when the Messiah would die? This incredible prophecy is found in Daniel 9:24-27:

“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”

While this passage can be confusing, I will demonstrate how it foretells the date of the Messiah’s death and then explain how I arrived at my conclusion. Here is the math (who said math isn’t relevant?):

(7 weeks)(7 days in a week) + (62 weeks)(7 days in a week) = 483 days (one day = one prophetic year) = 483 years.

483 years X 360 days in the Persian calendar (the one used at the time of this prophecy) = 173,880 days.

173,880 days / 365.25 days in a modern calendar = 476 years in a modern calendar.

444 BC is the year King Artaxerxes I of Persia sends Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1 says it was in his 20th year and Artaxerxes I reigned from 465 to 424 so 444 BC would be the 20th year of his reign using the ascension year system of dating).

444 BC – 476 years = 32 AD + 1 year because there is no year zero going from BC to AD = 33 AD (the year of Christ’s crucifixion, “an anointed one shall be cut off”).

Now that I have outlined the math, I will explain how I arrived at my conclusion. We can calculate the date of the Messiah’s death by subtracting the date of “the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem” (444 BC according to Nehemiah 2:1) by the amount of time that Daniel gives. To get this number, we add 7 weeks to 62 weeks to get 69 weeks. Sixty-nine weeks is 483 days. Each day represents one prophetic year (other examples include Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:5-6 where a day represents a year). But these are years in the 360-day Persian calendar since Daniel lived in Persia when this prophecy was given and not the modern 365.25 days in a year one. Therefore we must convert it from 483 years to the more accurate 476 years. And 444 BC minus 476 years is 33 AD since there is no year zero. The ministry of Christ was three and a half years before his death and the second half of the 70th week is the church age which is symbolically referred to as three and a half years (Rev 11:2-3, 9, 11; 12:6; 13:5). If Christ was crucified on April 3, 33 AD, then 173,880 days before that is March 13, 444 BC which is in the month of Nisan as Nehemiah 2:1 says.

You can do the math yourself here.

Sunday Meditation – Soul Satisfaction

“There is no earthly portion which can suit an immortal soul; he is a fool upon record who said, ‘Soul, you have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry,’ Luke 12:18-20. If the man had the soul of a swine, what more could he have said? for those things were more suitable to swine than they were to an immortal soul! Man’s soul is a spiritual and immortal substance, it is capable of union and communion with God; it is capable of a choice enjoyment of God here, and of an eternal fruition of God hereafter.”

“Nothing can suit the soul below God; nor can anything satisfy the soul without God. The soul is so high and so noble a piece, that all the riches of the east and west Indies, nor rocks of diamonds, nor mountains of gold can fill it, or satisfy it, or suit it! When a man is in prison, and condemned to die, if one should come to him, and tell him that there is such a friend or relation that has left him a very fair estate, this would not please him or cause him joy, because it does not suit his present condition.  O but now, let a man bring him his pardon, sealed under his princes’ hand, how will this delight him ad cause him to rejoice! The highest good is that which is the most suited to do good to the soul.  God is thus the most excellent portion suitable to the soul.”

Thomas Brooks