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Jesu, Juva

Sitting on a donkey

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On Palm Sunday, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey.

We might argue that this is a symbolic mark of Israel’s kingship going back to Deuteronomy 17; although the king is not forbidden to ride horses, he is forbidden to multiply them. Several of the judges as proto-kings are noted for their sons who ride on donkeys. By this reasoning, the men who ride mules (David, Absalom, Solomon), which are donkey–horse hybrids, are symbolically pushing the boundaries of God’s law as they are known to have explicitly done in other ways (David with his wives, and Solomon with his wives, horses, and gold).

Both Matthew and John tell us that Jesus is fulfilling Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

But it is interesting that throughout chapter 9, Zechariah is referring to specific nations around Israel. This leads us to wonder if there is a proximate fulfillment of this prophecy that came before Jesus’s ultimate fulfillment. Very much of Biblical prophecy follows this pattern: a near fulfillment confirms God’s word, and a far fulfillment in Jesus completes the promise. Even in Jesus there are often ways that we say prophecies have been partly fulfilled already, although they are not yet completely fulfilled.

So, we recognize that Solomon was indeed the first promised son of David, but he fell short of the full promise, and Jesus is the greater and true son of David. Likewise, it is no contradiction whatsoever to recognize that Jeremiah was likely the first suffering servant, and yet Jesus was the true suffering servant, the greater Jeremiah. Ezekiel was the first son of man, but Jesus is the greater and truest son of man. Ezra and Nehemiah inaugurate a new covenant (sponsored by Cyrus whom God calls his messiah in Isaiah 45:1) in fulfillment of Jeremiah 31, and yet Jesus the greater Cyrus inaugurates the new covenant.

In his teaching, Calvin recognized that most of Zechariah 9 referred to post exilic Israel, but he seems to view verses 9–10 as a parenthesis looking forward to Jesus. However, by thinking in terms of proximate and ultimate fulfillment, we may be able to read verses 9–10 as part of a whole. The beauty of this approach is that we no longer have to limit our applying this passage to Jesus to these two verses.

Peter Leithart proposes an overall proximate fulfillment of Zechariah 9–14 as follows:

  • Zech 9:1–10 = Alexander the Great’s invasion of Israel
  • Zech 9:11–10:12 = battles between faithful Jews and Hellenizing Jews
  • Zech 11:1–3 = the fall of the Hasmonian dynasty
  • Zech 11:4–14 = the Jews’ rejection of Jesus
  • Zech 11:15–17 = the Jews’ being given over to false shepherds
  • Zech 12:1–19 = first Roman siege
  • Zech 12:10–13:6 = conversion of many Jews
  • Zech 13:7–9 = Christians flee Jerusalem, Romans devastate Judea
  • Zech 14 = fall of Jerusalem, establishment of church as New Jerusalem

In this reading, Alexander is the proximate king who comes riding a donkey. Although we have no other evidence that Alexander actually rode a donkey, Andrew Wilson cites Josephus in noting that Alexander was made quite conscious of his fulfilling Biblical prophecy.

So if Jesus is the greater Alexander, what else can we say about him beyond his bringing peace with his worldwide rule? Well, for one, as God’s people gather to the stronghold of the New Jerusalem, God restores to us double.

Restoring double reminds us of Job and his double restoration (Job 42). First and foremost, Jesus himself as the greater Job receives a double restoration of both Jew and Gentile in his resurrection (we are “his offspring” referred to in Isaiah 53). Double portion also refers everywhere to the inheritance of the firstborn; a key example of that is Elisha’s receiving a double portion, the firstborn’s portion, of Elijah’s spirit. Like Elisha, the church receives the firstborn’s double portion of Jesus’s Spirit. Receiving a double portion is itself a sure and encouraging proof of our adoption as sons, which God first announced in Jesus’s resurrection and in our baptism.

Rejoice greatly and shout aloud!

Written by Scott Moonen

April 9, 2020 at 9:15 am

His name

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Many commentators recognize that Moses organized Deuteronomy 6–26 as a sort of sermon elaborating on each of the ten commandments in sequence. Some of the parallels are quite striking and fruitful.

James Jordan aligns the third commandment with Deuteronomy 14:1–14:21a. Most of this has to do with eating, which is very interesting given what we know from Peter’s vision in Acts 10. This suggests that we positively honor the third commandment when we break bread with and generally welcome fellow believers (i.e., “discern the body”), and we violate it when we shun or persecute fellow believers (as in Galatians 2) or partake of the table of demons (1 Cor 10).

In other words, honoring God’s name is directly connected to honoring the people on whom he has set his name. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”

See also: Delight

Written by Scott Moonen

April 6, 2020 at 4:33 pm

Posted in Biblical Theology

Grace

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Ben Virgo: How would you tease out Paul’s command to Timothy to be strong in the grace that is in our Lord Jesus Christ? The reason I ask is I think we tend to treat grace almost like a safety net in our time. And there’s grace if you fail, you know. But essentially, we don’t know about being strong in his grace. When you hear the gospel, and when you get it, when it strikes you, you realize it’s all grace. . . .

Peter Leithart: When we’re talking about grace, we’re not talking about something that’s somehow distant from or abstracted from the presence of the Spirit with us. But rather it’s the Spirit at work in us, and the Spirit is the spirit of Jesus; he’s a person of the trinity, who guides, leads, speaks, is grieved, and so on. So when you start thinking about the phrase you mentioned, be strong in grace, it’s talking about being filled with the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Christian Heritage London

Written by Scott Moonen

April 6, 2020 at 4:01 pm

Posted in Quotations

Sharper

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“I mean this,” said Dimble in answer to the question she had not asked. “If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family—anything you like—at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder. Like in the poem about Heaven and Hell eating into merry Middle Earth from opposite sides… how does it go? Something about ‘eat every day’… ‘till all is somethinged away’. It can’t be eaten, that wouldn’t scan. My memory has failed dreadfully these last few years. Do you know the bit, Margery?”

“What you were saying reminded me more of the bit in the Bible about the winnowing fan. Separating the wheat and the chaff. Or like Browning’s line: “Life’s business being just the terrible choice.’”

“Exactly! Perhaps the whole time-process means just that and nothing else. But it’s not only in questions of moral choice. Everything is getting more itself and more different from everything else all the time. Evolution means species getting less and less like one another. Minds get more and more spiritual, matter more and more material. Even in literature, poetry and prose draw further and further apart.”

C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Acts 17:30–31 ESV

This is not the only motion that history can take, of course; there is a sense in which the past can be forgotten. But there is also a sense in which the past will not be forgotten quietly, and even the forgotten past is present in some way.

See also: Light, Success

Written by Scott Moonen

April 6, 2020 at 3:31 pm

Posted in Quotations

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord

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With John, Christian parents long to say that “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 4) There is much wrapped up in “walking in the truth,” but it certainly includes our children’s “believ[ing] in the name of [God’s] son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 3:23)

We earnestly desire to pass on to our children an inheritance of faith and trust and the fear of the Lord. If, however, we are anxious parents, the unspoken inheritance we are passing on to them by our example is a lack of trust, and a fear of things other than the Lord. One of the greatest stumbling blocks to faith we set before our children is our disobeying Jesus’s command, “do not be anxious.” (Matthew 6, Philippians 4)

In one sense it is hard to obey this command because the things we fear seem more present than Jesus. However, we can battle this by remembering that Jesus is in control, he is trustworthy, he loves us, and he himself is not anxious. Because he cares for us we can cast all our anxieties on him (1 Peter 5:7). The more we practice this habit of leaning on Jesus’s greatness and goodness, the easier it will become.

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127 ESV)

See also: A Failure of Nerve

Written by Scott Moonen

April 5, 2020 at 9:07 am

So far does he remove our transgressions from us

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Walking westward, therefore, from the courtyard toward the sanctum was a movement toward God, representing Israel to him—an ascent into the summit of the architectural mountain of God. Walking eastward from the sanctum toward the courtyard was a movement away from God, representing him to Israel—and a descent from the cultic mountain of God. . . .

The text is careful to portray the goats as a set: the high priest takes them both from the congregation of Israel, presents them both together before YHWH at the door of the tent of meeting, and then casts lots for them both . . . Indeed, there is historical precedent [SCM: Morales cites rabbinical sources, but Jacob’s goats in Rebekah’s meal is a clear biblical–theological precedent] for understanding these goats to be identical in appearance, and chosen expressly because of this likeness, as if it were one goat accomplishing two different aspects of atonement—purification and expiation, cleansing from sin’s pollution and the removal of sin’s guilt. . . .

Moreover, as both goats begin together at the doorway of the tent of meeting, their movement may be tracked along an east–west alignment, movements coordinated with the early narratives of Genesis in relation to God’s Presence. Here it is worth emphasizing that the goats, as one symbol, stand for the sake of Israel: the sacrificed goat conveying Israel favourably into the inner sanctum vicariously, the led-away goat conveying Israel’s sins away from the face of God.

L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? 174, 179–180

From the day of atonement ritual, you would expect Psalm 103 to read, “so far does he remove our transgressions from him.” Surprise! Where does that place us? With Yahweh!

Written by Scott Moonen

March 30, 2020 at 7:49 pm

A reminder of sins every year

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With the tabernacle being a microcosm of the cosmos, its rituals, including those of the Day of Atonement, should be related to the reality of the cosmos. . . . The cultic drama of the microcosm’s cleansing points prophetically to a Day of Atonement not enacted on the cultic stage but rather upon its counterpart, the cosmos as true house of God. . . . The drama of the tabernacle’s defilement by the sin and corpse pollution of Aaron’s sons mirrors the drama of Adam’s own transgression and defilement of the cosmos. . . . What can be done? Is all lost? The answer provided in Leviticus through the Day of Atonement on the stage of the cultic drama, therefore, provides the answer for the cosmos as house of God as well—there must be a Day of Atonement for the cosmos. Ultimately, this annual purgation reiterates the need for a full and final cleansing—one that cannot be threatened or undone—for the covenant promise of humanity’s communion and fellowship with God to be realized.

L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? 171–172

Written by Scott Moonen

March 30, 2020 at 7:17 pm