Archive for September 2013
I’ve just finished reading Toby Sumpter’s outstanding commentary on the book of Job, Job Through New Eyes: A Son for Glory. Sumpter works hard to understand Job in terms of God’s declaration that Job has “spoken of me what is right” (42:7), and he makes a compelling case for his reading.
Sumpter’s thesis draws on the observation that, at the outset, the righteous Job is conspicuously absent from God’s courtroom, where the sons of God stand before him. But at the end of the book, Job is now one of these sons of God, standing before God in the position of a prophet. This is the inspired assessment of James (James 5:10-11), but we see it in the book of Job itself. God’s arrival to speak with Job is exactly what he does with his prophets (Amos 3:7). At the end, Job stands in the position of an intercessor for his friends and God has accepted Job himself (literal rendering of Job 42:9). It is the mark of a prophet to stand in the council of God, to hear God’s decrees and speak to his face. Consider Abraham’s conversation with God in Genesis 18:22ff, and his later intercession for Abimelech in Genesis 20:7, where God himself identifies Abraham as a prophet. Moses the prophet similarly intercedes for Israel before God in Exodus 32:11ff.
Seen in this light, the book of Job is the story of God’s wrestling with Job to draw him up into his presence. Job’s suffering is a sort of sacrificial ascension that carries him up to God. Job’s patient suffering and persistent wrestling are the very things that qualify him to stand before God. God’s calls to Job to “dress for action” (38:3, 40:7) are not part of some plan to put Job down into his place; they really are invitations from God as father to his son Job to come up and continue to wrestle. We are reminded of Jacob and Jesus at the Jabbok river (Genesis 32). Job does not model for us a perverse desire for death or to second-guess God; he models a godly desire for resurrection, vindication, and participation in God’s council.
It is interesting to me that the first of the kingly wisdom books thus anticipates the prophets. It is a peek ahead in history, showing that the ultimate purpose of kingship and dominion is not merely to be thrifty assistant managers of creation, but to grow to stand before God as junior co-creators with him. A king brings things to pass by the re-forming work of his hands, but a prophet speaks new things into being with words. As wisdom literature, Job is not a scholarly treatise on God’s sovereignty; it is a kingly training manual, teaching us how to wrestle with the Spirit’s whirlwind. Job teaches us to plead with God, like Moses (Exodus 33:15), for his presence and nearness. Like other wisdom literature (consider some of the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes), this manual is a tough nut to crack, a hidden treasure requiring kingly persistence (Proverbs 25:2).
There are two levels at which this applies to the church today. First, it is still the case that one of the surest paths to maturity and to deeper fellowship with Jesus is fellowship with him in suffering. We must, like Job, hold fast in faith to the almost childlike desire to meet with Jesus in our suffering, to see his face.
But at another level, we all enjoy the privilege of standing in God’s council as prophets (Acts 2:17) because we are united with Jesus. It is his suffering and ascension that qualify us to this position (Ephesians 2:4-7), so that we can plead to God with even greater boldness than Job. However, even this calls us to a kind of suffering and deprivation. Whether or not we actually lose everything for Jesus’s sake, we are to count everything as a loss (Philippians 3:7-8, Luke 14:26). If we thus identify with him in his death, we enjoy his resurrection and vindication, and are brought up with him to stand in his presence. The king calls us his friends, his counselors, because he has made everything known to us (John 15:15).
Christians enjoy this status at all times, but we experience it most powerfully every Lord’s day when Jesus holds court with us. We stand before him to dialog with him: receiving his invitation, calling on him in worship to act for his people, bringing tribute to him, hearing a word from him, eating a meal at his table, and being commissioned afresh to our weekly work.
Thus, in one sense, Christians now enjoy the fulfillment of Job’s pleading and prayer, and we are to the world what Job was to his friends: those who bring life in Jesus. Jesus, the latter Job, has even cast Satan out of the heavenly court. But in another sense, we are not satisfied, and we plead with God, like Job and Moses, to see his face more brightly.
We know that all Israel, from infant to adult, was baptized into Moses at the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1ff), being spiritually inducted into what we might call the “body of Moses” (in conjunction with Jude 1:9 and Zechariah 3:2), the Old Testament church; just as we are baptized into the body of Christ. They were not drowned in the waters like Pharaoh and his army, but were sprinkled (Psalm 77:17ff).
There are many other such baptisms. When Jacob and his family re-entered the land after their exile with Laban, he and all his household crossed the river Jabbok (Genesis 32). Another example is Israel’s crossing the Jordan river to enter the land; this was even connected with a circumcision (Joshua 3-5). Baptism is a sign of salvation, resurrection and even ascension (as though passing through the waters above the firmament), while circumcision is a sign of sacrifice and priesthood; these two are joined together in Jesus (the greater Joshua), so that our baptism unites us to his circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12).
We see a double baptism when Absalom attacked David. When David fled Jerusalem, attention is called to the fact that he and all his people crossed the brook Kidron (2 Samuel 15) as they went to the wilderness. Among those who were thus baptized into David’s exile-death are the Philistine convert Ittai (from the city of Gath) and “all his men and all the little ones who were with him” (v. 22). Then, on David’s return into the land, he and all who were with him crossed the Jordan river (2 Samuel 19). This passage indicates that the elders of Judah made a seemingly unnecessary but very symbolic trip across the Jordan in order to bring David back (vv. 15ff), signifying that their own restoration-resurrection depended not only on their repentance but also on their baptism into David and his exile-death and exodus-resurrection.
This is partly what is meant by the author of Hebrews in saying that we should “go to [Jesus] outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (13:13). In context, the author is saying that we are freshly joined to Jesus’s death and resurrection when, week by week in worship, we partake of Jesus’s body and blood in the Lord’s supper. But if the Lord’s supper is a weekly renewal of our union with Jesus, then baptism is our initial and definitive union with him, crossing the heavenly waters in a symbolic exile and exodus.
See also Unbelievers.
I wrote earlier of how the fig tree and mountain of Mark 11 were spoken and written to indicate God’s judgment upon faithless Israel, and to encourage the early church to persevere in prayer for deliverance from persecution. Quoting Mark Horne:
Jesus is discussing the prayers which the early Church will have to pray in the face of opposition from the Temple Mount. . . . Jesus is not speaking of mountains in general. He has made a point of saying which mountain will be cast into the sea by believing prayer. . . . Just as Jesus cursed the fig tree, so will God deliver the Church through the prayers of the saints.
Understanding this gives us insight into the timeframe Jesus was implying when he said that “it will be done for” the one who has such faith. The persecution of Saul began as early as the year of Jesus’s death and ascension, AD 30. There was a “near” deliverance for the church in the conversion of Saul. Fourteen years later, James the brother of John was killed by Herod Agrippa, and there was another “near” deliverance in the death of Agrippa in AD 44. Then the church continued to struggle with persecution. The final removal of this mountain did not come until AD 70 when Rome destroyed Jerusalem.
Counting backwards, the church’s prayers for deliverance continued for 26 years from the death of James, and 40 years from the death of Stephen. When the church prays, we are to have this manner of persistent and patient faith. Not every fig tree withers overnight.
See also: Patience.
For example, we learn that Jacob was 77 years old when he and Rebekah deceived Isaac into repentance, and when Jacob fled to Paddan-Aram to find a wife. His twenty years of service to Laban were from the age of 77 to 97. And Joseph was almost certainly sold into slavery before his brother Benjamin was born, so that the first time he heard of Benjamin was when he overheard his brothers in Egypt.
We learn of contemporaries: Abraham was still alive when Jacob and Esau were born. Isaac died just before Joseph was released from prison, reminding us of the death of the high priest that sets people free (Numbers 35:28, 20:28; Joshua 24:33; 1 Samuel 4:18; Jesus). Samson, Samuel, Jephthah, and Jephthah’s daughter (who almost certainly served at God’s tabernacle rather than being put to death) most likely ministered at the same time, so that Samson’s death in Judges 16 was almost at the same time as the defeat of the Philistines at Mizpah in 1 Samuel 7.
Saul was close to or beyond 40 years of age when he became king, since his son Jonathan was a capable fighter at this time. This adds greater depth to the virtual adoption of Saul by Samuel in 1 Samuel 10:11-12; even as a 40-year-old, Saul was to heed the voice of Samuel his father. This also underscores Samuel’s grief over Saul’s fall (1 Samuel 15:35). If Jonathan was at least 20 years old at the start of Saul’s reign, and Saul reigned for 40 years (Acts 13:21), and David was 30 at the end of Saul’s reign (2 Samuel 5:4), then we see that Jonathan must have been David’s senior by at least 30 years. Jonathan was a truly humble and godly man.
But we gain sad insights as well. For example, we would like to think that the Song of Solomon, possibly written to the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1), was written to his first wife. For theological reasons, the book of Kings stresses that Solomon began running his race well. But we learn later that Solomon was married to Naamah before the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 14:21 taken together with 1 Kings 11:42). So we see that even at his accession, the seeds of Solomon’s sin and fall (Deut. 17:17, etc.) were being planted.