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Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Or screenwriters

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Chesterton writes:

though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators. (Orthodoxy, ch. 2)

Written by Scott Moonen

June 9, 2016 at 6:38 pm

Posted in Bible, Quotations

DeYoung on interpretive maximalism

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Every word in the Bible is in there because God wanted it there. (Kevin DeYoung, Taking God at His Word, 118)

Written by Scott Moonen

September 7, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Posted in Bible

Chronological tidbits

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One of the things I appreciate about James Jordan is his careful attention to Biblical chronology. This gives us a deeper understanding of Scripture, in ways far beyond dating creation.

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.

Written by Scott Moonen

September 8, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Bible

Judge me, O Yahweh

with 2 comments

In my previous post, I suggested that the Psalms disprove the dictum that we should never pray for justice. There are many such Psalms; one example is David’s Psalm 7:

Yahweh judges the peoples;
judge me, O Yahweh, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me.
Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
and may you establish the righteous—
you who test the minds and hearts,
O righteous God!
My shield is with God,
who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day. — Psalm 7:8-11

Jamie Soles has a great rendition of this Psalm on his album Pure Words, which you can listen to here: Psalm 7. But how can we sing this without the words sticking in our throats? For that matter, how could David sing this?

Before attempting to answer that, we should remember that it is of greater importance that we obediently sing the Psalms (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16), and it is only within the context of obedient faith that we seek to grow in understanding them. We approach God with childlike faith and trust in the beauty, goodness and truth of what he has given us. As we become familiar with the Psalms, the Spirit will help us grow in our understanding of them. Even the thousandth time we sing them, God will be revealing new things to us.

Perhaps our first instinct is to read David’s words like this:

Judge me, O Yahweh, according to my perfect obedience

This cannot be what David meant. No one was ever saved — or even promised salvation — on the basis of obedience alone. This was even true of Adam and Eve; if they had persevered, they would have had to do so in faith. This is clear from the way in which Satan tempted them — he tempted them to mistrust and disbelieve God and his goodness toward them. Perhaps surprisingly, this was even true of Jesus; again, we see in his temptations in the wilderness and at Gethsemane that the substance of his struggle was one of faith and not merely obedience. Would he trust his Father’s plan, or would he take things into his own hands? He persevered and saved us through faith (1 Pet. 2:23).

Could this instead be imputed righteousness, the active obedience of Christ?

Judge me, O Yahweh, according to my Savior’s obedience

The difficulty with this suggestion is that we understand imputed righteousness as an “alien” righteousness, a robe that we receive (e.g., Isa. 61:10). David, however, is talking about what is “in me,” in “minds and hearts.”

Calvin suggests that it is a relative or comparative righteousness, when measured against David’s adversaries. He writes of Psalm 7:

The subject here treated of is not how he could answer if God should demand from him an account of his whole life; but, comparing himself with his enemies, he maintains and not without cause, that, in respect of them, he was righteous. But when each saint passes under the review of God’s judgment, and his own character is tried upon its own merits, the matter is very different, for then the only sanctuary to which he can betake himself for safety, is the mercy of God.

This seems somewhat plausible, but unsatisfying. We are still on a treadmill of obedience, only now it is a relativistic one, which makes David’s appeal rather cheap. Why would David not rather appeal to God’s mercy if this was the case?

The answer lies in returning to our observation above that faith is more fundamental than obedience. Skipping a couple chapters back to Psalm 5, Calvin has an insightful comment concerning God’s righteousness:

The righteousness of God, therefore, in this passage, as in many others, is to be understood of his faithfulness and mercy which he shows in defending and preserving his people.

If we understand human righteousness in the same way, that yields the following interpretation:

Judge me, O Yahweh, according to my faithfulness to you and your covenant

Such faithfulness has a number of components. First, it begins with faith: it trusts in God, his goodness and his promises. Second, this faith obeys, because God can be trusted to give us good and wholesome commands, and he can be trusted to be working out what is best for us even if our obedience proves very costly or painful. But third, this faith also grabs hold of God’s provision of a sacrifice for sin when we fail to trust and obey. To be faithful is to regularly confess our sins, repent, and move on in the joy of forgiveness. In this sense, we can be righteous without being sinless, a people who meet with God at mountains and altars. This is the sense in which Zechariah, Elizabeth and Simeon were righteous (Luke 1-2), and in which Noah (Gen. 6), Abraham (Gen. 15) and David were righteous. The righteous shall live by his faith (Hab. 2:4).

Another way of putting this is to say that we have entrusted ourselves wholly to God and not to ourselves or others; that this thorough-going trust is the basis of all righteousness; and thus we are pleading with God that he would not put us to shame for trusting in him:

In you they trusted and were not put to shame. — Ps. 22:5

O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. — Ps. 25:2-3

Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. — Ps. 25:20

And many more. All this is to say that it is a short hop from appealing to our righteousness (God, I have entrusted myself to you!) to God’s righteousness (I know you will be faithful to deliver me!). This is a persistent pattern; for example:

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me! — Ps. 31:1

Fittingly, this is how Psalm 7 ends up:

The Lord judges the peoples;
judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
. . .
I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness,
and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.

It is because God is righteous and faithful that we can put our complete trust in him. Because of his faithfulness we can be sure that he will vindicate our trust in him.

But we should take care; we cannot always substitute faithfulness for righteousness any more than we could substitute perfect obedience earlier. It is right for us to formulate systematic definitions of words like this, but we also must recognize that the Spirit uses words in Scripture in varied ways.

For example, when Isaiah says that “our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6), he indicates that Israel’s righteousness has become a mere shell of selective external obedience — they have ceased to walk by faith, to obey the weightier matters of the law, and to truly repent of their sins. They have become faithless. In Luke 18:9ff, Luke draws attention to the irony of righteousness having anything to do with trust in oneself, so here again it has become an empty shell of genuine righteousness.

Paul also uses the word in varied ways. He sometimes uses it to point out that the Jews’ so-called righteousness has become faithless. For example, Romans 5:7 reads the reverse of what one would expect; this seems to me a scathing condemnation, as though it should have been translated with scare quotes. Earlier, when Paul says that “none is righteous” (Rom. 3:10), he is obviously using it in a different sense. He is quoting Psalm 14, where David applies this statement to “the fool,” to “evildoers” and to the “children of man,” but takes comfort because “God is with the generation of the righteous” (i.e., the children of God). It is possible that Paul is applying Psalm 14 in a new direction, to all people everywhere. But there are better passages he could have used if he had wanted to make that point (e.g., Ps. 51:5). It seems more likely to me that he is saying something more subtle. Paul is not saying that no one anywhere is righteous; rather, he is making the provocative application of Psalm 14 to the Jews. They have ceased to be God’s righteous people and have become boastful evildoers, enemies of Jesus and his church. Thus, the deepest sense in which sin caused grace to abound (Rom. 5:20-6:1), in which good was brought about by evil (Rom. 3:8), is that the evil act of crucifying Jesus brought about the salvation of the world.

Finally, as is always the case with the Psalms, we need to circle back and evaluate how they apply to Jesus, and how they apply to the church as the body of Jesus (who is our head). We approach Psalm 7 individually having repented of our sin and renewed our trust in Jesus. But Jesus is able to sing this Psalm with a more perfect sort of righteousness. Thus, when we sing this Psalm together as the gathered church, we sing it in Jesus who is our head, and we share in the confidence of his righteousness. Thus, when we sing the Psalm corporately, there is an additional sense in which the righteousness referred to is Jesus’ righteousness. This is subtly different from the imputed righteousness suggested above: in this sense, we are praying that the church would be vindicated against her enemies. To persecute the church is to persecute Jesus (Acts 9:4).

See also: The Righteousness of God.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Psalms

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For family worship, we have found a good Psalter — the Anglo-Genevan Psalter produced by the Canadian Reformed Church. We are slowly learning some of the Psalms in there. We also enjoy singing along to the many Psalms that Jamie Soles has set to music.

I do not subscribe to what is called exclusive Psalmody. However, the evangelical church has lost a great treasure in largely neglecting the Psalms in worship. If we were to sing these regularly, this would significantly re-shape our conception of ourselves as individual Christians and as the people of God. The Psalms are the Spirit’s inspired lesson book in prayer and worship, and yet their language and tone often sounds foreign and unbecoming to us. This is a sign that we need to renew our lessons. For example, the Psalms make bold appeals to God far more often than we tend to do in worship, and using a degree of confidence that would embarrass us. David did not know New Calvinism’s dictum that we should only pray for mercy and not justice. He holds God’s law in surprisingly high regard. And he recognizes the Spirit’s work in infants, something we should be teaching our children to sing and confess.

James Jordan has proposed “Jordan’s Laws of Psalmody,” and I think there is wisdom in them. Paraphrasing Jordan, they are as follows:

  1. The Law of Accurate Psalmody — Use God’s word as it is written. Metrical Psalms are only a paraphrase of the inspired text; if you sing them, you should read a good translation before you sing. Or consider chanting an accurate translation outright.
  2. The Law of Complete Psalmody — The Psalms are complete units of thought, and you should sing or read an entire Psalm rather than a selection of verses.
  3. The Law of Comprehensive Psalmody — Our repertoire and diet should include all 150 Psalms. To avoid the uncomfortable portions of the Psalter is to refuse to grow in everything the Spirit would teach us.
  4. The Law of Musical Psalmody — Sing the Psalms and sing them with musical instruments. (I would add: sing them at a lively tempo.)
  5. The Law of Preponderant Psalmody — We should sing more Psalms than hymns, especially when we have lost so much ground in acquiring the Spirit’s tastes.

He also goes on to suggest “Jordan’s Law of Hymnody” — to the degree that we do not sing Psalms, we should pursue songs that have the taste and aroma of the Psalms. Scripture gives us many examples of this outside of the Psalter — for example, Mary’s song in Luke 1.

Written by Scott Moonen

March 3, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Malchus

with one comment

In my previous post I suggested an outline for part of Luke 22.

In this passage, there is an interesting connection between the sword and the ear. The ear is the organ of hearing the master’s instruction. Peter’s sword impaired Malchus’s ability to hear Jesus’s word and command. Jesus restored his ability to hear, so that the greater sword, the word (Eph 6:17, Heb 4:12) could enter his ear and pierce his heart.

From the fact that Malchus’s name is deliberately recorded (John 18:10), it seems quite likely that he became a Christian and was known to the early church.

Malchus received back his ear and gave it to a new master. What would his conversion have cost him, as a servant of the high priest?

Written by Scott Moonen

February 20, 2013 at 10:20 pm

Posted in Bible, Christ is Lord

Luke 22

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Here is a possible chiasm in Luke 22:31-62:

A (vv. 31-34): Peter’s denial foretold

B (vv. 35-36): Swords

C (vv. 37-38): Scripture fulfilled

D (v. 39) Jesus goes out (exerchomai) to the Mount of Olives; the disciples follow

E (v. 40): Pray that you may not enter into temptation

F (v. 41): Jesus withdraws, Jesus kneels

G (v. 42): Wrestling in prayer: remove the cup

H (v. 43): An angel strengthens Jesus

G’ (v. 44): Wrestling in prayer: sweating blood

F’ (v. 45): Jesus rises, disciples sleep

E’ (v. 46): Pray that you may not enter into temptation

D’ (v. 47): Judas leads (proerchomai) a crowd

C’ (v. 48): Prophecy of vv. 21-22 fulfilled

B’ (vv. 49-53): Swords

A’ (vv. 54-62): Peter’s denial

There are a couple things that don’t satisfy me about this. First, it does not connect the cup of vv. 17-20 with the cup of v. 42 (see here for a different outline that attempts to relate these). Of lesser importance, I would like to be able to connect the angel’s strengthening Jesus with his healing Malchus’s ear.

However, I am pleased with a few things that are brought out by this outline. First, I like the contrast this draws between Jesus and Judas and their followers. Second, cup and blood are related by this, thus echoing v. 20 even if it is not brought into the chiasm. Finally, the hinge of this chiasm is the angel’s strengthening Jesus. I think this is significant for a few reasons, about which I will write more later.

Written by Scott Moonen

February 20, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Posted in Bible