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The Fruit of Our Lips

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I read Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s The Fruit of Our Lips recently and appreciated it. I’ve already shared one quote on prophecy. Here are some others that provoked me:

The “four gospels” . . . can prove one thing: the Word changed the world of the mind once and for all. In antiquity, a book was closed to all other books; an ancient school of philosophy was closed to all other schools; a book had a beginning and an end, two covers contained it. That is not true of the four gospels. They respond to a dead-end, to an end of the world. They move through time, and when they end, they have scarcely begun. At the end of all four gospels, John says that the whole universe isn’t big enough to contain all the books that could be written about Jesus. That sounds fantastic, but after all, today even this chapter of mine bears witness to the fact that John’s cheerful confidence was well-founded. (72)

In his gospel, Matthew progresses from speaking as a Jew to speaking as a non-Jew—the text is plain. In his first chapter, Matthew begins: “This is the book of the birth of Jesus the Christ, the son of David, the Son of Abraham.” In the same first chapter, verse 21, we read: “Jesus shall free his people from their sins.” Obviously, we are in Israel, for Matthew seems to see no necessity to explain the “his” in “his people” at all. But by the 28th and final chapter, Matthew’s eloquence has carried him beyond the Jewish world. When he comes to reporting the machinations of the priests and elders among the Jews, he writes, “this [has been] common talk among the Jews to this day” [28:15]. Here the Jews are no longer divided into those who believe in Christ and those who do not; the Jews, as Jews, are outside Matthew’s family. The fence between them and Matthew is infinitely higher in the 28th chapter than in the first. The outpouring of his experiences, his memories, and his notes changed the writer’s own mind. . . . The wisdom of our tradition consists in the fact that in the first gospel a man writes himself out of Israel by writing up Jesus. Thus, he makes real, makes visible, to his readers that to write “about Jesus” means to reduce the Bible to the Old Testament. That could never have been achieved with argument. . . . An Evangelist is a man who, by speaking of Jesus, changes his own mind and, because he is in the process himself, leads others into the same process. Matthew’s gospel institutes a process whose power changes the face of the world—and of Israel—for Christianity is the world as it always was, plus Jesus’ death. (74-75)

Where in Matthew a worldly process makes all mankind Jews, in Luke the same process makes Rome into Jerusalem. So here too we miss the sense of the scripture if we treat it as “material.” Its purpose is to force us to our own change of mind. No Communist is as thorough a materialist as the biblical critics have been. (77)

This is a fascinating observation:

We may say too that the climax of Peter’s self-denial is that Mark is not allowed to give the name “Peter” to one of the two disciples who see the risen Christ in Emmaus, even though Paul bluntly declares that Peter was the first who saw the risen Lord (1 Cor 15:5). . . (83)

What is the beginning and the end of speech? The beginning of a human breath discloses the time and place of a particular act of the spirit. End and beginning bring inspiration down to earth; the end and beginning of any book tell you if it is true or not. This truth is a threefold truth: a word may be true in its content; it may secondly be true enough to prove the author right; and finally it may be so true that it forces the next speaker to respond and speak in turn.

Shakespeare compelled Milton to swerve out of the path of earlier poetry because his language was so perfect that Milton complained (“On Shakespeare,” 1630). The Church has lived on in the truth of the facts told in the “four gospels”; Christians in their own lives have lived on in the truth of the men who told them. (110-111)

The word “freedom” must never replace the experience of liberation, the word “good” must never replace the experience of getting better. Today it is the particular curse of the educated that “kindness” so often replaces the passionate need to love, as “adjustment” replaces the experience of personal commitment. (116)

The price of freedom is threefold: time, life, and substance. All three must be given freely to achieve great ends. Where not even one of these three powers is given freely, freedom becomes an empty word. Freedom’s way into the world consists of the investment of these three forms of capital in the service of a new love, a new faith, or a new hope. . . .

The relationship between freedom and law is absolute; no one unwilling to pay the price may enjoy freedom. He who is not willing to marry, cannot and can never know what full love between the sexes can be. He who is not willing to suffer for the truth, can never know what the truth is. He who does not defend his country will not and shall never understand what freedom is though not everything that calls itself a fatherland is one. (119)

In the year 38 A.D. all twelve apostles lived as a closed corporation in Jerusalem. The Lord had granted them all their powers as one inseparable common hand, and when Matthew picked up his pen, he could only do so as their secretary. Today’s criticism arises from the hell of individualism that has ruled since the Enlightenment, so it sees individual Evangelists wandering around like will o’ the wisps in the swamp. Oh, each one of them spoke in the name of all the apostles—most of all the latecomers, Matthew and Paul! . . . .

They are all of one mind. The genealogy in Matthew is no more “Mattheine” than the prologue to John is “Johannine.” They all believed themselves to be sinners and righteous like everyone else, and only together to be worthy of the healing power of the spirit. This way we can arrive at a sensible dating fo the gospels. They are not cheats with prophecies invented after the fact; they are not forgeries with a purpose. The gospels actually accuse the authors or their protectors of the weaknesses to which they fell victim, and they all go back to the most intimate community of the apostles with each other. Matthew wrote for the twelve while they were still together, and I still hope to see the day an honest Bible critic recognizes in these twelve years in Jerusalem, from the crucifixion to Peter’s departure, their Lord Jesus’ greatest achievement of genius. (121-122)

Written by Scott Moonen

May 31, 2021 at 8:57 am

Posted in Bible, Books, Quotations

Metábasis eis állo génos (2-5)

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Through his disobedience and discipline, Jonah became an accidental evangelist to the mariners:

Therefore they cried out to Yahweh and said, “We pray, O Yahweh, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Yahweh, have done as it pleased You.” So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared Yahweh exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to Yahweh and took vows. (Jonah 1:14–16)

Maybe God will do the same with the modern evangelical church. This past year has been the year we built our own houses and abandoned God’s:

In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of Yahweh came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying, “Thus speaks Yahweh of hosts, saying: ‘This people says, “The time has not come, the time that Yahweh’s house should be built.” ‘ ” Then the word of Yahweh came by Haggai the prophet, saying, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?” Now therefore, thus says Yahweh of hosts: “Consider your ways! “You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” Thus says Yahweh of hosts: “Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,” says Yahweh. “You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?” says Yahweh of hosts. “Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. (Haggai 1:1–10)

We violated the fourth commandment by elevating our own hearth fires above God’s:

Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him.

Then Yahweh said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” So, as Yahweh commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died. (Exodus 31:12–17)

And yet, God will use all this for the salvation of many rather than a few:

​“Indeed He says,
​‘​It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
​​To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
​​And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
​​I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
​​That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”
​​Thus says Yahweh,
​​The Redeemer of Israel, their Holy One,
​​To Him whom man despises,​​
To Him whom the nation abhors,​​
To the Servant of rulers:​​
“Kings shall see and arise,
​​Princes also shall worship,​​
Because of the LORD who is faithful,​​
The Holy One of Israel;
​​And He has chosen You.” (Isaiah 49:6–7)

Pray especially for the work God is doing in China and in the Muslim world.

“Yet the number of the children of Israel​​
Shall be as the sand of the sea,​​
Which cannot be measured or numbered.​​
And it shall come to pass
​​In the place where it was said to them,​
‘​You are not My people,’
​It shall be said to them,​
Sons of the living God.’
​​Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel​​
Shall be gathered together,​​
And appoint for themselves one head;​​
And they shall come up out of the land,​​
For great will be the day of Jezreel!” (Hosea 1:10–11)

To the Word has us in the Book of the Twelve right now. One thing that has struck me repeatedly this time through the Bible is the extent of God’s dealings with kings and nations. This is not a minor theme in the Bible.

I mentioned recently that the meaning of worshipping in Spirit is to do so as the body of Jesus—the church—in his presence. I cited Revelation 1 as an example, but we see this expression in association with worship–fellowship with God as early as Genesis 3:

And they heard the sound of Yahweh God walking in the garden in the spirit of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of Yahweh God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8, NKJV adjusted and emphasis added)

Speaking of worship, if you are in the Raleigh area, please join me for this year’s rescheduled worship and liturgy conference with Peter Leithart. As a foretaste, consider what he has to say about liturgy and joy.

Isn’t it about time that we impeached Woodrow Wilson? Although we may not be able to prevent him from voting, we need to make sure that he never holds office again.

When they were excavating around the legs of Ozymandias, archaeologists found two disposable face masks.

I learned this week that Babette’s Feast originated as an Isak Dinesen short story! I’ve ordered myself a copy, and am looking to resume our family tradition of watching the movie on super bowl Sunday this year.

Written by Scott Moonen

January 30, 2021 at 8:30 am

Seventy

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Genesis 10, Everett Fox translation:

Now these are the begettings of the sons of Noah,
Shem, Ham, and Yefet.
Sons were born to them after the Deluge.
The Sons of Yefet are Gomer and Magog, Madai, Yavan and Tuval, Meshekh and Tiras.
The Sons of Gomer are Ashkenaz, Rifat, and Togarma.
The Sons of Yavan are Elisha and Tarshish, Cittites and Dodanites.
From these the seacoast nations were divided by their lands,
each one after its own tongue:
according to their clans, by their nations.
The Sons of Ham are Cush and Mitzrayim, Put and Canaan.
The Sons of Cush are Seva and Havila, Savta, Ra’ma, and Savtekha;
the Sons of Ra’ma—Sheva and Dedan.
Cush begot Nimrod; he was the first mighty man on earth.
He was a mighty hunter before YHWH,
therefore the saying is:
Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before YHWH.
His kingdom, at the beginning, was Bavel, and Erekh, Accad and Calne, in the land of Shinar;
from this land Ashur went forth and built Nineveh—along with the city squares and Calah,/ and Resen between Nineveh and Calah—that is the great city.
Mitzrayim begot the Ludites, the Anamites, the Lehavites, the Naftuhites,/ the Patrusites, and the Casluhites, from where the Philistines come, and the Caftorites.
Canaan begot Tzidon his firstborn and Het,/ along with the Yevusite, the Amorite and the Girgashite,/ the Hivvite, the Arkite and the Sinite,/ the Arvadite, the Tzemarite and the Hamatite.
Afterward the Canaanite clans were scattered abroad.
And the Canaanite territory went from Tzidon, then as you come toward Gerar, as far as Gaza, then as you come toward Sedom and Amora, Adma, and Tzevoyim, as far as Lasha.
These are the Sons of Ham after their clans, after their tongues, by their lands, by their nations.
(Children) were also born to Shem,
the father of all the Sons of Ever (and) Yefet’s older brother.
The Sons of Shem are Elam and Ashur, Arpakhshad, Lud, and Aram.
The Sons of Aram are Utz and Hul, Geter and Mash.
Arpakhshad begot Shelah, Shelah begot Ever.
Two sons were born to Ever:
the name of the first one was Peleg/Splitting, for in his days the earth–folk were split up,
and his brother’s name was Yoktan.
Yoktan begot Almodad and Shelef, Hatzarmavet and Yera,/ Hadoram, Uzal and Dikla,/ Oval, Avimael and Sheva,/ Ofir, Havila, and Yovav—all these are the Sons of Yoktan.
Now their settlements went from Mesha, then as you come toward Sefar, to the mountain–country of the east.
These are the Sons of Shem after their clans, after their tongues, by their lands, after their nations.
These are the clan–groupings of the Sons of Noah, after their begettings, by their nations.
From these the nations were divided on earth after the Deluge.

Written by Scott Moonen

October 16, 2020 at 9:47 am

Metábasis eis állo génos (10)

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Early on, most of the contrarian chatter on the rona was that it was worse than we all thought. I can recall early theories that China’s numbers were way under-represented. Remember the mobile subscriber reports? Perhaps this was fluctuations in gaming all of the mobile advertising and attention-reputation systems. Perhaps some of this was Uighur. But since then, most of the contrarians have focused on ways in which we have tended to overestimate. Antibody studies have consistently showed that the spread was greater than we thought and therefore the risk was less than we thought. We heard of specific accounts of case inflation and death inflation, and wondered at the fact that there seem to be perverse incentives in place for both of those numbers. This week it was interesting to see the CDC numbers showing extraordinarily high levels of co-morbidity. I do not agree with the simplistic claim that we should adjust the death count by 94%, but the numbers were certainly surprising. It was equally interesting to see additional suggestions that PCR results may be exaggerated (with potential for both false positives and also positives for weeks post recovery) but at the same time antibody results may be under-representative. Of course, this is not the final word, but these are interesting developments to me. As always, stay tuned to Alex Berenson if you are also interested in this kind of stuff.

I am no lover of public school, but this tweet caught my attention. Fauci: “asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of outbreaks.”

I feel more and more that we have collectively decided to drive 25mph just because Miss Daisy is out there on the roads. I’ve been reflecting: what are the long-term implications of this collective insanity, this iatrogenicide if you will, on our institutions and leaders, even if we somehow miraculously agreed to abandon it all tomorrow and pretend that things were back to normal? Friedman would say that we cannot cater to anxiety for the sake of temporary peace and unity without always creating a fragile situation where greater anxiety and greater disunity will ultimately reign. Every parent knows what happens when you coddle anxiety; the tyranny of the weak really is a tyranny. As Wilson says, “there is a difference between deferring to the weaker brothers, on the one hand, and putting them in charge of what the whole church must do.” Girard would say that we cannot play the game of imitation without coming to live on the knife’s edge where one wrong move will bring a wave of scapegoating upon our own heads. If you glance over your shoulder now to imitate others’ “leadership,” you will eventually be running glancing back over your shoulder on a mob.

Many churches have given up so many things they once claimed to cherish and even to be commanded by God. Whatever happened to the regulative principle? In many decisions, the fear of God was exchanged for the fear of man and fear of the unknown. Churches know that Friedman and Girard are not just describing natural processes, but that we are always sowing into a future where God himself ensures that reaping and judgment will take place. Judgment begins with the household of God, and he judges leaders with a greater strictness. Churches and leaders that have decided, contrary to God’s word, that they still have the authority to close doors and tables to hungry sheep, must continue to experience shaking from God until they repent. God is not mocked, and salt that has lost its saltiness is good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled. As things stand right now, I believe that even if all of this were to stop tomorrow, we would not be making a fresh and exciting start, emerging stronger than ever, etc.; but rather experiencing the eye of the hurricane.

But enough about the rona. Wow, Big Eva. Are Tripp and Duncan going to repudiate Eric Mason? I am not surprised by Stetzer, but Ortlund? Funny, though: I launched into Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel recently, expecting to enjoy it, but was deeply disappointed. However, I now realize that I had confused Raymond Ortlund with Rob Rayburn. Forgive me, Rob.

Apropos all of 2020, Satan always couches his lies in a partial truth.

This was a great testimony of conducting disagreement as a happy warrior!

Would you join me in the To The Word Bible reading challenge? It starts on Monday!

Written by Scott Moonen

September 5, 2020 at 6:49 am

Delight

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I love Psalm 16:3, the treasuring of God’s people. Here, together with the following verse:

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. (ESV)

All my delight!

I was a little startled, however, to discover the NET Bible and Robert Alter had a slightly different take (both admitting that the meaning is unclear):

As for God’s chosen people who are in the land, and the leading officials I admired so much—their troubles multiply; they desire other gods. I will not pour out drink offerings of blood to their gods, nor will I make vows in the name of their gods. (NET Bible)

As to holy ones in the land and the mighty who were all my desire, let their sorrows abound—another did they betroth. I will not pour their libations of blood, I will not bear their names on my lips. (Robert Alter)

But upon reflection, these readings are not opposed to one another, and perhaps God has even left it ambiguous on purpose to provoke our reflection. We are to delight in our fellow saints, but equally we are to oppose those who prove to be false.

Written by Scott Moonen

January 25, 2020 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Bible

Culture

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Trying to determine whether or not a teaching [of the Bible] is historically or culturally conditioned is not helpful in evaluating its worth, since everything human is historically and culturally conditioned. The real issue is this: Among the historically and culturally conditioned teachings we find before us, which have God’s authority behind them? Which are expressions of his ways, his character, and his purpose for the human race? When it comes to a conflict, which has more authority: a human culture, or the culture that God taught through Jesus and his apostles? The recent attempt to separate culturally determined elements from timeless truths in the area of Christian personal relationships and the roles of men and women has been just as much a failure as was the liberal attempt in the nineteenth century to identify the progressive, timeless elements of Christianity. Both attempts failed for basically the same reason. The reason is not, as is sometimes stated, that the enduring truths simply cannot be distinguished from cultural elements that are not essential to the Christian teaching. Rather, the reason is that when the scripture is allowed to speak for itself, it becomes clear that it is precisely those elements in it that many modern people would like to expunge as time–bound and culturally determined that the scriptural writers considered most central and fundamental. In consequence, modern writers who set out to disengage Christian teaching from culturally determined elements end up by canonizing the approach of their modern culture and using that as a standard by which to judge the teaching of scripture. They do this because they cannot find any standard within scripture that would allow them to accept the elements they want to accept and reject those they want to reject.

The cultural question for Christians should be very different from what it is for contemporary people who are not Christians. Contemporary Christians should be seeking to preserve the culture revealed by God while they live among people whose way of life is no longer compatible on many points, including many of the most fundamental ones, with what God has taught. This involves sorting out inherited cultural traditions so that the Christians can see more clearly what came from God’s revelation and what was accumulated from a particular culture and history. This also involves understanding what the distinctive Christian approach should be and how to wisely translate it into contemporary society so that Christians can be all things to all men—that they might by all means save some (1 Cor. 9:22). (Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ, 279)

Written by Scott Moonen

January 13, 2019 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Bible, Quotations

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

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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).

Written by Scott Moonen

March 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm