Jesus and the Woman from Tyre (Mark 7:24-30)

syrophonecianMark’s a guy who appreciates irony, and the best part is that he never has to go looking for it – Jesus supplies it. He’s just had a very sharp disagreement about ritual, ceremonial purity with the scribes and Pharisees who’d come from Jerusalem (Mk 7:1-23). They held to a racist interpretation of ritual defilement and believed any primary or secondary contact with a Gentile made them “unclean” before Yahweh. They even believed the very air itself could contaminate them, and proscribed bizarre and arcane rituals for cleansing pots, cooking utensils, and their hands before any meal.

In dramatic fashion, Jesus rebukes this heretical invention (“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites!”) then heads straight out of Galilee “to the region of Tyre and Sidon” (Mk 7:24), which is Gentile territory. Every Christian’s heart should be warmed as he reads this swift denunciation of legalistic foolishness. The Jewish leaders are blind as bats to Jesus and His message, whereas a Gentile woman in Tyre understands everything, and displays a mature and earnest faith. Jesus knew this would happen (cf. Lk 4:22-30). The trip to Gentile country deliberately emphasizes Jesus’ lesson against the heretical ceremonial rules of the day, and it makes the point to anyone who has eyes to see.[1]

He’s preached to people from this region before (see Mk 3:8), and even though Jesus seeks some degree of solitude, “yet he could not be hid,” (Mk 7:24). This isn’t an example of the “Messianic secret” theme that’s so common in Mark; it simply proves Jesus is so popular He’s unable to remain anonymous for long.[2] In an age before Twitter updates, “humble-brag” social media posts and Facebook Live, Jesus’ popularity is indeed startling. It’s here, at this anonymous little house far from home, where Mark shows us more evidence for Christ’s deity and the doctrine of the Trinity.

A woman shows up. Mark’s account is sparse. She “immediately” appears and falls down at His feet. But, there’s more. Matthew tells us she said, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon,” (Mt 15:22). When you consider Matthew’s addition, it’s clear this woman understood exactly who Jesus was. Skeptical commentators seem to forget Jesus went about, preaching and teaching the same message over, and over, and over, and over … and then over again. His last audience with a crowd from Tyre was as dramatic as they get. Jesus preached from a boat to untold hundreds (perhaps thousands), healed many, and the demons He cast out each screamed, “You are the Son of God!” as they bowed in homage to Him (Mk 3:7-12).

It’s difficult to think of a more memorable afternoon at the lake. We’ve no idea if this woman was there that day, but she’s obviously heard of this man from Galilee. She calls Him “Lord, Son of David,” which makes it clear her knowledge has some content. To her, this isn’t some carnival, miracle-maker; He’s the Lord of glory, the descendent par excellence from David. She knows she doesn’t deserve mercy, but she begs for it anyway. She “fell down at His feet” (Mk 7:25) in worship.

In the Tanakh, believers used the title “Lord” to refer to Yahweh Himself. When people of faith refer to Jesus as “Lord,” our mental eyebrows should raise an inch or two … or three. If Jesus is also Lord, then Scripture is showing us a distinction between Jesus and Yahweh. The woman’s second title for Jesus, “Son of David,” makes this even more explicit. Yahweh, in the triune sense, is Lord. Yet, Jesus, the Son of David and the promised Messiah, is also “Lord.” This is the same subtle distinction we see, for example, in Zechariah’s prophesies (e.g. Zech 2:9-11) where Jesus and Yahweh often switch speaking roles in the very same sentence. They, quite literally, complete each other’s sentences and thoughts. While they’re One, they’re also distinct, too.

Jesus responds in a deliberately callous manner. “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” (Mk 7:28). It’s possible Jesus seized on this convenient analogy from the scene inside the home, with a meal either in process or just finished.[3] Commentators often engage in hand-wringing at this point; either desperately trying to salvage the “meek and mild” Jesus of fairy-tale lore or suggesting the woman’s “clever reply” changed His mind. Nonsense.

The “children” are the Israelites. The “food” is the Gospel, and the blessings the new and better covenant will bring to all God’s people. The “dogs” are the Gentiles. It’s unnecessary to re-imagine the “dog” reference as being a term of endearment (e.g. “little doggy”),[4] or to invent a twinkle in Jesus’ eye to soften this blow; this is exegesis of desperation. It’s also folly to believe the woman is stupid or ignorant, and doesn’t understand what Jesus is saying.[5] No, the woman understands very well what the issue is. She was either present that day at the lake (Mk 3:8ff), or heard a detailed, content-rich explanation of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God, and His role as the “Son of David” who would rule and reign over the world. Her words, and Jesus’ response, prove this.

But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone (Mk 7:28-30)

She responds by calling Him “Lord” yet again, and this is also not an accident.[6] She understands who He is. He’s the Son of David, the promised Messiah, the Lord of glory, the One who has power over the forces of darkness and can heal her little daughter. She also understands Israel’s primary role as the vehicle of blessing and salvation for the Kingdom of God. The Israelites will be the divine conduit, the priests who will mediate the message of salvation to the world (see Zech 8:20-23) during Jesus’ millennial reign. His blessings are for them first. She can’t, as it were, skip ahead in line.

The woman understands this. The Tanakh never excludes Gentiles from covenant blessings, but makes it clear these blessings will be brokered by Israelites. She has no problem with this, and we must assume she’d received a very accurate briefing indeed from that afternoon on the lake (cf. Mk 3:8ff). Jesus tells her, “for this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter,” (Mk 7:29). Another account tells us He also said, “O woman, great is your faith!” (Mt 15:28). She “got it.” Jesus knew she got it, so we should be sure she got it, too.

The woman goes on her way, and Jesus heals her little daughter from afar. The eternal Son of God incarnate, in whom all things hold together (Col 1:17), has the power to expel the forces of darkness from the girl from far, far away. “And her daughter was healed instantly,” (Mt 15:28).

The Bible suggests several important things about the Trinity from this little account:

  1. The woman knew who Jesus was; the Lord, the Son of David. This implies a clear distinction between Jesus and the Father above.
  2. She bowed before Jesus in worship. This indicates she knew He was divine, and acknowledged it.
  3. She trusted Him to have power over fallen angels, which means she understood something substantial about His identity.
  4. This understanding shows she was either present that day on the lake with others from Tyre (Mk 3:8), when Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God, conducted mass exorcisms, and the demons bowed in homage and screamed His identity as the eternal Son of God … or she had some very good intel, indeed.
  5. She confessed Jesus as “Lord” yet again, and understood the “Son of David’s” role as the leader of Israel and the mediator of blessings to the Gentiles.
  6. Jesus miraculously healed her “little daughter” from afar, demonstrating His deity.

The irony, of course, is that Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees for their legalism, then high-tails it for Gentile country where he immediately meets a desperate woman with a profound theological grasp of the big picture. This woman, whom the Jerusalem clique would likely dismiss as an ignorant heathen, knows who Jesus is, and understands His role in the redemptive story. She had ears to hear, and eyes to see. I like to think she was there that day on the lake, somewhere in the crowd. I look forward to asking her one day.

Notes

[1] See especially William Lane, The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: 1974), 259.  Robert Guelich remarked, “Therefore, this story about Jesus’ ministry that crosses the social boundaries of the day remains both consistent to what the tradition indicates about Jesus’ primary concern for Israel and makes clear how that ministry provided the impetus for the early Church to transcend these boundaries based on one’s response to Jesus,” (Mark 1-8:26, in WBC, vol. 34A (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1989), 389.

William Hendriksen remarked that, if Jesus had followed the Jewish leader’s racist and prejudiced policies, this woman would have been beyond all help; “was not the door of hope closed for this mother because of her race?” (The Gospel of Mark, in NTC [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975], 298).

[2] See Guelich (Mark, 389).

[3] Richard H. Lenski, An Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Columbus, OH: Wartburg, 1946), 302.

[4] You’ll find this suggestion discussed (if not endorsed) in most of the major exegetical commentaries, which are often incestuous in their observations. Morna Hooker observed, “There is no reason to suppose that a Gentile would consider it any less offensive to be called a ‘little dog’ rather than a ‘dog’, and descriptions of Jesus’ manner and tone of speech are, of course, sheer imagination. In its present context, the term is a challenge to the woman to justify her request,” (The Gospel According to Saint Mark, in BNTC [London, UK: Continuum, 1991], 183).

[5] Lane suggests this (Mark, 261 – 263).

[6] Guelich (Mark, 388), Hooker (Mark, 183) and Mark Strauss (Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 313) all agree this term is deliberate, here. Context also agrees!

Some Thoughts on the Wisdom of Solomon

learnWe’ve no idea who wrote the book The Wisdom of Solomon. Well, we know Solomon didn’t write it, but that’s about it. We’re also not sure when it was written; the best estimates say sometime around the first century B.C. The book isn’t a collection of random proverbial sayings; it has a sustained argument.

This book was part of the Greek translation of the Old Testament that Jesus, the apostles and the early church used. The earliest citation comes from the late 90’s A.D., in the epistle of 1 Clement. This book was never considered canonical by the Israelites, but was used and known by early Christians and Hellenistic Jews of the New Testament-era.

The so-called Old Testament apocrypha is a fascinating collection of books. I’m slowly making my way through them; Judith and Tobit are my favorites so far. Here, I’ll provide a fascinating, extended excerpt from The Wisdom of Solomon, with some brief commentary along the way (1:1 – 3:1):

Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth,
think of the Lord with uprightness,
and seek him with sincerity of heart;
because he is found by those who do not put him to the test,
and manifests himself to those who do not distrust him.

That’s good advice.

For perverse thoughts separate men from God,
and when his power is tested, it convicts the foolish;
because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul,
nor dwell in a body enslaved to sin.

This is why Jesus came, to rescue us from ourselves. True wisdom only comes from a spiritual rebirth, which comes from repentance from sins and faith in Jesus Christ. AS we are, our “perverse thoughts” separate us from God. Just because a book isn’t canonical, doesn’t mean it still doesn’t say a whole lot of true things!

For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit,
and will rise and depart from foolish thoughts,
and will be ashamed at the approach of unrighteousness.

Yes, a true believer will always react this way. He may stumble and fall short in the heat of the moment. But, afterwards, when the moment has passed, a true believer will always feel the crushing shame of failure, and a disappointment that comes from knowing he’s let His Savior down. It’s the shame of a child who’s disappointed his loving father. This is the heart of a true believer.

For wisdom is a kindly spirit and
will not free a blasphemer from the guilt of his words;
because God is witness of his inmost feelings,
and a true observer of his heart, and a hearer of his tongue.

God hears and sees everything. No man should think he can escape His gaze.

Because the Spirit of the Lord has filled the world,
and that which holds all things together knows what is said;
therefore no one who utters unrighteous things will escape notice,
and justice, when it punishes, will not pass him by.

This should terrify us all. Even worse, the Bible tells us there’s nothing we can do in our own power to set things right (see Romans 3). Nothing at all. In order to save us from ourselves, God had to intervene on our behalf, for us. He did that by sending His eternal Son, Jesus, to be perfect for us, die in our place, and rise again for us, too.

For inquiry will be made into the counsels of an ungodly man,
and a report of his words will come to the Lord,
to convict him of his lawless deeds;
because a jealous ear hears all things,
and the sound of murmurings does not go unheard.

They say Santa keep a list, and checks it twice. Nonsense. That’s God’s job. But, all isn’t lost. This isn’t a balance sheet of credits and debits. There is forgiveness; perfect forgiveness. As the psalmist wrote, “If thou, O LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared,” (Ps 130:3-4).

Beware then of useless murmuring,
and keep your tongue from slander;
because no secret word is without result,
and a lying mouth destroys the soul.

If we actually believed God exists, He keeps account, and we’ll each have to answer to Him someday, how would we live? Christians claim to “get” all this, but it’s often theoretical, abstract. It shouldn’t be.

Do not invite death by the error of your life,
nor bring on destruction by the works of your hands;
because God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.

Thanks God for that.

For he created all things that they might exist,
and the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them;
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.

Now consider the long description of wicked people which comes next:

But ungodly men by their words and deeds summoned death;
considering him a friend, they pined away,
and they made a covenant with him,
because they are fit to belong to his party.

The noted philosopher, the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, said at one point during the movie, “It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves …” I think Arnold was right. We’re bent on destroying ourselves, and we take pleasure in doing it. With gleeful abandon, individually and collectively, we take pride in tearing down all moral barriers and restraints on our own evil, and plunging off cliffs. Consider how our society has changed in the past 10 years!

For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves,
“Short and sorrowful is our life,
and there is no remedy when a man comes to his end,
and no one has been known to return from Hades.

This is the philosophical worldview of naturalism. Nothing matters, we’re all gonna die anyway, so let’s party. Some people mistakenly believe Solomon (the real Solomon, that is) advocates the same approach in the book of Ecclesiastes. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Because we were born by mere chance,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been;
because the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts.
When it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes,
and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.

Atheistic naturalists are rarely this honest with themselves. But, it’s the logical end-game of their worldview. Some things never change. The guy who wrote this book, about 2100 years ago, saw the same presuppositional dead-end in his theological opponents, too.

Our name will be forgotten in time
and no one will remember our works;
our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and be scattered like mist
that is chased by the rays of the sun
and overcome by its heat.

This is what Solomon saw in Ecclesiastes, but he urged people to turn to God, not to a fatalism marked by debauchery.

For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow,
and there is no return from our death,
because it is sealed up and no one turns back.

William L. Crag, in his classic book Reasonable Faith,paints a bleak picture of the logical outworking of a naturalistic worldview. This section reminds me of it.

Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist,
and make use of the creation to the full as in youth.
Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
and let no flower of spring pass by us.
Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.
Let none of us fail to share in our revelry,
everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment,
because this is our portion, and this our lot.

Yes, party and forget the consequences! That always turns out well, doesn’t it? Hedonism and debauchery never get you anything in the end. You’ll eventually destroy yourself. Solomon realized that. He’d been there, done that, and had two or three t-shirts. He begged his readers to turn back to God, and not repeat his mistakes. More people should read Ecclesiastes. 

Let us oppress the righteous poor man;
let us not spare the widow
nor regard the gray hairs of the aged.
But let our might be our law of right,
for what is weak proves itself to be useless.

This is great insight. These theoretical opponents o Godly wisdom understand it; they just hate it and don’t want it. They set out to do the exact opposite. Things are the same today. “Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them,” (Rom 1:32).

Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.

This reminds me of Herod’s reaction to John the Baptist (Mk 6:14-29).

He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.

Their consciences hate to see Godly people in their midst. It reminds me of how the kings of Israel and Judah so hated to hear from honest prophets.

We are considered by him as something base,
and he avoids our ways as unclean;
he calls the last end of the righteous happy,
and boasts that God is his father.

Oh, how the antinomians today would hate to read these words!

Let us see if his words are true,
and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.

Let us test him with insult and torture,
that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected.

This reminds me of the two wicked thieves who were crucified with Jesus, and the Jewish leaders who sanctioned the execution. “So also the chief priests mocked him to one another with the scribes, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also reviled him,” (Mk 15:21-32).

Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray,
for their wickedness blinded them,
and they did not know the secret purposes of God,
nor hope for the wages of holiness,
nor discern the prize for blameless souls;
for God created man for incorruption,
and made him in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his party experience it.

What sad words. They’re all true.

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.

Amen to that.

The People of the God of Abraham

jerusalem2At a time when the daily news trumpets the latest political scandal, our Facebook walls vomit forth more madness, our Twitter feeds grow ever darker, and the comment boxes on our favored websites grow more vile by the moment, a Christian ought to pause to consider the end-game. Christ will return, and there will be true peace on earth for all those with whom He’s favored. Then, on that day, there will be no more “fake news,” no more victimized gymnasts, no more predatory medical doctors – no more sin at all.

Christ declared to the Apostle John, “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rev 21:5). This passage of Scripture (Psalm 47) gives us a brief glimpse of what this day of rejoicing will look like.

Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy (Psalm 47:1)

This is clearly a psalm celebrating a momentous event. All the people are commanded to clap, and shout to God with riotous joy. Is the psalmist referring to the Israelites in the congregation, or to “all peoples” who belong to Yahweh, including Gentiles? This is interesting, but we’ll have to wait for more context before making a decision. For now, just consider – why should the people shout for joy, and clap with such glee?

For the LORD, the Most High, is terrible
a great king over all the earth (Psalm 47:2)

It’s a celebration about who Yahweh is. He’s the Most High, He’s terrible (i.e. “fearful,” [NEB]; “to be feared” [NASB]; “awesome” [NLT; LEB]; “awe-inspiring” [NET]. He’s a great king over all the earth!

Yahweh is the King now, even as He allows Satan to be the “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience,” (Eph 2:2). You can’t read the story of Job, for example, without seeing God in complete control over His creation (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). Satan operates only because God permits it. This means people who reject Yahweh and His promise of salvation through the coming Messiah are criminals in God’s universe. He’s already the King; He just hasn’t come back quite yet.

Some readers might quibble, and suppose this psalm is only describing some future event. Perhaps so, but this psalm was sung by faithful Israelites as they worshipped. It had meaning then, too. Yahweh was their king then and, in this New Covenant era, He’s our king, also. It’s a present reality, with a still future fulfillment.

He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves (Psalm 47:3-4)

The congregation praises Yahweh for what He’s done. Through His blessing, this small nation “dispossess[ed] nations greater and mightier than yourselves,” (Deut 9:1). This only happened because He chose the Israelites from among the pagans, made them His own, and blessed them abundantly. It was a corporate election to salvation and service, and it was all of grace (Deut 7:7-8; 9:4-5). This is why they clap and shout with such joy in their hearts and souls. God is good, and He’s full of mercy, grace, love and kindness.

God has gone up with a shout,
the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the king of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm (Psalm 47:5-7)

Again, God is the king of all the earth. It’s a present reality that all people are commanded to acknowledge and respect. They do this by confessing their sins, believing in Yahweh’s promise of a future Deliverer, Messiah and Savior, and then proving their love by following His law in sincerity and truth. God’s people will love Him, and want to praise Him for who He is, and what He’s done. This kind of universal joy and praise to Yahweh will only come when all creation bows in submission to Him. As another psalmist wrote, “The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes!” (Ps 110:2).

The scene here almost reads like a coronation, as if the King has just assumed His throne, been crowned as “Lord of Lords,” and is accepting the rapturous praise of His servants. The psalmist is viewing the event as if it’s just happened, and he’s recording it all in his trusty notebook. This song may have been sung at coronations for Israelite kings at some point, or it could be purely prophetic – the Israelite people looking forward to that glorious day when Messiah would come and assume David’s throne. Some people assume the Old Covenant saints were largely ignorant about the details of the Messianic prophesies. Perhaps they were, but David certainly wasn’t (compare Ps 16:8-11; Acts 2:25; 13:32-36).

God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne (Psalm 47:8)

Yahweh will reign on earth one day. The Book of Revelation tells us this will be an entirely new earth, situated in an entirely new creation. And, in a new holy city, Yahweh will sit on His throne with His eternal Son, and they’ll reign together over the nations (Rev 21:22-27).

The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted (Psalm 47:9)

What a wonderful picture! This is so different from the Jewish attitude in Jesus’ day; an attitude which was racist, prejudiced, and characterized by a sneering nationalism borne out of centuries of the most rabid and insatiable persecution. God told the Israelites they would “be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Ex 19:6). Their task was to represent Yahweh to the pagan world around them, loving Him with everything they had (cf. Deut 6:4-5), as they modeled His kingdom by living according to His laws. They came closest during Solomon’s reign (1 Kgs 10), but even that wasn’t very close at all

The exile changed everything, and the Israelites gradually began to emphasize orthopraxy instead of orthodoxy; right behavior over against right belief. This subtle shift had enormous implications, which compounded themselves as the years went by. The Book of 1 Maccabees, for example, speaks of “the Gentiles” over and over again (e.g. 3:25-26; 3:52; 3:58-60, etc.). It doesn’t matter who Judas and Jonathan’s enemies were, they were always “the Gentiles.” The Maccabees weren’t concerned with a “circumcision of the heart” at all. Theirs was a religion of law, of right behavior, of cultic ritual. There is no mention of devotional piety; only external conformity. Judas sallied forth and “hunted and tracked down the lawless” (3:6), and “destroyed the godless” (3:8). He forcibly circumcised young Israelite boys (2:46), and “thus they saved the law from the Gentiles and their kings …” (2:48). On his deathbed, Judas’ father Matthias exhorted his sons to “draw your courage and strength from the law, for by it you will win great victory,” (2:64).

By Jesus’ day, He encountered an externalism that boasted an elaborate, blasphemous theology of ritual defilement from contact with Gentiles. It was this perversion that prompted His condemnation of their ceremonial washing rituals (Mk 7:1-13); “you leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men!” (Mk 7:8). Peter had enormous trouble getting rid of this baggage (Acts 10:34-48; Gal 2:11-13). The Jerusalem church likewise struggled mightily with the very idea that Gentiles could be joint-heirs of living grace. They criticized Peter (Acts 11:1-2), were wary of the Antioch congregation’s Hellenistic makeup (Acts 11:22-23), and had repeated issues with some of their own members advocating a perverted, works-righteousness salvation (Acts 15:1-2). Even the Apostle James treaded lightly around these men (Acts 21:17-26).

And yet … this psalm knows nothing of this prejudicial attitude. Instead, the author catapults over this madness and lands squarely in the New Jerusalem. The princes of the people (i.e. the Gentiles) have gathered together as (some translations render this “with”) the people of the God of Abraham. The Gentiles are joint-heirs with the Israelites. This is the glorious future for all who believe. The Gentiles and the Israelites will serve Yahweh together, worshipping Him in spirit and in truth. There, in the true celestial city on a new and perfect earth, all God’s people from every nation will come to the tree of life to eat freely. After all, “the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations,” (Rev 22:2).

Yahweh is the King of all who believe. This psalm paints a glorious future. The King will reign. The people, Jew and Gentile alike, will clap, shout and “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory,” (1 Pet 1:8). Oh, the half has never yet been told!

The Son Who Reveals the Father

peter walksThe interesting thing about the Gospel of Mark is that Jesus doesn’t tell us (over and over again) He’s the Messiah; He proves it by His actions.[1] This passage (Mk 6:45-52) is full of trinitarian implications. It follows right on the heels of the feeding of the 5000 (“for they did not understand about the loaves,” Mk 6:52), and it can’t be rightly understood without that connection.

Jesus’ prayer

Alarmed at the crowd’s blasphemous intentions to make Him a dime-store King (Jn 6:15), Jesus “immediately made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side,” (Mk 6:45).

Commentators are divided about why He “went into the hills to pray,” (Mk 6:46). Some suspect He prayed that the disciples wouldn’t be seduced by these wrong Messianic ideas;[2] a notion some scholars reject.[3] Others think He prayed the disciples would have a safe voyage.[4] If that was His intent, then God surely didn’t listen! Some think Jesus prayed for Himself, that He wouldn’t yield to the temptation to take a shortcut to His Kingdom and bypass Calvary.[5] Options one and three are the most likely.

But, for our purposes the content of His prayer is less important than the fact of it – who did Jesus pray to? Oneness Pentecostal theologians would have us believe Jesus’ human will is praying to His divine will for strength;[6] a rather extreme form of Nestorianism. In light of the evidence we’ve seen for a distinction between Divine Persons,[7] this is a desperate dodge. Jesus, as our divine substitute, truly prayed to the Father for strength to avoid this temptation[8] as part of His lifelong active obedience to the law for our sake.

Walking on the waves

Several hours later, as the disciples made their way across the lake, Jesus “saw that they were distressed in rowing, for the wind was against them,” (Mk 6:48). In recent weeks, Jesus has:

  • Called and commissioned the twelve, “gave them authority over the unclean spirits,” the ability to miraculously heal the sick, and sent them out to preach the Good News of the Kingdom (Mk 6:7-13). In short, Jesus commissioned them to duplicate His message and the signs which accompanied it (cf. Lk 7:22-23; Isa 35:5-6).
  • He’s fulfilled the role as Israel’s true leader and shepherd, preaching the Kingdom of God to a massive crowd and healing their sick (Mk 6:34).
  • Like Moses before Him, Christ fed the Israelites in the wilderness by miraculous provision. He did it as a teaching lesson; e.g. “Look what I’m doing here – what does this say about who I am?”
  • But, where Moses prayed to God for food and waited, Jesus simply produced it Himself – because He is Moreover, He allowed the people to gorge themselves on the food (“they all ate and were satisfied,” Mk 6:42); a rare treat for people who did not have much.

What follows is a deliberate display of divine power, to show these disciples who He really is. Before, during an earlier storm, they’d asked, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mk 4:41). As if they didn’t have enough evidence, Jesus will show them one more proof and answer that question. This story is not an allegory about how Jesus helps His people in difficult times; that is a terrible misreading of the context.[9] Rather, this miracle acts as a crescendo, an epic finale of self-disclosure to men haven’t quite grasped the truth yet.[10]

Mark tells us that, somewhere between 0300 – 0600:

… he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw him, and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; have no fear,’ (Mk 6:48-50).

Some commentators try to explain away this miracle, as if Christ were merely splashing through the shallows along the shore, or perhaps this account was a later invention. Others worry this story presents a docetic Jesus; a phantasm who is less than human (“they thought it was a ghost,” Mk 6:49).[11] This assumption relies on the idea that Jesus somehow renounced His divine attributes or the use of them and, thus, cannot use them without compromising His humanity. This is incorrect; Jesus continued to exercise all His divine attributes, while assuming a human nature in such a way that He now “lives and acts in both natures forever.”[12] As God the Son Incarnate, He lived His life (including the exercise of divine and human attributes) in accordance with the Father’s will[13] – and it was evidently His will for the Son to reveal Himself in this unique way.

What, then, should we make of Jesus “walking on the sea?” The contrast is between the Old Covenant revelation of Yahweh as distant and frightful, and Jesus’ New Covenant revelation of Yahweh as personal, intimate and close. The Book of Job tells us God “alone stretched out the heavens, and trampled the waves of the sea … Lo, he passes by me, and I see him not; he moves on, but I do not perceive him,” (Job 9:8, 11). There are two points to notice; Yahweh shields Himself from His people, and He has awesome power:

  • Job knows Yahweh as the One who is invisible, indistinct and unapproachable. “If he should pass over me, I would not notice, and if he should pass by me, likewise I would not perceive,” (Job 9:11; Lexham LXX).[14]
  • Likewise, His power is so great, He “walks about upon the sea as upon a floor,” (Job 9:8b, Lexham LXX).

This is precisely what Jesus does in our passage; “he came to them, walking on the sea,” (the NT phrase is nearly identical LXX text).[15] But, where Yahweh hides His divine presence from His people (“you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live,” Ex 33:20), Jesus, “the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known,” (Jn 1:18). Jesus is equal with the Father, and is Yahweh, God with them, showing Himself to His chosen disciples. Like Yahweh, He, too, was “walking on the sea.” He would have passed them by. Instead, unlike Yahweh in the Old Covenant, He stops and joins them.[16]

I AM

Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I; have no fear,” (Mk 6:50). This phrase ἐγώ εἰμι could mean “it is I.” Or, it may be a deliberate reference to the Divine Name. Commentators are divided,[17] and context is key. Here, in the midst of a culminating series of miracles and expressions of divine identity to the disciples, it’s hard to see this as an innocent, “Hey, its me!” greeting.[18] Even if that’s all it is, the greeting has no meaning without a context for who Jesus is. Also, even if the disciples didn’t understand Jesus to be saying, “I AM Yahweh!” at the time, the Lord may have wanted us to understand this when He moved Mark to write these words.[19]

It’s best to see this as Jesus’ deliberate identification with Yahweh. This is more than simple oneness with the Father; Jesus is explicitly claiming to be Yahweh. In a truly delightful way, Father, Son and Spirit work in a correlative way, so the seeming actions of one are actually performed by all three as a single unit.[20]

Having revealed Himself as the true shepherd, teacher and leader of Israel who preached God’s Kingdom (Mk 6:34), miraculously provided for the people in the wilderness as Moses’ preeminent and divine successor (Mk 6:35-44), having then come to the disciples as Yahweh Himself (Mk 6:48), walking “about upon the sea as upon a floor” (Job 9:8; Lexham LXX), then told the disciples to be calm because He is Yahweh Himself in the flesh (“I am!” Mk 6:50), Jesus caps this crescendo by stopping the storm (Mk 6:51).[21]

After all this, why are the disciples “utterly astounded,” (Mk 6:51)? Mark tells us they still didn’t understand who Jesus is; “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened,” (Mk 6:52). This series of divine unveilings was intended be a bright mirror, showing who this Messiah is.[22] Yet, it didn’t work here.

Today, as we reflect back on the passages like this one (and so many others), I hope Christians are committed to progressing beyond these disciples to actually know who Yahweh, our triune God, is.[23]

David Bernard, a Oneness Pentecostal theologian, has well said:

Many church members do not really understand the doctrine of trinitarianism and, as a practical matter, are closer to Oneness belief … Most Catholics and Protestants do not have a well-developed concept of the trinity, do not know in detail what trinitarianism teaches, and cannot explain Bible passages in trinitarian terms.[24]

I’m afraid he is correct. It is a shame the very identity of our great God and Savior is such a neglected doctrinal subject. Carl Trueman has observed:[25]

Ask yourself this: if my church put on a conference about how to have a great Christian marriage and fulfilled sex life, would more or fewer people attend than if we did one on the importance of the incarnation or the Trinity?

The answer to that question allows an interesting comparison between the priorities of the church today and that of the fourth and fifth centuries. It is not that the people in your church do not believe that, say, Christ rose from the dead and the tomb was empty; rather it is that such belief has no real usefulness to them other than as it provides them with what they are looking to obtain in the here and now.

In such a context, orthodoxy as expressed in the great creeds and confessions is not rejected; it is simply sidelined as irrelevant and essentially useless.

The Trinity is all over Scripture; it’s certainly all over the Gospel of Mark. Jesus shows us who He is, and He shows us the Father and the Spirit, too – our One God, who eternally exists in three co-equal, co-eternal Persons. If we seek to love God with all our heart, soul and might (Deut 6:5), then we ought to want to know who He really is – in all His triune glory.

Notes

[1] James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 199.

[2] See Edwards (Mark, 196-197) and William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 235.

[3] “The feeding miracle certainly has messianic overtones (cf. Isa 25: 6– 8), but Mark presents it as an act of compassionate shepherding and nothing about the crowd’s behavior indicates messianic ambitions or expectations,” (Mark Strauss, Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 284).

[4] William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Mark, in NTC (Grand Rapids, MI: 1975), 258-259.

[5] This is the view advocated by many theologians, such as James A. Brooks (Mark, vol. 23, in NAC [Nashville: B&H, 1991], 111); R.C.H. Lenski (The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel [Columbus, OH: Wartburg, 1946], 271; and Albert Barnes (Notes on the New Testament, vol. 9 [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998], 155-156).

[6] “We do not say Jesus prayed to Himself, for this would incorrectly imply that the man was the same as the Spirit. Rather, we say that the man prayed to the Spirit of God, while also recognizing that the Spirit dwelt in the man,” (David K. Bernard, Oneness of God [Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 2000; Kindle ed.], KL 1737-1738).

[7] Mk 1:1-3, 8, 10-12, 14, 24, 35; 2:10, 12, 28; 3:11, 28-30, 31-32; 5:7; 6:41.

[8] Jesus, in the incarnation, was made in a state in innocence and holiness, just like Adam. His temptations did not come from a wicked disposition from within, but from without – just like Adam and Eve.

[9] “As with the stilling of the storm, this miracle has been interpreted from patristic times as an allegory of the Church, subjected to hardship and persecution, and wondering if the Lord would ever return: the story is then understood as a message of hope in a dark hour—a promise that Christ will indeed come. This interpretation was natural enough for those in that situation, but Mark himself gives no indication that he understands the story in that way; rather his concern here, as elsewhere, seems to be with the question ‘Who is Jesus?’ The answer is clear to those who grasp the significance of the story,” (Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel according to Saint Mark, in BNTC [London: Continuum, 1991], 169).

[10] “Jesus’ walking on the water to his disciples is a revelation of the glory that he shares with the Father and the compassion that he extends to his followers. It is a divine epiphany in answer to their earlier bafflement when he calmed the storm, ‘Who is this?’ (4:41). In this respect Mark’s Christology is no less sublime than is John’s, although John has Jesus declaring that he is the Son of God (John 10:36), whereas Mark has him showing that he is the Son of God,” (Edwards, Mark, 199).

[11] See Hooker (Mark, 168-169). She doesn’t agree with this perspective, but she discusses it briefly.

[12] Stephen J. Wellum, God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ, in Foundations of Evangelical Theology, ed. John Feinberg (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 435. Wellum explains, “From the moment of the virgin conception, the eternal Son ‘took into his own divine person a complete set of human characteristics and components – including everything that pertains to humanity – so that from then on he is said to possess a human nature as well.’ The direction of metaphysical movement is crucial. The Son did not come to an existing human being or even human nature to form an artificial or ad hoc union. Rather, through the virgin conception, God created a new human nature for the Son, who assumed that nature as part of his subsistent existence,” (435).

[13] “The best way to account or the asymmetrical relationship in Christ is in terms of the Trinitarian relations worked out in redemptive history for the sake of the Son’s incarnational mission. The Son lives out his divine and human lives in relation to the Father and Spirit as our Redeemer. Against all forms of kenoticism, the Son does not renounce his divine attributes or even the use of them. Instead, the Son’s entire life is best viewed through the lens of his filal dependence on the Father in the Spirit. The Son does nothing except what he knows that Father wills him to do,” (Wellum, God the Son, 441).

[14] Rick Brannan et al., eds., The Lexham English Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).

[15] The Lexham LXX reads: καὶ περιπατῶν ὡς ἐπ᾽ ἐδάφους ἐπὶ θαλάσσης. The Gospel of Mark reads: περιπατῶν ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης. Mark left out the editorial flourish, “like on a floor/ground.” The sense is the same.

[16] Matthew 14:28-33 includes an additional element to the account, which I won’t deal with here.

[17] For example, Lane (Mark, 237) and John Grassmick (Mark, in BKC, vol. 2 [Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983], 132) believe this is a theophany. Walter Wessel (Mark, in EBC, vol. 8 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984], 676) and Strauss (Mark, 286-287) disagree.

“The phrase ‘I am [he]’ (ἐγώ εἰμι) is a normal way of self-identification in Greek and so would not by necessity recall these OT allusions. In the present context, Jesus’ purpose is to assure the disciples that it is he and not a ghost. Furthermore, an explicit divine claim would be unusual in Mark’s gospel, where Jesus reveals his divine authority through his actions, but never directly through his words (but cf. 14: 62, where the same phrase is used). It seems unlikely, therefore, that Mark understands Jesus to be saying emphatically, ‘I am Yahweh!’ Whether Mark’s readers in the post-resurrection church would have picked up such an allusion is a more difficult question,” (Strauss, Mark, 286-287).

[18] “God cannot be fully seen, but Jesus can. The one who comes to them on the sea is not simply a successor to Moses, who fills baskets with bread in the desert. Only God can walk on the sea, and Jesus’ greeting is not simply a cheery hello to assuage the disciples’ fears. He greets them with the divine formula of self-revelation, ‘I am,’” (David E. Garland, Mark, in NIVAC [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996], 264).

[19] “It is not clear that Mark interpreted the words in this way, but others may well have soon done so (cf. John 18:5f.),” (Hooker, Mark, 170).

[20] Carl Beckwith observed, “If the essential attributes, like the external acts of the Trinity, belong equally and indivisibly to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as the church rightly confesses, why do Scripture and our creeds sometime assign them more particularly to one person? The explanation given by the Fathers and reformers has been that the external acts and essential attributes of God may be appropriated or attributed more particularly to one person in order to more fully disclose the persons of the Trinity to our creaturely ways of thinking. This doctrine of appropriation assists us conceptually and aims to focus our prayers and worship on the divine persons,” (The Holy Trinity, vol. 3, in Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics [Fort Wayne, IN: Luther Academy, 2016; Kindle ed.], KL 9443-9448).

[21] Lane doesn’t believe this was a miraculous act (Mark, 239).

[22] “But the principal charge brought against them is blindness, in allowing so recent an exhibition to fade from their memory, or rather in not directing their mind to the contemplation of Christ’s divinity, of which the multiplication of the loaves was a sufficiently bright mirror,” (John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 2 [Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010], 239).

[23] “Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three co-equal and co-eternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (James White, The Forgotten Trinity [Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1998], 26).

[24] Bernard (Oneness of God, KL 2963 – 2964; 2971 – 2972).

[25] Carl R. Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012; Kindle ed.), KL 532-538.

The Man from Uz – Thoughts on Job (Part 1)

jobMy family and I are working through the Book of Job together, several nights per week. I’ll be posting some questions, thoughts and reflections on the text as we go through the book. I’ll briefly address some of the questions, and I’ll leave others alone. Perhaps they’ll encourage you to think about this wonderful book, and the timeless questions it raises about God’s eternal purposes in our lives!

The opening sentences establish Job as a good and godly man. He “was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil,” (Job 1:1). This doesn’t mean he was perfect, of course – just that he was a godly man. In an economy based largely on agriculture, he was clearly a very wealthy man (Job 1:3). His wealth and character marked him out as “the greatest of all the people of the east,” (Job 1:3). He was the proud father of ten adult children.

This book is likely set before the Old Covenant era,[1] perhaps in the aftermath of the Tower of Babel incident. Job acts as the priest for his family, and routinely brings burnt offerings to the Lord on his children’s behalf; “for Job said, ‘It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually,” (Job 1:5).

Why does Satan have direct access to Yahweh’s throne room, in heaven (Job 1:6)? What does this tell us about fallen angels? Is this still normative today? It at least tells us Satan had access during this particular time. We have no idea if this is normative, or if all fallen angels have this privilege. The author of Job isn’t interested in this detail, so I’m not too interested in it, either.

Why does Yahweh even mention Job to Satan (Job 1:8)? His tone sounds sarcastic and taunting – what’s His point? Satan responds with a bit of commonsense logic:

Does Job fear God for nought? Hast thou not put a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face (Job 1:9-11).

How many alleged “Christians” today only claim to love and worship God because their lives are comfortable? If circumstances change, what will happen to their “love” and “devotion” for the Lord? I think, for many professing Christians, Satan’s words are perfectly applicable.

Satan acknowledges Yahweh has “put a hedge about him and his house,” (Job 1:10). Is this normative? Can Christians expect God has done the very same thing to them? What does this “hedge” consist of? An angelic host of bouncers? Restraining the evil impulses of those who would do us harm? All of the above? Or, is this not a normative thing? How does the notion of “common grace” fit in, here? Does it?

The text tells us Satan can only attack Job because God permits it:

And the LORD said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand.’ So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD (Job 1:12).

What does this tell us about God’s power, in relation to Satan’s – who is in charge? What are the implications for our lives? Does anything happen unless God specifically permits it? So, why do bad things happen to Christians? What does this say about God? What does this say about our perspective, that we would ask this question and implicitly doubt God’s holiness and goodness? Are we offended by the idea that God might intend that His people suffer through difficult times?

Is God’s goal to make our lives comfortable; or, are we supposed to serve Him in whatever way He wants us to serve? The Book of Job is one long treatise about God’s sovereignty and human suffering; this means it’s probably the most extended teaching God has given us on this subject. How should this inform how we read and understand the rest of the Bible, particularly when it comes to the issue if God’s sovereignty and the nature of evil?

In rapid succession, on the same day, all Job’s children die and all his world possessions are stolen or destroyed (Job 1:13-19). Take a moment and think about this. Think about your life, and your possessions. Really think about it, and imagine this happened to you. Then, imagine you’re Job – how would you feel? What would you be tempted to say? What would you be thinking about God? About His goodness, holiness, and righteousness? About fairness? Is He cruel for allowing you to raise ten children, only to snatch them away in an instant?

Job responds with mourning, which is to be expected (Job 1:20). However, what he says is not expected:

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:21-22).

What is his point? What does Job seem to think about God’s goodness, holiness and fairness? What does he think about God’s sovereignty, and His providence?

Notes

[1] The date for Job is widely discussed, and I have no interest on weighing in on this. I believe Job lived sometime during the era of the patriarchs.

“Scholars have traditionally placed the events of this book in the patriarchal period, citing the absence of any reference to covenant or law. Two facts join to support the conclusion that the book is set before the time of Moses: Job’s service as the family priest and the lack of reference to a sanctuary. Against such an inference, we need only note that Job is not an Israelite (he is from the land of Uz, 1:1). We would therefore not expect any reference to covenant or law, priest, or temple,” (John H. Walton and Kelly Lemon Vizcaino, Job, in NIV Application Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012], 23).

Likewise, Elmer Smick concluded, “It seems likely that Job himself lived in the second millennium B.C. (2000 – 1000 B.C.) and shared a tradition not far removed from that of the Hebrew patriarchs,” (Job, in EBC, vol. 4 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988], 853).

Robert Alden summarized, “The facts about him, which are mainly in the first two chapters, suggest that he lived around the time of the patriarchs. His wealth was measured in cattle rather than in the precious metals of the time of Solomon. He reflected no knowledge of organized religion, Mosaic, Levitical, or otherwise. Like the patriarchs he was a priest to his own household (1:5). The only other explanation for this absence of anything from the Pentateuch in Job is that he lived outside the promised land and beyond the influence of the law of Moses. Probably both explanations are correct; that is, Job was very early and he lived in a region well outside Canaan,” (Job, in NAC, vol. 11 [Nashville, TN: B&H, 1993], 26).

A Word from David

jerusalem

How does God expect His people to live? This is an old question, but the answer isn’t any less relevant. King David asked the same thing, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away:

Psalm 15:1 O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill?

His opening line is rhetorical. David knows the answer. But, the question itself is worth mulling over for a moment or two. Who can live in God’s tent? Who has a place in His house? Who has, as it were, a seat at His family dinner table? As Israelites and the Gentile proselytes came to Jerusalem three times per year, and began the climb up the “holy hill” to God’s city, who among them had an eternal home with the Lord?

David is not asking for the identity of all the people who belong to God; he wants to know what kind of people belong to God. What do God’s people act like? What motivates their heart and infuses their soul? To quote the great philosopher Jerry McGuire, what “completes” them?

At this point, the reader has to make a decision – is David explaining how a man becomes a child of God, or is he describing how a child of God will want to live? That is, is his answer prescriptive (e.g. do this, and become a child of God) or descriptive (e.g. a child of God will want to do this)?

The Scripture teaches us David is being descriptive. Man cannot earn his way to salvation, or else Christ wouldn’t have had to come in the first place (Galatians 2:21).

Psalm 15:2 He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right,
and speaks truth from his heart;

David locates the desire for righteous and holy behavior in the heart. Outward conformity is meaningless and cheap. We all know people who are frauds. They speak and act one way, but we know it’s an act – because we’ve seen the mask slip.

No; a man who belongs to God will want to walk blamelessly, and he’ll honestly try to do it. He won’t do it to earn salvation or buy favor from God; he’ll do it because he loves the Lord and wants to do what He says (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:28-30). This last bit is critical – an ungodly man can be morally upright. There are plenty of decent, “moral people” who have good manners. David isn’t talking about this.

To borrow a legal phrase, God doesn’t recognize behavior that is the fruit of a poisonous tree. A child of God will love God, and this love produces a real desire for loving obedience. A child of Satan (i.e. somebody who is not a Christian; see Ephesians 2:1-4) has no love for God, and therefore his actions don’t flow from that love. The motivations are different, therefore the moral weights of each action are different, too.

Consider this:

  • A co-worker named Cynthia knows you like Lee Child’s novels featuring Jack Reacher, so she snags an old paperback from a used bookstore and gives it to you for a birthday present.
  • Your wife gives you the same birthday present later that day, when you return home

You received presents from both women; identical presents. Which one carries more weight? The one from your wife, of course. Why? Because the relationship is clearly different. You’re in a covenant relationship with your wife; whereas Cynthia is the nice 65-yr old grandmother from work.

In a similar way, God weighs the believer’s actions differently than the unbeliever’ actions. In fact, in God’s case, the unbeliever’s actions have no moral value whatsoever, because they’re not being done out of loving obedience.

Psalm 15:3 who does not slander with his tongue,
and does no evil to his friend,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;

It’s fascinating how David’s descriptive proofs for a child of God focus so much on action. There is much to be commended about a focus on internal motivation as a check against rote legalism. After all, we don’t want to be hypocrites, going through the external motions while our hearts are harder than stone.

But, David (and God!) don’t let us off so easy. The other side of the ditch is just as treacherous. It’s so easy to excuse external conformity with pious appeals to “the heart,” isn’t it? A man claims to be a Christian, but has lived like a reprobate for years. “Oh,” he says, “I love God! I want to serve Him, honest!” At some point, every Christian needs to be honest with himself – where is the fruit?

David expects there to be fruit. Period. A godly man doesn’t slander, doesn’t betray his friend and doesn’t slander and reproach his neighbor. In other words, he seeks to be holy, because God is holy (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:14-15).

Psalm 15:4 in whose eyes a reprobate is despised,
but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;

This bit is particularly interesting. A godly man will despise a reprobate (i.e. a vile person, a flagrant sinner). This is somebody who is nominally part of the Old Covenant community, but lives in complete rebellion against God. David says Israelites should despise this person; have contempt for him. In contrast, a godly woman will honor those who reverently fear the Lord.

What’s the purpose? It’s likely about shame. There is something to be said for peer pressure. But, doesn’t this concept go completely against our modern church culture? We prefer to love people to death, even when they deserve contempt, rebuke, or censure. In short, we’re wimps.

To be sure, David isn’t saying we should hate everybody who sins; we’re not on witch hunts for non-conformists. But, if you have somebody who (1) is a professing believer, (2) who is a reprobate; a vile and habitual rebel, and (3) he refuses to try to conform to God’s word, (4) then you need to take action – once all lesser means have failed. The man is hardened in his perversity and his rebellion is deliberate and calculated.

Part of this action is for the rest of the covenant community to have open contempt for the offender, and shower honor on those who honestly love the Lord.

Psalm 15:5 who does not put out his money at interest,
and does not take a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things shall never be moved.

Isn’t is fascinating how sin so often revolves around money? In my experience in law enforcement and regulatory investigations, people do wrong for three reasons – money, sex and power. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian; these three temptations are universal. Godly people will fight against these urges; thus we have David’s warnings against shady business practices. To be sure, sometimes we’ll lose against these urges. But, the general trajectory of our personal lives should be trending towards more Christlikeness, not less.

This is a short little psalm; five whole verses. Yet, it sums up an entire theology of the Christian life. Who will dwell with the Lord, and dwell in His tent? The one who proves his love for God by concrete action. What kind of action? All kinds; but this psalm gives us a good start.

This isn’t an ethic that an unbeliever can have, because only a believer’s actions flow from his love for the Lord. This was one of Jesus’ points in the Sermon on the Mount. It’s David’s point here, too.

Leviticus . . . and the Burnt Offering

lev 1(4)The Book of Leviticus is a strange place for many Christians. They usually avoid it. It’s strange, they think. Weird. Isn’t all that Old Testament stuff over and done with, anyway? Well, as they say, “it’s complicated.”

I’m starting a short audio teaching series through the Book of Leviticus, chapter by chapter. Every teaching lesson will be stored here.

This is the first installment, on (of course) Chapter 1 – which covers the burnt offering. I know you’re excited to hear all about it. I can tell. Take a listen; hopefully this series will be a help to you – it was to me as I studied for it!