Why They Followed the Law (Pt. 2)

lawRead the series

Why do people follow God’s law, both then and now? We do it because we love God, and we want to serve Him with our lives. It has always been that way, and it will always be that way. Jesus addressed this issue directly (Mk 12:28-34), so let’s look at what He had to say.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” (Mk 12:28)

This goes to show you that stereotypes aren’t always accurate; a scribe is the one who asks this question. The context which prompted the question is Jesus’ dispute with the Sadducees about the validity of the resurrection (Mk 12:18-27). This man is a Pharisee.[1] He’s somebody who is very concerned with the letter of the law. So, naturally, he wants to know what the greatest commandment is – so he can follow it![2]

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these,” (Mk 12:29-31).

Here is the content of Jesus’ answer, from Deuteronomy 6:4-5.[3] Think about what it tells us about why God’s people should obey His law.

Our God is the Lord

God is your master. He is in complete charge of your life, your soul, your blessings, your cursings, your destiny. If you’re a Christian, God created you as a new person in Christ “for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Eph 2:10). You were saved in order to serve the Lord, and work for Him.

 God is your Lord! If He saved you, then you are now a willing and enthusiastic slave for righteousness.[4] This is the foundation for Jesus’ answer.

The Lord is One

There is only One legitimate Lord you can serve – everything else is a pagan counterfeit. He is the God of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures. He is the God of the First Covenant and the God of the New Covenant

You will love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength

You must love God with everything you have, with every fiber of your being! These terms are not synonymous (we could look at each of them individually), but together they express a simple concept – a complete, all-encompassing love for God![5] Anything done for a reason other than this is counterfeit, and God is not pleased by it. This is why God’s people should want to do what He says.

You will love your neighbor just as you love yourself

Who is your neighbor? In the context of Leviticus 19:18 (which Jesus quoted from), your neighbor is a covenant brother and sister – including a believing Gentile (cf. Lev 19:34). In short, Jesus is talking about “brotherly love,” (cf. 1 Jn 4:20). You should love and value your Christian brothers and sisters just as much as you love and value yourself.

All of the Old Covenant law can be summed up in these two commands (cf. Mt 22:40). God is your Lord, therefore you exist to serve Him. Your Lord is One, therefore any other worship is idolatry. So, you must love God with everything you have. This is the only appropriate motivation for service.

  • You serve God because He saved you from yourself, knowing who you are, what you have done, what you are doing now, and what you will do in the future.
  • Because you’re so grateful and love Him so much, you’ll want to serve Him with your life.
  • And because all this is true, you also love your covenant brothers and sisters because, together, you’re each part of God’s family.

Jesus refers to these two commandments as one singular commandment[6] because, together, they sum up the entire teaching purpose of the law.[7] They’re inseparable. If you love God, then you’ll love God’s children, because they’re your brothers and sisters.

And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mk 12:32-33)

Why does the scribe have such insight? Isn’t he supposed to be a legalistic hypocrite!? This is why we must always remember we can’t read the Bible like it’s cardboard. This is the story of real people, with real minds of their own, who act like real people would actually act. It’s always dangerous to over-generalize about people; it’s true today and it was true then.

Most of the scribes were legalists like the Pharisees, but not all of them were! This scribe seems to be genuinely sincere.[8] It is likely God was drawing this man to saving faith. I like to think he repented and believed one day. After all, some of the Pharisees did believe (e.g. Nicodemus, Acts 15:5).

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any question (Mk 12:34; cf. Mt 22:34-40)

This is Jesus’ inspired statement about why God’s people should obey God’s law; especially the Old Covenant law. You obey God’s law because you love Him, and want to serve Him. Real salvation produces real fruit. That fruit is wholehearted love for God, which proves itself by action.

The entire bible agrees.


[1] William L. Lane suggests the man could be a Sadducee, because that group had its own group of legal interpreters (The Gospel of Mark, in NICNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974], 431). I doubt this. I’m not aware of any place in the NT where the phrase γραμματεύς refers to the Sadducees; however, the reference to “scribes of the Pharisees” (Mk 2:16) is intriguing, suggesting different sects may have had their own scribes.

Generally, however, the scribes are associated with the Pharisee party. Add to it that Jesus had just handily dispatched the Sadducees’ ridiculous argument against the resurrection. If this particular scribe were a Sadducee, one would not expect him to engage in a discussion over which commandment was first of all! This is a Pharisaical question, through and through. A Sadducee would likely be smarting over the discussion which had just ended. “Most scribes aligned with the Pharisees in their theology, including their teaching on the resurrection and the authority of Scripture,” (Mark L. Strauss, Mark, in ZECNT [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014], 541).

[2] There is more to this question, but I don’t have time to go into it here. See Lane (Mark, 431-432) and James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, in PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 370-371.

Lane observed, “Both the question and its presuppositions stem from a piety of human achievement, supported by scribal interpretation of the biblical mandates (Lane, Mark, 431).

[3] The UBS-5, TR and BYZ are each identical to the LXX (Rahlfs) here. Very interesting! This phrase can be rendered in a variety of ways, depending on how you interpret the nominatives – just look at the different English translations. I rendered it, “Jesus answered that [the] most important is, ‘Listen, Israel! Our God is Lord. [The] Lord is one.”

[4] “Jesus demands a decision and readiness for God, and for God alone, in an unconditional manner. Clearly this cannot be the subject of legal enactment. It is a matter of the will and action. The love which determines the whole disposition of one’s life and places one’s whole personality in the service of God reflects a commitment to God which springs from divine sonship,” (Lane, Mark, 432-433).

[5] See Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27 – 16:20, in WBC, vol. 34b (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 264.

[6] The Greek is clear here: μείζων τούτων ἄλλη ἐντολὴ οὐκ ἔστιν (“there is not another command greater than these”). Strauss, however, disputes this point grammatically (Mark, 546 [fn. 11]).

[7] Evans suggests they sum up the Decalogue (Mark 8:27 – 16:20, 265). I don’t have time to elaborate that here.

[8] Walter W. Wessel, Mark, in EBC, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 736.

Great is Thy Faithfulness! (Amos 9)

PDF version – Amos 9 (02JUN13)


In this vision in Amos 9, the prophet foretells three extraordinary, literal events for Israel. One of these events has already come to pass, and two are yet to be fulfilled. They are:

  1. Divine judgment, in the destruction of the temple at Bethel and the Northern Kingdom (9:1-10)
  2. A future restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (9:11-12);
  3. Future blessings upon Israel in the millennium (9:13-15)

A faithful reading of Scripture demonstrates that divine judgment for sin, restoration of Israel and corresponding blessings upon the nation are literal promises. God is faithful to His character and punishes sin, yet He is likewise true to covenant promises to His people.



I saw the Lord standing upon the altar: and he said, Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: and cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword: he that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered.


Amos provides a vision of God Himself standing before an altar, issuing a simple command – destroy the temple. The New English Translation (NET) perhaps captures the sense of Amos’ phrase best, “strike the tops of the support pillars.” Someone, most likely an angel, is commanded to destroy the temple while people worship inside. The entire edifice will crumble once the support pillars are done away with, crushing those inside to death suddenly and violently. Those who survive will be hunted down and killed; none shall be spared.

One crucial question is this – which temple is Amos referring to? The temple at Bethel or the temple in Jerusalem? Does Amos have corporate Israel in mind, or merely the Northern Kingdom? Keil and Delitzsch remark, “[t]he correct and full interpretation not only of this verse, but of the whole chapter, depends upon the answer to be given to the question.”[1]

Keil argues that Amos does not draw such a hard distinction between Israel and Judah, and that because there were multiple alters at Bethel (3:14), Amos was here (9:1) referring to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.[2] McComiskey claims Amos is referring to the literal temple at Bethel but has in mind the false religion of the Northern Kingdom in general.[3] It is more probable that Amos was referring to Israel’s temple at Bethel. Later in this chapter, however, Amos will expand the vision to corporate Israel in general.

Amos’ predominant focus throughout the text is on the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Though Amos does indeed prophesy against the various Israelite enemies (1:2-2:3) and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (Amos 2:4-5), his focus is on Israel. His frequent reference to idol worship at Bethel (3:14; 4:4; 5:5-6), political pressure brought to bear by Amaziah, the priest at Bethel (7:10-17), and the warning visions (chapters 7-9) testify to a marked emphasis on the Northern Kingdom.

When was the prophesy of the temple destruction fulfilled? Commentators are divided on the matter. McComiskey puts the destruction in 622 B.C. at the direction of King Josiah (2 Kgs 23:15-16).[4] Smith believes the sanctuary was destroyed in the earthquake two years after Amos spoke (1:1).[5] Freedman and Anderson argue Amos was describing both an earthquake and persecution at the hands of a foreign army and provide no date.[6]

The earthquake Amos mentions (1:1), which Smith posits for the destruction of the Bethel sanctuary, occurs in approximately 760 B.C.[7] The Assyrians invaded Israel in approximately 722 B.C., after a period of subjugation and increasing Assyrian dominance. It is very probable, therefore, that these are the very events Amos prophesized about. The precise date and nature of the destruction of this sanctuary remains elusive, but it was unquestionably destroyed. No trace of it has yet been found.[8]

This destruction and judgment (9:1) is centered on the temple and the idolatrous priests who worked evil inside it (7:10-12), not the whole city. “In other words, it is selective destruction but, within its limits, total.”[9] God was furious with the corruption and idolatry of the people (4:4-5; 5:26), and He is specifically targeting this place of false worship for destruction.

The Northern Kingdom’s one brief period of prosperity died with King Jeroboam II in 753 B.C.

The reign of Jeroboam II was the northern kingdom’s one period of brilliance. With the death of his son, however, the nation rapidly declined in both strength and position. This period of decline closed with the fall of Israel’s capital, Samaria, to the great Assyrian war machine in 722 B.C.[10]

God’s judgment is sure and certain.


Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down:


And though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them:


And though they go into captivity before their enemies, thence will I command the sword, and it shall slay them: and I will set mine eyes upon them for evil, and not for good.


God will not spare any of the people responsible for facilitating this idolatrous worship. They may hide in the depths of the ocean or in the highest mountaintop close at hand (Carmel), but they cannot escape. “The view, then, is that the Bethel sanctuary and its personnel were the direct target of this unparalleled onslaught and that both the sanctuary and its priests would be obliterated, regardless of attempts to escape.”[11] Approximately 38 years would pass between the destruction of the sanctuary and the Assyrian invasion. In this span of time, the culprits will be found and dealt with in one form or another.


And the Lord GOD of hosts is he that toucheth the land, and it shall melt, and all that dwell therein shall mourn: and it shall rise up wholly like a flood; and shall be drowned, as by the flood of Egypt.


It is he that buildeth his stories in the heaven, and hath founded his troop in the earth; he that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name.


God is sovereign and His wrath will come in response to disobedience (Deut 28-30). Because He is so omniscient, people cannot escape His judgment or thwart it in some fashion.  It is possible Amos is referring to an earthquake in 9:5 (“toucheth the land, and it shall melt”). This may be the literal earthquake spoken of in 9:1, which occurred two years after Amos wrote and likely destroyed the sanctuary at Bethel. Amos may also be merely emphasizing God’s sovereignty over His creation. “Both heaven and earth are his domain where he has sovereign authority. This is why escape from him is futile.”[12]


Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the LORD. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?


The Israelites’ spiritual arrogance was astounding. They took their elect status for granted, and seemingly forgot Moses’ warnings for disobedience to the covenant (Deut 28:15). This sin was pervasive throughout Israel’s history.

For example, the prophet Jeremiah, writing much later, recorded a truly arrogant and astounding request by King Zedekiah:

Inquire, I pray thee, of the LORD for us; for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon maketh war against us; if so be that the LORD will deal with us according to all his wondrous works, that he may go up from us (Jer 21:2).

This entreaty came after the high priest, Pashur, had beaten Jeremiah and put him “in stocks” for a day. Upon his release, Jeremiah prophesied of Babylon’s capture of Jerusalem. Therefore, such a request from King Zedekiah could only be borne out of an arrogant, haughty mindset.

Amos’ words here are meant to rob the Israelites of this very faulty idea. Outward circumcision is no guarantee of an inward regeneration (Deut 10:16; Rom 2:29). To carnal, unsaved Israelites who blindly trusted in their status as physical children of Abraham, God had a simple message – their exodus from Egypt had no more significance than the movements of heathen nations.[13] “The exodus did not give them license to presume on the holiness of God.”[14]

Excursus – Day of the Lord

Earlier, Amos had criticized Israel for their longing for the “day of the Lord,” (5:18-20). Amos was the first prophet to mention this concept, but it was evidently well-known because Amos assumes his audience understood him.[15] “The day of the Lord refers to the complex of events surrounding the coming of the Lord in judgment to conquer his foes and to establish his sovereign rule over the world.”[16]

This passage was directed at disobedient Israelites who reveled in eschatological promises. The warnings would have made no sense is they were issued to faithful Israelites! Their collective arrogance about final deliverance is unwarranted. “They regarded their election as the guarantee of the Lord’s favor.”[17] It is false security for those who do not love God.

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised; Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon, and Moab, and all that are in the utmost corners, that dwell in the wilderness: for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart (Jer 9:25-26).[18]

Sifting of the Remnant (9:8-10)


Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the LORD.


For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.


All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, which say, The evil shall not overtake nor prevent us.


Returning to the theme of judgment, Amos prophesies an end to the “sinful kingdom.” Here, Amos continues to confound Israel’s expectations about their election. The Northern Kingdom cannot take their election for granted. The sinners in Israel, who do not love God, will be destroyed. This is not a blanket edict of destruction; those who do love God will live! The nation itself is not the remnant; those who are actually saved within her are the remnant.

Amos gives Israel an explicit promise to save those who are His. “As a fine-meshed sieve lets the chaff and dust go through, but catches the good grain, so God would screen out and save any righteous among His people.”[19] Israel’s subsequent exile abroad (5:27; 2 Kgs 17:23-24) will be the means to fulfill this prophesy. “Still God in his grace will not destroy them wholly, but only sift them, and even the carrying away is to serve as a means to this end.[20]

Amos makes this very clear in his next statement. Those who presume upon corporate election for salvation (“disaster shall not overtake or meet us”) are “sinners” who “shall die by the sword” (9:10). As Gary Smith observes, “[b]lessings are not a right to be claimed, but the fruitful outworking of a godly life.”[21]

God will use pagan nations, (in this instance Assyria – 5:27 [2 Kgs 17:23-24]), to sift Israel and execute His judgment. Judah’s day would come later, also at the hands of a pagan nation (Jer 20:4-6).[22] The scope of the coming destruction is described in chilling detail by Joel (2:1-11).

There have been people in every age who have presumed upon the holiness of God and loved Him in an outward manner, devoid of inward light and life (Jer 9:23-26; 1 Jn 2:19-20). Amos was warning Israel against this very mindset.

The self-secure sinners, however, who rely upon their outward connection with the nation of God, or upon their zeal in the outward forms of worship, and fancy that the judgment cannot touch them will all perish by the sword.[23]



In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old:


At this point, Amos’ distinction between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms is completely abandoned. He has already established that the corporate nation itself is not the righteous remnant; but those Israelites within corporate Israel who love God are (Deut 6:5). Amos asserts that God will restore the “booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches,” (9:11). No longer will the Kingdom be rent in two, fragmented by the sinfulness of man (1 Kgs 12:16-24). It would be re-united after punishment for sin (Jer 25:8-14; 29:10-14; Dan 9:24). It would be restored and re-habilitated in a very literal sense.

But fear not, O Jacob my servant, nor be dismayed, O Israel, for behold, I will save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid. Fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the Lord, for I am with you. I will make a full end of all the nations to which I have driven you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished (Jer 46:27-28).

Just as the punishment for Northern Kingdom was meant literally and came to pass, the promised restoration is also literal. It will be raised up from ruins and rebuilt as in the days of old. God will not forget His covenant at Sinai (Ex 19:1-6), which had once seemed so close to fulfillment (1 Kgs 10:1-9). Amos was promising his listeners that the covenant curses upon Israel would be reversed one day in the future. God provides hope in dark days for those who love Him (Rom 8:28).

Elsewhere, other prophets reveal that not only would the nation be united and restored, a leader would also be raised up (2 Sam 7:11-16). That leader is Christ. This glorious day will come in the future, after the Tribulation and the establishment of Jesus’ Millennial Reign. Amos does not divulge the specific times and circumstances of these events, but Daniel does elsewhere (Dan 9:24-27). Thus Amos, the first of the writing prophets,[24] delivers word of impending judgment because of sin, while simultaneously promising eventual deliverance. God will be faithful to His covenant promise to Abraham (Gen 15:17-21).


That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.


Israel’s election was never an end in and of itself; she had a divine mandate to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19:6), drawing Gentiles to God by her own righteous example. In this divine mission, she failed.

Election was not a call to privilege but a choosing for service to God . . . The people were to be God’s ministers, his preachers, and his prophets to their own nation as well as to other nations.[25]

This time, however, there will be a very different result. Jesus Christ will reign in Jerusalem (Dan 2:44; 7:13-14, 27). The Gentile remnant (represented by Edom and “all the nations) will eventually serve and love Him (Dan 7:14, 27; Zech 14:16). “The united kingdom under it’s Davidic King will then become the source of blessing to all Gentiles,[26]” as it was supposed to be from the beginning (Gen 12:1-3).

Excursus – The Church or Israel?

God does indeed have an eternal purpose for the Gentiles. However, how does the church fit into this program? Is the church the fulfillment of this promise, where Gentiles are fellow heirs with Israel (Eph 3:6) and indwelt with His spirit (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:14-21)? Or is the church a distinct, separate entity?

Critics of dispensationalism have cited James’ quotation from Amos in Acts 15:16-17 and argued that the church fulfills this promise. In context, however, James is not arguing this point at all.[27] He was simply arguing that, in light of God’s revelation to Peter (Acts 10:45) and also Paul (Eph 3:6), Gentiles did not need to conform to Mosaic law to be saved. James did not argue that Amos 9:11-12 was being fulfilled; merely that it was in perfect accord with Amos’ prophesy. Gentiles have always been part of God’s eternal plan for salvation (Gen 12:1-3). This accords well with the Biblical teaching that God administers His rule over the world in different ways as He progressively works out His purpose for world history. God is not dealing with men under the Mosaic law any longer, and the edict of the Jerusalem Council reflects this reality (Acts 15:22-29).[28]

From the comfortable vantage point of the modern era, it is obvious Israel, as an earthly theocracy ruled by sinful men, was living on borrowed time ever since God’s glory departed from the temple shortly after the conquest of Judah.[29]

Those opposed to dispensationalism will readily admit Amos teaches a literal judgment on Israel (9:1-10), but will curiously balk at asserting a corresponding literal restoration of the nation (9:11-12)!



Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt.

Here, after delivering such dark tidings of impeding judgment for sin, Amos describes the glorious future which awaits Israel in the Millennium. “He depicts a time when God’s blessing will be poured out in unimaginable abundance.”[30] This is a radical reversal of fortunes.

This marvelous work is by the grace of God alone; for Israel did not earn this unmerited favor. It was simply given (Deut 10:15). Abraham himself was an idolater (Josh 24:2). Writing much later, Ezekiel makes it plan that God will gather Israel from abroad and re-constitute her in the land (Eze 20:33-44). Those who hate God will be judged at this time (Eze 20:38). God does these works for the sake of His name, not Israel’s (Eze 36:22).

What is stated plainly in Amos, namely judgment followed by restoration, is clearly explained elsewhere by later prophets. The picture is one of bliss, fitting for life in a restored kingdom ruled by Christ Himself! “No one in the new day would want for food and drink. With God’s blessing upon it, the land would truly become the land that was promised, flowing with milk and honey.”[31] What sinful men failed to accomplish in the earthly kingdom, Christ will infallibly bring to pass in the Millennium.

It is surely too much to force upon Amos an understanding of the distinction between the Millennial Reign and glorious Eternity (Rev 20:1-10), which was made clear in the New Testament. What is clear, however, is that Amos prophesied a literal judgment, restoration and blessing upon the remnant of Israel which would be everlasting.[32]

Literal or Spiritual?

It is surely an error to spiritualize these blessings upon Israel, as one commentator does at this point:

[A]s the events in it are altogether impossible in the natural world, it must obviously be taken in a spiritual sense. The plenty, like the previously threatened famine (ch. 8:11), was not to be one of bread and water, but “of hearing the words of the Lord.[33]

This method of interpretation seems more closely aligned with the old Alexandrian school of allegorical interpretation than serious hermeneutics! The commentator went on to equate the mountains dripping with sweet wine with the abundance of the word of God dripping from evangelists metaphorical lips! “From the gracious lip there drops continually the new wine of ‘a word in season.’ ”[34]

Calvin did not go nearly so far afield, yet he likewise spiritualizes this passage.

Further, what is here said of the abundance of corn and wine, must be explained with reference to the nature of Christ’s kingdom. As then the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, it is enough for us, that it abounds in spiritual blessings: and the Jews, whom God reserved for himself as a remnant, were satisfied with this spiritual abundance.[35]

It is curious why some critics are so reluctant to see a literal blessing upon a literal Israel. The whole creation longs to be set free from its bondage to corruption (Rom 8:21). With the curse of sin removed, should Christians dare to place restraints upon God’s glorious blessings upon this earth? Why must these promises be spiritual?

Nathan prophesized that God would take a seed of David and establish his throne and his kingdom forever (2 Sam 7:12-16; Ps 89:3-4). Elsewhere, God promised David He would not break or alter this covenant (Ps 89:33-35). In light of these explicit promises, there is no warrant in the text to assume Amos’ audience did not understand that he spoke here of literal blessings upon a literal restoration of the kingdom of Israel.[36]


And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them.


And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God.


This vision explodes at once the erroneous, popular notion of a redeemed people sitting on fluffy clouds, playing harps and worshipping God! “[S]alvation is the restoration of God’s creation on a new earth.”[37] What was soiled by sin will be restored perfectly, without Satan! Man’s original charge in the garden will be renewed, now without possibility of failure.

Amos did not have the benefit of the New Testament to augment his proclamations, but it is clear that Israel has a literal future which cannot be shaken. Fortunes will be restored by God’s grace. Ruins will be rebuilt and inhabited. Agriculture will be restored and the ground will yield fruit plentifully. This restoration is not contingent on anything; it is permanent.


Amos prophesied about a literal judgment for sin, a restoration of the nation and corresponding blessings upon Israel.

Judgment (9:1-10)

Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity (Dan 9:24a).

Amos prophesied about coming judgment for sin; for God’s justice can tolerate nothing less. His focus was on the Northern Kingdom, but his words have broad application to all of corporate Israel. The religious apostates controlling worship in Israel would be killed (9:1), and those who assisted them would never escape His judgment (9:2-4). God is sovereign and will vindicate His name (9:5-6). Israel must never presume upon her election, or the forbearance of God (9:7-10).

Restoration (9:11-12)

. . . and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy (Dan 9:24b).

Israel will be literally re-constituted and gathered from abroad. There will be one, united, literal kingdom as there was in the days of old! (9:11). The nation will fulfill its original mandate to bring all nations of the earth to God (Gen 12:1-3; Ex 19:1-6; Amos 9:12).

Blessings (9:13-15)

And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever (Dan 2:44).

This literal, re-constituted nation of Israel will experience the covenant blessings promised to her (Deut 30:9). Crops will flourish, cities will be re-built and the land will be blessed (9:13-14). Israel will never again be uprooted from her land, which God swore to Abraham (Gen 15:17-21).


Bartholomew, Craig G. and Michael W. Goheen. The Drama of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.

Calvin, John and John Owen. Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, vol. 2. Bellingham: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

Freedman, David N. and Francis I. Anderson. Amos. New York: Doubleday, 1989.

Kaiser, Walter C. Jr. Mission in the Old Testament, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012.

Keil C.F. and F. Delitzsch. “The Minor Prophets,” vol. 10, Commentary on the Old Testament. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2011.

McComiskey, Thomas E. and Tremper Longman III. “Amos,” vol. 8, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.

Lange, John Peter, Philip Schaff, Otto Schmoller and Talbot W. Chambers. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Amos. Bellingham: Logos Bible Software, 2008.

Smith, Billy K. and Franklin S. Page. “Amos, Obadiah, Jonah,” vol. 19b, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995.

Smith, Gary V. Hosea, Amos, Micah.Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Spence-Jones, H.D.M. The Pulpit Commentary. London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909.

Sunukjian, Donald R. “Amos,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985.

Wood, Leon. A Survey of Israel’s History, revised ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986.


[1] C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, “Amos,” vol. 10, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 2011), 214.

[2] Ibid, 215.

[3] Thomas E. McComiskey and Tremper Longman III, “Amos,” vol. 8, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 415. See also Gary V. Smith, Hosea, Amos, Micah (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 401.

[4]Ibid, 415.

[5] Smith, Hosea, Amos, Micah, 401.

[6] David N. Freedman and Francis I. Anderson, Amos (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1989), 841.

[7] McComiskey, “Amos,” 356.

[8] Freedman and Anderson, Amos, 842.

[9] Ibid, 842.

[10] Leon Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History, revised ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 278.

[11] Freedman and Anderson, Amos, 841.

[12] Billy K. Smith and Franklin S. Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, vol. 19b, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 158-59.

[13]Keil, “Amos,” 218-219. “For degenerate Israel, the leading up out of Egypt had no higher significance than the leading up of the Philistines and Syrians out of their former dwelling-places into the lands which they at present inhabited.”

[14]McComiskey, “Amos,” 416.

[15] See Freedman and Anderson, Amos, 520. “This passage is one of the earliest occurrences, if not the first, of a term that becomes a leitmotif in prophetic discourse and is central to a theology of the Bible.” See also McComiskey, “Amos,” 400.

[16]McComiskey, “Amos,” 400.

[17] Ibid.

[18] For the spiritual arrogance of Israel, see especially Jer 36; 44:15-19. The chastening of corporate Israel began with Israel (the Northern Kingdom, conquered by Assyria), and continued later with Judah (the Southern Kingdom, conquered by Nebuchadnezzar).

[19]Donald R. Sunukjian, “Amos,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985), 1451.

[20] John Peter Lange and others, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Amos (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 56.

[21] Smith, Hosea, Amos, Micah, 403.

[22] For God’s sovereign judgment upon both Israel and Judah, see Jer 50:17-18.

[23] Keil, “Amos,” 220.

[24] McComiskey, “Amos,” 356, argues that Amos is “the first written prophetic text.”

[25] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Mission in the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 14.

[26] Sunukjian, “Amos,” 1451.

[27] “The focus of James’s concern, however, was not prophecy of future events but how to handle the current problem of Gentile inclusion in the church.” Smith and Page, “Amos, Obadiah, Jonah,” 168.

[28] For a more detailed response, see Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 394-396. See also Thomas Constable, Acts (Dallas, TX: SonicLight, 2013), 214-219.

[29] Eze 8:4; 8:12; 9:3-8; 10; 11:23.

[30]McComiskey, “Amos,” 419.

[31] Smith and Page, “Amos, Obadiah, Jonah,” 169.

[32] Smith, Hosea, Amos, Micah, 415, forcefully makes this very point. He states the millennial kingdom “is totally unknown to Amos and all the other Old Testament prophets.”

[33]Amos, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 185.

[34]  Ibid.

[35] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 413.

[36] Let every honest Christian consider that the most basic principle of interpretation is to gather from Scripture the original meaning the writer intended to convey to his original audience.

[37] Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 210.

Do Covenant Theologians Really Understand Dispensationalism?

The question is in the title – and it appears there is considerable confusion on this point. I direct your attention to this excellent article.  R. C. Sproul and Sinclair Ferguson appear to have contempt for a system they may not actually understand. I would never show this kind of disdain for Covenant Theology, even though I disagree with it.


Are God’s Promises to Israel Spiritual?

Here is an excellent, short article on this point! I am not known for writing short articles, so I thought I’d pass this one along. I’ll be posting an exposition of Amos 9 in the next few days, which demonstrate that God’s promises to Israel were literal and must be interpreted as such, if we are to be faithful to the text.

Here is the article – http://sharperiron.org/article/promises-to-israel-we-should-expect-literal-fulfillment

Recommended Reading in Dispensationalism

Excellent reading list on dispensationalism


Dan Phillips has asked me to come up with a guide to the reading of Dispensational Theology.  I hope this is what he expected.  Anyway, this is what I have come up with.  No “Progressive Dispensationalist” work is included because I do not consider that approach to be Dispensationalism proper (which does not mean dispensationalists can’t learn from them!).  Neither have I included ultra-dispensational works, nor indeed, those post-trib./pre-wrath books which deny imminence.  An asterisk indicates my recommendation of where money ought to go first.

No doubt I have let some vital resource run through the sieve that is my memory.  If readers want to prompt me to remembrance I shall add to the following list: 


*DispensationalismCharles C. Ryrie – Updated version of the author’s Dispensationalism Today, which should still be purchased.  This is a must read, even if it is soft on the covenants. Irenic…

View original post 1,858 more words

What is Dispensationalism?


This paper will deal with the different forms of worship God desired in successive dispensations. Therefore, at the outset a brief working definition of worship and a short explanation of dispensationalism as a theological system must be provided.

Note: This paper is not an apologetic for dispensationalism as a system, though it may evolve into this eventually. It is very much a work in process. The New Covenant, for example, is not discussed in this version. It is better viewed as a discussion of the big picture of Scripture; specifically how and why God is moving history forward. 


Worship is defined as “the expression of an authentic response to God in appropriate forms.” God has always demanded an authentic response; reverence, love, etc, encapsulated best by Christ Himself (Deut 6:5; Mt 22:37). There must also be an appropriate form of response. Man has an obligation to respond in a specific and appropriate manner, and the form of the worship God desires has changed throughout the dispensations (Means, 1865, 531).


A dispensation is a particular way God administers His rule over the world as He progressively works out His purpose for world history (Showers, 1990, 30). God’s purpose for world history is to bring about His Kingdom. It is presumptuous and un-Biblical to presume God is not ruling and reigning over the course of events now, and it is equally un-Biblical to deny God’s eternal plan is marching towards some decreed end in the future. Therefore, it is appropriate to distinguish between the eternal, universal extent of His rule and the method of His rule (McClain, 1959, 21). The extent of God’s rule is all-encompassing, but the method of His rule has changed periodically throughout Scripture with each successive dispensation.



God has changed the administration, or manner, of His rule several times throughout Scripture (Heb 1:1-2). Distinguishing characteristics of a dispensation are (Ryrie, 2007, 40);

1. A change in God’s governing relationship with man,

2. A resulting change in man’s responsibility, and

3. Corresponding revelation to reveal both of the above.

Man’s responsibility in any dispensation is to worship God in the way He commands by (1) an authentic, heartfelt response which takes (2) the appropriate form. The genuine response of the believer has always been an unchanging requirement; Rolland McCune (2009, 125) observed; “faith in God’s revelation was required not only for redemption from sin but also for fulfilling one’s dispensational obligations (Gen 15:6).” The form of that response, however, has changed throughout human history as God periodically alters the method of His rule. This paper will explore the different forms of worship throughout these different dispensations.

God’s Purpose

God’s purposes for His creation are to bring about His Kingdom entirely for His own glory. Christians can confidently point out where everything began (Genesis), and most can also point to how it will all end (Revelation 20-21). How God is working out His plan in between these two events is the issue! The dispensational system provides a coherent, Scriptural blueprint to understand how and why God is advancing His Kingdom for His own glory.

His Kingdom

What was created perfect was ruined by willful sin; God is advancing His plan for setting His creation right once again, culminating in a new heavens and a new earth in the eternal state (Rev 21). The personal, visible worship Adam and Eve used to enjoy in the garden was no longer possible with sinful men; after the fall man could not look upon God and still live (Gen 3:8; Ex 33:20). Christ taught us that our earnest prayer should be for God’s kingdom to come (Mt 6:9-15). We should look forward to this blessed event and pray for His will to be done. Through the framework of dispensations, God’s progressive plan to achieve this very end is clearly evident.

For His Glory

This is a difficult concept for unbelievers and, unfortunately, even many Christians to believe. It is not about man – it is about God! The innate selfishness of mankind has allowed far too many Christians to believe they are the center of God’s plan and purposes. This is incorrect; God desires to be worshipped in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24).

A poor, but useful analogy is that of a father ruling his household. The father has the right to expect his children to obey his rules if they wish to remain in the house. He is owed this respect, after all, it is his house! Any parent would agree that children should honor and respect their parents (Ex 20:12) out of a pure heart because they want to, not because they have to. In the same manner, God has the inherent right to demand proper worship and respect by virtue of who He is (Lev 19:2; 1 Pet 1:16). Therefore, it is a terrible mistake to make ourselves the center of God’s purposes.

Our salvation was done for a purpose; “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:7). Elsewhere, in Ezekiel, God makes it quite clear that His promised restoration of Israel in the MillennialKingdom will be done for His glory, not their own.

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes (Eze 36:22-23).


Dispensation of Innocence (Gen 1:3 – 3:6)

God’s Revelation

In this glorious state before the fall of man, the world God had created was “very good” (Gen 1:31). Man was created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27; 2:5b); the only one of His creatures to have this distinction. This makes man special and unique before God. He was created by the very breath, or creative force, of God (Gen 2:7). This image was not physical, but relational. Just as God has authority and power over everything, man was given special authority over God’s creation (Gen 1:28; 2:15). Adam was appointed a steward of God’s creation, meant to have dominion over it all. Eve was created to be a help and companion to Adam in fulfilling this task (Gen 2:18). Man was meant to work the ground, not laze around idly all the day long (Gen 2:5b).

Man’s Worship Responsibility

Adam’s “principal mission” (Matthews, 1996, 209) was to work and keep the garden (Gen 2:15). Numerous subordinate responsibilities included commands to reproduce and fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over all other creatures (Gen 1:28). The original Hebrew of Gen 2:15 may be better translated as “to worship and obey” rather than the phrase “to work and keep” so familiar to English readers (Sailhamer, 45). Man’s obligation is to appropriately respond to this specific form of worship God desired.

Failure to worship God appropriately constitutes willful rebellion. God clearly defined eating from the fruit of the forbidden tree as rebellion (Gen 2:16-17) to the “worship” he demanded (Gen 2:15). This is strikingly similar to the familiar pattern of blessings and cursings from Deut 28-30. Moses presented Israel with two stark choices, both of which would fit seamlessly in this Genesis narrative; “see, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil,” (Deut 30:15). Proper worship of God entailed authentic, heartfelt response in the appropriate way (Gen 2:15). Willful deviation from this command was rebellion, which would be punished (Gen 2:16-17). “The prohibition against eating the fruit of the ‘tree of knowledge’ gave Adam the opportunity to worship God through loyal devotion,” (Matthews, 211).

Man’s Rebellion

However, Adam and Eve did willfully violate God’s commandment for worship. In so doing, they introduced sin into the world and were expelled from the garden (Gen 3:22-24). “The state of unconscious innocence gave place to a state of conscious rebellion,” (Andrews, 1901, 11).

Their rebellion ushered in the next dispensation in God’s eternal program. God’s grace can be clearly seen in His promise of redemption through their offspring (Gen 3:15) and in a covering for their sin. God’s judgment for their rebellious failure to maintain proper worship is redemptive in purpose, not vindictive (Hamilton, 2005, 46).


Dispensation of Conscience (Gen 3:7 – 8:14)

God’s Revelation

Once sin entered into the world and man had knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:22), conscience, which is written on man’s heart (Rom 2:14), was the ruling factor or restraint upon man’s sinful lusts. “Obedience to the dictates of conscience was man’s chief stewardship responsibility” in this new dispensation (Ryrie, 60). Scripture records that immediately after consuming the fruit, Adam and Eve were ashamed and hid from fellowship with God (Gen 3:8). There was “a consciousness of guilt or shame before God,” (Keil, 2011, 60). God provided revelation about this new dispensation immediately after the fall (Gen 3:14-24).

Man’s Worship Responsibility

Though Scripture does not explicitly record this new revelation, offerings are an implied part of worship in this dispensation (Gen 4:3-4). Life inside the garden, in the previous dispensation, was “blissful communion with God without mediation,” (Matthews, 259). Sin fundamentally changed this relationship, and the first record of life outside the garden depicts Cain and Abel presenting offerings to God.

Cain brought merely an offering of fruit from the ground (Gen 4:3) which found no favor with God (Gen 4:4b), and Cain became very angry as a result (Gen 4:5). Abel, in contrast, brought a costly blood sacrifice “of the firstborn of his flock.”

Man’s Rebellion

Cain’s failure is representative of mankind’s corporate rebellion and rejection of proper worship (Gen 6:5-6). He responded with both an insincere heart and in the wrong manner. “Abel’s thanks came from the depths of his heart, whilst Cain merely offered his to keep on good terms with God,” (Keil, 69). Cain’s attitude was false, and his subsequent anger betrayed a counterfeit love for God (Gen 4:5b). His rebellion resulted in a willful transgression of God’s requirement for a bloody sacrifice.  Scriptural evidence supporting the specific requirement of a bloody sacrifice are circumstantial (Gen 3:21; Heb 9:22), but Crawford’s reasoned statement here is virtually unanswerable; “with the single exception of Cain’s rejected offering, there is no other sacrifice or record before the time of Moses that did not consist of the shedding of animal blood,” (Crawford, 1853, 276).

Therefore Cain responded insincerely to God and in a completely inappropriate manner. He desired to worship in the wrong way and God simply will not accept the wrong form of worship (Gen 4:5). Cain left in exile and founded a large city which flourished (Gen 4:17-24). Scripture records absolutely no worship from Cain again. In contrast, the descendents of Seth “began to call upon the name of the Lord,” (Gen 4:26). Their proper worship undoubtedly consisted of doing good and not evil, in accordance with their conscience, and responding to the Lord with offerings and sacrifices at appointed times.[1]

The corporate failure of mankind to maintain a right heart for God or worship Him appropriately is evident in that “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence,” (Gen 6:11). Mankind’s thoughts were “only evil continually,” (Gen 6:5). Noah, however, was “blameless in his generation” and “walked with God,” (Gen 6:9). Evidently Noah, alone among mankind, still loved God and worshipped Him correctly as his forefathers had (Gen 4:26). His Godly character is very apparent – Noah’s immediate response upon exiting the ark after the catastrophic flood was to make a blood offering to God (Gen 8:20-21), illustrating the authentic response of a true believer in this dispensation. It is extremely significant that God’s response came only after He smelled “the pleasing aroma” (Gen 8:21) of the offering. “Man is still fallen; but through an offering on an alter he may yet find God’s blessing,” (Sailhamer, 93) which immediately followed (Gen 8:21b-22).


Dispensation of Human Government (Gen 8:15 – 11:9)

God’s Revelation

He would never curse the ground because of men or strike down any living creature with a flood again; the earth’s seasons would remain (Gen 8:21-22; 9:9-11).

Man’s Worship Responsibility

Man’s responsible worship is to multiply and fill the earth (Gen 9:1,7). Subordinate to this overarching responsibility, God revealed that all creatures would now fear man (Gen 9:2) and would be able to be eaten for food (Gen 9:3).

The first vestiges of human government are introduced to people as they multiplied and filled the earth, specifically as a “form of control upon the lawless impulses of men,” (McClain, 46). This government took the form of capitol punishment (Gen 9:6).

“If God on account of the innate sinfulness of man would no more bring an exterminating judgment upon the earthly creation, it was necessary that by commands and authorities He should erect a barrier against the supremacy of evil,” (Keil, 97).

Man’s Rebellion

The great rebellion of man in this dispensation was that, rather than spreading out and multiplying on the face of the earth (Gen 8:17; 9:7), mankind gathered together in defiance of God’s command to build a city to prevent their dispersion (Gen 11:4).

God’s judgment is to confound their language, frustrating mankind’s attempt to form what may be termed a “one world government” (Gen 11:6-7). Mankind leaves and disperses throughout the earth, as God initially commanded (Gen 11:8, 9b).

Man’s sin is that of selfishness; choosing autonomy over God. “The sin of the people does not lie in the desire to build a city . . . It is the motivation behind this undertaking that is most prominent.” They desired to build themselves a city which reached to the heavens, to make a name for themselves so they would not be scattered abroad (Gen 11:4). “This is the pagan concept of immortality,” (Hamilton, 75).

It was deliberate rebellion against God’s express command. Man’s responsibility for true worship in this dispensation is to abide by their innate knowledge of right vs. wrong, to multiply over the earth and govern corporately over one another. Man’s basic problem is that he always seeks to worship in his own way; “the characteristic mark of man’s failure up to this point in the book has been his attempt to grasp the ‘good’ on his own rather than trust God to provide it for him,” (Sailhamer, 105). Man’s corporate failure to worship God appropriately, borne out of a hostile heart, brought about a change in God’s administration.


Dispensation of the Patriarchs (Gen 11:10 – Ex 18:27)[2]

God’s Revelation

Rather than working corporately with all of mankind, God now choose to mediate His will through one man and eventually one people. “God turned away from man in the collective sense and called out one particular man through whom the divine regal will is to be accomplished on earth,” (McClain, 49).

God commands an idolatrous man, Abraham (Josh 24:2), to leave the land of his family and journey to a new land God will show him. He makes several distinct promises to Abraham, (1) to make a great nation from him, (2) to bless him, (3) to make his name great, (4) to make him a blessing, (5) to bless those who bless Abraham and curse (or judge) those who judge him, and (6) bless all people on earth through Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). “Abram is the vehicle of the divine gift for the nations. This suggests that a specific plan is envisioned for the blessing upon the nations,” (Matthews, 2005, 117).

God guaranteed Abraham He would be faithful to make a nation from him (Gen 15:5). God went even further, making a covenant with Abraham, promising He would provide a land for the nation (Gen 15:18). God, by passing between the severed pieces of Abraham’s sacrifice, condescended in an extraordinary fashion to place Himself as the weaker party of the covenant (Bartholomew & Goheen, 2004, 56). The covenant with Abraham foreshadowed the covenant with the theocratic kingdom of Israel (Ex 19:1-6), with David (2 Sam 7:16) and the first advent of Christ Himself (Mk 1:15).

Man’s Worship Responsibility

The Patriarch’s worship responsibility is four-fold (McCune, 125-126). First, to believe in God’s promises given in the covenant (Gen 15:6). Second, to receive the sign of the covenant – circumcision (Gen 17:10). Failure to do so will result in exile (Gen 17:14). Third, separation from the other heathen nations. Isaac and Jacob both married Israelite women (Gen 24:3-4; 28:1-2), and Abraham explicitly forbid marriage with foreigners. Fourth, they must remain in the land of promise (Gen 26:2-3).

The Patriarchs executed responsible and faithful worship throughout this dispensation. Regardless of individual moral failings common to all men (Gen 12:10-20; 20:2; 25:32; 26:7; 27:35; 38), they remained faithful followers of God. Abraham’s immediate response after hearing God’s revelation is to worship Him (Gen 12:7). Abraham is still blessed with material wealth upon his return from Egypt (Gen 13:2) and maintained worship afterward (Gen 13:4). The Lord blessed Isaac during his life (Gen 26:12-14). Jacob also maintained proper worship (Gen 33:20).

Scripture provides ample context to demonstrate the sojourn to Egypt was part of God’s sovereign plan from the beginning (Gen 15:13-16), to be executed at His own specific time. Isaac was told to not go to Egypt (Gen 26:2-5), and later Joseph was allowed to (Gen 46:2-4). This event was orchestrated and decreed by God (Gen 45:5-8; 50:20), who promised to bless Israel in Egypt and did so (Gen 46:3; Ex 1:7). This is hardly the result of judgment; rather, it confirms that the Patriarchs, sinful and fallible men though they were, executed faithful and responsible worship. Dispensational attempts to defend the Patriarch’s “failure” by appealing to the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will ignore plain Scriptural context and are unconvincing.[3]


Dispensation of the Law (Ex 19:1 – Acts 1:26)

God’s Revelation

After He led His people up out of Egypt, God forged these tribes of Abraham into a theocratic kingdom at Sinai (Ex 19:1-6). Sinai refined Israel’s understanding of the original promise to Abraham. As Stephen Dempster observed “[t]he promise of this covenant is that an obedient Israel may bring God’s creation blessing to the world,” (Dempster, 2003, 101). God has several goals in mind (Ex 19:5-6); (1) Israel would be a peculiar treasure for God out of all the nations; (2) Israel would be a kingdom of priests for God, and (3) Israel would be a holy nation.

God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob continues in a new form. Israel will be a showcase nation, a testimony for God to all the nations of the world, called to live by laws which reflect the character of the one true God (Bartholomew & Goheen, 66).

Victor Hamilton observed, “[t]he purpose of the covenant is to create a new relationship. The purpose of the law is to regulate or perpetuate an existing relationship by orderly means,” (Hamilton, 189). Continuing on, Hamilton quoted from Brevard Childs and noted, “The law defines the holiness expected of the covenant people,” (189). The law itself was not based on fear; faithfulness was predicated on an all encompassing love for God (Deut 6:1-13). Too often, Christians focus on the fact of Israel’s elect status among the nations and the behavior expected of her (Ex 20 – Lev 27) while ignoring why God demanded such behavior in the first place.

Man’s Worship Responsibility

Israel’s theocratic role was to be a holy, set apart people and thereby lead the Gentile nations to God by her own holy example. She would mediate God’s holiness to the other nations. In the same manner that Christians are commanded to be the “light of the world” (Mt 5:16) individually, to draw people to Christ by their testimony, God desired a specific people, Israel, to do this nationally.

Israel’s assignment from God involved intermediation. They were not to be a people unto themselves, enjoying their special relationship with God and paying no attention to the rest of the world. Rather, they were to represent him to the rest of the world and attempt to bring the rest of the world to him. In other words, the challenge to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” represented the responsibility inherent in the original promise to Abraham (Stuart, 2006, 423).

Ezekiel 18 is one of the most striking passages on the failure of Israel to maintain proper worship with God. Faith alone has always been the grounds for salvation, in any dispensation (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:5; Eph 2:8-9). Appropriate worship is mankind’s responsibility, the fruit of a regenerated heart. “These stipulations provided a concrete, practical outworking of faith in the God who redeemed Israel from Egypt and gave the people His law.” Israel failed in this respect (Alexander, 1986, 824).[4]

Righteousness before God consisted in keeping the law to best of one’s ability (Eze 18:5-9). A man who “walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord GOD,” (Eze 18:9). Israel’s worship failure as a theocratic nation was corporate, but its collective failure resulted from innumerable individual rebellions. A man is responsible to God for his own sins (Eze 18:10-13). “The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself,” (Eze 18:20c).

Complete forgiveness is promised for a heartfelt return to God and proper worship (Eze 18:21-23). God, in every dispensation, desires men to be saved. “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Eze 18:23). Blessings would result from obedience to God’s specific revelation; cursing would follow from disobedience (Deut 28-30).

Man’s Rebellion

There was a pervasive heart issue throughout Israel’s entire theocratic history – Israel repeatedly fell into rebellion and blasphemed the name of God by their idolatrous worship. As Ezekiel documented, this happened at the very establishment of the Mosaic Covenant (Eze 20:5,8,13), prior to the wilderness judgment (Eze 20:15-16) and during the wilderness years (Eze 20:19) the Israelites were specifically commanded to “walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules.” Failure to worship God appropriately is “treacherous,” (Eze 20:27).

Israel failed to drive the nations out of the land and was judged (Joshua 2:1-3). After Joshua’s death, she “abandoned the Lord” and served other gods. The true God was unknown to Israel within a generation of Joshua’s death (Joshua 2:10-15). God appointed judges to rule over the Israel, and this period culminated with devastating civil war and general debauchery (Judges 21:25). The historical kingdom reached its pinnacle in Solomon, when the temple was dedicated and God re-iterated the covenant promise He had already made to David (1 Kgs 9:1-9). Nations round about Israel began to know God through Israel’s holy example; “the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD,” (1 Kgs 10:1). After Solomon’s death, the nation fractured into civil war (1 Kgs 12:16-24).

After Solomon’s death, God’s promised judgment (Deut 30:17-20; 1 Kgs 9:1-9) began to be fulfilled. No king was ever again chosen directly by God, but took the throne by inheritance or by force.

The depth of Israel’s worship failure is very striking when one considers the change in the office of the prophet. Originally, at the establishment of the historical kingdom, prophets advised the king and their revelation from God was for immediate application, not future events glimpsed through a glass darkly.

“The prophet spake for his own time; his words were fitted to meet the exigencies of the day; they were pre-eminently practical. The word spoken, whether to the king or people, was to enable them to fulfill present duty, not to discern in detail the remote future,” (Andrews, 80).

However, Israel’s rebellion of false worship would result in a cessation of God’s presence among His people and a need for reliance on the written word instead.

“The period of writing prophets parallels the period of the decline and end of the historical kingdom,” (McClain, 115). Prophets now began to write for the future generations, not to merely guide the current generation. “The transition, therefore, from spoken to written prophesy marks an epoch in the history of the elect people,” (83).

The sickness of Israel was pervasive, encompassing the moral, social, economic and spiritual spheres (McClain, 116). The call was always the same; return to the Law and be blessed;

“Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls,” (Jer 6:16).

The departure of the Lord’s glory from the temple in Jerusalem shortly after the captivity signified “the end not only of Israel’s political supremacy but also of her religious supremacy,” (McClain, 123).[5]

“Israel might have fulfilled its calling to be ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,’ and that it did not was its sin; and the captivity brought the merited judgment,” (Andrews, 406). Israel’s failure can be reduced to one simple point – she did not love God with all her heart, soul and might (Deut 6:5), therefore she did not worship Him appropriately.

“And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, “Why has the Lord dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and worshiped other gods and served them,” (Jer 22:8-9).


Dispensation of Grace (Acts 2:1 – Rev 19:21)

God’s Revelation

Here was revealed the mystery of the church age and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which “is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek,” (Rom 1:16).

A new arrangement for God’s dealing with men, this current dispensation was new revelation given to the apostles that the world did not have before (Eph 3:2-3), “which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit,” (Eph 3:5). Gentiles were now revealed to be “fellow-heirs” in the family of God (Eph 3:6).

Rolland McCune aptly remarks, “the new revelation from God is so vast that it cannot be easily reduced to a nice catalogue,” (132). Christ died for the sins of the world, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (Jn 3:16). What every previous dispensation looked forward to by blood sacrifices was now made clear; Christ was the perfect lamb without blemish – the final sacrifice. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” (Jn 1:29). His sacrifice atoned for sins, and as our High Priest Christ intercedes for His children (Heb 5:7-10).

Gentiles have been grafted into God’s covenant promise to Abraham (Rom 11:17). “God raises up a seed unto Abraham out of the Gentiles by engrafting them through faith in the Christ, and accounting them as the children of Abraham by virtue of their Abrahamic justifying faith,” (Peters, 1884, 396). God is taking out of the world certain people for His name (Acts 15:14). “When the body of Christ is complete, the Lord will come; Gentile times will finish and Israel shall be put in again,” (McClain, 1973, 202).

God’s eternal plan involves two distinct groups – Israel and the Church. God revealed that the Church was an integral part of His plan. The kingdom that was promised to Israel (2 Sam 7:16) is still future. The Jews were waiting for the promised King who would rule over Israel, whose reign would never end. They didn’t recognize Christ was that King. Jesus revealed this present dispensation once it became very clear the Jews were rejecting Him (Mt 21:43). The church, as a corporate body of born again believers, is considered a “nation” of sorts in Scripture (Gal 3:7-9; Rom 10:19), with the same purpose but different method.

Man’s Worship Responsibility

McCune outlined several responsibilities for man in this dispensation (132). Man must receive God’s marvelous gift of salvation, offered to all, by faith (Rom 10:10; Acts 16:31). Believers must worship God in the local church, be baptized, attend worship faithfully and partake of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:41-42; Heb 10:24-25). The outworking of a truly regenerated heart will be a desire to live a Godly life (Titus 2:11-14). Renald Shower’s words here cannot be improved upon, “grace practices discipline over believers for the purpose of prompting them to reject a godless lifestyle and to adopt a Godly one,” (44).

He must also spread the Gospel to the world indiscriminately (Mt 28:18-20); which includes discipleship for new believers. This is an active evangelism, rather than the passive ingathering characteristic of the Mosaic Dispensation. Men must pattern the holy ideal of the Kingdom of God in their own lives while passionately reaching out to others with the Good News of Jesus Christ. What Israel failed to do corporately, Christians in this dispensation are called to do individually. God is not mediating His grace through Israel any longer, but dealing with the whole world once again.

Man’s Rebellion

A quick glance around contemporary society proves man has not worshipped God appropriately. John Walvoord, commenting elsewhere in Daniel on the errs of post-millennialism, wrote “for the past century or more the church has been an ebbing tide in the affairs of the world, and there has been no progress whatsoever in the church’s gaining control of the world politically. If the image [in Dan 2] represents Gentile political power, it is very much still standing,” (Walvoord, 2012, 89). Paul wrote to Timothy, warning him that “evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived,” (2 Tim 3:13). This is surely the case in society today.

The witness of Scripture testifies that both the Gentile world and Israel will be deceived by the Antichrist following the rapture of the Church (Dan 7:25; 9:27; 2 Thess 2:6-12). The moral, social and spiritual decay in modern society is merely a foretaste of the debauchery to come, culminating in the Antichrist – the ultimate antithesis of Jesus Christ, a man wholly give over to Satan and self-worship (Dan 7:25), every bit as sinful as Christ is holy. “He is Satan’s masterpiece, a human being who is Satan’s substitute for Jesus Christ,” (Walvoord, 353). The fact that mankind will someday willingly worship such a creature is proof of a widespread failure to accept proper worship of God in this present age.


Dispensation of the Millennium (Rev 20:1-15)

God’s Revelation

Christ will return to this world with His saints[6] at his side (Rev 19:14) and defeat the Antichrist conclusively (Dan 7:11b, 22, 26; 9:27; 11:45b). Satan will be bound for 1000 years and cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:2-3). The Millennial Reign of Christ, the kingdom promised to Israel (Gen 12:1-3; Ex 19:1-6; 2 Sam 7:16) and already offered and rejected by her once (Mt 21:43) will be established at long last (Dan 2:35b, 44a; 7:13-14, 27; Rev 20:6).

Those believing Gentiles and Israelites from the Dispensations of Innocence through the Law will be resurrected to join Christ in the Kingdom. The church has already been raptured prior to the tribulation. Everybody who did not believe in God will be resurrected and judged at the end of the Millennial Reign (Dan 12:1-4; Rev 20:4-6).[7]

Israel and the Church will both worship Christ in spirit and in truth and receive their promised and decreed ends (Amos 9:11-15; 2 Cor 11:2; Rev 19:7-9).

Man’s Worship Responsibility

Those who entered the Kingdom from the Tribulation and their children are responsible to obey Christ’s rule (Rev 19:15). All other believers will have resurrected bodies and be glorified; their sanctification is already complete.

Man’s Rebellion

Mankind will fail here, too. As the earth is re-populated during Christ’s rule for a period of 1000 years, man will still have the option to conform outwardly and yet still remain in willful rebellion against God. McClain observes,

Some people have been genuinely concerned about the problem of sin in an otherwise perfect Kingdom of God in human life. And, of course, Scripture makes it perfectly clear that sin will be present during the MillennialKingdom. The fact that Satan must be bound so that he cannot deceive the nations during the age of the Kingdom (Rev 20:3) shows that in the people of that age there will remain the inclination to respond to satanic temptation. And the prediction that a great multitude will thus respond as soon as Satan is loosed (Rev 20:7-8) only confirms the existence of a sinful human nature (499).

Because Christ Himself is ruling, disobedience to His law will be a very rare exception. “We are not told of any transgression till near the end, when Satan is unloosed  . . . This implies that till this unloosing there was at least general obedience to God’s will under the rule of the Messiah,” (Andrews, 355).

Satan’s brief, final rebellion is dealt with astonishingly quickly. The rebellious men who reject the visible, present Lord for Satan are snuffed out as like a candle (Rev 20:9b); “as the light given them has been great, so is their punishment,” (Andrews, 356).


Lessons from the Dispensations

It is not the point of this monograph to examine the implications of the dispensations at length, but one overarching principle stands out quite clearly. Man is utterly unable to save Himself, is completely dependent on God’s grace, and God deserves all the glory He demands and then more. Man’s sin is clearly evident in every dispensation. There is a collective, corporate failure to worship God appropriately or respond to His revelation out of a pure heart. Jeremiah’s words to Judah, though addressed to Israelites, are entirely appropriately to all of mankind in any dispensation;

“Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the Lord,” (Jer 9:6).

Paul echoes this most fundamental truth in his letter to the Romans (Rom 1:18-32).



Christ’s statement on worship transcends every dispensation; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” (Mt 22:37). Such an all-encompassing love for God will produce an authentic desire to worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24). Man’s revelation from God has changed throughout human history as God progressively unfolded His plan for His creation. The mark of true worship has been the proper response to Him in accordance with the revelation given. In this, man has continually failed in a corporate sense.

Adam in Eden fell through temptation; the world before the flood was corrupt and evil. The nations descended from Noah ignored God’s command to scatter and multiply. Israel went after foreign gods, ignored her covenant responsibilities and crucified her Messiah. The Church is now dealing with apostasy which will grow ever worse, “and at last all the light and happiness of the Kingdom do not keep many of its subjects from rebellion when the Devil is unloosed,” (Andrews, 356).

In an individual way, however, man has positively responded to God’s revelation out of a pure heart and worshipped God appropriately throughout human history. He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” (2 Pet 3:9). Salvation, in any dispensation, has always consisted of an authentic response to God, and corresponding worship in appropriate form.

Praise Him that so many have loved Him, do love Him today, and will love Him in ages to come. Scripture gives divine assurance that, no matter the wiles of Satan and the appetites of sinful men, God will triumph. Christ will rule and reign, defeat Satan once and for all and deliver up the Kingdom to His Father, then all who love God will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” (Ps 23:6b).


Alexander, Ralph H. “Ezekiel,” vol. 6, The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986.

Andrews, Samuel J. God’s Revelations of Himself to Men. New York: Putnam, 1901.

Bartholomew, Craig and Michael Goheen. The Drama of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.

Cooper, Lamar E. “Ezekiel,” vol. 17, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville: B&H, 1994.

Crawford, Thomas J. The Doctrine of Holy Scripture Respecting the Atonement. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1853.

Dempster, Stephen. Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible. Downers Grove: IVP, 2003.

Hamilton, Victor P. A Handbook on the Pentateuch, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005.

Keil, C.F. “Pentateuch,” vol. 1, Commentary on the Old Testament. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2011.

Matthews, Kenneth A. “Genesis: 1-11:26,” vol. 1a, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville: B&H, 1996.

Matthews, Kenneth A. “Genesis: 11:27-50:26,” vol. 1b, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville: B&H, 2005.

McClain, Alva J. The Greatness of the Kingdom. Winona Lake: BMH, 1959.

McClain, Alva J. Romans: The Gospel of God’s Grace. Chicago: Moody, 1973.

McCune, Rolland. A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, vol. 1. Detroit: DBTS, 2009.

Means, J. O. “What Is The True Conception Of Christian Worship?” Bibliotheca Sacra 022:88 (Oct 1865): 531.

Peters, George N.H. The Theocratic Kingdom, vol. 1. New York: Funk & Wagnall’s, 1884.

Ryrie, Charles C. Dispensationalism. Chicago: Moody, 2007.

Sailhamer, John H. “Genesis,” vol. 2, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.

Showers, Renald E. There Really is a Difference. Bellmawr: Friends of Israel, 1990.

Stuart, Douglas K. “Exodus,” vol. 2, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville: B&H, 2006.

Thomas, Robert L. Revelation 8-22. Chicago: Moody, 1995.

Walvoord, John F. Daniel, ed. Charles Dyer and Phillip Rawley. Chicago: Moody, 2012.

Walvoord, John F. Revelation, ed. Philip Rawley and Mark Hitchcock. Chicago: Moody, 2011.

[1] The author does not agree with the traditional dispensational understanding of Gen 6:3, in that the “Spirit” is an inward restraint upon men’s activities; see McClain, Kingdom, 44-45 and Showers, Difference, 36 for this view. Arguments for the “Spirit” being the imparting of long life (“breath of life”) from Matthews, “Genesis,” 332-334 and Keil, “Pentateuch,” 84-85 are sound. Plain context also commends this view.

[2] This author disagrees with the traditional dispensational understanding that the Patriarchs “failed” and were judged in any sense at the close of this dispensation. Misplaced dispensational focus on testfailure and judgment has resulted in eisegesis in this instance.

[3] See McClain, Kingdom, 51 and McCune, Systematic, 127 (footnote #58) for these arguments.

[4] See also Lamar E. Cooper, “Ezekiel,” vol. 17, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 187. Both Alexander and Cooper emphasize that Ezekiel is speaking of judgment for sins, not necessarily eternal salvation in this passage. Due to the abysmal spiritual conditions of the day, many Israelites in Judah who thus sinned undoubtedly never exercised saving faith in God, but some certainly did. Regardless, the point germane to this paper is that Israel corporately failed to exercise proper worship in this dispensation.

[5] Eze 8:4; 8:12; 9:3-8; 11:23;21:26-27.

[6] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995), 388. Walvoord [John F. Walvoord, Revelation, ed. Philip Rawley and Mark Hitchcock (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2011), 290-291] believes angels are present also.

[7] Thomas, Revelation, 420. The first resurrection is the righteous to eternal life, all the righteous (Rev 20:4-5). All of the righteous believers will be resurrected before the millennial reign begins, in various stages. Thus “first” does not denote a one-time event, but more of a category. It is the category encompassing the resurrection of all the just in Christ. The second resurrection is for the wicked and ungodly (Rev 20:5) – those who denied Christ and suppressed the truth in unrighteousness until the bitter end.