Galatians Commentary (No. 2)

Galatians Commentary (No. 2)

This is part of a commentary series through the Book of Galatians. It began with Galatians 3:1-6. This series will progress until the book is finished, then circle back and cover ch. 1-2. This article covers Galatians 3:7-14.

Here, we begin the most difficult portion of Paul’s letter–the relationship of the Mosaic Law to saving faith. Before we begin, I’ll restate some principles from the first article that will help you understand the position this commentary takes. Here they are:

  1. Paul is not arguing against the Mosaic Law as it was. He was arguing against the perverted understanding of the Mosaic Law that was common in his day (and Jesus’ day, too).
  2. The Mosaic Law is not a vehicle for salvation, and it was never intended to be one.
  3. The Law was given to teach God’s people (a) how to worship Him rightly, which includes instructions about forgiveness of sins (moral cleanness) and ritual uncleanness, (b) to have a written moral code that is fairly comprehensive, but not exhaustive, and (c) to live as brothers and sisters in a particular society for a particular time.
  4. The Law is a tool for holy living, a guardian to keep people in a holy “holding pattern” while the plane circled the airport, waiting for Jesus’ first advent so it could “land.”
  5. It is incorrect to believe the shape of a believer’s relationship with God has ever been about anything other than wholehearted love, which ideally produces loving obedience (Mk 12:28-32; cf. Deut 6:4-6; Lev 19).
  6. Some flavors of pop dispensationalism have done incalculable damage by confusing Christians about the relationship between the Mosaic Law and the Gospel.

Now, to the Scriptures!

Children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-9)

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

Galatians 3:7-8

Who is a child of Abraham? Well, it certainly isn’t about biology. About genetics. About who your parents are. John the Baptist understood that (Mt 3:7-10). No, it isn’t about race or ethnicity—it’s about common faith in Jesus. If you have Abraham’s faith, then you’re one of his children. Easy. Simple.

In fact, Scripture foresaw that the “child of God” concept wasn’t really an ethnic thing at all. God announced the Gospel to Abraham in advance when He announced that “all nations will be blessed through you,” (cf. Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18).

This is extraordinary. The false teachers skulking around the area are Judaizers—folks who push the rules-based legalism we noted, before. The apogee of their “faith” is to be as Jewish as possible which, in their warped understanding, means to follow the rules and traditions of the elders very strictly (cf. Phil 3:4-6). Thus, you violate the Sabbath if you put spices into a pot, but all is well if you add spices to food served on a dish![1] 

Not so, says Paul. Your pedigree before God has nothing to do with this. It only has to do with whether your relationship with God is based on faith and trust in God’s promise, and love—just like Abraham’s.

So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Galatians 3:9

Paul is making a conclusion based on what he’s just said. It could be translated as something like, “this means, then, that those who rely on faith are blessed with Abraham.” If you want to be one of Abraham’s children, then follow his lead and rely on faith!

Choose Your Path! Galatians 3:10-14

Now, we get down to the hard part. Remember that question about which I said you must have an opinion? Let’s ask ourselves again:

  • Did God intend the Mosaic Law to be a way of salvation?

The answer is no. Never.

This means that, however difficult Paul may be to follow from here on out, he cannot be agreeing with the false teachers that the Mosaic Law was a vehicle for salvation. Never. It isn’t an option. God doesn’t change the terms of salvation. It’s always been by faith.

So, remember this question and the right answer, because here we go …

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”

Galatians 3:10, quoting Deuteronomy 27:26

If the Mosaic Law was never about salvation, then Paul is not seriously suggesting the Mosaic Law means this. He can’t be. Rather, his point relies on you understanding everything he just wrote, in vv. 7-9.

  • Salvation is by faith—always has been.
  • Abraham had faith and was counted righteous.
  • That’s how you become one of Abraham’s children—faith in the promise.

The “for” at the beginning of the sentence is explanatory. It’s translated a bit stiffly, as if Paul is a Victorian gentleman—and he ain’t one. It could be rendered as something like, “so, this is what I’m saying—everyone who relies on the works of the law …”

He means, “look, if you wanna go that route and try to earn your salvation, then have at it—here’s a quote from Moses that you can chew on!” He accurately quotes the text of Deuteronomy 27:26, but must be deliberately subverting the meaning. Moses didn’t preach salvation by works. When he asked the people to swear that promise in Deuteronomy 27:26 (along with a bunch of others), he presupposed that everyone understood that love was the driving force behind relationship with God (Deut 6:4-5; 10:12-16). I’m saying Paul misapplied Deuteronomy 27:26 the same way the Judaizers were doing. Paul is saying, “if you want to go that way, have fun trying to accomplish this …”

So, the “curse” Paul mentions isn’t the Mosaic Law as it really was. Instead, the “curse” is the impossible burden of trying to adopt the Judaizer’s perverted understanding of the Mosaic Law. Some Christians imagine Old Covenant life as an oppressive burden, a millstone dragging the believers to a watery grave … until Christ came! How absurd. They believe this because they take Paul literally in vv. 10-12—they believe he’s describing the Mosaic Law as it really was. They’re wrong.

As I mentioned, Paul adopts the Judaizer’s arguments to show how bankrupt they are. Read Psalm 119 and see if the writer is being crushed by the law! “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law,” (Ps 119:18). He isn’t! He loves God and loves His word (including the Mosaic Law). The Law is only a millstone if you think it’s a vehicle for salvation. But, it ain’t one, so it ain’t a millstone.

I’m comfortable suggesting this, because Paul then sweeps this silly idea of “earning my salvation by merit” aside.

Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”

Galatians 3:11, quoting Habakkuk 2:4

The law can’t make you righteous. Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4, which indeed says that “the righteous will live by faith.” So, when he quotes Moses from Deuteronomy 27:26, he can’t really be saying Moses meant it that way. Paul just adopts the arguments from the Judaizers, or from similar sources floating about in the 1st century interwebs, and suggests they have fun trying to do the impossible. He now continues in that vein:

The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”

Galatians 3:12, quoting Leviticus 18:5

This accurate quote from Leviticus is ripe for misunderstanding. Again, he rightly quotes the text but suggests the wrong meaning. When Paul says “the law is not based on faith,” he assumes the perverted form of their argument. The “law” he mentions here is the wrong understanding of the Mosaic law, not that law as it really is. “You wanna have eternal life?” he asks. “Then, make sure you do everything in the law—just like it says. Have at it, boys and girls!”

Remember our magic question—did God intend the Mosaic Law to be a way of salvation? He did not. So, whatever Paul is saying, he cannot be suggesting the Mosaic Law has anything to do with salvation. This magic question is the key to understanding Paul’s argument. Some Christians fail to ask it, and so their explanations of this passage make little sense.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”

Galatians 3:13, quoting Deuteronomy 21:23

I think we’re making a mistake if we think “curse of the law” is the Mosaic Law. The Law isn’t a curse. It isn’t a bad thing. It isn’t a burden, because it has nothing to do with salvation. The Mosaic Law is simply a vehicle for holy living, while God’s people remained in a holding pattern waiting for Christ. We’ve always obeyed from the heart because He’s already rescued us—not the other way around. “Give me understanding, so that I may keep your laws and obey it with all my heart … I reach out for your commands, which I love, that I may meditate on your decrees,” (Ps 119:34, 48). The man who wrote this didn’t think he was “under a curse.”

So, to return to our verse (Gal 3:13), from what “curse” did Christ redeem us, then?

I think it’s the curse of the capital punishment waiting for every one of us, because (in our natural state) we’ve rejected God. That’s what Deuteronomy 21:23 is about—a person guilty of a capital offense is to be hanged on a pole. We’ve each committed the “capital offense” of rejecting God, so we’re under that death sentence, but Christ has come to free us from that. After all, we can’t free ourselves—we can’t be good enough (cf. Gal 2:21).

So, rather than try and dig our way (i.e. “earning” salvation by merit) out of a situation from which there is no escape, we should rely on Jesus. He became a curse for us. He suffered for our capital crimes by being hanged on a pole. The word “redeem” has lost its original force, in English. It means something like “buying back from slavery.” We can’t bribe our way out of our mess, so Jesus gave Himself to buy us out of Satan’s clutches.   

So, Paul isn’t making a negative assessment of the Mosaic Law at all. The “curse” here isn’t even about the Mosaic Law. But, if we think Paul is talking about that, then I ask this—are we really to suppose that God “cursed” His people from Sinai to Pentecost with a system whose design was to crush their souls? Is that the “average Christian life” vibe you get from Psalm 119? Is that what a circumcision of the heart is all about (cf. Deut 10:16)? Was the average Israelite like poor Pilgrim, struggling with that loathsome burden on his back?  

No! Paul’s not even talking about the Mosaic Law. He’s just suggesting another way, a better way, the true way—“because if we become righteous through the Law, then Christ died for no purpose,” (Gal 2:21, CEB). You can (1) go the Judaizer’s route and try to earn your way into the kingdom, or (2) you can rejoice and trust that Christ has already redeemed us from our death sentence for rebellion (“the curse of the law”).

He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Galatians 3:14

Why did Christ buy us back from slavery? So that Christ could be the channel for the blessings to Abraham to flow to the rest of the world. We receive the promise of the Holy Spirit by faith. Always have. Always will.


[1] Shabbat 3:5, in Mishnah.  

No surprises here

No surprises here

Menachem Kalisher’s dissertation, Preaching Messianic Prophesies (soon to be published in book form), is underwhelming as a doctoral project. His hermeneutics are idiosyncratic, his defense of expository preaching lacks intellectual rigor, his measurements of project impact are ineffective, and his project goals (while surely valuable) are ill-suited to the expository preaching format.

Idiosyncratic Hermeneutics

Kalisher relies heavily on word similarity between passages to draw connections in a way that is not obvious to the reader. This procedure unwittingly creates a false perception of an intrinsic competence disconnect between the pastor and the congregation—the pastor is necessary, because only he can “see” these alleged links.

For example:

  • Kalisher claims Isaiah 52:8-9 alludes to Deut 32:43—but his only evidence is a similarity of a song for joy in the last days (p. 72). He offers no proof, no contextual indicators other than a similarity about eschatological joy.
  • He states Isaiah 52:10-12 echoes the Exodus motif (Ex 13:21, 14:20), and again cites nothing but word similarity in support (pp. 74-75). He says this describes salvation from Satan, but context suggests merely an eschatological ingathering.

In short, Kalisher does not appear to preach the text—he freights it with alleged context from outside the passage. This is not an effective way to model bible interpretation to a congregation.

Expository Discussion Lacks Intellectual Vigor

Kalisher’s definition of expository preaching (“EP”) lacks any reference to the Spirit (p. 31), which is a common oversight. Walter Liefeld’s discussion is more helpful.[1] Kalisher lists three alleged dangers of not conducting EP, for which he provides no support save some M.L. Jones quotations and unrelated charts (pp. 38-43). Correlation does not equal causation. Kalisher seems to rely on a sympathetic audience’s assumptions to carry his argument, rather than research. His depth of discussion here would be unpersuasive even for a blog post.  

Ineffective Metrics for Project Assessment

Kalisher’s pre- and post-project questions are unimpressive. His goals for the project are to enable his congregation to:

  1. understand and appreciate expository preaching
  2. appreciate roles in the economic Trinity
  3. learn to study God’s word, God’s way
  4. grow in Messianic self-identity

Here are his questions to measure two of these goals (pp. 38, 39):

Kalisher fails to define the doctrine of the Trinity in the dissertation, and his survey questions are not robust enough to measure comprehension. He fails to define what “biblical” means related to the term “Trinity”—a misstep, because the term itself does not appear in Scripture. Kalisher does not present other preaching methods, leaving the congregation little choice but to conclude EP is correct because he says it is.

Thesis in Search of a Degree

Kalisher’s project is ill-suited to an EP framework because it consists of him talking at the congregation, rather than with it. An interactive study format would better allow him to achieve and measure his four goals. As it is, Kalisher’s project seems less like objective research and more like a preconceived thesis in search of a doctoral degree.


[1] “… preaching that explains a passage in such a way as to lead the congregation to a true and practical application of that passage,” (Walter L. Liefeld, New Testament Exposition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), p. 6).

Thinking about Israel and the Church

Thinking about Israel and the Church

Here are some slides about a difficult topic. You shouldn’t mistake this presentation as a definitive assessment, or even fully representative of major positions. There are too many nuances, even within the same circles, to capture here. But still, these slides do a credible job of laying out some broad guardrails to think about this issue. I present three different options, and devote several slides to each one (check the headings).

Here you are …

Tuesdays in Galilee: Faithful Life in the Old Covenant

Tuesdays in Galilee: Faithful Life in the Old Covenant

I love the Book of Hebrews. It has the deepest Christology in the New Testament and in all of scripture. It also makes us think very deeply about the similarities and differences for the faithful believing life between the Old Covenant and the New. This very issue has come up repeatedly over the past few weeks within my own congregation, as we’ve worked our way through the heart of the “Jesus is the different, better High Priest” section which begins at Hebrews 7. Because the benefits Jesus brings to the faithful covenant member are so much better, people naturally want to know what was so different about one’s relationship with the Lord before Jesus came.

So, people ask questions. They want to know about salvation. They know it wasn’t “by works,” but so often people don’t really know any more than that. They want to know about obedience—why did people obey God, back then? Fear or love? People ask about atonement—was it about getting back a salvation lost, or about maintaining a ruptured relationship that still existed? What’s “new” about this New Covenant?

As every astute interpreter knows, these are weighty questions. Hard questions. If you’re a dispensationalist of any flavor, I submit they’re even harder. More specifically, the more you fancy discontinuity in your system, the harder these questions will be to explain without lots of charts. This short article outlines how I answered some of these questions just this morning.

First, I will lay my cards on the table to either save some readers heartburn, or to provide fair warning so you can reach for the antacid tablets in advance:

  1. I believe the Church has a direct relationship to the New Covenant right now. Israel will be brought into the covenant later, as promised. In short, Rodney Decker’s exegesis of Hebrews 7-10 cannot be gainsaid.[1]
  2. I see more continuity than discontinuity. Classical dispensationalists may wish to take the antacid tablets at this time.
  3. I believe Old Covenant saints were indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I follow Rolland McCune on this.[2]

When you compare a faithful believer’s relationship with God in the Old Covenant v. the New Covenant, there are at least four broad categories to consider:

My remarks here are not exhaustive and are little more than brief notes to orient the reader. My points are proven, I believe, by the “controlling passages” I identify. In fact, during class this morning the category which prompted the most discussion and puzzled looks was “why obey?” I suspected this would be the case. Next week, we will walk through my “controlling passages” on this and have a fun discussion. For this article, however, it will suffice to simply state a positive case and beat a hasty retreat!

These “controlling passages” I identify below are not the only place where these truths can be found; they’re just excellent representative passages.

Becoming a believer?

This has always been the same—allegiance to God because you trust His promise of the Messiah to come. What one knows and understands about this promise changes throughout time, as God provides more revelation. Abraham knew more than Noah. Moses knew more than Abraham. David knew more than Moses. Like a pixelated video that sharpens as bandwidth increases, clarity about the Messiah and His mission increases throughout the biblical story.

To be sure, some people (like Abraham) knew more than one might guess (Heb 11:8-16). But, the basic point stands.

The controlling verse is Genesis 15:6, and its greater context. The controlling passage is Romans 4 (esp. Rom 4:9, 22). Galatians 3:1-9 is an outstanding supporting, controlling passage.

Jesus didn’t preach a new message, but announced He was the fulfillment of the same old message (Lk 24:25-27, 44-53; Acts 1:1-11). This is why the Church’s earliest evangelism (Acts 2, 3, 13) and martyrdoms (Acts 7) emphasized the necessary continuity to the Tanakh. Salvation has always been by grace, through faith—and this “faith” has never been intellectual or emotional assent to facts, but a pledge of allegiance to God and all that entails.[3]

Why obey?

This, too, has always been the same—honest love for God. No matter if you’re Noah after the flood, or Tyler in 2021, you do what God says because you love Him. Period.

The controlling passages are Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Mark 12:28-34, and Hosea 5:15, 6:4-6. One could also supplement this list with any other passage from the minor prophets that condemns externalism. Hosea and Amos are both fertile ground for these denouncements. A subordinate controlling passage about the necessity of fruit for true obedience (because it flows from the heart) is James 2:14-26.

Sin after salvation?

The essence of this ritual has always been the same—honest repentance and a plea to God for forgiveness. Repentance means to confess and pledge to forsake sin (Prov 28:13). However, the Old Covenant also required an atoning sacrifice as the fruit of honest repentance in order to atone for the sin. Of course, this last step is not necessary in the New Covenant.

The sacrifice was never the essence of the matter. The point has always been about repentance from the heart accompanied by plea for mercy. The atoning sacrifice must flow from true repentance.

The controlling passage is 1 Kings 8:22-53. Pay particular attention to Solomon’s prescient scenarios of disobedience (“for there is no one who does not sin,” 1 Kgs 8:46), and the formula he presupposes must happen in each instance to obtain God’s mercy. Sacrifices are never mentioned. Honest repentance is. Of course, the sacrifices are necessary. But, at root, it has never really been about the sacrifices (Hosea 6:4-6; cf. Mt 9:13).

Shape of the relationship?

Here we come to the major differences. The shape and structure of one’s relationship to God is very different between the covenants. Here are three key differences:

  1. God was the head of His people’s government on earth. Now, men and women are the heads of secular governments on earth.
  2. One had to regularly undergo ceremonial cleansing for normal “life happenings,” back then. This had nothing to do with deliberate sin. It simply meant that, as a by-product of being a sinful human being, you would regularly be ceremonially “dirty” or “unclean” and unable to draw near to God. But, in the New Covenant, Jesus has perfectly cleansed all His people. This is why believers can now “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb 4:16).
  3. One had to regularly undergo moral cleansing by way of atoning sacrifices. This is what people typically think of when they consider Christ’s perfect, once for all sacrifice which rendered that system obsolete.

Newness of the new covenant

I propose there are three ways in which the new covenant is “new.” It isn’t that salvation itself is new or different. The “newness” and “betterness” that Jesus has wrought (cf. Heb 8:6) is a closeness of relationship. In short, the New Covenant is “new” and “better” because it provides perfect peace, in these ways:[4]

  1. A new kind of relationship (Heb 8:10). Instead of God’s law as an external standard which one will always fail to meet (no matter how gracious a band-aid He provided in the meantime), now it’s a “finished” thing because of Jesus’ active and passive obedience. In the Old Covenant, you’re in a family where you’re regularly confronted, by way of the sacrifices for your sins, with your failure and unfittedness to be adopted. However, in the New Covenant you’re assured Jesus has paid for your past, present and future sins in toto. Just as a finished Polaroid is clearer than one yet developing, the believer’s relationship with God is now so much closer.
  2. Perfect forgiveness (Heb 8:12). God will no longer “remember” our sins in the sense that He doesn’t hold them against us—because Jesus has now paid for them. In that since, it’s akin to a mortgage. You live in the house and call it your own, but it really belongs to the bank. When you pay the mortgage off, nothing outward has changed. You still live there. It’s still “yours.” But now, you have a new peace and freedom. The debt is paid. The bank has no claim on you. Or, you can consider a similar analogy with a maxed-out credit card vs. one that has been paid off and cancelled. It’s the peace that’s the point. No matter how benevolent your creditor is, it’s blissful to be released from the debt.
  3. Pure membership (Heb 8:10-11). Unlike the Old Covenant, the New has a pure membership of believers.

Food for thought

Hopefully this brief sketch helps clarify some of the questions about a believer’s relationship to God in the Old and New Covenants. It’s a difficult subject, with innumerable rabbit-trails. I could say so much more. But … I’m not going to! If you wish to see me explain these concepts you can watch the teaching session from my congregation yesterday, below. Be aware we aren’t in our usual location, so the sound isn’t quite as sharp, but it’s perfectly watchable:


[1] Rodney Decker, “The Church Has a Direct Relationship to the New Covenant,” in Dispensational Understanding of the New Covenant: Three Views, ed. Mike Stallard(Schaumberg: Regular Baptist Press, 2012), pp. 195-222.

[2] Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, 3 vols. (Detroit: DBTS, 2006-2009), 2:272-280.

[3] See Matthew Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017).

[4] Here I’m particularly indebted to comments on the new covenant by Philip Hughes, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), 94. “The difference between the old and new covenants is that under the former that law is written on tablets of stone, confronting man as an external ordinance and condemning him because of his failure through sin to obey its commandments, whereas under the latter the law is written internally within the redeemed heart by the dynamic regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, so that through faith in Christ, the only law-keeper, and inward experience of His power man no longer hates but loves God’s law and is enabled to fulfill its precepts.”

William Lane echoes Hughes and remarks, “The quality of newness intrinsic to the new covenant consists in the new manner of presenting God’s law and not in newness of content. The people of God will be inwardly established in the law and knowledge of the Lord,” (Hebrews 1–8, vol. 47A, in WBC [Dallas: Word,1991], 209).

In a somewhat similar vein, Homer Kent explains, “[i]t is not implied that no one under the Mosaic covenant had the proper sort of heart, any more than one would say that no Israelite knew the experience of having Jehovah as his God. The point is that the covenant itself did not provide this experience, and many lived under its provisions and yet died in unbelief. The new covenant, however, guarantees regeneration to its participants,” (Epistle to the Hebrews [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972; reprint, Winona Lake: BMG, 2010], 153. Kent’s explanation shades over to emphasizing the pure membership of the new covenant, rather than explaining just how this “new heart” arrangement was different in the new covenant vice the old.

F.F. Bruce explains about the “newness” of having the law internalized: “It was not new in regard to its own substance …  But while the ‘formula’ of the covenant remains the same from age to age, it is capable of being filled with fresh meaning to a point where it can be described as a new covenant. ‘I will be your God’ acquires fuller meaning with every further revelation of the character of God; ‘you shall be my people’ acquires deeper significance as the will of God for his people is more completely known,” (Hebrews, KL 2183, 2188-2190).

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.

Notes

[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.

Why They Followed the Law (Pt. 1)

lawThe entire book of Galatians is consumed with the problem of what to do with the Old Covenant law. What does “following the law” have to do with personal salvation through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ?

A large party of Jewish Christians, most of them likely from Jerusalem and former Pharisees, believed you had to follow the Old Covenant law and repent and believe in Christ (Acts 15:1-5). Luke, in a very understated fashion, observes “Paul and Barnabas had no small discussion and debate with them.” The Apostle has little time for this kind of terrible error. He calls this teaching “a different Gospel,” (Gal 1:6). He speaks of the Galatians “deserting Him who called you,” (Gal 1:5). He said this is a perversion of the Gospel of Christ (Gal 1:7).

Did these Pharisees actually understand the message of the Old Covenant scriptures? Why did God’s people follow the law, anyway?

This series of short articles has one simple purpose – to explain what the real impetus was for following God’s law, both then and now. In Galatians, Paul was not arguing against the Old Covenant. He was arguing against the twisted, warped version of the Old Covenant the scribes and Pharisees had been pushing for so long.

Some dispensationalists disagree. In any movement, there is a spectrum. A man might say, “I’m a Republican!” That’s fine and dandy, but what kind of Republican is he? That’s the real question, and we all know it – because there’s always a spectrum, isn’t there? It’s the same with theological systems. Some dispensationalists look at the Bible, and see a very, very sharp discontinuity between the Old and New Covenants. These folks are usually called “classical dispensationalists.”

Their position is still usually close to what C.I. Scofield wrote in his study bible, way back in 1909. In his study notes, Scofield explained the Mosaic law this way (note on Gen 12:1):

The Dispensation of Promise ended when Israel rashly accepted the law (Exodus 19:8). Grace had prepared a deliverer (Moses), provided a sacrifice for the guilty, and by divine power brought them out of bondage (Exodus 19:4) but at Sinai they exchanged grace for law.

Lewis S. Chafer, the ground-breaking theologian and first President of Dallas Theological Seminary, agreed with Scofield. He built on Scofield’s study notes and eventually produced an 8-volume systematic theology text. It’s still used by many students today. I have a copy, and I’ll always treasure Chafer’s discussion of the doctrine of salvation. It’s still the best thing I’ve ever read on the subject. In his text, Chafer echoed Scofield’s comments:

When the Law was proposed, the children of Israel deliberately forsook their position under the grace of God which had been their relationship to God until that day, and placed themselves under the Law.[1]

I disagree with this reading of Exodus 19:1-8, but I won’t get into the reasons here. It’s enough for you to understand that this presupposition, that Israel voluntarily exchanged God’s grace for a system of works righteousness under the Mosaic Law, is a core tenant of classical dispensationalism. They view the Mosaic Law completely different than other Christians do. This is why they’ll often paint the law as a system of works righteousness. Chafer continued:

They were called upon to face a concrete choice between the mercy of God which had followed them, and a new and hopeless covenant of works. They fell from grace. The experience of the nation is true of every individual who falls from grace at the present time. Every blessing from God that has ever been experienced came only from the loving mercy of God; yet with that same blasting self-trust, people turn to a dependence upon their works. It is far more reasonable and honoring to God to fall helpless into His everlasting arms, and to acknowledge that reliance is on His grace alone.[2]

Dispensationalism has gradually edged further to the center in the past 60 years. Most theologians don’t emphasize such a sharp discontinuity between covenants. In other words, don’t expect John MacArthur and Charles Ryrie to sound like this! But, make no mistake, this perspective is still alive and well in some seminary classrooms. It’s even more common in many churches with a dispensationalist framework, because its pastors were likely taught by Chafer’s students.

Be that as it may, many Christians are confused about why Israelites followed the law. I’ll repeat something I mentioned earlier in this article:

In Galatians, Paul was not arguing against the Old Covenant. He was arguing against the twisted, warped version of the Old Covenant the scribes and Pharisees had been pushing for so long.

Classical dispensationalists would vehemently disagree. They’d likely believe Paul was arguing against the Old Covenant. They’d probably think Paul was describing what the Old Covenant taught. I wrote this series of short articles to combat this error, and to set the record straight. If we don’t get this point, we’ll never understand the Old Covenant, we’ll never understand the book of Galatians and we’ll never understand a good bit of the Gospels, either.

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.

Let’s look at what Jesus has to say … in the next article.

Notes

[1] Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas, TX: DTS, 1948; reprint, 1976), 4:162.

[2] Ibid, 4:163.

Christ’s Armies

Who will return with Christ when He comes to establish His kingdom? Dispensationalists usually have a simple, pat answer – the church. End. Of. Discussion. Maybe not.

Here is one excerpt from the crucial passage:

Then I saw heaven opened and here came a white horse! The one riding it was called ‘Faithful’ and ‘True,’ and with justice he judges and goes to war. His eyes are like a fiery flame and there are many diadem crowns on his head. He has a name written that no one knows except himself. He is dressed in clothing dipped in blood, and he is called the Word of God. The armies that are in heaven, dressed in white, clean, fine linen, were following him on white horses. From his mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it he can strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful. He has a name written on his clothing and on his thigh: ‘King of kings and Lord of lords,’ (Revelation 19:11-16).

Which people comprise these “armies?” The standard dispensational interpretation is this is the corporate church, the figurative “bride of Christ.” I am not convinced. There are many reasons, but one in particular stands out – people who become Christians and die for their faith during the great tribulation are said to be with the Lord in heaven, dressed identically to these “armies” who will return with Christ:

After these things I looked, and here was an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb dressed in long white robes, and with palm branches in their hands. They were shouting out in a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ (Revelation 7:9-10).

Who are these people? The Bible tells us:

Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These dressed in long white robes—who are they and where have they come from?’ So I said to him, ‘My lord, you know the answer.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb!’ (Revelation 7:13-14).

So, I am not at all convinced only “the church” returns with Christ. Some will object; “but . . . but, the only people who have resurrected bodies yet are Christians from the church!” Yes, but so what? The Bible just told us tribulation martyrs are wearing white robes, yet have not been reunited with their glorified bodies.

Are we to believe the corporate church heads off with Christ to war, while every single other believer from every age simply stays behind in heaven? Like impatient husbands waiting for their wives in the Michael’s parking lot?

I am tempted to see every believer from every age as returning with Christ to defeat the antichrist and the false prophet. I could be wrong. If I am, let me know why . . .

Great is Thy Faithfulness! (Amos 9)

PDF version – Amos 9 (02JUN13)

INTRODUCTION

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.

DIVINE JUDGMENT (9:1-10)

9:1

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.

9:2

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

9:3

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:

9:4

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.

9:5

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.

9:6

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]

9:7

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)

9:8

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.

9:9

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.

9:10

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]

RESTORATION OF THE KINGDOM (9:11-12)

9:11

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).

9:12

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)!

BLESSINGS UPON THE KINGDOM (9:13-15)

9:13

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]

9:14

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.

9:15

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.

CONCLUSION

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).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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.

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[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.

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