God’s Rest & Hebrew’s 2nd Warning Passage

Hebrew's Rest

Those who forget the past are often condemned to repeat the same mistakes. This is the case in Hebrew’s second warning passage, as the author is trying to demonstrate, the promise of both blessing and rest is in immediate danger of being forfeited due to unbelief and hardened hearts. Using the failure at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 20:1-13) and by citing how the Lord proclaimed, “They shall not enter my rest,” (Psalm 95:7-11) an intertextual affirmation is being made that the audience’s rebellion and unbelief are going to result in much worse wrath and consequences than simply not being able to enter the land of Canaan. While belief in God should naturally lead one to obey Him, those left to wander in the wilderness remained disobedient because they did not trust in God’s plan or His provision. After presenting the negative example of the wilderness generation, the author then presents the conditional clause, “If, indeed, we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:14). This was the author’s main objective and he includes himself in this address, as he attempts to motivate and exhort his audience to take the appropriate action and not make the same mistake as their ancestors had.

The proper exegesis of this passage will illustrate how the author of Hebrews warned his audience about the danger of developing an evil heart rooted in unbelief like the generation in the wilderness had done and the grave consequences that would result if they did not change their ways. By analyzing the historical, cultural, and literary context, and by examining the biblical content, a modern-day application for Christians today will be presented. Scripture cannot mean something today that it was not intended to mean for the original audience, so only by understanding the author’s intent and the original audience’s circumstances can believers today find meaning in Hebrew’s second warning passage.

HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL CONTEXT

According to Leo Percer, the truth is no one knows definitively who wrote the book of Hebrews.[1] George Guthrie does explain the author of Hebrews, “Was a dynamic preacher, was knowledgeable of the Old Testament and its interpretation, was highly educated, and was a committed minister of Jesus Christ deeply concerned about the spiritual state of the group of believers [being] addressed.”[2] The early church believed Hebrews to be Pauline in nature; so early authors who were considered consisted of: Paul, Luke, Clement of Rome, and Barnabas. In more recent times, Priscilla, Jude, Apollos, Philip, and Silvanus have been added to that list. F. F. Bruce shows, “Clement of Alexandria, in his Hypotyposes, said that it was written by Paul for Hebrews in the Hebrew language, but that Luke translated it and published it for the Greeks; thus he endeavored to account for the similarity in style between Hebrews and the Lukan writings.”[3] However, Origen maintained, “But as to who actually wrote the epistle, God only knows the truth of the matter.” A major part of the exegesis of Scripture is determining who the author is, so it is troubling there is no definitive answer, but Gareth Cockerill further shows the author was:

A master of elegant Greek who understood the principles of rhetoric and oral persuasion as taught in the ancient world. He had a thorough knowledge of the OT and a clear understanding of how it should be interpreted in light of its fulfillment in Christ. He was well acquainted with the history of the people to whom he was writing and was deeply concerned lest they fail to persevere in their devotion to and public confession of Christ.[4]

It is this writer’s belief, Apollos seems to possess all the traits and skills outlined above. This too was the view of Martin Luther and Guthrie shows how Acts 18:24-28 describes “Apollos as a Jew from Alexandria, who was eloquent and thoroughly versed in Scripture. Furthermore, he was a pastor who had received the gospel from eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry (Hebrews 2:3), was at home in the Greek-speaking synagogues of the Mediterranean, and had close acquaintances from Italy (Hebrews 13:24).”[5]

As Guthrie asserts, “Hebrews was written in the mid-60s A.D., just prior to the extreme persecution of the Roman church under Nero.”[6] Guthrie arrives at this time period based upon several references in the text: (1) they had been Christians for awhile (Hebrews 5:11-6:3), (2) the believers had faced and persevered in a time of serious persecution in the past (Hebrews 10:32-34), and (3) they had yet to suffer martyrdom for the faith (Hebrews 12:4), but were now facing a more severe time of trial (Hebrews 11:35; 12:3, 7; 12:3, 12-13), in which some of their number were defecting.[7] Jason Whitlark adds, “Most interpreters recognize that Hebrews addresses a Christian community under pressure to compromise or give up altogether its exclusive confession and hope in Jesus Christ.”[8] It is against this backdrop of apostasy, the author of Hebrews addresses an audience on the verge of making a terrible decision to abandon their Christian faith. The main question raised by scholars regarding the date of authorship centers around there being no mention of the Temple being destroyed in A.D. 70. This event seems like an important event to record, especially considering the letter’s emphasis on Mosaic law ending and the present tense use of rituals referenced in Hebrews 9:6 and 13:10.

LITERARY CONTEXT

Leading up to this warning passage, the author of Hebrews has already presented Jesus as the second Moses, which then establishes the typological connection between Israel and the church. Bruce explains, “This typology was familiar to our author, and quite probably to his readers as well; he uses it, therefore, to warn them against giving up their faith and hope.”[9] As Peter Enns asserts, “The writer is not simply arguing for Christ’s superiority over Moses; he is preparing his readers for his exegesis of Psalm 95 by laying the foundation for his understanding of the church as the new wilderness community. As Moses led his people out of Egypt and through the desert, Jesus now leads His people through their wilderness.”[10] The author’s understanding of redemptive history allowed him to apply Psalm 95 relevantly for exposition and application because what once had applied to Israel now finds its full meaning with respect to the church. Only the faithful perseverance anticipated in the present can lead to the Sabbath rest promised in this pericope. As N. T. Wright explains, “The challenge becomes more urgent with the word ‘today,’ the point in the Psalm at which the quotation begins, and the point to which Hebrews returns several times, both in this passage and later.”[11] While chapter three continues the theme of Jesus being superior, here, Moses is treated with a little more respect than the angels and prophets were. The difference in this passage is Jesus is portrayed as a Son whereas Moses was treated as a faithful servant, which Jesus was also. Thus, while both were faithful servants, only Jesus was faithful as a Son and only Jesus was the head of the household. Additionally, while Moses was a representative of God to the people, the key difference was Aaron, his brother, was the one who functioned as the high priest of Israel. Percer illustrates, “The people this message was written to were feeling alone, vulnerable, afraid, overwhelmed and they wanted to run from their problem to find a comfortable place.”[12] With persecution and crisis imminent, the author wanted his audience to understand that Jesus too shared in the same emotions and temptations they were feeling. Percer describes, “The incarnation made possible a penetration into our situation as Jesus becomes our merciful and faithful High Priest.”[13]

The high Christology and priestly role of Jesus emphasized the complete and perfect work of Christ, which was a provision of God’s grace to His children. Buist Fanning shows how, “The second warning in the book is bracketed at beginning and end by references to Jesus’ High Priestly role. Jesus’ faithfulness as High Priest is the starting point for the portrayal of Him as the faithful Son over God’s house.”[14] This demonstrated the Hebrews could be faithful because Jesus remained faithful and the same holds true for Christians today. F. F. Bruce asserts, “When Jesus is designated as ‘the apostle and High Priest of our confession,’ He is marked out as being both God’s representative among human beings and their representative in the presence of God.”[15] Guthrie points out how this chapter demonstrates the importance of holding fast to the Christian faith, but “The entire clause found in 3:6 and 3:14 are, of course, conditional: We may be considered part of the people of God [only] if we hold fast to the Christian faith.”[16] Bruce adds, “Moses was a household servant exalted by virtue of his outstanding faithfulness to the post of chief administrator of God’s household; but Christ, the Son of God, through whom the universe was made and to whom it has been given by his Father as His heritage, is founder and inheritor of the household.”[17]

The interpretation of the warning passages in Hebrews remains a highly debated topic, especially amongst Calvinist-Reformed and Arminian traditions. B. J. Oropeza demonstrates, “The apparent inability of a second repentance for those who have fallen away from faith has ignited a long history of discussions and debates on the issue.”[18] The main question always seems to come back to: “Was the original audience genuine Christ-followers to begin with?” Oropeza explains, “Those who examine the passages with Reformed-Calvinistic perspectives [believe] the ones in danger of apostasy in Hebrews are not elect or ‘genuine’ believers. Likewise, those who approach the texts with Arminian theological agendas conclude the warnings evince a real possibility that believers can abandon salvation.”[19] As Percer remarks, “If all we had was Hebrews, we would all be Arminians.” The fact the writer includes himself in the warning passages serves to indicate the warnings did apply to genuine Christ-followers.

The concept of rest presented in Hebrews 4:1-13 is unique because it alludes to several events. In Psalm 95, the rest spoken of was what would be awaiting them once they reached their final destination. However, in this present passage, N. T. Wright explains, “The idea of God’s rest on the seventh day of creation comes into its own in a different way. Now, the writer links God’s own rest at the end of creation, suggesting that, since God was warning that the people might not enter into His rest, this implied that the promise of the land was meant to function for them like the rest which He had enjoyed after His six days of creation.”[20]

BIBLICAL CONTENT

When looking at the main ideas and themes of Hebrews, it is important to note the author uses “we” to associate himself with the recipients and it reads more like a sermon than a letter. The author also uses speaking and hearing, rather than writing and reading as his medium. Leon Morris notes, “Having shown that Scripture looks for a rest for God’s people, the author then proceeds to show that Israel of old did not enter that rest. The implication is that it is still available for others. And there is a warning: when God opens up an opportunity, that does not necessarily mean that those who have that opportunity will take it.”[21] It immediately becomes evident, the recipients were in a spiritual crisis, and so the author is speaking to them with purpose. First, he wants to encourage believers in the face of some present crisis and for them to stand firm in their faith. Second, he wants to warn Christians of the danger they face if they remain immature and refuse to go on in the knowledge of Christ. Third, he wants to warn Christians of the judgment of God that will occur if they fail to maintain their Christian faith. Fourth, he wants to encourage the Christians, by reminding them of the character of Jesus, who is their champion and High Priest, ordained by God.[22] Wright illustrates how, “Hebrews is concerned over the question of whether or not we continue to follow and trust Jesus, or whether we will be content to drift, with our initial belief fading away to a memory, and our hope dissolving like the energy of the snowbound walkers,”[23] and the same struggle exists today for believers. Much can be learned by how the author presented the history and the consequences that resulted from unbelief because God and His nature never change. Disobedience and unbelief always lead to apostasy, so the author remains focused on how Jesus Christ and the present choices being made are vital to maintaining right standing with God and paramount to avoiding the judgment their ancestors had faced in the wilderness.

Faithfulness and the lack of it are deeply rooted in the Old Testament, so the author now asks his listeners to not harden their hearts as those in the wilderness had done. Thomas Kem Oberholtzer shows how, “The author is drawing a parallel between the wilderness generation and his readers and this ‘falling away’ is the negative side of ‘holding fast.’ Holding fast assures one of being a partaker of Christ which includes: (1) sharing in the messianic joy; (2) having a part in dominion over creation; (3) and sharing in the heavenly calling.”[24] The events the author is alluding to are the exodus from Egypt, the wandering in the wilderness, and he also is drawing from Psalm 95:8-11, as Bruce explains how:

A later generation of Israelites was warned by the psalmist not to follow the bad example of their ancestors’ refusal to listen to God, lest disaster should overtake them in turn; and now a still later generation has the same warning impressed upon it by the writer to the Hebrews. Although the writer does not say so in so many words, it may well be that he saw a special significance in the ‘forty years’ of Ps. 95:10.[25]

 

The journey to the Promised Land should have only taken eleven days, but it took forty years because of the people’s lack of faith and trust in God and their disobedience. When the Israelites finally reached the outer boundaries of Canaan and sent spies to check out what God had already promised would be theirs; only Joshua and Caleb came back with good reports. When the people decided to ignore Joshua and Caleb’s report, the Lord swore in His wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” The author of Hebrews is warning his listeners that they too must be careful to not make the same mistake. Oberholtzer explains, “The concept of rest includes: (1) a historical sense related to the Exodus generation and Joshua (Psalm 95; Joshua 21:44); (2) an eschatological sense related to the Exodus generation; and (3) the Sabbath rest related to the readers with its eschatological perspective (Genesis 2:2-3; Hebrews 4:9).”[26] Rest is one of the main themes of this warning passage and those who fail to persevere, as Oberholtzer asserts, “May result in temporal discipline and loss of future rewards and authority to rule with Jesus in the millennium”[27] (Hebrews 12:4-11).

After he reads this passage, he then exhorts them, calling them to do the same daily, because they will share in Christ only if they hold their confidence until the end. This passage again raises the question whether one can lose his or her salvation, so the author is now pleading with his listeners to not defect and be disobedient like those in the wilderness had done because if they do, they too shall not enter His rest. As Percer explains, “The Hebrews were on the precipice of a life and death decision, so they needed to remember their ancestor’s failure to hold fast and how they must now trust in God’s promised rest.”[28] Jesus came to give His followers rest and God has promised rest to those who obey His Word. The main principle of this passage is when God speaks through Scripture, the Holy Spirit, or the life of Christ; the only response on the part of the reader or listener should be one of bold confidence and not disobedience or defection. Guthrie explains, “The hearers are not to follow the example of those who fell in the desert, but are to hold firmly to their Christian confidence, keeping a soft heart and a vigilance against sin.”[29] Confidence in God’s plan and obedience are key principles to make sure believers do not fall away from the Christian faith.

APPLICATION

Christ was and is still over God’s house, so for Christians today, the same holds true. Jesus was tempted and suffered in every way imaginable, yet He remained faithful to the Father, as a Son and as the Suffering Servant. In a similar way, Christians today are sons and daughters of God and He calls every follower to hold on and keep a tight grip to their Christian faith, so it will not slip away. As Matthew Easter indicates, “The book of Hebrews provides some of the richest insights into the meaning of faith in the New Testament”[30] and reads much more like an exhortation or sermon/homily, rather than as a typical New Testament letter, as the recipients were facing a crisis of faith and were considering going back to Judaism and abandoning their Christian beliefs. Bruce demonstrates that, “From our author’s point of view deliberate disobedience to the living God was practical apostasy against Him, whether those guilty of it were Jewish or Gentile.”[31] Despite the failure of the wilderness generation, the book is written as a word of encouragement for the recipients to maintain their faith in Christ. God inspired the author to not only encourage, but also to confront the people and warn them of the danger they faced if they remained immature in faith and the judgment that would result if they did not turn back to Christ. By reminding the recipients of the character and nature of Jesus, the author encourages them to stand firm in their faith. Apostasy was the root issue and is much the same in today’s world as many followers of Christ are struggling with a crisis of faith. For people today, it is important to never compromise one’s faith based on persecution or being a part of the cultural minority. This message is timely with what is going on all over the world as Christians are being raped, tortured, and killed for their beliefs. The book of Hebrews speaks to these atrocities and dilemmas and provides wonderful application on how to deal with immense persecution, while maintaining one’s faith. God wants His children to rely on Him daily, like the manna from heaven, where God gave them just enough for that day, not the day after. Flowing out of this devotion to God should be the complete obedience and faith in His plan and provision.

Percer highlights how chapters three and four are meant to go together, since chapter three warns against having a hardened heart because they refused to trust and have faith in God and Guthrie finds five key principles in this passage: (1) a healthy focus on Jesus encourages one to be faithful, (2) this faithfulness is volitional, which means having a will and choosing, both intellectually and emotionally; (3) the twin failings of sinfulness and unbelief hinder faithfulness; (4) the faithful persevere in their commitment and this aids in holding fast to their confidence, and (5) faithfulness is communal, meaning it is not limited to only individuals.[32] The “rest” being spoken of was in danger of being missed like the first generation of wanderers in the wilderness had done. The key in not losing “rest” was combing faith with the obedience to God’s word. Chapter four then promises rest to those who are faithful, but the author is fearful some of his audience would not enter God’s rest. Percer further illustrates, “The theme of entering rest and disobedience and the exposure to God’s Word has an overarching theme to entering God’s rest.”[33] Israel’s failure to trust God at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 10:11-14:45) was tragic because the promise and blessing of rest was a provision of God. William Lane demonstrates how the, “Allusions to Numbers 14 are significant because they indicate that unbelief is not a lack of faith or trust. It is the refusal to believe God. It leads inevitably to a turning away from God in a deliberate act of rejection. The play on words ἀπιστίας ἐν τῷ ἀποστῆναι, ‘unbelief in turning away,’ reinforces the fact that falling away and unbelief reflect the same disposition.”[34] While the land of Canaan was an Old Testament example, for Christians today, it represents a relationship into God’s very own presence and an unshakable kingdom. Percer explains, “This rest is both now and for the future and in the present it is meant to take time to worship, reflect, and hear God’s Word.”[35] One’s confidence comes in what Christ has accomplished and only in Him will anyone find both atoning and peaceful rest. Guthrie sums up “rest” best when he states, “True rest is found only in a relationship with the person of God. The rest is His rest, for His people, found by obeying His Word.”[36] When trying to describe “rest” to someone, a powerful representation can be found in Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Ultimately, when someone chooses disobedience and defection, Guthrie illustrates, “They [will] wander the desert and lack the promised rest, [since] the problem is a dysfunctional relationship to God and all who are not in right relationship with God need the promised rest found only in Christ’s Day of Atonement sacrifice.”[37] Jesus is the perfect example for Christians to follow and He is the very means of one’s faithfulness and accordingly, He will judge each individual as He calls His followers to the promised rest.[38]

CONCLUSION

As N. T. Wright states, “Hebrews wants its readers to think of themselves as in some ways like that generation, walking through the wilderness on the way to God’s promised future; and they must not make the mistakes that the Israelites did.”[39] Perseverance and faithfulness are main points of this warning passage, as the author of Hebrews warns his audience about the danger of developing an evil heart of unbelief like the generation in the wilderness had done and the grave consequences that would result if they did not change their ways. Faith and hope are what allow one to endure the trials and circumstances of life, but they also ensure one day entering into God’s unshakable rest. As the eternal High Priest, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God interceding and mediating on behalf of all Christians. Jesus suffered and was tempted in everyway possible, so believers today may find solace in knowing Christ knows exactly what everyone is going through and yet He remained faithful to the Father and endured it all without sinning. This knowledge coupled with the fact that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead dwells inside every believer should provide all the strength and assurance to live a life holy and righteous and one that brings honor and glory to God. Trust in God must always lead to active faith and obedience. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990.

Cockerill, Gareth L. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012.

Cockerill, Gareth L., Buist M. Fanning, Randall C. Gleason, Grant R. Osborne, and George Guthrie. Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews. Edited by Herbert W. Bateman IV. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007.

Easter, Matthew C. “Faith in the God Who Resurrects: The Theocentric Faith of Hebrews.” New Testament Studies 63, no. 1 (January 2017): 76-91. Doi: 10.1017/S0028688516000291. (accessed August 18, 2017).

Enns, Peter E. “Creation and Re-Creation: Psalm 95 and its Interpretation in Hebrews 3:1-4:13.” Westminster Theological Journal 55 (1993): 255-280. https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/19-psalms/text/articles/enns-creationps95-heb4-wtj.pdf (accessed August 18, 2017).

Guthrie, George H. Hebrews: The NIV Application Commentary, From Biblical Text… to Contemporary Life. Edited by Terry Muck. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

Hughes, Robert B. and J. Carl Laney. Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990.

Lane, William L. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 47A: Hebrews 1-8. “The High Priestly Character of the Son (3:1-5:10) – B. The Second Warning: The Peril of Refusing to Believe God’s Word.” Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.

Morris, Leon. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981.

Oberholtzer, Thomas Kem. “The Warning Passages in Hebrews: The Kingdom Rest in Hebrews 3:1-4:13.” Bibliotheca Sacra 145, no. 578 (April 1988): 185-196. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed August 18, 2017).

Oropeza, B. J. “The Warning Passages in Hebrews: Revised Theologies and New Methods of Interpretation.” Currents in Biblical Research 10, no. 1 (November 2011): 81-100. Doi: 10.1177/1476993X10391138. (accessed August 18, 2017).

Percer, Leo. “Introduction to Hebrews – Background and Structure.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, NBST 621, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 14:37, (accessed August 18, 2017).

_________. “Jesus: The Example of the Faithful Son.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, NBST 621, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 11:16, (accessed August 18, 2017).

_________. “The Promise of Rest to the Faithful.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, NBST 621, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 13:56, (accessed August 18, 2017).

Richards, Lawrence O. The Teacher’s Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1987.

Walvoord, John and Roy Zuck, ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty. Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 1985.

Whitlark, Jason. “The Warning Against Idolatry: An Intertextual Examination of Septuagintal Warnings in Hebrews.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 34, no. 4 (2012): 382-401. Doi: 10.1177/0142064X12443032. (accessed August 18, 2017).

Wright, N. T. Hebrews for Everyone. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Know Press, 2004.

[1] Leo Percer, “Introduction to Hebrews – Background and Structure,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, NBST 621, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 14:37, (accessed August 18, 2017).

[2] George H. Guthrie, Hebrews: The NIV Application Commentary, From Biblical Text… to Contemporary Life, ed. by Terry Muck, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 24-26.

[3] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 12.

[4] Gareth Lee Cockerill, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012), 2.

[5] Guthrie, Hebrews, 27.

[6] Ibid., 22.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Jason Whitlark, “The Warning Against Idolatry: An Intertextual Examination of Septuagintal Warnings in Hebrews,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 34, no. 4 (2012): 382. Doi: 10.1177/0142064X12443032. (accessed August 18, 2017).

[9] Bruce, TNICNT– The Epistle to the Hebrews, 97.

[10] Peter E. Enns, “Creation and Re-Creation: Psalm 95 and its Interpretation in Hebrews 3:1-4:13,” Westminster Theological Journal 55 (1993): 271.

[11] N. T. Wright. Hebrews for Everyone (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Know Press, 2004), 29.

[12] Leo Percer, “Jesus: The Example of the Faithful Son,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, NBST 621, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 11:16, (accessed August 18, 2017).

[13] Ibid.

[14] Buist M. Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 195.

[15] Bruce, TNICNT– The Epistle to the Hebrews, 91.

[16] Guthrie, Hebrews, 128.

[17] Bruce, TNICNT– The Epistle to the Hebrews, 92.

[18] B. J. Oropeza, “The Warning Passages in Hebrews: Revised Theologies and New Methods of Interpretation,” Currents in Biblical Research 10, no. 1 (November 2011): 81. Doi: 10.1177/1476993X10391138. (accessed August 18, 2017).

[19] Ibid., 82.

[20] Wright, Hebrews for Everyone, 36.

[21] Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 12: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 36.

[22] Percer, “Introduction to Hebrews – Background and Structure.”

[23] Wright, Hebrews for Everyone, 31.

[24] Thomas Kem Oberholtzer, “The Warning Passages in Hebrews: The Kingdom Rest in Hebrews 3:1-4:13,” Bibliotheca Sacra 145, no. 578 (April 1988): 188-189. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed August 18, 2017).

[25] Bruce, TNICNT– The Epistle to the Hebrews, 99.

[26] Oberholtzer, “The Warning Passages in Hebrews,” 196.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Percer, “Jesus: The Example of the Faithful Son.”

[29] Guthrie, Hebrews, 131.

[30] Matthew C. Easter, “Faith in the God Who Resurrects: The Theocentric Faith of Hebrews,” New Testament Studies 63, no. 1 (January 2017): 76-91. doi: 10.1017/S0028688516000291. (accessed August 18, 2017).

[31] Bruce, TNICNT – The Epistle to the Hebrews, 5.

[32] Guthrie, Hebrews, 161-167.

[33] Leo Percer, “The Promise of Rest to the Faithful,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, NBST 621, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 13:56, (accessed August 18, 2017).

[34] William L. Lane, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 47A: Hebrews 1-8, “The High Priestly Character of the Son (3:1-5:10) – B. The Second Warning: The Peril of Refusing to Believe God’s Word,” (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991,) 86.

[35] Percer, “The Promise of Rest to the Faithful.”

[36] Guthrie, Hebrews, 166.

[37] Guthrie, Hebrews, 167.

[38] Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990), 666.

[39] Wright, Hebrews for Everyone, 28.

 

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 Book Analysis & Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology

Mitch Glaser and Darrell Bock team up with nine other top scholars in their respective fields of study to examine and present a variety of ways in which Isaiah 53 has been and should be interpreted by both Jews and Christians, and also how to appropriately use this essential chapter of Scripture today in preaching, teaching, and evangelistic occasions. Glaser, President of Chosen People Ministries asserts, “The Bible is the inspired Word of God and Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel – and the simple message of His death and resurrection has the power to transform the lives of both Jews and Gentiles.”[1] Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement and Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary[2] also contributes considerable insight on Isaiah 53’s use in Luke’s accounts, to show that, “His death was a ransom for sin, [which] connects Jesus to all of us, potentially and actually.”[3] This book analysis is written in light of the entire text, but will focus primarily on chapters one, three, and four through six, which reveal how Isaiah 53 was essentially, “God pulling aside the curtain of time to let the people of Isaiah’s day look ahead to the suffering of the future Messiah and the resulting forgiveness made available to all people.”[4] The main objective of this analysis will detail the relationship between the Messiah and the Servant presented in Isaiah, and in the New Testament, and will also examine several key passages and their interpretive issues.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE MESSIAH AND THE SERVANT IN ISAIAH

Two of the key questions Michael Wilkins poses are: “Did Jesus see Himself as the prophesied servant in Isaiah 53 and how did the early church understand Jesus’ life and ministry in the light of Isaiah’s prophecy?”[5] After the baptism and the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, He returns to His hometown of Nazareth and goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath, where He reads Isaiah 61 from the scroll and declares, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:20b). This act would be the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, yet even in His hometown, the people drove Him out and went as far as trying to throw Him down a cliff. It should be no surprise that some people today struggle with identifying Jesus as the Messiah when even His own disciples did not understand when He spoke of His own death and resurrection. Part of the confusion is rooted in the enigma of the corporate and individual servant spoken of throughout the book of Isaiah. Wilkins explains, “The people of Israel understood that God was using them as a people to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah, yet the prophecies of the servant vary in that some allude to a corporate entity, and some allude to a single individual.”[6] In Isaiah 41:8, Israel as a nation is clearly in mind as being the servant of the Lord because God had given them a place of honor and esteem so that they might be a witness to the other nations of God’s blessing. Gary Yates explains, “In the Mosaic Law, God told them that they would become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. In other words, they would mediate God’s presence and blessings to all the nations on the earth.”[7] However, the problem was that Israel, as a nation, had failed in its mission and as a result had become a blind and deaf servant (Isaiah 42:18-25). As John Oswalt demonstrates, “Verse 7 said that the Servant of the Lord would lead the blind and imprisoned out into the light, [so Oswalt rightly asserts] that this Servant could not be the nation Israel, even though in other places (Isaiah 41:8; 43:10) the nation is clearly identified as the servant of the Lord.”[8] Instead of leading the people of other nations to Yahweh, the people of Israel often did the exact opposite by worshipping the false gods of other nations. In the midst of this apostasy, Isaiah promises that God would provide a solution to the problem, which was the raising up of an individual Servant who would restore the national/corporate servant. Another example of this individual and corporate servant paradigm is found in Isaiah 49:3, which first depicts Israel as the servant, but then in verse six, the Servant is an individual who has a ministry to Israel. It is this individual Servant who is going to be the one who restores the national servant.

KEY PASSAGES AND INTERPRETIVE ISSUES

As Christians, it can be very easy to read chapters of Scripture like Isaiah 53 and immediately identify the Servant of the Lord or the Suffering Servant as being Jesus Christ. However, this is problematic, especially when looking at the Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. In this passage, the Servant is rejected and dies for the sins of others and Yates reveals how this action highlights four differences: (1) Israel suffers for its own sin, while the individual Servant suffers for the sins of others; (2) Israel fails in its mission, as a blind and deaf servant, but the individual Servant fulfills His mission faithfully and in spite of intense persecution; (3) Israel suffers at the hands of the surrounding nations, yet the individual Servant suffers at the hands of His own people; and (4) Israel complains in its own suffering that God has abandoned and rejected her, but the individual Servant trusts God completely and suffers without ever complaining.[9]

One of the ongoing debates Richard Averbeck discusses is the suffering, sacrifice, and atonement presented in Isaiah 53:10. The main question contested is if Isaiah had in mind a vicarious, sacrificial substitution to make atonement for sin, but what Averbeck says with certainty is, “The main historical issue being dealt with was the restoration of Israel to its land and to its function as God’s servant.”[10] This conclusion fits both a prophetic perspective as well as a real-time context, such as the Babylonian captivity. Averbeck also provides clear insight on the context of ‏אָשָׁם or ʾāšām to mean guilt offering and concludes, “From Isaiah’s point of view, the suffering of the Isaiah 53 Servant was as essential to the restoration of the exiled people back to their Promised Land as the guilt offering was for the restoration of the skin-diseased person to the community.”[11] The shift in third person to first person references is another valuable contribution Averbeck highlights, in addition to the prophet who wrote this adding himself among the “we, us, our” audience. This further advances the argument that Isaiah was not the suffering servant, since as Averbeck shows, “The writer is a recipient of the Suffering Servant’s ministry and is not to be identified as the Servant Himself.”[12]

PORTRAYAL OF SERVANT IN ISAIAH AND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Upon addressing both the corporate and individual identity of the servant, Wilkins addresses the paradox of “How could this passive, sheep-like individual be the mighty arm of the Lord (cf. Isa. 51:9; 53:1) that Israel understood herself to be as God’s servant in His plan of salvation and how could He be exalted and yet despised?”[13] Matthew’s perspective on Jesus as the servant in Isaiah 53 is quite profound, and Wilkins shows how he divides Jesus’ ministry into five clear stages: Jesus’s Infancy – Divine Nazarene, Jesus’ Baptism – Righteous Son, Jesus’ Earthly Ministry – Healing Servant, Jesus’ Passion Ministry – Blood Ransom, and Jesus’ Burial and Resurrection – Transforming Master.[14] Ultimately, the Son of Man came to serve and not be served, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In this passage, R. T. France explains, “Jesus’ belief that He ‘must’ suffer and die may be attributed most plausibly to that OT background, and here the language brings us significantly closer to Isaiah 53. It would be hard to compose a better brief summary of the central thrust of Isaiah 53 than ‘to give His life as a ransom in place of many.’”[15] Mark 10:45 is identical to Matthew’s account and William Lane shows how, “The specific thought underlying the reference to the ransom is expressed in Isaiah 53:10 which speaks of ‘making His life an offering for sin. Jesus, as the Messianic Servant, offers Himself as a guilt offering (Lev. 5:14-6:7; 7:1-7; Num. 5:5-8) in compensation for the sins of the people.”[16] These passages back up Wilkins’ findings that, “The early church applied to Jesus the prophecies of Isaiah 53, in an attempt to understand His crucifixion and death [and] Jesus’ own understanding of His mission and death in the light of Isaiah 53 was clearly the root of the early church’s understanding.”[17]

While the New Testament quotes or alludes to Isaiah 53 more than a dozen times, Darrell Bock offers considerable insight into one of the most revealing occurrences in Acts 8:26-40 as Philip is directed by the Spirit to an Ethiopian eunuch who was traveling on the Jerusalem-to-Gaza road. During this encounter, the eunuch asks Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about Himself or about someone else?” Here, F. F. Bruce illuminates that, “During a time when not one line of any New Testament document had been written, what Scripture could any evangelist have used more fittingly as a starting point for presenting the story of Jesus to one who did not know Him? It was Jesus, and no other, who offered up His life as a sacrifice for sin, and justified many by bearing their iniquities, as the obedient Servant.”[18] As Bock demonstrates by the eunuch’s actions, there is much that can be learned and gained, but most importantly is how, “[Jesus was] unjustly humiliated and He took our place so we can experience cleansing and new life with God, something God showed that Jesus had done by raising Jesus from the dead and taking Jesus to His side in heaven.”[19] This passage of Scripture beautifully contrasts Jesus’s silent humiliation and unjust crucifixion with God’s vindication and resurrection of the suffering Servant, which Bock concludes, “Was actually part of God’s divine work to pay a price, even for those who had rejected Him.”[20]

Craig Evans then offers substantial insight on the theologies of Peter, Paul, John, and the author of Hebrews. Between these epistles, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is quoted or alluded to nearly twenty times. Evan’s section on Hebrews seemed the most insightful, considering this sermon/homily was most likely written to a group of Jewish Christians who were considering going back to Judaism. In Hebrews 9:26, Evans states, “The death of Jesus constitutes a sacrifice on behalf of humanity that need never be repeated, and as heavenly High Priest, who mediates the new covenant, the benefits that Jesus bestows on humanity only continues to grow.”[21] Interacting with the theologies of Peter, Paul, Hebrews, and John demonstrates the suffering and death further proves Jesus was the Messiah, and that all the prophecies are fulfilled in Scripture. Evans closes this section by illuminating, “What is especially intriguing is that the famous Suffering Servant hymn apparently lay at the heart of an evangelism and apologetic primarily intended for the synagogue.”[22] Ironically, it would be the synagogues that would be visited by Jesus, the disciples, and the apostle Paul to spread the life-saving gospel message.

CONCLUSION

The message of Isaiah 53, when illuminated by the rest of Scripture, reveals that the promised Messiah, the suffering Servant is one and the same individual. Only Jesus Christ fulfills both of these roles as He rules and reigns forever, as a result of His perfect faith and trust in God and His suffering and ultimate sacrifice, which saved His people and became a ransom for many. The idea of the Servant of the Lord is indeed a complex idea because in Isaiah this entity is depicted as both the nation of Israel and as an individual Servant who suffers and dies to restore God’s people. After Israel’s failure to be a light to the other nations, they became a blind and deaf servant, but the individual suffering Servant, the Messiah, arose out of this corporate failure and was empowered by God and attains great victories in the power of the Lord and has made a way, as Bock describes, to, “Clear the way to remove guilt and defilement and provide the gift of life through the Spirit of God by removing the obstacle that sin generates between people and God. [However,] the application of that removal requires that we accept the gift of God’s work through Jesus, asking that His forgiveness be applied specifically to us.”[23]

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 is well suited for anyone interested in discovering and viewing the Suffering Servant’s identity and role through the individual lenses of the Old and New Testament and then through the combined lens of all Scripture. This scholarly work should stand the test of time and have great impact amongst both the Jewish and Christian community.

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. By Richard E. Averbeck, Michael L. Brown, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Michael J. Wilkins, Darrell L. Bock, Craig A. Evans, David L. Allen, Robert B. Chisholm Jr., John S. Feinberg, Mitch Glaser, and Donald R. Sunukjian. Edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012, 334 pp. $27.99 (Paperback).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, eds. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012.

Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988.

Dallas Theological Seminary Website. “Darrell L. Bock.” http://www.dts.edu/about/faculty/dbock/ (accessed August 11, 2017).

France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

Glaser, Mitch. “President’s Introduction.” Chosen People Website. https://www.chosenpeople.com/site/our-mission/presidents-introduction/ (accessed, August 11, 2017).

Grogan, Geoffrey W. Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986.

Lane, William L. The Gospel of Mark. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974.

LaSor, William S., David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush. Old Testament Survey. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Life Application Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988.

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

________. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Yates, Gary. “The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation, 12:26, (accessed August 14, 2017).

[1] Mitch Glaser, “President’s Introduction,” Chosen People Website, https://www.chosenpeople.com/site/our-mission/presidents-introduction/ (accessed, August 11, 2017).

[2] Dallas Theological Seminary Website, “Darrell L. Bock,” http://www.dts.edu/about/faculty/dbock/ (accessed August 11, 2017).

[3] Darrell L. Bock, “Isaiah 53 in Acts 8,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 143.

[4] Life Application Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), 1176.

[5] Michael J. Wilkins, “Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Gospels,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 109.

[6] Ibid., 110.

[7] Gary Yates, “The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation, 12:26, (accessed August 14, 2017).

[8] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40-66, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 130.

[9] Yates, “The Servant of the Lord in Isaiah.”

[10] Richard E. Averbeck, “Christian Interpretations of Isaiah 53,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 53.

[11] Ibid., 59.

[12] Averbeck, “Christian Interpretations of Isaiah 53,” 60.

[13] Wilkins, “Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Gospels,” 111.

[14] Ibid., 115.

[15] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 761.

[16] William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), 383.

[17] Wilkins, “Isaiah 53 and the Message of Salvation in the Gospels,” 131.

[18] F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 176.

[19] Bock, “Isaiah 53 in Acts 8,” 144.

[20] Bock, “Isaiah 53 in Acts 8,” 143.

[21] Craig A. Evans, “Isaiah 53 in the Letters of Peter, Paul, Hebrews, and John,” in The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 162.

[22] Ibid., 170.

[23] Bock, “Isaiah 53 in Acts 8,” 143.

Hezekiah’s Response to Death & Threat of Assyrian Siege Warfare: Isaiah 38:1-22

God is faithful

It is amazing the vast difference that exists between two people, when one of them puts their hope, faith, and trust in God and the other one wants nothing to do with the Lord. This was the scenario played out in the book of Isaiah as King Ahaz did not have a relationship with the Lord, therefore, he did not trust Him. As a result, when Israel formed an alliance with Syria to attack Judah, king Ahaz decided to place his trust in man (the king of Assyria) and military alliances and while it may have spared Judah from the immediate threat of attack, it would ultimately invite disaster upon Judah in the future. However, his son, king Hezekiah did have a good relationship with the Lord and he was used mightily by God to bring protection and blessing on the kingdom of Judah. In Isaiah 38:1-22, we find ourselves in the middle of Hezekiah’s narrative. Prior to this chapter, the nation of Assyria who had made an alliance with king Ahaz was now attacking Judah, the very nation they vowed to protect, so it seems the sins of the father were attempting to visit the son, but king Hezekiah did not do what his father would have done. Instead of turning to man or alliances in the presence of danger, he turned to God in faith and prayer, despite the immense fear he and his people were experiencing, especially at the prospect of siege warfare, which could last for months or even years. In a letter, the Assyrians demanded the complete and unconditional surrender of the city of Jerusalem, so Hezekiah takes this letter before God and asks the Lord to deliver them. As a result of this faith and prayer, the Lord instructs Isaiah to go before Hezekiah to deliver a “fear not” message and that God would give Hezekiah a sign that his message was received loud and clear and that the Lord had the situation under control. That evening, the angel of the Lord swept throughout Sennacherib’s encampment killing 180,000 soldiers without a single arrow being fired into the city of Jerusalem.

Understanding how and why the narratives of king Ahaz and king Hezekiah compare and contrast each other is very important to understanding the overall message of the book of Isaiah. On the heels of Judah’s miraculous deliverance in chapter 37, chapter 38 presents Hezekiah with a fatal illness and the Lord instructs Isaiah in v. 1 to go and tell Hezekiah he better get his affairs in order “for you shall die, you shall not recover, thus says the LORD” (Isaiah 38:1).

***I do not know about you, but I would be thinking, “Well dang! I thought we really had something good going here God. Am I missing something or did I do something wrong?”***

EXPLANATION OF PASSAGE

After king Hezekiah receives this word from the Lord, his reaction reveals his true character. See, Hezekiah was an honorable man, he was determined to do good in the eyes of the Lord, he followed, trusted, and obeyed the Lord and because of that, the Lord blessed and honored Him in return. In our trials or dire circumstances, character is developed and God uses these tests to teach us patience, endurance, and faith. In fact, trials not only teach character; they also reveal it. With Ahaz and Hezekiah, their decisions and outcomes either revealed a close relationship with God, or a lack of one. The key difference between Ahaz and Hezekiah was when disaster struck, Ahaz put his faith in man and brought judgment and destruction on Judah, but Hezekiah put his trust in God and brought salvation and deliverance to Judah.

***Question: “How can these two men who were father and son be so different?”***

***Answer: “Their response to the crisis was rooted in the type of person they were before it.***

It is impossible to trust God when you do not have a relationship with Him, but Hezekiah did, so lets look at how he would respond to this sudden diagnosis of impending death. The first thing he does is pray and in this prayer he reminds the Lord of three things: his faithful walk, his loyal heart, and his righteous behavior. Being the son of Ahaz, who was one of the wickedest kings, going as far to even offer his own son, as a sacrifice to false gods seems to demonstrate just how far Hezekiah had fallen from the proverbial tree. Our relationship with God provides us with a stable foundation to believe in His promises, especially during difficult seasons. Barry Webb explains, “This serious illness Hezekiah faced was the crisis behind the crisis, which brings each of us face to face with our own mortality, and can put our trust in God on a razor’s edge.”[1] After praying, Hezekiah wept bitterly, submitting his life to God’s will and the Lord answers his prayer immediately, sending Isaiah with a second message that promised two things: God would heal him and add fifteen years to his life and God would deliver him and Jerusalem from Assyria, for God’s honor and David’s sake. John Oswalt believes Hezekiah’s recovery, “Was not merely because God has changed his mind but because of his willingness to keep faith with those to whom he has committed himself in the past. There is no limit to the effect of a faithful life. Although the sins of a person may affect future generations, the results of a person’s faithfulness will reach to a thousand generations.”[2] It is through our prayers, God says He will deliver us and since God never changes, much can be learned about His nature from Scripture.

It is interesting to note here that the Lord would offer a sign, in much the same way He did for king Ahaz, but Ahaz would refuse the Lord’s sign when one was offered because he did not have a relationship with God. However, to ensure Hezekiah of his healing, the Lord would move the shadow back ten degrees on the sundial (2 Kings 20:8). While there is some debate as to whether Hezekiah’s healing predates the attack of Assyria in chapter 37, what is assured is no king of Assyria would ever capture Jerusalem.

APPLICATION AND THEOLOGICAL ISSUES

Just as Hezekiah and Ahaz both received “fear not” messages, the same promises found in God’s Word applies to the church today. Later in Isaiah, (Isaiah 41:10, 14; 43:1-7) the prophet speaks of a future exile coming, but even in spite of what that would mean, God promised to watch over His children, to rescue them, and to bring them home. As followers of Christ, we need to know how we are going to respond to the “fear not” circumstances and trials of our life. Are we going to put our hope, faith, and trust in man, or will we be like Hezekiah and trust in God’s promises.

***The driving question: “How do we respond when God says ‘Fear not?’”

***Our answer will reveal if the Lord is truly our all-in-all and ever present help in time of need.

John 16:33: “Fear not, for I have overcome the world.”

When Hezekiah was on his deathbed, he had become depressed because it felt as though his very life was being robbed from him. Upon this realization, he began to contemplate never again being able to worship the Lord or enjoy fellowship with others. In vv. 10-13, he says he feels like a tent being taken down or a piece of cloth being cut away. He was broken in both body and spirit and in constant pain from what some scholars believe to be an outbreak of the bubonic plague. Despite his condition, he cried out to the Lord in speech and tears and he made a renewed commitment to the Lord (Matthew 23:12; Isaiah 57:15). This renewed commitment pledged to walk humbly before the Lord, to declare His healing power, to acknowledge the love of the Lord, to praise the Lord, to hope in God’s faithfulness, and to worship faithfully in the house of the Lord. These pledges and traits are what God calls each of His children to do. Our humility compels God to give life to His children, our praise and thanksgiving in the midst of trials and circumstances allows us to grow in our suffering, and our strong witness about the Lord, even in the face of death proclaims God’s faithfulness and salvation. One of the best sayings I have heard is, “Complain and you will remain, but praise and you will be raised.” As Hezekiah came to realize the miraculous work God had done in his life, he knew words could never convey his sincerest gratitude for his deliverance and Geoffrey Grogan beautifully explains, “In God, word and deed always perfectly correspond. The king has learned humility from this experience, for through it he has come to recognize that another controls the course of his life and the day of his death.”[3]
As a result of his healing, Hezekiah is moved to worship the Lord in the temple. If this account truly happened before the attack by the Assyrians, it is easy to see how much bolder he was in his prayer and petition before the Lord with the letter from the enemy demanding the complete surrender of Jerusalem. This story is reminiscent of 2 Kings 13:18 where Elisha instructs king Joash to hit the ground with his arrows, but he stops after only hitting the ground three times. Our finite understanding has a tendency to limit our thoughts and actions and this essentially puts God in a box.

***The question we must each ask ourselves is if we are going to allow our circumstances to define us, as we tell God how big our problems are, or are we going to begin telling our problems just how big our God is and that our ultimate prayer is that His will be done?***

ILLUSTRATIONS

Five years ago, I was involved in a very serious accident that nearly took my life. I was on a long-distance cycle ride and a pickup truck hit me from behind going 65mph. I broke five discs in my neck and four in my lower back. The impact separated my shoulder and rendered me unconscious. That moment in time would shape the rest of my life and it is no coincidence that was the very day I became a pastor. It was almost as if the devil was trying to take me out before I could begin my ministry. It would take over five reconstructive surgeries to put me back together again, but throughout the journey to where I find myself today, I remained faithful to the Lord, I witnessed to countless doctors, nurses, techs, and anyone else who would listen to the miracle God was doing in my life. Sure, I had to deal with constant intense pain and depression tried to overtake me as my plans to enter the military were robbed, but God had something better in store for me because I stayed humble and submitted my life to His complete will. In less than a month, I will graduate with my M.Div. and will be going into the Army as a chaplain, which is beyond what I could ever dream of. Through my suffering, God used me to touch countless lives and through my restoration, He has provided hope for many people walking a similar road to recovery. Last year, I ran over 1,300 miles, which is something the doctors said I would never be able to do again. God’s omnipotence and omniscience allows Him to heal us and know everything we need and are feeling. In some cases, God will choose to miraculously heal us, while in cases like mine; He gave me the strength to endure all the medical procedures. In the end, He receives the glory either way and even my suffering has brought me closer to the Lord and a day never goes by that I do not praise Him for the work He has done and is continuing to do in my life.

CONCLUSION

The power of prayer has no limits because there is no limit to God’s power. When we are at our weakest, the Lord is at His strongest and He is close to the brokenhearted. He calls each of us to cast our cares on Him for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. In all of our petitions, we must remain humble, faithful, and maintain an attitude of praise. God will always provide exactly what we need when we need it. In the bad, we must learn to praise and in the good, we must not forget to praise. Hezekiah trusted in the Lord and because of his faithful walk, his loyal heart, and his righteous and humble behavior, God was compelled to act. In our deepest depths of despair, Webb explains, “Such lessons are priceless, but often it is only by looking back, as Hezekiah does in the end of this chapter, that we can see how suffering has been the means God has used to teach them to us (Hebrews 12:11; Romans 8:28).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Grogan, Geoffrey W. Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986.

Webb, Barry G. The Message of Isaiah, On Eagles Wings. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Yates, Gary. “Trusting Man vs. Trusting God: Ahaz and Hezekiah.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Five Video Presentation, 10:44, (accessed August 4, 2017).

[1] Barry G. Webb, The Message of Isaiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 154.

[2] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 677.

[3] Geoffrey W. Grogan, Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 237.

 

Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews: Book Review

Four Views of Warning Passages in Hebrews

INTRODUCTION

Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews is the culmination of a collection of papers presented to the Hebrews Study Group during the fifty-sixth annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society during November 17-19, 2004. While the denominational orientations of the members are diverse, the group holds to two doctrinal beliefs: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs, and God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”[1] Each of the four New Testament scholars present and defend their exegetical presentations and then critique the view of their fellow contributors. Herbert Bateman asserts, “The purpose of Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews seeks to expose existing tensions and provide various ways in which four scholars with differing theological grids interpret them in the literary and historical context of Hebrews…[And] forces us to address the issue of assurance and the doctrine of eternal security.”[2] The purpose of this book critique will first be to evaluate the main arguments presented, by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses found in each view/approach. Second, one view will recognized as the best explanation, with details as to why it is the best choice. Lastly, an assessment of the book’s overall contribution to the field of study will be presented.

SUMMARY OF CONTENT AND MAIN ARGUMENTS

The book of Hebrews reads much more like an exhortation or sermon/homily, rather than as a typical New Testament letter. It seems the recipients were facing a crisis of faith and were considering going back to Judaism and abandoning their Christian beliefs. This would mean the original recipients were most likely Jewish Roman Christians, who had an extensive knowledge of the Old Testament. The book is also written as a word of encouragement for the recipients to maintain their faith in Christ. God inspired the author to not only encourage, but also to confront the people and warn them of the danger they faced if they remained immature in faith and the judgment that would result if they did not turn back to Christ. By reminding the recipients of the character and nature of Jesus, the writer/speaker encourages them to stand firm in their faith. Bateman believes, “Hebrews 5:11-6:12 is the heart of the author’s concern. Yet together the five warning messages[3] are all emotive exhortations to believers to persevere and believe, rather than distrust and disobey… The wilderness community serves as a reminder that God, in a previous era, punished those who distrusted and disobeyed Him and His messengers.”[4]

Grant Osborne maintains a Classical Arminian view, and immediately explains the six hundred year debate that has been going on, despite the agreement on the meaning of depravity: “For the Calvinist there is no hope until God sovereignly acts and on the basis of His mysterious will elects some to salvation and then overwhelms them with His irresistible grace so that they choose Christ. [However,] for the Arminian, God still acts sovereignly but He sends His Spirit Who convicts every person and overcomes their total depravity so that they make a choice.”[5] The warning passages are a key component of this debate and the audience’s apostasy is one of the few things agreed upon. Osborne asserts, “Faith is a passive surrender to God who saves us, and an opening up of ourselves to God, who works salvation in us. But it is still a free choice. This freedom then passes over into the life of sanctification.” Osborne identifies Hebrews 6 as a hinge point in his argument. The apostasy being addressed to the Roman converts was a real danger, as Osborne maintains when true believers commit an unpardonable sin, there is no possibility of repentance, but only of eternal judgment.[6] Osborne comes to this realization from an understanding of the parallel participles in Hebrew 6:4-6 to mean that true believers have fallen away and he asserts any translation that renders this passage as “if they fall away” is in error.[7]

Buist Fanning’s view on Hebrews is best classified as Classical Reformed and he believes, “It is, strictly speaking, not man but God who perseveres, [which] may be defined as that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion. It is because God never forsakes His work that believers continue to stand to the very end.”[8] Fanning identifies the book’s enigmatic character as the one thing almost everyone can agree on. He prefers to use a synthetic approach when approaching the warning passages in Hebrews, while also considering the interpretation of four or five elements or themes that they all have in common.[9] Rooted in this approach, Fanning addresses: the description of those who fall away, the nature of this fall, the consequences of the fall, the desired positive response, and encouragement to the audience about God’s faithfulness.[10] Fanning concludes, “The warnings in Hebrews about falling away and the exhortations to endure are intended to urge the readers to maintain faith in Christ’s high priestly work, not to provoke fear that they may lose their standing with, nor primarily to test the genuineness of their faith.”[11] This essentially communicates those in jeopardy of not possessing salvation never had it in the first place, meaning they were never actually true believers.

Gareth Lee Cockerill maintains a Wesleyan Arminian view and he emphasizes these, “Passages are difficult, not just because they teach that it is possible to fall away from Christ, but also because they appear to teach a falling away from which there is no return, [making these passages] not only a problem for Calvinists, but also for Wesleyans and other Christians.”[12] Cockerill and Osborne both assert it is possible, because of apostasy; to be eternally lost once being saved, but Cockerill emphasizes, “[The] writer of Hebrews is not speaking of salvation from God’s point of view, for only God knows which of the recipients of Hebrews are true believers.”[13] Cockerill also touches on the pastoral implications of the warning passages saying, “The author’s parallel encouragement continues to do for modern Christians what they did for the first hearers of this message, the warnings were not given to generate worry, but to raise concern lest one might fall, the severity of the warnings rests on the greatness of the salvation Christ brought, and they show people are either moving toward God or away from God.”[14] The last point was very insightful because the tendency is to view people as either being in or out of the kingdom of God. As Cockerill concludes, the main emphasis for pastors should not just be whether or not someone has made a decision for Christ; the focus should be on the direction of their lives. This last statement could be misconstrued; really, the focus should be on both.

Randall Gleason holds a Moderate Reformed View and points out the warnings in Hebrews has lacked consensus since the days of the early church.[15] The foundation of Gleason’s interpretation of the warning passages is rooted in Jewish history and context, and he views falling away as much more than simply acting unfaithfully. This unfaithfulness to God parallels the Israelite’s time in the wilderness where an eleven-day journey took forty years because of their attitude and lack of faith in God. By linking the spiritual condition of the intended audience to the sinful nature of the Exodus generation, Gleason presents compelling similarities in the circumstances and the judgment that would follow if the people did not turn back to Christ. Gleason concludes by asserting, “The purpose of Hebrews was to strengthen, encourage, and exhort the members of a persecuted Christian community to hold firmly to their confession of Jesus Christ rather than seek security in the old rituals of Judaism.”[16] This desire to go back to the old ways is associated with the acrostic for Ur, meaning going back to one’s usual routine.

George Guthrie offers a wonderful conclusion to this book and his beliefs closely resemble those of Buist Fanning, so he would be classified as Classical Reformed in his views on Hebrew’s warning passages. Guthrie illuminates, “The manner in which this scholarly dialogue has been conducted represents an irenic, evangelical Christianity that at once aspires to the clarification of truth and the fostering of Christian community – two goals often treated as being unrelated.”[17] Any endeavor in exegesis and hermeneutics should seek to reveal what is contained in Scripture; not what one wants to be there. By seeking to understand what Scripture truly reveals, the interpreter will have the greatest opportunity to communicate the truths of God.

ANALYSIS AND CRITIQUE OF VIEWS

It is amazing how one’s preunderstanding and preconceived notions warp the mind and limit the ability to see God’s truth fully illuminated. Each of the authors are leaders in their respective schools of theology and have contributed much to the advancement of applying God’s Word in the lives of believers today. The way this book is formatted and setup allows it to be read much like a debate with opposing views, by the other three authors, at the conclusion of each chapter. Each author is given ample space ranging from seventy-five to one hundred pages to assert their beliefs and most responses are around twenty pages. The debate seems to revolve around whether the passages are referring to regenerate Christians and the main issue being addressed is if believers can lose their salvation, if they fall away from God’s grace. On multiple occasions, this writer was able to see different views presented in a new light that did not put down another’s viewpoint. When reading or listening to opposing views, the natural reaction is to dismiss what is being said, but that was not the case with this book. Each of these sections were truly enlightening and this is the third book in the last year this writer has read in seminary where differing views were presented and responses were added at the end of each belief, so this seems to be a very successful trend when addressing core doctrinal issues. This format also adds a new level of comprehension and clarification for a wide variety of readers, from new believers, to students, to even scholars in the field. Knowing what one believes is important, but so is being able to interact with the other popular stances on a topic. What really sets this book apart from others is the professionalism each author showed their fellow contributors, even if their beliefs were in conflict. This is an area the church as a whole has been the victim of and as a result, many Christians forget there is only one team: God’s team. Doctrinally, there are surely some hills worth dying on, but many of the trivial translations of a passage have caused such strife and division in the universal church. It was truly refreshing to see these scholars interact with one another and not just point out differences, but point out areas in which there was agreement. Each of the authors were respected scholars in their denominations and while they do not necessarily speak for everyone, in this writer’s opinion, they each presented sound exegetical procedures and conclusions. Because of the complexity of reading Hebrews, it can seem confusing with the contrast of falling away, possibly forever, being juxtaposed with the superiority of Christ as High Priest, so understanding more about the author, the original recipients, and the context are vital to arriving at the most accurate interpretation of the text and what modern day application it presents for believers today.

If one author’s view seemed superior, or at least was better presented, it would be Buist Fanning’s Classical Reformed view. His synthetic approach to the text illustrates how the author includes himself when he is addressing the church and also how Christ is elevated to His High Priestly role. Fanning also does a good job when analyzing the conditional statements and the cause-to-effect relationship between protasis and apodosis. Fanning demonstrates, that not all conditionals express C/E relationships; however, “They all involve a type of contingency with a consequence, but the consequence may be an inference that can be drawn or an equivalence that may be noted, not always an effect produced by the cause denoted in the protasis.”[18] This means enduring faith is the evidence of genuine salvation, which communicates those in jeopardy of not possessing salvation never, had it in the first place, meaning they were never true believers. The priesthood of Jesus is the assurance of salvation and Fanning does a brilliant job illustrating how Christ intercedes for believers and when sinners confess their sins and turn from their wicked ways, God chooses not to remember the sins any longer. Fanning’s approach further seems most valid because it also pictures true genuine believers being able to persevere to the very end because their hope and faith is in Christ.

CONCLUSION

While each of the views of the warning passages in Hebrews had valid points, Fanning’s emphasis of Christ’s power to save over any amount of apostasy is theologically most biblical. To argue otherwise would be to say Christ is unable to forgive certain sins. Fanning raises two interesting questions: “What could cause God to call to mind again what He has pledged never to remember? And what could bring an end to forgiveness or an inheritance that is eternal? To these questions, Fanning asserts, “Why would the author express himself so strongly about God’s absolute faithfulness if human infidelity can short-circuit it, especially since this is the very thing he fears some of his readers may do.”[19] Each of the authors presented considerable insight into how to interpret the warning passages in Hebrews and this book’s contribution will be long lasting in academia and for anyone wanting to properly understand the Epistle to the Hebrews.

 Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews. By Gareth L. Cockerill, Buist M. Fanning, Randall C. Gleason, Grant R. Osborne, and George H. Guthrie. Edited by Herbert W. Bateman IV. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007, 480 pp. $29.99 (Paperback).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cockerill, Gareth L., Buist M. Fanning, Randall C. Gleason, Grant R. Osborne, and George Guthrie. Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews. Edited by Herbert W. Bateman IV. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007.

[1] Herbert W. Bateman IV ed., Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 7.

[2] Ibid., 83.

[3] Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; and 12:14-29

[4] Bateman IV ed., Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 84-85.

[5] Grant R. Osborne, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 86.

[6] Osborne, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 128.

[7] Ibid., 111-112.

[8] Buist M. Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 172-173.

[9] Ibid., 175.

[10] Ibid., 175-192.

[11] Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 218.

[12] Gareth Lee Cockerill, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 257.

[13] Ibid., 289.

[14] Ibid., 291-292.

[15] Randall C. Gleason, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 336.

[16] Ibid., 367.

[17] George H. Guthrie, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, ed. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007), 431.

[18] Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 210.

[19] Fanning, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews, 200.

The Explicit Gospel: Book Review

explicitgospel

Matt Chandler is a walking miracle and he is also one of the most gifted communicators whose passion is that we all would know and worship the triune God rightly, that both our minds and hearts would be full of and shaped by Him, and that we all would experience a life-transforming experience upon encountering Christ and the realization of His atoning sacrifice. Currently, Chandler serves as Lead Teaching Pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, Texas and he also is the president of Acts 29, a network of churches planting churches. Here, he brought a fresh vision to the organization, mapping out four specific hopes for its future: (1) plant churches who plant churches, (2) be known for holiness and humility, (3) become radically diverse, and (4) be serious about evangelism and conversion. Chandler has also written four other books: The Mingling of Souls, Recovering Redemption, To Live Is Christ To Die Is Gain, and Creature of the Word, which would make a great companion book to The Explicit Gospel, as it looks how the gospel impacts all the Church is and does. Chandler claims this book first examines the rich, Scripture-based beauty of a Jesus-centered church, and then provides practical steps toward forming a Jesus-centered church.[1] This reading analysis will first assess Chandler’s methodology and approach on the topic of the gospel message and will then evaluate his two vantage point supposition, which he asserts are, “Both necessary in order to begin to glimpse the size and weight of the good news, the eternity-spanning wonderment of the finished work of Christ.”[2]

SUMMARY

The Explicit Gospel reads much like a discourse to remind the reader of the importance of the gospel message, which in today’s world is being watered down and neglected in many churches, leading to people being, as Chandler coins it: “dechurched.” Chandler sets out to show, “It is a call to true Christianity, to know the gospel explicitly, and to unite the church on the amazing grounds of the good news of Jesus. It is inspired by the needs of both the overchurched and the unchurched, and bolstered by the common neglect of the explicit gospel within Christianity.”[3] This indeed is a valiant endeavor; one in which he breaks down into three parts. The first part is called “The Gospel on the Ground,” which “Traces the biblical narrative of God, man, Christ, [and the human] response. [It is here] we will see the power of grace for human transformation, beginning with God’s needless self-sufficiency and culminating in a sinner’s Spirit-abled response to the good news.”[4] Part two then looks at “The Gospel in the Air,” which evaluates how Paul synthesizes human salvation to cosmic restoration in his letter to the Romans. Ultimately, Chandler establishes there is but one gospel, but to fully comprehend it, two vantage points are needed. “The Gospel on the Ground” allows a believer to fully understand the work of the cross and how it not only captures, but also resurrects dead hearts. Then, “The Gospel in the Air” reveals how the atoning work of Christ was part of God’s plan of redemption from the beginning.

Part one begins by looking at the person of God and as Chandler explains, “The deeper we go into God’s glory, the deeper we will find ourselves in the precious work of Christ on the cross.”[5] God has chosen to reveal Himself to His children through two ways: general revelation, which is everything He has created, and special revelation, which is everything recorded in Scripture, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In this section, Chandler illuminates God’s transcendent creativity being infinite, just as He is, and while we require things to make more things, God makes something out of nothing. God knows all, He is completely self-sufficient, and He is also completely sovereign over everything. Chandler explains, “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things, [which] means the origin of everything that exists and will exist can be traced back to the hands of God and no further.”[6] Next, Chandler demonstrates humanity’s propensity to make everything about them and he paraphrases Herbert Lockyer, who said, “The Bible is for us, but it is not about us,” meaning the main purpose of Scripture is to reveal the foremost desire of God’s heart is to bring glory to His name. Humans are hardwired for worship, but what he or she chooses to worship is up to the individual. This is a slippery slope and can easily lead to idolatry if God is not kept first.

When looking at man, Chandler reveals two characteristics of God that Paul uses in Romans 11:22. The first is His loving-kindness, which most are familiar with, but the second is His severity. Chandler cautions, “Failing to note the severity of God is attempted theft of all He is due. To discount, disguise, or disbelieve what God does in response to the falling short of His glory is, in itself, falling short of His glory… All sin, then, is deserving of the severity of God, and no one is exempt from this.”[7] The justice of God demands sacrifice because there can be no forgiveness or remission of sins without the shedding of blood. Here, the Lord’s holiness is contrasted with His wrath as Chandler explains, “The chasm between heaven and hell is illustrative of the chasm between God and us. He is glorious; we are not. He is holy; we are not. He is righteous; we are not. And this chasm between God’s total perfection and our total depravity deserves the chasm of stinking, smoldering Gehenna.”[8]

Upon establishing the chasm that exists between God and His children, Chandler demonstrates Christ became the bridge back to restoring communion with the Father. However, this came at a great cost, as crucifixion was the most humiliating and painful way to die and the Romans had perfected this practice as they conquered the known world. This section does a good job pointing out, “The cross of Jesus Christ was not some surprise, not some plan B, but rather the plan known about within the Godhead since the beginning.”[9] Upon the realization that Christ died so that humanity’s sins might be forgiven and that the relationship with the Lord might be restored, a response is then required on the part of humans. Here, even a choice not to choose or accept this offer is still a choice. In Matthew 12:30 Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Faithfulness and obedience are the keys in a proper response and it was truly enlightening and a little frightening to read that eighty-five percent of the Old Testament contains language saying either, “I am destroying you” or “I am going to destroy you.”[10] The response of faith is the only thing that will overcome the fallen and rebellious nature of humanity and the gospel demands a response. One of the primary things that stands in the way of a response of faith is a hardened heart and this is demonstrated throughout Scripture, but as Chandler states, “No heart can ever be too hard for God, [so we must] live through faith, and die through faith. Everything else is garbage. Even works of righteousness, if not done through faith, are works of self-righteousness and therefore filthy rags.”[11]

Part two looks to “The Gospel in the Air” and begins with the creation account or general revelation. Chandler speaks to a variety of scientific theories and emphasizes that “The context of the gospel message is not our benefit or our salvation; the context of the gospel is the supremacy of Christ and the glory of God.”[12] Creation and nature are essential means by which God has chosen to reveal Himself to the world and over the course of history science has been used to prove and disprove the existence of God. Scripture has also come under scrutiny, but Chandler rightly explains, “The aim of the Scriptures is to direct our worship to the one true God of the universe, and the universe itself is designed not to occupy our worship but to stir our heart of hearts to behold its God.”[13]

The fall of man introduced sin into the world and R. C. Sproul defines sin as cosmic treason. While we were created in the image of God and were meant to bring glory to Him, original sin has corrupted and defiled everyone. Adam and Eve’s sin has, as Chandler puts it, “Created a shalom-shaped hole in our hearts, and no matter how much we throw in there, and no matter how long we try filling it, nothing will satisfy but [Jehovah Shalom.]”[14] As each person searches for love, happiness, meaning, and belonging, if they are not looking to find these in God, they will never be fulfilled. Only when reconciliation happens with God and Christ is put first in a believer’s life will the worship of the Creator supersede the worship of creation. When Christ reconciles a believer, Chandler states, “We are no longer enemies of God and we are reconciled to reconcile.”[15] This means being a part of the universal church and allowing the explicit gospel to transform our vision and mission of the church. When this happens, evangelism and discipleship will become priorities and not something that just randomly happens because as Chandler states, “The single most loving act we can do is share the good news of Jesus Christ, that God saves sinners.”[16]

In part three, Chandler provides some wonderful implications and applications, and illustrates, “When we look at the “Gospel from the Air,” through the grand narrative of the Scriptures, we see that the gospel is not just about God’s forgiving us of sins and giving us eternal life, but also about what we are being forgiven for and what eternal life is like.”[17] Some dangers that must be watched for in a “Gospel on the Ground” too long approach are: missing God’s grand mission, having a singular rationalized faith, and having a self-centered gospel. Each of these is a slippery slope and must be guarded against. Some dangers in a “Gospel in the Air” too long approach are: syncretism, a Christless gospel, culture as an idol, and abandoning evangelism. When dealing with moralism and the cross, Chandler talks about the weapons of grace at our disposal. “The first weapon of grace is the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13), the second weapon of grace is the word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), and the third weapon of grace is the promise of the new covenant (Hebrews 9:15).”[18] Combined, these weapons allow the believer to fight sin and become the first component of a grace-driven effort.[19]

CRITIQUE

The way Chandler presents the two vantage points was enlightening and the section on the fall of man and the glory of God was also explained brilliantly. By understanding that grace is getting something we do not deserve: the forgiveness of sins and salvation, while mercy is not getting what one deserves: punishment and eternal separation from the Father, the believer can truly begin to appreciate all God has done and not done. Chandler further explains, “The grace of God by definition is unearned. You cannot deserve it… Grace is a free gift given to someone who has not earned it and cannot earn it.”[20] Scripture reveals the wages of sin is death and Chandler’s illustration of Gehenna was profound. While most associate this word with hell, it is also a reference to a ravine on the south side of Jerusalem. Horrible atrocities happened here, making the area, as Chandler puts it, “A stinking, smoldering place of destruction and neglect. The image to hold in our mind is putrid and repulsive [and these extremes represent] the slightest falling short of God’s glory.”[21] This illustration of the effects of sin will be hard to forget!

Pertaining to the satisfactory sacrifice of Christ, Chandler hit the nail on the head when he says, “If we do not understand the bad news, we will never grasp the good news.”[22] The problem he identifies is many people have major problems with the suffering and brutal slaughter of Jesus, despite this act being a major foundation of the Christian faith. Only Jesus could satisfy the debt for all past, present, and future sin. He who knew no sin became sin and sacrificed Himself as the Lamb of God in a Yom Kippur fashion. The Day of Atonement is a perfect example as, “One goat absorbs the wrath of God toward sin and is killed. The other goat, the scapegoat, is vanquished into the wilderness, carrying away the sins of Israel.”[23]

In the section “response to the gospel is not the gospel” Chandler makes a clear distinction between needing to divide the gospel and response, otherwise we compromise both. D. A. Carson writes, “The kingdom of God advances by the power of the Spirit through the ministry of the Word. Not for a moment does that mitigate the importance of good deeds and understanding the social entailments of the gospel, but they are entailments of the gospel. It is the gospel that is preached.”[24] For some, the way Chandler presents this section may make some people uneasy, but as Chandler states, “If we confuse the gospel with response to the gospel, we will drift from what keeps the gospel on the ground, what makes it clear and personal, and the next thing you know, we will be doing a bunch of different things that actually obscure the gospel, not reveal it.”[25] A church that does nothing but events and outreach can be five miles wide, but only one inch deep when it comes to impactful life transformation, so balance is key.

PERSONAL APPLICATION

Rick Warren was so right when he said, “If you read only one book this year, make it this one. It is that important.” One of the first takeaways was found in the person of God. As a result of who God is and everything He has done, worship should be the natural response, since worship is the attributing of ultimate worth to something.[26] However, as Chandler illustrates, “Something has gone wrong with our wiring” and instead of worshipping God and putting Him first above all things, many people whether consciously or subconsciously are worshipping something of than God by what they say and what they do. Ultimately, anything placed before God is an idol and this can be people, places, or things, so it is imperative to do a moral inventory and evaluate where one’s time, talents, and treasures are being used, because that is where their heart will be too.

The fact that we are never not worshipping was a profound declaration and as Chandler demonstrates, “Our thoughts, our desires, and our behaviors are always oriented around something, which means we are always worshipping – ascribing worth to – something [and] if it is not God, we are engaging in idolatry.”[27] There is no way to sugarcoat this principle and it is impossible to turn off the worship switch in our hearts. Timothy Keller explains it perfectly, “When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, we may call it ‘co-dependency’ but it is really idolatry. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, I will feel my life has meaning, I will know I have value, and I will feel secure.’ There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.”[28]

The final takeaway came as Chandler described how, “A grace-driven effort attacks the roots of our sin, not just the branches. Grace is a heart changer, because the heart is where behavior comes from and wherever our heart is, that is where our actions will follow.”[29] This is an area that must be continually guarded. He uses the example that right under the desire for pleasure is lust, but in reality lust is generally just a symptom of a more central perversion of the heart. The grace-driven effort attacks the cause, not just the symptoms, whereas moralism just tries to pacify the manifested behavior. Fear of God is another motivator behind grace-driven efforts and is something many have unfortunately lost sight of. A grace-driven effort is rooted in pursuing holiness, which allows the believer to not just forsake sin, but as Chandler puts it, “Being dead to it… [because] the person who understands the gospel recognizes that, as a new creation, his [or her] spiritual nature is in opposition to sin now, and he [or she] seeks not just to weaken sin in his [or her] life but to outright destroy it.”[30] These grace-driven weapons and strategies are game changers and will lead to a life embodied by the explicit gospel.

CONCLUSION

Chandler’s approach in writing on this topic was refreshing and demonstrates just how complicated the church has made the gospel message. Whether intentional or not, it is the reality the church faces today. By separating the spheres of the gospel, Chandler has shown how the “Gospel on the Ground” operates at the micro level, while the “Gospel in the Air” operates on the macro level. Then, by examining the glorious truths behind God’s plan for salvation and redemption from multiple vantage points, Chandler adequately lays the foundation with the biblical narrative and the human response and reveals the grand display of God’s glory in reconciliation, made possible by the supremacy and atoning work of Jesus Christ. The Explicit Gospel is well suited for new believers, as well as biblical scholars, and is an invaluable tool in the endeavor to know God, our purpose, and how each person has a part to play in God’s plan of redemption in the universal church. It is a true call to Christianity and has the ability to unite the church; where in the past division and strife has been the prevailing paradigm.

The Explicit Gospel. By Matt Chandler and Jared Wilson, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2012, 237 pp. $14.99 (Paperback).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Carson, D. A. Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2010.

Chandler, Matt and Jared Wilson. The Explicit Gospel. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2012.

Keller, Timothy. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, NY: Dutton, 2009.

The Village Church Website. http://www.thevillagechurch.net/about/matt-chandler/ (accessed July 21, 2017).

[1] The Village Church Website. http://www.thevillagechurch.net/about/matt-chandler/ (accessed July 21, 2017).

[2] Matt Chandler and Jared Wilson, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2012), 17.

[3] The Village Church Website. http://www.thevillagechurch.net/about/matt-chandler/ The Explicit Gospel (accessed July 21, 2017).

[4] Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 16.

[5] Ibid., 21.

[6] Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 32.

[7] Ibid., 41.

[8] Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 48.

[9] Ibid., 57.

[10] Ibid., 64.

[11] Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 85.

[12] Ibid., 90.

[13] Ibid., 103.

[14] Ibid., 120.

[15] Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 143.

[16] Ibid., 151.

[17] Ibid., 172.

[18] Ibid., 210-212.

[19] Ibid., 213

[20] Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 43.

[21] Ibid., 42.

[22] Ibid., 58.

[23] Ibid., 61.

[24] D. A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2010), 68-69.

[25] Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 83.

[26] Ibid., 36.

[27] Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 103.

[28] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (New York, NY: Dutton, 2009), xviii.

[29] Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 213.

[30] Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 216-217.

Isaiah’s Everlasting Covenant, Babylon & Jerusalem, & the Leviathan

Leviathan

PART I: EVERLASTING COVENANT

The everlasting covenant mentioned in Isaiah 24:5 is not a covenant the Lord specifically made with Israel, like the Noachic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, or Davidic covenants. Instead, this everlasting covenant appears to be a covenant that God has made with all the nations, which will hold them accountable for their violence, bloodshed, and iniquities. John Oswalt believes, “While the eternal covenant may have specific reference to the Noachic covenant, with its prohibition of bloodshed, its broader reference is to the implicit covenant between Creator and creature, in which the Creator promises abundant life in return for the creature’s living according to the norms laid down at Creation.”[1] The larger context of Isaiah twenty-four through twenty-seven looks to the final judgment of the wicked and the ultimate salvation of the righteous. Often referred to as the little apocalypse, this passage of Scripture is believed by some scholars to have been written long after the time of Isaiah, but as Gary Yates asserts, “Thematically, it fits very well with what precedes it in chapters thirteen through twenty-three, where we have the judgment of the nations in history and then in twenty-four through twenty-seven, we have the judgment of nations in the last days.”[2] The major takeaway from this portion of Scripture is God’s judgment in history is representative of how and why He will judge the nations in the future. In a similar fashion to how Isaiah speaks to these spiritual and physical laws, Paul in Romans chapters one through three speaks to the fundamental principles of human behavior and as Oswalt emphasizes, “Whether or not persons recognize these principles, living in any other way than in accord with them must ultimately destroy us, as the history of numberless fallen civilizations ought to teach us.”[3] The decline and fall of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian, and Roman Empire were largely attributed to the violations of these laws and the same argument can be made for any nation in the past or future that violates God’s everlasting covenant.

In the immediate context, it is apparent God was going to judge all the earth and all of its inhabitants because they had violated the everlasting covenant. Even nations used by God, like the Assyrians and Egyptians, to pronounce judgment against Israel and Judah would still have to answer for their actions, which had violated the everlasting covenant. Isaiah 26:21 reveals, “For behold, the LORD is coming out from His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain.” Oswalt explains this punishment is the “Result of that intervention and is here expressed especially in terms of those unjustly killed. The earth, which had received their blood, now gives a full accounting, and all the murdered are brought to life. This is in keeping with 26:14. The tables are now fully turned: the killers and the killed are alive forevermore.”[4] This same pronouncement can be found throughout Scripture and the contemporary context for believers today is profound. In Amos 2:1 the king of Moab burned to lime the bones of the king of Edom. Here, Matthew Henry explains, “The evil passions of the heart break out in various forms; but the Lord looks to our motives, as well as our conduct. Those that deal cruelly shall be cruelly dealt with. Other nations were reckoned with for injuries done to men; Judah is reckoned with for dishonor done to God.”[5] This sounds very similar to the language used in the Abrahamic Covenant to bless those who blessed Israel and to curse those who cursed God’s chosen people. Other atrocities such as the Ammonites ripping open the pregnant women in Gilead (Amos 1:13) would be classified as a crime against humanity and would require divine judgment, much like the Babylonians would face because their empire was built upon the blood of their conquered nations. While the United States is not mentioned directly in Scripture, the same standards God has held all previous nations to, by the everlasting covenant, still exists today. God has been in conflict with the powers and forces of evil from the time of creation until the very end of days, but His sovereignty and His righteousness ultimately demand justice and make salvation possible and deliverance available.

PART II: TWO CITIES IN ISAIAH CHAPTERS 24 – 27

When looking at Isaiah chapters twenty-four through twenty-seven, the context is built around comparing and contrasting two different cities. First, there is a condemned and ruined city that is well built and fortified, until the judgment time comes, when the Lord will destroy it. Isaiah 27:10-11 vividly details how “The fortified city is solitary, a habitation deserted and forsaken, like the wilderness; there the calf grazes; there it lies down and strips its branches.” In contrast to this desolate city, there is a secure, blessed, and joyful city portrayed in Isaiah 26:1-2, so the question naturally becomes, “Do these cities represent the actual cites of Babylon and Jerusalem, or are they symbolic?” When looking at the city in Isaiah 27:10-11, Oswalt asserts, “If it is correct to take the city here as the symbol of Judah’s oppressors, then the thought continues the idea of redemption. When Israel’s idols are broken down, then God’s hand will be revealed against her enemies, who are in fact more idolatrous than she. The result will be complete desolation, as that once mighty city becomes a pasture field.”[6] Some scholars argue for a literal representation of this passage, which Frank Gaebelein explains could be interpreted as, “The fortified city of v.10 could certainly be Samaria, and the exile of v.8 would then follow its fall. A reference to Judah is not, of course, impossible, especially if we treat the passage as predictive and the past tenses as prophetic perfects. In this case the city would be Jerusalem and the exile in Babylon.”[7] Because so many of the references to these cities are general and not specific, it appears the immediate context points to the whole people of God, meaning both Israel and Judah, as well as their impending exile. Gaebelein further explains how Isaiah 26:1-2 reveals, “The theme of the two cities links this passage with chapters 24 and 25. In 25:4, God Himself is the refuge of his people, while here (v.1) He gives strength to the city by making salvation its walls and ramparts. The second is not really inferior to the first, for the prophet always thought of such gifts of God as manifestations of what He is in Himself.”[8] In this approach, Gaebelein demonstrates how the visible gifts of God may be distinguishable from Himself, but not those that are invisible and spiritual. Salvation as walls and bulwarks is interesting language, which Oswalt believes expresses, “That access to God’s city is free for those to whom righteousness and faithfulness are paramount.”[9] True deliverance can only come from God, so it seems unlikely that God has set the walls of the city for salvation. Verse two then indicates that only those who keep the faithful covenant may enter in, but as Oswalt explains, “We need think neither that the city is not yet inhabited, nor that the gatekeepers are angels. The point is simply that none can live in this city for whom God’s character is not the passion of their lives, and this entry formula is a way of expressing this truth. The prophet envisions a day when the adulterous spirit of His people will be changed to faithfulness and loyalty.”[10] Isaiah’s imagery of the last days is built around the contrast of these two cities and as John Walton explains, “People in the ancient Near East understood deities having special interest in different towns and cities. Yahweh rules in Zion just as Marduk does in Babylon. Divine ties to specific locations are physically demonstrated by the dedication of temples to them, which serve the gods in a way similar to the function of a palace for a king.”[11] In this writer’s opinion, the immediate context of Isaiah’s judgment of nations points to these cities being Babylon and Jerusalem, during the time of writing. However, in a modern-day context, these texts can easily be applied to nations that choose to honor the everlasting covenant or those that disregard it, and each will have to answer for their choices in the last days. Ultimately, God’s judgment in history is representative of how He will judge all the earth and its inhabitants. Those who trust and put their faith in God will enter through the gates, but those who violate the everlasting covenant will be punished and held accountable for their violence and bloodshed.

PART III: LEVIATHAN IMAGERY

The imagery of the Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1 is intense as the Lord with His great and strong sword punishes and slays the twisting serpent or dragon in the sea. When looking at this passage through the lens of Psalm 74:12-17, the Lord similarly defeats the sea, controls the water of chaos, and crushes the head of Leviathan at the time of creation. Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. explain, “This section uses the creation myth of the invaders to declare the God of Israel as the one and only legitimate king over the gods and the people. This is clearly theological chutzpah that claims in the midst of a ruined temple that it is the Lord of Israel who stands in the place of Marduk, thus announcing God’s kingship and defeat of all the other gods.”[12] Water is the strongest and most destructive force on the earth and it is also vital for survival, so any god that claimed could control water would surely be worshipped. There is no denying the mythological similarities in this text to the discovery of Ugaritic texts and Hittite literature, so the proper conclusion is Isaiah used similar imagery to proclaim God’s victory over sin and death. Isaiah’s choice of words is also interesting as he uses: ‏לִוְיָתָן or‎ liwyātān ‏to mean Leviathan, נָחָשׁ or nāḥāš‏ to mean serpent, and תַּנִּין‎ or tannîn to mean dragon monster. As Oswalt explains, “Initially, it was believed that they referred to Assyria, Babylonia, and Egypt. However, the way in which Leviathan is identified in the Ugaritic texts now makes it appear that this threefold form was simply a poetic convention in the Canaanite area. Note the similarities: ‘If you smite Lotan the serpent slant/ Destroy the serpent tortuous/Shalyat of the seven heads…’”[13]

Another point of interest is how Psalm 74 and Exodus 15 display God using the Red Sea to deliver the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage. However, in Isaiah, this passage’s larger context represents the Lord’s defeat over the enemy nations, while the original myth had this event and the defeat happening at the time of creation. This further demonstrates how God is in a continuous conflict with the powers and forces of evil from the time of creation until the very end, but also how He brought chaos and evil under His control at creation. The important distinction is that theology and mythology were not borrowed by Isaiah, but the use of Canaanite mythic imagery was, in order for the Hebrews to establish Yahweh as being superior to: Baal, Marduk, Lotan, Tiamat, Leviathan, or any other false gods. John Day expresses the Leviathan’s defeat shows, “Yahweh’s victory over the power of Chaos at Creation, Yahweh’s victory over the power of Egypt at the Exodus and over the power of Babylon at the ‘exodus’ from the Exile, and ultimately, as Isaiah 27:1 illustrates, to portray Yahweh’s victory over the power of Satan at the eschaton on the analogy that ‘as the beginning, so also the end.’”[14] The use of old creation’s imagery here to describe the new creation is profound. Then, immediately following this verse is the picture and final message of hope to Israel as the fruitful vineyard, which is a complete reversal of the judgment pronounced by Isaiah in chapter five. Oswalt further shows how God “Is the sole Sovereign of the universe, and while evil and destruction now seem to threaten the principles of justice upon which His order is founded, they will not prevail. God will triumph and those who have kept faith with Him will triumph with Him. But the true monster that must be destroyed is the monster of moral evil and His people may await that day with joy.”[15] The use of Canaanite imagery is present throughout Scripture, especially as it pertains to the future defeat of Satan. In Revelation 12:3, John uses δράκων or drakōn to identify the monster that is no doubt the devil, but the imagery he uses is closely connected to Isaiah’s description. Robert Mounce states, “Ancient mythology is replete with references to dragons. In Canaanitish lore the great monster of the deep was known as Leviathan. Closely associated was Rahab, the female monster of chaos. More often than not, allusions to these dragons in the OT refer metaphorically to Israel’s enemies. In Ps 74:14 Leviathan is Egypt. In Isaiah 27:1 he is Assyria and Babylon.”[16] Similar imagery can also be found in Daniel 7:7 and 8:10 to illustrate Satan’s plan. Mounce says,

The dragon stands in readiness before the woman with child so that when the child is born he can devour it. It began with the determination of King Herod to murder the Christ-child (Matthew 2), continued throughout the dangers and temptations of His earthly life, and culminated in the crucifixion. As Nebuchadnezzar devoured Israel, ‘he has swallowed us and filled his stomach with our delicacies,’ (Jeremiah 51:34), so Satan has determined to devour the child. He has taken his position and now awaits his victim.[17]

Isaiah’s use of the Leviathan imagery to depict the Lord’s defeat over Israel’s enemies is impressive, but what is even more remarkable is how it also refers to the eschatological defeat of the Lord’s enemies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Day, John N. “God and Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1.” Bibliotheca Sacra 155, no. 620 (October 1998): 423-436. (accessed July 23, 2017).

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Gaebelein, Frank E., ed. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary: Isaiah (New York, NY: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005.

Mounce, Robert H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997.

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Sandy, D. Brent. Plowshares & Pruning Hook: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Walton, John H., ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel. USA: Zondervan, 2009.

Webb, Barry G. The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Isaiah, On Eagles Wings. Edited by J. A. Motyer. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Yates, Gary. “Highlights from the Little Apocalypse.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Four Video Presentation, 18:18, (accessed July 25, 2017).

[1] John N. Oswalt, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 446.

[2] Gary Yates, “Highlights from the Little Apocalypse,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Four Video Presentation, 18:18, (accessed July 25, 2017).

[3] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 446.

[4] Ibid., 489.

[5] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary: Isaiah (New York, NY: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), Chapter 2.

[6] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 499.

[7] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 6: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 171.

[8] Ibid., 163.

[9] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 471.

[10] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 471.

[11] John H. Walton, ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel (USA: Zondervan, 2009), 100.

[12] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 599.

[13] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 491.

[14] John N. Day, “God and Leviathan in Isaiah 27:1,” Bibliotheca Sacra 155, no. 620 (October 1998): 436. (accessed July 23, 2017).

[15] Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, 491.

[16] Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 232.

[17] Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 233.

Identity of Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14 & Matthew 1:23

immanuel

While the issue of Immanuel’s identity in Isaiah 7:14 and its reuse in Matthew 1:23 continues to be a highly debated topic, the interpretation of “עַלְמָה” or “ʿalmāh” also presents an additional layer of exegesis needed to fully understand what this passage meant to the original audience and what implication it possibly makes towards a future fulfillment. Most scholars do not recognize a single fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 in Jesus, so the key question that must be answered is how the birth of Jesus could have fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah. This interpretive essay will assert Isaiah 7:14 contains a double fulfillment, involving sensus plenior, as Matthew expands the meaning of Isaiah’s words to include a reference to Jesus’ conception and birth.[1]

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

When attempting to decipher what the prophet Isaiah is saying, the interpreter must first have a clear understanding of the historical setting and background. During the 8th century, Assyria had become the dominant kingdom and God ultimately uses the Assyrian army to confront the people’s sinfulness and bring about judgment and salvation. “Assyria was the rod of Yahweh’s anger and the staff in their hands was His fury” (Isaiah 10:5). In chapter six, Isaiah takes up his role as prophet, after he witnesses the holiness of the Lord in his vision. During this encounter, he is compelled by the experience, and he confesses his sin, which leads to him being cleansed by a hot coal from the altar. However, the people of Israel and Judah would have a different reaction to the Lord’s holiness, as they would come to experience His divine judgment. Thus, the main purpose of Isaiah’s preaching is to confront the people’s sinfulness and to compel them to repent. The power of God’s grace is a common thread throughout the book, but the people refused to acknowledge God as their king; instead, relying on military prowess, alliances, and politics, while what they should have focused on was their spiritual apathy and apostasy.

In 734 – 732 B.C., Israel and her neighbor Syria made an alliance to stand against Assyria. However, Judah and king Ahaz, one of the most ungodly kings, wanted no part of this alliance, so Israel and Syria planned to invade Judah, in an attempt to replace king Ahaz with a king who would support their alliance. Upon learning Syria was in league with Ephraim, and that the Davidic king and ultimately the Davidic line was faced with imminent demise, Isaiah goes to meet king Ahaz with a message of hope. However, king Ahaz was so terrified of invasion that he called upon the king of Assyria to render aid, who was more than glad to help crush the Syro-Ephraimite coalition. Despite Isaiah’s promise of protection from the Lord, king Ahaz did not trust God because he did not have a relationship with Him. With the aid of Assyria, Israel was reduced to a small area surrounding Samaria and Judah was delivered, but the problem was now king Ahaz and the nation of Judah had come under the control of Assyria, which meant they had to pay monetary tribute for protection. To make matters even worse, following the example of king Ahaz, many would even adopt the pagan religious practices of Assyria. As Edward Young shows, “Ahaz’ wickedness is seen in the fact that by his stubbornness he was in fact rejecting the very foundation of the covenant. God had promised to be a God and a Deliverer to His people. Syria and Israel, therefore, will not overthrow the Davidic dynasty, for if they could, the promises of God would be void and the Messiah would not ultimately accomplish salvation.”[2]

MEANING OF IMMANUEL & ALMAH IN ISAIAH 7:14 & MATTHEW 1:23

Isaiah 7:14 says, “A virgin will conceive and you will call his name Immanuel” and Matthew 1:23 says, “The virgin shall conceive and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us.’” Isaiah 7 shows the Immanuel child was to be a sign to king Ahaz, but Ahaz declines a sign, which God provides anyway. John Walton proposes, “Perhaps his hesitancy is due to a pagan understanding, that a sign once given inevitably leads to the next event, which Ahaz does not want to encounter, whatever it might be.”[3] Either way, the nature of the sign was to serve as a reminder of his mistake in not trusting God, but since Jesus was born seven hundred years later, it seems difficult to say this was referring exclusively to the birth of Christ. Some scholars believe there is also a connection with king Ahaz and Isaiah in 8:1-4, regarding the Immanuel prophecy, with the birth of Isaiah’s own son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. They contend there seems to be a correlation between the child prophesied about in chapter seven with the one born in chapter eight, because the prophecy said the two enemies king Ahaz feared would no longer be around. However, if this were referring to Christ’s birth it would not make sense. Because of what both Matthew and Isaiah say, Gary Yates demonstrates how, “Some commentators interpret the Immanuel prophecy: as an exclusive reference to the virgin birth of Jesus, as exclusively referring to a child or group of children born in the days of Isaiah, or as a double fulfillment prophecy with a near fulfillment in the days of Isaiah and a far fulfillment with the virgin birth of Jesus, while others use typology to explain the prophecy.”[4] Bruce Compton explains proponents of a double fulfillment either explain that Matthew basically “Expands the meaning of Isaiah’s words in their original setting to include a reference to Jesus’s conception and birth, [or] they understand the relationship to involve typology, where Matthew takes Isaiah’s words as foreshadowing something beyond their immediate context and applies them to Jesus in a type-antitype relationship.”[5] Each approach used to harmonize what appears in both Isaiah and Matthew is met with hermeneutical obstacles. While this writer holds to the double fulfillment view, it is impossible to argue that sensus plenior does not violate the principle the univocal language. That being said, context is key and determining the author’s intended meaning must be accomplished before proposing a passage of Scripture could mean something in the future that it did not fully fulfill in the time of the original audience. Even typology fails to fully address the issue as Compton reveals, “Ultimately, the difficultly in identifying the Immanuel prophecy with an eighth century fulfillment as the type is that this interpretation fails to link the prophecy with what Isaiah says elsewhere about the child”[6] e.g. when Isaiah 8:8 references Immanuel having control over all the land. This passage raises the same question again: “Is Maher-shalal-hash-baz the initial fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy?” To this question, Oswalt asserts:

Immanuel is the owner of the land, the one against whom Assyria’s threats are ultimately lodged, the one upon whom deliverance depends. That cannot be Isaiah’s son, or even some unknown son of Ahaz. It can only be the Messiah, in whom all hope resides. It is as if Isaiah, plunging deeper and deeper into the dark implications of his sign, is suddenly brought up short by the deepest implication: God is with us, and best of all, will be with us, not merely in the impersonal developments of history, but somehow as a person.[7]

Compton disagrees and sees Isaiah’s message of hope as a single prophecy with two parts, the first part relating to the threat of the Davidic line and the second part pertaining to the threat to king Ahaz. Isaiah says by the time the child would be old enough to know right from wrong the two nations and their kings who threatened Judah and king Ahaz would be overthrown.

As William Klein et al. assert, “We suggest there are instances where NT authors found meaning in an OT text that the OT author did not intend.”[8] Upon this assumption, Paul Wegner determines, “If they are correct, then at least three questions need to be addressed: (1) How is Isaiah 7:14–17 related to its context? (2) How is Isaiah 7:14–17 fulfilled in Christ? and (3) Is there more than one virgin birth in the Bible?”[9] With context already established, looking at how Isaiah 7:14-17 is fulfilled in Christ must now be quantified. Wegner highlights the dilemma with this passage, “First, it is important to remember this is not a prophecy, but a sign, [which Matthew says is fulfilled in Christ and] second, scholars offer a variety of explanations as to how NT writers could use OT passages and apply them to different situations.”[10] Each of these methods walks a hermeneutical tightrope and claims either:

The author intends one meaning, but it can have many applications or significances; an author intends to convey multiple meanings or levels of meaning; a later author invents or reads into a biblical text a meaning not intended by the author; there is a literal sense intended by the human author, but alongside this literal meaning is a hidden meaning embedded by the Holy Spirit that was unknown to the human author; or the biblical author intended the text to have a single meaning, but a later biblical author may have discovered an additional meaning in that text.[11]

Of these approaches, the fundamental key to determining how to use Old Testament passages in a modern-day context is first, understanding that God uses patterns throughout the Bible, and second, the New Testament writers read the Old Testament through the lens of Christ’s arrival. This writer agrees with Wegner’s conclusion that, “Matthew employs the Greek word πληρóω meaning ‘to make full, fill, fill up, complete,’ to indicate that he believes the OT passage is being “filled up” by Jesus. Matthew thus understands the OT passage as a pattern that is being filled up with more meaning.”[12]

The interpretation of virgin in Isaiah 7:14 is the next issue that must be addressed. The main issue revolves around whether Isaiah meant to use “עַלְמָה” or “ʿalmāh” to mean virgin or whether he meant to use “בְּתוּלָה” or “bĕtûlâ” to describe a physically mature woman of marriageable age. As Compton demonstrates, an examination of Old Testament uses of both words reveals ʿalmāh is the less ambiguous term for a virgin, while bĕtûlâ is the term commonly used to describe a young mature and unmarried virgin. Therefore, Compton illustrates, “Assuming then that ʿalmāh is the less ambiguous term for virgin, the prophet selected ʿalmāh over bĕtûlâ to communicate more precisely the meaning intended in the prophecy.”[13] But if Isaiah wished to stress the virginity of the mother here, why did he not use bĕtûlâ? Young, noting some such statement frequently accompanies bĕtûlâ, as ‘she had not known a man,’ argues that it was the ambiguous term. However, Oswalt demonstrates, “This is clearly not so, because, bĕtûlâ has no implication in addition to virginity, whereas ʿalmāh does. The conclusion to which we are driven is that while the prophet did not want to stress the virginity, neither did he wish to leave it aside[14] and he may have used this term because of its richness and diversity.”[15]

With the variety of words available to the authors and the multiple uses each represents throughout Scripture, the real question of Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 7:14 is, “Are there more than one virgin birth in the Bible?” The answer is no and Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14 is meant to refer to Mary, who as a virgin, conceived a child through the power of the Holy Spirit, and gave birth to Jesus, the far and ultimate fulfillment of Immanuel, “God with us.” While Matthew uses the text to refer to Mary and Jesus, the issue of whom Isaiah was referring to in chapter seven still remains. Some scholars believe the woman was the wife of king Ahaz, making the child the king’s son. This sign and constant reminder of failing to trust God would be unavoidable had the Immanuel been the king’s own son. Hezekiah has been named by some as a likely candidate, but this does not seem likely due to chronological evidence. Other scholars contend the ʿalmāh spoken of is Isaiah’s wife, the prophetess mentioned in Isaiah 8:3. Herbert Wolf contends, “The birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz is the immediate fulfillment of the prophecy and the designation of Isaiah’s sons as ‘signs’ in Isaiah 8:18 implies that Immanuel was one of those signs.”[16] The problem with this solution is Immanuel was meant to express the promise aspect of the sign that God is with us, whereas Maher-shalal-hash-baz conveys the more judgmental side of God. Wolf rightly shows, “Immanuel denoted the promise that God would be there to defeat Samaria and Damascus, and ‘Maher-shalal-hash-baz’ meant that Assyria would soon carry off the wealth of those two nations, before turning to devastate Judah. The references to the child knowing the difference between good and evil explain each other and refer to the same period of time.”[17] Regarding this proposed solution, it seems most evident the woman referenced as the virgin was a harem in king Ahaz’ court and that she would bear a child named Immanuel. John Walton rightly shows, “Ahaz’ stubborn disbelief brings the response of a sign that is connected with the prophecy of judgment that has been pronounced against Pekah and Rezin. That sign is that by the time the pregnant ʿalmāh from Ahaz’ harem gives birth to her son the political climate will be such that she will give him a name of hope.” This explanation fits contextually and exegetically and Matthew could have easily drawn from this sign in his writings.

OTHER FULFILLMENT PASSAGES

In the same way a child born in Isaiah’s day would announce, “God is with us,” during a time of crisis; a second child referred to in Isaiah 9:6 would be a reference to a child born in the future who would be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. This is clearly a reference to the future Messiah because many of these characteristics would have been completely foreign during Isaiah’s time. The future Messiah would be empowered by God Himself and would rule and reign forever. The king was also representative as the people’s father because of the protection he guaranteed. The prophesied Messiah could only have ushered this peaceful rule and reign spoken of. Another interesting passage is Isaiah 11:7-12, which references the root of Jesse being the seed of the Messianic hope in the Old Testament. God keeps His covenant promises despite humanity’s failures and as John Oswalt illustrates, “Not only will he keep His promises to his people, He will also keep His promises to Jesse’s son. Though the hand of God may destroy, it will ultimately be used to redeem. This truth is underlined when we look at the full revelation of the Messiah in Jesus Christ.”[18]

Wolf further illustrates, “Matthew’s use of this passage in the NT is consistent with his references to other OT verses. On occasion he employs a secondary interpretation that differed considerably from the primary message.”[19] For example, in Matthew 2:15 Jesus’ stay in Egypt fulfilled Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:18, cites Jeremiah 31:15, which describes the agony over Herod’s murder of young boys in Bethlehem, where Wolf demonstrates, “Rachel wept over her children in Ramah and this mourning is related to the captivity of Israel and is illustrative of the intense suffering brought on by Herod’s act. Jeremiahs prophecy also received a ‘new fulfillment’ through Herod’s atrocity.”[20] R. T. France explains how Matthew’s use of Old Testament prophecy, which were generally a single specific fulfillment of a prophet’s prediction, take on a typological pattern that will recur repeatedly throughout God’s dealings with His people. France explains, “In this case, he has good warrant for taking the prophecy concerning Immanuel as having a relevance beyond its undoubted immediate aim, for the name Immanuel will occur again in Isaiah 8:8 as that of the one to whom the land of Judah belongs, and its meaning will be developed in 8:10, ‘for God is with us.’”[21] Further, the prophecy/sign in Isaiah 7:14 of the birth of Immanuel leads to the description in Isaiah 9:6-7 of a child who is to be born for us: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. France demonstrates this theme will be taken up again in Isaiah 11:1-5 with the prophecy of the spiritually endowed shoot from the stump of Jesse. Ultimately, “These last two passages would have been recognized then, as they still are today, as Messianic prophecies, and it seems likely that Isaiah’s thought has moved progressively from the virgin’s child, ‘God with us,’ and it points beyond the immediate political crisis of the eighth century B.C., not only in Matthew’s typological scheme but also in Isaiah’s intention.”[22] Barry Webb agrees and emphasizes Matthew was right to see the ultimate fulfillment of the Immanuel saying in Jesus Christ.[23] [24]

CONCLUSION

It is this writer’s view the virgin referenced in Isaiah 7:14 is one of king Ahaz’ harem and that she would conceive a child called Immanuel. The true identity remains a mystery, but if this child were Hezekiah, this would mean the mother was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah, the son of Jeberechiah. While New Testament authors were certainly able to view the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus Christ and were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there still must be considerable care given when trying to determine what the original author intended. As Wegner illustrates, “God’s coming to earth through the birth of a Son to a virgin once again reminds us that God does things we might never comprehend unless He revealed them to us.”[25] When trying to answer the question of whether Matthew used acceptable hermeneutical methods, Walton correctly explains, “Authority is attributed to Matthew’s statements not because of their objectivity but because he is inspired. We believe his subjective conclusions because of his endowment, [and] that does not give us the right to make subjective conclusions and force them on others.”[26] Sound exegesis then reveals a partial fulfillment during the time of Isaiah, and the full fulfillment upon the birth of Jesus Christ.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, ed. The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012.

Compton, R. Bruce. “The Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-16 and Its Use in Matthew 1:23: Harmonizing Historical Context and Single Meaning.” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 12 (2007): 3-15.

France, R. T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

Klein, William W., Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 2nd ed. Dallas, TX: Word, 2004.

Oswalt, John N. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976.

Sandy, D. Brent. Plowshares & Pruning Hook: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Walton, John H. “Isa 7:14: what’s in a name?” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 30, no. 3 (September 1987): 289-306. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 13, 2017).

_________., ed. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel. USA: Zondervan, 2009.

Webb, Barry G. The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Isaiah, On Eagles Wings. Edited by J. A. Motyer. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Wegner, Paul D. “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible? (ISAIAH 7:14): A Prophetic Pattern Approach.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54, no. 3 (September 2011): 467-84. (accessed July 13, 2017).

Wolf, Herbert M. “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22.” Journal of Biblical Literature 91, no. 4 (December 1972): 449-56.

_________. Interpreting Isaiah: The Suffering and Glory of the Messiah (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 89-92.

_________. “Solution to the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22.” Journal Of Biblical Literature 91, no. 4 (December 1972): 449-456. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 13, 2017).

Yates, Gary. “Prophetic Genres: Part One.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 12:55, (accessed July 5, 2017).

_________. “The Message of Isaiah 7-12.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 11:32, (accessed July 11, 2017).

Young, E. J. The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-18, vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965.

[1] Herbert M. Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah: The Suffering and Glory of the Messiah (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 89-92.

[2] Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-18, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), 5.

[3] John H. Walton, ed., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel (USA: Zondervan, 2009), 41.

[4] Gary Yates, “The Message of Isaiah 7-12,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, OBST 661, Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 11:32, (accessed July 11, 2017).

[5] Bruce R. Compton, “The Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-16 and Its Use in Matthew 1:23: Harmonizing Historical Context and Single Meaning,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 12 (2007): 6.

[6] Compton, “The Immanuel Prophecy,” 11.

[7] Oswalt, TNICOT– The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, 227.

[8] William W. Klein et al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word, 2004), 121.

[9] Paul D. Wegner, “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible? (ISAIAH 7:14): A Prophetic Pattern Approach,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54, no. 3 (September 2011): 467. (accessed July 13, 2017).

[10] Wegner, “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible?” 478.

[11] Ibid., 478-480.

[12] Wegner, “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible?” 481.

[13] Compton, “The Immanuel Prophecy,” 8.

[14] He could have done so by using ʾišŝa or some other term for “woman.”

[15] Oswalt, TNICOT– The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, 210.

[16] Herbert M. Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14-8:22,” Journal of Biblical Literature 91, no. 4 (December 1972): 450.

[17] Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy.” 455.

[18] Oswalt, TNICOT– The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39, 287.

[19] Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy.” 456.

[20] Wolf, “A Solution to the Immanuel Prophecy.” 456.

[21] R. T. France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 56.

[22] France, TNICNT– The Gospel of Matthew, 57.

[23] Barry G. Webb, The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Isaiah, On Eagles Wings. ed., J. A. Motyer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 63.

[24] In applying this verse to Christ, Matthew quotes from the LXX, which uses the more specific term parthenos, ‘virgin’ (Matthew 1:23).

[25] Wegner, “How Many Virgin Births Are in the Bible?” 484.

[26] John H. Walton, “Isa 7:14: what’s in a name?” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 30, no. 3 (September 1987): 301. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 13, 2017).