Friday, April 11, 2003

Gleanings from Hebrews

Getting the Most out of Hebrews (3)

This is the third post in a series that will help you get the most from reading the book of Hebrews. To start at the beginning, click here.

Hints, Allegories, and Hidden Meanings

This post is a summary of a paper that I have published online. You can read the full paper by clicking here. The full paper gives more details and analysis and proposes a hermeneutic that could provide common ground for dialog among dispensational and covenant theologians.


Yesterday's post showed some of the challenges presented by the New Testament use of the Old Testament. Before I explain what I believe to be a resolution, I would like to present two more examples. I do this to show how broad the issue is and to help connect those who will not go back and read this series from the beginning. You should at least read the prior post.

The following pair of quotes is a classic example of the issue at hand:

He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Matthew 2:15, NASB)  

When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son. (Hosea 11:1, NASB)

Matthew has related the story of Joseph escaping the wrath of Herod by traveling to Egypt. When Herod dies, Joseph returns to his Galilean home of Nazareth. Matthew wrote that this return journey fulfilled Hosea 11:1. However, Hosea 11:1 clearly speaks of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt. No stretch will make it become a prediction of Joseph's flight to and return from Egypt.

Here is a pair from Paul:

I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. (1 Corinthians 9:8-10, NASB)

“You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing. (Deuteronomy 25:4, NASB)

Note Paul's comment, "God is not concerned about oxen, is He?" Well, I might suppose that He is, and the translation might do well to include the word "only." Nevertheless, Paul quickly moves to use this verse as a reason for ministers of the gospel to make a living from those they teach.

Rabbinic Hermeneutical Methods

One promising avenue of research toward resolving this issue emerges when we realize that the authors of these quotations were Jews writing and living in a Jewish context. This becomes especially apparent when we observe that the preponderance of the problem quotations exist in those books that have a distinctly Jewish focus. It is generally acknowledged that Matthew’s highlights Jesus as the King of the Jews. The gospel of John is increasingly regarded as a Jewish book. The writer to the Hebrews clearly wrote to the first century Jewish believers. These are the books that contain the most problematic of the New Testament quotes of the Old.

If one examines the Jewish roots of Christianity, one discovers that there is a long standing “rabbinical” hermeneutic that can explain the New Testament use of the Old Testament. Dr. David H. Stern, a Messianic Jew and translator of the Jewish New Testament, in his Jewish New Testament Commentary, describes four rabbinical modes of scriptural interpretation. According to Dr. Stern, the Jewish authors of the New Testament both understood and used these four modes. In his words:

We must understand the four basic modes of Scripture interpretation used by the rabbis. These are:

(1) P’shat (“simple”)—the plain, literal sense of the text, more or less what modern scholars  mean by “grammatical‑historical exegesis,” which looks to the grammar of the language and the historical setting as background for deciding what a passage means. Modern scholars often consider grammatical‑historical exegesis the only valid way to deal with a text; pastors who use other approaches in their sermons usually feel defensive about it before academics. But the rabbis had three other modes of interpreting Scripture, and their validity should not be excluded in advance but related to the validity of their implied presuppositions.

(2) Remez (“hint”)—wherein a word, phrase or other element in the text hints at a truth not conveyed by the p’shat. The implied presupposition is that God can hint at things of which the Bible writers themselves were unaware.

(3) Drash or Midrash (“search”)—an allegorical or homiletical application of a text. This is a species of eisegesis—reading one’s own thoughts into the text—as opposed to exegesis, which is extracting from the text what it actually says. The implied presupposition is that the words of Scripture can legitimately become grist for the mill of human intellect, which God can guide to truths not directly related to the text at all.

(4) Sod (“secret”)—a mystical or hidden meaning arrived at by operating on the numerical values of the Hebrew letters, noting unusual spellings, transposing letters, and the like. For example, two words, the numerical equivalents of whose letters add up to the same amount, are good candidates for revealing a secret through what Arthur Koestler in his book on the inventive mind called “bisociation of ideas.” The implied presupposition is that God invests meaning in the minutest details of Scripture, even the individual letters.

The presuppositions underlying remez, drash and sod obviously express God’s omnipotence, but they also express his love for humanity, in the sense that he chooses out of love to use extraordinary means for reaching people’s hearts and minds. At the same time, it is easy to see how remez, drash and sod can be abused, since they all allow, indeed require, subjective interpretation; and this explains why scholars, who deal with the objective world, hesitate to use them. These four methods of working a text are remembered by the Hebrew word “PaRDeS,” an acronym formed from the initials; it means “orchard” or “garden.” (Stern, David H., Jewish New Testament Commentary (Jewish New Testament Publications,  1992) 11, 12)

Here, then, are the tools to understand the New Testament’s uses of the Old Testament and to derive their intended meanings. There is even an English word, like the Hebrew “pardes”, that can help remember these strange terms: p’shat, remez, drash, and sod. That word is “PaRaDiSe,” in which the consonants provide a mnemonic for the four terms. Interestingly, both words can mean “garden.”


The writer of Hebrews uses all four rabbinical modes of interpretation. Taking the examples from yesterday:

  1. Although 2 Samuel 7:12-14 has a simple meaning that applies to David and Solomon (p'shat), the author of Hebrews noted correctly that once Jesus came as God's son it was no longer possible to read the passage without also thinking of God and His Son. In this way 2 Samuel 7 contains a remez or a hint of the greater truth.
  2. Although the p'shat of Genesis 2 speaks of God's rest at the end of creation and the p'shat of Psalm 95 speaks of the generation of those who would not enter the promised land, the author of Hebrews allegorically connects the promised land with our eternal rest. Thus these passages present a drash or an allegorical truth.
  3. Although the p'shat of Genesis 14 is a story of Melchizedek's blessing of Abram, Hebrew's author noted the translation of Melchizedek (King of Righteousness) and the translation of Salem (Peace). He took other elements of the tale as having a hidden message (sod) and brought it to light.

And so as you read Hebrews during this study and afterwards, go back often to the Old Testament references and note whether the writer of Hebrews used the p'shat, remez, drash, or sod sense of the text.

You might ask whether it is ok for us to use such devices. The answer is, "Yes," but I would urge you to read the complete paper on this subject before you do so. The p'shat of any text will always be the primary path of truth. It is left-brained, objective, logical, and deductive. It is subject to analysis and controls. The other three provide a supplemental path of truth. You would never base a doctrine on a remez, drash, or sod. But you might illustrate a doctrine using them (cf. Galatians 4:21-31). These three are subjective, right-brained, and associative. But they must also be subject to analysis and controls.

Monday: Important things to know when reading Hebrews.

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Thursday, April 10, 2003

Gleanings from Hebrews

Getting the Most out of Hebrews (2)

This is the second post in a series that will help you get the most from reading the book of Hebrews. To start at the beginning, click here.

Hints, Allegories, and Hidden Meanings

This post is a summary of a paper that I have published online. You can read the full paper by clicking here. The full paper gives more details and analysis and proposes a hermeneutic that offers common ground to dispensational and covenant theologians.

The Ideal

Although its detractors use terms like “hyper-literalism,” the grammatical-historical method of Bible study has much to commend it. Who can fault a system that strives for objectivity in its pursuit of the knowledge of God? The grammatical-historical method encourages us to read and study without predefined doctrinal lenses. It encourages us to seek out, recognize and put aside long held presuppositions about Christianity and the Bible. Consequently, with the Holy Spirit, an open mind, and hard study anyone can discover important truths and discern the amazing internal consistency of the scriptures.

The grammatical-historical method reads poetry as poetry, history as history, and prophecy as prophecy. At every juncture, the common idiomatic sense of language is what rules. In other words, the primary meaning of a passage of scripture is never an allegory, unless it is so declared by the author.


Hebrews opens with these words:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, “You are My Son, Today I have begotten You”? And again, “I will be a Father to Him And He shall be a Son to Me”? (Hebrews 1:1-5, NASB)

After telling his readers that God has spoken to us through His marvelous son -- (and note that the author does not identify this Son until chapter 2) -- he quotes from two Old Testament passages. Here they are:

“But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. (Psalm 2:6-7, NASB)

“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, (2 Samuel 7:12-14, NASB)

The quotation of Psalm 2 presents little problem. You can read the psalm and connect it with a Messiah and have no discomfort at all. But the 2 Samuel quotation does present problems.

  1. It gives a time reference. Nathan tells David, "When your days are complete and you lie down with your father..." Hebrews implies something said in eternity.
  2. It has a specific context. The surrounding passage is about David wanting to build the temple, but God telling him that it will be his son that does so. When Nathan says, "He shall build a house for my name," the most logical and immediate meaning is that the Lord refers to Solomon. Hebrews tells us it was about God's own Son.
  3. There is reference to imperfection. Although this king of Israel will be as "a son to me." The Lord goes on to say, "when he commits iniquity, I will correct him." Are we to assume that Jesus sinned and needed correction?

So what are we to make of this linking of 2 Samuel 7 to God's true Son who is "the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature?" What gives Hebrew's author the freedom to apply this passage to Messiah, when the context and content clearly point to Solomon? If you continue reading Hebrews and looking up its Old Testament references in context, you will come up against similar disconnects of Old Testament Scripture.

The Dilemma

Although one might be an ardent practitioner and defender of the grammatical-historical method, it must be recognized that it has a fundamental problem. That problem, simply stated, is this, “If grammar and historical context are so vital to correctly dividing the word of truth, why did the New Testament authors sometimes violate it?  Should they not have been the very models of scriptural correctness?”

Apparently not: for the very first Old Testament reference in the New Testament has no sound connection to its original Old Testament context. Let me leave Hebrews momentarily and look at the first quote of the Old Testament in Matthew. Compare Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 7:14 and the extended quote from Isaiah which follows:

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22,23, NASB)

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken. The LORD will bring on you, on your people, and on your father’s house such days as have never come since the day that Ephraim separated from Judah, the king of Assyria. In that day the LORD will whistle for the fly that is in the remotest part of the rivers of Egypt and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. (Isaiah 7:14-18, NASB)

It might be good to read all of Isaiah 7. In context, Isaiah’s famous prophecy really outlines a timetable for the destruction of two troublesome foreign kings named Rezin and Pekah. Isaiah says to Judah’s king Ahaz, in effect, that by the time a particular maiden marries, has a son, and sees him through his “Bar Mitzvah”, two pesky kings will be gone. Some commentators try to say that Isaiah is not speaking to Ahaz, but to the whole “House of David.” They take this mental handle and try to stretch the meaning to make it fit the true virgin birth to come. But verse 16 ties the prophecy to the two kings and verse 18 calls upon Egypt and Assyria to be the instruments of their destruction. What have Egypt and Assyria to do with the conception and birth of Jesus?

Note how the New English Translation phrases Isaiah 7:14:

For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign. Look, the young lady over there is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young lady, will name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14, The Net Bible)

The NET Bible completely captures Isaiah’s original sense. So what was Matthew thinking when he so boldly proclaimed the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14?  

More Examples from Hebrews

In order to pull you into to an important hermeneutical concept that I will present tomorrow, I want to compare a few more passages in Hebrews with their Old Testament counterparts:

A Sabbath Rest for the People of God. The writer to the Hebrews develops a concept of a future Sabbath rest for the people of God. He encourages us to do all we can to enter into that rest:

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, “As I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day:And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this passage, “They shall not enter My rest.” Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. (Hebrews 4:1-9, NASB)

The writer to the Hebrews combines elements of the creation in Genesis 2 with a warning in Psalm 95:

By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. (Genesis 2:2, NASB)

For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you would hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, As in the day of Massah in the wilderness, “When your fathers tested Me, They tried Me, though they had seen My work. “For forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart, And they do not know My ways. “Therefore I swore in My anger, Truly they shall not enter into My rest.” (Psalm 95:7-11, NASB)

Was the writer of Psalm 95  thinking of eternal rest when he wrote his Psalm? Is it not more likely that he was referring to the generation left to die in the wilderness leaving the second generation of exodus children to enter the land? Indeed, in Joshua, we read:

So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:43-45, NASB)

So we face the dilemma again. By what method do the New Testament authors bring forth the Old Testament to anchor their points?

Eternal Priest and King: Let me give you one more to chew on today. Tomorrow, I hope to show you the path the New Testament authors have walked. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the story of Melchizedek has much to say about the nature of Jesus our High Priest and King:

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually. (Hebrews 7:1-3, NASB)

These words reference a story from Genesis:

Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all. (Genesis 14:17-20, NASB)

In the few short words above, you have the entire story of Melchizedek. He appears, he blesses, and he leaves. That he historically had a father and mother, a birth, and a death is beyond reasonable dispute. Yet the writer to the Hebrews uses their absence in the text to speak of Jesus' eternal nature. And why should we care that Melchizedek means King of Righteousness or that Salem means peace?

Leaving You with This

The use of the Old Testament by the New Testament violates standards taught in many good seminaries. Matthew, Paul, John, and Jesus did it. How are we to understand this usage?

There is a Jewish answer.

Friday: PaRaDiSe

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Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Review: Bringing Down the House

My regular post for today is just not ready for public display yet. In the meantime, I can at least warn you to avoid Steve Martin's latest movie Bringing Down the House. The movie also stars Queen Latifah.

Until now I would have considered Steve Martin to be a safe bet for a PG-13 movie. I was wrong. Charlene, played by Queen Latifah, is an abusive and vengeful escaped convict. Though later proven innocent - (the movie isn't deep enough for me to be giving anything away here) - she bullies her way into the life of Steve Martin. She helps Steve's 10 year old son learn to read by listening to him recite from a porn magazine. She watches as Steve's daughter sneaks out of the house and says nothing to the father, until she finally gets into trouble. The style of the movie says that I should have ended up liking her. I never did.

Other cautionary moments for those who might still want to see this. There is a dry humping scene that is bizarre and out of character. The brawl between two women is brutal.

The racial tones in Bringing Down the House have not been mainstream for decades, and yet they are given contemporary garb and used to excuse more abuse. Queen Latifah finds herself having to pretend she is a classic black nanny and many other insults to black dignity. As a country we are thankfully not there anymore, but the movie tries to be funny by saying we are.

See at your own risk.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Gleanings from Hebrews

Getting the Most out of Hebrews (1)

It is hard to appreciate, after close to two millenniums of dominance, that Gentile believers were an anomaly among the Christians for the first several decades of the first century. We fail to see the genius of Paul's exegesis of the Covenant of Abraham as the reason by which Gentiles could join the community of faith without being circumcised. A close reading of Paul's letters and life will show that first century Christianity was not so much an exodus of Jews from Israel as it was a theology that saw Gentile believers as belonging to Israel. The following passage from Acts is especially constructive here:

After these days we got ready and started up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea came along with us too, and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple from the earliest times, with whom we were to stay. When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us gladly. The next day Paul went in with us to see James, and all the elders were there. When Paul had greeted them, he began to explain in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all ardent observers of the law. They have been informed about you—that you teach all the Jews now living among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What then should we do? They will no doubt hear that you have come. So do what we tell you: we have four men who have taken a vow; take them and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself live in conformity with the law. But regarding the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter, having decided that they should avoid meat that has been sacrificed to idols and blood and what has been strangled and sexual immorality.” (Acts 21:15-25, The Net Bible)

There are several things to note in this passage. First, Paul came to Jerusalem under a Nazirite Vow (cf. Numbers 6 and the reference to saving the head). By this he was declaring himself to be a practicing Jew as well as a missionary to the Gentiles. Second, there were rumors that Paul taught the Jews to "abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs." The believing community in Jerusalem advised Paul to pay the expenses of others completing Nazirite vows so that "everyone will know there is nothing in what they have been told about you." Paul followed their instructions. Third, there is a distinct reference to Jews and Gentiles remaining under distinct requirements.

There is more evidence that Jewish believers continued to practice Judaism with Paul's blessing. In Acts 15, the leaders of the Christianity in Jerusalem, formally decided that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised to be Christians. Paul immediately carried that letter to the churches in Asia Minor. Along the way, he asked a young man named Timothy to join him. Because Timothy's mother was Jewish, Paul circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:1-3).

The point of all the above is to provide evidence of a thriving Jewish community of faith in the first century. Like the Messianic Jews of today, they worshipped Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) in a Jewish way. Except for Paul's letters to the Gentile churches, the other books in the New Testament have a decidedly Jewish flavor. None has more than the Book of Hebrews. 

Date and Author

Dating and ascribing authorship to Hebrews is speculative at best. Let's take the dating issues first.

First clue: The author seems to be a second generation leader:

For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:2-4)

Second clue: The temple and its sacrifices seems to be intact:

For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself, and is therefore completely unable, by the same sacrifices offered continually, year after year, to perfect those who come to worship. For otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers would have been purified once for all and so have no further consciousness of sin? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year. (Hebrews 10:1-3)

Third clue: Clement of Rome quotes from Hebrews in a letter dated around 96AD. The first clue suggests a date after 60AD, the third clue tells us that it was before 96AD, and the middle clue suggests a date before 70AD.

As for the author, all we have is speculation. I think that we could leave it alone, were it not for the fact that we like to solve mysteries and puzzles. It is not an issue that we will ever leave be. Here are the major candidates:

  • Paul was an early front runner and continues to be so. There is much about the letter's style at the end that is very Pauline. When I reflect on the possibility, I sometimes imagine that this was the sermon Paul preached in the synagogues whenever he entered a new city. One bit of evidence against this view is a reference to Timothy, "You should know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he comes soon, he will be with me when I see you. (Hebrews 13:23)" Paul oftened referred to Timothy as a son, but here the term is "brother."
  • Barnabas was a favorite of Tertullian. The close relationship between Paul and Barnabus could explain the similarity to Paul's letters.
  • Apollos was Martin Luther's suggestion. Given that Apollos was known to be a great early teacher, the suggestion is intriguing.
  • Priscilla is the suggestion of modern gender feminists.

Audience and Purpose

The audience was first century Jewish believers. This is clear from two things:

  1. All concepts in the letter are linked to doctrines of interest to Jewish believers: Old Testament oracles, Moses and the covenants, the Aaronic priesthood, the Temple service, and Old Testament heroes.
  2. The use of rabbinic hermeneutical principles. What I mean by this is that if you read Hebrews and cross reference its quotations of the Old Testament to their context, you sometimes wonder what is going on. I will devoting some amount of time on this topic in this series. If you can't wait, I have posted a detailed paper on these hermeneutical principles.

The purpose of the letter to the Jewish believers was to encourage them to persevere in New Covenant halakah. The word "halakah" is Hebrew for "the walk." Halakah is the Jewish study of how to live life before God. In this context, the author of Hebrews:

  • Points to past failures, such as the wilderness griping.
  • Demonstrates the superiority of Jesus over the prophets, over Moses, over Aaron, and over the temple service. He then develops a halakah based on faith and Jesus' high priesthood.

This Study

This series of posts that I am beginning is not intended to be a detailed examination of Hebrews. It will not even come close. However, in many ways it is a neglected book. One of the reasons for this is that it is a hard book to understand if you are not familiar with the Old Testament.

The purpose of this study is to provide some tools for understanding the book and to recognize its value to Jews and Gentiles alike. It will cover several background concepts that will enhance the understanding of all, and it will draw out the most important lessons for us and the lives that we live before God.

Tomorrow: Hints, Allegories, and Hidden Meanings

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Monday, April 07, 2003

Not Gleanings from Hebrews

I indicated that I would begin a series on the book of Hebrews this morning. I will not be doing that just yet. This weekend was filled with taxes, birthdays, and a time change. This combination ate away at the time I needed to begin writing the series. So I will briefly outline the nature of the series and give a short mediation on the war.

I will not be writing a commentary or line by line exegesis on Hebrews. Instead, I hope to give you tools to read the book with increased understanding. I will be looking into how the author used the Old Testament, his development of the person and work of Jesus Christ in Hebrews, and the phenomenal change the New Covenant has made in the life of faith. I expect the series to take a month.

Of Kings and Kingdoms

This weekend, I began a series of lessons in Daniel at church. While studying for this, I came across these verses in which Daniel thanks the Lord for revealing Nebuchadnezzar's dream to him:

Then in a night vision the mystery was revealed to Daniel. So Daniel blessed the God of heaven, saying, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to him. He changes times and seasons, deposing some kings and establishing others. He gives wisdom to the wise; he imparts knowledge to those with understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things. He knows what is in the darkness, and light resides with him. (Daniel 2:19-22, The Net Bible)

Daniel writes, "He changes times and seasons, deposing of kings and establishing others." As of this morning, the war news continues to be remarkably good for the coalition forces. It appears as if our military is strong and that we have good strategists and planners. But we must never forget, that by the Lord's hand the few and weak have put to flight the many and strong. Deborah and Barak saw aid come with a flood that disabled the chariots of their enemies. Gideon's ridiculously small army routed an enemy whose confusion turned its soldiers on themselves. David and Goliath, Jonathan and his armor bearer, and Jehoshaphat with his singers are more examples of the same.

Daniel reminded me that any success that we have in this war is at the Lord's discretion as He moves history toward His goals. This is true for the small and the great changes of regimes or administrations.

If you are a republican glad to see Clinton gone or if you are a democrat dismayed at Bush's policies, know that each was placed by the God of Heaven. Who is Clinton or Bush compared to Nero under whom Paul wrote these words?

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. (Romans 13:1-7)

If Paul saw the Lord's hand on Nero, how much more can we trust the Lord with a Bill Clinton or a George Bush?

Who is Clinton or Bush compared to Pilate to whom Jesus said:

Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me at all, unless it was given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of greater sin.” (John 19:11)

Let us, therefore, view any war success with thanksgiving and humility. And let us continue to seek the Lord's favor and entreat Him for victory.

Tomorrow: Hebrews

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