Wednesday, March 16, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 4

To start with the first lesson, click here.

Greater Than the Angels

The Writer has finished his resume of the Son by whom in these last days God has spoken. Please note that the Son has not yet been identified with Jesus--that does not come until chapter 3. Either the Writer assumes his readers already know or he is trying to make a case without pushing an emotional button. In other words, for those who do not yet know about whom he refers, the Writer is providing information and is working to create curiosity and interest--before becoming controversial. Those who know hardly notice that the name is missing. Alternatively, this Son has inherited a more excellent name than the angels and, thus, associating Him with His human-side name, Jesus, is premature--the Writer is promoting the wonders of the Son.

God has now spoken in a Son. In case you did not catch it, this Son is superior than all the various ways and people that have spoken before. These "angels' or messengers have been men and women, dreams, visions, and angels proper. We must understand that the Son is far better. For those who need Biblical support of this concept, the Writer turns to the Old Testament to make his case:

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 1:5, NASB95)

The Writer begins by claiming that the Old Testament reveals that God has a Son. He quotes from Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel. It is worth looking at the references in context.

First Psalm 2:

Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, "Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!"

He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, "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. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware."

Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence And rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psalm 2:1-12)

Now 2 Samuel 7:

Now therefore, thus you shall say to My servant David, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make you a great name, like the names of the great men who are on the earth. I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly, even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. The Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you. 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, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever." In accordance with all these words and all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David. (2 Samuel 7:8-17)

The Psalm 2 passage has clear references to a future Messiah and we can be comfortable that the Psalm intends to speak of the coming Jesus. This is not universally held--I have read some who say that the ancient Israelites referred to their kings as "God's son." The 2 Samuel passage, however, presents us with some problems. Contextually, it is hard not to understand that the Lord here refers to David's son, Solomon, rather than some future king. This is underscored by the phrase, "when he commits iniquity, I will correct him." It is impossible to connect this statement with the Son through whom God made the world. What gives? In fact, since 2 Samuel connects the king with God's son, should we not also go back to Psalm 2 and down-grade its messianic significance? Yet, the Writer of Hebrews is using these verses to make his point, so is his point even valid? Surely he knows the broader context and we can certainly assume that anyone who disagreed with his conclusions would expose him at this point. Why has the book carried forward its message?

The answer is that Jewish rabbis through the centuries have recognized that a passage of scripture can carry multiple levels of meaning. So even if 2 Samuel 7 and possibly Psalm 2 speak principally of earthly kings who have lived and died, it may also hint at a future son of God who is truly God's son. When that layer of meaning is discerned, you are then free to view other elements of the text in this greater light. Thus when the Lord through Nathan says, "I will raise up your descendant after you ... and I will establish his throne forever" we are told something remarkable about Jesus the Messiah and His kingdom. So when you read 2 Samuel and understand it initially to refer to Solomon, you are taking its simple sense. The rabbis refer to this as the P'SHAT sense. When you see beyond the primary sense and see the future Son, you recognize that the text hints at this truth. The rabbis refer to this as a REMEZ or hint. I strongly recommend that you read my complete study of rabbinic interpretive modes before continuing on with this study of Hebrews. You will not be able to fully appreciate the Writer's use of scripture without this foundation. The paper is called Hints, Allegories, and Mysteries: The New Testament Quotes the Old and is found on the Biblical Studies Foundation web site.

More tomorrow.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.


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