Friday, March 25, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 9

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

Saving the Best for Last

The Writer's final quote from the Old Testament to show the superiority of the Son over the angels and other messengers is significant to the rest of the letter:

But to which of the angels has He ever said, "Sit at My right hand, Until I make Your enemies A footstool for Your feet"? (Hebrews 1:13, NASB 95)

This quote, from Psalm 110, should be paired with the Writer's introductory comments, "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." And so the Son is the last and best communication from God to mankind in these latter days--and His message is far superior to the past messengers.

But this final quote of Psalm 110 is no accident. The entire Psalm is one of the foundational blocks on which the Writer builds his arguments. Currently, the Writer has only made the case that, as a messenger, the Son is superior to past messengers. He has other important points to make about this Son and Psalm 110 is a strange an important component. Here it is:

The Lord says to my Lord: "Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet." The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, "Rule in the midst of Your enemies." Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew.

The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek."

The Lord is at Your right hand; He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath. He will judge among the nations, He will fill them with corpses, He will shatter the chief men over a broad country. He will drink from the brook by the wayside; Therefore He will lift up His head. (Psalm 110:1-7)

There are two things that set this psalm apart from all others. The first is its reference to Melchizedek, who is a figure who momentarily appears to bless Abram (Genesis 14:18-20). Only Genesis and Psalm 110 reference this person. There is no strangeness in his appearing in Genesis, because there are lots of names and places that have mere single mention in the Scriptures. Melchizedek's mention in Psalm 110 begs us to ask, "Why is this thought here?" The second and related thing that sets Psalm 110 apart is related to the first. The Psalm is about a king who is a priest. In ancient Israel and by the command of the Lord, these were separate offices. One need only think of the leprosy that Uzziah suffered when he stormed into the temple to burn incense.

But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. Then Azariah the priest entered after him and with him eighty priests of the Lord, valiant men. They opposed Uzziah the king and said to him, "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful and will have no honor from the Lord God." But Uzziah, with a censer in his hand for burning incense, was enraged; and while he was enraged with the priests, the leprosy broke out on his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, beside the altar of incense. Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous on his forehead; and they hurried him out of there, and he himself also hastened to get out because the Lord had smitten him. King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the Lord. And Jotham his son was over the king’s house judging the people of the land. (2 Chronicles 26:16-21)

The Writer of Hebrews will connect the dots between this Psalm and the Son. Along the way, the Son will be shown to be the culmination of the three Old Testament offices of Prophet, Priest, and King.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 8

To start with the first lesson in the series, click here.

The Eternal Son

None of the former persons, ways, and means by which God communicated to His people existed before the creation and only by the sustaining hand of God will they persist when this creation finally succumbs. But the Son is different:

And, "You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the works of Your hands; They will perish, but You remain; And they all will become old like a garment, And like a mantle You will roll them up; Like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end." (Hebrews 1:10-12, NASB 95)

As if the first 3 verses were not enough to connect the Son with the very being of God, these verses, from Psalm 102:25-27 combined with Isaiah 51:6, lay the matter completely to rest. These verses speak of the Lord by the name of YHWH and the Writer of Hebrews ascribes them to the Son. You have to ask yourself, "What was it like to be in the presence of Jesus, when He was on the earth, such that a Jewish writer would so completely connect Him with YHWH?" An examination of Jewish history from after the fall of Jerusalem to the present day reveals that their is no such weakness among the Jews to elevate any of their number to such status. We get a glimpse of what they saw when we study the gospels and realize how astounding are the words of Jesus about Himself. What teacher today could get away with saying, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)" Note that what Jesus said and what the Writer of Hebrews wrote here express exactly the same thing. What God has spoken through the Son is eternal.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews Lesson 7

To start with the first lesson in this series, click here.

Flames of Fire

The Writer has provided scriptures to identify the promise of a coming Son and scriptures that declare that the former angels and messengers are called to worship the Son. He now continues to set the Son apart from all who came before:

And of the angels He says, "Who makes His angels winds, And His ministers a flame of fire." But of the Son He says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness above Your companions." (Hebrews 1:7-9, NASB 95)

The Writer quotes from two sources. The first is Psalm 104:4 and the second is Psalm 45:6,7. Let's look at the first in context:

Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty, Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain. He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind; He makes the winds His messengers, Flaming fire His ministers. He established the earth upon its foundations, So that it will not totter forever and ever. You covered it with the deep as with a garment; The waters were standing above the mountains. At Your rebuke they fled, At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away. The mountains rose; the valleys sank down To the place which You established for them. You set a boundary that they may not pass over, So that they will not return to cover the earth. (Psalm 104:1-9)

The NASB translation has chosen to follow the context of creation and natural phenomena and renders the Hebrew ruach as "wind." The Septuagint rendered the word as "angels." Among English translations, most of them use the word "wind." The context and plain sense of Psalm 104:4 has wind and lightening speaking of the power and majesty of God. However, there is certainly a hint of something grander than wind and lightening. At the very least wind and lightening are messengers and part of God's speaking in "many portions and in many ways." The real point brought out by quoting psalm 104:4 is that the angels are subject to God. They do what they are told. In contrast to this we have the Son who sits at the right hand of God in power and authority. The Son has been "anointed above" his companions.

Now let's look at Psalm 45:

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows. All Your garments are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; Out of ivory palaces stringed instruments have made You glad. Kings? daughters are among Your noble ladies; At Your right hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir. Listen, O daughter, give attention and incline your ear: Forget your people and your father?s house; Then the King will desire your beauty. Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him. (Psalm 45:6-11)

Psalm 45 is a song about the marriage of the king. As with all the other quotes of the Old Testament, the Writer of Hebrews uses a secondary and deeper meaning of the text. I should note that in all the cases so far, the text itself invites this secondary meaning. Let's take the phrase, "Your throne, o God, is forever and ever; a scepter of uprightness is the scepter of Your kingdom." The simplest meaning, given the subject matter of the Psalm, is that the king sits on a throne that belongs to God: the king derives his authority from God and has responsibility to the people to discharge his duties faithfully. Nevertheless, when we read it, we also get a inner sense that God, himself, really is the king--and with the promise of the coming Messiah, we can look forward to the day when Messiah is on the throne. Those who knew Jesus on earth made the connection and ascribed these verses to Him. It was a fit. Afterwards, they could not read the verses and think of any king but the Son who had come.

It is not my intent to trouble anyone by bringing to the forefront how the Writer uses the Old Testament. All the New Testament authors quoted the Old Testament this way--and their audiences understood the difference. What it says is that Jesus on earth carried Himself in such a way that He "fulfilled" such scriptures. Beforehand, they spoke of one thing and hinted at another. Afterwards, they spoke of Jesus and hinted at their initial meaning. See, therefore, how great the life of the Son of God on earth must have been!

Test everything. Cling to what is good.