A Covenant of Promise

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The above quote is from an anonymous 17th century Particular Baptist. “The wha?” you say. In the 17th century there were Baptists who were Calvinists and they were referred to as “Particular Baptists” because they believed in particular redemption rather than the General Baptists who believed that Jesus died for the sins of everyone. Today, we’d call them Reformed Baptists because they believed a lot more Reformed theology than just particular redemption. This chap probably chose to be anonymous because for a while in the 17th century it was illegal to be a Baptist in England.

Anyway, this particular Particular Baptist (sorry) denied that the covenant of circumcision in Genesis 17 was the Covenant of Grace. Now, as far as that goes, I’m fine with it. The two covenants are not the same. However, that doesn’t make the covenant of circumcision a covenant of works either. I would put it in the category of a covenant of promise (Eph 2:12). Here’s why:

In Galatians 3, Paul pits the law against the promise of the covenant of circumcision. You can tell that he has Genesis 17 in mind because in verses 15-18 he cites it when he says “and to your offspring” which he explains is talking about Jesus. According to verses 2, 5, 14 and 4:6 the promise is the Holy Spirit. So Paul’s understanding of the covenant of circumcision is that it promised and pictured the Holy Spirit. That makes a lot of sense biblically since in Deut 30, God promises to circumcise Israel’s heart. In Col 3:11 we are told that we have received Christian circumcision done without hands. In Romans 2:29 circumcision is called “a matter of the heart.” And Paul asked the Galatians in verse 2, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Since the promise of the covenant of circumcision is the Spirt and we receive the Spirit by faith, not works, the covenant of circumcision cannot be a works/law covenant.

What of the fact that it can be broken (Gen 17:14) which our anonymous Baptist cited in his quote? The way a child is said to have broken the covenant if he was not circumcised. This helpless infant is not relying on his own works but the faithfulness of his father. Since we receive Christian circumcision in the same way, while we were helpless and by the faithfulness of our Heavenly Father, this condition pictured God’s grace.

What of God’s command to Abram “walk before me and be blameless” (Gen 17:1)? Isn’t that a law of the covenant of circumcision? No, it isn’t. God explained why he required this of Abram, “that I may make my covenant with you” (Gen 17:2) and then immediately says “Behold, my covenant is with you.” (Gen 17:4) so Abram had already met those requirements. How? He’d met them the first time God established this covenant: “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6). This covenant of circumcision was a gracious covenant.

What of Galatians 5:3 which says that if you’re circumcised you’re under obligation to keep the entire law? That cannot be speaking of Genesis 17 since Paul has already contrasted that covenant with the law in chapter 3. Also, when Abram entered the covenant of circumcision, the law had not yet been given. Abrams couldn’t have been under obligation to keep the entire law since it would be another 500 years before God would give it. In Galatians 5, Paul is talking about the Mosaic covenant which was a law/works covenant.


Left Behind Too

Previously, I’d cited this verse to explain why it is best to be left behind:

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth – Matthew 13:41-42

This is what Jesus meant about one being take and one begin left behind in Luke 17:

I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left. – Luke 17:34-35

The context for the Luke quote is that Jesus is comparing the day when Jerusalem will be sacked in 72 A.D. with the days of Noah (see verse 26) or the days of Lot (see verse 28). The judgement will fall swiftly on that unrighteous city and when it does, the wicked will be swept away but the righteous will be spared.

Another verse comes to mind as well that gets at this point and gives it some historical context:

Therefore I am full of the wrath of the for the LORD;
I am weary of holding it in.
“Pour it out upon the children in the street,
and upon the gatherings of young men, also;
both husband and wife shall be taken,
the elderly and the very aged…” – Jeremiah 6:11

raptureJeremiah is warning Jerusalem that just as Israel had been carried away in exile, the same is coming upon Judah. Armies from the north would soon sweep down and carry away the rebellious nation. Likewise, Jesus and the Apostles preached and taught the Jews that the generation Jesus faced had never actually gone into exile, that is, they had never learned what God intended them to learn when he sent them into exile in the first place. There may have been Jews in that day who taught that that they were technically still in exile till the Davidic king, the Messiah, would come and that’s why there was a lot of expectation about the coming of the Messiah in and before Jesus’ day.

But Jesus repeatedly compared the Jews of his day to their fathers who killed the prophets (cf. Matthew 23:29-39). The point is made most strongly when they kill Jesus himself, God incarnate, and yell, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15) Jesus never compared them to the chastened Jews who waited in exile for their deliverance such as Daniel or Ezekiel. This is why Jesus used the same turn of phrase as Jeremiah. Jeremiah was condemning the god-hating, prophet-killing sinners of his day and Jesus is doing the same. I think Jesus intended that his hearers would make that same connection.

So how do you avoid being “left behind”? You reject Jesus and kill those he sends. That’s how to make sure you are taken but it is to be taken in judgement.


Implicit Baptisms or Not?

I’m not a Baptist but I am baptistic. There is no biblical support for the practice of infant baptism, no example of an infant being baptized, no necessary inference that leads to infant baptism, and church history does not support the Reformed argument for infant baptism. So when the accusation that I might implicitly be fudging on infant baptism by performing an infant dedication seemed to land too close to home, I stepped back.

“Baby dedications? Really? Why not just throw some water on the baby and call it a baptism? After all, Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’ You baptists are so inconsistent.”

I have to admit, these arguments, properly fleshed out, had me very skeptical of doing baby dedications for a long while. What got to me was the assumption that infant dedications in the Bible were support for infant baptism. Since I rejected infant baptism, it seemed that I would have to reject infant dedications.

But it is very easy to be for or against something in theory based on the arguments of those who are for or against it, but when you have to face it in real life it causes you to think much more clearly about it. That’s what’s happened to me on this issue. I’ll be doing a dedication on Sunday and that helped clarify this for me.

I finally saw that the problem with the argument Reformed infant baptizers lob against infant dedication lies is in the fact that there are infant dedications in the Bible and they are not equated with baptisms. Ever. Samuel was dedicated to the Lord by Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:21-2:11 but there is no connection to baptism anywhere. Isaiah was called from his mother’s womb in Isaiah 49:1-6 and God did the same thing with Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:5. The fact that Isaiah and Jeremiah entered their prophetic offices means that they had been dedicated to this role from birth. In Luke 1 John the Baptist is dedicated to his role as the forerunner of Christ from his inception. His parents complied with the angel’s instructions and set him aside from his birth. Baptism only enters his picture when John starts his ministry, not in his dedication to that role at his birth.

We could also speak of Moses and others but what we’re seeing in this biblical picture of infants is not baptism but dedication. There is no command to dedicate children to the Lord but it doesn’t hurt to do it and there are hints that children of covenant members (i.e. believers) are blessed and holy. Consider Matthew 18:1-4, 10-18 and 1 Corinthians 7:14. An infant dedication isn’t a form or dry baptism, it is simply recognizing what the Bible says about our children and honoring it in an official ceremony.


Please, Just Sit Down.

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This showed up in my Tumblr feed. It amounts to a flippant joke about the serious, life-ending procedure of abortion. The responses to this joke demonstrate a tragically shallow grasp of rhetoric and ignorance of reasons for opposition to abortion. I wish we’d start teaching logic in schools again; clearly this was not an argument in any meaningful way and since it ignores opposing views, it isn’t even an adequate way to describe abortion.

The assumption is that abortion is a personal choice just like having children is a personal choice. But in an abortion, someone dies. Every time. I hope I made that point in my comment at the bottom: “Or stand up comedians. But thankfully, we’re not allowed to kill them.”


Inventory Issues

arkofthecovenant

There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of Egypt. (2 Chron 5:10)

[T]he ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. (Hebrews 9:4)

This has got to be one of the many contradictions in the Bible we hear about, right? Not really. It is a contradiction only if you read the Bible flatly. By ‘flatly’ I mean if you read it as if it were one book written at one time by one author. That is, if you expect it to be written the way humans tend to write. The reason this is not a contradiction is because there are two different authors writing at two different times, in two different languages, relating actual history from two different time periods. That describes writing that is much less flat, much more nuanced, don’t you think?

The chronicler, writing in Hebrew probably around 400BC, is telling about when Solomon built the first temple and brought the ark into it. The author of Hebrews, writing in Greek probably around 60AD, is talking about the tabernacle just after it was completed. The time difference between these two events is about 500 years and an awful lot happened in those 400 and something years. To understand the inventory problem with the ark, we need to look at its history with an emphasis on what went inside it.

IMAGE-Ten-Commandments-Tablet-Movie-Prop-Christies-2001It all starts in Exodus 25 where God tells Moses how to build the ark. In verse 16, God says, “And you shall put into the ark the testimony that I shall give you.” The “testimony” here is the Ten Commandments that God wrote on tables of stone. They were placed inside the ark once it was constructed.

URNThe first thing listed in Hebrews is the urn of manna. In Exodus 16 God gave Israel manna six days a week. It was a miraculous food that formed on the ground overnight. Any manna that was kept overnight spoiled except on Friday since Saturday is the Sabbath and none was given. In verse 33 Aaron is told, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations.” Now, at this point, the ark hasn’t been constructed yet; as a matter of fact, God hadn’t even told Moses that an ark is to be constructed. Exodus 16 is about six weeks before Mount Sinai where God verbally gives Israel the Ten Commandments and another month of so after that till he gives the instructions for the ark. At this point, the jar was kept but not in the ark.

53271_almond_tree_smThe next thing in the list from Hebrews is the rod of Aaron that budded. In Numbers 16, the sons of Korah challenged Moses’ and Aaron’s authority. God’s response was to send a fire to consume the rebels who stood before him and to open the earth under their tents. It wasn’t Moses and Aaron they were ultimately challenging, it was God and the rebellion didn’t stop once Korah’s children were gone. The next day the people complained along the same lines, “You have killed the people of the LORD.” (Num 16:41) In order to authenticate who God had chosen to lead Israel, Moses took a staff from the leader of every tribe and he put them in the tabernacle. The next morning they found that Aaron’s staff had budded and sprouted almonds. In Numbers 17:10 God directed Moses that to put “the staff of Aaron before the testimony”.

So each item that Hebrews mentioned was associated with the “testimony” in some way. Does that mean it was inside the ark? Clearly the tablets of the Ten Commandments were in there, they were called “the testimony” to begin with. Aaron’s rod was to be “before the testimony” which could mean that it sat in front of the ark but that seems a bit odd. There wasn’t a table in there to set the rod on and “the testimony” (i.e. the tablets) were inside the ark. If the rod was before the testimony it could have easily been inside the ark. Why not?

Likewise, the jar of manna was to be “before the LORD“. God’s presence was between the cherubim on top of the ark so the best place for the jar would be there. Again, there was no table to keep this stuff on so placing it inside the ark makes sense. Also, consider that they had to pack all this stuff up and move it around quite a bit before they came to the Promised Land. It would just make sense to put it in the ark.

But that leaves us with an inventory problem when we get to Second Chronicles since “there was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses put there.” We don’t know for sure what happened to the other things since the Bible doesn’t say anything about them but there are hints. If we track the history of the ark in the Bible we see some opportunities for things to get lost.

"Could someone set up Dagon the all powerful again?"

“Could someone set up Dagon the all powerful again?”

Surprisingly, there is no mention of the ark being lost in Judges. The people were so superstitious at that time that you’d figure they’d would have drug it out all the time. Nope, they were able to hold off losing it till 1 Samuel 4. When the Philistines came out against them, they pulled out the ark like it was an idol or something. The Philistines captured it in battle. However, things didn’t go so well for the Philistines. They put the ark in the temple of their god Dagon who kept falling over in front of it. Then the people broke out in boils so they decided it would be best to return the ark to Israel. When they did, some Israelites decided to take look inside (1 Sam 6:19 NIV, KJV, ASV). If Israel decided to take a peek, I’ll bet the Philistines did too. After all, for the Philistines it was the spoils of war. When the Philistines consulted their priests and diviners to try to figure out what to do with the ark, their wisemen told them, “do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering” (1 Sam 6:3). That could mean “empty” as in “without a guilt offering” or it could mean “we took stuff out and it has become obvious that we’re guilty and need to make an offering.” A golden urn? There’s some cash value. A stick that budded (assuming it was still spouting)? Sounds like magic! Keep that! Big old stone tablets with Hebrew writing on them? Yeah, leave that.

Years later David would split up the articles of the tabernacle. The tent was at a high place in Gibeon with the bronze alter but David moved the ark to Jerusalem (2 Chr 1:4-5) and he put it in a tent he’d had built for it (1 Chr 15:1). When the contents are mentioned in 2 Chronicles 5, we’re down to just the tablets. And it is interesting that the author would mention specifically that there was nothing else in there but the tablets. He might do that in order to confirm, yes, there was nothing else in there, just as it was supposed to be. On the other hand, he could also be commenting that the other stuff had gone missing and all that was left was the tablets.

Do you see how bumpy and nubbley a reading of the Bible has to be? Nothing flat about it! The Bible spans a great deal of time and so you can’t read it like a column in a magazine where all the pertinent history is gathered together for you. You have to take a lot more into consideration. God is bigger than a magazine editor and his story spans generations. Expect his writing, both in history and in the Bible to be huge.


A Scientific Need for Philosophy

Let’s pause and consider Dr. Tyson’s statement.

I have heard atheists explain that they don’t believe, they know. Belief, they claim, is not based on evidence but knowledge is. That statement in itself is loaded with difficulties but let’s let it slide for the moment. Does Dr. Tyson have a “belief system” and is it grounded in “objective reality”? If it is, is it still a belief system? Isn’t it knowledge?

Since this tweet appears to be Dr. Tyson’s opinion, it is subjective and no longer objective. Therefore, Dr. Tyson should not be making this decision for other people.

Does Dr. Tyson believe his statement to be true? What portions of “objective reality” lead Dr. Tyson to this conclusion? There are countless examples of people making sound decisions for others whose belief systems are based on things Tyson would, no doubt, claim are not founded in objective reality. Christian or Muslim or Buddhist doctors successfully make decisions for others on a regular basis, for example. Did these get included in the “objective reality” that lead Dr. Tyson to his conclusion? I rather doubt it.

If we accept Dr. Tyson’s statement as true, that means that only those who have a belief system founded in objective reality can make decisions that affect others. Parents whose belief systems don’t meet Tyson’s criteria would be excluded from making decisions for their children; others would have to do it for them. The same goes for care givers of elderly parents or the mentally ill.

In the end, this statement is nothing more than a bald-faced power play. While organized religion is often presented as the boogieman who wants to control how you think, this form of scientism actually has that goal in mind. Were Dr. Tyson and others like him really in favor of free thought, this notion would never have occurred to him. Don’t be mislead, scientists are human too and subject to the same foibles as others, hubris and desire for power included.

What troubles me is not so much that Tyson said it, it is that at the time of my writing, 20k+ people agreed with him.


Hold the Ham

When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
“Cursed be Canaan;
a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
He also said,
“Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem;
and let Canaan be his servant.
May God enlarge Japheth,
and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
and let Canaan be his servant.” – Genesis 9:24-27

It can be surprising what you can learn from seemingly simple passages like this. This is just Noah getting ticked off at one of his kids and praising his favorites, right? Not by a long shot. There is nothing that says Noah was being prophetic here but he was. He was, after all, a “herald of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5) and though Jacob isn’t called a prophet, his blessings on his kids proved to be prophetic (Gen 49) since the scepter didn’t depart from Judah, for example.

In the past, some in the church have talked about “the curse of Ham” and “the mark of Cain” being upon different people groups, whom they refer to as ‘races’. This was then used to give Biblical justification to treating those ‘races’ as less-than-human. Obviously, Cain’s mark was on Cain and not anyone else. Cain complained that once others found out what he’d done, they’d kill him (Gen 4:14). God’s purpose in putting his mark on Cain was to prevent that (Gen 4:15). After the flood, God had a different solution for murder: execution (Gen 9:6) not Cain’s mark. Besides, Noah was from the line of Seth (Gen 5:6-28) not Cain’s so if the mark was genetic, it died in the flood.

Well, what of the curse of Ham? Ham’s descendants settled in Africa so the theory goes that the children of Ham bear his curse. Except, Ham didn’t get cursed. Noah/God cursed not Ham, for that would be a third of humanity at that point, but he/they cursed Ham’s son Canaan. Canaan’s descendants didn’t make it to Africa, they settled in the Promised Land (Gen 10:15-19). God endured with them not for only 400 years while Israel was in Egypt (Gen 15:16) though that would be significant. But more than that, God endured with that cursed people from the days of Noah! Their deeds were exceedingly evil (cf. Lev 20:2-5) and yet it took that long for the full measure of their sin to equal the full measure of God’s patience with them.

What happened was that Ham was not curse. Nor was he blessed. He was simply cut out. The blessing to Japheth was that he be enlarged. It is a play on Japheth’s name which is the same Hebrew word as “enlarge” but it is more than that. Japheth will, one day, dwell in Shem’s tents. Shem who’s God is Yahweh. Those tents. We can see this idea of Ham being ignored again in the genealogy of Genesis 10. When we get to Shem’s descendants, Shem is introduced as “the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth.” “Eber” is where we get the name “Hebrew” and Shem is his father which is where we get the term “Semite” as in “anti-semite”. Also, Shem is the elder brother not of Ham and Japheth, but only Japheth. Moses is pointing out that Ham’s descendants will be included in Japheth’s blessing (he will be enlarged) and only Canaan will be cursed.

Seem thin? Let me fill it in just a bit then. Back to Genesis 10 but let’s take a look at Ham’s descendants for a moment. One is Nimrod, a mighty man and a mighty hunter. He founded two important cities, Nineveh and Babylon. These become very important later in redemptive history when God judges Israel and Judah for their faithlessness. Nebuchadnezzar is the king of Babylon and God repeatedly refers to him as “my servant” in Jeremiah (Jer 25:9, 27:6, 43:10). In Daniel 3 when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are delivered from Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace he makes the proclamation that “Any people, nation, or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins, for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way” (Dan 3:29). Then in chapter 4, where Nebuchadnezzar himself seems to be the author of inspired scripture, God doesn’t destroy Nebuchadnezzar for his sin but sends him a dream and Daniel to interpret it. He then causes Nebuchadnezzar to go mad for a time so that when he is restored he praises God. Sounds like this son of Ham is dwelling in Shem’s tents. Also, God sent Jonah to Nineveh and extended his mercy to them.

Another son of Ham is Egypt (Gen 10:6). When God brought Israel out of Egypt he judged their gods, not them (Ex 12:12, Num 33:4). God later calls Egypt “my people” and Assyria “the work of my hands” (Isa 19:24-25). And these two sons of Ham will surely be among the “strong nations” that will lay hold of the robe of a Jew and say “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zech 8:22-23). Again, that sounds like they are dwelling in Shem’s tents.

I’m not saying that these men or nations were eternally saved, but they had an encounter with Yahweh that the Canaanites didn’t. That isn’t to say that God didn’t extend opportunities for repentance to Canaan, he did, but he didn’t take the extraordinary steps he took with others of Ham’s children. Caleb’s father, a Kenizzite (Num 32:12, Gen 15:18-19), turned to Yahweh. Rahab and her family heard about Yahweh’s might and turned to him (Josh 2:8-13). When God’s wrath fell on the people of the land of Canaan, these were saved so even in his judgment, God saved some. In the end, Japheth is enlarged and dwells in Shem’s tents while Ham is pretty much ignored.


You Don’t Have to Pick

Which one do you like better? The cranky God of the Old Testament or mild mannered Jesus of the New Testament? You actually don’t get that choice.

Back in 2008 I attended the Wheaton Theology Conference on Rediscovering the Trinity: Classic Doctrine and Contemporary Ministry. One of the speakers was Edith Humphrey. I just stumbled across my notes from her talk and found this interesting observation.

We often assume that the Old Testament is the era of the Father, the New Testament is the era of the Son, and the church age is the era of the Spirit. Humphrey suggested an alternative. The Old Testament is the era of the Son incognito and the New Testament is the era of the Son revealing the Father by the Spirit. She referred specifically to John 1:18 to support this version.

As I’m preaching through Genesis, I find this to actually be a better description of what is happening. Of course the Father is present and active in the Old Testament but what we’re seeing more of is Jesus there. Pictured and promised but there he is.

To add to the strength of this, consider this from an older post of mine:

So my act of rebellion was to see “the LORD” and read it as “Yahweh” every time. After a bit I got worried that I was just being proud and clever; never a good thing. But then I thought about how the New Testament handles this…

And that’s when it came together. What I was actually doing was what the church had been doing. Seeing “Yahweh” and thinking/saying “Lord” for whatever reason; theological persnickety-ness or honoring God. But in the New Testament “Lord” is applied to Jesus. So when I read in the New Testament “Jesus is Lord” and hear in my head that habit from reading “Lord” in my Old Testament as “Yahweh” I’m actually doing the right thing! Jesus is Yahweh!

What I’m getting at is we read “LORD” and think “God the Father” but in reality we should be thinking “Jesus” since the New Testament applies “Lord” to Jesus. That would mean that the God we see in the Old Testament, the one everyone says is cranky and mean, is actually Jesus. On when he came did he reveal God the Father.


The Impossibility of No Sabbath

The Sabbath was a holy sign of the covenant bond between God and His people. It was as much a part of the order of creation as was creative labor, and in being obedience in the work and rest, Israel would demonstrate its total allegiance to God.

As the Sabbath (like work and marriage) is rooted in the nature of creation, it is certain that the Sabbath (like work and marriage) was part of the cultural expression of Eden. While we have no explicit mention of human observance of the Sabbath in the first chapters of Genesis, the arguments made in passages such as Exodus 31 about the nature of the Sabbath indicate that God’s sanctifying of it (Genesis 2:2ff.) was from then on part of how creation functioned. The intimate fellowship between God and man in the Garden presupposes that man would honor what God had established as holy. Since the Fall is the first occurrence of human disobedience to the divine order established in creation, it is impossible that man would not have observed the Sabbath in the original culture of Eden. – Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes