Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nahum 1:15 - 2:2 (Part 2)

Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off. The scatterer has come up against you. Man the ramparts; watch the road; dress for battle; collect all your strength. For the LORD is restoring the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel, for plunderers have plundered them and ruined their branches.

Nineveh is depicted in the following verses as being driven out into exile. Exile, as a form of humiliating a defeated enemy, consisted primarily in capturing the king, the nobility, the rich, upper-crust members of society, marching them back to the capital of the victorious kingdom, then selling these people off as slaves. The poor people were generally left behind.  Israel can testify that perhaps the worst fate a people can do or, except for total annihilation, is exile. For at least 2000 years there has been a Diaspora of Jews. Exile of individuals, as well as hordes of defeated enemies was a practiced that lasted for centuries. After the Battle of Adrianople during the episcopate of Ambrose (378) countless victims were displaced and families separated. Ambrose sold the church’s gold plates and other possessions in order to raise enough money to buy these exiled people out of slavery and send them back home.

Under these circumstances a people have only two choices: 1) Blend in, assimilate and be practically erased; 2) persist as Israel did as a separate people wherever they live. This procedure has always brought down the wrath of the state and only God’s protection in the case of Israel has saved them from planned eradication by the state. No other nation has been so fortunate. On the other hand, no other nation has ever tried to live as a separate people within another nation. Countless cultures throughout the world have been practically eliminated, not so much by foreign enemies as much as by simple assimilation with the surrounding culture.

For Christians, the options are exactly the same. Jewish ‘resistance’ has generally been of a somewhat mixed character, partly political, partly religious. But Christians’ ‘resistance’ must be purely religious. The current lawsuits against the government with regard to forcing religious organizations to provide free birth control and abortions is but one of several fronts on which this battle will be waged. Homosexual marriage is another.

I’d like to quote two paragraphs from a anonymous work entitled The Epistle to Diognetus, which best estimates date to circa 130 A.D.
“For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

“To sum up all in one word--what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible. The flesh hates the soul, and wars against it, though itself suffering no injury, because it is prevented from enjoying pleasures; the world also hates the Christians, though in nowise injured, because they abjure pleasures. The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and [loves also] the members; Christians likewise love those that hate them.” Epistle to Diognetus 5-6 (ca. 130)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Nahum 1:15 - 2:2 (Part 1)

Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off. The scatterer has come up against you. Man the ramparts; watch the road; dress for battle; collect all your strength. For the LORD is restoring the majesty of Jacob as the majesty of Israel, for plunderers have plundered them and ruined their branches.

There are three ways that this passage has generally been understood. Some have considered the plunderer to be Sennacherib, others Nebuchadnezzar. If this were referring to Sennacherib, the gist of the passage would be something like this: (a) Judah need not worry about Sennacherib, because while he is busy threatening you someone is preparing to attack him. Sennacherib will not attack you (God will restore your majesty…) because he is going to be attacked. (b) With the larger picture in view God is telling Judah that she may do all the guarding and preparing she wants, but this will all be of no avail because God will raise up someone else, after Nineveh, to teach rebellious Judah the same lesson Nineveh has been used of God to teach Israel.

(c) The third view is that this is addressed to Nineveh, in which can the plunderer would be Nebuchadnezzar. According to these interpreters, Nahum is proclaiming the ruin of Assyria like this, “Your destroyer is on the rise." The Assyrians would have viewed such a warning with disdain. 1:13 informs us that Assyria was at the height of her power when this prophecy was given. It was only after Assurbanipal retired from nearly a dozen military campaigns (one of which was against Thebes) did he return to Nineveh and gradually become indolent. It was then that the burgeoning unrest among his subjects the Babylonians and Medes break out into open rebellion. This is another factor that helps us date the book to the earlier part of the 50-year window between 663 BC and 613 BC. Nahum would be saying to Nineveh, “It won’t be how you’d expect it. The plunderer will not come secretly, but right in your face. You can guard the fortresses, watch the roads, and be as ready as you’d like, it will all be to no avail.” If this is the correct view, it will be confirming what has already been said that God had now determined to destroy Nineveh and the whole Assyrian Empire. Calvin takes issue with this view because if it were intended then something else should be stated to make it plain, such as -- that God now designed to destroy Nineveh and its monarchy, because it had humbled more than necessary his people, the kingdom of Judah, as well as the ten tribes.

But we don’t find this necessary clarifier, so we can’t really consider this a viable interpretation. Of course the greater weakness of this last option is that the prophecy is addressed to Judah, hence this view would run contrary to what the prophecy has been all along. Plus 2:1-2 are set up with 1:15 which rules this view off of bounds right out of the blocks.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Nahum 1:14-15

The LORD has given commandment about you: “No more shall your name be perpetuated; from the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the metal image. I will make your grave, for you are vile.” Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off.  Nahum 1:14-15

We previously observed that God views an attack on His people as an attack upon Himself. As Zechariah 2:8 puts it: “For thus said the LORD of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye:” Christ took persecution of His church personally, as Paul found out on the road to Damascus.

We see another interesting insinuation here: God sees idolatry as a direct attack on Himself. Nineveh is said to have plotted evil against the Lord; now God is commanding her destruction because of idolatry. God commanded that the King’s name be no longer perpetuated. This implies a couple of things. It likely means that his line of offspring will end. But it is also interesting that apart from Sargon and Sennacherib, whose names are mentioned in Scripture, there is no other familiar name of any Assyrian king. Ancient kings saw it as an honor to be buried with images of their gods. God deems it the mark of contempt – against the kings! It is a testimony to how poor your state truly is if the best thing you’ve got going for you is your stone idol graven image. The Hebrew literally speaks of graven images and cast metal images. Not only was paganism the religion of Nineveh, it was a business as well. This is one of the true hallmarks of all false religion. And woe be unto us if we be guilty of trafficking the things of God.

The opening line of verse 15 is found in Isaiah 52:7 and there is likely an allusion in it as well as to Isaiah 40:9. Paul repeats Nahum 1:15 in Romans 10:15 in regard to the Messiah and His ministry, as well as the apostles of Christ in His time. It may also be understood of any minister of the Gospel whose business it is to "preach the Gospel of peace." God has made peace with sinners by the blood of Christ, and has given to His people the peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). The preacher’s work is also to "bring glad tidings of good things" (KJV), such as reconciliation, righteousness, pardon, life, and eternal salvation by a crucified Christ. The preaching of such a Gospel, and bringing such news, makes their feet beautiful.

Isaiah 54:3-7 For thus says the LORD: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” For thus says the Lord GOD: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. Now therefore what have I here,” declares the LORD, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares the LORD, “and continually all the day my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I.” How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Isaiah 40:9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”

Isaiah 40:1-4 is a prediction about John the Baptist. So the larger context is obviously Messianic. So when you come to verses 9ff (Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”) this is clearly about Christ’s Incarnation. So when the language is repeated in Isaiah 52:7, it becomes clear that even in the OT, Israel’s plight (problems with Egypt, Assyria and Babylon) was seen as typical of spiritual truths about the deliverance of God’s covenant people from sin and God’s wrath against it. Hence one clear implication of Nahum’s message against Nineveh is: Judgment is all that the reprobate have to look forward to. In other words, God’s covenant people are the only ones who are safe from the prospect of Divine wrath.

Comparing Nahum 1:15 with Isaiah 52:7 we see something very interesting. Isaiah’s typical “good news” is the return of God’s people from their Babylonian exile. Nahum’s “good news” is the destruction of Nineveh, which relieved God’s people from the fear of Assyrian oppression. What is fascinating about these passages is the (1) Babylon rises to world prominence only after the “good news” Nahum predicts of Nineveh’s downfall. (2) Isaiah was written first. (3) Both are viewed by the New Testament as typical of God’s deliverance of His people from their sins by the Atonement. The Exodus of Israel from Egypt, the fall of Nineveh, the return of the exiles from Babylon are all literally true factual, historical events; yet they are not ends in themselves: they point to a deeper, yet equally true spiritual meaning about God’s salvation of His people. So what if God merely provides temporal, sociological salvation from political enemies? Eternal salvation from sin and the wrath of God is what we truly need. These ‘salvations,’ while completely factually real, are intended to point our attention and hope forward to the true deliverance God has worked for His people in Christ.

The context of Isaiah 52 is the return of the exiles out of Babylon, which must be taken as typical as well because that is how Paul cites it. The same Holy Spirit who breathed out Isaiah 40:9, 52:7 and Nahum 1:15 also breathed out Romans 10:15. Since the New Testament expounds the Old, we understand that the salvation of the Church is what is ultimately in view behind all these figures. On Isaiah 52:7 Matthew Henry writes, “The removal of the Jews from Babylon to their own land again is here spoken of both as a mercy and as a duty; and the application of verse 7 to the preaching of the gospel (by the apostle, Romans 10:15) plainly intimates that that deliverance was a type and figure of the redemption of mankind by Jesus Christ, to which what is here said of their redemption out of Babylon ought to be accommodated.

            For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:11-17 ESV)

The promise of salvation referenced in Romans 10 is the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham that Gentiles would be included in the Covenant. That is what is in view in verse 13 where it says that “whoever” calls on the name of the Lord…” Salvation as per the Covenant of Grace is to both Jew and Gentile Paul expects his readers to not be surprised by this since it was foretold by Joel (2:32). Paul illustrates how this should be fulfilled:

1. The Gospel needed to be preached to the Gentiles (vss 14, 15). This is what the Jews were so angry with Paul for. But Paul says that since they were included in the promise to Abraham, then they had to be informed by the preaching of the Gospel.

(1.) They cannot call on him in whom they have not believed. Except they believe that he is God, they will not call upon him by prayer; to what purpose should they? The grace of faith is absolutely necessary to the duty of prayer; we cannot pray aright, nor pray to acceptation, without it. He that comes to God by prayer must believe, Heb. 11:6. Till they believed the true God, they were calling upon idols, O Baal, hear us.

(2.) They cannot believe in him of whom they have not heard. some way or other the divine revelation must be made known to us, before we can receive it and assent to it; it is not born with us. In hearing is included reading, which is tantamount, and by which many are brought to believe (Jn. 20:31): These things are written that you may believe. But hearing only is mentioned, as the more ordinary and natural way of receiving information.

(3.) They cannot hear without a preacher; how should they? Somebody must tell them what they are to believe. Preachers and hearers are correlates; it is a blessed thing when they mutually rejoice in each other-the hearers in the skill and faithfulness of the preacher, and the preacher in the willingness and obedience of the hearers.

(4.) They cannot preach except they be sent, except they be both commissioned and in some measure qualified for their preaching work. How shall a man act as an ambassador, unless he have both his credentials and his instructions from the prince that sends him? This proves that to the regular ministry there must be a regular mission and ordination. It is God's prerogative to send ministers; he is the Lord of the harvest, and therefore to him we must pray that he would send forth laborers, Mt. 9:38. He only can qualify men for, and incline them to, the work of the ministry. But the competency of that qualification, and the sincerity of that inclination, must not be left to the judgment of every man for himself: the nature of the thing will by no means admit this; but, for the preservation of due order in the church, this must needs be referred and submitted to the judgment of a competent number of those who are themselves in that office and of approved wisdom and experience in it, who, as in all other callings, are presumed the most able judges, and who are empowered to set apart such as they find so qualified and inclined to this work of the ministry, that by this preservation of the succession the name of Christ may endure forever and his throne as the days of heaven. And those that are thus set apart, not only may, but must preach, as those that are sent.

2. The Gospel should be welcomed by those to whom it was preached, because it showed the way to salvation, v. 15. And this is where Paul quotes both Isaiah 52:7 and Nahum 1:15. The two passages point at the glad tidings of the deliverance of Israel out of Babylon in type, yet look further to the Gospel, the good news of our salvation by Jesus Christ. We see:
     (1.) What the gospel is: It is the gospel of peace; it is the word of reconciliation between God and man. On earth peace, Lu. 2:14. “Peace” is used as a general term for good; so it is explained here; it is glad tidings of good things. The things of the Gospel are good things indeed, the best things; tidings concerning them are the most joyful tidings, the best news that ever came from heaven to earth.
     (2.) What the work of ministers is: To preach this gospel, to bring these glad tidings; to evangelize peace (as the Greek words it), to evangelize good things. Every good preacher is in this sense an evangelist: he is not only a messenger to carry the news, but an ambassador.  
     (3.) How much faithful Gospel preachers should be appreciated for their work's sake: How beautiful are the feet, that is, how welcome are they! Mary Magdalene expressed her love to Christ by kissing his feet, and afterwards by holding him by the feet, Mt. 28:9. And, when Christ was sending forth His disciples, He washed their feet.

3. He answers an objection against all this, which might be made from the little success which the Gospel had in many places (v. 16): But they have not all obeyed the gospel. Paul lets us know that God’s sovereignty removes all our fears and worries about the success of the Gospel. The success and growth of God’s kingdom are safely in His hands, not ours. This little success of the word was foretold by Isaiah (Isa. 53:1): “Who hath believed our report?” Very few have, few to what one would think should have believed it, considering how faithful a report it is and how well worthy of acceptance -very few to the many that persist in unbelief. It is no strange thing, but it is a very sad and uncomfortable thing, for the ministers of Christ to bring the report of the Gospel, and not to be believed in it. We should always remember this and encourage ourselves with the knowledge of His control over His kingdom’s success.

“When bad news is abroad this is good news, and when good news is abroad this is the best news, that Zion's God reigns, that God is Zion's God, in covenant with her, and as such He reigns, Ps. 146:10; Zec. 9:9. The Lord has founded Zion, ch. 14:32. All events have their rise in the disposal of the kingdom of His providence and all tend to the advancement of the kingdom of His grace. This must be applied to the preaching of the Gospel, which is a proclamation of peace and salvation; it is gospel indeed, good news, glad tidings, tidings of victory over our spiritual enemies and liberty from our spiritual bondage. The good news is that the Lord Jesus reigns and all power is given to Him. Christ himself brought these tidings first (Lu. 4:18 – The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to preach good news…, Heb. 2:3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord), and of him the text speaks: How beautiful are His feet! His feet that were nailed to the cross, how beautiful upon Mount Calvary!” Matthew Henry

Philippians 2:12-13 tells us that we “work out,” i.e., live in accord with that which God has “worked in” us. Since He has worked such a great salvation for us, the proper response is grateful service. Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows.

Verse 15 of chapter 1 is actually verse 1 of chapter 2 in the Hebrew. And looking at the following verses it seems to fit there better than at the end of chapter 1. The “good news” is in essence the news of the destruction of the enemies of God and the enemies of his people, who are one and the same. Nineveh is a type of this. The Gospel is the good news that God has conquered sin, and it, as His peoples’ greatest enemy, is no longer the threat and power that it once was. The King of Nineveh is presented as “Belial” (in the Hebrew – a type of Satan. With God’s triumph in Christ over sin, the devil cannot assail God’s people. His dominion is cut off forever.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Nahum 1:9-13 (Part 3)

Another factor in this passage is the absolute sovereignty of God over all things. God is the primary cause of all things, yet all secondary agents are fully responsible their actions. God sovereignly controls even His enemies for His divinely-appointed purposes with regard to His people, yet these same enemies will pay the ultimate price – destruction – for their treatment of the Lord’s people. Isaiah 10 details this explicitly with regard to Nineveh. Thus we are made to see Nineveh’s full responsibility for her actions. Yet God unapologetically states in verse 12b that it is He who has afflicted His people. He was the primary agent in the affliction of His people, yet Nineveh, as the secondary agent was fully responsible for her actions. This concept, like the previously discussed one of covenant solidarity, runs rampant throughout the Scriptures. The Bible plainly teaches that God is the First Cause, the Primary Agent, of all things, and I do mean all things which occur. That is to say, no one single act, good or bad, done by anyone who has ever lived or will ever live, occurs outside the decree of God. Nevertheless, God has decreed all things so that they must necessarily occur as He has decreed them to occur, by the people whom He has decreed to do these acts, in such a way that their own personal responsibility for these actions is not nullified. I am not arguing for freedom; I am arguing accountability or, if you like, responsibility. To say that one is free implies that there are never any external or internal forces or factors that influence our actions. This is patently false. Being born as sinners, we already have an inborn proclivity to evil which cannot be overcome except by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit of God. This means that we are never free. The only Being of whom freedom can be predicated with any real meaning is God. The existence or nonexistence of freedom has absolutely no bearing on the question of responsibility. God created us and He created us as responsible beings before Him. When Scripture asserts that Original Sin has rendered man completely unable to do anything righteous or pleasing before God, absolutely and totally unable to do anything salvific, utterly unable and unwilling to have faith in God or submit to Him – meaning that no man in the unregenerate state is able to obey the law of God: when Scripture says this and we state this, it is commonly objected that this would make God unjust. It is argued that it would be unfair for God to require of man that which he knows we cannot do. But this is a red herring. It is ridiculous to assert that simply because man fell into sin by eating the forbidden fruit, God must therefore logically surrender His right to demand obedience. Stated this way I trust we can all see the nonsensical nature of such an assertion. Just because Adam destroyed himself and his posterity with his iniquity, it does not therefore follow that God must surrender, or that God has surrendered His right to perfect obedience.

Returning to our previous statement that God is the primary cause, that is to say, First Cause, of all things which happen, we also remember that we stated that this does not exonerate the secondary causes from their personal responsibility. In Genesis 50, Joseph explicitly declares his brothers’ culpability and personal guilt when they sold him into slavery. Without denying this, Joseph also affirms that it was not they, but God who had sent him to Egypt. Joseph tells them that they meant their act for evil (Hebrew: ‏רַע‎). Joseph replies that this very act of ra, God meant for good. In verse 20, he says, God meant it for good.” The antecedent to the pronoun, it, is the word evil. They agree in person, number, and gender. There is no other word in the sentence to which the pronoun, it, can grammatically apply. So as I have been saying, we see that divine Providence, that is God’s direct government and control over all things, does not negate the personal responsibility of secondary causes.

So, looking back at our text, particularly 1:2-10, which comprise a hymn or poem celebrating God’s greatness, His special love for His people, His control over nature and His sovereign use of his enemies, we find two things asserted: God had afflicted His people and Nineveh had afflicted His people. Scripture places these two things side-by-side asserting that they are one and the same. This clearly shows what we have been saying. God is the First Cause or Primary Agent of all events that take place in history because He has decreed all things. But He has decreed that all things take place through the agency of secondary agents and His decree does not mitigate the guilt of the secondary agent nor does it nullify their culpability.

This theme is seen all over Scripture. In Exodus, when God sends Moses to Pharaoh he tells Moses that Pharaoh will not listen to him because God will harden Pharaoh’s heart. The succeeding narrative alternates in the reasons that it gives for why Pharaoh refused to obey Moses: in some instances we are told that Pharaoh hardened his heart. In other instances we are told that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. In Joshua 7, when Israel is defeated in battle by the one horse town Ai, Joshua laments that God has given Israel into the hands of the Amorites. In 1 Samuel 2, when Eli’s sons refused to listen to him, we are told that this was of God for he planned to put them to death. In 1 Samuel 4, when the Philistines defeat Israel in battle, the elders of Israel cry out, “Why has the Lord defeated us in battle?” 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 recount the same event, namely David’s taking a census of Israel. In 2 Samuel 24 the impetus for this act is said to be God. In 1 Chronicles 21, the event or the inciting to the event is said to be of Satan. The Devil, no doubt, fancies himself a great rebel against God, yet in the final analysis, he's as big a company man as there ever was. Not even he moves without God overruling his every move.
This shows us that not only are human enemies of God’s people at God’s disposal, but even the spiritual enemy of God’s people is at His disposal. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul mourns his “thorn in the flesh.” And yet he acknowledges that this weakness he laments is actually of God so that the power of Christ may rest upon him. This “thorn in the flesh,” Paul actually calls a messenger of Satan while saying that God sent it. Clearly then we can see that God’s sovereignty over the sinful acts of men never exonerates sinners, neither does it negate their personal responsibility for their own actions. It ultimately serves to comfort God’s people, knowing that all things which befall them in this life come from their Father’s hand. Heidelberg Catechism, Question 26: What do you believe when you say, "I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth"?

Answer: That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them; who likewise upholds and governs the same by his eternal counsel and providence) is for the sake of Christ his Son, my God and my Father; on whom I rely so entirely, that I have no doubt, but he will provide me with all things necessary for soul and body and further, that he will make whatever evils he sends upon me, in this valley of tears turn out to my advantage; for he is able to do it, being Almighty God, and willing, being a faithful Father.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nahum 1:9-13 (Part 2)

This idea that God takes an attack on His people as a personal attack upon Himself ties in with the earlier idea in verse 2 of Divine jealousy. Nahum’s employment of the idea of jealousy, then, is in harmony with the familiar scriptural motif of ‘husband and wife.’ This motif is often applied to God’s relation to His people. Israel had been the object of God’s eternal love. They had been brought into the family of God in the Exodus from Egypt. He had cared for them and nourished them in the testings of the wilderness and had brought them safely into the land of inheritance. God recalled their total devotion and the loving warmth and pristine purity of those early wedding days. Living in the land of promise, a thoughtful and happy wife ought to have been what God had intended her to be: holy to the Lord (Jer. 2:2-3). But such scarcely had been the case. Jeremiah 2:4-3:5 recounts the sorry tale of the bride who had become God’s wayward wife.

Jeremiah’s portrayal of the spiritual odyssey of Israel/Judah is in harmony with the same theme sung by other prophets. Hosea’s marriage was to picture God’s relation to Israel. It emphasized that Israel’s wanton apostasy would gain her only the loss of her freedom, until God would pay the price for her sin and bring her back to Himself in the latter days (Hos. 1-3).

Isaiah (Isa. 54:4-17) relates that Israel had been forsaken by God because of her wickedness. Nevertheless she was yet God’s wife and, as a repentant nation, would yet be forgiven and re-gathered in righteousness and so enjoy the everlasting acceptance and protection of her divine husband.

Ezekiel 16 is devoted to the same theme. Jerusalem is likened to a bride (v. 8) who had become a brazen harlot (vv. 15, 43), even outdoing Sodom in her iniquity (vv. 44-52). Because she had broken her marriage oath, she incurred God’s chastisement (vv. 53-59). But God, a forgiving and loyal husband, would yet receive her back and remove her humiliation forever (vv. 60-63).

It is no surprise, then, that the theme of the bride is taken up again by Christ and the apostles, whose Bible was largely still the Old Testament. The relationship now, however, is between Christ and the church (cf. Mark 2:19) and, as such, complements the relationship of God the Father with Israel.

Paul reminds the Ephesians that Christ loved the church as a husband loves his bride. Accordingly He sacrificed Himself for her so that she might be pure and holy and seen in all her God-given beauty (Eph. 5:25-27). Paul rehearses to the Corinthian believers how he (the friend of the bridegroom) had introduced them (the bride) to Christ (the groom). Although she had been a pure virgin, Paul found that the Corinthian church had been susceptible (like Eve) to the serpent’s bite of false gospels. Thus the Corinthians stood in particular need of his ministry to them lest they stray further (2 Cor. 11:1-4).

The Revelation given through John pictures the joy of heaven at the proclamation of that great wedding supper of the Lamb for His waiting bride: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give honor to him; for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his wife has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7). Certainly it is true that, although she has been wedded to Christ, the church His bride awaits His coming to take her to His home and to the full joy of that festive occasion. Of that coming of the bridegroom, Christ Himself warns a waiting generation to be ready and watching, longing for His coming (Matt. 25:1-13).

Paul reminds his readers, who make up the waiting bride of Christ, that the church is to have a faithful and productive marriage. For that reason she has been married to her saving husband and has become one spirit with Him, her body having become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:15-19). As His bride, who both expects His imminent return and is mindful of her union with Christ, the church is to keep herself pure (1 John 3:1-3), remembering the wedding price that Christ Himself has paid (1 Cor. 6:20).

Monday, March 11, 2013

Nahum 1:9-13 (Part 1)

What do you plot against the LORD? He will make a complete end; trouble will not rise up a second time. For they are like entangled thorns, like drunkards as they drink; they are consumed like stubble fully dried. From you came one who plotted evil against the LORD, a worthless counselor.

Thus says the LORD, “Though they are at full strength and many, they will be cut down and pass away. Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no more. And now I will break his yoke from off you and will burst your bonds apart.” (Nahum 1:9-13 ESV)

1:9-11 In the primary meaning of this passage (in its application to Nineveh), via Judah, God is proclaiming the destruction of the great city. Nothing they do will prevail against God. They have this one consolation though, if it can be called that, they won’t experience this twice. This is because God will so fully destroy them that they will not be able to muster another rising. All that they do will be confusion – like tangled thorns or the steps of a drunk.

Verse 11 speaks of a “wicked counselor.” It is most likely that this person is the current King of the Assyrian Empire. Since there is about a 50 year range within which this prophecy could have been given, we cannot say with 100% accuracy which one of the kings this would have been. However, what we know from ancient history is that any one of the Assyrian Kings could easily have fit this bill.

Here again we see the biblical principle of covenant solidarity. Think back to Israel’s Exodus from Egypt (which we are intended to do since this passage has so many ‘exodus’ motifs). All 10 of the plagues, including the last one which killed every firstborn male child in all of Egypt, were poured out upon the entire country, man and beast, because of their covenant solidarity with their Pharaoh. Think back even farther to the fall. All of mankind was involved in Adam’s violation of the covenant of works. The transgression of Adam cast all his posterity into the state of sin and misery known as Original Sin. God created Adam as the federal head, that is, the representative of all of mankind. When he acted in his probationary period in the Garden of Eden, he was acting as a covenant representative of all of his future offspring. In similar fashion, all those whom God has appointed to eternal life, those whom he chose in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, they are counted in Christ. Just as Adam’s sin was imputed to all his posterity, the perfect righteousness of Jesus is imputed to all those who are in Him. This concept of covenant solidarity runs through the Scriptures, in both the Old and New Testaments. This is an unusual concept for us since our society and general philosophy places so much emphasis on the individual and the individual’s responsibility before God. It seems very counterintuitive to us that the actions of one individual should reflect guilt or innocence upon anyone else. But both facts are true: God does judge the individual; but God also judges on a corporate level as well. So in this passage, we have the wicked counselor, no doubt the King, being personally responsible for his individual sin. But because he is the corporate head, representative head, of his nation they are punished along with him.

Not to harp on this point too much, but throughout Scripture we see God’s people displaying both a clear understanding of this principle, and a submissive acceptance of it. One thinks of Daniel. The very fact that Daniel and countless other Jews ended up in Babylon was due to this fact of covenant solidarity. The Babylonian Exile was God’s chastisement of His people for their covenant-breaking. Daniel, like many other righteous Jews, had been faithful to God’s covenant and was not personally guilty of the sins which brought this discipline upon their nation. When Daniel read the prophecy of Jeremiah and saw that the foretold 70 years was nearly up, he began to pray earnestly for the fulfillment of God’s promise. Just as an aside, this reminds me of our children’s catechism where the question is asked: What is prayer? The answer to which is: Prayer is asking God for things He has promised to give. Now, as Daniel prays, he prays in the person of the entire guilty nation of Israel. He repents for their corporate sins and he acts as if he is personally guilty of the sins the rest of the country has committed. There is no listing of any exculpatory facts which would exonerate Daniel from personal guilt in the sin of his nation. He understands very well that God deals with His people by covenant, so that if the larger majority of the covenant people are guilty of covenant breaking, the innocent, righteous and faithful saints may very well have to suffer through the corporate fate of the entire nation. (Daniel 9)

We can also cite examples from more recent history. I’m sure we’re all aware that many faithful Christians have suffered along with their compatriots during times of war, drought, famine or economic distress. If God continues to punish our country by casting us into a huge economic tailspin causing widespread unemployment and poverty, it would be very unwise for us to assume that because we are Christians we would somehow be immune to the effects of such conditions.

1:12-13 here God consoles his people who have been abused by Nineveh. Now we learn an important lesson here: God identifies very personally with His covenant people. In verse 11 the wicked counselor is said to plot evil against Lord. And here God is assuring His people of their deliverance. Part of Nineveh’s plotting against the Lord was its plotting against His people. There is a sense in which Israel, in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament should seem insignificant in the world. Yet God’s people have always been at the center of controversy or turmoil. The heathen resent the idea of a people chosen by God.

 It is very likely that the King of Nineveh was completely oblivious to the existence of the one true God. Likewise, many of those who are so vociferous in their attacks against Christianity, while aware of our belief in God, claim to not believe in His existence personally. This makes no difference. God does not believe in atheists. You’ll remember when Paul was on the road to Damascus that Jesus appeared to him and reprimanded Paul for persecuting Him. We know however that Paul was actually persecuting Christians. Christ takes an assault on His people as an assault on His person. If someone were to personally attack, or attempt to attack, the first lady or her children, this would be seen by all as an attack on the president. We all understand this. This is the way God views His people, only magnified to an infinitely higher degree.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Nahum 1:6-8

Nahum 1:6-8 Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him. The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.
1:6-8 Many people struggle with the concept of the coexistence in God of love and wrath. But it seems rather simple to me. They are, in a sense, two sides of the same coin. His love for His people demonstrates the misery of the wicked and His wrath on the wicked demonstrates the blessedness of his people. In fact, one could say that the very act of wrath on the wicked is in itself a demonstration of His love for the righteous. When God killed Noah’s generation, He made the world a much safer place for Noah and his family. When God destroyed the cities of the plains he made a friendlier, more congenial environment for “righteous Lot” who was vexed by the rampant evil of his neighbors. When God poured out the ultimate wrath for sin on his own dear Son, He gave the most powerful demonstration possible of His love for the elect. He also gave the most powerful demonstration possible of His hatred for the reprobate by withholding from them His grace and the atoning efficacy of Christ’s death.
The wrath specifically referred to in this passage is the destruction of Nineveh. And this is portrayed as a boon for God’s people. Scripture says, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:31). And our life-breath is in his hands (Daniel 5:23). As a preacher friend of mine used to say, “All God has to do is tighten his grip – – – and you’ll have trouble breathing.” Actually one of the biggest hindrances that people have in accepting the doctrine of the wrath of God is that quite unscriptural saying: God hates the sin but loves the sinner. This is not from Scripture. Its roots lie in the Liberal Theology of the late 19th century, whose motto was “the universal brotherhood of man and the universal fatherhood of God.” Scripture on the other hand clearly teaches that God is not the father of any sinner; the devil is (John 8:44). Scripture is clear that God hates both the sinner and his sin. It is a perfect hatred that is interested in nothing but the glory of God. When God pours out his wrath, the righteous can run to him as a stronghold, a refuge from the day of trouble. Scripture speaks of God “knowing” those that are His. This knowing is causative. He does not know them because they are his; they are His because He knows them. When Scripture speaks of God knowing someone, it always implies favor (Matthew 7:23). As the first epistle of John says we love God because He first loved us. That is, our love for Him is not a reciprocation, per se, but is actually caused by His love for us. Those who take refuge in God in the day of trouble, do so precisely because He knows them. His knowledge of them is causative: it is the cause of their taking refuge in him. This is quite plain from the fact that the text does not say, “Those who know him take refuge…” But it says, “those He knows take refuge…” There is a world of difference between those two statements. The former is Pelagian, the latter is biblical. Now it is true that those who take refuge in God know Him, but this must be qualified by adding that they know Him precisely because He knows them first. Neglecting this distinction leads to a Pelagian idea of salvation. Pelagianism is Deism with regard to the doctrine of salvation. It works on the assumption that man needs no intervention from God, because God has made us with all the necessary abilities to understand our plight and respond savingly. It discounts the need for Sovereign, Divine regenerating power to raise us out of the death of sin.
As with the declaration of the impending destruction of Nineveh, it will come to a “complete end.” Darkness is a scriptural metaphor for separation from God’s presence. God’s enemies will never know the peace of dwelling in his presence. There is also a good case for “Double Predestination.” Not only will God’s enemies not dwell in the light of his presence, he will actually chase them out of it into the darkness. Many advocates of predestination affirm that the predestination of the wicked is permissive rather than active/causative. I once held to this myself. But it seems to me to be a bit of an Arminian fear of nullifying man’s free will. This verse is pretty cut and dry.
This truth, that God determines sovereignly who shall be saved, and who shall not be saved, the doctrine that God is GOD, that He is the sovereign Lord, even in the matter of the salvation and damnation of man, is not according to the flesh, and does not meet with general approval. How could it find grace in the eyes of sinful men? It humbles all the pride of man. It casts him prostrate in the dust. In relation to God it makes him a mere nothing. It presents him as he truly is, as less than a drop of the bucket and the dust of the balance. It leaves him no power, no wisdom, no goodness, no glory whatever. And it exalts God as the only sovereign Lord, Who is in the heavens, and Who doeth whatsoever He pleaseth, Who forms the light, and creates darkness, Who makes peace, and creates evil, Isaiah 45:7; Who is the Potter, while we are the clay, and Who forms, according to His good pleasure, vessels unto honor, and vessels unto dishonor. Rom. 9:21; and Who declares unto pharaoh: "Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth," Rom 9:17. How could it even be expected that this doctrine that exalts God and lays low all the pride of man, could find favor with sinful men that always exalt themselves against the living God?
Many objections are, and always have been raised against this truth, and we shall not discuss them all. There is, however, one objection that is as old as the truth itself, one that is supposed to expose the doctrine that salvation is of the Lord as both horrible and absurd, and which we may well examine for a moment. It is the well-known argument that the doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty in the matter of salvation implies a denial of man's responsibility. If salvation is so absolutely the work of God that He alone determines it, and that man of himself can do nothing towards his own redemption and deliverance from sin, then, thus runs the objection, the sinner is no longer a moral agent, and God cannot justly hold him responsible in the day of judgment.
First of all, let’s point out that this is an old objection - very old. It has always been raised against the truth of God's sovereign dealings with men in the matter of salvation. Study the history of the Church and her doctrine, and you will discover that the primary objection of the opponents to the doctrine of absolutely sovereign grace was always the same. Always they accused those, who proclaimed this, that they made God the author of sin, and that they denied the responsibility of man. We can be comforted in this fact. When this indictment is brought against us, we can be assured that we are preaching the truth. This is especially of force, in view of the fact that the same accusations were lodged against Paul, which means that the objection is raised directly against the Scriptures. For in Romans 9 Paul is setting forth this same truth of God's sovereignty in the matter of salvation and damnation of the sinner. And there he meets two objections, which he knows will be and are being raised against this doctrine. The first is expressed in the question: "Is there unrighteousness with God?" And the second, denying the responsibility of man, is raised in the words: "Why does he still find fault, for who has resisted His will?"
Secondly, Notice that the apostle Paul in the face of these objections does not apologize or withdraw anything he had said about God's sovereignty in the matter of salvation. He does not answer that he had been misunderstood or misconstrued. It’s pretty clear that the objector understood the apostle as having taught God's unconditional predestination. This is the only supposition on which the objections make any sense at all. An Arminian preacher who presents salvation as depending on the sinner's free will does not meet with these objections. Paul had been teaching that salvation is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy; and that, according to His sovereign good pleasure, God is merciful to whom He will be merciful, and whom He will He hardens. It is to this doctrine that the twofold objection is raised: then there is unrighteousness with God; and then man is not responsible, no one can resist his will. And if the objection had been due to a misunderstanding, the apostle could easily have removed the difficulty. In that case he would have modified his statements, and we would have found in Romans 9 an apology or explanation that Paul had been misunderstood or that his words had been misconstrued. Since Paul does nothing of the kind, it is clear that he concedes that his opponent had understood him correctly. Salvation is absolutely of the Lord.
Thirdly, I would like to point out that the apostle does not for one moment modify his teaching, by appealing to "another side" of this doctrine. He does not shift to "another track." This is often done by those who claim to believe in God's absolutely sovereign grace, and that exactly to meet the objections raised in Romans 9. They try to maintain a double faced theology. They profess to believe in the truth of absolute predestination and of God's sovereignty in the matter of salvation. But if the objection is raised that by this doctrine they violate the freedom of man and destroy his responsibility, they shift to another track and answer that this is a deep mystery, and that one must not curiously inquire any further into this profound truth.
Christians aren’t afraid of accepting mysteries. God is great, and we will never be able comprehend Him, though by His own revelation in Scripture we may know Him. He is the eternal, and we are children of time. He is the infinite, and we are finite. He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and we are mere creatures. The more we meditate on His majesty and greatness, the deeper the mysteries become. To deny this would be to deny God Himself!
We don’t claim the ability to solve all theological questions regarding God and His relation to His creatures. However, while not denying mystery, we, with equal emphasis deny that mystery and contradiction are synonymous. If an appeal to mystery so-called were the proper answer to the opponents of God's sovereignty in the matter of salvation, shouldn’t we expect to find it in Romans 9? Because this is where, in the strongest terms possible Paul absolute predestination and God's sovereignty to save whom He will. And it was against this doctrine that the objection was raised, that this make God guilty of unrighteousness, and that man is without responsibility. Yet, the apostle does not point to another side of this truth. He does not apologize. He does not appeal to mystery. He leaves the truth to stand in all its implications.
Finally, let’s just cut to the chase and assert plainly that the objection that the doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty destroys man's responsibility does not hold. The two do not contradict each other. The objection isn’t rooted in a logical difficulty. It comes from a sinful, radically rebellious attitude against God. The objector does not know his place. He is motivated by the desire to dethrone God. We can assert this because of what Scripture’s response to the objector is: "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" When the Scriptures say that God is sovereign even in the matter of man's eternal destiny, that He is merciful to whom He will be merciful, it is God that speaks. When anyone objects to this that then He cannot find fault, that He cannot judge and that we are not responsible to Him, that is talking back to God. A man who talks back to God is a rebel and must be put back in his place. He is mere creature, and God is GOD! Man's responsibility in relation to God's absolutely sovereign dealings is a mystery, to be sure. I cannot fathom it. It is too deep for me. But it is no contradiction. The objection is foolish.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Nahum 1:3-5

Nahum 1:3-5 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and makes it dry; he dries up all the rivers; Bashan and Carmel wither; the bloom of Lebanon withers. The mountains quake before him; the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who dwell in it.

1:3-5 these declarations exhibit several things. Firstly, God is in complete control of Nature. Though he has set things in motion with regularity and, the so-called Laws of Nature, he is not the Deist’s god who wound up the clock and let it run without any further input. Hebrews 1:3 says that he upholds all things by the word of his power. I’ve always been fascinated by that expression. It is not “power of his word” but “word of his power.” That is to say spoken power – power articulated. Jonathan Edwards wrote of this sustaining power of God as being the force that holds all things together, the force which keeps the atoms splitting apart. Secondly, we see how intimately related God is to his creation – the seas, the plant, the mountains, etc. Thirdly, we are shown that natural disasters are truly “acts of God.” He frequently uses the weather and the forces of nature to punish. Floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, etc. are frequently mentioned in Scripture as God’s punishment upon sinful people. This verse specifically states that whirlwinds (i.e. tornadoes) are his “ways.” Ways of what? Why, ways of punishment, of course. Verse 3a says, “He will not leave the guilty unpunished.” Then it says that natural disasters are his “way.”

I wonder if it isn’t a tad Marcionic that we, as believers, no longer like to think of God’s sovereignty over the nations being evidenced in His control over the weather. We have sold our souls to the meteorologists and thus can no longer picture God using famine, drought, wildfires, floods, tornados, hurricanes and earthquakes as His tools of judgment. I can find no clue in Scripture that NT teaching implies that God’s control of the forces of nature diminished after the coming of Christ or that He simply wound up the clock of nature and let it go. Had our forefathers experienced Katrina, Andrew, the Bay Area earthquake or the attacks of 9/11, there is no doubt, nor should there be, that they would have seen them as a clear sign of Divine displeasure.

Another thing that comes to mind as I read this passage is how far this description is from what we hear proclaimed of God in Christian pulpits week after week. Serious consideration of this and similar passages would go a long way toward sobering us up and removing the levity from our midst. Tolkien complained that many people talked of God as if he were the “Lord Mayor.” A clear intellectual grasp of his power would instill in us that “fear of the Lord” of which the Scriptures so often speak. I wonder how many of us are prepared to affirm that drought, wildfires, flashfloods, hurricanes, tornadoes and blizzards, as well as terrorist attacks, fires and other assorted disasters, truly come from the hand of God as punishment? Might we not be guilty of a Marcionic view of God if we can say, “Yes, in the Old Testament, but not anymore?”

Speaking of Deism, it might be pertinent to note there is also a type of Deism when it comes to the doctrine of salvation. BB Warfield wrote, “Genetically speaking, Pelagianism was the daughter of legalism; but when it itself conceived, it brought forth an essential deism. It is not without significance that its originators were, ‘a certain sort of monks,” that is, laymen of ascetic life. From that point of view the Divine law appears as a collection of separate commandments, moral perfection as a mere complex of separate virtues, and a distinct value as a meritorious demand on Divine approval is ascribed to each good work or attainment in the exercises of piety. It was because this was essentially his point of view that Pelagius could regard man’s powers as sufficient to the attainment of sanctity, and could even assert it to be possible for man to do more than is required of him. But, this is an essentially deistic conception of man’s relations to his Maker. God has endowed His creature with a capacity or ability for action; and it is for him to use it. Man is thus a machine, which, just because it is made well, needs no Divine interference for its right working; and the Creator, having once framed him and endowed him with the ability, henceforth leaves the willing and the being to him.”

Why do I think this is such a powerful blast at Pelagianism? Think about what deism presupposes. It postulates a god who has created everything with built-in abilities and therefore it is inconsistent with his nature to intervene. For the god of deism to intervene, miraculously or any other way, is to admit a flaw in his creation that needs his attention. Miracle in Deism is always remedial. Miracle in Scripture is revelatory.

What does that have to do with the doctrine of salvation? At this point Pelagianism, and all its daughter systems, applies the same logic as deism. They assert that man has the innate ability to use his will to “decide” or “accept” Christ savingly. Indeed they see no value in a salvation in which the recipient does not actively participate. What else is this but the deistic assumption that God does not need to intervene in His creation because He created it with innate capacities and abilities? Here’s the rub: No Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian would ever profess to hold to the deistic conception of God. Indeed, modern Semi-Pelagians specialize in teaching God’s active participation and work in the world’s affairs (though certainly not to the same extent as the Reformation doctrine of the Sovereignty of God), nevertheless, they unconsciously operate on deistic principles when dealing with the doctrine of salvation.

God’s sovereign disposal of all events for His ultimate purposes is called “Providence.” The notion of Providence is actually a lot bigger in scope than most of us realize. The Heidelberg Catechism (which just celebrated it 450th birthday Jan. 19, 1563) defines it this way: “The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.” For most of us Providence would look something like this: I was headed to the airport and something unexplainable happened to my car. I ended up missing my plane, which as it turns out, crashed. Or: I was walking past a construction site in a brick fell from 10 stories up, missed my head by inches and dropped on the ground. But we do not consider that had we made that flight and died in the crash, or had the brick bashed our skulk in, this too would have been Providence. Providence and sovereignty are so intimately related that they have to be thought of together. God is sovereign over all his creation and therefore in Providence rules over it and governs it exactly as he has willed to do. God’s Providence is his ruling and governing of his creation; God’s sovereignty is his right to do so.

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