Genesis was written by Moses to the Israelites who had just come out of Egypt and were wondering if they should have left after all.
Original Message: God’s power to create order and light out of disorder and darkness in the universe and in individual lives should encourage Israel to leave the disorder and darkness of Egypt behind them, and confidently move towards the order and light of Canaan.
Present Message: God’s power to create order and light out of disorder and darkness should encourage the new Israel (the Church) to leave the “old world of Egypt” (this present evil world) behind and move toward the “new world of Canaan” (new heavens and earth).
Exodus was written a bit later than Genesis when Moses’ leadership was being continually questioned by the Israelites following him in the wilderness.
Original Message: Israel should continue to follow Moses because God clearly authorized him to be Israel’s deliverer, law-giver, and worship-leader
Present Message: The Church should continue to follow Christ’s fulfillment and application of Moses’ teaching because God clearly authorized him to be the Church’s deliverer, law-giver and worship leader.
Deuteronomy was written to the Israelites on the border of the Promised Land and reviews Israel’s history to encourage them to go and take the land God had given them.
Original Message: Israel should renew their commitment to the God’s covenant under a new leader (Joshua) facing new challenges.
Present Message: The church should renew its commitment to the God’s covenant under a new leader (Christ) facing new challenges.
Judges was written to show what happened in Israel when there was no king in Israel but every man did what was right in his own eyes.
Original message: Israel should commit itself to the godly King of Judah for spiritual and social blessings on a personal and national level.
Present message: The Church should commit itself to the godly Judahite King (Christ) for spiritual and social blessings on a personal and national level.
The two books of Kings were written to Israel in Babylonian exile asking, “Why has God broken His covenant promise to us?” Kings demonstrates that far from breaking His covenant promise, God has kept it by punishing Israel with exile for her sins, and calls her to repentance.
Original Message: The nation deserved the exile, but restoration was possible through full repentance
Present Message: The Church deserves chastisement, but restoration is possible through full repentance
The two books of Chronicles cover the same period and stories as the two books of Kings, but they were written at the end of the Babylonian exile not the beginning. So, although they tell the same stories, Chronicles tells them in a much more optimistic, upbeat way. The emphasis is not on past sins, but past examples of faithfulness. The difference is due to different people, different times, and different purposes. Chronicles was written at the end of the exile when God was trying to encourage the Israelites to return to their land and to His blessing with these inspiring stories from their national past.
Original Message: Work for the restoration of Israel’s throne and temple to enjoy God’s blessing.
Present Message: Work for the restoration and rebuilding of the throne and church of God to enjoy God’s blessing.
Song of Solomon
The Song of Solomon was written to a people in covenant with God, whose spiritual relationship with God was often portrayed by Moses, the Psalmist, and the Prophets as a marriage.
Original Message: Enjoy God’s gift of love in every relationship, but especially in relation to Him
Present Message: Enjoy God’s gift of love in every relationship, but especially in relation to Christ.
I hope this sample encourages you to take this approach with other books, and parts of books. Some of these are adapted from Richard Pratt’s He Gave Us Stories, which is the go-to book for learning more about the original message of the Old Testament books.
How would you like it if a Russian, or an Arab, or even a Scot walked into your house, picked up your diary and photo album and said, “Oh, this is all about me! Look at me in that picture. And this diary entry was such a big lesson for me.”
You’d probably grab your diary and photos back, kick him out of the door, and rebuke him for his cheeky self-centeredness. “How dare he think these things are all about him!”
So why do we do that with the Bible, especially with the Old Testament. We pick up this old collection of “pictures” and stories and the first question we ask is, “What’s in this for me?” or “What does this say to me?” How dare we!
This cheeky self-centeredness is not quite so common when we deal with the New Testament as more people recognize that the letter to the Corinthians was written to a specific people at a specific place at a specific time for a specific purpose. Same with Paul’s letters to the Romans, to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, etc. Teachers and preachers will often explain New Testament verses in their original context before drawing application to today’s readers and listeners.
But when we come to the Old Testament, people read Genesis or Ruth or Isaiah as if it was written directly to the 21st century western Christian, with hardly a thought about the original writer, the original audience, or the original reason for writing. I must confess, that’s how I used to read the Old Testament, and even preach it.
However, my approach to the Old Testament was revolutionized by Dr. Richard Pratt’s Old Testament Introduction lectures and his book, He Gave Us Stories. Pratt insisted that we must research when an Old Testament book was written, who wrote it, and why. That will give us the original message to the original audience, enabling us to make more accurate application to similar audiences meeting similar challenges today.
Tomorrow, we’ll survey the original message of a number of Old Testament books and how that guides us to understand their message to us.
When Old Testament believers read their Bibles, they were asking the same two questions that we ask when we read the Old Testament:
1. What does the passage reveal about God?
2. What does this passage reveal about the coming Savior?
They knew they were not just reading a national history about themselves and their ancient ancestors. They knew they were reading about God and their promised Messiah.
Let’s take these two questions to the Old Testament passages that describe the cities of refuge (Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 19, Joshua 20). These were six cities in Israel that God designated as places where anyone who accidentally killed someone could run for safety from the family members who wanted to exact vengeance upon them.
What would the Israelites learn about God and the coming Savior from reading about these cities?
1. God is just: Blood-shedding was to be punished: by death if deliberate, by exile in the refuge cities if accidental.
2. God is merciful: God’s provision of these safe places reveals him as far more merciful to the killer than the dead man’s relatives who chased him there and who often lingered at the city gates for the least chance to kill him.
3. God is sovereign: God decides the way of deliverance. He chose which six cities would be safe places. No other city would do.
4. God desires to save: God chose the locations so that each city would be within a day’s journey of most Israelites. He also ordered that the highways be kept clear, open, and well signposted.
5. God is available: The city gates were never to be closed but to be open all hours and to all-comers, to Gentiles as well as to Israelites.
6. God guarantees salvation: As long as the killer stayed within the city gates, he was guaranteed safety. It wasn’t enough to know this, the offender had to get to and stay in the city.
7. God frees through the death of the mediator: The only way for the killer to eventually be freed from exile was when the high priest died. What a moment for all these killers in all these cities when news came that the high priest had died and so freed them to return home to their families in safety.
When I preach from Old Testament passages like this, I often find it helpful not only to explain the passage, but to describe the experience of someone in that situation.
Surely we can use a bit of sanctified imagination to picture and portray someone who accidentally kills, remembers this passage, starts running without a thought of home, doesn’t stop until he gets within the city gates, enjoys the increasing sense of thankful wonder as he experiences the safety God has provided, talks to other refugees about their experience and what they learned about God and the Savior, prayerfully studies the passages as never before, longs for the liberating death of the mediator, etc.
These are rich, graphic, vivid, and memorable displays of the God of Israel, and ultimately of the coming Savior who far exceeds and excels these cities as a place of refuge for all kinds of condemned sinners.
These were Job’s perplexing questions (Job 23:1-9).
Sometimes they are also our questions.
Where’s God? And what’s He doing?
And sometimes our answers are, “I do not know. And. I do not know.”
But Job provides us with better answers.
God knows where I am.
“He knows the way that I take” (23:10a).
Although I don’t know where God is and I may not even know where I am, God knows my exact location, direction, and destination. As a child on a long car journey, I don’t need to know; as long as Dad knows.
God knows what He’s doing.
“When he has tested me, I shall come out like gold” (23:10b).
He is proving me: He tests me as a skilled carpenter tests his work to its limits – to demonstrate his confidence in his work.
He is improving me: With His eye on the timer and His hand on the thermostat, He knows exactly how hot and how long to leave me in the furnace in order to make my gold purer and brighter.
God knows where I am and He knows what He’s doing!
…the Old Testament. As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, let me give a few examples of how the Old Testament acts as a dictionary for the New Testament.
Prophet Say “prophet” to most people today and they will think of a fortune teller, someone who predicts the future. However if we turn to the Old Testament we find that while a prophet sometimes told the future, his main task to explain and apply God’s Word to people (Deut. 18:15-22). As it is often put, he was to be a forth-teller more than a fore-teller.
Thus, when Christ is presented in the New Testament as THE prophet (John 6:16; Acts 7:37), we should not be looking for new revelations and predictions of the future (although there are some of these), but explanations and applications of God’s existing Word.
“Priest” makes most people think of Roman Catholic priests. In the past, with less media scrutiny, they were thought of as some kind of detached, perfectly holy, super-spiritual order of beings. Today, with the never-ending media revelations, many people hear the word “priest” and think “hypocrite” or “abuser.”
However, Old Testament priests were to be ordinary men who could sympathize and identify with sinners. They were not dressed in pompous royal clothing, but rather in white linen, often spattered with the blood of sacrifices. They were to be filled with love for needy souls (Heb. 5:1-2).
If we want to present Christ as a sympathetic and trustworthy high priest (Heb. 4:14-16), then we need to turn people away from their ideas of modern priesthood and toward the Old Testament description and portrayal of priesthood.
King For most people a “King” is someone who is above the law. They can do what they like without consequence. They live lives of unbridled luxury. They often oppress the innocent and befriend the evil.
The Old Testament, though, presents the king as someone under God’s authority, someone who was answerable to God, someone who was accountable for the way they related to God and the people, and someone who was to represent God to the people (Deut. 17:14-20; 2 Sam. 23:1-5). That view of kingship will transform our view of Christ’s kingship (Phil. 2:9-11).
A couple of years ago, a student and I filmed some “man-on-the-street” interviews on the streets of Grand Rapids. We asked passers-by: “What is a covenant?” You would have thought in such a Dutch Reformed city that at least some people would have some idea of what a covenant was. However, what we found was large-scale ignorance. The closest most people came was the idea of a contract or a deal. “If you do this, then I’ll do that.” That’s what most people think of – some kind of commercial bargain or contract.
However if we go to the Old Testament we find that a covenant is a relationship, initiated and imposed by a superior, with life or death consequences.
Biblical Covenants are always initiated by God, and bestow benefits upon needy and undeserving sinners, who can never repay, but who are encouraged to respond with thankful obedience. That gives a whole new understanding to Christ’s word, “This is the new covenant in my blood.”
Since coming to North America, I’ve realized more and more that the USA and the UK are, as George Bernard Shaw allegedly said, “Two nations divided by a common language.”
But sometimes it feels like I’m learning a foreign language. More than once I’ve been asked, “So, what language do they speak in England?” or “What is your first language?” Sometimes it’s just spelling: not colour, but color. Sometimes it’s a matter of emphasis: not gar-age, but gar-age. Sometimes it’s pronunciation: not tom-ah-to, but tom-ay-to. But sometimes it’s a completely new word I’ve had to learn for the same thing: not trousers, but pants; not biscuits, but cookies; not pavement, but sidewalk, etc.
I could persist in using my old vocabulary, but it doesn’t get me very far, and can result in some confusing conversations. So, I must learn this nation’s vocabulary to improve both my understanding and my ability to communicate (without losing my valuable accent, hopefully!).
This is also true for all of us when we try to understand and communicate the Gospel. How do we understand the theological words, phrases and concepts of the New Testament? Do we consult dictionary.com, Merriam Webster’s, OED, etc? If so, we will import 21st century Western meaning into ancient Eastern words, confusing ourselves and others.
So, how do we understand the theological words, phrases and concepts of the New Testament? Where do we turn?
The first question
While we may get some light from Greek lexicons, our main dictionary should be the Old Testament. When we come to a word, phrase, or concept in the New Testament, our first question should be, “What does the Old Testament say about this?” Remember, the New Testament was originally written by Jews, and much of it was written to Jews. It assumes a knowledge of the Old Testament, and builds upon it. Therefore, we must always read the New Testament with the dictionary of the Old Testament in our hand.
Tomorrow I’ll give some examples of how we can use the Old Testament as a dictionary of Christian vocabulary.
No, not the fairy story. This is a real story. And it’s more like a horror story.
I’ve been preaching through 2 Samuel in a local church, and last week I came to chapter 13, one of the most horrific and sordid chapters in the Bible. It’s got everything – rape, incest, abuse, injustice, and murder. Surely nothing profitable in there. Well, yet again, Scripture surprised me with the width and depth of its cultural relevance and spiritual challenge.
1. Beauty can be dangerous How many grieve because they are not attractive and labor all their days to become more attractive. Yet, as Tamar found out, a beautiful figure and face can attract the wrong kind of people for the wrong kind of reasons. Many’s a beautiful person has come to loathe their beauty as a curse. This is no way blames Tamar nor excuses Amnon for what he did. It’s simply a well-observed fact that beauty attracts more than its fair share of beasts.
2. Lust can make you sick Although we’re told that Amnon “loved” his half-sister Tamar, the chapter reveals it was more lust than love. Instead of wanting to give himself to her for her good, he wants to take from her for his “good.” His lust was so powerful it actually made him sick. Lust entertained and encouraged can grow into a life-dominating monster that is a punishment in itself.
3. Friends can be your enemies When Amnon saw that Tamar’s secluded life and purity made it impossible for him to get near her, he consulted a “friendly” advisor, Jonadab. But instead of warning Amnon away from his sin and rebuking him for his wicked lust, as a true friend would, he hatched a plan to help him fulfill his lust.
Unknown to Amnon, Jonadab was in league with Absalom to prevent Amnon from inheriting the throne. Like Jonadab, any “friend” who advises us to sin and helps us to do it, is actually an enemy hastening our destruction.
4. Everyone can do great evil Amnon was the king’s son, surrounded by the privileges, comforts, and pleasures of the royal court. He’d been brought up by a godly father. He would never…Would he?
When Tamar entered his room, she clearly didn’t have the least thought of what his mind was full of. He was her brother, a sick brother, the kings son. She had no reason to suspect him of anything. He couldn’t…could he? But everyone can, can’t they?
5. Sin can defeat all reason “You are my brother. I’m not willing. It is forbidden. It is perverse. It will shame me. It will disgrace you. Ask the king for permission to marry me.” She pours out reason, after reason, argument after argument. All to no avail. The devil blocks Amnon’s ears to all her arguments. Her comfort, her honor, and her happiness must be sacrificed to satisfy his uncontrollable passion.
6. Guilt can make the pleasant painful His lust for her is satisfied; his hatred for her erupts. He hates her more than he lusted for her and immediately tries to get rid of her. “Get up. Get out!” he yells at her. And when she refuses, he calls a servant “Get this out!” She’s nothing but a piece of trash to be taken to the garbage. He hates the humiliation of being rejected by her, but above all he hates her pure presence convicting him.
7. Victims can be cruelly treated When her full brother, Absalom, hears about it, he tells her, “Don’t think about it too much.” Showing a complete lack of compassion for her, he can only think of how best to take advantage of this situation for himself. Having been trapped, ignored, raped, and despised, she is now banished to Absalom’s house, desolate and disgraced.
Surely David will do something. We’re told, “David was angry.” Is that it? Angry? No action? Not even an attempt to get an apology? What cruel injustice from her half-brother, her brother, and her father.
8. Family can be put before God David was too indulgent towards his own children. Perhaps he saw his own sins of adultery and murder in his children, and felt his lack of moral authority. But personal failings and family connections must not be put before the honor of God in seeking justice for victims. The least he could have done was to challenge Amnon and call him to seek forgiveness from Tamar and from God.
9. Chastisement can be very painful Absalom let the whole matter die down, waited for his brother to drop his guard, and then pounced in murderous fury to kill an unsuspecting Amnon.
God had promised David that for his sins of adultery and murder, though forgiven, he would be chastised by sexual abuse in his family and the sword would never depart from his house. The divine sword is unsheathed and begins to plunge not only into David’s house, but into David’s heart. No wonder David wept and wept.
10. Sin can be forgiven David confessed his sins of adultery and murder and was forgiven. If Amnon had confessed his adultery and Absalom had confessed his murder and sought mercy from God, they both would have been forgiven. Instead, they both died gruesome deaths, and are today in hell, while their equally sinful father is in heaven. Sin, even the worst sin, can be forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ.
“The Old Testament is Law. The New Testament is Gospel.”
That seems to be the most common view of the relationship between the two Testaments.
Paul appears to confirm this in Romans 10 when he quotes Moses to illustrate attempts at salvation via law-keeping. “The man who does those things shall live by them” (Romans 10:5 quoting Leviticus 18:5)
That settles that then, doesn’t it.
Oh, wait, he quotes Moses again in the next verses to explain salvation by faith in Christ (Rom 10:6ff quoting Deuteronomy 30:12ff).
Either Moses and Paul are very confused; or we are.
I think I’ll take the safer option there.
Moses related Law and Gospel in the Old Testament in the same way as Paul did in the New.
Shakespeare said that history is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The Christian view of history is quite a contrast; we believe God ordained it, organizes it, and moves it towards a meaningful, definite, and certain purpose.
However many Christians entertain a negative view of Old Testament History, of its usefulness and even of its accuracy. It is often regarded as “far away” and “distant” chronologically, geographically, socially, and theologically. “What can it do for me?” and “Why study it?” are common questions. Here are five reasons to study it and benefit from it.
1. OT History is True History
Israel’s neighbors expressed their beliefs through fantastic, elaborate, “out-of-this-world” myths In contrast, Old Testament narratives about Israel describe real events in real time involving real people and a real God. The reality of Israel’s faith rested on the reality of Israel’s history.
Similarly, if we lose or give up the truthfulness of the Biblical record, we lose and give up the Truth. We also lose our Christian faith because it is founded not on detached philosophical speculations but on God’s acts in human history.
Approaching Old Testament narratives with unshakeable confidence in their accuracy and truthfulness will build up unshakeable faith.
When medical researchers want to explain their work, they usually have to produce large-scale models or graphics of the tiny part of the body they are working on. Without that, few would see or understand their accomplishments.
Similarly, in the Old Testament, when God wanted to show His work of grace in the soul, he produced a large-scale model of it, so that more could see and understand how He worked and what He could do. That’s Israel – God’s Powerpoint to display to the world who and how He saves. The nation demonstrated on a national level what God does on a personal level. Consider some of the the most important words in the whole Old Testament (Exodus 19:4-6):
Divine Deeds: “You have seen what I did.”
Divine Defeat: “To the Egyptians”
Divine Deliverance: “How I bore you on eagle’s wings”
God’s deeds come before human response, the Lamb before the Law.
Divine Destiny: “I brought you to myself”
“Now therefore, obey my voice.”
In the light of all that I’ve done, here’s how to show your gratitude and keep our relationship happy and healthy
Precious: You will be my special treasure
Priestly: You will be a kingdom of priests
Pure: You will be a unique nation
God graciously adds three extra motivations for observing his covenant rules
God’s redemption brought Israel into a relationship with clear boundaries, which, when observed, would be amply rewarded.
Israel’s big mistake was to think that just because they were part of God’s National Powerpoint, that they did not need that to be personalized. However, no one ever went to heaven simply because they were an Israelite. Only Israelites that personalized the National Powerpoint did. Individuals had to experience the 4 R’s in their own souls.
In many ways, the Church is God’s Powerpoint to the world today. How can we better display God’s grace? And how can we ensure that people don’t think that just because they see the Powerpoint, or even are in the Powerpoint, that they are saved?
The following is a summary of the lecture I’m giving today on how to use Bible Commentaries.
1. Use them “It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. My chat this afternoon is not for these great originals, but for you who are content to learn of holy men, taught of God, and mighty in the Scriptures. It has been the fashion of late years to speak against the use of commentaries…A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences” (C H Spurgeon).
2. Use them for appropriate tasks Commentaries vary in size, detail, level, and theological basis; they also have different roles in the exegetical process. The following classification is partly chronological – the first books are used earlier in the process than the latter books. (The books in brackets are OT focused and are merely exemplary not exhaustive).
Critical: Emphasis on technical matters like the composition of the text rather than its meaning (e.g. International Critical Commentary, some Word commentaries).
Expository (Original Language): Close and detailed exposition of the text, usually requiring some knowledge of the original languages (e.g. some Word commentaries, New International Commentary on the OT, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Mentor series by Christian Focus).
Expository (English): Stay close to the text but do not usually deal with critical issues and do not require original language knowledge (Focus on the Bible series by Christian Focus, Evangelical Press Study Commentaries).
Summary: Do not explain everything but focus on main points and present conclusions rather than extensive arguments. Excellent summaries of a verse or passage’s teaching. Big is not always better. (e.g. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Bible Speaks Today).
Classical: Reputable commentaries from the past that usually do not deal with technical issues, but rather the theological meaning of the text (Banner of Truth Geneva series, John Gill, John Calvin).
Applicatory: Suitable for lay-people, usually with more of an applicatory focus (NIV Application Commentary).
Homiletical: Tend to be the result of sermon series or at least more sermonic in style (e.g. Welwyn, Dale Ralph Davis).
Devotional: Extensive comments on spiritually rich texts. Focus on edification rather than critical or controversial issues (e.g. Matthew Henry).
3. Use recommended commentaries Ask pastors and professors for their recommendations on various books. Weigh the recommendations. Just because a Word series’ commentary on one book is good does not guarantee that they are all good.
Spurgeon: “The best commentators are those who have written upon only one book. Few men can comment eminently well upon the whole Bible.”
There are many OT commentary guide books (e.g. Tremper Longman III, Douglas Stuart, Charles Spurgeon, etc). Here are some online recommendations:
4. Use them late in exegesis If you use commentaries too early, they will take over and suppress your own thought. Do your own exegesis rather than collate the work of others.
5. Use them to get started in exegesis This may seem like a contradiction to #4, but what I mean is that you should use commentaries earlier in the process if you get stuck, or perhaps can’t even get started. They can provide helpful or even essential historical, geographical, or cultural background.
Use them to help you with specific issues but leave most commentary reading towards the end of your research. Remember to pray and seek the Holy Spirit’s help rather than just open the nearest book.
6. Use them to confirm or correct your pericope and translation Checking your pericope selection and your translation with a higher-end commentary before you begin your exegesis may save you a lot of time and energy.
7. Use them to confirm or correct your exegesis If after exegeting a passage you find a number of commentators contradicting your conclusions, then review your work and decide who is correct.
8. Use them to help you understand grammar and syntax Some of the more technical commentaries can help you translate difficult parts of the passage, or perhaps highlight grammatical and syntax issues that help to uncover a text’s meaning and message.
9. Use them to highlight unasked questions When I read a commentary I often find questions raised that I had not even considered, forcing me back to the text.
10. Use them to answer unanswered questions It may be that at the end of all your exegetical labor that you still don’t have an answer to a question. That’s when reading a number of commentaries can help you better understand the options and arguments and help you to come to a decision.
11. Use them to help you decide what to focus on Reading a commentary may reveal that what you thought important is relatively unimportant, and may also point you to study further in areas that you thought unimportant.
12. Use them to find other passages that are related to this one. Commentaries will often provide cross-references or even brief expositions of other passages that have a bearing on this one.
13. Use them to find sources for further reading Some commentaries, especially the more technical and expository ones, will often list books and journal articles that bear upon the passage.
14. Use them to find opposing arguments and conclusions As it’s often helpful to listen to the other side of an interpretive debate, make sure you consult commentators who state the other positions fairly, or best of all, read the opposing commentators to help you sharpen your own conclusions or change them.
15. Use them to get quotes to back up conclusions If your view is out of sync with the majority of commentators, or if it is controversial, it is often helpful to back up your argument and decision with a quote from a reliable commentator.
16. Use them to help you express the meaning Especially if you’ve been struggling to express your thoughts, commentators can provide you with words that more briefly or clearly express the same thing.
17. Use them by translating their thoughts into your own words Don’t just string quotes from various commentators together. If you are going to use them extensively, then at the very least, process their thoughts and translate them into your own words, while giving credit for the original thoughts.
18. Use them consistently If you adopt a conclusion from a commentator, make sure it is reflected in the rest of your work. Go back through and be consistent in your translation or interpretation of a word or phrase.
19. Use them discriminately Eventually you will get to know the particular theological biases and prejudices in certain commentaries and certain series. As long as you keep these in mind, you can filter out the bones and take the meat. Separate facts from opinion.
20. Use them independently Don’t become wholly dependent upon commentaries; not even upon one commentator or series of commentaries. We don’t want to belittle commentaries but we don’t want to be bullied by them either. Have confidence in your own prayerful Spirit-led exegesis.
UPDATE:Here’s Dr Beeke on his favorite commentaries.
I’ve been slowly blogging my way through Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching (here and here) and now reach Christopher Wright’s chapter on “Preaching from the law.” Given the author, I was expecting this chapter to be excellent, but it’s actually outstanding – probably the best chapter in the book. Here’s a summary of the ten most important points, largely in Wright’s own words:
1. On the basis of 2 Timothy 3:15-16, write above every OT chapter, including legal chapters, “This Scripture is inspired by God and is useful…” .
2. “Before we preach law to people, we need to make sure they know the God who stands behind it and the story that goes before it. It is the God of grace and the story of grace” . This is perhaps the most important sentence in the chapter (if not in the book), and if fully grasped would transform most people’s view of the law in particular and of the Old Testament in general.
3. “The law was given to people whom God had already redeemed” . “Grace comes before the law. There are eighteen chapters of salvation before we get to Sinai and the Ten Commandments…I stress this because the idea that the difference between the Old and New Testaments is that in the OT salvation was by obeying the law, whereas in the NT it is by grace, is a terrible distortion of Scripture” .
4. “Obedience is the only right response to having been saved, and the way to enjoy the fruits of redemption, not to earn them” . Always preach OT law on the foundation of God’s saving grace. Anything else will lead people to legalism, or to despair, or to pride .
5. By shaping Israel in the image of God, the law had a misional purpose . “The law had the function of shaping Israel to be that representative people, making the character and requirements of God known to the nations. That is a missional function…The purpose of the law was to make Israel visibly different, in such a way that would draw interest and comment, and essentially bear witness to the God they worshipped” (Ex. 19:6; Dt. 4:6-8)” .
“We should preach OT law in such a way as to remind Christians not only of the grace of God to which they must respond, but also of their mission responsibility: to live distinctively as God’s people among the nations” .
“Imitation of God is a strong theme in OT law, but it does not stop there. It is the same basic principle that undergirds the teaching of Jesus about our behavior. We are to model what we do on what we know God is and does (Matt. 5:45-48; Lk. 6:27-36)” .
6. The law hangs like a hammock between the two poles of God’s past and present grace . “The law is suspended like a hammock between two poles: the past grace of God’s historical redemption, and the future grace of God’s missional promise. Between these two poles Israel, and ourselves, are called to live in the present as those who know where we have come from and where we are going. The law in other words, makes sense within the whole story of redemption, past and future” .
7. Preach the law in a God-centered not man-centered way. “Our preaching of OT law should not merely be moralistic – focusing on the minutiae of behavior and burdening people, as the Pharisees did. Rather we preach the law in such a way as to point to the God who stands behind it, asking what it reveals of his character, values and priorities. That seems to have been the thrust of Christ’s preaching too” .
8. The law was given for human benefit (Mk. 2:27; Dt. 4:40), as the Psalmists certainly appreciated (Ps. 19:7, 10; 119:45, 47) . “The least one can say about people who express such enthusiastic sentiments for the law is that they were certainly not groveling along under a heavy burden of legalism. They were not anxiously striving to earn their way into salvation and a relationship with God through punctilious law-keeping. They were not puffed up with the claims of self-righteousness or exhausted with the efforts of works-righteousness. They did not, in short, fit into any of the caricatures which have been inflicted upon OT law by those who, misunderstanding Paul’s arguments with opponents who had distorted the law, attribute to the law itself the very distortions from which Paul was seeking to exonerate it” .
“Jesus became angry when the law was turned into a burden, instead of a benefit to the needy” 
“There is plenty material in the law that shows the heart of God for the needs of human beings, especially the vulnerable, those who are socially, economically, ethnically or sexually disadvantaged in our fallen world” .
9. “Old Testament law anticipates failure, judgment, and future grace”  “We should not imagine that the failure of OT Israel to keep God’s law somehow surprised God so much that he was forced to come up with plan B…Deuteronomy 29-32 make clear that the fault is not in the law itself, but in us” .
10. The Old Testament preaches the Gospel  In this next paragraph, I believe Wright is using “law” in the wider sense of the whole Pentateuch, or at least the Pentateuch’s exposition and application of the law.
As Deuteronomy 30 contains a powerful evangelistic appeal to return to God…”we can preach OT law, not to drive people only to despair at their failure but to lead them from the realization of failure back to the love and promises of God – as contained in the law itself. Failure is a fact. Failure is foreseen. But failure can be forgiven through the grace of God. The law itself expresses all three great Gospel truths and can be preached accordingly” .
Before giving an example sermon, Wright closes with a couple of priceless pages on how to move from OT law to a message for today, and concludes:
As I work towards a preachable sermon from the legal text with such questions in mind, I keep in mind also the above core principles: God’s grace as the starting point; the need for God’s people to live for the sake of God’s mission; the paradigmatic function of Israel’s law for future generations; what the text teaches about the character of God and the demands of human well-being; the realities of sin and failure and the need to preach all God’s Word with the profound sense of preacher and audience alike being sinners in need of forgiving grace .
As we saw yesterday, Paul says that Abraham, our prototype of faith, staggered not (or “wavered not”) at the promise of God (Rom. 4:20). However, when we read the Old Testament, it certainly seems as if he staggered and wavered. Twice he lied about Sarah being his sister in order to protect himself. And he also committed immorality with his servant.
In each of these incidents it looks very much like Abraham staggered. So how can Paul say he staggered not?
There are two ways of looking at this. The first is to say that Abraham was too much like Jacob. Hebrews tells us that Jacob was a believer who valued the Gospel promise and God’s blessing. However he repeatedly sought it the wrong way. Similarly it could be argued that we can preserve the unstaggering nature of Abraham’s faith by saying that even in his sin, he was seeking the fulfillment of the promise. He was sinning in a good cause – the pursuit of the blessing of the world!
Another way of looking at this, and the right way I believe, is to look at Abraham’s life as a whole. Although Abraham stumbled in a few incidents, and stumbled badly, the general tenor of his life was of unstaggering faith.
Flip-flop or slip-up
Perhaps some of our politicians might serve as good examples. One of the most devastating critiques that can be made of a politicians, as John Kerry found out in 2004, and as Mitty Romney is in the process of finding out, is that they’re a “flip-flopper.” A flip-flopper is someone whose whole life was going in one direction (liberal views on social issues, the role of government, etc.) when running for one office in one place, only then to go completely in the opposite direction (conservative views on social issues, etc), when running for another office in another place. No one likes a flip-flopper.
But there’s a difference between being a flip-flopper and making a few verbal stumbles about your policies under pressurized questioning. All politicians have slip-ups, but they don’t constitute the general direction of his policies and principles.
I’m proposing that we should view Abraham’s sins as “slip-ups” rather than “flip-flops.” They were stumbles (albeit very serious one) under huge pressure, but they did not constitute a total change of direction in his life.
Social and spiritual pressure
We have to remember the pressure Abraham was under. God had given him a new name “Abraham” meaning “Father of multitudes.” Can you imagine what that was like? When he met other nomads, or entered a city, and they asked his name, he would have to reply, “Father of multitudes.” “Oh, really!” they would reply, “How many children do you have?” “Well. None yet!” “None yet! You’re in your nineties!” and so on. What a social pressure.
But what a spiritual pressure too. Abraham’s whole salvation rested on him having a child. Without a child, there could be no blessing for him or the nations. Without the nation-blessing child there would be no crushing of the serpent’s head. Without that devil-defeating child, there was no salvation for Abraham or anyone. This wasn’t about wanting to be a daddy. This was a deep, deep struggle upon which his own and the nations’ salvation rested.
No wonder he stumbled a couple of times. And what an encouragement his stumbles are too, if I may say so. If Abraham was a perfect prototype, he wouldn’t be much help to the rest of us believers who have rolled off the assembly line of faith in subsequent years. He’s a great example of faith, but he’s also a great encouragement to belivers who have stumbled. Faith does not need to be perfect to save. But our faith must be in a perfect Someone to save us.
Most of us remember long boring road-trips during our childhood. Before the day of portable DVD players, iPods, and Nintendo 3DS’s there wasn’t much to do apart from read or count cars.
Not being much of a reader then, car-counting was my thing. One of the games my twin brother and I used to play was to see who could spot the most models of our own car on the road. It always amazed me how many there were when you started looking.
But there was a time when there was only one. Before the assembly line started rolling out thousands of Ford Cortinas, there was one, the prototype that all the others were modeled upon.
That’s how Abraham is set before us in the Bible; he’s a prototype of all other believers. Although there were believers before Abraham (e.g. Abel, Enoch, Noah, etc.), God presents him as the prototype believer, the one that all subsequent believers are to model themselves on (Rom. 4; Gal. 3).
So, what was exemplary about Abraham’s faith? I’d like to highlight two key features from the last few verses of Romans 4:
His faith diminished obstacles and difficulties.
God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. Aged 99, he was still not a father. Indeed, Romans 4 tells us that the child-producing part of his body was already dead, as was his 91-year-old wife’s womb. These were huge obstacles in the way of fulfilling this promise.
But Abraham “did not consider” this double deadness (Rom. 4:19). That does not mean that he ignored the difficulties or that he denied reality. That’s not faith; that’s stupidity. Rather, “did not consider,” means that although he saw and understood the difficulties very clearly, he did not let what he saw and understood determine what he believed.
Faith does not ignore difficulties but rather shrinks them. Faith is like a filter, or a lens, which changes the way we view the world. It reduces the size of difficulties and magnifies the size of God’s promises.
His faith depended on God’s promise.
Paul also tells us that Abraham did not waver or stagger at the promise of God through unbelief (Rom. 4:20). But what promise did Abraham believe? Well, Abraham is given the same promise three times, each time with a slightly different wording: “ I will make you a great nation” (Gen. 12:2); “Count the stars if you are able to number them…so shall your descendants be” (Gen. 15:5); “You shall be a father of many nations” (Gen. 17:4). It’s the latter wording of the promise that’s referred to twice in Romans 4:17-18.
But that doesn’t sound like the Gospel, does it?!
So how can Abraham be a prototype of saving faith if he believed something different to us? If Abraham just believed a promise that he was going to be a daddy with lots of grandchildren, that seems very different to believing the good news that Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins, doesn’t it.
Well, the good news is that Abraham did believe the Gospel, the same Gospel as we do. And we have no less a theologian than the Apostle Paul to confirm this: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed” (Gal. 3:8).
That certainly preserves Abraham’s prototypical and exemplary position for us. He and we believe the same Gospel.
But the question still remains: “How?” How did Abraham believe the Gospel? Where is the Gospel in that promise: “In you all the nations shall be blessed” or any other version of it?
The answer lies in remembering a prior promise. In Genesis 3:15, God promised that he would send a descendent of Eve to crush the devil’s head. Subsequent believers kept hoping that their child would be that appointed one who would bless the dying world with new life (Gen 4:25; 5:29).
So, when Abraham received the promise that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed, that he would be the father of many nations, he put the two promises together and believed that one of his descendants, perhaps even his first child, would be the one who would crush the devil, and bring life-giving, life-multiplying blessing to the world.
In summary, though the vocabulary was different, in essence Abraham’s faith was the same as ours, that is, Messiah-centered.
There was a difference in clarity (he saw in the shadows, whereas we see in the light) and in direction (he looked forward, whereas we look back), but the core, the essence, the focus was the same. His faith wrapped itself around the promised Satan-crushing, world-blessing, life-giving Seed, just as ours does. And the result is also the same – He believed in the Lord and it was credited to him for righteousness.
Great stuff! That’s that sorted then, isn’t it?
Or is it? Paul says Abraham “staggered not, “did not waver,” at the promise of God?
Eh, what about Hagar? And did he not lie about his wife being his sister – twice? Sounds like he’s staggering and wavering all over the place. How can Paul commend Abraham’s unstaggering and unwavering faith as a prototype for ours?
It’s easy to theorize about preaching; it’s not so easy to put theory into practice. Thus, a few weeks ago, after I wrote some articles on preaching from the Song of Solomon, I kept hearing a little voice saying, “Well buddy, get to it!” So I did, and posted the sermon notes here.
I wasn’t surprised, therefore, when, after giving 7 Tips for Balanced Biographical Preaching, the little voice started up again: “How about it then, Murray?” When a few people channeled my inner voice in the comments section, asking for examples of preaching that balanced redemptive history lessons with personal application, I pointed people to some of Joel Beeke’s Genesis sermons, but also decided I really have to work harder at this myself.
So, last Sunday, I preached on 2 Samuel 6, where David’s ill-fated attempts to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem resulted in the death of Uzzah and blessing on Obed-edom. Originally I entitled the sermon “A Holy Home for a Holy God,” but as I meditated on the passage, the stronger message became, “Desiring the God who desires sinners.” I’ve posted the full manuscript here (pdf) and my summary notes here (pdf); and below you’ll find the introduction and first point in full. I tried to follow a three step process in each of the main points:
The Original Story: An explanation of what’s happening in the text
God’s Story of Redemption: What the story teaches about God and His plan of redemption
Your Story of Redemption: How God’s story of redemption impacts and intersects with our own lives.
Hope this might help someone just starting out in the great calling of preaching the Gospel.
Desiring the God who desires sinners
Whatever else the Bible teaches us, it teaches us that God wants to live with men and women, boys and girls. He desires to enter our lives, our homes, and our hearts and to dwell with us.
Why else did He make our world and us? Look at Him in the Garden of Eden, visiting with Adam and Eve, regularly walking and talking with them. He loved doing that.
And even when they sinned and ran away from Him, He sought them out, found them, and announced a way He was going to recover the situation and make them His friends again (Gen. 3:15).
Time and again throughout Genesis we find God seeking out sinners, drawing near to them, walking, talking, and living with them. He’s saying repeatedly, “I want to share your life and I want you to share mine.”
In Exodus, God made the clearest statement yet of this desire. He orders the construction of a Tent-palace by which He would dwell in the middle of the Israelites. And in a special holy section of the tent, at its center, would be a golden throne, a gold-covered box (4×2.5×2.5 ft), with a heavy golden lid, also known as the mercy seat, bracketed on either side by golden cherubim looking towards the mercy seat.
This golden throne was called the Ark of the Covenant, partly because it contained a written copy of the covenant arrangements in the box, but mainly because it was the central expression of God’s covenanted commitment to dwell with men on the earth. It was the place God specially dwelt, often demonstrating that presence through a bright fiery cloud that hovered above the mercy seat, between the cherubim.
This is how God puts it in his building instructions: “You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim” (Ex. 25:21-22).
And that’s the phrase that greets us right at the beginning of this chapter (2 Samuel 6:2). David and multitudes of people decided one day to go and bring back to Jerusalem the “ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts that dwelt between the cherubim.” They desired the God who desired them.
The theme of this chapter and of this sermon is: Desiring the God who desires sinners.
1. Desiring God (vv. 1-2)
a. A Lost Ark Why was the ark not in Jerusalem? Well, about 65 years previously, Israel lost the Ark because of their sin. In 1 Samuel 4, when the backslidden Israelites had tried using the Ark as a kind of lucky charm in battle, the Lord gave the Israelites over to the Philistines, who also took the Ark. A modern-day equivalent might be Islamic terrorists capturing the Liberty Bell, or perhaps taking the British Queen’s crown. But remember, Israel had lost far more than just a patriotic symbol; they had lost God’s throne, God’s dwelling place, the way God lived among them.
b. A Lost Desire You would think that Israel would try to recover the ark at the earliest opportunity. However, they didn’t seem to be that bothered. Though God desired to live with them, they really had no desire to live with God.
But God continued to express his desire to live with the Israelites by chastising all the heathen who came into any contact with the Ark. So much so that eventually the Philistines and others got rid of the ark, sending it back to Israel where it arrived in the house of Abinadab of Kirjath-jearim. And there it stayed for 20 plus years, about 7-8 miles NW of Jerusalem, and virtually no one enquired after it (1 Chron.13:3). Few if any desired God. What an indictment of Israel! God desired to live with them, God ensured the Ark’s return among them, but virtually no one wanted God to live with them nor they with God.
c. A Renewed Desire This poor state of spiritual affairs clearly vexed David, as we can discover in Psalm 132. His first thought, therefore, after his enthronement was the enthronement of God above the Ark of the Covenant (1 Chron.13:1-4). He gathered 30,000 of the best men in Israel and marched to Kirjath-jearim to the house of Abinadab to bring back the Ark of God. God is at work stirring up in David and in others a desire for God
God’s Story of Redemption
The Ark was a picture promise of what God was going to do on an even bigger scale. Old Testament believers looked at the Ark and hoped for something more, something even closer, something even more accessible, something even more personal, something even more beautiful.
Jesus is the fulfillment of that picture promise; the satisfaction of that Old Testament faith and hope; the ultimate, emphatic, and enthusiastic expression of God’s desire to live with sinners. He was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
Your Story of Redemption
1. Respond to God’s desire for you with desire for Him. Many Israelites came to faith through believing the message of the Ark. Priests and prophets and other believers would point fearful, guilty sinners to the Ark and say: “Look, despite all that you are and all you have done, God desires to live with you. He sits on a mercy seat and promises to meet with you there.” What an encouraging sermon! Who could not but respond to that with desire for God?!
But we have an even louder and clearer message. Jesus said He was greater than not just the Ark, but greater than the whole Temple (Matthew 12:6). He is our throne of grace and mercy to come to in our time of need (Hebrew 4:15-16). Respond to God’s desire for you with desire for Him.
2. Re-kindle your desire for God by meditating on his desire for you. Perhaps youused to desire God. But now your heart has grown cold. You’ve neglected and ignored Christ for too long. You don’t have much appetite or longing for God. How can you re-kindle that? The same way that David and the Israelites did after decades of neglect. Back to the Ark! Re-kindle your desire for God by reminding yourself of God’s desire for you, Christ’s desire for you, the Holy Spirit’s desire for you.
Despite hundreds of new Christian songs, of every possible genre, being composed every year, the ancient Psalms are experiencing somewhat of a revival in various places. Why?
I believe the main reason is their therapeutic value; in a day of so many disordered emotions, worshippers are discovering how the Psalms minister so powerfully to their emotional lives.
The Psalms balance divine revelation and human emotion Some Christian songs are emotionally stirring, but have little theological content; the heart is engaged, but not the mind. Over-reacting to this, some have composed songs that are full of theological facts, but don’t engage the worshipper’s feelings. They are more like sung sermons.
The Psalms strike an inspired balance of doxological theology and theological doxology; they combine the objective with the subjective in perfect proportions. Time and again we read, “Praise the Lord for…” followed by reasons and motivations for this praise. God is declared and described, but always to stir up our hearts and interact with Him through His self-revelation.
The Psalms express the full range of human emotions The Psalms contain an incomparably rich mixture of extreme and varied emotions: grief and joy, doubt and confidence, loneliness and fellowship, despair and hope, fear and courage, defeat and victory, complaint and praise, etc.
Is it any wonder that Calvin called the Psalms “an Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul”? As he explained: “There is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”
The Psalms paint a realistic portrayal of Christian emotions The Psalms do not portray the Christian life as victory upon victory. Derek Thomas has pointed out that because a lot of contemporary worship is upbeat and positive, and therefore at odds with what Christians experience in the rest of their week, it sometimes produces a disconnect that eventually leads to cynicism and a loss of assurance.
But when we turn to the Psalms, we find bold and bald honesty. Although the strong expressions of stark reality can initially jar our refined ears, we are soon relieved to find kindred spirits who helpfully express what we often think, feel, and experience in our messy daily lives.
The Psalms open a welcome outlet for our painful emotions Have you ever sung about assurance while being full of doubt? Have you ever sung about joy when feeling depressed? Me too. And it’s horrible isn’t it. Why can’t I sing what I really feel? With the Psalms you can! Some allow us to express doubt and even despair (e.g. Ps. 88); others help us describe our struggles with providence (e.g. Ps. 73); still others guide us in explaining our battles with depression (e.g. Ps. 42).
The Psalms open the pressure valve of our hearts and direct us in how to articulate our most painful emotions. We don’t need to bottle them up or deny them. Instead God has inspired songs to admit them and let them out. As someone said: “What a relief! I can sing what’s really on my mind and heart, and God provides me with words to rightly express these emotions. The Psalms reach in to find these emotions and then reach upwards to God with them.”
The Psalms call for the transformation of our emotions The Psalms not only permit us to “vent” our emotions, but also call for their transformation. We are not left to wallow in our feelings, but are shown how to move from fear to courage, from sorrow to joy, from anger to peace, and from despair to hope. The painful starting point is legitimate; but it’s only a starting point. The end-point of emotional healing must be kept in view, and moved towards with the help of Psalmist’s guiding hand.
The Psalms summon us to sympathetic emotion As a rebellious teenager, I often sat in my Psalm-singing church wondering why I was singing words that had no relevance to me whatsoever. Why sing about sorrow, when I was perfectly happy? Or, some Sundays, why sing about joy when I feel so depressed about my life?
Well of course, such is the mindset of a self-centered teenager. But when God saves us, we begin to look a little beyond ourselves and to realize that while I may not feel these things, others certainly do. The Psalms call me to weep with those who weep, and to rejoice with those who rejoice, no matter if I feel exactly the opposite. They remind me of the emotional diversity of the body of Christ and invite me to share in the sufferings and successes of others. They turn me inside out.
The Psalms supply an emotional stimulus to righteous living I’ve been trying to emphasize the emotional engagement and stimulus of the Psalms. However, ultimately, the Psalms use the emotional energy they generate to stimulate practical obedience. Notice how many “wisdom” Psalms are interspersed throughout the Psalter, setting forth the path of obedience for the stirred up and energized worshipper. Emotional transformation must result in life transformation.
Originally published in January 2012 issue of Tabletalk.
A couple of years ago I was asked to prepare a month of meditations on Hosea for a daily devotional. My initial thought was, “That’s impossible. I might manage 5 or 6.” But when I got started I was stunned to find so many divine “I will’s” in this little prophecy and they became the basis for my 30 meditations. Here they are (the thirtieth was this list).
I will avenge (Hosea 1:4).
I will hedge up your way with thorns (2:6)
I will allure her (2:14)
I will…bring her into the wilderness and speak comfort to her (2:14)
I will give her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope (2:15)
I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth (2:17)
I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field (2:18)
I will betroth you to me (2:19)
I will betroth you to me forever (2:19)
I will betroth you to me in righteousness (2:19)
I will betroth you to me…in judgment (2:19)
I will betroth you to me…in lovingkindness (2:19).
I will hear (2:21).
I will sow her for myself in the earth (2:23)
I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy (2:23)
I will say to them which were not my people, You are my people (2:23)
Because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you (4:6)
Therefore will I change their glory into shame (4:7)
For I will be to Ephraim as a lion (5:14)
I will go and return to my place till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face (5:15)
I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger (11:9).
I will place them in their houses (11:11)
I will make you to dwell in tabernacles (12:9)
I will be your king (13:10)
I will ransom them from the power of the grave (13:14)
A couple of weeks ago a friend asked me to do some Puritan Pods on how to preach Christ from Old Testament passages that were not obviously Christ-centered. So, bravely rising to the challenge, here are a few minutes of my thoughts on how to preach Christ from 2 Chronicles 7v14 :
If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
I don’t usually write out a full manuscript, but here’s what you might call a 75% manuscript (the main substance of my sermon) and here is my summary note, that I re-read a few times just before preaching.
Email and RSS readers may have to click through here to view the video.
Further to my posts in support of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of Old Testament believers, I’d like to highlight two common mistakes in Bible Interpretation.
1. Confuse the unfolding of truth with the existence of truth. Just because a truth had not been revealed (or clearly revealed) at some point in biblical history, does not mean that it did not then exist. One of the reasons that Rob Bell’s Love Wins fell into error was by concluding that just because the Old Testament did not reveal much about eternal punishment, that it did not exist.
But even the orthodox can fall into this trap. Maybe those with a passion for tracing the gradual unfolding revelation of God in the Bible (often called Biblical Theology), are especially susceptible to this tendency. That’s why Systematic Theology is often called the Queen of the Sciences; it is to be the controlling influence in our interpretation of the Scriptures. Of course, both Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology buttress one another, but Systematic Theology must have the last word.
2. Start with the “hard” texts: One of the principles of hermeneutics is to start with the “easier” or clearer texts, and then go on to interpret the more “obscure” texts in the light of the clear. If we get this back to front, we can get things upside down!
I’m afraid that some who have argued against the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of Old Testament believers may have inadvertently erred in these two areas.
Just because the Old Testament did not clearly unfold the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of Old Testament believers, does not mean that such an indwelling did not exist.
And to start with “hard” texts like John 7:37-39, or at least to let such difficult texts be determining texts, is very likely to mislead us.
Yesterday I tried to present an interpretation of John 7:37-39 that would be consistent with the Bible’s teaching about the necessity and nature of the Spirit’s indwelling of all believers. Today, let me give you a sampling of quotes from commentaries on John 7:37-39 just to demonstrate that such an interpretation of these verses has been common throughout Church history.
Of course, other commentators can be found to argue on the other side, but, generally speaking, they tend to arise from more dispensational writers in the last 120 years or so. Having said that, it’s interesting to note John Piper’s and John Macarthur’s support for the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of Old Testament believers.
But without the Spirit we can neither love God nor keep his commandments….We should therefore understand that whoever loves already has the Holy Spirit, and by having him he becomes worthy of having even more of him. And the more he has the Spirit, the more he loves. The disciples already had the Holy Spirit whom the Lord had promised…But they did not yet have him in he way the Lord promised. They had Him in a more limited sense. He was later to be given to them more fully. They had him in a hidden way, but he was yet to be given to them more openly (Tractates on he Gospel of John 74.1-2; cf. 32.6 and On The Trinity 4.20.29-21.30).
And indeed he is speaking comparatively, as when the New Testament is compared to the Old. God promises His Spirit to believers as if He had never given Him to the Fathers. At that time the disciples had undoubtedly already received the firstfruits of the Spirit. For where does faith come from if not from the Spirit? The Evangelist then does not simply deny that the grace of the Spirit was revealed to believers before the death of Christ, but that it was not yet so bright and clear as it would be afterwards.
He that cometh to Me shall be so furnished with the Holy Ghost, that he shall not be merely quickened and refreshed himself, and delivered from his thirst, but shall be also a strong stone vessel, from which the Holy Ghost in all His gifts shall flow to others, refreshing and comforting and strengthening them, even as he was refreshed by Me. So St Peter, on the day of Pentecost, Acts ii. 41, who, by one sermon, as by a rush of water, delivered three thousand men from the devil’s kingdom, washing them in an hour from sin, death, and Satan.
J C Ryle Before our Lord died and rose again and ascended, the Holy Ghost was, and hall been from all eternity, one with the Father and the Son, a -distinct Person, of equal power and authority, very and eternal God. But He had not revealed Himself so fully to those whose hearts He dwelt in as He did after the ascension; and He had not come down in person on the Gentile world, or sent forth the Gospel to all mankind with rivers of blessing, as He did when Paul answers” sent forth by the Holy Ghost.” (Acts xiii. 4.) In a word, the dispensation of the Spirit had not yet begun.
The expression, “the Holy Ghost was not yet given,” would be more literally rendered, “the Holy Ghost was not.” This cannot of course mean that the Holy Ghost did not exist, and was in no sense present with believers in the Old Testament dispensation. What the expression does mean is this. The Holy Ghost was not yet with men in such fulness of influence on their minds, hearts, and understandings, as the Spirit of adoption and revelation, as He was after our Lord ascended up into heaven. It is clear as daylight, from our Lord’s language about the Spirit, in John xiv. 16, 17, 26; xv. 26; xvi 7-15, that believers were meant to receive a far more full and complete outpouring of the Holy Spirit after His ascension than they had received before. It is a simple matter of fact, indeed that after the ascension the Apostles were quite different men from what they had been before. They both saw, and spoke, and acted like men grown up, while before the ascension they had been like children. It was this increased light and knowledge and decision that made them such a blessing to the world, far more than any miraculous gifts.
Bengel When therefore we read” the Holy Ghost was not,” we need not be stumbled by the expression. It simply means “He was not fully manifested and poured out on the Church.” Peter, and James, and John, no doubt, had the Spirit now, when our Lord was speaking. But they had Him much more fully after our Lord was glorified.
Hengstenberg The difference, relative in itself, is uttered in an absolute form: because the advancement in the Spirit’s influence is so important that the earlier does not enter into consideration, and the word holds good, ‘The former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind,’” Isa. .vxl 17. All that was said upon ch. i. 17 is true here likewise. That the Holy Ghost comes so much more abundantly into mention in the New Testament, points us to the fact that a great change in this respect had taken place.
But there are references to the Spirits activities among people in earlier days. … So it is clear that the Spirit was active in people before this time. When John has said things like “So is everyone who has been born of the Spirit” (John 3:8), he surely cannot mean that the Spirit has not yet been given. He goes on to say that the reason for his statement about the Spirit is that “Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Putting all this together, we can see that what John is saying is something like this. It is true that the Spirit was active in some measure in Old Testament days and in the days when Jesus was on earth. But he did not come in all his fullness until the work of Jesus had been done. In the providence of God the work of the Son preceded that of the Spirit. The era of the Spirit, the time when the full scope of the Spirit’s work would appear, was “not yet.”
His enhanced role under the New Covenant is more intimate, more personal, but still similar in character to the way we see him functioning in the Old Testament…
We have just seen that He (the Holy Spirit) graciously and sovereignly regenerated individuals during Old Testament times. It logically follows that, in the lives of those in whom He brought new life, the Spirit would have been busily engaged in the significant ministry of preserving and perfecting….A New Testament perspective definitely makes it clear that God, through the Holy Spirit, draws us to Himself and preserves us in that relationship (Rom. 8:29-30, 35-39; Jude 24-25). But we tend to overlook or be unaware of the fact that the Spirit also preserved Old Testament saints in their relationships with God.
See also John Macarthur’s sermon on John 7:37-39 where he interprets the promised Holy Spirit here as power to witness.
And so Jesus says, “You can believe now and have your thirst quenched now, but you shall seven and a half months away, all of a sudden find inside of you are going to be turned loose rivers of living water.” You know, that early church in the book of Acts, they just gushed all over everywhere, didn’t they? Man, they were just drowning people in the living water. But it can’t happen till Jesus goes away. And when He comes, the Holy Spirit, He’ll turn on the rivers. And that’s the story of the church, rivers of blessing….
…Now I want to draw a footnote out of this verse very quickly. Verse 39, there are some people who teach that there are Christians who don’t have the Holy Spirit. That is absolutely anti-Scripture, but it’s very common. Notice verse 39. “But this spoke He of the Spirit whom they that believe on Him should receive.” Who receives the Holy Spirit? They that believe on Christ. Part of them, some of them? All of them! Romans 8:9 if you don’t have that scribbled somewhere in your Bible or in your brain, you’re missing it, it says this, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” Turn that around. If you belong to Him, you have His Spirit.