ORDER AND SEQUENCE: THE HYPER-ALLEGORIST’S QUANDARY

The Prophet Joel

Prophetic passages in the Old Testament that appear to be anticipating the church age need to be examined in their context. Arguably the one that comes closest is Joel chapter 2, and the section utilized to relate to the Church and gospel age is vv28-32, but I have incorporated the preceding verses to place the passage in its intended context which is the restoration of Israel, not the establishment of a universal Church:

You (Israelites) shall know that I am in the midst of Israel; I am the lord your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame. And it shall come to pass that AFTERWARDS I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men shall see visions, and also on my menservants and on my maidservants. I shall pour out my Spirit in those days. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall turn sun into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the lord and it shall come to pass that whoever shall call on the name of the lord shall be saved, for in Mt Zion and Jerusalem there shall be deliverance as the lord has said among the remnant whom the lord calls (Joel2:27-32NKJV – listed as 3:1-5 in Catholic versions)

The key point is that Joel’s prophecy is depicting a period of time that immediately follows the restoration of Israel and the vindication of His people in the presence of Yahweh, which is the case in all such prophecy. Order or sequence is a quandary for the Old Testament spiritualising hyper-allegorists; i.e. much of Christendom at present. Whilst there are of course frequent and rich allegorical references to Christ and the gospel throughout the Old Testament, there is also a historical context and narrative to take into account, such as the fact that Torah (the Law) was both practiced and delighted in by the godly (Ps119). Likewise with prophecy, Joel and those who interpreted him understood the promised restoration of Israel in a more  literal sense, ending His nation’s humiliation, the oppressing “Northerners” being sent packing (Jl2:20); God’s people and even the animal kingdom liberated (Jl2:22) within a restored religious, political and ecological environment (Jl2:23). This would be FOLLOWED BY an outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh in turn followed by the tribulation (Jl2:30,31) and the Day of Yahweh.  The gospel of the kingdom would be preached, echoing Jesus’s words: “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Lk24:47)” Those calling on the name of the Lord and fleeing to the Mountains would “escape” whilst the “remnant” (elect) would be safe in Jerusalem (Jl2:32).

For sure, Peter (no less) set a precedent by drawing upon the above passage from Joel in the context of the Spirit’s outpouring on the Day celebrating the Feast of the first-fruits (Pentecost) (Acts2:17:21). But as with all Old Testament prophecy, the understanding was that firstly Israel would be restored, THEN the Spirit poured out on all flesh and the Good News of the Kingdom preached to all nations. Then come the tribulations and finally the coming of the Messiah in glory. The order has been displaced by an unexpected dispensation in which Gentiles are not only enlightened and offered forgiveness but come to “SHARE AN INHERITANCE WITH GOD’S HOLY PEOPLE” (Acts26:18b). Even Peter had not previously understood this (Acts11:17) for it was entirely new revelation revealed through Paul – it was the fellowship (and dispensation) pertaining to the secret (plan) hidden in the Father from the previous age (Eph3:9-11 cf. Greek). It was the establishment of a universal Church formed to become, like Israel before her, a royal priesthood and a holy “nation” to be a light to the world – a witness to Jesu’s Lordship and Saviourhood, faithful members of whom having participated in the life of Christ as His disciples would share His glorious  inheritance in the ages to come (Rom8:17).

Illustration: Prophet Joel depicted by Michelangelo on Sistine Chapel ceiling – courtesy Wikipedia

AMOS EXHORTS GOD’S PEOPLE TO REPENT

“Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos5:24NASB)

There is not a great deal of joy to be gleaned from the writings of this prophet, who was reluctant to describe himself as such having been a shepherd and fig grower to whom God had revealed a message for His people (7:14).  God is frequently depicted by Amos as a roaring lion; not of the relatively cuddly ‘Aslan’ variety but a beast who was decidedly angry and much to be feared, even by His own people:

“Alas, you who are longing for the Day of the Lord, for what purpose will the day of the lord be to you? It will be darkness and not light; as when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall and a snake bites him. Will not the day of the lord be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it?”

The “Day of the Lord” is a recurring theme in the Prophets as it is in the New Testament. These Israelites were anticipating it being a day of retribution – punishment for the wicked and vindication for God’s faithful people. By the wicked they will no doubt have had “ignorant Gentiles” in mind whilst their ill-founded confidence rested in the fact that they were God’s chosen people and nation, so they were bound to be alright weren’t they? Au contraire – “You alone have I intimately known of the families of the earth – that is why I shall punish you for all your wrong-doings” (Amos3:2). As for my featured verse which portrays a much happier scenario, I had understood it in the past, along with most Reformed commentators to be referring to GOD’s justice and righteousness that would be flowing like an everlasting stream whereas  in the context it can only be His people’s. It refers to social justice and individual uprightness amongst a people who had been chosen and divinely instructed so as to be a light to the nations, i.e. the rest of the world whom God ALSO wished to heal and, in due course bring to a fuller knowledge of His truth (1Tim2:4) by working from within through His chosen people.

Such an interpretation is supported a few verses earlier (5:7) where Amos speaks of that same (human) justice  having been turned to bitterness and righteousness flung to the ground by God’s people who had “afflicted the just, taken bribes and oppressed the poor” (v12). Truly, this is why God was so often offended by His people in the Old Testament, not because they were “desperately trying to keep His Law through their own efforts” (as I once had interpreted Paul) but because they had forsaken the practice of His Law (i.e. being faithful to it by serving the one true God and caring for their neighbour and wider society, “for all the Law is fulfilled in ONE WORD, even in this; thou shalt LOVE thy neighbour as thyself” (Gal5:14 cf. Rom13:8).  These Israelites on the other hand were trusting in their status as God’s chosen nation, i.e. that they possessed the Law and often heard it read (so what? chides Paul  – Rom2:13,14) or the fact that they had been circumcised and observed the outward formalities of their religion (Am5:21-27).

 It was Amos’ task to convince them they had got it wrong – their privileged birth-right and knowledge of God’s Law only increased their culpability in the eyes of the One who Paul affirmed had been merciful towards “ignorant Gentiles” (Acts17:30) but was more stringent towards those He has chosen to act as His royal priesthood (Deut14:2, 1Pet2:9). As for the Church, it is one thing to long for “the Day of the Lord”, regrettably another to be ready for it; that would seem to be a lesson from Amos.

THE BOOK OF DANIEL: THERE ARE MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS

Johnny Nash [1960s photo]

“Now at that time Michael [a], the great prince who stands [b] guard over the sons [c] of your people will arise [d]. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many [e] of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.  Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness [f], like the stars forever and ever. But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time [g]; many will go back and forth [h], and knowledge will increase. [i]” Dan12:1-4NASB]

And so to Daniel. As a result of the spiritual encounter I have referred to in earlier posts which resulted in my book**, I have come to understand the Scriptures in such way that for the first time in my 45 years as a Christian it appears to gel. But there are still a number of mysteries in the form of biblical prophesies relating to the last days that I remain unclear about, and the above is one of them, starting with the identity of Michael. So this brief post will pose more questions than it attempts to answer, but as usual I will apply as literal and precise an approach to the Hebrew text and (as has been the case throughout this process) identify particular details that had previously eluded me and I suspect others. I am not a Hebrew scholar but utilize the following link for parsing purposes: <Daniel12 interlinear>

[a] – Who is Michael? – Not Christ Himself I think, for He will hardly “arise” or “make a stand” [H5975] but descend from the heavens and appear in glory. I suspect the reference or comparison is to Arch-Angel Michael who disputed with Satan [Jude9], though it is difficult to see how an angel would “arise” and “make a stand” for God’s people in the end-time context; such beings will be despatched to deal with those who are to be severed from the Kingdom (e.g. Mt13:49)

[b] The NASB has “stand guard” (as might an angel); but “haomed” can also mean to stand or alternatively “make a stand” for [c] below:

 [c] Why “the sons of Your people”; why not simply “Your people” as later in verse 1?

[d] “Michael” will arise or stand-up at such a time. What was he doing before he arose and where was he doing it?! [This seemingly simplistic, methodical, inquisitive, child-like approach to the Hebrew or Greek narrative is how I have tended to approach all Scripture throughout this process. It has (with I’m sure the Spirit’s aid) generally resulted in solutions or new insights, but not necessarily in this passage]

[e]  [werabbim]  occurs 7 times in the bible and usually refers to many within a group,  not usually the whole group (i.e. “all”) which has implications to the resurrection referred to? (verse 2)

[f] Note: those who “have insight” and ”lead many to righteousness” will shine as the stars  but those whom they lead will also be righteous and “in the mix” but by implication not in the same category, i.e. there is salvation and there is SALVATION as I am seeking to demonstrate throughout

[g] “Seal up the book until the end-times” – implies this refers to a mystery that will not be understood before that end-time, whereas the essentials of the gospel message have not been sealed up but proclaimed to the world. Likewise in Rev10:7-11 certain matters were disclosed to John that he was instructed not to put in writing concerning the Little Book (v4) – they were therefore not intended for the Church throughout her history whereas the rest of Revelation clearly was (Rev1:1), not that we can entirely get our heads around that.

[h] Many will run back and forth or “two and fro”. Sounds a bit like my spiritual journey and I suspect it is alluding to confusion within the churches; the positive news being that  –

[i] “knowledge will be increased” – Clearly that will be the case after Christ has come but it is linked within the sentence to the “running to and fro” so I think applies immediately prior to that.

A popular song springs to mind “There are more questions than answers” [singer Johnny Nash – photo]. So it must be for the present with regard to this particular passage. I am clear that certain details concerning the end-times will remain uncertain until that time in view of the role of faith. But (God knows) we do need to be clear and ideally have a unified understanding regarding the gospel and what exactly God requires of those who have been chosen for Christ to be ready for Him. Such a re-unification of His people would seem to be essential if a united rendition of the Good News of the Kingdom is to be preached throughout the world before the end of its current arrangements (Mt24:14) when Christ comes to establish a renewed heaven and earth where righteousness dwells (2Pet3:13).

**The Little Book of Providence – free PDF available HERE

Trusting in one’s own righteousness

Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, thus you have said: “our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?”  Say to them, as I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, o house of Israel? And you, mortal, say to your people, the righteousness of the righteous shall not save them when they transgress; and as for the wickedness of the wicked, it shall not make them stumble when they turn from their wickedness; and the righteous shall not be able to live by their righteousness when they sin.  Though I say to the righteous that they shall surely live, YET IF THEY TRUST IN THEIR RIGHTEOUSNESS AND COMMIT INIQUITY, none of their righteous deeds shall be remembered; but in the iniquity that they have committed they shall die (Ezekiel 33:10-13)

This passage of Ezekiel is effectively a recapitulation of the teaching on repentance of chapter 18 which I commented on previously. That it is has been widely misunderstood is evident from the English translations (especially verse 13 – capitalized) certainly within many Protestant editions. Even the above NRSV Catholic edition is ambiguous in this key verse whereas the New Jerusalem Bible I tend to utilize is somewhat clearer in this instance:

If I say to someone who is upright, “you are to live” and then TRUSTING IN THIS UPRIGHTNESS, he does wrong, none of the  uprightness will be remembered, having once taken to sinning (v13nkj cf. Hebrew Interlinear)

The NASB is more typical of the Protestant translations:

When I say to the righteous he will surely live, and HE SO TRUSTS IN HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT HE COMMITS INIQUITY, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered; but in that same iniquity of his which he has committed he will die

In other words, according to the NASB, the righteous person’s sin was to “trust in his own righteousness”. But the point is that the persons in question were declared to have actually been righteous: “When I say to the righteous he shall live”, etc.  Their folly was to rely upon that previous declaration of righteousness, believing they were now at liberty to sin having, as it were, accredited righteous deeds that God would remember. For no, He will not  remember:  “None of (the backsliders’) earlier righteous deeds will be remembered”. The matter can be placed beyond dispute by referring back to the parallel passage in chapter 18, where verse 24 had stated:

But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does, will he live? All his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered for his treachery which he has committed and his sin which he has committed; for them he will die (Ez18:24NASB)

It was the same God speaking through the same prophet in chapter 33 as in chapter18; neither has changed their mind on the matter. The other consideration is that God was here addressing His chosen people to whom He had previously given assurances of His favour. Now they had provoked his displeasure and were being punished, so what were they to do? The answer (as in chapter 18) was to repent, not “to cease striving to keep the Law by their own efforts and appeal to God’s mercy and grace” or “believe in the incarnation, passion and resurrection of Christ as a future event” as Augustine and some Reformers would have us believe; rather they were to do what they had the capacity to do for they had done it already before abandoning their upright way of life (18:24). They were  not expected to achieve inviolable perfection but to do what they knew to be lawful and right – applying the efforts of a pure heart in seeking to be faithful to God’s Law, which had been provided for their own benefit and to promote social justice.

I suspect some readers who, having the love of God in their hearts, may also yearn for the broader providence I have been outlining in this series of posts nevertheless might take objection to some of the above, believing it to undermine the foundational teaching of their particular Christian tradition (which is bound to be the case for the Reformed Evangelical). Yet if Augustine and the Reformers were right then there would indeed be no hope for anyone outside Israel or the Church, including many of their own friends, family and work colleagues, not to mention the vast majority of Asian people who have ever lived throughout the Christian era. For what Reformed Evangelicalism understands to be required of man in order to avoid eternal punishment is entirely counter-intuitive to him. It opposes the witness of the human conscience which provides a sense of peace when one acts rightly or humanely and guilt and shame when one does not. Such peace is not “worldly pride” but the interior witness of Christ who has enlightened every person coming into the world (Jn1:9 Greek cf. Mt18:6).

In another misinterpreted and often mistranslated passage Paul affirms the divine nature of the faculty of conscience. Referring to Gentiles of the Old Testament who did not have the Law (Torah), he observed they nevertheless often practiced BY NATURE the things contained within it and so become a law FOR themselves. The conscience, which the apostle affirms is God’s law written in the heart , either accuses or provides a defence for specific actions (Rom2:14,15 from Greek) – which is why for his own peace of mind, man by nature often does the right thing – that which is contained in the Law, which Jesus, Paul and James summarize as love for one’s fellow man (Mt7:12; Gal5:14; Jam2:8). I have been shown that by adhering to this divinely provided faculty, a person is accepted in God’s sight through the merits of Christ’s faithfulness (Greek: ek pisteos christou).

 Such benefits are conferred upon those who exercise such faithfulness, which in view of the nature of the of conscience is a form of godly fear, even amongst those who do not outwardly acknowledge God, for it is an adherence to the light of Christ received by everyone coming into the world. This divinely provided faculty acts as the guide and control for true human living, and if observed faithfully, regardless of accompanying weaknesses and failings results in the response of compassion (agape), the determinant of those who are of God (1Jn4:7) and the filter for those who (for the age to come at least) must be excluded from His Kingdom (Mt25:34-40). Yet as hopefully I have made clear elsewhere, this detracts not a whit from the urgency of the Gospel: not least in the context of these last days. For only those who respond to the Gospel of the Kingdom and remain faithful to it will be sure to escape the perils of the earthly purgation pertaining to the “great and dreadful day of the Lord” (cf. Mal4:5,6); and only such will be suitably fitted (Rom8:29) to be co-heirs with Christ and corporately be in a joyous close communion with Him for ever.

AFFIRMING GOD’S INTELLIGIBLE JUSTICE

The greatest influence in Western theology did NOT regard God’s justice as intelligible from a human perspective

If a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live? “But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die. “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel, IS IT NOT MY WAY WHICH IS FAIR, AND YOUR WAYS WHICH ARE NOT FAIR? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair? (Ezekial18:21-29NKJV)

Proceeding through the major prophets of the Old Testament in this series of posts, I arrive at Ezekiel, a man known for his visions, mimes and poetic allegories. Not so in this passage which is a relatively straightforward description of God’s principles of justice. It is thoroughly intelligible, though not apparently to the Israel that God was addressing, nor indeed to some prophetic theologians of the New Covenant, one in particular, Augustine, who has shaped the understanding of so many Christians for so long. He had a counter-intuitive, almost paradoxical view of God’s justice in terms of what was required to satisfy it. Reading through the above narrative it is clear who was inclined to paradox: it wasn’t God but his chosen people – “Is it not My ways which are fair and your (Israel’s) ways that are unfair?” Notice the Lord’s appeal to His own fairness, a concept a young child could understand and appeal to as many parents will no doubt have experienced. The aforementioned theologian on the other hand insisted that we should not expect God’s justice and intentions towards humanity to be perceived as fair or loving from any human perspective. Likewise he could never have envisaged a righteous man turning to wickedness (v26) for he understood no one to be righteous in the first place. Nor would he have understood that what was required of the wicked was to stop practicing evil and start doing what he knew to be “lawful and right” in order that his previous sins might be blotted out (v21). Rather (taught he), such sinners should have “fled to God’s grace for aid” [a] and “believed in the incarnation, passion and resurrection of a Saviour as a future event”[b] . Such a notion is contradicted by any sensible (as opposed to hyper-allegorised) reading of the Old Testament, and is affirmed by the fact that even Christ’s own disciples failed to grasp that He must die and rise again, even after the matter had been explained to them!


Unlike His Son with regard to the Kingdom, the God of the Old Testament did not choose to address His people in riddles or parables – He meant exactly what He had said in His Law and through His prophets. By being righteous or upright and “doing what is lawful and right” the Creator was not alluding to man aspiring to match His own triple holiness or being credited with such, rather to personal integrity and above all faithfulness (v24). Being superior to man in every way, He did not expect perfection from his creatures but that they endeavour to act according to the light provided to them, which in the case of His chosen people was substantially more than man by nature in view of the Law given to them by Moses. Such a positive response to the light and truth as understood through creed or conscience is what I have come to understand Scripture means by exercising faith or being faithful (confusingly, there is no distinction in either the Hebrew or Greek of the Bible).


In terms of God’s grace and mercy so frequently alluded to by Augustine, Paul does indeed write a great deal about it, for through it fallen man may be regarded as just, merely by exercising such faith/faithfulness; pardon for his inevitable failures in performance being obtained through His Son’s atonement, applied to all who exercise such faith or faithfulness. That is the context of Paul’s reference to “the righteousness of God”: it is not God’s justice imputed to the believer but His own saving justice by which man’s exercise of innate faith (being the positive response of conscience) results in his being declared righteous through the faithfulness of Christ (Phil3:9 strictly Greek). In the case of God’s elect, that results in putting their faith in Him (Gal2:16 Greek) and becoming His disciple in order to become conformed to His image, being the purpose of their election (Rom8:29).


As for the apostle’s polemics regarding works and faith (especially in Romans and Galatians), it had been in the context of those Judaisers infiltrating the churches who were insisting on circumcision, dietary restrictions and other such “deeds of the Law” in order to be justified in God’s sight. No, re-iterated the apostle, Christians are justified by faith in Christ, not the works of the Law (Torah). In terms of “the wicked” referred to in the Ezekiel passage, again God was not speaking of those who fell short of His glory and failed to be perfect but those who, like their prototype Cain, wilfully and avoidably rejected the light of the truth they had received, leaving the paths of uprightness to walk in the way of darkness (Prov2:13). Such were those referred to in verse 24.


If you have been following my posts, you should not be so surprised by this unorthodox perspective; it simply reflects what I’ve been shown. All I can claim or affirm is that it “works” – i.e. Scripture as a whole coheres (and a number of providential mysteries are unravelled) when these interpretations are applied as part of what is effectively a reconstituted biblical schema outlined in my book [3]. It is hardly the result of any sustained academic study but what I believe I have been enabled to perceive by the Spirit so as to share with others.


[a] Augustine – Anti-Pelagian writings “On the spirit and letter” chap.22 & 27

[b] Augustine: “Against two letters of the Pelagians” Book III Chap. 11

[c] A free PDF available HERE

JEREMIAH – THE WEEPING PROPHET




The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: “I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holiness to the Lord, the first-fruits of His increase. All that devour (Israel) will offend; disaster will come upon them,” says the Lord.’”

“Lord, behold I cannot speak, I am but a child”. So spoke Jeremiah on receiving the news that he was to be a prophet (1:6). Like Moses before him, he was aware of his limited communicative abilities, and he certainly didn’t relish the prospect of bringing bad news to his people – the fact that the Babylonians were on their way. Israel had been unfaithful to the laws of the covenant and had forsaken God by worshiping the Baals. The people of Israel had even gone as far as building high altars to Baal in order to burn their children in fire as offerings. However before imparting the bad news, Jeremiah was instructed to remind Jerusalem of Yahweh’s faithful love to her in the past and the fact that she had once been faithful to Him. I remember you, the kindness (or devotion) of your youth; the love of your betrothal, when you went after Me in the wilderness. Courtship language again, as with the previous post. The Lord had never considered His chosen people to be morally bankrupt by nature; they were “holiness to the Lord” and “the first-fruits of His increase” (2:3). Their righteousness BECAME as filthy rags when they forsook His ways and prostituted themselves to idols (cf. Is64:6).

The “filthy rags” reference is so frequently taken out of context – God did not require His people to acknowledge their moral ineptitude and trust in His mercy or anticipate a future Saviour fulfilling the Law on their behalf as I once believed. They were simply to continue to do what they had done in the past – be faithful to the requirements of His Law, which as I indicated in an earlier post they were perfectly capable of doing. Reading diligently through the Old Testament one observes that God’s displeasure was aroused by heinous and thoroughly avoidable acts of unfaithfulness by His people, never by the fact that they “fell short of His glory”. Of course they did, He is God and we are not: God is superior to man in every way. Our loving Father knows it and allows for it; that is the nature of Love, as any loving parent or godly potentate well knows.

But Israel was intended to be “the first-fruit of God’s harvest” (2:3); a light to the nations who would come to discern the wisdom of God’s Law, as Moses had earlier indicated:

Look, as Yahweh my God commanded me (Moses), I have taught you laws and customs for you to observe in the country in which you are to take possession. Keep them and put them into practice and other peoples will admire your wisdom and prudence. Once they know what all these laws are, they will exclaim “No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation (Israel) (Deut4:5,6).

So much for that now that Israel had prostituted herself to Baal. Bring on the weeping prophet.


[Illustration: Jeremiah lamenting the ruins of Jerusalem – Rembrantd van Rijn (1630)]

ISRAEL, VINEYARD OF GOD – A DISAPPOINTING VINTAGE

Israel – described as God’s vineyard

Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning his vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. And he built a tower in the middle of it and also hewed out a wine vat in it; then he expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones. “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? “so now let me tell you what i am going to do to my vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. I will lay it waste; it will not be pruned or hoed, but briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.” (Isaiah5:1-7NASB)

The first thing to observe is God’s reference to Israel as His “beloved”. Courtship language in this context is not uncommon within the Old Testament; Yahweh presenting Himself as Suitor, and Israel the chosen nation whom He wished to make His own. Within human relationships, the suitor normally pursues his beloved because there is something attractive or desirable about her; not so with God with respect to His chosen people (Israel and the Church). In terms of whom God elects it is a matter of free grace; but as I never tire of asserting, that is not because he does not care for the rest:

Now then (Israel), if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine (Ex19:5)

All the earth is God’s and He is fair to all its inhabitants: those predestined to be “His people” are given responsibilities as well as immense privileges, a part of which for the present is to enlighten and act as a template for the rest of creation, towards most of whom His intentions are also benevolent. Any following this series of posts  should discern this to be the focal point of what I believe I have been shown by the Spirit and wish to impart to others by underpinning such hopes from Scripture – assuredly not from any liberal or merely hopeful perspective. Regrettably that involves exposing some traditional scriptural hermeneutical errors which are nothing short of foundational – relating  as they do  to the anthropological consequences of the Fall (Gen3 / Rom7:15-24 / 1Thes5:23) and the implications of the reprobation of Cain (Gen4 / 1Jn3:12 / Jud1:11), both of which have been considered in earlier posts and  more systematically in my e-book.

Returning to our texts, Israel was intended to be a light to the Gentiles (cf. Ex19:5), and from God’s perspective they were the vineyard He had planted (Is5:1). In Isaiah’s words the Planter had expected good grapes but it yielded what was worthless (v4). Note also how the Lord pleads with His people: “Judge between Me and My vineyard, what more could I have done for you?” God by no means wishes us to spurn human reasoning in the consideration of His actions and how we are to approach Him – such also was the teaching of Christ (e.g. Lk11:5-13).  Note especially the consequences of His peoples’ failure, affirming my earlier comments regarding privileges resulting in responsibility: God’s own vineyard would (for a time at least) be laid to waste (v6). As for those privileged to be incorporated within the racially expanded “Israel of God” of the New Covenant:

“How shall we possibly escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (cf. Heb2:3) “How much worse a punishment will those deserve who have trodden underfoot the Son of God and have counted the blood of the covenant by which he is sanctified as a common thing and so outraged the Spirit of grace?” (Heb10:29)

Just as with our forebears, God to an extent “gave the wink” to ignorant idolaters (Acts17:30KJV) whereas to those privileged to be His elect nation He had said:

“You alone have I intimately known of the families of the earth. That is why I shall punish you for all your wrong-doings” (Amos3:2)

This may not be the emphasis one is used to, still less wishes to read about but it has been laid on my heart, partly I suspect as a caveat but above all to affirm our Lord’s equitable justice in His dealings with all who have been created in His image.

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Illustration:  Vineyard in Napa Valley, California – courtesy Wikipedia

THE GOOD SHEPHERD WHO GAVE HIS LIFE FOR THE SHEEP

George Frideric Handel

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah53:6)

As with a recent post, Handel’s glorious Messiah echoes through my mind as I contemplate this passage, albeit that the identity of the “suffering servant” in Isaiah is by no means clear-cut. In Is49:3 I take it to be referring to Israel (as more to the point does Paul in Acts13:47) whereas in chapter 53 it would appear valid to associate the reference more definitively with our Lord, both in view of the content of the narrative itself and its utilisation by Philip in his witnessing to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts8:32-33.

 On such a basis and from an individual’s perspective this prophecy is the very heart of the Gospel – the good news that “The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal2:20). Only the Christian will make such an assertion, yet when one pays careful attention to the text of the New Testament one is struck by the fact that Jesus is consistently described as dying as an offering FOR SIN rather than particular individuals. He BECAMESIN for us (2Cor5:21); He gave Himself FOR OUR SIN (Gal1:4); He bore OUR SINS in His own body on the tree (1Pet2:24); He suffered once FOR SINS (1Pet3:18);  the iniquity OF US ALL was laid upon Him (our featured text). In other words, Scripture presents the matter in terms of SIN being punished in Jesus; not the sins of specific individuals or groupings – a statement which (have no fear) I shall shortly qualify.

By an eternal decree there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood (Heb9:22) and Jesus more than satisfied the penalty owed by human sin. He bled and died for the sins of humanity so as to satisfy God’s own eternal Law of Righteousness. Yet that once-for-all atonement per se neither establishes “eternal life” nor abolishes physical death within any universal exchange because that historical event was never intended to rectify the nature of the vessel transmitted from our first parents that the human soul/spirit is to inhabit – what Paul quite deliberately refers to as “somatos tou thanatou toutou” – the body of this death. It is evident that our sovereign God was quite content that human souls would inhabit such a corrupted vessel or he would have destroyed Adam and Eve at Eden  – (they had been warned). Instead He continued to utilise this shamed couple as the procreative fountain-head for humanity (cf. Rom8:20). The fact that the Creator chose this course of action was an astounding act of love on His part (in view of the consequences for the Godhead) but unless you accept what I have been indicating in earlier posts, few reading this will currently see it that way – firstly in view of human history, and secondly in light of their understanding of the eternal fate of those not of the Faith. For it is surely a substantial majority that has not been willing or suitably enlightened to be discipled by Christ – to “lose their life in order to find Life” (Mt16:25), putting service to Christ and others first and second in their life. It is a small minority indeed who as the called, faithful and chosen, suffer with Christ in order to be glorified with Him as co-heirs of God’s Kingdom (Rom8:17 cf. Greek). For whilst all people of good will may be justified by “faith” (evinced through compassion Mt25) by the merits of Christ’s faithfulness [note A] , His elect already participate in the Life of God (Jn6:54-57) through a mystical communion with His Son.

Making such a distinction between the forensic (pardoning) benefits  of the Cross applying to the many and the participatory (cleansing and empowering) benefits applying to the proportionate few who dwell in Christ and He in them (Jn6:56) becomes essential if one is to do justice to God’s  magnanimous Plan for the human race without at the same time compromising the role of Gospel, Church or Sacrament. For it must be affirmed that all human salvation has been made possible by Christ’s atoning death, which continues to provide life for the world and individual cleansing for sin (Jn6:51; 1Jn1:7).

Note[A] “ek pisteos christou” e.g Rom3:22; Gal2:16; Gal3:22, which more theologians and the more recent bible translators are recognising needs to be distinguished from cognisant faith in Christ (pisteos en Christo e.g. Gal3:26 ) This pivotal distinction is elaborated upon in chapter 3 of my book, a free PDF of which is available HERE

CYRUS – TYPE OF CHRIST

King Cyrus the Great

Thus says Yahweh to His anointed one, to Cyrus whom He says I have grasped by his right hand to make the nations bow before him and to disarm kings  (Isaiah45:1)

The Neo-Babylonian empire, who under king Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the first Jewish Temple and brought God’s people into exile as slaves in Babylon was to be defeated by Cyrus the Great – “king of kings”, being one of his grand titles. God used this enlightened Gentile to liberate His people from Babylon and through his sovereign edict, their temple was rebuilt. He was described by the Prophet Isaiah as “God’s anointed one” or messiah. This self-styled “king of the four corners of the world” destroyed the Babylonian hold over God’s people and cleared the path for them to worship Yahweh in the city of the great king.

 This  prefigures the end-time destruction of “Babylon” (Rev17-19) representative of the intangible kingdom of satanic evil, currently functioning in the world in diametric opposition to the Church, the Kingdom of God in mystery. The One (for all its flaws) ever seeking to bring light, truth, peace and healing, the other moral degradation, greed, deception and destruction. That is the nature of the struggle; it is not the Church versus everyone outside her as depicted in Augustine’s “City of God”; it is a two-way battle within the World, not against her. The Church and “Babylon” are both seeking to gain people for themselves but for opposing ends, resulting of course in three outcomes: the saints, “children of the devil” (Jn8:44, Acts13:10, 1Jn3:10 cf. Mt13:38, 15:13,16:26, 2Cor11:14,15; 1Tim4:1,2; Jude12b; Rev11:18b)* and the rest of creation whom we noted in the previous post are to be “delivered from the bondage of corruption (nota bene), into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom8:21).

  *Not intended to be an exhaustive listing – I have set out the scriptural definitions in my book (chapter  6)** – that is not to say such people can always be determined by their fellow man (au contraire 2Cor11:14-15; 1Sam16:7)

** Free PDF HERE

Exploring the mystery of divine providence