ISAIAH CH.9 GOD’S SON HAS COME; HIS EARTHLY REIGN IS AWAITED

Gospel annunciation to the shepherds

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called wonderful, counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice, from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this. [Isaiah9:5-6NKJV]

A favourite Christmas reading for sure, for most would agree the child referred to is Jesus the Christ. In that sense it might be considered the archetypal Old Testament prophecy – yet it has been quite subverted. It is not that the promised events (Christ’s earthly reign and the defeat of evil) will not occur, they surely will, for “the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” – but not in the order or sequence stipulated, nor with the expected supporting cast.

This is the mystery of God, His not-so-little secret (cf. Rev10). This is how Paul explains it, which virtually no one has grasped, including myself for the first 40 years of my Christian life:

“Unto me (Paul), who is the most inferior of all the saints, was this grace granted that I should preach among the (Gentile) nations, the unsearchable riches of Christ to enlighten all regarding the fellowship of the secret* (plan) hidden in God (the Father) through the ages, who created all things through Jesus Christ – that on account of the Church should now be made known to the sovereignties and authorities in the heavens, the multi-faceted nature of God’s wisdom according to the purpose of the ages made in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph3:8-11 from Greek).

Once Paul’s meaning is grasped everything can fall into place, providing one goes on rightly to interpret the rest of the apostle’s teaching regarding the role of the Law, the economy of grace, the context of justification and the psychological dualism between flesh and spirit that results from the disparate immediate origins of the physical and spiritual components of the human species (separated at death) as a result of the Fall (cf. Rom7:17-25).

I know how some of this is likely to sound to conservative Christians (I was a staunch Calvinist for 25 years), but such a reading resolves many tensions and mysteries within Scripture, the three primary ones being the disparity between OT prophecy and NT reality, and the correspondence between God’s compassionate and equitable nature as the Bible presents it and traditionally perceived eschatology. Thirdly it offers an explanation for evil and suffering as grist to prepare mankind for the glorious destiny and future offices God has in store for those created in His own image, more especially and immediately to faithful disciples of His Son. Having been predestined to be conformed to His image (Rom8:29), it is fitting that His joint-heirs should be perfected through suffering (Heb2:10; cf. 2Tim2:12). Such people long for Christ’s appearing, when He shall in a more substantive sense execute His reign – “to order it and establish it with judgment and justice” within a new heaven and a renewed Earth.

*The phrase from which the title of my book is taken: a free PDF is available HERE

ISRAEL LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES

As far as the Old Testament age was concerned, the race of Israel was intended to have been a light to the Gentile nations, living as a holy nation faithful to Yahweh, whose name and Law would become honoured amongst other nations:

“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).

Some readers will be aghast at Moses’ statement: the Law (Torah) actually to be practiced so that the world would come to admire Israel and her Law??. Yes indeed, that was the intention. The witness of Israel being faithful to the Law provided through Moses was meant to have been a light for the gentiles: the rest of the world’s “preparation for the Gospel” i.e. their future submission to the Lordship of King Jesus when He eventually came to do exactly what John Baptist expected Him to do: destroy the enemies and oppressors of God’s people and judge the whole world, i.e. put it to rights. Then, supported by the Jewish Nation (the sons of the Kingdom – Mt8:12), He would establish God’s Kingdom on Earth, reconciling other nations to God and each other by inculcating a way of peace along the lines of Isaiah2:4.

It didn’t pan out that way and St Paul explains why (if only he were understood). It’s not the Old Testament being hyper-allegorical, it’s the outworking of Paul’s revelation – the mystery concerning God’s plans for the Gentile nations that I set out in chapter one of The Little Book of Providence – available at the links below:

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PROPORTIONAL PUNISHMENT

Wherever in scripture punishment for human sin is quantified, it is typically specified at double the offence; a principle applied quite literally in the Law of Moses for all manner of theft (e.g. Ex22:4,7,9). Likewise in the Prophets, God’s rebellious people are said to pay double for their sins (Is40:2, Jer16:18) as at the universal level do the wicked (Jer17:18, Rev18:6). “Double” need not be taken literally in the latter cases but it is indicative of proportional punishment, which by definition must be finte, for nX≠∞ (where n is the multiple and X is the offence). Even so, thinking back through human history and applying such a principle it is no surprise that Jesus said of a few: “it had been better for them if they had never been born”, especially those who through megalomania or merciless psychopathy have brought untold misery to numerous lives, for they will pay a heavy price. They will not suffer because of any deficiency or “limit” to Christ’s atonement; nor, it should be noted, is final punishment presented in the gospels in terms of offences against God but against humanity (Mt25:41-46). Why? – because God makes full allowance for ignorance; man’s knowledge of the Divine Glory is at the very best incomplete, especially for the majority who have not received a faithful account of the Gospel. But there is less excuse with regard to dealings with our fellow man, for the requirement to be caring and compassionate is intuitive (Mt25 again), being discerned through the faculty of conscience, by which (to the astonishment of many) Paul asserts that many without the Law do, however feebly, the one thing required to fulfil its purpose (Rom2:14,15; Rom13:8; Gal5:14).

One can take it from Christ Himself that punishment will be proportional. Human sin will be dealt with in accordance with the criteria stipulated by the Judge who is Himself a Man (Jn5:22), applying standards that could hardly be fairer (Mt6:14; 7:2). Of course, with our God there is forgiveness a plenty, but retributive post-mortem proportional punishment and exclusion from the blessings of God’s future Kingdom for some is a biblically inescapable reality [note 1]. It will be seen to be right and just and indeed necessary, once a new heaven and earth is established under Christ with His saints, in which righteousness shall dwell (2Pet3:13).

Note 1: References in the New Testament to punishment being “eternal” are derived from English and Latin translations of the Greek word “aionos” (Strong’s G166) which means age-enduring. For example, according to Revelation the Beast and False Prophet shall be punished for longer “aionas ton aionon (literally “ages of ages” or multiple ages -Rev20:10). All this is considered in more detail in my book, The Little Book of Providence:

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Related post: God does not condemn the ignorant

Illustration – The Sistene Chapel painting: “The Final Judgement”


JACOB AND ESAU


 

Meeting between Jacob and Esau

I am in the process of working through the Old Testament and highlighting the areas where God’s broader providence is indicated but not generally perceived. In doing so I must not fall into the typical proof-texting trap of being selective – drawing on the passages that support the emphasis I am endeavouring to put across whilst ignoring narratives that might appear to contradict the fundamental principles I wish to impart, being that God is Love personified and is impartial and fair to all. In Paul’s language, when it comes to judgement, God is “no respecter of persons” in spite of what he might appear to be writing in Romans 9 with regard to Isaac and Rebecca’s twin boys. Frankly, the apostle’s own proof-texting in verse 13, dare I say it, is somewhat inventive – he is taking Malachi out of context. [If the apostle actually understood himself to be “composing scripture” rather than preparing pastoral letters, I’m sure he would have given more consideration to how his words were likely to be interpreted centuries later – likewise verse 16, so beloved by Augustinians and Calvinists]. Here Paul is quoting from Malachi where God speaking through the prophet declares that although Esau, patriarch of Edom was Isaac (Israel’s) brother he hated Esau (i.e. Edom) BECAUSE HE WAS INDIGNANT AT THAT NATION’S WICKEDNESS (1:4). But Paul uses that quote to imply that God hated the hairy little infant in Rebecca’s womb even before it was born. That indeed may have been the case in view of God’s foreknowledge of his character though the context of Malachi was the wickedness of the nation that would be Esau’s inheritance as the prophet makes clear.

The point Paul wished to impart was that God’s choice, i.e. His elective grace was not based on a person’s virtue but His sovereign will. That is absolutely the case, but as I say that was not the aspect that God wished to get across to His people through His prophet in Malachi 1. Yet this principle of election by grace alone does not in the least impugn God’s impartiality or equity providing the nature and purpose of such election is properly understood. God’s choice is not referring to whom is arbitrarily to be delivered from eternal punishment (which as His Son makes quite clear is determined by faith evinced by works of compassion – Mt25); election or predestination pertains to who are to be His chosen nation and royal priesthood, the faithful of whom are destined for betrothal to His own Son. Confusion also arises from Paul’s references in this context to God “showing mercy” to whom He so chooses. Again that is not referring to final judgement (the same general criteria will apply to all albeit allowance is made for ignorance and incapacity); rather the mercy refers to deliverance IN THE PRESENT from “the body of this death” which the Christian alone can experience through the purging of his sin, empowerment to live a holy life and a restored  relationship with His Creator  providing joy and hope for the future. That is mercy indeed and it is quite underserved on the recipient’s part. It also can pertain (as in Paul’s example of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Romans 9) to how God chooses to deal with the profoundly wicked or seriously misguided (Saul of Tarsus had been the latter); He may show mercy as in Paul’s case or harden the heart further as with the Pharaoh. But even here, Paul makes the point that God had shown mercy towards him because he did what he did in ignorance (1Tim1:13).

Reviewing the lives and destinies of Jacob and Esau as individuals, the former was something of a crafty, cheating deceiver whilst the latter had despised his birth-right and gone on to choose Canaanite brides in defiance of his parents’ wishes. Yet these two flawed brothers are finally depicted together (illustration) showing an extraordinary degree of mutual respect and deference to each other (chapter 33) and later to their father Isaac (who actually favoured Esau), attending to his burial together as Isaac and Ishmael had done with their father Abraham.

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Related post: Esau hated by God?  &   The Universal Covenant

Illustration: Jacob and Esau’s reconciliation – Rubens (1624) courtesy Wikipedia 7

A book exploring the mystery of divine providence

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