Legit Ladies of the Exodus

moses motherI love noticing layers and dimensions to the narratives of Scripture that I haven’t seen before. I was particularly edified the other day when reading an older post by my Mere Fidelity compatriot, Alastair Roberts, on the early chapters of Exodus. Among other things, he takes some time to highlights what a dominant role the godly, courageous women play early on in the story. I thought it was worth quoting at length:

Throughout Exodus 1 we see the fertility and liveliness of the children of Israel and the thwarted efforts of Pharaoh to arrest their growth. First, Pharaoh afflicts the Israelites, setting taskmasters over them, and forcing them to build supply cities. Later on the description of the process of making bricks will recall the building of Babel in Genesis 11. Pharaoh then speaks to the Hebrew midwives, instructing them to kill the sons and spare the daughters. The killing of the sons prevented the children of Israel from defending themselves or challenging the Egyptians, while the daughters would be spared for Egyptian men. Once again we see a threat to the promised seed and to the woman by the serpent/dragon figure. The dragon wants to kill the seed that threatens him and use the woman to produce his own seed.

The Hebrew midwives, like the godly women of Genesis, deceive and lie to the tyrant. The women of the Hebrews are contrasted with the Egyptian women, who lack their vigour. The sense is of a divinely given life that is continually outpacing the death-dealing tyrant that is fruitlessly seeking to overtake and arrest it. Having failed with the midwives, Pharaoh then instructs his people to kill every Hebrew baby boy, while saving the daughters alive. The fact that midwives are mentioned should also alert us to the fact thatIsrael is about to undergo a national birth.

It is important that we recognize that this story, as in the case of other great stories of Exodus, focus at their outset on faithful women (Rachel and Leah, Hannah, Mary and Elizabeth). Exodus 1 and 2 are all about women and especially daughters – the Hebrew midwives, the Hebrew mothers, the daughters of the Israelites, Jochebed, the daughter of Levi (2:1), Miriam, the daughter of Jochebed (v.4), Pharaoh’s daughter and her maidens (v.8), and the seven daughters of Midian (2:16). Our attention is typically on the slain sons and on Moses, and we miss the crucial role that the women play in the story.

It is the women who outwit the serpent, Pharaoh, and mastermind the salvation of the Hebrew boys. It is Jochebed and Miriam who bring about Moses’ salvation and the daughter of Pharaoh who rescues him. The place of women in the narrative will be important as we go along. Having registered the importance of this detail, we will remark upon its presence at various points as we proceed.

The women and the seed are in direct conflict with the tyrant because the story of the Exodus grows out of the enmity established between the woman and her seed and the serpent and his seed in Genesis 3:15. Until Moses grows up, the only man really active within Exodus is the greater serpent, the dragon Pharaoh. Exodus 1:15—2:10 is a story of Eve and the dragon.

Yes, when we think of heroes of the faith, there are a lot of mens’ names on that list. But we shouldn’t for an instant forget the story of the Gospel is one that includes both men and women. We have a great many fathers in the faith, but we also have some really, really legit mothers as well.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mere Fidelity Podcast: The Trinity and the Bible w/ Fred Sanders!

fred sandersThis week’s podcast we had the honor of having Fred Sanders on the show. For those of you who don’t know him, he’s one of my favorite people and an excellent trinitarian theologian working over at the Biola Torrey Honors program. We talked with Fred about what goes into developing the doctrine of the tradition based on the Bible, tradition, and so forth. As usual, Fred’s great. If you like the discussion and are interested in Fred’s work, you can check him blogging at Scriptorium Daily or his excellent book on the Trinity The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything.

A couple of things to note, though. First, the sound quality on my end is a bit shoddy. It’s mostly fine, but the first minute there is rough. We’re working on it.

Second, please do take time if you can to rate and if possible review the podcast over at our iTunes RSS feed. Also, feel free to subscribe.

Soli Deo Gloria

Kevin Vanhoozer Corrects N.T. Wright’s 5-Act Hermeneutic

Wright againWhile many other scholars have made similar points, Kevin Vanhoozer and N.T. Wright have probably done more than any other theologians to help me understand the Bible as a drama. As opposed to viewing the text as a static collection of theological bullet-points, they suggest we conceive of it in active, narrative terms, with a plot whose development yields the doctrine which gives life to the Church. So, when one of them offers up a criticism and nuance of the other’s approach the way Vanhoozer does here, I’m definitely interested:

Tom Wright has thrice put forward a model for conceiving biblical authority that trades on the notion of biblical improvisation. He compares the drama of redemption to a Shakespeare play, most of whose fifth act is missing. The church has the first four acts (creation, fall, Israel, Christ) but must work out the fifth act (church) for herself, all the while remaining in character. It is not enough for the actors “merely to parrot what has already been said”; they must go beyond the sacred page and find—improvise!—the conclusion. Still, the first four acts are the “authority” for the fifth act, hence the idea of “improvising with a script.”

This suggestive model has much to commend it. However, I see the fall not as its own act, but as the conflict in the first act, creation. I prefer to see each of the five acts of the theodrama as set in motion by a divine act. Hence: creation, election of Israel, Christ, Pentecost and the church, consummation. On my dramatic reckoning, the church does not have to work out the ending so much as to live in its light. The essential thing is to play the right act. The church is no longer in Act 2, under the law, nor in Act 3, in which case it would have to do the work of Christ. Nor is it already in Act 5, as some in the first-century church at Thessalonica with an over-realized eschatology mistakenly thought. No, the church is in Act 4, an in-between the first and second comings of Christ time, marked by the firstfruits of the end time but not yet at the end.

-Four Views on Moving Beyond the Bible to Theology, (Kindle Locations 2961-2973).

On one level I find this all rather compelling. The more traditional Creation, Fall, and Redemption (or Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation) is still rather serviceable. Wright’s suggestion is helpful, though, in that it distinguishes Israel’s phase thereby ensuring we don’t simply skip over it straight to Jesus–as if we could. It also helps us remember that while Israel is part of the Jesus plan, it is still a distinct phase, not to be confused with Christ’s work or that of the church.

Vanhoozer’s rolling the Fall back into the first act of Creation is also admirable for it’s theocentricity–God-centeredness. When it comes to thinking through the different acts as periods of human action, the Fall needs to be accounted for in our moral and theological reflection, but isn’t really stage on its own, it’s a presupposition for the rest. The narration of salvation-history is governed by God’s gracious action, not human sin.

I don’t have much to comment beyond that except to ask: what do you all think? Theologians, Bible-types, any thoughts?

Soli Deo Gloria

ACTUAL VANHOOZER SPEAKING on Augustinian Inerrancy (Video)

For those of you who are curious, and you should be, here is the short video by Kevin Vanhoozer (a.k.a. The Theologian) on his Augustinian account of a “Well-versed” inerrancy that was shown at ETS 2013 last month. I highly commend it to you, especially as a teaser for his account in the Five Views book on the series. I won’t say any more because ACTUAL VANHOOZER SPEAKING:

Soli Deo Gloria

Vanhoozer on Enns on Inerrancy

inerrancy viewsThe new Counterpoints book Five Views on Inerrancy came in the mail yesterday so, of course, I tore into it immediately. I’ll say it right now, if you’re at all interested in this conversation, you should pick it up. The quality of the essays and the various responses have all been top-notch for their respective positions–and I’ve only read the Mohler and Enns essays!

While we’re on the subject of Peter Enns, I have to say I was impressed. Not convinced, but impressed. I was also impressed by the various criticisms leveled at it, many which are worth quoting at length, but I’ll only do that with Kevin Vanhoozer’s because, well, it sums up my basic complaints and gives a bit of a hint as to where Vanhoozer will later go himself:

I endorse Enns’ call to conform our doctrine of Scripture to the Bible that we actually have rather than the one we think God ought to have written. My own essay contrasts an “inerrancy of glory” (aka “perfect book inerrancy,” a cultural construct) with an “inerrancy of the cross.” I draw this distinction in order to urge an inerrancy of the cross that recognizes the wisdom of God in the surprising textual form he has given it rather than the form we may think it ought to have had. Enns simply identifies inerrancy with perfect book theology, however, and then devotes most of his essay to exposing its nakedness. I agree that perfect book inerrancy, “by placing on it expectations it is not designed to bear” (p. 84), fails to do justice to Scripture. However, in my own chapter, I explore a constructive alternative. I wish Enns had tried to do this too.

Instead, Enns spends most of his chapter reacting to what I judge to be a caricature of inerrancy— what David Dockery, whom I discuss in my own chapter, calls “naive” rather than “critical” inerrancy. Enns would have been better off discussing the original drawing— namely, the definitions offered by John Frame or Paul Feinberg— rather than demeaning the assumptions and interpretive practice of anonymous inerrantists. Who are these faceless villains (“ is it I, Peter”)? Enns nevertheless makes a valid point: the doctrine of inerrancy has been hijacked by various bands of exegetical pirates who insist that the gold of true Bible knowledge is secure only in their own interpretive treasure chests.

Enns thinks the core issue is “how inerrancy functions in contemporary evangelical theological discourse” (p. 83, my emphasis). Why should the function rather than the nature of inerrancy be the crux of the matter? We don’t throw away other doctrines, like divine sovereignty or the atonement, just because some people misunderstand or misuse them. No, we try to set them right. Curiously, Enns is not interested in definitions. Even his title focuses on function: “Inerrancy, However Defined, Does Not Describe What the Bible Does.” This is strange. Why should inerrancy— the claim that the Bible is without error— describe what the Bible does? Enns’ essay suffers from two confusions: (1) a failure to distinguish the nature of inerrancy from its use and (2) a failure to distinguish inerrancy’s right use from various abuses.

–Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

He goes on from there to actually substantiate his claims about Enns’ essay (with some style). But yes, Enns often reduces inerrancy to its political function; in essence he falls afoul of the principle that abuse does not remove use. As for more nuanced accounts, those are sort of dismissed as possibilities with a hand-wave towards the insurmountable obstacle of biblical scholarship. Actually, I’ll go ahead and quote Vanhoozer again with this little gem on whether or not we should rush to accept the so-called “scholarly consensus” in archaeology, or whether it’s appropriate to trustingly wait it and see what new light is shed:

Why is Enns in such a hurry to capitulate to the prevailing scholarly consensus? Theories, consensus opinions, and schools of thought all come and go. Christians are not to be blown about by every wind of academic fashion. I wonder: does he think, in light of the problem of evil, that we should concede that God does not exist? After all, there is considerably more evidence of gratuitous evil in the world than there is that ancient Jericho had no walls. It’s not clear to me how, on Enns’ scorecard, the theist fares any better than the inerrantist. Should we therefore reframe our doctrine of God to fit the prevailing extratextual “evidence”?

I found the comparison to the epistemological situation we find ourselves in with the problem of evil helpful. The point is that there is a lot of apparently pointless evil out in the world, and that could count as “evidence” that God does not exist. Indeed, it does count as evidence. And yet, as philosophers will point out, that’s not the only evidence there is, in which case the theist can put that to one side for a moment, without immediately scrapping their belief in God every time something inexplicably tragic happens. In the world of biblical scholarship where judgments on key questions like this shift every 20 years, it’s reasonable to slow the rush to throw inerrancy on the dust-heap of discarded doctrines.

Now, of course, I’m only giving you a couple of samples here. Both Vanhoozer and Enns have plenty more to be say here–no one can be quickly dismissed. Still, I hope this little taste whets your appetite for the rich feast of excellent scholarship and theological engagement you’ll find in this volume.

Soli Deo Gloria

Inerrant Text ≠ Inerrant Interpretation (TGC)

inerrancy-of-Scripture-570x427-300x224

I recently ran across a couple of different writers raising questions about the value of affirming inerrancy or infallibility for the Bible, both of which hinged on the link between the text and interpretation. One wondered aloud at the coherence of claiming an infallible text when you’re a finite sinner, whose faculties are limited, likely disordered by sin and self-will, and whose interpretations must therefore be flawed. The other, a little more boldly, claimed the doctrine unnecessary, only serving human arrogance by lending added weight to the claimant’s own fallible pronouncements.

While both objections are quite understandable, and the first quite reasonable, they share a common failure to distinguish between theological claims being made about the Bible itself, and those for our interpretation of the Bible. In other words, it’s the difference between inspiration and illumination, and their relationship to the text.

I clarify these relationships and give two reasons why an infallible text matters despite our errant interpretations here at the The Gospel Coalition.

Hodge and Warfield: Our View of Inspiration Reflects Our View of God

Great beard. Great theologian.

Great beard. Great theologian.

Based on Twitter it seems like everybody is talking about the doctrine of Scripture at this year’s gather of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). It seemed fitting then to highlight this little gem from the modern grand-daddies of the doctrine of Inspiration, Archibald Hodge and B.B. Warfield:

…it is also evident that our conception of revelation and its methods must be conditioned upon our general views of God’s relation to the world, and His methods of influencing the souls of men. The only really dangerous opposition to the Church doctrine of Inspiration comes either directly or indirectly, but always ultimately, from some false view of God’s relation to the world, of His methods of working, and of the possibility of a supernatural agency penetrating and altering the course of a natural process. But the whole genius of Christianity, all of its essential and most characteristic doctrines, presuppose the immanence of God in all His creatures, and His concurrence with them in all their spontaneous activities. In Him, as an active, intelligent Spirit, we all live and move and have our being. He governs all His creatures and all their actions, working in men even to will, and spontaneously to do His good pleasure. The currents, thus, of the divine activities do not only flow around us, conditioning or controlling our action from without, but they none the less flow within the inner current of our personal lives confluent with our spontaneous self-movements, and contributing to the effects whatever properties God may see fit that they shall have.

–INSPIRATION, by Archibald Hodge and Benjamin Warfield, The Presbyterian Review 6 (April 1881), pp. 225-60.

As Vanhoozer* never tires of pointing out, the God question and the Scripture question can’t be separated. What you think about one is bound to affect what you think about the other.

Soli Deo Gloria

*I’ve been busy so this will have to serve as a place-holder for my “Engaging KJV” series. Should be back to it next week.

3 Things We Can Learn From The Genealogies

genealogyWhenever I read the Chronicles, I generally skipped the first 12 chapters full of genealogies. Yes, they’re in the Bible. Yes, I believe they’re inspired, but, let’s be honest, they can be pretty boring. It’s kind of hard to see the point of 12 chapters of list after list of people who don’t actually do anything of note. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who has felt this way.

Enter Gerald Bray.

In his systematic theology God is Love, Bray helpfully gives us three questions that we should always ask when studying any text:

  1. What does it tell us about God? What does it say about who he is and what he does?
  2. What does it tell us about human beings? What are we meant to be and what has gone wrong?
  3. What has God done about this problem and how does he expect of us in light of what he’s done?

As a test-case, he applies them to the study of the genealogies, to see what these “endless list of ‘begats'” can tell us, shedding on light the deep riches of God’s Word that await those patient enough to mine for it:

What do the genealogies reveal about God? They tell us that he is a faithful Lord, who keeps his covenant from one generation to another. Whoever we are and however far we may have descended from the source of our human life in Adam, we are still part of God’s plan. Over the centuries we have developed differently, we have lost contact with on another, and we have even turned on each other in hostility, but in spite of all that, we are still related and interconnected in ways that go beyond our immediate understanding or experience.

Secondly, what do the genealogies say about us? They say that form the world’s point of view, most of us are nobodies. We live and die in a long chain of humanity, but there is not much that anyone will remember about us as individuals. Yet without us, future generations will not be born and the legacy of the past will not be preserved. We are part of a great cloud of witnesses, a long chain of faithful people who have lived for God in the place where he put them. Even if we know little about our ancestors, we owe them a great debt of gratitude for their loyalty and perseverance, when they had little or nothing to gain from it or to show for it.

Finally, what do the genealogies say about God’s dealings with us? They tell us that we are called to be obedient and to keep the faith we have inherited, passing it on undiminished to the next generation. They remind us that there is a purpose in our calling that goes beyond ourselves. Even if we are not celebrated by future generations and leave little for posterity to remember us by, we shall nevertheless have made an indispensable contribution to the purposes of God in human history. So the genealogies bring us a message from God, even if they appear on the surface to be barren and unprofitable. All we have to do is ask the right questions, and their meaning will be quickly opened up to us.

God is Love: A Biblical And Systematic Theology, pg. 59

Now things might not open up that quickly for you and I, and yet Bray is right. All of Scripture really is profitable for the believer who seeks to hear God’s word to his people (2 Tim 3:16), and is willing to learn the right questions.

Soli Deo Gloria 

The Importance of Context in the Conquest of Canaan (The Story Notes #7)

jerichoMy church is, across all departments, going through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical story-line of the text.

That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.

Text – Joshua 6 and the Invasion of Jericho

While a lot of us have trouble with most of what they read in the Old Testament, up until now a lot of us could get by okay. Let’s not play around here, though–there is a serious difficulty for many of us reading and understanding texts like this. The invasion and conquest of Canaan presents an assault on the modern mind, with modern sensitivities, horrified at what strikes us as a simple war of conquest in the name of God. We live in a post-9/11 world and the specter of religious terrorism, and not to mention modern ethnic cleansing, so this stuff understandably terrifies us.

Problem is, it seems like the Bible is full of awkward sections like this. What do we do with these pictures of violence? Or all the weird laws that we find in the Torah? How do we accept them as the word of God and possibly relate them to our own lives when they seem so terrible? We have to do something with them don’t we? This isn’t just an academic question for a lot of us. These are the texts that get thrown in our faces by our atheist and agnostic classmates when the Bible comes up. And, if we’re honest, they’re the ones that keep some of us up at night, doubting if what we’ve been taught in Sunday School is really all just a made-up, human construction.

What I want to do tonight is try to deal with this text, yes, but also the importance of reading the troubling texts of Scripture in context. In this case there are three contexts that I would tell you that you have to consider: historical, redemptive-historical, and the Gospel. But to set that up, let’s recap the story.

The Story Recap- At this point, the 40 years are up, and the Israelites are beginning to enter and take the promised Land. Joshua, Moses’ Second in Command, is now leading Israel’s armies and beginning to fight the Amalekites, and the rest of the Canaanite peoples, in order to take possession of it. That’s pretty much the story so far from last week.

1. Historical Context – So, here they are, about to take the ‘city’ of Jericho, and here’s where it becomes important to start examining the first context, the historical one, in order to understand what we’re reading.

a. Geopolitical-Theological Power Centers – Most of us, when we hear about a city like Jericho, make the mistake of thinking of a modern city, or maybe an old town, filled with normal life, families, etc. with Israel camping around, ready to invade. Here’s where modern archeology and biblical scholarship begins to shed some light. See, the reality is, most of the “cities” we see listed as being taken are really concentrated military/political/theological centers that controlled the regions.

They were small, maybe about the size of Trinity (our church campus). Realize, this is not LA or even Tustin we’re talking about. These were small, composed of maybe a couple hundred people which is why Israel can march around seven times in one day, and then still have the energy to conquer it. Beyond that, they consisted of military personnel, local royalty, slaves and prostitutes, with the civilian populations (if significant) living outside the walls. This was an attack on the equivalent of a key military base.

And here we come to something important: there is every reason to think that these civilian populations cleared out as the armies approached. There are a number of texts in the Law and in Exodus where God promises to “drive them out” before the Israelites:

I will send my terror in front of you, and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send the pestilence in front of you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, or the land would become desolate and the wild animals would multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. –Exod 23:27-31

So, when Rahab talks about the “Fear” that had fallen on the land, there is the strong implication that most of any civilian population had cleared out before the Israelites ever got there. If they didn’t, before, then after 7 days of watching Israel marching around the gates, they did. These were not large massacres, but strategic strikes on key religious and political centers.

b. War Hyperbole and Rhetoric-- Beyond that, we need to address the language about total destruction in these texts right? Because we read these awkward phrases about “men and women and children”, “left no one breathing”, “left no survivors”, etc. According to Scholar Paul Copan we need to know that this is typical Ancient Near Eastern War Rhetoric:

This stereotypical ancient Near East language of “all” people describes attacks on what turn out to be military forts or garrisons containing combatants — not a general population that includes women and children. We have no archaeological evidence of civilian populations at Jericho or Ai (6:21; 8:25).8 The word “city [‘ir]” during this time in Canaan was where the (military) king, the army, and the priesthood resided. So for Joshua, mentioning “women” and “young and old” turns out to be stock ancient Near East language that he could have used even if “women” and “young and old” were not living there. The language of “all” (“men and women”) at Jericho and Ai is a “stereotypical expression for the destruction of all human life in the fort, presumably composed entirely of combatants.”9 The text does not require that “women” and “young and old” must have been in these cities — and this same situation could apply to Saul’s battling against the Amalekites.

So we have good reason to doubt that there was even close to the picture of  families and dense, civilian populations here. And this is not an issue of the text lying either. This is typical ANE war rhetoric and most people would have heard and read it that way.

c. Infiltration as Well — This is backed up by the fact that If you look at the earlier sections of the Law, there are dozens of laws talking about not inter-marrying with people of the land, or later on in Judges, the Bible talks about fights with the Canaanites, that assume they weren’t all wiped out, but continued to be a significant presence in the land. Again, as we saw in this Exodus text, the strategy wasn’t coming in and actually totally wiping people out, but slowly infiltrating key power centers and moving into the land that way. This is not the indiscriminate wholesale slaughter that we might be tempted to picture.

These and a number of other historical factors need to be considered when reading these texts. We live at a distance of thousands of years from these text and bring assumptions to it that the original readers wouldn’t have shared, and don’t assume things that they would have. So whenever you run across a difficult text in the OT, realize that there are a times when a lot of confusion and heart-ache can be avoided with a good commentary and some historical scholarship. Not entirely, of course, but still significant.

2. Redemptive-Historical Context – That said, the historical context isn’t the only one to consider. Another level that we have to consider is the “Redemptive-historical” context–or the whole story of the Bible. These events take their place in a longer story and must be understood within that context or they don’t make sense.

a. God’s patient judgment - One angle on this is to consider why God says he is driving out the Canaanites. Back in Genesis 15:13-16 God says:

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

Then again, we read in Deuteronomy 9:4-5:

“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you.  Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

In these texts we see that God was using the Israelites as his sword of judgment. This is not God just looking around at random and destroying a people. The cultures that were invaded were abysmally dark, notorious for their rampant injustices towards the weak and the poor. They were conquerors and bloody bullies who soaked the land in blood and death. These are not peaceful monasteries in Tibet we’re talking about here. Their worship was corrupted to the point that it involved bestiality, temple prostitution (which like involved sex-slavery), and, most horrifying of all, child sacrifice. We have archeological digs with pits, full of the skulls of children these cultures offered up to the flame. As an associate of mine pointed out, just consider Rahab the prostitute–how weird is it that she was willing for invaders to come? No, for her, and those like her, this was not just invasion, but in many ways, liberation.

See, God tells us that he is the God who care about poor, powerless, etc. He cannot and will not let injustice go on forever and so, at times, his final judgment breaks out in the present in order to stop gross injustice. Beyond that, in the first text we see that God waited 400+ years for the people to become corrupt enough to justify thing. He didn’t just pick a land and take it, he waited until the culture became so corrupt and wicked that their judgment was merited and necessary. This was God’s extreme patience towards the Canaanites–he waits hundreds of years for their sin to ripen and mature (far longer than we probably would have), until even God’s patient mercy must give way to judgment.

b. God will give them no taste for conquest — The other thing we need to note is that this is not a set-up for empire-building. In Deuteronomy he commands them not to have standing armies, chariots, or any of the other paraphernalia of empires. This a limited project, undertaken at one time, for a specific purpose. This is not a program of Empire to be appropriated later, or used to justify other violence. “You get this land, about half the size of California and no more.” This is part of the logic of the total destruction of these key sites. Israel is not to get a taste for war. And you see in the rest of the OT, the rest of the Yahweh-approved wars are fought defensively.

c. God’s other purpose is to create a Redemptive Space — The second reason that needs to be considered is what were God’s purposes with Israel. God had project: he wanted to create a people through whom the world would see what God was like. What’s more, the ultimate goal is not for Israel alone, but that all the nations of the world may be saved and blessed by God through Israel in the coming of her Messiah. For this to happen, Israel needed a land, a space to develop a culture as a people, set apart from other peoples, for the redemption of all peoples. They needed space to practice the 10 commandments. A set-apart, holy land devoted to justice, peace, and the true worship of God, in a way that would be un-corrupted by the local Canaanites and their distorted practices.

This is another, if not the key reason to understand that this was not a whole-sale killing, genocide or ethnic-cleansing. Israel took Rahab and her family in as they acknowledged the true God, and as a friend pointed out, this is likely just a shadow of Israel’s mercy to other people–the accounts don’t cover everything. Just as they included repentant Egyptians in the crowd as they left Egypt, it is not unlikely that repentant Canaanites could join the people. Of course, this points ahead to the Gospel of Jesus and the inclusion of the Gentiles. Clearing out the nations serves the purpose of one day bringing in the nations.

So what we’re seeing then, is a tactical, limited invasion, whose goal was to establish beach-heads, driving out the surrounding peoples and their corrupt cultures slowly. Why? For God’s specific, purposes of judgment on a wicked people, and the grand redemptive purpose of saving all peoples. (Incidentally, this is why this can’t be used as a warrant for modern violence–different covenant, no divine command, etc.)

This is where I make an analogy that might not work. Most of us look back at WW2 and think there was a lot of horrible stuff that happened on both sides. I mean, I think I’m only now reconciling myself to the horror of the firebombing of Dresden and the terror of Hiroshima. These were…damnable. Thing is, with all of Europe in the choke-hold of a monster, and the gaping jaws of Auschwitz and the camps devouring millions of Jews, I don’t think any of us would say that no bullets should have been fired or that no bombs ought to have been dropped.

If that holds true for the temporal salvation of some people and one point in history, how much more then for the salvation of the whole world? Again, this may not work for you. I get that. I’m not sure it does entirely for me either. Still, it might put the breaks on our rush to rule this out as something God “couldn’t” do. We have a God who has committed to saving historical beings, precisely in history. We shouldn’t be surprised if that involves some messy moments.

3. Theological Context of Christ - Of course, the final context I would say we need to look at this in, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On the one hand, you can’t understand Jesus without the rest of the story of the Bible. On the other, you can’t understand the story of the Bible without look at the Gospel of Jesus. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are like a light at the center of the Story-line that allows us to see all things properly in its light.

In this case, I think the Gospel reminds us of a couple of big-picture theological truths that we need to keep in mind when we look at these stories.

God Hates Sin – One thing these texts remind us of is the radical seriousness with which God takes sin. I was talking to a buddy the other day and he was telling me how it just really occurred to him that God hates sin–like, he really can’t stand it to the core of his being. But honestly, that’s a good thing, right? If God is good, loving, just, great, righteous, and holy, he really can’t love sin. He can’t and shouldn’t put up with it forever, right? I mean oppressing the poor has to end sometime right? Violence, arrogance, racism, rape, child-sacrifice, sex-slave trade, and idolatry can’t go on forever. And we don’t want it to.

This is what we see in the Cross of Jesus. The cross of Jesus is God judging sin for what it is–something damnable and horrifying–something that has not place in God’s world and will ultimately be done away with. What happened to Jesus is what ought to happen to us, and will, if we don’t allow him to be judged in our place.

God Loves Sinners – Now, while that’s one truth we need to see, there’s a far deeper one beneath it that is essential for us to consider–God loves sinners:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6-10, ESV)

The fundamental truth about God that we see in the Cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ is that his will is to save them. He loves them. He doesn’t want to judge us. He doesn’t want to ultimately condemn us. He is just, so if we refuse to turn, if we continue to hate good and choose evil, well, he’ll let us do that and suffer the consequence. But his deep desire is to draw us to himself. He looks at us and says, “Though I can’t stand what you’ve done, both to me, your neighbor, and yourself, yet I love you. I would separate you from your guilt. I would remove from you your sin, that I might hold you to my own heart that loves you still.”

So in order to do that, he suffers judgment himself. Realize, the God we see in the OT, is the same God who was willing  to become a man and suffer the worst pain that anyone in human history has ever faced. This is the God who suffers the rejection of Hell for us, so that we might not face it. In the end, God conquers sinners through judgment–His own, on the Cross. This is ultimately what I have to look to.

We’ve gone through a lot of these different contextual issues and historical considerations that change the shape of how we think about these text. They’re important to consider and helpful as we wrestle with the awkwardness of the story of scripture. At the end of the day, though, I have to put my trust in that God is who I see in Jesus Christ and him crucified–the God who proved himself perfectly just and perfectly loving in a way I could have never imagined. I never could have fathomed a God so good he was willing to die for those who wanted to put him to death in order to save them from death.

So when I come to these troubling texts, no, I don’t just read them and say, “Welp, it’s the Bible, so, no problem here.” I have doubts and struggles. What I do say is, “God, you’ve already proven yourself to be unfathomably just and unfathomably loving beyond my finite and fallen comprehension. I still don’t have a grid for the Gospel. I’m having trouble accepting this, but I trust you, so shine a light on this.” Then I wait. I study, pray, and wait. And you know what? I think God’s okay with that.

If you’re struggling tonight, that’s okay. Church is meant to be a place where, yes, we confess, praise, trust, and grow. It also should be a place where you can safely struggle. What I do hope you’ve seen is that when it comes to difficult texts, context matters–a lot. And can make a big difference. So before you chuck your Bible across the room, slow down, ask questions, do a little digging and prayer and trust God to show up.

Soli Deo Gloria

Okay, so, I know this is an incomplete treatment of the text, or even the whole conquest. I didn’t address God’s rights as creator, scratch the surface of the epistemological issues, moral grounding, and the authority of scripture over culture. Honestly, I had a half hour, and I try not to push my students beyond that. For those who are interested in exploring the question in greater depth, I would commend these resources to you:

1. Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan – This has three chapters devoted to the question of the context that are extremely helpful on this question.
2. How Could God Order the Killing of the Canaanites? by Paul Copan – Short article summarizing much of the book.
3. Is YHWH a War Criminal? by Alastair Roberts — Another thoughtful, article-length treatment of the subject.

A Kingdom of Forgiven Priests (Story Notes #6)

GoldCalfMy church is, across all departments, going through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical story-line of the text.

That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.

Things get screwy when you forget who you are–even for a little bit. For instance, when a poor college kid forgets that he’s a poor college kid, and acts like a rich one–well, that looks like years of credit card debt. The same thing is true for Christians who forget their identity–it can look ugly. Tonight we’re looking at the story of Israel getting its primary identity, and as we look at that, we’ll learn something about our own identity as a Kingdom of Forgiven Priests.

Recap – Now, at this point in the story, God has already set the Israelites free. God basically kicked the Egyptians butts by sending ten plagues from everything like flies, to hailstorms to boils to killing the firstborn in every household and so finally the Pharoah let the people Go (Sunday school style). Yeah, and so Moses led them out of Egypt into the desert and here’s where we pick up in verse 1

Text – Exodus 19:1-6

A Kingdom of Priests — Ok, so here we are at the base of the mountain and God here is about to make his covenant with the Israelites. He’s about to make the deal that will make the Israelites his people and he tells them that if they will be his people, if they will keep his covenant, his ordinances and worship him, then the nation of Israel will be for him “A Kingdom of Priests and a holy nation.”

Here we see what God was up to in saving the Israelites. He saved them out of slavery to Pharoah in order that they could be free to be for him a “Kingdom of Priests and a Holy nation.” He saved them for a task. He saved them so that they might serve God his priests, so that they might be a holy nation “out of all the nations.”

In this context, what does it mean to be a priest? Well, in the ancient world and even today, a priest was someone who stood between God and the rest of the people. He was the person who represented God to man and brought man to God. He was the go-between, the representative, the middleman. He taught people the ways of God and led the people in the worship of God. If you wanted to know what a god was like, you’d go check out his priest.

So, what does it mean for God to call an entire nation to be his “Kingdom of Priests”? Well, God is calling these people, to be his representatives to the world. They were to be a nation that taught the rest of the world what God was like. Like Adam in the Garden, they were to live in a way that revealed God to his world.

Israel and the Church

Ok, now, if you have your Bibles I want you to go to 1 Peter 2:9. Fast-forward from Moses about a thousand years to about the year 60 something A.D. Peter, one of the first followers of Jesus is writing a letter of encouragement to Jewish and Gentile Christians, the beginnings of the Church scattered throughout Asia Minor who are possibly suffering persecution and whatnot. Towards the beginning of the letter here in chapter 2 verse 9 he drops this statement:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy…Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Hold on there, did you hear that first part? “But you are a chosen people, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Do you see what Peter is doing here? He’s writing to this early Christian community composed of both Gentiles and Jews and invokes the Exodus text about the Israelites to apply it now to the community that has formed around the person of Jesus.

He tells this group that they are now to be to Jesus, what the Israelites had been for God back in the day. They are to be the people who declare the praises of “Him” who called them out of darkness into his marvelous light. Just as the Israelites were supposed to do this for the God revealed himself in the Exodus, the church is supposed to do this for that same God who revealed himself in Jesus.

This happens in two basic ways, both in the OT and in the NT:

1. Living Good Lives Among the Pagans — See, in just a chapter, Moses is going to lay down the 10 commandments (and the rest of the commands of the covenant) that express God’s expectations for the relationship. As Israel obeys those commands and observes them, the world begins to see what God is like.

It’s kind of like in your family, you have family rules. When you find out about your friends house-rules growing up, you find out about their parents. Are they uptight? Relaxed? Fun? Organized? Etc. In the same way, God’s commands are the house-rules that reflect God himself. That’s because those commands are not just arbitrary rules that God makes up, but expressions of his character. So, when you look at the commands they begin to tell you about what he’s like:

1-3 God demands we worship no other gods, we worship him and honor him properly because he cares about true relationship.

4. God tells us to rest because he is the creator and wants us to trust in him.

5. He wants us to honor our parents, and respect the authority by which the world functions.

6. Lying about our neighbors destroys the fabric of love and respect he wants for the world.

7. Stealing is the opposite of the generosity which characterizes the Creator God.

8. Murder is the opposite of the God who gives life.

9. Adultery is an affront to the value God places on relationships and promise-keeping.

10. Coveting reflects an ingratitude and lack of contentment that denies God’s provision.

The point is, in each of these commands you see something about the world and the God who made it. As Israel lives out these commands, the pagan nations around them find out something about the God that they worship. They would see that the God of Israel had just and wise laws and so was a just and wise God.

The same is true for us. As we live good, just, patient, honest lives in front of our neighbors, they should see something about the God we worship. It should be the kind of thing where, even though they don’t believe in God, or agree with our beliefs, they should be glad we’re their neighbors because of the lives we live with them.

Problem –  The problem is that Israel sucks at this. I mean, really, royally sucks at this. They hear the law, agree to it in a very sacred ceremony, and then Moses goes up the mountain for a 40 day to get the law on Tablets. In the middle of that, Israel get’s antsy and decides, “You know, let’s make an idol. That sounds like just what we need. Let’s get an idol.” Of course, right at the front of the list of commands is, “no idols”, right? Now, as usually happens, when you start worshiping other things, other sins follow. All idolatry leads to immorality somehow. In this case, they start partying, doing weird, freaky sexual stuff, and just getting crazy.

Now, I read this and kinda shake my head, but that’s totally me, right? I mean, I’ll be at church one minute, and then next I’m cursing somebody out in my car, or hating my neighbor, or back at that same sinful pattern I’ve been trying to break. I don’t know what it is for you. Maybe it’s being at that party. The blunt in hand. Blacked out again. Sinfully controlling people around you. Lying to make yourself look better. Disrespecting your parents. Coveting and comparing yourself to your neighbor. Murdering people in your heart.

So, how are we supposed to be priests if we’re caught up in all of this? How do we represent God to the world if half the time we look just like them?

2.  Singing His Praises For Salvation. This leads us to the next way we show the world what God is like. Its something that comes up, not so much in the text of the chapter, but in all the chapters that the Story cuts out. See, over next chunk of Exodus, and the whole book of Leviticus, God lays out a pattern for worshiping him, the other key task of the priests.

“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.(Exodus 25:8, ESV)” Just like in the Garden, God wants to dwell with his people. He gives laws for how the Tabernacle, the traveling tent in which God met with Moses should be made. If you study it, it’s gorgeous and intricate, in-laid with all kinds of craftsmanship. Beyond that, it goes through in painstaking detail the processes involved in dwelling and worshiping the holy God. There is chapter after chapter about how to deal with ceremonial issues, and at the center of them all stands the chapter on the Day of Atonement.

See, God gives the people of God his laws, but the fundamental truth about Israel is that it can’t keep it. Inevitably, they will fail to obey God’s commands and so for them to maintain right relationship, God institutes the sacrificial system in order to deal with that. The sacrificial system teaches two truths simultaneously: God wants relationship with us, and our sin gets in the way of that. God’s holy and perfect character is opposed to our sin, while still loving us.  Throughout the system of sacrifice we see that God is totally holy, perfect, righteous, and will not tolerate sin. And yet, he loves sinners and wants to be near them, so he provisionally accepts sacrifices in their place to pay for their sins.

In the sacrifices, there were multiple levels of meaning going on, but at the heart of it was the recognition that sin deserves death. As the worshiper brought the animal to be slaughtered, they were basically saying, “God, through my sin I’ve chosen to reject you, the source of life, which deserves death. Through sin, I’ve chosen to break relationship with you, the source of life, so I shouldn’t have life with you.” And God accepted that animal in their place.

Thing is, all of this points to the Gospel of Jesus at multiple levels. In Jesus, God makes a way for the relationship to work. In Jesus, God comes near to us despite all of our failures and all of our inability to perfectly keep the Law. Jesus is God in the flesh, coming near to dwell with us. It is God saying, “I know what you’re like. I know you can’t pull this off, or make this relationship work, so I’ll go ahead and ensure it.” And so Jesus goes to the Cross, and actually substitutes himself for us to pay for our sins as they deserve, without destroying us in the process.

So, in the sacrificial system we see why we worship. We worship because God has come near in Jesus and saved us from sin and guilt, and set us free to live for him. And there’s a holy irony about it: when you see God’s grace towards you in Christ, forgiving you for your failure to keep the commands, you begin to worship him more, and the reverse of the idolatry pattern kicks in: you start to obey more.

And this is the pattern that we model to the world. We show the world who God is in our obedience, our praise to God for his mercy on our disobedience, and our renewed love and gratitude for him in that.

What does this Look like? A lot of things, but it includes people who praise God by obeying and singing about his forgiveness for the times they fail. People who strive to live holy lives in front of the world around them. People who are honest about their failure to one another. People who are gracious when others do the same. It looks like a Kingdom of Forgiven Priests.

Soli Deo Gloria