Monday, August 30, 2010

Jesus Christ and Time

 I've been reading through Karl Barth's "Dogmatics in Outline" (for a third time now and eagerly awaiting the arrival of the complete fourteen volume "Church Dogmatics" this coming November first) as prep for Sunday nights working through the Apostles' Creed and happened upon this wonderful extended quote dealing with Jesus Christ and time.  I just couldn't help but to share it (from Barth, Karl. Dogmatics in Outline. tran. G. T. Thompson; Harper Torchbooks, NY: 1959, pp.130-131) and ask: "What do you think about his concept of "eternity" and "time" in comparison to the modern Evangelical notions?"

Jesus Christ's yesterday is also His to-day and His to-morrow.  It is not timelessness, not empty eternity that comes in place of His time.  His time is not at an end; it continues in the movement from yesterday to to-day, into to-morrow.  It has not the frightful fleetingness of our present.  When Jesus Christ sitteth at the right hand of the Father, this existence of His with God, His existence as the possessor and representative of the divine grace and power towards us men, has nothing to do with what we are foolishly wont to conceive as eternity--namely, an existence without time.  If this existence of Jesus Christ at the right hand of God is real existence and as such the measure of all existence, then it is also existence in time, although in another time than the one we know.  If the lordship and rule of Jesus Christ at the Father's right hand is the meaning of what we see as the existence of our world history and our life-history, then this existence of Jesus Christ is not a timeless existence, and eternity is not a timeless eternity.  Death is timeless, nothingness is timeless.  So we men are timeless when we are without God and without Christ.  Then we have no time.  But this timelessness He has overcome.  Christ has time, the fullness of time.  He sitteth at the right hand of God as He who has come, who has acted and suffered and triumphed in death.  His session at God's right hand is not just the extract of this history; it is the eternal within this history....He is the Alpha and the Omega, the centre of real time, of God's time; which is not meaningless time that passes away....'Infiniteness' is a comfortless business and not a divine predicate, but one that pertains to fallen creatureliness.  This end without an end is frightful.  It is an image of man's lostness.  Man is in such a state that he is precipitated into aimlessness and endlessness.  This idea of the endless has nothing to do at all with God.  A limit is rather set to this time.  Jesus Christ is and brings the real time.  But God's time also has an end, as well as a beginning and a middle.  Man is surrounded and upheld on all sides.  That is life.  So man's existence becomes visible in the second article [of the Apostles' Creed]: Jesus Christ wit His past, present and future.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

One More for Bonhoeffer

I have waited a long time for Bonhoeffer's Fiction from Tegel Prison to be released in the critical edition by Augsburg Fortress. It is finally being published this Wednesday (and will hopefully arrive by then). It is something quite striking to consider reading the fiction of a man of tremendous faith living on death row and not knowing what the outcome of his prison life will lead to.

As I understand it Dietrich was never fully satisfied with these fictional writings (which in part are about his own life, but fictionalized), but they still offer another insight into the man behind them.  I'm looking forward to some new Bonhoeffer reading......

As an aside, what type of book (or genre) would you most likely write if facing the  uncertainty of another day in prison (or an endless stream of days)?  I personally think it likely I would once again take up poetry and more meditative/devotional writing.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ezekiel 37 - Sticks and Bones

37:1-14 – The valley of dry bones.  Once again the “hand of the LORD” was on Ezekiel (cf. 1:3; 3:14, 22; 8:1; 33:22; 40:1) and the Spirit (Heb. rûah) of the LORD set him right in the middle of a valley filled with dry bones (note the contrast between this valley of death and the mountains of fruitfulness in the previous chapter).  The bones are strewn everywhere showing that there was no proper burial for those who died and they are described as “dry” because they were well beyond any type of resuscitation.  Why did the LORD ask Ezekiel if these bones could live and what does Ezekiel’s reply signify?  Can the LORD do this work, or better, will the LORD do this?  It demonstrates Ezekiel’s dependence upon the LORD and recognition that everything depends upon His will and doing.  Why should Ezekiel prophesy to the bones?  “Yahweh’s goal in reviving these bones is not simply the biological-chemical reconstition of the body or even the restoration of physical life.  He desires spiritual revival: a new recognition of and relationship with himself” (Block NICOT 376).  What are the contents of his prophesying to the bones? 
Note the emphasis upon the breath (Heb. rûah) of life in order for the bones to live even after being attached with everything else anatomically necessary (cf. Gen.2:7).  What is the point of the LORD’s giving life?  Ezekiel seems surprised by the immediate reaction and sound of the bones being joined to each other and then the tendons, flesh and skin being added.  Note the lack of life because there was no breath (Heb. rûah) in them.  Why might the LORD require Ezekiel to prophesy again before they would be given life?  What does it mean for Ezekiel to prophesy to “breath” (Heb. rûah) and call it from the “four winds” (Heb. rûahot cf. Deut. 28:25-26; Jer.34:17-20) before the “breath” (or “Spirit/spirit” again Heb. rûah) would come into them so that they might live?  The Hebrew term rûah occurs ten times in the first fourteen verses of this chapter with the nuanced meanings as agency of conveyance (vs. 1), direction (vs. 9), and animation (vv. 5-6) (see Block NICOT II:373). 
The bones which were brought to life as people stand up on their feet much like Ezekiel at his commissioning (cf. Ezek.2:2; 3:24).  What do the bones represent? (see vv. 11-14)  Note that the metaphor is no longer of a valley of bones, but of the graves of the whole house of Israel (Judah and Israel) that will be opened (cf. Matt.27:52-53) and from which they will be raised to life by the infusion of the LORD’s Spirit (Heb. rûah) into them.  Why does the LORD state that He will do this?  There are many of the Church Fathers that understood this first section as referring to a general resurrection: Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius of Constantine, Ambrose, Severus and John of Damascus (Zimmerli Hermeneia II:264).

27:15-28 – One king over one nation of Israel.  Ezekiel is told to take two “sticks” (Heb. ‘ēsîm which may also be translated as “writing tablets” which would possibly include the contents of the two part prophecy that makes up the remainder of the chapter – in favor of this interpretation see Block NICOT 398-406, 409) and write on each addressing the two previous nations: Judah and Israel (Ephraim who was the youngest son of Joseph – cf. Gen.48:8-20; 49:22-26; Deut.33:13-17).  Why are the two sticks inscribed and what does holding them together signify? 
Notice in the explanation the LORD gives through Ezekiel that Judah takes the priority before “Ephraim” though they are joined together to form a unity in the LORD’s hand.  This is not only a prophecy of unity, but of a return from exile for all of the tribes of Israel as the one people of God.  What would be the obstacles to accomplishing this and where would the LORD return His people?  There would no longer be any multiplicity of kings, but only one king chosen by the LORD to rule the one nation.  Also, the one kingdom would be holy and no longer continue in sin and depravity, but would be cleansed and enter into the covenant they were always supposed to have with the LORD as their own God and they as His own people.  What does it mean for “David” to be the one king and “shepherd” over the united kingdom of Israel?  (cf. 2 Sam.7)  Does election to be a part of the one people mean there is no requirement for how one lives? 
Note the repetitive use of “forever” and “one” in this extended passage (cf. Gen.28:13-15; 35:9-15).  What is a “covenant of peace” (Heb. bĕrît ŝālôm cf. Eze.34:25-31) that is “an everlasting covenant” (Heb. bĕrît ‘ôlām cf. Isa.24:5; 55:3; 61:8; Jer.32:40; 50:5)?  What does it mean for the LORD’s sanctuary and dwelling place to be among His newly constituted people?  How does His presence make “holy”?

Extra Bibliography
Walther Zimmerli, Ezekiel (trans. R. E. Clements; 2 vols., Hermeneia; Philadelpia, PA: Fortress, 1979).

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Spirit in the Old Testament

Dan Block (whom I have high hopes of doing my Ph.D. studies under) has beaten me to the punch.  He has not only written several articles (JETS 32, 1989; SBJT 1.1 Spring 1997) where he articulates the theology of the Spirit in the Old Testament and its correlation to the New Testament, but has also included an excursus in his magisterial two-volume commentary on Ezekiel (NICOT Chapters 25-48 pp.360-1) on this topic.  A topic which I still hope to work on as part of my Ph.D. dissertation (tentatively titled "A Theology of the Spirit in the Former Prophets").

And his conclusion is much as mine...the disjunction between the two testaments and the person and work of the Spirit (as has popularly been believed) fails to grapple with the actual evidence of the text.  The Spirit indwelt believers in the OT in much the same manner as the NT, but in the NT this was unbounded by ethnicity and status.  In both testaments the Spirit endows with power for service.  In both, there is an "ecclessiological continuity" (NICOT 360) as evidenced by the requirement for Israel to have circumcised hearts (Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4) that would require the indwelling of the Spirit for sanctifying transformation (Eze.11:19; 36:26).  In both, the Spirit is essential for hope of salvation (Ps.51:10-11).

As Block notes in his conclusion, "Ezekiel anticipates the day when the boundaries of physical Israel will finally be coterminous with the borders of the spiritual people of God.  But, as [Eze.] 37:1-14 will demonstrate, this can be achieved only through direct divine intervention, Yahweh's infusion of his people with life" (NICOT 361).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ezekiel 35-36 - Two "Mountainous" Prophecies

35:1-9 – A prophecy against Mount SeirWhere is Mount Seir and what does it represent?  It is the primary site for the kingdom of Edom (house “father” was Esau) which lies to the southeast of Israel and Judah.  However, “Edom in Ezekiel 35 is merely one representative of the nations at large who oppose Israel and her God” because “Edom was the arch-type of the non elect the very paragon of a nation raging against the Lord and against his anointed” (Duguid NIVAC 406, 409; cf. Stuart 331).  This is a motif that began with the prophetic word concerning the twins, Jacob and Esau, which Rachel gave birth to (cf. Gen. 25:23). From the beginning there was animosity and this actually continued even to the days of Jesus when Herod, an Idumean (of Edom) tried to kill Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16-18) and the later Herod who actually shared complicity in the crucifixion of Jesus (Luke 23:6-12).  What did the LORD promise to do to the Mountain of Seir and what was the end goal?  Why was Edom to be judged (cf. Ps. 137:7; Obadiah) and is there any hope for Edom (cf. Deut. 23:7-8)?  In what sense was this fulfilled or meant to be fulfilled?

35:10-15 – Why it matters what we say?  What did Edom say that the LORD would hold them accountable for?  Who are the “two nations” that Edom looked to take over as their own?  Note that though the LORD removed his people from Israel and Judah that it was still His land and He would not give up His claim to it.  “Yahweh may indeed have left the temple and the city, allowing Nebuchadrezzar, his agent of judgment on his own people, to raze Jerusalem; but this did not mean he had abandoned all interest in the place, nor did it authorize any other nation to seize his land” (Block NICOT II:319).  Also, note that the “mountains of Israel” (as opposed to the traditional term “land of Israel”) were rejoiced over for being made desolate, but the LORD would in fact make Mount Seir (and all it represented; cf. a similar use of “Babylon” in Rev. 17-18) desolate.

36:1-15 – A prophecy to the mountains of Israel.  What did the LORD promise to the mountains and all the desolated regions of Israel?  Why would the LORD promise judgment against those who slandered the land and savagely took possession of it?  Note that it has to do with the LORD’s zeal and jealousy.  What does this tell us about the LORD’s motivation for judgment?  Was it primarily for Israel’s benefit or His (with Israel to benefit as He does)?  What theological significance might be attributed to knowing that “I am concerned for you” reads literally “I will turn to you” (cf. Lev. 26:9) in Eze. 36:9?  Whose people are Israel?  Is the LORD concerned for the land?  Note the promises of fruitfulness in both agriculture and the people of Israel.  Has this prophecy been fulfilled? (see particularly verses 12-15)  What was said about the land concerning its ability to sustain or “devour” a population (cf. Num. 13:32) and how would this be changed?

36:16-23 – What led to the defilement of Israel and why would they be redeemed?  In what way should we understand Israel’s defilement to be like a woman with her monthly period? (cf. Lev. 15:19-24)  It seems to signify that Israel was to be separated from all things sacred and clean and therefore excluded from both the land and the people that have been set apart.  This would explain the LORD’s exiling of His people.  How was the LORD’s name profaned among the nations by the exile?  What role does the LORD’s “name” play in how He acts towards people, both in judgment and redemption?  For whose sake will the LORD return His people to the land and bless them?  Note the emphasis upon what is “holy”.  What significance does this make?

36:24-32 – The gathering of Israel.  Who will gather Israel from the nations? (cf. Deut. 30:4) What will the LORD do as a part of this gathering?  What does it mean for the LORD to “sprinkle clean water” on His people and to? (cf. Lev. 15)  What will the LORD do to redeem His people?  Is it enough to have them outwardly acting the way that they should or is there a necessary inward change? (cf. Deut. 30:6-8) Dan Block sees Jeremiah’s influence in this passage, but notes that what Jeremiah attributes to Torah Ezekiel attributes to “the infusion of the divine rûaḥ” (NICOT 356-7).  Note that the LORD promises the Spirit to redeemed Israel just as the believer in Christ is promised the Spirit.  Will there be any room for personal boasting after the people of Israel are redeemed?  What should and will their response be? 

36:33-36 – The promise of a resettled land.  What is the prerequisite for the resettlement?  Will the land simply be restored to its former state or will the state after redemption be better than the former?  The comparison “like the garden of Eden” is something that other prophets also mention (cf. Isa. 51:3; Joel 2:3) Why does the LORD say that He will do all of this?

36:37-38 – The “flocks” that are heard.  What does it mean for the LORD to finally “yield to the plea of the house of Israel”?  Note that earlier Ezekiel had been denied pleading with the LORD on behalf of Israel, but now the LORD will answer such cries.  Why are the people likened to sheep and what picture does this present?  What is the reason for all of this?

Extra Bibliography

Douglas Stuart, Ezekiel (Dallas, TX: Word 1988).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Celebration of Destruction?

"People speak of plague with fear and tremor, yet of destroyers like Alexander and Napolean they speak with ecstatic reverence." (Spiritual Sayings of Khalil Gibran p.2)
It is a paradox that while we shutter to see the horrors of natural catastrophes, famine and disease, yet we hold in high reverence (as Khalil notes) those who destroyed whole peoples, slaughtering their women and children, depriving of brother and father, laying waste their fields and livelihoods.  It is shocking how we could idolize such persons.  I speak for myself when I say that my heart is stirred to repentance that I have held such men in high esteem...ignoring their ignominious deeds and monstrous acts.

As I've taught through Ezekiel for our Wednesday Bible study group these last many months the horrors of destruction have driven me into a weekly sorrow.  It was only those wicked ones about Israel that celebrated her destruction and exile...and the LORD promised those nations that their rejoicing would lead to their sorrow (see Eze.26-28).  It is perhaps noticeable as well that whereas David did not wish to suffer at the hands of man, but if he must suffer judgment to suffer pestilence in the hands of the Merciful God (2 Sam.24:13-14).  Should we not feel "fear and tremor" at the violence of men who did not fear God and instead were destroyers of those made in God's image?

Lord help us to not rejoice at the sorrow of others, but to give due honor to You as the Lord and Giver of Life.  May we be found in your merciful hands and granted the mercy we show to others.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Reading a Great Poet

Khalil Gibran is one of the most well-read (and cited) poets of all time (touted to be only following Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu according to the New Yorker).  A Lebanese born American of the the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he was born of Maronite parents (his father actually having been a priest) and moved to Boston as a young man.  Khalil is most remembered for "The Prophet" (1923)--which is a collection of 26 poetic sermons delivered by a fictional ancient sage--but besides writing numerous works in Arabic and English he was also renowned as an artist.  While theologically there are things which I strongly disagree with in his writings, yet there is a beauty and intensity to his style that calls one to believe and be spiritually renewed.  I hope to blog some of his quotes over the next several weeks from a new volume I recently purchased.  For those interested in some of his works that are available online you can find them HERE.  Happy reading!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ezekiel 33-34 – The Beginning of the Gospel According to Ezekiel

33:1-6 – The choosing of a watchman.  Who is the one who will bring “a sword”?  What are the duties of a watchman?  What are the consequences for the watchman and the people if the watchman gives warning?  What are the consequences if he fails to give warning?  What does it mean to be “taken away” because of sin?  What does it mean to be “accountable for his blood”?

33:7-9 – Who has been chosen as the watchman of Israel and who has chosen him?  What is Ezekiel’s responsibility toward those who are “wicked”?   On the “watchman” motif for the prophet who gives warning: see Isa. 21:6-9; Jer. 6:17; Eze. 3:16-21; Hab. 2:1.

33:10-11 – What were some of Israel saying while in captivity?  What is the basis upon which the LORD promises that they shall “live” though they feel the crushing burden of their sins weighing upon them?  Does the LORD take pleasure in the death of the wicked?  What is the call to the wicked?

33:12-16 – Are the wicked and righteous locked into their respective consequences?  What is necessary to live?  Is the promise of the LORD to the wicked that they “will surely die” a lie or a conditional promise?  In what practical ways can the wicked indeed to what is righteous and be guaranteed life?  Will sins committed be remembered if righteousness replaces wickedness?

33:17-20 – Are the ways of the LORD just?  What would it mean for us to be just and what does it mean for the LORD to be just?  According to what standard will the LORD judge Israel?

33:21-22 – The first survivor (Heb. pālît) of the destruction of Jerusalem arrives in Babylon as confirmation of the word of the LORD and of the prophet-hood of Ezekiel (cf. Eze. 24:25-27).  The date notice refers to January 8, 585 BC.  This places the following passage approximately five and a half months after the fall of Jerusalem (which is about the proper amount of time for travel between Babylon and Jerusalem).  Note that prior to the survivor’s arrival the “hand of the LORD” was on Ezekiel to open his mouth.  What does it mean that his mouth was opened after ten years?  It seems to mean that he was released from the prophetic silence and could actually cry out to the LORD on behalf of his people since the city and the temple were finally destroyed as prophesied.

33:23-33 – Those remaining in the ruined land of Israel still clung to the promise as if it did not matter how they responded to the covenant.  Were they safe to assume for themselves the promises to Abraham?  What does the LORD accuse them of?  What will be the actual consequences of their lifestyles?  What is the stated purpose of the LORD in further destroying the land and making it desolate?  Note that the LORD regularly says “your countrymen” to Ezekiel.  What is the significance of this?  Who (besides those actually still in Israel) are accused of practicing wickedness despite their outward attentiveness to the word of the LORD given by Ezekiel?  What does it mean that to those in captivity Ezekiel is “nothing more than one who sings love songs”?  What will be the vindication of the ministry of Ezekiel?

34:1-10 – A prophecy against the shepherds of Israel.  How did the shepherds fail to care for the flock?  Isn’t the shepherd allowed to eat from the produce of his flock and does not the flock exist for him?  What would be the reason for the LORD accusing the shepherds in this manner?  (cf. Gen. 31: 38-40; Job 5:23; Isa. 11:6-9; Jer. 23:1-6; Hos. 2:18-23; also concerning the “shepherds” of the Church see Acts 20:28-29; 1 Pet. 5:1-5) What is the consequence of their failures—both to the flock and to the shepherds?  Who are the “shepherds” of Israel?  Who is against the shepherds and who actually owns the flock?

34:11-24 – The LORD Himself promises to care for His sheep (cf. Ps. 23; Eze. 24:26; John 10:1-18; Rev. 7:17).  What does it mean for the LORD to gather His sheep?  In what manner does the LORD promise to shepherd His sheep and also what is the promise concerning the actual land of Israel?  Note that the LORD will judge among his flock and deal with those among them who have cared only for themselves and even troubled the lives of others.  Who are those among the flock that the LORD is referring to here as opposed to the shepherds that were accused earlier of selfish living?  Who will be placed over the LORD’s flock as a shepherd?  What does it mean for “David” to be chosen for this position (since David had been dead for several hundred years?  “God’s solution to a history of bad shepherds is not to replace shepherding with a better system, but to replace the bad shepherds with a good shepherd” (Duguid NIVAC 396; and Duguid Ezekiel and the Leaders of Israel 47).

34:25-31 – The LORD will make a “covenant of peace” with His people.  What are the promises of this covenant of peace?  Security, fruitfulness, freedom, and intimate covenantal knowledge of the LORD are all part of the promise.  What does it mean for the LORD to be their God and them to be His people, the sheep of His pasture?  “What does it mean to be a shepherd?  It is a unique combination of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted” (Duguid NIVAC 399).

Extra Bibliography
Iain M. Duguid, Ezekiel and the Leaders of Israel (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994).

Monday, August 09, 2010

N.T. Wright on C.S. Lewis

Though several of the blogs that I personally follow have already linked to and mentioned an article in Touchstone Magazine, I thought I should put my own link to the wonderful article of N. T. Wright's interaction with and critique of C. S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity".  (Apparently to be a well-published author you just need two initials for your first name...perhaps its time to become R. L. Wadholm).  :-)  I found Wright's critique to be pointed with regard to Lewis's eschatology and Christology in particular.  To be quite honest, I actually enjoyed Lewis more than Wright's "Simply Christian" (which was dubbed as the "Mere Christianity" for today...or some such thing).  Perhaps I'll have to give them both another read in the near future (though it may need to wait until I'm finally out of school...which may be never... :-).

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Proverbs: Wisdom or Universal Principles?

Proverbs 26:4 4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you yourself also be like him. Context (NET)
Proverbs 26:5 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own estimation. Context (NET)
These two proverbs which happen to be specifically placed alongside of one another are key to recognizing the nature of proverbs (and I believe the nature of Scripture). The first says "Do not answer a fool according to his folly..." while the second says "Answer a fool according to his folly...". How should we understand this seemingly contradictory instruction? I believe that it is imperative to understand context and by "context" I do not simply mean the necessity to understand the biblical, religious, cultural, historical context of Scripture (as important as that is it is still only part of the context), but also our own personal context. This is where one must practice wisdom. Wisdom is not simply knowledge, but it is knowledge applied in the right time and the right way. This is the life lived in step with the Spirit.

The proverbs are not intended (at least most) as universal principles, but as teaching one to use discernment in all matters. One needs to recognize when it is the right time to help someone out financially (Prov. 3:28; 21:26; 25:21) and when and how to not help someone out financially (Prov. 6:1-3; 11:15; but contrasted in Prov. 20:16). One needs to know when it is the right time to confront a fool (Prov. 26:5; compare Matt. 23:17) and when not to confront a fool (Prov. 26:4; Matt. 7:6).

Reflecting on Scripture outside of Proverbs one needs still to know when they should be in mourning and repentance (James 4:8), and when to stand firm on the promise of their sure salvation (Heb. 6:11). One needs to know when it is the right time and manner to confront the hypocrites (Matt. 23:13, 15, 23, etc.) and when it is the right time to "turn the other cheek" (Matt. 5:39).

May I learn wisdom...may I learn to apply the truth of Scripture to my own circumstances in line with the leading of the Spirit of God...may I learn to not treat Scripture like a simple check-list where I go to know to do this-or-that, but where I encounter the living voice of the Living God and offer a living sacrifice of obedience.