The Old Testament and Resurrection

Yesterday in the Easter Sermon I spent a good bit of time talking about five key verses of scripture from the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, that point to a view of life after death. We would rightly call these resurrection verses in light of Jesus and the empty tomb, as well as the explicit teaching of the New Testament, particularly landmark passages like 1 Corinthians 15.

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Me preaching on Easter, or am I playing Rock, Paper, Scissors?

 

The compilation of these five verses comes from Millard Erickson’s epic theology book Christian Theology, on page 1201 of my copy. It is not in his section on the work of Jesus, but rather on “Last Things” which I find fascinating. So, if you missed them yesterday because you were dazzled by my homiletics (or, like most of the 7 or 8 billion people in the world, weren’t there) here they are.

  1. Isaiah 26:19, “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise.  You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.  Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”
  2. Daniel 12:2  “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
  3. Psalm 49:15, “But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself”
  4. Psalm 17:15 “And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”

Erickson doesn’t list Job’s ancient words. I find this to be a glaring omission, for they are the most New Testament sounding of them all and are my personal favorite. As I said, it is part of my funeral liturgy, and for good reason.

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-26).

I’d like to point out as well that Erickson does in his work what theologians always do–offer serious caution about reading too much into these words. I know where he is coming from, but I think his caution is too strong. The Bible teaches us about Jesus, and though the language is imprecise in the Hebrew texts, it is still applicable and I believe appropriate at Easter.

DESERT ISLAND DEVOTION

A cruel, mean-spirited thought entered my mind this morning.  It was so heartbreaking I just had to share it with you.

What if, in some bizarro Rod Serling moment, you were marooned on an island.  You had plenty of supplies to live out your life to a long old age, so food, water, and shelter were not problem.  The problem was in this nightmarish world you could only choose five of the books in the Bible to have with you.  It is a similar conundrum to the ubiquitous “Psalm 126” where you’re stranded and can only have five albums of music.

Told another way–perhaps you’re stuck in a bleak story, something like Fahrenheit 451, and you can only have five books of the Bible because that is all you can safely hide from the book police.

Which five would you take?  It is heartbreaking because the whole Bible is precious, a “perfect treasure” that is linked to my very being.  So which ones?  If I had to make such a choice, here is what they would be.

  1. Psalms.  Without a doubt, if I’m on a desert island, I’m gonna need Psalms–all 150 of them.
  2. Isaiah.  It was close between Jeremiah and Isaiah, but in the end I decided the poetics of Isaiah would be helpful in my exile.
  3. Exodus.  I can’t have both Genesis and Exodus, and while Genesis is a great book, I think I’d take Exodus because it contains the great deliverance story of Israel, the decalogue, and a lot of other spiritual data.
  4. LukeJohnLuke.  John.  See, this one is tough.  Of the synoptics, Luke is the easy choice, but choosing between Luke and John, now that is hard.  I need a gospel on this island, and in the end I chose John simply because of the devotional, meditative quality of the material.
  5. Romans.  Of course it is Romans.  Romans contains such dense theological material and it is littered with many scripture quotations (which gives me insight into other books I couldn’t choose) all of which allows me plenty to chew on on this imaginary island.

I sure hope I never have to make this choice.  I would be interested to know what choices you would make?

ROMANS, CHAPTER THREE–FROM THE GREEK TEXT

So, I’m a little behind schedule.  I hope to make up time during the month of June and still finish this translation of the New Testament letter from Paul the Apostle to the church in Rome before Independence Day.

Translation Notes:  In rendering this particular passage, I opt for the phrase ‘made righteous’ where a lot of English translations choose ‘justified’ to allow the English reader to perceive it is all the same word group. Also note, my verses 25 and 26 are very different from most English translations. I don’t really know what their problem is?

Theological Notes:  In my opinion the key text here is Romans 3:22 & 23, with its ringing judgment that everyone, Jew and gentile alike, are not righteous before God but through faith they are able to receive grace.  This is the main work of Romans 3, to put everyone on equal footing.  God doesn’t play favorites, as we were told in Chapter 2, and Paul is telling us that here is the proof, proof that has been there all along, according to his long string of quotations from Psalms, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Proverbs in verses 10-19.

Chapter Three
1. What, then, is the Jewish advantage, and what exactly is the benefit of circumcision?
2. A lot, and in every possible way. It is primarily because they were entrusted with the words of God.
3. So what if some of them were unfaithful, did their lack of faith nullify the faith of God?
4. Of course not! People are liars, but God is true, just as it is written, “So that you will be vindicated in your words and victorious in your trials.”
5. Humanly speaking, then, if the righteousness of God leads to our unrighteousness, what can we say? Is God unrighteous in bringing the wrath?
6. Never! How then could God judge the world?
7. But if my lie magnified God’s truth and glory, then why am I being judged as a sinner?
8. And why not say—as we are slandered as having said—that we should do evil so good might come of it? Those who say this of us deserve their condemnation.
9. What now? Are we better? Not at all, for we determined beforehand that both Jews and gentiles are sinners.
10. Just as it is written, “There is no one righteous.
11. No one understands, no one seeks God.
12. Everyone turned away together, becoming useless. No one shows kindness, not even one.
13. Their throat has become an opened grave. Their tongues deceive. Asp venom is upon their lips.
14. Their mouths, full of curses and bitterness.
15. Their feet, swift to shed blood.
16. Ruin and misery is their way.
17. They have not known the way of peace.
18. The fear of God is not before their eyes.”
19. We know at least this much, that the law says it shuts every mouth of those under it, and eventually the whole world shall be held accountable to God.
20. Therefore, because of this sin consciousness, it is not from works of law that all people will be made righteous before him,
21. but now the righteousness of God has been made clear apart from the law as attested to by the law and the prophets.
22. Through the faith of Jesus Messiah the righteousness of God is for all those believing, for there is no difference.
23. For everyone has sinned and come up short of the glory of God.
24. They are being made righteous as a gift of his grace through the redemption that is in Messiah Jesus.
25. God designed a place of propitiation with blood by his faith as proof of his righteousness, by overlooking their sins committed beforehand.
26. God’s tolerance toward us back then is proof of his righteousness right now, to the righteous and those he is making right by the faith of Jesus.
27. Where then does all this boasting come from? That was done away with, but by what kind of law? Works? No—not at all, but through the law of faith.
28. For we reason people are made righteous in faith without works of the law.
29. Is God of the Jews only? Not also the gentiles? Yes, yes, in every way.
30. If true, then God will make righteous those circumcised by faith and those uncircumcised through faith as well.
31. Do we therefore abolish the law because of faith? Never. Instead we keep the law.

Romans, Chapter One

Romans, Chapter Two

PSALM 89–A MEDITATION FOR ADVENT FOUR

The last Sunday of Advent for 2014 is upon us.  What more can we say other than “marana tha” — ‘Our Lord has come’, and, equally true, ‘Come, O Lord.’  PicsArt

There are many interesting things in this Psalm that are skipped in the assigned lectionary reading.  A brief sampling would have to include:

  • Verse 6 and its boasting of how much greater Yahweh is than the other gods in the sky
  • Implications of divine righteousness and justice in verse 14
  • The face of Yahweh as possibly the sun in verse 15
  • The glaring proclamation of the Davidic king as the firstborn, even though King David was not the firstborn (but Jesus was)
  • A startling jump between 37 and 38 which moves from affirmation of election to the reality of rejection
  • The renounced covenant of verse 39
  • A laundry list of accusations against Yahweh as the bringer of evil from 39-52 and then the contrasting doxology of 52

None of this, however, is in our assigned text reading for the last Sunday in Advent, which is verses 1-4, and 19-26.

A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite. [1] I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. [2] For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.” [3] You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: [4] ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’” Selah

Let’s take these four verses together, although they are loaded with a lot of action.  We’ll start with Ethan in the superscription.  Different people take these differently.  I don’t really ascribe to them the level of authority of scripture, but they are interesting.  Ethan was known to King Solomon, according to 1 Kings 4:31, as a wise man.  If Ethan was the author of this psalm, then it has to be composed before Solomon’s reign, which means it can’t be after the exile.  I find this unlikely.  I find it very unlikely.  The themes of the psalm are too royal/messianic to reflect that early.  It is far more likely that it was composed late–at, around, or after 587 B.C. when the Davidic king was deposed and the covenant seemed broken (v. 39).  Some may argue that the psalm is prophetic, which is possible, but if so it would rob the immediacy and humanity of the plea.  I think it was put in the “file” so to speak of psalms that were composed in the style of Ethan or the school of Ethan rather than Ethan himself.

As to the content of these verses we should note two themes.  The first is the psalmists commitment to praise Yahweh forever because of his covenant.  We don’t know as we start reading the psalm that this commitment is a painful one.  It is only in the back part of the psalm (38-52) that we know he lives in a time when the whole world has fallen apart, the covenant is in shambles.  To offer praise and theological affirmation in the midst of great pain is the definition of spiritual strength and power.

The second theme is that of the future generations.  We find this two-fold.  The first is the psalmists promise to proclaim Yahweh’s covenantal love.  In the Hebrew of the MT it is hesed, but eleos in the LXX (Greek)–which is curious because they don’t really mean the same.  I normally side with the LXX, but here I think I go with hesed because it fits the covenant motif of the psalm.  Teaching the next generation is one of the goals of this psalm.  The second generational aspect is on the Davidic generations in verse 4.  To Judah in exile this would be hard to swallow.  From this side of history, we can see the fulfillment in the future generation that was Messiah Jesus.

[19] Of old you spoke in a vision to your godly one, and said: “I have granted help to one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people.

The old vision is a reference to 2 Samuel 7:11-17.  These verses can easily be understood as a restatement of that promise which God made to David through Samuel.  What I find interesting is the phrasing “to one who is mighty” and “chosen from the people” calls for the mental image of the judges rather than the monarchy.  Curious choice of vocabulary for those in exile.

[20] I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him, [21] so that my hand shall be established with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. [22] The enemy shall not outwit him; the wicked shall not humble him. [23] I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. [24] My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted. [25] I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. [26] He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’

This is the restatement of the Davidic covenant which we mentioned earlier.  Two things stand out.  The writer knows the whole time he writes this that the king of Judah was not strengthened by Yahweh when the Babylonians came, that the king was outwitted, that Judah was humbled by the wicked, that it was Judah who was crushed, that his horn was crushed.  The closest analogy I can come to is to imagine a future world in the United States that is run by a dictator, under military police, and all civil liberties have been suspended.  In the midst of that world imagine someone citing, publicly, the Pledge of Allegiance, “with liberty, and justice for all.”  Either that person is hoping that someday things will be put to rights, or that person is being cruelly ironic.  The same is true of this passage.  Either the psalmist is holding out hope for the future, or he is being cruelly ironic.

This is where I think that the lectionary division is unhelpful.  These verses say more in context than they do alone.  Most of us do not live in a perfect world where everything is ideal.  We live in some kind of exile–spiritual exile, medical exile, separational exile, economic exile and so many other things which change our perceptions.  The tension between being hopefully or cruelly ironic is the difference between being bitter or faithful.  I need to hear someone else like this student of Ethan’s go through the same thing so long ago.

One last thing before I wrap this up.  Look closely at verse 25.  The Davidic monarch as a seagoing power?  I don’t think this refers to a Hebrew navy, because I’m not really aware of a great seafaring tradition for Israel or Judah.  I suspect rather this verse reflects the Hebrew fear of the sea–something attested to in quite a bit of scholarship.  The Davidic king is promised by God to be a master of the mysterious sea as symbolic of controlling all of the unknown forces in the cosmos.  Of course, the New Testament student will immediately recall that our Lord walked on the sea as well as calmed its chaos.

Thanks for spending some time during this Advent season with me meditating on these Psalms.  I hope and pray you have a wonderful Christmas.