James Patrick’s Blog

April 21, 2010

How genealogies reveal the purpose of Chronicles

Genealogies are very important for revealing the purpose of texts in traditional societies, and in Chronicles this is particularly the case as they are drawn mostly from records not preserved elsewhere (unlike many of the narratives), and are therefore more obviously distinctive to Chronicler’s purpose.  Genealogies reveal lines of descent and inheritance of authority over one’s brothers, and the last person in the genealogy is usually the one about whom it is written (for example, Phinehas in Exodus 6 – cf. Numbers 25).  In this post we will look first at the message of the genealogical section, then at the narrative section, and finally draw these together with an explanation of the purpose of the book as a whole.

Genealogies

1Chr 1 introduces the following genealogies by gleaning from Genesis all the relevant passages that show Israel’s inheritance from Adam.  Then 1Chr 2-7 lists the genealogies of the tribes of Israel in order to establish which tribe has rightful authority over the others.  Judah is first (the leader is from him – 5:2) [2:3-4:23].  Simeon is listed next to show that his territory is mostly outside Judah’s now, at least since the time of David [4:24-43].  The two-and-a-half tribes (Reuben, Gad, 1/2 Manasseh) do not have the birthright despite Reuben being firstborn, because they were idolatrous and have been exiled up to the present [ch 5].  Levi is described in two halves, the first [6:1-53] designed to show that the distinction between the Aaronic high priesthood and the three Levitical divisions was actually officially recognised by David himself (note that the line of Zadokite high priests extends no further than the exile [6:15], unlike the line of Davidic heirs [3:17-24]), and the second to establish Levitical claim to certain cities in the land during this resettlement after exile [6:54-81].  Then the remaining tribes are listed (apart from Zebulun and Dan, who had perhaps not returned from exile?) – Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim and Asher [ch 7].  Note that Ephraim’s inheritance of Joseph’s birthright is traced no further than Joshua [7:27], although evidently leaders of the Joseph tribes felt it their duty to live in the capitol even after the Return [9:3], in apparently very small numbers.

1Chr 8  then rehearses the genealogy of Benjamin again, this time mentioning their claim on the leadership of Israel (Ehud [8:6], Saul [8:33]), but also especially their claim over Jerusalem [8:28, 32], the city on the border of Judah and Benjamin.  Apparently Benjamin was insisting too on sharing territorial rights over the capitol along with Judah and Joseph [9:3-9] in the years following the return.  1Chr 9:2-34 considers on the other hand the justification for Levitical rights over Jerusalem, not only of priests but even of Levitical gatekeepers, and to support this, appeal is made to the appointments of Samuel and David [9:22] and the records of Nehemiah [Neh 11:3-19].  1Chr 9:35-44 is then a shortened recapitulation of Saul’s genealogy, as an introduction to the brief summary of his failed reign in chapter 10, apparently to reinforce the Davidic claim to leadership in Jerusalem.

Narratives

After the crowning of David, the first event described is the capture of Jerusalem [11:4-9], followed by an extended list of all the warriors of every tribe in Israel who supported David’s claim to the leadership [11:10-12:40], and who also agreed with David’s plans to re-establish worship of the LORD in Jerusalem [13:1-17:27].  This was done despite opposition from Israel’s enemies [14:8-17; 18:1-20:8] and despite even David’s own fallibility, shown by his sin in taking the census [21:1-22:1].  David himself established the Levitical responsibilities and priestly/Levitical divisions at the same time as establishing secular authorities over the kingdom [26:29-27:34], and he himself was entirely responsible for the plans and resources of the Temple even though Solomon built it [chs 22-29].  The message here is that the true son of David will fulfil all that was in David’s heart for the Temple and for priestly/Levitical worship in Jerusalem.

The account of Solomon brackets his building and dedication of the Temple (including the priests and Levites at their posts [2Chr 5:12-14; 7:1-11; 8:14-15]) with an emphasis on his wisdom [chs 1; 8-9] and the wealth and fame that followed the Temple building.  The warning to Solomon in 2Chr 7:12-22 is effectively a warning to all of Solomon’s heirs that failure to worship the LORD properly at the Temple in Jerusalem would eventually result in exile and the destruction of the Temple.  The following history of the Divided Monarchy [chs 10-36] describes the successes and failures of the various Davidic kings consistently as a direct consequence of their attitude and behaviour towards prescribed worship of the LORD at the Temple in Jerusalem.  It particularly emphasises those times when all the tribes assembled, even from the northern kingdom, to worship at Jerusalem (e.g. Rehoboam [11:13-17], Asa [15:8-15], Hezekiah [chs 29-31], Josiah [chs 34-35]; cf. also Jehoshaphat [17:7-9; 19:4-11; 20:4-28] and Jehoiada / Joash [23:1-24:14]).  Even the sins of Manasseh were forgiven because of his renewed piety and devotion to true worship in Jerusalem [ch 33].

Explanation

Significantly, the beginning genealogy of Judah appears to be focused on defending the Davidic claim (of Elioenai and his seven sons [3:24]) over against others who were claiming authority over Judah and Jerusalem through descent from Perez’s firstborn son Hezron.  We would not have expected there to be a need in post-exilic Yehud [Judah] to defend the claim of the David to authority over Judah, let alone Israel, but the fact that his claim is defended has implications for our interpretation of subsequent narratives.  The Chronicler includes much material not found elsewhere about the links between David and the Temple, and many have suggested that he invented them simply to reinforce the importance of the Temple by appealing to David’s authority.  If in fact David’s claim was also not uncontestable, however, it is more likely that this material was drawn from actual records that would not be disputed; in a sense, the claims of both David and the Temple are being defended, so the historical evidence for their connection is meant to be mutually reinforcing.

Looking at the genealogy of Judah, the focus of the claim to leadership of this tribe is on the first of Judah’s twin sons, Perez, who in fact received the rights of the firstborn because his mother was Tamar, the wife of Judah’s firstborn son Er [Gen 38], and therefore Judah had effectively ‘raised up seed’ for his deceased firstborn [Deut 25:5-10].  The sons of Chelubai/Caleb, Perez’s third son, are traced to various towns and regions of Judah, and the only individuals highlighted are from ancient history (e.g. Hur and Bezalel [2:20], Othniel and Caleb son of Jephunneh [4:13, 15]).  The firstborn son of Perez, Jerahmeel, is traced through a second wife, several sons who had no sons of their own, and worst of all through an Egyptian servant who married into the family – all this seems to be deliberately disproving any claim that Elishama [2:41] might have made to the inheritance of the tribe of Judah.  (This Elishama is probably the same as the ‘royal’ grandfather of Ishmael who murdered Gedaliah at the time of Jeremiah and then fled to Ammon, and whose descendants probably returned from there to Jerusalem after the exile.)  Therefore David’s claim stands, even though he was descended from Perez’s second son Ram, because David’s ancestor Nahshon had been ‘leader of the sons of Judah’ under Moses [2:10].

Evidently the book of Chronicles is contributing to a debate in his time about who had the right to live in Jerusalem, the capitol of the restored community of Israel after the exile, and especially about which tribe and clan could claim the authority over their brothers.  The Davidic claim was obviously under attack from various sides (Elishamites, Benjamites, Ephraimites), most probably because there was no immediate likelihood of a restoration to kingship under Persian rule, and people must have been questioning whether the tribes should revert to traditional tribal inheritance based on the rights of the firstborn instead.  Jerusalem was evidently seen as the capitol, but David’s claim to have conquered it was opposed by the Benjamite claim to have been apportioned it as tribal inheritance by Joshua [Jos 18:28; cf. Jdg 1:5-8, 21; Jos 15:63].  The approach of the Chronicler was therefore to allow for Benjamite claims to live in it, but nevertheless to reinforce the Davidic claim to the throne that had been acknowledged by all the tribes, and therefore the right of Judahites also to live in the capitol.

Furthermore, the Chronicler not only defended the Davidic claim to the leadership of the tribes (if not to the birthright [5:2]), but then also tied this leadership as tightly as possible to the responsibility for leading the tribes in correct worship of the LORD in the Jerusalem temple according to the Law and the regulations of Samuel and David especially.  In fact, the suggestion was made in the accounts of Manasseh and others that if the Davidic leader repented and humbled himself by honouring the LORD’s temple, He would restore them from exile and deliver them from their enemies, and thus establish their kingship over the tribes of Israel.

Thus the purpose of Chronicles is to reinforce temple-focused Davidic messianism.  Working out how many generations had passed between the return from Exile under Zerubbabel and the Davidic claimant at the time this book was written (Elioenai [1Chr 3:19-24]) gives us a probable date of around 400BC, a generation or so after the last of Nehemiah’s reforms [cf. Neh 13:6-7].

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March 22, 2010

Winds of Doctrine in the 60’s AD (Winds of Doctrine #5)

We find evidence of these particular false teachings in Paul’s ‘prison epistles’, Philippians, Ephesians, and Colossians (all evidently written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome around AD62), as well as in the epistle to the Hebrews (probably written to believers in Israel in the mid-60’s), the epistle of Jude and second epistle of Peter (written in the mid-60’s also), and here in 1 Timothy.  Philippi is the farthest of these churches from Israel, and unlike Ephesus, had very little Jewish influence (there was no synagogue building when Paul first arrived – Acts 16:13).  However Paul specifically warned the Philippians against Jewish false teachers, quite possibly claiming to be believers, who continued to boast in their Jewishness and obedience to the Law (Php 1:27-30; 3:2‑9) [though there is no evidence that they were still trying to argue that Gentiles needed to be circumcised, as in Galatia 15 years earlier].  Colossians also seems to reveal a pressure against the church from a Jewish direction, because Paul specifically highlights that he only has three fellow workers in his Gentile mission who have a Jewish background (Col 4:10-11), and also rebukes the church in Colossae for accepting Jewish teachings about festivals and Sabbaths, visions of angels, and commandments about abstaining (Col 2:16‑23).  The Colossian church was in danger of being ‘taken captive’ through philosophy and human traditions (2:8), being told they were ‘incomplete’, ‘indebted’ to obey the decrees of the Mosaic Law, and ‘inferior’ to the angelic authorities (2:9‑10; 2:13‑14; 1:16‑17 & 2:15, 18; 3:1‑4).  It seems similar issues are being addressed in Ephesians also (1:20‑23; 2:6, 14‑16; 3:10).

Similarly in 2 Peter, false teachers are introducing destructive heresies by unSpiritual interpretations of Scripture (2Pet 1:20–2:1).  They appear to be people from within the church who have adopted these winds of doctrine (2Pet 2:20‑22; Jude 1:4, 12, 22‑23; cf. Eph 4:14), and are unhealthily fixated on angelic beings (2Pet 2:4, 10‑12; Jude 1:6, 8‑10).  Unlike in Colossae, where the Law of Moses was being used to try to restrain fleshly indulgence (Col 2:23), in the epistles of Peter and Jude it seems that the apostasising believers were actually advocating immoral licentiousness in the name of ‘grace’, hence the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah (2Pet 1:4, 9; 2:2, 6‑10, 13‑14, 18‑19; 3:3; Jude 1:4, 7, 18).

There is evidently also a specific claim made by these false teachers that there will be no coming judgement on the Jewish nation, despite Jesus’ clear warnings about this (e.g. Luke 21:12‑24).  The common misunderstanding of the Early Church that Jesus’ coming would coincide with the destruction of Jerusalem in that generation (e.g. Matt 24:2‑3; see my post on Luke’s clarification of Matthew) would explain why Peter and Jude both emphasise imminent judgement as well as the soon return of Jesus (2Pet 2:4, 5, 6, 9; 3:2‑13; Jude 1:5, 6, 7, 14‑15, 21).  In the last decade of the Jewish nation before its destruction in AD70, nationalistic fervour was on the rise among Jews everywhere, believing that this was the time when they would throw off Roman oppression and regain their territory and independence.  Hebrews was written specifically to Jewish believers who seem to have forgotten their initial willingness to surrender their own lands trusting in an inheritance after Jesus’ return (Heb 3:7–4:11; 10:32–11:16; see my post on Hebrews).  The call to all Jews across the Roman empire, and particularly in Israel, was [as it is in our generation also] that if all Jews return to the Law of Moses and temple worship, Messiah will come and re-establish Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel.  The pressure was clearly on Jewish believers in Jesus also, to return to the Levitical priesthood and sacrificial system, and the writer to the Hebrews warns them not to turn away from the greater reality of Messiah’s priesthood and sacrifice (Heb 2:17–3:1; 4:14–5:10; 6:20–10:22; 13:10‑16), nor to ignore the coming ‘shaking’ (Heb 10:26‑27; 12:16‑29).  In Gentile areas, this fervour about an imminent coming age of peace and prosperity would probably have led certain groups of Jewish Christians, who knew the prophets’ words about all nations coming to worship the God of Israel, to twist the message of grace into a license for continued indulgence (Jude 1:4), because Gentiles had no need to obey the Jewish Law – what better way to ‘convert’ the Gentiles to follow the Jewish Messiah (2Pet 2:18‑20; Php 3:18‑20).  The prophets also spoke of Israel receiving the wealth of the nations, which may be reflected in the greedy motivation of Jewish Christian false teachers apparently teaching whatever people wanted to hear in order to be paid more (2Pet 2:14‑15; Jude 1:11; cf. 2Tim 4:3‑4).

Perhaps the biggest doctrinal problem of this decade, though, involved the identity and nature of Jesus.  Hebrews 1 and 2 give clear evidence that many Jewish believers had come to view Jesus not as simply a holy man, nor as the unique Son of God, but as a sort of hybrid or intermediate angelic being – most likely as the ‘Angel of the Lord’ who acts and speaks as God Himself in many passage of the Old Testament (see Jude 1:5 with the best reading ‘Jesus’, compared with Exod 13:18, 21; 14:19‑20, 24‑30; 23:20‑23; 24:9‑11; 32:34–33:3; Num 14:14‑15, 20‑23, 35).  Although it is probably correct that the ‘Angel of the Lord’ was indeed Jesus in His pre-incarnate form (cf. Acts 7:35‑40), the writer to the Hebrews has to address misconceptions that follow from this, particularly equating Jesus with other angelic powers, and failing to recognise that this ‘angel’ or ‘messenger’ is in fact the divine Son of God Himself.  Paul similarly had to emphasise the exaltation of Jesus over all angelic powers in his letters written around the same time (e.g. Eph 1:20‑22; 3:9‑12; 4:10; Col 1:15‑20; 2:2‑4, 9‑10, 15; Php 2:6‑11; 3:20‑21).  Peter emphasised Jesus’ divine humanity (2Pet 1:16‑19; 2:1), and Jude similarly accuses the Jewish Christian false teachers of ‘denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ’ (Jude 1:4‑6).  He chooses to quote from the book of 1 Enoch, a favourite (non-canonical) text of these false teachers, in order to turn it against them by making them the ‘ungodly’ who will be judged by Jesus Himself, ‘the Lord’ who is returning with His holy ten thousands.  [This explains why Jude would quote from 1 Enoch – he is not affirming its authority, but using it rhetorically against those who do.]

October 2, 2009

Promised Land in Acts, part two [I&NC #10]

Acts 7:2-53 – Stephen’s long speech to the Sanhedrin before his martyrdom might appear to some readers to be a vain attempt by a condemned man to delay the inevitable and prove that he was actually a good Jew who knew his Bible stories.  By no means!  In this sermon Stephen was expertly retelling the story of God’s people to religious leaders accustomed to putting themselves in the shoes of their ancestors.  By recounting certain features of their history rather than others, he was making a series of uncomfortable theological points, getting his hearers so increasingly riled that they finally covered their ears and shouted to drown him out, and stoned him into silence.  Perhaps it was the points made in this sermon that Paul [Saul] couldn’t get out of his head (Acts 7:58–8:3) as he sought to purge the land from the followers of this false prophet Jesus, one who taught that the Temple and the commands of Moses were to be done away with (Acts 6:11-14; cf. Deut 13:1‑15).  Here we will ‘listen’ to Stephen’s speech through the ears of first century Jews, by applying each story to ‘our’ own time:

7:2-8 is the story of the father of the ‘circumcision’ (the Jewish nation), Abraham “our father”, who was directed by God to move to “this country in which you are now living”.  However, despite the promise of this land as “a possession, and to his descendants after him”, ‘our father’ was given “not even a foot of ground”.  The first implication is therefore that although ‘we’ also, like our father, are living in our promised land, we will be given ‘not even a foot of ground’ to inherit, perhaps not for hundreds of years yet.  The second, subsidiary implication is that there will indeed be judgement on “whatever nation to which they will be in bondage”, after which the nation will be brought back in to worship God in their promised land.  This assurance of eventual vindication against the Greeks and Romans would hardly, however, make up for the clear warning that ‘our’ nation will soon become “aliens in a foreign land … enslaved and mistreated for [hundreds of] years”.

7:9-35 continues with the story “as the time of the promise was approaching” for fulfilment of the covenant of land for the descendants of Abraham.  First of all, ‘our fathers’ “became jealous of Joseph and sold him”, but “God was with him”, not only rescuing him from all his afflictions, but making him governor over the nations.  In a similar way, Moses, who was “lovely to God”, a “man of power in words and deeds” who was “approaching the age of forty”, was still “disowned” by his own brothers who objected to the idea that God might make him “a ruler and judge over us”.  Nevertheless, God “has sent” this same disowned wonder-worker to be “both a ruler and a deliverer” for his oppressed people.  The third implication is unmistakeable – this was a time when the Jewish people were expectantly looking for the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecies and the arrival of the Messiah (Dan 9:24-25), the One who would restore Jewish authority over the land.  However, despite being beloved of God and powerful in words and deeds, Jesus was disowned by His brothers who were jealous of the authority God had given Him to be their ruler and deliverer.  Even so, God delivered Him from all His afflictions and made Him ruler over both His own people and the nations.

7:36-40 focuses in on the reaction of the Israelite nation to their deliverer Moses while he was among them, as the time approached for the covenant of promised land to be fulfilled.  Moses performed “wonders and signs” not only at the beginning of his ministry but throughout the time of their journey through the wilderness, as a pattern for the “prophet like me” he foresaw whom God would raise up “from your brethren”.  Moses was not only among the congregation in the wilderness, but also received revelation directly from God through the ‘angel of the Lord’ who travelled with ‘our fathers’; thus he received not just the written laws recorded in the books of the Pentateuch, but also “living oracles to pass on to you”.  Even so, “our fathers were unwilling to be obedient to him, but repudiated him” and in their hearts chose slavery and idolatry instead, particularly after he was no longer visibly among them.  The fourth implication is a powerful denunciation of the way the Jewish nation had treated Jesus during His ministry and even afterwards, despite their expectation of an imminent fulfilment of the Messianic age.  Although Jesus proved Himself to be the ‘prophet like Moses’ with both His miracles and His remarkable ‘living oracles’, explaining and superseding the written Law of Moses, even so ‘you’ were disobedient to the voice of God revealed through Him.  ‘You’ denounced Him as your deliverer, and in your hearts instead you chose slavery (to the Roman authorities) and idolatry (of the Temple system), and all the more now that Jesus is no longer visible among you.

7:41-50 shifts attention onto the significance of the sanctuary and later Temple in God’s purposes for Israel.  In the days of Israel’s rebellion against Moses, they chose to make sacrifices to “the works of their hands” in which they rejoiced.  In response, God turned away from them also, and “delivered them up to serve the host of heaven”, because the sacrificial worship they made in the tabernacle was in reality made not to God but to the images that they themselves had made.  As a result, God promised to send the nation into exile in Babylon.  ‘Our fathers’ did actually bring that tabernacle with them into the land, but when David who had “found favour in God’s sight” asked if he could find a permanent “dwelling place for the house of Jacob”, God’s response was to deny any need for either a Temple or a permanent physical location for His presence (cf. 2 Sam 7:6‑7).  His son Solomon did build the Temple, but God repeated through later prophets His continued rejection of a need for Temple and holy place.  The fifth implication explains why Stephen was accused of speaking against “this holy place”, just as the fourth implication touched on how Jesus’ ‘living oracles’ superseded the Law of Moses and “the customs which Moses handed down to us” (Acts 6:11-14).  More important than the sanctuary itself is the object of the nation’s worship, and just like ‘your fathers’, in your rebellion against God you are actually making sacrifices not to Him but to the glorious ‘works of your hands’, the impressive Temple full of your own self-honouring adornments in which you rejoice (cf. Luke 21:5-6).  God has no special attachment either to this building or to this place when it is not honouring Him, and He will remove you, like your fathers, into exile from the land.

In 7:51-53 Stephen has finished his retelling of Israel’s history and made his points loud and clear, and now in conclusion he makes explicit what had been implied, and condemns his hearers in language as vehement as any of the Old Testament prophets.  The reference to his hearers receiving “the law as ordained by angels” but not keeping it (7:53) may be a straightforward accusation of not observing the Law of Moses, which was traditionally said to have been delivered to Moses via angels, but it is also possible that the reference is equally an accusation of disobedience against the ‘living oracles’ that Jesus Himself brought to the people (7:38).  It appears that the Early Church recognised that the ‘angel of the Lord’, who interacted with Moses and led Israel through the wilderness (Exod 3:2‑6, 13‑17; 13:21; 14:19; 23:20‑23; 24:9-11; 33:1-3, 12-20; Isa 63:8-14; Heb 1:4–2:9; Jude :5; cf. 1 Cor 10:4; Rev 14:14‑16), was Jesus Himself in a pre-incarnate form.

In this sermon He had effectively accused the Jewish leaders of rejecting their appointed deliverer despite God’s vindication of Him, ignoring His miracles and ‘living oracles’ that superseded those of Moses, and worshiping the works of their hands rather than the God in whose Temple they trusted.  As a result God had decided they would be taken into exile and be mistreated in foreign lands for hundreds of years, not inheriting even a foot of ground in the land that God had promised to give to Abraham and to his descendants after him.  God did not need a building or physical location in which to dwell, and neither did He have to fulfil His covenant promise of land with that particular generation that rejected His Servant (cf. 7:45).  Stephen’s speech clearly teaches the covenant of land made with Abraham and his physical descendants, and despite prophesying judgement and exile on his own generation, he also implies an eventual return of the nation from exile to “serve me in this place” (7:7).

September 5, 2009

The Law of Moses completely abolished [I&NC #4]

Filed under: Prophecy — alabastertheology @ 7:29 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

New Testament writers clearly recognised that Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic covenant with all its regulations.  The death of Jesus paid in full the fines of the ‘old covenant’ and also served as the sacrifice needed to confirm the ‘new covenant’, as promised by Moses and all the prophets after him.  The old covenant which had been fulfilled and replaced by the new covenant had therefore become obsolete, and the destruction of the temple in AD70 demonstrated its abolishment.  This did not, however, include abolishment of the promise of land which had been given to Abraham and his physical descendants six centuries before the covenant through Moses.

Matthew 5:17-18 – Jesus rejected accusations that He was intending to abolish the Law or the Prophets; He declared instead that He had come to fulfil and accomplish everything in the Law.  The equivalent would be if a fiancé was accused of trying to end his engagement, when actually he planned to fulfil it by marrying his betrothed; once the wedding happens, the engagement relationship is done away with.  Jesus didn’t break a single command of the Law of Moses, nor did He teach that any of the commandments be broken; rather, He accomplished the purpose for which it had been given, and was therefore authorised to establish a new law of the Spirit.  Throughout Matthew’s Gospel we find ‘fulfilment’ quotations, demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures throughout His ministry (cf. 1:22-23; 4:12-16; 8:17; 21:4-5; 26:54-56; etc.).

Luke 22:20 – Just before His death, Jesus explained His coming death as establishing “the new covenant in my blood”.

Hebrews 8:1-13 – The whole book of Hebrews was written to urge Jewish believers to put their trust in Jesus for their future inheritance of promises, rather than in the Mosaic covenant for the present.  This is because Jesus has completely fulfilled and therefore abolished that covenant of Moses.  In this passage the writer expressly says that the establishment of a “new” covenant makes the first covenant “obsolete”.  That means the regulations (laws) of the first are also done away with:

(1)   Hebrews 4:14–5:10; 6:19–8:6 – The writer to the Hebrews carefully demonstrates how the Levitical priesthood, connected to the Mosaic Law, was weak and useless and has been set aside because now Jesus is our permanent high priest, according to an eternal priestly order.

(2)  Hebrews 8:1-5; 9:1-28 – The writer to the Hebrews here shows that the earthly sanctuary with its sacred objects and vessels of ministry, instituted through Moses, has also been superseded by Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary of which the earthly was just a pattern.

(3)  Hebrews 10:1-18 – The writer to the Hebrews explains that the third element of the Mosaic Law, the sacrificial system, has also been done away with once and for all by the sacrifice of Jesus’ own physical body.  10:19-21 then summarises these three parts of the abolished Law.

Hebrews 3:1–4:11 – Before considering the above three ways in which the Law had been abolished, the writer to the Hebrews first dealt with the question of the promised land.  He showed that trusting in Jesus for inheriting the land is more reliable than trusting in Moses, because Moses bore witness to future things (3:5) and then died with his generation in the wilderness because of their unbelief and disobedience.  However, Joshua’s generation had clearly not fulfilled Moses’ prophecy of a permanent ‘rest’ in the promised land (4:8), because David and later prophets still spoke of a future time of restoration (4:7).  Furthermore, even in the present generation there was still ‘work’ to do throughout the world (4:10), and the future ‘Sabbath rest’ for Jewish believers [as for those from every nation] was a promise that would only be inherited by trusting in Jesus ‘until the end’ (3:14; 4:3, 11).  Believers might still ‘today’ be disqualified from inheriting the promise through unbelief and disobedience (3:19–4:2).

Obviously the writer here is not saying that the promise of ‘rest’ has been withdrawn now that the Mosaic Law has been abolished, nor even that it has been ‘spiritualised’.  On the contrary, the entrance into the land under Joshua is treated as the most plausible possible fulfilment of that promised ‘rest’ so far in the history of Israel;  if even Joshua’s inheritance of the land was not the fulfilment, how much less could Jewish believers in the mid-first century AD think that their generation was the final fulfilment (a proposal Jesus denied / postponed in Acts 1:6).  The true ‘Joshua’ (same name as ‘Jesus’ in Hebrew) was the promised One who would come at the end of the age to conquer the promised lands of all nations including Israel, and then assign to each nation their territory (Rev 2:26-27; cf. Psa 2:7-9).

The complete abolishment of the Mosaic Law in this era of the new covenant is further reinforced when we consider what the New Testament says about two further aspects of it – kashrut and festivals:

(4)  Mark 7:14-23 – In verse 19, Mark introduces an editorial comment of explanation into his account of Jesus’ teaching on washing of hands, noting that by this teaching Jesus “declared all foods clean”.  Such a wholesale abolishment of all the commandments about purity and kosher food from the Mosaic Law was evidently not immediately understood by the disciples.  Years later Peter was shocked that Jesus would instruct him to eat non-kosher animals (Acts 10:10‑16), and he appears to have initially interpreted the vision as purely metaphorical (Acts 10:28).  Some time later, he could still be persuaded by fellow Jews that the strict Jewish dietary laws must be followed even by believers (Gal 2:11‑13).  Nevertheless, these laws too had been abolished along with the entire ‘old covenant’ of Moses (Col 2:16‑23), and Paul was convinced that no food is inherently ‘unclean’ (Rom 14:14, 20; 1 Tim 4:1‑5).  Even so, he would be willing to eat only vegetables if it would protect a weak fellow believer from doing what he considered sinful (Rom 14:2, 15‑21).

(5)  Romans 14:5-6 – Paul similarly taught that the special commemorative feasts, or ‘Sabbaths’, instituted by Moses in the Law, were now a matter of personal conviction and no longer commanded for God’s people.  Festivals, beginnings of the month (‘new moon’), and Sabbath days (cf. Exod 34:18-27; Lev 23:1–26:2; Num 28:1–29:40) are described along with the rest of the laws of Moses as “a shadow of what is to come; but the substance is of Christ” (Col 2:16-17).  Although Paul himself still chose to celebrate some feasts (Acts 20:6, 16), he and others interpreted the Jewish festivals as fulfilled by Jesus:
e.g. Passover – 1 Cor 5:7-8 (cf. Luke 22:15-16)
Firstfruits – 1 Cor 15:20
Trumpets or Jubilee – 1 Thes 4:16 (cf. Lev 23:24; 25:9; Mat 24:31)
Atonement – Heb 13:11-13.
Of course, when Jesus returns, He is perfectly at liberty to institute festivals that are associated with dwelling permanently in our lands, the first of which will be the ‘marriage feast of the Lamb’ (Rev 19:7-9).  In the present age, however, believers do not have an obligation to treat certain days as more holy than others, which includes even the weekly Sabbath.  Observing it is not wrong, but neither is it necessary, as Romans 14:5-6 clearly teaches.

More explanation will be given in later posts for which particular parts of the five books of Moses count as the ‘Mosaic covenant’ that was abolished, with clear demonstration of what Moses said about the reasons for this coming fulfilment and the introduction of the new covenant that would supersede it.

April 8, 2009

Good Thursday? part 4 – Lazarus, triumphal entry and temple cleansing

Filed under: History — alabastertheology @ 11:11 pm
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In Part 3, we considered the significance of the ‘Passover’ meal that Jesus ate with His disciples, one evening too early and therefore without the lamb.  This observation would hold true even if one were to maintain a belief in ‘Good Friday’, because in that case, the 14th of Nisan would be the Thursday evening / Friday, followed by the (extra special) normal Sabbath, and then the resurrection on the Sunday.  As it is, I am proposing that there were two Sabbaths in a row, a ‘special’ Sabbath (15th of Nisan) on the sixth day of the week that kicked off the Feast of Unleavened Bread, followed by a normal Sabbath on the seventh day.  That means Jesus celebrated the Passover meal early and was then arrested and crucified all on the evening and morning of the fifth day of the week, the Day of Preparation (14th of Nisan = Wednesday evening / Thursday).  If this is so, how does it affect our understanding of the days prior to the Last Supper?

The ‘four days’ of Lazarus
The progression of events recorded by John in his Gospel seems to lay particular weight on the story of Lazarus as a ‘sign’ of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, which makes it worth considering carefully.  From chapter ten of John’s Gospel onwards there is a clear focus on Jesus’ power over death.  In John 10:18 Jesus says, “I have authority to lay [my life] down, and I have authority to take it up again.”  Then in 10:38, He says, “…though you do not believe me, believe the works [I do], that you may know and understand that the Father is in me…”  Chapter eleven is all about the death and resurrection of Lazarus, and Jesus tells His disciples in 11:4, “This sickness is …for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”  This is part of a theme of glory found throughout John’s Gospel, and in particular, the glorification of Jesus that came through His death (see 12:23-33).

In 11:25, Jesus tells Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  When Martha then pointed out at the tomb that Lazarus had been dead for four days, and would be rotting behind the stone, Jesus replied to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (11:40).  At the beginning of the next chapter is the story of when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with pure nard, which Jesus justified by referring to “the day of my burial” (12:7).  This story begins the Passion narrative in John’s Gospel, culminating in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Perhaps the clearest contrast between the resurrection of Lazarus and that of Jesus a few weeks or months later is the fact that when the weeping women went to Jesus’ tomb on the fourth day, the stone was already moved, the graveclothes folded neatly rather than wrapped around the body, and the body itself had no hint of rottenness about it.  God had not allowed His “Holy One to see decay” (Acts 2:27); Jesus had risen before the start of the fourth ‘day’.  This ‘evidence’ for a ‘3 days and 3 nights’ burial is perhaps less than conclusive, but taken together with John’s interest in clarifying details of Jesus’ death and resurrection seen elsewhere, it may gain more weight.

Traveling to Bethany on the Sabbath?
John starts the Passion week in 12:1-2 earlier than any of the other Gospels, by noting that “six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was…  So they made Him a supper there,” and Lazarus’ sister Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with nard.  The following day Jesus approached Jerusalem over the Mount of Olives on a donkey, and the crowds came out with palm branches to meet Him (12:12-14).  Those who hold to Good Friday calculate backwards six days, and therefore have Jesus arriving in Bethany on the previous Saturday, which means that Jesus would have entered Jerusalem on what has therefore become known as ‘Palm Sunday’.

The problem with this is that Jesus must have therefore travelled from the city called Ephraim, “near the wilderness” (John 11:54), to Bethany on the Sabbath.  Scholars suggest Ephraim may have been a certain town about twelve miles north-east of Jerusalem.  Acts 1:12 tells us that the Mount of Olives where Bethany was located was “a Sabbath day’s journey” from Jerusalem (2000 cubits = 3/5 mile).  The Sabbath would have been the wrong day to choose to journey to Bethany from a town any distance away.

On the other hand, if we calculate six days earlier from the Day of Preparation (i.e. the Feast of Passover – 14th Nisan), which was Wednesday night / Thursday, we arrive at Thursday night / Friday of the previous week.  This would have Jesus arriving in Bethany on the Thursday night, and then riding into Jerusalem on a donkey on Friday.  We know it was against the Law of Moses to let even donkeys work on the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:14), so Jesus would not have ridden into Jerusalem on a Saturday.  But a Friday would have been perfectly acceptable.

Those who hold to Good Friday cannot calculate six days back from the Feast of Passover as John says, on the 14th of Nisan (Thursday night / Friday).  Rather, to avoid Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey on the Sabbath, they must adjust the timing John gives and push it a day later to the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the 15th of Nisan (Friday night / Saturday), therefore arriving at Palm Sunday.  As we saw above, this means that Jesus’ arrival into Bethany would have been on a Sabbath, which would have been equally unacceptable.  On the other hand, if one accepts Good Thursday, the entrance into Jerusalem naturally falls on Palm Friday.

Cleansing the temple a day late?
At this point we must observe that whereas Matthew (21:9-13) and Luke (19:37-46) both give the impression that Jesus cleansed the temple immediately on arrival into Jerusalem after His triumphal entry, Mark corrects this with a very valuable historical note in 11:11.  “Jesus entered Jerusalem into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.”  It was only on the following day that He returned and cleansed the temple.  One can hardly help wondering, if Jesus was so upset at what was going on in the temple courts, why would He merely look around and then leave?  Was He just a bit too tired to make a fuss?  Did it take Him a while to get zealous enough to go back and sort things out?  Had too many traders already closed up shop to make it worth His while to cause a scene so late in the day?

If one holds to Good Friday and Palm Sunday, cleansing the temple on the Monday makes practically no sense.  However with Good Thursday and Palm Friday, an explanation is immediately apparent.  Jesus saw everything in the temple late on Friday afternoon, but the Sabbath was drawing in (“it was already late”), and He wanted to be back in Bethany for the Sabbath meal with Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  The following day He walked into Jerusalem rather than riding, which was acceptable since it was “a Sabbath day’s journey” away (Acts 1:12), but the difference was that this time He was entering the temple on a Sabbath day.  What a difference!

Two details of Mark’s account of the cleansing of the temple support our interpretation.  The first is the note in 11:16, peculiar to Mark, that “He would not permit anyone to carry a vessel through the temple”.  Carrying was particularly forbidden on the Sabbath, and Jesus’ actions are reminiscent of Nehemiah’s in Nehemiah 13, when he rebuked those carrying “all kinds of loads” into Jerusalem on the Sabbath, and instead forbad traders from entering Jerusalem on the Sabbath.

Furthermore, when we consider the context of Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 56:7, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”, we find in Isaiah 56:2-8 that both eunuchs and foreigners are encouraged specifically to observe the Sabbath as their way of becoming acceptable to God, receiving a memorial “in my house and within my walls”.  In Jesus’ day, trading happened in what was known as the “Court of the Gentiles”, and when this took place on a Sabbath, foreigners who wanted to draw near to God were prevented from doing the very thing the Scriptures required of them.  How appropriate that Jesus cleared space for Gentiles to draw near, and prevented people carrying vessels through the temple.

One more post to follow, matching up the other events of Jesus’ passion week with regulations concerning the Feast of Passover, and then a summary of our argument.

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