Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Israel

Psalm 16

In a previous post I suggested a four-level approach to interpreting some of the Psalms along the lines of redemptive-history. Here I hope to model that in an abbreviated form, using Psalm 16.

1. Read the Psalm as David sings.
David cries to God as king of God’s people, in dependence on him alone. As leader of the people his delight is in the saints (the holy ones). As their leader he won’t participate in the worship of idols which leads only to destruction. Rather, he will worship and follow the Lord, because in him he has beautiful inheritance (the promise of a son to sit on his throne). As a man after God’s own heart, David could indeed rejoice in the counsel and leading of the Lord. He knew that as a follow of Yahweh, he would not be abandoned to utter destruction, but that the Lord would finally redeem him. He looked forward to the ‘pleasures forevermore’ in the presence of God.

2. Read the Psalm as Israel sings.
The righteous of the people of Israel would rejoice that their king called on the Lord for help, and they would follow his example. The warnings of verse four (sorrows for following another God) contrasted with the promises of verses five and six (joy in God) served as general admonitions to each other to follow hard after their God, since there was no joy to be found elsewhere. As a people they could rejoice in the inheritance of the land that they had been promised. The Lord had given them his counsel in Torah and said he would dwell in their midst if they followed him. As a promise of God, they knew that the ‘holy one’ (those who were righteous) would not be abandoned by God in death, but would be saved from judgement.

3. Read the Psalm as Jesus sings.
In his human life, Jesus continually and perfectly sought refuge in his Father. The life that he had in himself was the Father’s life, the words that he spoke were the Father’s words, and the works that he did were what he saw the Father doing. He takes delight in the saints (the righteous) who hear his word and believe. He would not give in to the idolatry of the world, but perfectly fulfil the law in a perfectly pure life. His chosen portion and his lot were the person of his Father, through the mediation of the Spirit–his food and drink was to do the Father’s will. In a truer sense than any mere human could ever know, when Jesus spent whole nights in prayer he could sing ‘the Lord gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.’ Because God was at his right hand, he was not finally shaken–even through all his suffering. His faith in his Father did not waver, so he was glad and rejoiced, knowing that his soul and flesh would be secure in the end. As Paul saw in Acts 13.35, this generic ‘holy one’ who would not be abandoned is specifically and ultimately fulfilled in the ‘Holy One’ who is Messiah, crucified and then resurrected. He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life endured the cross for the joy that was set before him–he can sing more than any other: ‘in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.’ He can sing this as the one who has entered into God’s presence in a way that none of us ever have or could.

4. Read the Psalm as Christians sing.
God, in Christ, is our only refuge from sin, Satan, and death. We have nothing but sin apart from the work of the Spirit of Christ, which he sent. The ‘saints’ are those who have been sanctified (set apart) by Christ’s blood–and in our church we delight. We know that the sorrows of those who run after other gods will multiply because we have seen the ultimate sorrow for sin: the cross of Christ. We know that God is for us, and we know we have a glorious inheritance in Christ: we have been blessed with all the blessings of the heavenly places, and God didn’t spare even his own Son, so how will he now not freely also give us all things? If he is for us, who can be against us? We surely cannot be shaken, because Christ was not and cannot be forsaken–we are ultimately secure. Since ‘the Holy One’ was not forsaken, we know that his ‘holy ones’ will not be forsaken; he has gone before us to make a way. Christ has secured for us pleasure forevermore and fulfilment of joy because he has prayed for us, that we would be with him, where he is, to see his glory and not die. There is therefore now no condemnation, but only joy in the presence of God.

What a glorious thought! What great reasons to sing!

I Love My God

This morning I was reading from Leviticus 19. In the midst of a long string of commands, where God’s people are told what they must either do or not do in order to be holy as their God is holy, God gives these instructions.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. 

In these books of Law we find all kinds of laws that we would expect: Don’t murder; don’t steal; don’t take someone else’s wife; if you’re a judge, don’t take a bribe; if you kill an unborn baby, you are guilty before God; all kinds of laws like that. But then there are times when we come across passages like this one that can just seem totally unexpected.

Our God’s justice is not like our justice. Intrinsic to the founding of ‘the City of God’ is this notion that the poor, the widow, the orphan, the sojourner must find a home. They must be taken care of. Why? Because it is a reflection of God’s heart for the downtrodden. If God’s people are to be holy, as he is holy, they must reflect the same heart as him: the poor must be comforted.

So how does that translate into the new covenant? I would suggest that we see this fulfilled in no less than three ways as we live in the current ‘City of God’.

  1. Jesus’ message could be summarized this way: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt 4.17). This call to repentance is filled out a little more in this way: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 5.3). In other words, the kingdom of heaven has come, and is possessed by those who are poor–in spirit. These are the ones who are broken over their sin before a holy God (Matt 5.4); the ones who realize they are not perfect as God is perfect (Matt 5.48). They are therefore quick to show mercy, as God has shown them mercy (Matt 5.7; 39-47; 6.14-15; 7.1-5). This is the exact same calling as those citizens of the City of God in the OT received (Lev 19.33-34).
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  3. Just as the thrust of the commands throughout the OT were to be kind to the poor in their midst, so in the NT, kingdom citizens are to be abundantly merciful and generous to meet the needs of other kingdom citizens. The early church did not miss this at all, but saw it quite clearly (Acts 2.44-45). The emphasis must be placed here: the first place we must give and look after the poor is in our own midst–this was so in the OT, just as it is in the NT (see also Gal 6.9-10).
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  5. The Christian must be known as one who does not withhold the wages of the labourer, but gives to each what is due. The cries of even the unbeliever, when he is oppressed, will reach the ears of the Lord and the one who has withheld good from him, will bear his guilt (Jas 5:1-6). The Christian must never be known as one who values his money more than he values people; this would not reflect the character of our God at all.

I love my God because he cares for the spiritually poor (broken) and the destitute. He is a God of mercy, compassion, and grace–this is clearly revealed in both testaments. If we are to be his ‘City’ then we must reflect his character, his person, his passions. We must show mercy to others, as he has shown mercy to us.

Saving a People as an ‘Aside’

John MacArthur’s comments on all good Calvinists being pre-millennial has got me thinking again. But I definitely don’t agree.

Historic Dispensationalism stated outright that God’s plan to save the Gentiles now–in an age of grace–is an aside from God’s plans to save Israel and establish them as God’s people. Contemporary Dispensationalism, of course, would never use such crass terms, but to put forward the notion that God will return somehow to dealing with one nation again, after giving his gospel–which is the fulfilment of all the revelation given to Israel, and which is given in order to bring about the obedience of the nations–really is to suggest the same thing in perhaps more friendly terms.

I would suggest, however, that a simple reading of Galatians and Paul’s view of redemptive-history given there would suggest otherwise. From Adam to Abraham, God dealt with the nations. From Abraham on God dealt primarily with Abraham’s seed–a particular people group–but this seed was specifically prophesied as the one who will bring God’s blessing to all nations.

A little while later, God continues to deal with Israel alone and gives the Law, which they must obey; this Law is the standard by which they must live and be judged, it is what makes Israel distinct as God’s people. This Law, however, as Paul says, is fulfilled (as are the promises to Abraham) in Christ.

Why in the world, then, would we expect for God to go back to dealing with one nation alone? Wouldn’t that be to reverse of the working out of his plan in salvation-history?

Though I would never put it in these terms (tongue planted firmly in cheek), if we must view the saving of a particular people in salvation-history as an ‘aside’, wouldn’t it be Israel? If God’s original plan with Adam and then subsequently with Abraham (and I think it could be easily shown through Israel as well) is for ‘the whole world’, then why would he go back to dealing specifically with a covenant-people whose covenant has been rendered obsolete?

The Self-Policing Church

I don’t know why it continues to amaze me, but it does: God is concerned with purity. He hates sin and will not tolerate the arrogance and abomination of sinners in his assembly. Of course, this makes sense, given that he himself is “holy, holy, holy“; altogether separate, pure, and entirely other from us.

As I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy again the past few days it has hit me that over and over again God demands purity in his people because he is pure. But more than that, he demands that his people maintain a standard of purity and holiness as well, because of their relation to him who is pure! They are to be a people holy, even as he is holy, because they are to be a nation of priests: witnesses of him to the world.

The repetition of this theme throughout Deuteronomy (the Mosaic “farewell discourse” as the people of God prepare to enter the promised land) is astounding. What is even more astounding is that they are to “police” themselves! See here for some examples.

So that was then, what about now? If this was how the people of the OT were to handle sin and impurity, what about the people of the NT? Afterall, the OT is “copies” and “shadows” of the real things. The Church, in the NT is the true “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for (God’s) own possession” (1 Peter 2.9).

This idea of being a people and nation for God in the NT–just as in the OT–is used to exhort God’s people to increased purity and holiness of life! That’s why Peter continues: “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul…”

This is more than an individualistic call to a righteous life. It’s a call to consider the fact that we are a people who are to represent God collectively, as a nation! When our members begin to make mockery of the God we are to glorify by the way that they live, we are to purge the guilt of that sin from our midst.

Obviously that was easier to do, theoretically, when they people of God were a physical nation, but it is no less important now. For the church to be effective in glorifying the God of holiness by remaining pure, she must be “self-policing.”

Where it seems many in our day have trouble with this is this notion that the Christian “ought never judge.” The problem here is mistaking a concern for the glory of God’s name in the purity of his people with a self-righteous pride. The solution, it would seem, is for Christians concerned with the glory of Christ and the purity of his bride to remain humble “gate-keepers” and for all Christians to be open to loving correction.

In a culture that says no-one is allowed to correct anyone, this would be light and salt indeed.

And in a western-world where it seems that much of Christendom has nothing else to do, other than to re-discover old heresies abandoned in the purification of the church in days of persecution in the past, this means we must police our own doctrine as well. It would be absurd to think that God is this concerned with his glory in the way that we live, because it represents him, but that he won’t care if we teach (or “discuss” or “humbly question”) the wrong things about him.

A father is embarassed when his boys misbehave at school. He’s also embarassed when they describe him to their teacher as a guy who “looks just like us… only more girly.”

Glorifying God as his chosen, holy nation, means acting like him and describing him as accurately as possible in all circumstances. To this end, the church must be “self-policing,” watching our life and doctrine closely.

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