Wednesday, December 19, 2018
One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is the music. Some of my favorite Christmas tunes include O Holy Night, Sleigh ride, and anything by the Tran-Siberian Orchestra. However, I’m not the only one who enjoys carols and familiar musical phrases. The research shows that Christmas music is a powerful marketing force.
One thing that many arrangers or recording artists have done is provide compilations or medleys of several different songs that have already been written. Whether it’s a medley of carols or a grouping of holiday favorites, I always enjoy how arrangers use what has already been made available or already written to create something new (with its own spin and flavor). I had the privilege of singing such medley at the holiday pops along with the symphony orchestra choir and an entire auditorium full of people just the other day.
However, songs or groupings of songs used to commemorate a season are not new. In fact, many might be unaware of the very first Christmas song ever written. Though this first ever Christmas song is a single tune, Mary’s Magnificat is also a compilation of previous melodies that existed well before the first century. Written by the Holy Spirit and originally recorded by the virgin Mary, this song is a hymn of praise and reflection that continues to inspire those who hear it today. Let us look at its two profound stanzas in Luke 1:46-55.
I. STANZA #1: MARY’S PERSONAL PRAISE BALLAD-1:46-49
The very first Christmas song was sung by a virgin girl who would one day give birth to Christ Himself. The word “magnificat” is Latin for “my soul magnifies” and it comes from the first words used in the Latin translation of this passage (in this translation, the opening lines read, “my soul exalts”). Mary begins this ancient hymn and most beautiful Christmas melody with praise and adoration for the Lord God in Heaven. The direction of her praise and adoration is to the Lord in whose eyes she had found undeserved favor. While we have already observed how she reacted to such grace with obedience (putting her “yes” one the table), she now responds in praise and explodes in worship.
Such exaltation is seen in Hannah’s song in 1 Sam. 2:1-10- “my heart exults in the Lord.” Interestingly, she too had found favor with God by means of a miraculous conception and in response chose to praise her God.
It is important to understand that although God had shown Mary grace by choosing her for this task, the result of this journey, the completion of this task, would result in her own salvation. In a very Jewish way, Mary had also waited for the Savior that she now bore and would deliver. In essence, Mary was asked to be a small part in the program of salvation by acting as the vessel through which the God-child would come to earth. In this she rejoices in God who would save her through her child saying, “and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (1:47). It is obvious by this personalization (“my Savior”) that Mary saw herself as part of the godly remnant that had served the Lord.
Hannah (Samuel’s mother in the Old Testament) also understood how God had saved her in spite of her barrenness by providing for her pregnancy. In her prayer (recorded centuries earlier) we read that she also rejoiced in the salvation that God provided.
1 Samuel 2:1-“My heart rejoices in the Lord; my horn is lifted up by the Lord. My mouth boasts over my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation.”
One reason for Mary’s praise ballad is the attention God gave to her humble situation. Luke cannot seem to shake the theme of humility in the account of Jesus’ birth. This awesome and Mighty God took notice of Mary’s humble state (a teenage girl from a small township in the middle nowhere) and chose her for a most important task. Because of His unique and surprising choice in this matter, Mary can help but to sing his praises, “…For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond slave;…” (1:48a).
Have you ever considered that only the smaller birds sing in a pleasing way? You never hear a note worth whistling from the eagle, nor admire the sound a turkey makes, nor find the squawking of an ostrich pleasant to the ear. But we love to listen to the sophisticated tunes of the canary, the wren, and the lark. Similarly, the sweetest music comes from those Christians who are small in their own estimation and before the Lord.
Not only does Mary praise the Lord because of His recognition of her in spite of her humility; but she also understood the eternal implications of the child she bore and that she too would be remembered for her humble service in God’s incarnational program, “for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed…”(1:48b). The small role she played would be remembered by all who know the Bible and appreciate her example of courageous obedience. The opportunity to be a testimony of obedience is yet another reason that she praises the Lord in the first verse of this song.
However, while some might be tempted to venerate Mary herself. Mary is careful in her song to keep attention where it should be--the Lord God. God and His mighty power is the third reason she give Him praise, “for the Mighty One has done great things for me…” (1:49a). Even in her song Mary expresses that she was undeserving of any credit or any glory. Instead, she points all glory to the One who made her great because of His grace. The great things God did in her life are the only source of her goodness and that is the reason we see her praise the Lord in song, rather than sing about herself.
Mary concludes her praise ballad with a proclamation of God’s holiness—the fourth reason for her praise. Perhaps God’s most over-arching quality, holiness describes His unique and separate character that made everything transpire in both Mary’s life and in the world. It was God’s holy and awesome will that put this program of salvation together and now was pleased to bring Jesus to Earth. It is His holiness that authored salvation in the first place and it was his holy wisdom that saw fit to extend to Mary His grace and favor. For that reason Mary sings her humble praises.
Mary’s personal praise ballad is a rubric that can be followed today. Just as Mary borrowed from Hannah’s Old Testament hit, we can borrow several principles from this song to apply in our lives. Taking from this song’s template so far, we must pick up the melody and praise the Lord by our obedience in all things. Following Mary’s example, we are compelled in this text to glorify God for all of the good that He has given. When we do this, the melody is beautiful. With that spirit, let us now stand and sing.
II. VERSE #2: MARY’S REFLECTIVE REFRAIN-1:50-55
In this second verse of Mary’s song, she borrows lyrics from several popular Psalms and makes a transition from praise to reflection. First, Quoting from Psalm 103:17, Mary reflects on God’s activity in Israel’s history in general and how this miraculous conception in her life fits into a much larger story, “And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him…” (1:50). The entire story of the Old Testament leading up to this moment in Mary’s life was characterized by rebellion and mercy. In rebellion mankind sinned in the garden and God provided his mercy with the coverings of animal skin through a sacrifice. In rebellion, mankind grew so wicked that God determined to annihilate mankind in a flood and yet because of God’s mercy Noah and his family were saved. In rebellion, mankind built a tower to God and they were confused in their languages, forming all kinds of peoples and nations. In mercy, God chose Abraham to start a new nation that would bless the world. In rebellion, the nation God chose was disobedient and as a result was displaced and thrown into slavery. In God’s mercy Moses was raised and led his people to the Promised Land. In rebellion, God’s people demanded a king when they were supposed to follow Him. In God’s mercy he provides King David (albeit after Saul). In rebellion God’s people turn toward idols and are thrown into exile. In God’s mercy, He returns them to the land and rebuilds their city, their temple, and its walls. The entire Old Testament is a testimony of the incredible mercy of God. Most recently for Mary, God had been silent for 100s of years because of her people's rebellion. But now, in this single act, He breaks that silence in a big way and shows Israel, once again, His incredible mercy by sending His son. As Mary reflects she cannot help but say (again) "And His mercy is upon generation after generation…".
Along with God’s mercy as demonstrated in the Old Testament, Mary reflects on God’s mighty deeds—floods, fires, healing, victory, etc. “…He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart, He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble…”(1:51-52). Each mighty act showed favor to the humble and judged the proud. Fires or floods were sent to scatter or destroy those who had become too proud to worship the one true God (Proverbs 8:13-The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate). Defeat was handed to those nations who were haughty in the face of Israel. Even for Israel herself, pride led to exile, destruction, and defeat (cf. Amos 6:8-The Lord God has sworn by Himself, the Lord God of hosts says: “I abhor the pride of Jacob, and hate his palaces, therefore I will deliver up the city and all that is in it”). However, when she returned to her correct state of humility, Israel was blessed, protected, and provided for. Victory and promise is given to the humble. Reflecting on this principle for Israel, Mary realizes that because of her humility, she was able to experience her own mighty act of God.
Quoting from another Song (Psalm 107:9), Mary also reflects on God’s unique provision in response to man’s desperate need “…he has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty -handed” (1:53). It is clear when one looks at this Psalm (Psalm 107:5-6-“they were hungry and thirsty their soul fainted within them. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble…”), that Mary is not condemning the rich, but rather a failure to recognize dependency on the Lord for all things. This line in her reflective refrain reveals that those who recognize their hunger before the Lord are filled; however, those who already think they have it all will be sent away with nothing. Mary recognizes this throughout Israel’s history and in her own life as well. In no way did she pretend to have it all and not need God. In her own mind, she understood that God’s grace had filled her and her life with good things because of her dependency on Him. That was something to sing about.
The final lines of this early Christmas song reveal that Mary understood how her baby’s life carried on the promise that was made to Abraham thousands of years before her time “…He has given help to Israel, His servant, In remembrance of His mercy as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever...”(1:54-55). As the child meant so much to Mary personally (the self-proclaimed bond-slave of God) because He was the means God had used to bring grace into her life, so to would this child fulfill a greater purpose for Israel who is called “God’s servant.” This baby would continue God’s program of grace for the nation of Israel as it had for Mary individually because He would carry out the promise that was made to Abraham. In fact, Mary’s humble life and obedient response to grace provides an exceptional example of how Israel should have responded all along to God’s grace. In so many ways, Mary was uniquely humble, obedient, and selfless, traits that are rare in Israel’s history. Here was yet another opportunity for Israel respond correctly as Jesus entered the world. Would they make the most of it?
So What ?
With that, Mary’s compilation of Old Testament hits is complete. Having borrowed from Hannah’s timeless hit and a couple of noteworthy tunes from the Psalms, Mary was able to create something new for the first ever Christmas season. Both her personal praise ballad and reflective refrain sing of God’s greatness, mercy, and sovereign purpose in the world to bring about redemption to mankind. First, Mary’s personal praise reveals that this experience was one that brought much joy and wonder to her life. She recognized that her humility had been awarded with this opportunity to shine brightly for the Lord. After praising God for this she reflects on how God has done similar wonders in the life of her people. He extended mercy to Israel following prideful rebellion, had done mighty acts, and would continue to see the promises He made fulfilled.
These verses teach us that God is eager to bless the humble and desires to perform the miraculous with the lowly. Mary’s humility was an opportunity for God to use her. Israel’s humility led to incredible victory. Your humility before the Lord today is also an opportunity for God to use you in extraordinary ways.
This Christmas, humble yourself before the Lord in order that He might shine brightly in your life. Recognize that your humble state, my humble state, and the humble state of this church is not an obstacle we are having to fight against. Instead, it is an opportunity we have for God to shine in ways other people or places who fail to realize this cannot.
When used in a special way, this song also outlines how we should respond to God’s greatest gift—Jesus Christ. Like Mary, we are always to give God the credit and praise His holy Name. Who do you praise? Who gets the credit for what takes place in your life? Choose this Christmas to sing a new song in place of the selfish tunes we are prone to belt. Choose this day and everyday to make your life’s song all about the one who came to save!
Friday, December 7, 2018
Over the last several weeks we have been looking at Old Testament passages that figuratively foreshadow the coming Lord and Savior-Jesus Christ. In Genesis we learned that in Christ is born a defeater of sin (the “Seed of the woman”). Later in Genesis we learned that in Christ is born a superior substitute (who takes our place as an offering unto the Lord like the ram caught in the thicket near Abraham and Isaac). From Exodus we learned that in Christ is born a complete Revelation of God (while Moses only saw God’s back, we are allowed to behold more of God through the Son). Last week we saw that in Christ is born a great Redeemer (just as Boaz redeemed a foreign woman out of her desperation, so too does Jesus redeem lost sinners). All of these passages have hinted at the Christ child through subtle (and not-so subtle) imagery. However, today’s passage—Isaiah 9:2-7—comes right out with a direct and obvious prediction of the coming Messiah. This week we are going to learn that in Christ is born a Prince—the Prince that Israel anticipated and the Prince that we all need.
I. Darkness Illuminated-9:2
Isaiah is written at a low point in Israel’s history. The Kingdom that was once prosperous and united under David and Solomon is now divided (into the ten tribes of the north who were in captivity and the two tribes of the South). In addition to this, while the Assyrian empire was expanding, Israel was declining. Through some misplaced deals with foreign powers, Judah and her people’s future in exile is pretty much sealed. Although the fall of Jerusalem would not take place until much later, Isaiah assumes the destruction of Judah is as good as done and proceeds to predict a future restoration of the people following their looming captivity. Much as God redeemed his people out of Egypt, Isaiah, even before his audience is thrown into exile, predicts that after they are taken over, they will be rescued once again. Ultimately, the book is written to exhort God’s people to place their trust in God for their deliverance in spite of what is going to take place. Then, and only then would they receive God’s blessing.
Shades of this central message are witnessed in this passage that opens with “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light” (9:2). This short phrase highlights the ones who will receive the special revelation that is coming and the character of the revelation to be given. First, those to whom this revelation belongs include “the ones who walk in darkness” (9:2a). This refers to the state of Israel in Isaiah’s context—”the northern kingdom of Israel had been carried into captivity (722 B.C.), and the kingdom of Judah was in the middle of idolatry and evil” (Allen Ross). In other words, Isaiah predicts that those in both spatial and moral darkness would receive a special revelation from God.
Such a prediction highlights the grace of God for his people. Though many might be tempted to hold back communication from those who perpetually disappoint, God meets Israel’s failure with a message (and a positive one at that!). Why? Because these are God’s people and they have received unconditional promises from the Lord involving land, descendants, and forever blessing (see Genesis 12 and 15).
To his undeserving children God predicts that they will see “a great light” (9:2b). Light is a familiar and important symbol. Light reveals (Gen. 1), illuminates the proper path (Psalm 119:11), exposes darkness (Psalm 18:28), and serves as a figurative image for the revelation of God (John 8:12). In fact, this last use of the symbol of light is what is most appropriate to consider in this prophecy inasmuch as it is, in many ways, a prediction of the coming Christ who is, according to Hebrews 1:3, is called radiance of the glory of God. The idea is that those living in separation and spiritual darkness will receive the revelation of God in a way never-before-seen—in the coming Messiah.
In keeping with familiar Hebrew parallel structure, the prophet reiterates his thought by saying the same kind of thing, but in a different way—“Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them” (9:2c). Often there is a connection drawn between the prosperity of God’s people (practically and spiritually) and their land. The Promised Land was to be the terminus of the Jews from which they would be used to bless the world. However, as a consequence of their disobedience, they were thrown into exile and displaced from the land. Now they were in a spiritually impoverished domain—“dark land.” However, these same sojourners would soon have the light of God shine on them, principally in the person of Jesus Christ—the coming Messiah.
II. National Blessing-9:3
In addition to revelation (found eventually and most completely in Christ), the prophet predicts national blessing for the people of God. He frames this blessing both practically and psychologically. First he says, “you shall multiply the nation” (9:3a). A nation’s prosperity was often measured in its numbers. Whether or not this prediction envisions a spike in population is secondary to the idea of practical and observable blessing upon God’s people. The multiplication of the nation comes only after the light shines, indicating that God’s blessing is inextricably tied to his revelation.
Positive response to God’s revelation doesn’t just lead to existential blessing; it also bring forth psychological health—“you shall increase their gladness, they will be glad in Your presence” (9:3b). The gladdest people in the world ought to be God’s people who respond well to God’s message. Is that true in your circle or is that the case for the people in this church who know the revelation of God today? Something to consider 😊.
Certainly the Israelite’s situation (characterized by division and coming exile) stifled their morale. However, Isaiah predicts a time in which their spirit would be restored and their joy made great following a special revelation of God in a coming Messiah.
The prophet illustrates both the practical and psychological blessing foretold with the following illustration—“As with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil” (9:3c). In the principally agrarian context in which this was originally written people measured their season or year’s success based on the yield of their crop. If the harvest was abundant and able to be spread around, it was an occasion of rejoicing. The prophet foretells such a blessing (both practically and spiritually) for the people of God.
III. Existential Relief-9:4-5
The third prediction the prophet makes is existential relief (revelation, blessing, and relief). Isaiah says, “for You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders” (9:4a). This figurative language is used both to highlight near and future relief from oppression. “breaking the yoke” and “the staff on their shoulders” envisions a people under the control of a dominating figure. Nearest to Isaiah’s original context, this probably referred to Assyria and other oppressors both of the southern kingdoms and of the ten northern tribes. However, further on into the future, this predicts a time in which the coming Messiah will break the chains of all tyranny including the subjugation brought about by the Antichrist.
Prophecies in the Scriptures often have a dual fulfillment (both near to the original context and down the line into the future). For instance, many of the predictions concerning the kingdom of God saw a partial fulfillment at the death and resurrection of Christ (in which the kingdom of God was said to be “at hand” or “has come”). However, the kingdom of God is still something that is yet to be realized in many respects (see Revelation 20-22). Isaiah 9:4 operates in much the same way. The prophet promises relief from a present threat and a greater future threat.
The prophet compares relief from these threats to a familiar and inspiring Old Testament story—“the rod of their oppressor as at the battle of Midian” (9:4b). This refers to the incredible victory God handed to his people in Judges 7:1-24. There, God took the Israelite forces from 22,000 to 10,000 to then just 300. Thereafter, he divided this small band of brothers into three microscopic units, outfitted them with trumpets and empty pitchers and torches. With this small troop and their peculiar tools God caused a cacophony so overwhelming that the much larger forces of the Midianites and Amalekites ended up taking up arms against each other and fleeing from the scene. It was a supernatural victory that involved a few winning over many.
The same will be true in the end. On that day, one (a coming Christ) will overwhelm many and win supernatural victory over a host of forces led by Satan and the Antichrist. In fact, the battle won’t even be fair.
So total will the victory prophesied be that “....every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, and cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning fuel for the fire” (9:5). In other words all warlike accoutrements will be destroyed as they will no longer be required in the new era of peace.
Of all the tragic conflicts that have plagued our planet throughout history, WWI, because of its global scope, mass casualties, and many geopolitical and economic implications was referred to as “the war to end all wars.” Many must have believed that there was no way any nation would ever allow conflict to ever rise to a similar degree ever again. Little did they know that an even worse horror awaited them just a few years later in WWII. When men fight, the peace that is achieved is temporary. However, this passage reveals that when the coming Messiah wages war, he deals with his foes completely—so completely that there is no threat ever to follow.
Malachi 4:1-“’For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every soldier will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.’”
IV. Prince of Peace-9:6
The coming revelation, blessing, and relief is found in a single figure. He is introduced as the fourth prophecy of this exciting passage—“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us” (9:6a). Though one might find it odd to consider such great victory and blessing from a small child, this child is unique—he is the promised child of God, the “seed of the woman” sent to crush the head of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15), and the coming King that will rule a forever kingdom (see 2 Sam. 7:13). Stately and powerful though he will prove to be, he will come as a small baby—humble and lowly. Also, this child is given first and foremost to his people (the Jews). Notice the repetition of “to us” in the first part of verse 6. This indicates, even at this early juncture,that salvation is both from the Jews and for the Jew first (John 4:22; Rom. 1:16). This child and all that comes with him is also “given” out of the grace of mercy of God to a people that, in many ways did not deserve him (indeed to a world that does not deserve him).
“And the government will rest on his shoulders” (9:6b). Eventually, he will exercise all authority on the earth. Here again is an example of a near and far fulfillment. Though, to be sure, Jesus had all authority in his first coming, this authority was veiled and/or inconspicuous. Later, the full expression of his might will be revealed in his second coming. While God’s people have throughout history been ruled under the yolk of authoritarians and tyrants, one day God will remove this yolk, take on the raiment of power, and rule his followers perfectly.
“And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6c). These four descriptive phrases reveal something of the character of the coming Messiah. “Wonderful” (‘exceptional’ or ‘distinguished’) “Counselor” speaks of ability to teach God’s ways and instruct in the ways of righteousness. Though many ignored God’s commands and protocols throughout history, the people of God will be anxious to hear what he advises in this future fulfillment as he is the most distinguished mentor.
Not only that, but this child will prove to be the mighty God—not merely a prophet, miracle worker, or preacher. The Messiah would be God incarnate. He is also called “eternal Father.” This is curious as it seems to confuse the members of the Trinity (I thought we were talking about Jesus but now he is called the “eternal Father?”). Several things worth mentioning might help us to understand what this title might mean. First, the Messiah, being the 2nd person of the Trinity, is in His essence, God. Therefore, He has all the attributes of God including eternality. Since God is One (even though He exists in three Persons), the Messiah is God. Second, the title “Everlasting Father” is an idiom used to describe the Messiah’s relationship to time, not His relationship to the other Members of the Trinity. He is said, in other words, to be everlasting, just as God. Third, perhaps Isaiah had in mind the promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:16.
2 Samuel 7:16-“Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever”
In this passage, the “foreverness” of the kingdom of God is prophesied as coming through David’s line. The Messiah, a descendant of David, will fulfill this promise for which the nation had been waiting. Therefore, in these ways, “eternal Father” is not so awkward a title for this coming Messiah.
Finally, he is called the Prince of Peace. Though many before him would promise peace without delivering it, He will actually bring everlasting peace to the earth. Together, these four titles prophecy an exceptionally marvelous coming Messiah who will one day rule over the world and his people.
V. Eternal Rule-9:7
This rule is highlighted in the fifth prediction—eternal rule. Isaiah concludes this passage by saying “there will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace” (9:7a). Kings come and go, regimes rise and fall, presidents serve brief terms in office, but the Messiah will come to reign forever in perfect peace.
This he will do “on the Throne of David and over his kingdom…” (9:7b). Again, as mentioned before, Isaiah is predicting the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant—a forever literal kingdom of God established through someone from the line of it’s premiere monarch.
Christ will rule this kingdom “to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore” (9:7c). Everything about this prediction is the antithesis of what the people of God were experiencing at the time this was written. In their world, the nation was divided and fallen (or falling). Different rulers were coming and going and the moral framework of the majority was anything but righteous. Peace? Yeah right! However, this is the hope that the prophet Isaiah spells out for his people—a secure kingdom at perfect peace, led by the great Messiah, forever. It was everything they would need and the sign that this would eventually be fulfilled would come at the birth of a small child in Bethlehem that first Christmas morning—For unto us is born a Prince!
That same Prince of peace promised to the people of God in the Old Testament is alive today. He was willing to come to this earth as a baby boy not just to provide hope for the Jews but hope for all men and women. Just as his birth signals a hope for the nation of Israel, it also spells hope for you and for me. Perhaps like the people of Israel in the time of Isaiah you are out of sorts, divided, in darkness. TO be sure, God’s people are called sojourners, refugees, and aliens in this world in both the Old and the New Testament. What/who is going to get you through? The Prince spoken of in this passage? Do you have hope today? Are you listening to the wonderful Counselor who wants to lead you in the ways of righteousness? Do you trust that there is a mighty God who is stronger than your greatest problems? Have you fallen into the embrace of the loving and eternal Father? Are you living with the expectation of perfect peace one day in eternity with the Lord? For unto us is born the Prince who gives all of this and more as gifts to those who after witnessing his light, turn from the darkness and place their faith in Him. This Christmas, before you receive any other gift, be sure you’ve already opened those that Christ offers to you in his grace.
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Many kinds of events draw crowds. From sports to musical performances, people enjoy gathering together when something exciting is taking place. This is especially true when a decision is involved. Think of the all the shows on TV that involve some kind of competition that comes down the decision of a judge or the audience. Think of the millions who stay up late into the night to watch election results or the finale of the Bachelor. We are people who collect themselves in groups. Such is the case in our next stop in the journey to Bethlehem. Interestingly, this stop has us in Bethlehem, only a few centuries prior to the events of that first Christmas morning. You see, there was a family who happened upon hard times in Bethlehem during a famine. This family packed their things and headed to Moab where they had better luck, at least for a while. The sons of the house married women from this region and all was working as best as could be expected when the father of the house and his two sons died. This left an aging Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth without husbands or sons and in dire straits. With no way to provide for themselves and no ability to continue the family name, Naomi decides to head back home to Bethlehem. Against her wishes, at first, Ruth accompanies her and the two of them try to pick of the pieces of their lives as best they can and start over. No husband, no prospects, no means of feeding themselves. Starting over would be a tall order.
Tragedy turns into a love story when Ruth “happens” to find herself gleaning in a field for scraps of food. The field, by the way, just “happens” to be owned by a potential suitor—a man by the name of Boaz—who just so “happens” to be a potential “kinsmen.” You see, when a man died and left a widow, it was up to the man’s brother or close male relative to marry the widow, provide for her well-being, and produce an heir that would inherit what originally belonged to the deceased. After Ruth’s gleaning and some very generous gestures extended by Boaz, Ruth returns home to Naomi encouraged.
Naomi finds out about all of this, realizes the possibilities before Ruth (and her) and goes from mourning to matchmaker. She hatches a late-night proposal in which Ruth would approach Boaz, reveal who she is, and, in no uncertain terms, let it be known that she is available and in need of a kinsmen to come to her rescue. The plan works and Boaz agrees to step in for her and Naomi—it seems he has taken a liking to this Moabite women gleaning in his field.
However, as with any good love story, there is a slight hitch. There is a nearer kinsmen that really has first rights to Ruth (sorry ladies, this is how it worked in the ancient world). So insignificant is this other guys that the Bible doesn’t even name him (it actually in a round-about way refers to him as Mr. So-and-so). By now Ruth and Boaz are an item, would this Mr. So-and-so stand in their way? Boaz was determined to find out and has a meeting with the guy the very next day.
After exchanging pleasantries, Boaz lays it all on the table and asks to take the man’s place as Ruth’s kinsman and redeem her out of her desperate plight. This is where we enter the story. By now, the gossip has hit the small town, people know about the budding romance and all of the important implications thereof, and a crowd has gathered in an effort to hear the decision that was made between Boaz and Mr. So-and-So. Interested in the outcome of this decision, the group has grown to many onlookers who, in their passing by, have decided to tune in and hear the result of the decision that has been made between these two men. Let us take our place among them and examine three results of the decision made between the two and how it foreshadows the greatest ever kinsmen redeemer—Christ—who comes to purchase lost sinners out of their desperate plight.
a. RESULT #1: The Practice of the Custom-4:7-8
Verses 7-8 interrupt the meeting that is taking place and draw attention to the gestures that would have accompanied the decision that was made earlier (cf. 4:6)—“Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemptions and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another and this was the manner of attestation in Israel” (4:7). The removal of a sandal in ancient customs was a symbolic act declaring his abdication of his own rights as the redeemer and their transfer to the next in line. In those days, the sandal was the most common form of footwear, generally made of leather and fastened with straps or laces. The act of removing the sandal and handing to another was symbolic of an exchange or transfer of goods or rights. The purpose of this legal gesture is defined with two expressions, “to put any matter into effect,” (translated, “confirm any matter”) that is to make legally binding, and “now this is/was the form of attestation/legalization in Israel,” that is to bear witness. Inasmuch as a transfer was made and inasmuch as this transfer was made among a crowd of witnesses, this seems to describe what this gesture meant in this context. Therefore, the act makes concrete the transfer of rights from one person to the next. The transfer of the sandal would have been more meaningful in that culture than it would be today. Sandals were important footwear and many did not have but one pair. To give up a sandal meant giving up half of your closet footwear, leaving you barefoot on one foot until you could acquire another. Not only was this personally taxing, it would have been publicly observed. Anyone, for the remainder of that day at least would have been able to see Mr. So-and-so wearing only one sandal or carrying only one in his hand and would have been able to understand that a legally binding deal had been made.
This gesture was accompanied by a verbal declaration “Acquire for yourself” (4:8-a recapitulation of the statement made in verse 6). With the transfer of the sandal as the final legal gesture, the official court proceedings were complete. The rights and responsibilities of redemption (concerning the deceased estate) had been officially transferred to Boaz, and he was legally recognized as the redeemer. While Boaz grows more important to us in the story with this new distinction, Mr. So-and-so, disappears from the scene almost as quickly as he appeared, heading home to live an unchanged and normal life.
b. RESULT #2: The Proclamation of the Conclusion-4:9-10
With a bit more pep in his step than earlier, Boaz closes the meeting with a passionate speech. This speech defines the significance of what just took place for everyone around him and calls attention to what they observed. Although originally Boaz called just ten elders around to bear witness, since the meeting began, many walking through the city gates had remained to watch as the business was conducted. This is why the author says, “to the elders and all the people, ‘You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon…” (4:9).
Boaz’s concluding speech begins and ends with the same clause, “your are witnesses.” With this declaration, Boaz affirms that if ever in the future there would be any question of what had transpired between him and so-and-so, many would be able to remember what had happened and bear witness. With this in mind, Boaz summarizes two actions that had transpired. The first being the transfer of the estate of Elimelech. He had obtained the right to purchase it from whomever held it presently. In so doing, he would restore the land back to whom it originally belonged.
In the second portion of his summary, Boaz declared that he had also acquired the rights of Ruth—“moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Maholon, to be my wife” (4:10a). He mentions the land first because his right to Ruth was contingent upon gaining the right to the property. However, it is obvious from the construction of the sentence that Ruth was his primary goal. Literally, it reads, “and also Ruth, the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, I have acquired for myself.” From this clear reference, it is obvious that Ruth’s foreign status was no barrier for Boaz. Instead, it almost appears as though, because of her glowing reputation throughout Bethlehem, he relishes the idea of marrying this foreigner.
This is not unlike Christ’s redemption for the believer. Although foreigners to His kingdom because of our sin, Jesus is pleased, if not, proud, that He is able to Redeem those of the world. He has the rights to do so and is absolutely willing.
The remainder of Boaz’s speech explains the reason and motivation behind the preceding meeting. Again, it is obvious that although the estate made up the majority of the deal, Boaz’s primary consideration was for Ruth. The addition of “for my wife” creates the initial impression that his motives are purely personal. However, what he reveals next is that so much more is going on here—God is up to something bigger.
“In order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today’…” (4:10b). In Boaz’s explanation of his motivation in the foregoing legal efforts he used three significant expressions. His first goal was to establish the name of the deceased on through his own inheritance. Boaz’s second goal was to prevent the name of the deceased from being “cut off from his brothers.” This expression represents one of several for annihilating one’s honor and reputation and preventing one’s post-death existence. Boaz’s third goal is to prevent his name from being cut off from “the court of his birth place.” This decision by Boaz is intended to guarantee Elimelech/Mahlon the right to representation in the gathering of the town council. In the end Mr. So-and-so will disappear without a name, but the security of Mahlon’s and Elimelech’s (the dead) names is guarded.
Again, Boaz closes his speech as he opens it, calling those around to bear witness. He does this because he wants to remind them of their responsibility and he also wants them to take that responsibility seriously. Repetition leads to Retention.
c. RESULT #3: The Prayer of Blessing-4:11-12
“All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, ‘We are witnesses…” (4:11a). Interestingly, there is no word for “yes” in the Hebrew language. In order to affirm something or agree, the Israelites repeated that which they conceded. Here, they say, “we are witnesses.” By affirming this role, they agree to the legal and popular obligations that Boaz had gave them through his speech and state here that they will be the witnesses he has called them to be concerning this case. However, this is not the end of their input after the covenant has been made.
With unanimous spontaneity, the crowd (made up of the ten and the many others who had gathered) erupts in a hymn of blessing that consists of three parts. First, they express their concern for Boaz by praying that Ruth be fertile—“ May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel” (4:11b). The expression “who is coming into your home” derives from the ancient customary practice of the wedding party proceeding to the home of the groom after the marriage ceremony and him formally ushering the bride into his house.
The crowd continues and prays that Ruth take her place among the matriarchs of Israel along with Rachel and Leah. This would have been absolutely unprecedented for the original readers to see a foreign woman granted such status among Israel’s finest feminine figures. As is well known, Rachel and Leah were the daughters of Laban whom Jacob married and who became the founding mothers of the twelve tribes of Israel. Leah is mentioned second in order for her name to stick in your mind and draw attention to the tribe of Judah who was associated with Bethlehem (their present setting) and was a descendant of this famous mother. Just as Rachel and Leah had built up the house of Israel, so, they pray, may Ruth build up the house of Boaz.
As the prayer continues, the crowd asks that God all Ruth, Like Rachel and Leah before her, ”to build a house” (4:11b). This phrase is an idiom which means “to have progeny, descendants, to establish a family.” The people’s invocation of Yahweh to make this possible is in keeping with the psalmist’s notion that “unless the LORD builds a house, they labor in vain who build it” (Ps. 127:1).
The second blessing the crowd voices was directed to Boaz and is constructed with two parallel lines.
“May you prosper in Ephrathah
And may a name be called in Bethlehem” (4:11c).
Because of the wide range of meanings that may be ascribed to hayil (prosper), this first line is difficult to pin down. The word can mean “to act valiantly,” “to perform honorably,” or “to show great strength,” but “to make wealth,” seems to be most appropriate in the context of a blessing associated with marriage.
Typical of Hebrew parallelism, the second line builds on the first. The phrase “become famous” (lit. “to call a name”), means to keep that name alive. It also perceives the person as living on in his descendants in the place named, which is Bethlehem here. The ancients believed that when a person’s name is never mentioned after his death, he ceases to exist.
The third blessing the witnesses prayed was that Boaz would become like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah—“ Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah through the offspring which the Lord will give you by this young woman” (4:12). This reference to Tamar, Judah, and Perez reinforces the impression that the narrator has been writing the story of Boaz and Ruth with Genesis 39 in the back of his mind. What does that say? This most celebrated example of levirate obligation and betrayal also involved a widow whose husband, Er, had died without producing
and heir. Failing to get Er’s brother Onan, to fulfill his levirate obligation and despairing of waiting for Shelah, another younger brother to grow up, Tamar pretended to be a prostitute and tricked Judah, her own father-in-law, into a sexual relationship . She conceived and eventually bore twin sons, Perez and Zerah. Together they became the ancestors of the tribe of Judah.
The point of comparing Boaz to Judah and Ruth to Tamar is to draw attention to the common levirate quality to their unions. Through Tamar, whose husband had died childless, Judah had fathered Perez, who became the ancestor of a host of clans. Through Ruth, whose husband had died childless, the people prayed that Boaz might father a child who would birth a multitude as well. However, if one considers the common rabbinic hermeneutic of arguing from greater to the lesser, the reader cannot help but think that if Yahweh had given immoral Judah a double blessing in the birth of twins and if Judah flourished through Perez, how much greater are the prospects for Boaz and Ruth. These two have been presented from the beginning to the end as persons with as people of steadfastness and uprightness.
The people that proclaimed this three-fold blessing could not have imagined how prophetic it would prove to be. Collectively inspired by the Spirit of God, they join here in a pronouncement that will eventually transpire before their very eyes. Had they been around long enough to see the fulfillment of their prayer, they would have observed the establishment of a name and a house far greater than Perez.
We catch a glimpse of this in the rest of Ruth.
So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:13-17)
Here in Bethlehem the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah is allowed to continue after being thrown into jeopardy because a godly man was able and willing to redeem a young Moabite woman. Because of his heroism, she gave birth to a son, and with that, obtained security for her and Naomi’s future. However, she also is used of God to continue the Messianic line on through David—future King of Israel—and an even greater figure thereafter—Jesus Christ—who would be born in the very same small town. This same Jesus, born in Bethlehem, would redeem lost sinners like you and me. For unto us is born a Redeemer! He loved us when we were at our worst, lost and helpless, foreign and broken. Have you entered a relationship with him? Are you living in the joy that comes from being saved from your former plight?
Monday, November 19, 2018
As we continue our journey through the Scriptures this Christmas season, I want us to consider the traveling that many of us will be doing over the next couple of months. Whether by plane, train, or automobile, trips are punctuated with helpful signs along the way that guide people in the right direction (departure lists in an airport, train stops, exits, traffic lights, etc.). Such signs help point people in the right direction as they head to their ultimate destination. In our own textual journey we have already passed two signs that in their own way point toward Christ: the “seed of the woman” (indicating that Jesus would be born of a virgin and ultimately defeat sin), and “the substitute” (foreshadowing Christ’s sacrifice for sin). As we press on, I’d like for us to consider another journey that, in many ways, is similar to our own—I’m thinking of the Israelite’s journey out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the Promised Land. Somewhere between the wilderness and the Promised Land, the people of God took an exit and stopped off at Mt. Sinai where Moses went up the mountain and received the Ten Commandments—a helpful guide that God graciously provided his people so that they might live distinctly different from the rest of the world and enjoy a meaningful relationship with the Divine. However, Moses’ extended time on the mountain with the people down below left the former slaves vulnerable to falling into idolatry (some learned habits picked up in Egypt must have been hard to break). Imagine your shock when after spending time with God and receiving the Law you return to the people you are leading, only to find that they are worshipping a golden calf! After discipline ensues and Moses pleads with the Lord on behalf of his people, God, again out of grace, calls the hebrews to continue the journey they began, assuring them that He would indeed, despite their wicked ways, continue alongside. We pick up the story in Exodus 33:19-23. After being reassured of God’s presence, Moses continues his conversation with God and is provided with an inspiring revelation of God—the kind of revelation that foreshadows the greatest ever revelation of God who would perfectly represent the Divine for all the world to see.
I. PART #1: MOSES’ REQUEST-33:18
Again, immediately preceding this, God has just encouraged Moses by assuring him that His presence would go with him despite the wickedness the former slaves had displayed. You might think that this would have satisfied Moses and come as a great relief, and yet Moses desired more. He requests of God “I pray You, show me your glory” (33:18a).
What is up with this request? Did not Moses witness God’s glory more than almost anyone else in the Bible? Here we have a guy who had seen the plagues of Israel, witnessed God parting of the Red Sea, light a pillar of fire, and form a protective cloud. Had not, God spoken with Moses face-to-face and had he not come to know his personal name at the base of a burning bush? The truth is, Moses had indeed seen many elements of the glory of God in the past. However, he now desired to see it again, in any form God would allow. The purpose for this request was even more assurance as they left and continued the journey. Just as God’s glory had gone with them before, Moses wanted a sign to bolster his confidence that this would continue to be the case. He wanted to know that God was indeed still close, still protective, and still interested in him and the Israelites.
When I was fifteen, my dad was looking for a car for me. One day we came across a car that I would eventually drive for years and we took it for a test drive. I remember my dad accelerating, pushing all of the buttons, playing with all of the gadgets in the car in order to prove for himself that this would be a good car to drive in the future. It meant more to us that we could have this experience rather than just take the seller’s word for it. It was the same for Moses, although he should have trusted in what God said, He desired an experience, a special revelation of glory, in order to give him full confidence.
II. PART #2: GOD’S RESPONSE-33:19-20
Following the bold request God responds with “I Myself will make all my goodness pass before you” (33:19a). The promises that God had made between Himself and Israel despite all that was working against it would continue to follow them into the Promised Land. While any reasonable person would no longer trust in the Israelites, God’s grace decides to keep His promise. This reestablishment of the covenant is seen here as God’s “goodness” will be made to pass before Moses—not his wrath or anger or judgment, but his undeserved, unmerited, unfathomable goodness. What an awesome picture of the love and grace of God!
Second, God says to Moses “and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you” (33:19b). Names do not necessarily mean much to us in our society, however, in biblical times, names were the representation of who someone was. When God says that he is going to “proclaim His Name” before Moses, he is really saying that he is going to reveal his character and essence (or, in other words, what he is like). This would be provided in an effort to encourage His people to be like him. In other words, he is saying, “I’m going to tell you what I’m like in order that you can learn what to be like.”
God’s third determination is as follows: “and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” (33:19c). Both these two parallel phrases reveal much concerning the character of God. Rather than taking this as a personal word to Moses, there is a general principle that God is revealing here. God’s mercy and compassion were granted to all of his covenant people, but they are not automatically available to all other people unless they join the covenant. Put another way, God’s special mercy and compassion is reserved for those who belong to Him—it is not for everyone. For anyone to enjoy these things, they must become, one of God’s own.
Romans 8:28-“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
God’s comments were to reassure Moses that despite the wickedness his people demonstrated, both Moses and His people would receive grace and mercy because he had made them a promise. You may say, “that’s does not seem fair,” or “that doesn’t make sense” but to do so would be to question the perfect one who invented fairness, justice, and goodness. Like it or not, God is free to do as he pleases and whether or not it makes sense to us, it is perfectly proper to Him.
One illustration might be that of parenting. Good parents are naturally more inclined to extend mercy and compassion toward their own children because they belong to them. (They are also more willing to discipline and rebuke their own children). This comes from the personal relationship the parents have with the child that does not exist between the parent and just any child they don’t even know. Likewise, this special grace and mercy shown to Israel by God, while not easily explainable to us, makes sense when we realize the personal relationship He had with his children.
While God is willing to reveal his goodness, his name, his grace, and his compassion to Moses and his people, he stops there and refuses to show Moses’ his face—“but, he said, ‘You cannot see my face’” (33:20a). Full disclosure of God’s glory is something humans are not prepared to see in this life (and, quite possible, the next).
To see God’s face would mean death. Either it would kill you to see God, or it requires death of a believer to see Him—“for no man can see my face and live!” (33:20b).
III. PART #3: GOD’S REVELATION-33:21-23
As the conversation continues, God almost seems to be doing something he just said that he would not do—“then the Lord said, ‘Behold there is a place by me…” (3:21a). However, What God is doing here is allowing Moses to experience as much as he can without killing him. His glory is so vast and so beyond anything that everything God now instructs Moses to do in order to have this experience must be on God’s terms.
Here Moses is instructed to stand on the rock—“and you shall stand there on the rock” (33:21b). It is incredible to reflect on how God uses the elements in different experiences in Moses’ life. We have him passing through the water, standing on holy ground, we are shown a pillar of fire, etc. It is through these concrete things that God chose to speak and reveal things to Moses and the Israelite people.
It is insinuated in the original text that the term, “the rock” refers to Mount Sinai. This was God’s special meeting place for Moses and him to have their pow-wows. The Israelites had received their Ten Commandments from this mountain and dwelt themselves in its shadow for some time (a period of time that spans over ten chapter in Exodus).
God’s glory would not be something that Moses would be allowed to gaze upon for long. He also wouldn’t be allow to take a picture of it 😊. It would rather be something only visible for a split second as it was moving away from him—“and it will come about, while my glory is passing by” (33:22a). Therefore, if he happened to have an Iphone or Android and tried to take a picture of it, it would be a blurry image that not even the fastest high speed camera could adequately capture.
The vantage point from which Moses would enjoy this revelation of glory is also chosen by God—“that I will put you in the cleft of the rock” (33:22b). God himself is the one planning all of the things involving this experience (probably because it is a God-sized task). God is going to provide everything this experience requires.
As God continues his run down of what is about to happen, he says something curious—“and cover you with My hand until I have passed by” (33:22c). God doesn’t really have hands, feet, a face, or a body of any sort. These are anthropomorphisms, or a way to communicate how God was going to shield Moses from the impending death that would be experience if he saw God in human terms. Only God could protect Moses from the death he would experience from witnessing the presence of God.
Following all of these preparatory measure, God says “then I will take my hand away” (33:23a). This describes the point in time in which Moses will be allowed to see the fast-moving, blurred image of God he would be allowed to witness.
Just what would Moses be allowed to view? “and you shall see my back but My face shall not be seen…” (33:23b). Typically we don’t see much when we see someone’s back walking away from us. However, if we know the person, we can still tell who it is. Moses would be allowed to see the minimum of what was required to know that it was God he had just witness, even for a brief second. Though not a complete portrayal, Moses could rest assured that God was there in his midst.
In the past 50 or so years there has been much talk about the atom. The fundamental building block of life. Scientists have constructed diagrams and detailed pictures of what these atoms might look like. However, no one has ever seen an atom in real life because of its incredibly small size. Not even the most powerful of microscopes can capture a picture of this building block. The best they could do was arrive at a reflection or atomic shadow by which to form their inferences into the smallest unit of structure. In the same way there is a Hebrew saying that states to see only the back and not see the face means to see nothing at all.
God had allowed Moses to catch a glimpse of his glory. Figuratively this fast-moving sign of God’s back moving away provided Moses with the assurance that the Lord was still leading his people towards the promise land and it was up to them to follow Him. This experience parallels the experiences that began every major phase of the Israelite’s journey. It was the sign at the burning bush that led Moses back to Egypt. It was the sign of the many plagues that pointed the way out of Egypt. It was the sign of the parting of the Red Sea that thrust the freed slaves into the desert an out of Egyptian slavery. It would be this sign in the rock that would push the Israelites the rest of the way from Sinai to the Promised Land.
After having observed Moses’ request, God’s response, and the Diving revelation we can gleam incredible insight into the special privileges we have as children of God. Like Israel, we as God’s children can trust that God will be gracious to us and show us special mercy and compassion. While this should not make sense to us, it is because of his love for us as his kids that allows us to experience this undeserved. Likewise, we realize that God takes an active role in assuring and leading those who are on the right path, guiding them every step of the journey.
However, there is at least one important difference between Moses’ experience and our experience. Moses received a partial revelation of God that directed him and his people the rest of the way to the Promised Land. Today’s believer has been given the full revelation of Jesus Christ that guides them to the glories of heaven.
In fact, so much of the Exodus story prefigures elements of Christ’s ministry. For instance, the Hebrews went down into the Red Sea (on dry ground) as slaves escaping the tyranny of Pharaoh and come up out of the water on the other side as freed people heading to the Promised Land. Later Joshua would lead his people across the Jordan river (miraculously again) demonstrating yet another change of identity for God’s people from wandering wilderness dwellers to conquerors of the land of promise. Jesus comes much later (sharing a name with Joshua) and is baptized in the same Jordan river in an effort to instigate his ministry that would pave the way for enslaved sinners to find freedom in Christ and entrance into heaven (symbolized in their own baptism with water). Or how about this: following their Red Sea experience, the people of God wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and were tested in their faith (failing at times to keep up their trust in God). Following his baptism, Jesus wandered in a wilderness for 40 days, was tested by Satan, and passed with flying colors. In the Exodus, Moses scales Mt. Sinai and brings down the Law so that the people of God know how to live under the old covenant. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus scales the Mount of Galilee and provides a series of sermons known as the sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Therein, Christ provides his commentary on the law of God and educates his disciples in how they should live as citizens of the kingdom of God under the new covenant. In Numbers 21, God disciplines his people with a painful plague of poisonous serpents. After Moses intercedes, God instructs him to raise up a serpent on a bronze pole. All who looked at it were healed. Jesus comes into a world of suffering sinners, takes the sin of the world on himself and is raised up on the cross (“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,”-John 3:14). All who look upon the cross and trust in the one upon it are healed of their problem of sin and spared the judgment of God.
All of these Old Testament signs point to the greatest sign of all—Jesus Christ—who fulfills these predictions and is capable of leading all in every phase of their life both now and forevermore. He is the greatest revelation of God and God has given us all that we need in providing us Jesus!
Colossians 1:15-“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”
Hebrews 1:3-“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”
Are you following Jesus today? Are you paying attention to the signs that God has provided you? For unto us is born the Revelation of God! His name is Jesus and he is the way the truth and the life, no one comes unto the Father expect through him.
Monday, November 12, 2018
Last week we began a journey that will take us through the Old Testament in order to examine different predictions of the Christ Child—that same child we celebrate in a special way during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Last week we looked at the earliest prophecy of Christ in Genesis and learned that as soon as sin was born in the world, so too was God’s plan to eradicate it by means of Jesus. From Genesis 3:14-15 we learned that “for unto us is born the defeater of sin.” Jesus is the seed of the woman who was miraculously conceived of the virgin Mary to right the wrongs of humanity and totally destroy the program of evil led by the cursed serpent, Lucifer. Today we turn a few pages in our Bible to Genesis chapter 22 where we confront an entirely different kind of spectacle—a holy ritual that, at first, seems to spell disaster. The tension mounts in the scene we are going to observe today by means of four stages that can be witnessed in verses 9-14. As we witness observe the rising tension and finally see how the crisis averted, we will learn that “for unto us is born a substitute.” What glorious news!
I. STAGE 1: The Preparation-22:9-10
Imagine being 99 years old and having a name like Abram (father). Imagine that contrary to your given name, you have no children. Now imagine that God comes to you and promises that a great nation would be made from you and your barren wife! Imagine taking on a new name, “Abraham,” (father of a multitude) as a token of good faith that God would make good on this promise. Imagine that after some time (many years in fact) your barren wife give birth to a miracle child. So tickled are you by the events that have unfolded that you name him Isaac (laughter). All of this was true of Abraham and his house. You can probably guess how much this son of theirs mean the the aging couple. Sure, they were old, but having a young son would keep Abraham and Sarah young. After all, he was the beginning of a great nation.
Now imagine that God comes to you and says, “take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Gen. 22:3). Would you do as Abraham did and immediately, rise early in the morning, saddle your donkey, gather wood, call Isaac to join you, and go? Though I question my own willingness to be faithful in the midst of such a test, Abraham was obedient without hesitation.
We pick up the story in verse 9 when “they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood” (22:9a). Everything was prepared, that is, everything but the sacrifice. Who is the first to notice this? Young Isaac who says in verse 7, “’Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’”
I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around what took place as the sacrifice was prepared. After Abraham built the altar and arranged the wood, he “bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood” (22:9b). Remember Abraham is at this point over 100 years old and Isaac is a teenager (i.e. very capable of getting free and running away—fearing that perhaps his dad was suffering from an acute case of psychosis or dementia). However, as mysterious as it was for Abraham to be obedient to God’s unusual command to sacrifice Isaac in the first place (without any hesitation), so too is it mysterious and yet altogether true that Isaac took his place on the altar and allowed himself to be bound in preparation for the sacrifice that would soon commence.
The tension of the scene reaches its critical mass as the writer continues by saying, “Abraham stretch out his hand and took the knife to slay his son” (22:10). So much of this does not make sense. This was the promised son Isaac from whom would come a great nation (see Gen. 18) in response to the covenant promise God made to Abraham (see Gen. 12:1-3). And yet, here is Isaac strapped on top of an altar with a knife hovering over his neck. Who is wielding this weapon but none other than Abraham! Somebody stop this!!!
II. STAGE #2: The Prevention-22:11-12
Thankfully, at that very moment (even the very last second), “the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am’…” (22:11). Whew! It is at this crucial point in the story that it becomes exceedingly clear that God never intended to have Abraham sacrifice his son Isaac. Instead, this was a test. In fact, that this was a test of Abraham’s obedience and resolve was intimated in verse 1 of chapter 22, “Now it can about after these thing, that, God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ and he said, ‘Here I am’”. Sound familiar? This familiar call occurred at the beginning of the test and marked its end in verse 11, “But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ and He said, ‘Here I am’…”.
After preventing the sacrifice from happening, the angel of the Lord provides some instructions, “’Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him’” (22:12a). In other words, “put down the knife and walk away slowly.” If Abraham did not seem bothered by the unusual request to sacrifice his son Isaac, I’m sure that Abraham had no problem following these new set of orders.
Once these instructions are articulated, the angel reveals the results of the test that Abraham had just passed with flying colors, “for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’…” (22:12b). To fear God means to revere Him as sovereign, trust Him implicitly, and obey Him without question. This Abraham had done by following God’s unusual command without hesitation. Likewise, a true worshiper of God holds nothing back from God but obediently gives Him what He asks, trusting that He will provide. Abraham accomplished this when he strapped Isaac to the altar and nearly followed through with what God had originally instructed.
In his willingness to offer Isaac, Abraham demonstrated that he was willing to hold nothing back in obeying the Lord. Isaac represented everything to Abraham. He was Abraham’s only legitimate son, the key to the promise God had made him, and his joy. Yet even Isaac was something that Abraham was willing to part with in order to follow the Lord. Abraham passed the test that none of us would sign up to take and because of this, he was awarded with provision.
III. STAGE #3: The Provision-22:13
“Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns” (22:13a). There, just a little ways off was God’s substitute for Isaac. No longer would Isaac have to be offered for the sacrifice. God had placed a ram in their midst for this occasion.
It is here where we are given yet another foreshadowing of the coming of the messiah—this time prefigured by both the willingness of Isaac to comply with Abraham’s unusual request and by the substitutionary ram. Like Isaac, Jesus would be the willing sacrifice that was placed on the altar by His Father. Though He had the power to remove Himself from the cross, just as Isaac is assumed to have had the strength to break free of the altar, Christ followed His Father’s instructions all the way to certain death. The only difference is, Jesus was offered and sacrificed, while Isaac was spared. Abraham so loved God that he was willing to give his only son so that by trusting in Him in this way, he might honor God. Sound familiar? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
In so doing, Jesus satisfies the criteria for another image found in this ancient story. Not only is Jesus foreshadowed in Isaac, but He is also intimated in the ram caught in the thicket. This is made clear in what is revealed next in the second part of verse 13.
“And Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son” (22:13b). The ram was Isaac’s substitute. Because the ram was caught in the thicket and available for the offering, Isaac no longer had to occupy the place on top of the firewood.
It is here where we catch the second type for Christ. Not only is Jesus the willing and only son of promise—He is the substitutionary atonement for the sin offering. Like this ram caught in the thicket, Jesus allowed Himself to be caught by the authorities at the right time and place, and was led like a lamb to the slaughter so that He might take our place and satisfy the punishment that we all deserve. The truth is, we all deserve a fiery end for the many sins we commit. However, because Jesus went on our behalf as our substitute, we do not have to (just as the ram took the place of Isaac).
Jesus is the only Son of God and the substitutionary atonement for sin. For unto us is born a substitute!
IV. STAGE #4: The Praise-22:14-“…Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided,’…”
The fourth stage of this saga involves praise offered by Abraham to God, “Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided’…” (22:14). God had indeed provided for Abraham—He provided a substitute for his only son and a way for his promise of a great nation to progress. However, one gets the sense from reading the whole story that this came as no surprise to Abraham. While on the way up the mountain Abraham turned to those who were traveling with him and his son and said, “stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and WE will worship and return to you” (22:5). It appears that Abraham trusted God enough to obey the Lord’s unusual command to sacrifice his only son, while at the same time he trusted that God was going to do something like this in the end so that Isaac would be spared. Now that is faith!
When one considers who originally wrote this and to whom, one can begin to understand how this is rightly applied to us today. Genesis (along with Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy for that matter) were all written by Moses while those he led wandered in the desert following their incredible journey out of Egypt. Waning in the wilderness for some time had made some groan and complain about their present situation. In fact, many began to question Moses and God altogether. They doubted the Lord’s provision even though God had executed multiple plagues, signs, and wonders in their favor and miraculously supplied food and water every step of their long journey to the Promised Land. What better way to remind them of God’s enduring provision for the faithful than with this story of Abraham and Isaac? God is pleased to provide for those who completely trust Him with every part of their lives. This is just as true today as it was for Abraham and for the Israelites in the wilderness. We can expect God to provide for our needs when we entrust everything to Him through total obedience.
However, the even better news is that when God provides for those who completely trust Him, He provides His Son Jesus. Just as God provided a ram in the thicket to solve Abraham’s problems, God provided Jesus Christ for the sinner to solve his problems. For unto us is born a substitute! He is God’s only begotten son and atoning sacrifice—the stand in for us. He is ours when we surrender our lives over to Him, completely trusting and totally obeying Him with all parts of our lives. Just for a moment this Christmas season, let us pause and consider what we might give to God in a demonstration of trust to him. Would you give all of yourself? Abraham certainly did. As a result God provided what he needed and in so doing he predicts the greatest provision the world has ever seen—Christ—the substitute. This season let us be inspired by this substitute and be willing to trust the Lord with all of our lives, knowing that in so doing, we can expect to be taken care of and provided for according to his will.