Fidelity to Jacob Theology

Fidelity to Jacob Theology

By  Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

When it comes to interpreting Scripture, there are a number of common paradigms. Dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism, olive tree theology, covenant theology, New Covenant theology, replacement theology, and supersessionism are among them.

Some of us fall in between the cracks. For example, I am somewhere between the cracks of traditional dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism, and olive tree theology (developed by Messianic Jew David Stern).

I am suggesting we need a new, broader term to help make the major division between these viewpoints clear. So I am proposing that those of us who believe that God will fulfill the promises he made to ethnic Israel embrace the clear-cut label, “Fidelity to Jacob Theology.” This grouping should include many traditional and progressive dispensationalists and those who embrace olive tree theology.

This dividing line is a very important one and greatly affects how we interpret Scripture. The points of this broad hermeneutic are:

The promises God made to Israel (Jacob) will stand. Since replacement theologians and others sometimes refer to the church as “spiritual Israel” or “the new Israel,” I have chosen the term “Jacob” to emphasize the national and ethnic nature of these promises. God will faithfully keep the promises to the people with whom he made the promises with the terms understood as they would have been understood at the time. There is no slight of hand, no change of definition, no alterations or added conditions, but complete transparency and integrity on the part of God.

  1. The church is viewed within the context of God’s dealings with Israel. God has been dealing with Israel since the time of Jacob and preparing the way for Israel since the time of Abraham. God has always had his remnant of believers, even within the nation of Israel. God has also had non-Jewish believers in him. In the church — which was yet future as of Matthew 16:18 — Jewish and non-Jewish believers have equal status and privileges before God, but Jews are still Jews and gentiles are still gentiles, even though believing gentiles receive the spiritual benefits of being part of the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12). Messianic Jewish believers –who are not “Judaizers”– are “The Israel of God” indeed (Galatians 6:16).
  1. In Old Testament times, it was a remnant of Jews whose hearts were circumcised and thus right with God (Deuteronomy 30:6). God has always had a people right with him (the elect) and people who populated his nation, many of whom were not elect. This same pattern holds true today. In Pre-Pentecost times, some (at times many) gentiles turned from their sins and trusted the God of Israel. Some became full Jewish converts, many others partial converts and thus not equally privileged.

With the initiation of Jesus’ church, the New Covenant was initiated. Under the New Covenant, believing Jews and believing Gentiles are to be collected together as one new man. Whereas unbelieving Israel still has national purposes in the plan of God, they should not be confused with the elect. This has always been true; it is not a New Testament phenomenon.

What is distinct, however, is the equal status before God of believing Jews and believing gentiles. This status is equality before God, not “sameness” in other regards. Just as there is neither male nor female in our relationship to God (Galatians 3:28), there is a distinction within the church and family (I Timothy 2:9-15).

  1. God will restore the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6) in his time. Right now, Jewish believers and gentile believers are integrated into one body, the current form of the Kingdom. At the end of the Tribulation period, all Israel will come to believe (Zech. 14) and all will enter the New Covenant.
  1. During that 1,000 year Millennial Kingdom, Ezekiel’s temple will be rebuilt, Christ will reign from Jerusalem, and the Jewish people will be exalted (cf. Zechariah 12-14).

Whether we divide spiritual history into dispensations or label eras as covenants, whether we agree as to when the rapture occurs in relationship to the tribulation, or whether we embrace the idea that a mystery means something not mentioned at all in the Old Testament or mentioned but not clearly — these are not nearly as important when it comes to interpreting Scripture. What is important from interpretational and theological perspectives is that we recognize that God is no swindler nor double-talker. He will keep his fidelity to Jacob.

[from Pastor Ed’s personal Jewish Roots site, www.midrashkey.com; check out this site for more of his Jewish Roots articles, a few have also doubled as Body Builder articles, but most are unique]

How Did Romans Get Into Isaiah?

How Did Romans Get Into Isaiah?

By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

Having studied the Jewish Roots of the New Testament, I have concluded — along with others — that many New Testament passages are actually expositions of Old Testament texts. Sometimes this even shows itself in the form of a broad outline, as in the case of Romans.

Paul quotes the Old Testament over sixty times within the Book of Romans, over twenty of those quotations come from the Book of Isaiah. In addition to this, there are likely several expositions of Old Testament passages not quoted.

In this article, I would like to offer evidence that Isaiah 59-66 is really “Proto-Romans,” the source of Paul’s broad outline of Romans.

A rough alliterated outline of Romans rounds off the chapters, but captures the general flow of the book.: sin (chapters 1-3), salvation (4-5, actually beginning with 3:24), sanctification (6-8), sovereignty (9-11), and service (12-16).

The first three divisions come primarily from Isaiah 59, I will argue in this article. All quotations are from the ESV.

What about the other two divisions of Romans? The section in Romans about sovereignty are suggested by these verses:

(1) Isaiah 63:17 “O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage.”

(2) Isaiah 64:8, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

The fifth division of Romans (service) might be an exposition and application of Isaiah 61:6a, “But you will be called the priests of the Lord; You will be spoken of as ministers of our God…”

How do we serve? By presenting ourselves as living sacrifices and aligning our lives to please God as his ministers (servants)!

The focus of this article is Isaiah 59. Here we see the doctrine of sin, salvation, and sanctification, themes which Paul will develop further in Romans. Like Romans 1-3, Isaiah 59 makes the case: we are sinners, lost, and helpless; we need a redeemer who will first intervene for us and who will then empower us by his Spirit.

Ready? Let’s look at these three main themes.

SIN (Isaiah 59:1-15) corresponding with Romans 1:1-3:23

This Isaiah passage describes the behavior of the Jewish people during the reign of King Manasseh. What Paul does with this passage and other similar passages is to extend these examples as samples of behavior common throughout the human race, thus condemning not only specific sins, but the bent of human nature.

Isaiah informs us that sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2):

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

When Queen Esther hosted her second party with King Ahasuerus and Haman, she revealed that Haman was out to exterminate her people. The king’s wrath was kindled, and he called for Haman to be removed and executed. The text tells us that, “…As the word left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face… “Esther 7:8b. In this instance, the offender’s face was hidden from the king. In Isaiah, the King hides his face from the offenders.

Isaiah paints a gloomy picture of entrenched sinfulness. In many ways, Isaiah 59:3-15 sounds like Paul’s diatribe against mankind’s sinful disposition in Romans 1-3. Please take a moment to peruse these verses in Isaiah. Do you sense that the human race is being prosecuted in court, akin to Romans 1-3? I do.

Paul quotes from Isaiah 59:7-8 within Romans 3:9-18, quoted passim:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Both Paul and Isaiah make the point that mankind is not only lost, but extremely lost. If mankind were barely lost, one might postulate that good works might make a difference. But if mankind is horribly lost, then how could beings — who already owe total obedience — atone for their infractions?

Mankind is spiritually bankrupt (depraved) and incapable of providing redemption:

He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede… (Isaiah 59:16a)

Paul cries out in Romans 7:24,

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” We are hopeless sinners, needing help “from the outside.”

Salvation (Isaiah 59:16-20) corresponding with Romans 3:24-5:21

We quickly discover in Isaiah 59 that man cannot save himself. Isaiah 59:16 reads:

He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.

In Revelation, we could conclude that God’s own “right arm” is the Lamb, seated at his right hand. But God’s right arm is not only seated next to him, his right arm is part of him! Although often understood as a figure of God’s strength, the “right arm” of God could (possibly) be an illustration of the Trinity; the Son is part of God’s own being!

Even Isaiah 53:1 makes good sense interpreted this way:

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

The midrash (elaboration) of this could be Luke 10:22

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

In Revelation 5:1-5, we see only the Lamb is capable.

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Because man is helpless and has nothing to offer on behalf of his redemption, God himself had to do the job of redemption (16b). Does this sound like a familiar concept, namely Romans 8:3?

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh…

The traditional Jewish belief is that Jewish or human suffering atones for sins. This belief cannot be correct on a spiritual level, because an acceptable sacrifice must be both pure and more than merely human. Psalm 49:7-9 says,

Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.

No, both Isaiah and Romans echo the idea that man is so totally lost and helpless that we humans are incapable of providing redemption. God has to do it. Hence the Messiah must be the God-Man. God is the Redeemer. Isaiah 59:20 is cited in Romans 11:25-26

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

The salvation of “all Israel” refers to “all Israel at the time Messiah comes to establish his Kingdom on earth,” explained further in Zechariah 12-14 (esp. 12:8-10 and 13:8-9).

Paul writes this partly to expound upon the questions that naturally arise from Isaiah 63:17, quoted in the introduction. One such question would be, “If God is hardening the hearts of the Jewish people, will he fulfill his promises to them?” The answer in Romans is, “yes, he will completely fulfill them.”

III. Sanctification (21) corresponding with Romans 6:1-8:39

Isaiah 59:21 reads,

“As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from now and forever.”

Sanctification in this text is via the New Covenant. The most unique aspect of the New Covenant is that only the regenerate are included in it. One entered the Old Covenant by birth; one enters the New by second birth. If you were born into a Jewish home, you were born into the Old Covenant. Some under that covenant were regenerate, some were not.

Although the entire nation of Israel will be regenerated at the advent of the Kingdom (Jeremiah 31:34), the distinguishing mark between the two covenants is the inclusion of only the regenerate (under the New Covenant).

We enter the New Covenant by faith in Jesus, and we are therefore to live New Covenant lives now by reckoning ourselves crucified with Christ and risen to spiritual life.

The Holy Spirit and the Word are primary in the realm of sanctification, as we see here. Thus as we focus our mind on the Word (one of the primary “things of the Spirit”), we become holier. Romans 8:4-11 passim reads,

…in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. … to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace… You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. … If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Modern attempts to substitute the Word for something that does not take mental concentration or stress — like music, pop psychology, rituals, or good works — cannot produce the same quality fruit as comes from spending time in the Word. It is the process of studying the Word that makes us holier, not how relevant a portion of Scripture seems to us. If we want to be like a tree planted by rivers of water, we need to spend much time in the Word (Psalm 1), and all portions of the Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

We could further analyze the idea of the “word being in their mouths.” Does these “words” mean the Scriptures, prophetic utterances, or both? Since the text implies a deposit of words passed down to the generations (i.e., this seems to refer to the same words), I would argue that Scripture is meant.

Conclusion

I believe Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, worked hard to produce Romans (and his other epistles). He began with First Testament texts, and, in this case, developed his broad framework from Isaiah, especially chapter 59. His mind was extremely active during this process.

Rather than mere dictation, God “… set me [Paul] apart even from my [his] mother’s womb …” (Galatians 1:15) to prepare him for his special ministry, including authoring Romans.   Yet, at the same time, God supervised Paul’s work, assuring that Paul said exactly what God wanted said (to the very word, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Finding the “mother texts” for later New Testament midrash (elaboration) helps increase context and sharpens our interpretational skills. It also reinforces the truth that God’s plan is not reactionary, but premeditated before the foundation of the world.

Mechanical Religion Midrash

Mechanical Religion Midrash

Isaiah 58:1-8 with Matthew 6:1-4, 16-23

By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

In my first book, The Midrash Key, I argue that many of Yeshua’s teachings — including sections of The Sermon on the Mount — find their origin in Deuteronomy or Leviticus.

Our Lord gathered a large crowd together for the Sermon on the Mount, so we know it was much longer than the eleven-minute summary found in the Gospel According to Matthew. Two hours would be the bare minimum, but he probably taught all day. We only have the summary the Gospel writers preserved.

Today I am suggesting that another part of The Sermon on the Mount (particularly Matthew 6:1-4, 16-23) finds its origin in Isaiah 58:1-8. I believe Jesus commented and developed themes from this text. See if you agree with me.

The theme of this section is “God detests mechanical religion.” In other words, God does not want our lip service, he want our hearts, our selves. He has no tolerance for mechanical religion; he will not be controlled or manipulated. We can obey him, but we can do him no favors. We owe him total allegiance by birth.

How we live on a daily basis is also a spiritual issue. When it comes to being a follower of   Yeshua (Jesus), we are not allowed to segment ourselves. We may be more “secular” in our jobs or among our lost family members than we would be with fellow believers, but we still must adhere to Christian ethics and conduct.

The main idea seems to be this: The type of worship or religious practice that pleases God comes from a sincere heart and is directly connected to the way we live every day.

A Contrast in TRUMPETS (Isaiah 58:1-2)

God trumpets displeasure, while hypocrites trumpet attention. Verse one (ESV) reads:

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; 
lift up your voice like a trumpet; 
declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.”

The people were so absorbed in the hustle and bustle of their lives that they could not hear the voice of God, even though God trumpeted forth his word. The idea of blowing a shofar to quiet the crowds to listen to a warning of some sort is probably in mind. But the people could not hear.

Jesus developed this theme, and suggests the Pharisees could not hear because they were too busy in the noisy practice of advertising their own (supposed) religious dedication. Jesus confronts them:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matt. 6:1-2)

I think the common word “trumpet” connects the texts (at least in the ears of the original audience), based upon Hillel’s rule of G’zerah Shavah in which similar expressions or words are meant to be connected in interpretation.

If the only similarity between Isaiah 58 and Matthew 6 were the trumpet idea, it would be hard to argue the case. But there are more similarities we need to examine.

While God was trumpeting his displeasure, they did not hear because they were too busy tooting their own horns. Such mechanical religion is hypocrisy. Isaiah 58:2 expresses a similar frustration:

“Yet they seek me daily 
and delight to know my ways, 
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
 and did not forsake the judgment of their God; 
they ask of me righteous judgments; 
they delight to draw near to God.”

An important figure of speech comes into play. When Jewish people give, it is called “righteousness” (tsadeq) in Hebrew. Thus, the Isaiah 58:2 passage could be considered as discussing giving, a theme Jesus developed in its context. Yeshua tells us that doing a “righteousness” (giving) for the purpose of receiving attention also neutralizes the reward for one claiming to serve God.

We will return to this theme later in our text below.

The type of worship or religious practice that pleases God comes from a sincere heart and is directly connected to the way we live every day.

A Contrast in FASTING (Isaiah 58: 3-5)

The Law commanded fasting only on Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:29), but left room for voluntary fasts. The practice of fasting is associated with brokenness or praying for a desperate need.

For many, this translates to skipping a meal for a day or part of a day to examine one’s heart, repent, or pray. Twinges of hunger remind the faster to pray.

The institutionalizing of fasting can be dangerous: it can lead to empty and meaningless religious ritual. The people in Isaiah’s day used fasting in an attempt to manipulate God (3):

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not? 
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” 
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, 
 and oppress all your workers.

We discover God was more concerned about their daily conduct than their religious gestures. Fasting made them grouchy, and instead of becoming godlier, they became impatient and even violent with others. They were not fasting to draw close to God: they were trying to control God through fasting, and apparently hated every moment of it. Verse 4 and 5 make this clear:

“Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
 and to hit with a wicked fist. 
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, 
 a day for a person to humble himself? 
Is it to bow down his head like a reed, 
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? 
Will you call this a fast, 
 and a day acceptable to the Lord?

The hypocrites in Yeshua’s day misused fasting to gain social prestige.

 

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. [Matthew 6:16-18]

Who are we out to impress? We cannot impress God. When others want you to play the “I’m spiritual” game, we should refuse to join in. It is fine and freeing if we are not concerned that others view us as “spiritual.”

Proverbs 20:6 reads, “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?”

Essentially, the hypocrites of Isaiah 58 and the hypocrites of Matthew 6 embraced the concept of misusing means to honor God and turning them into self-serving mechanical religion. Again, the common theme of fasting does not strongly prove that Jesus is drawing from Isaiah 58. But coupled with the theme of “trumpeting,” the argument gains a little momentum.

The type of worship or religious practice that pleases God comes from a sincere heart and is directly connected to the way we live every day.

III. A Contrast in COMPASSION (Isaiah 58:6-8)

Isaiah 58:6 urges the religious hypocrites around him to cease exploiting others:

Is not this the fast that I choose: 
to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, 
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Isaiah 58:7-8 describes the fast God demands, and it includes perennial fasting from evil. God wants us to fast from abusing or neglecting others:

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house; 
when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, 
and your healing shall spring up speedily; 
your righteousness shall go before you; 
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

This theme is not mutually exclusive. The trumpeting theme is intertwined within Matthew 6:3-4, where Jesus admonishes us to give discreetly:

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

We are to give to bless others and honor God, not for personal attention. Whether we get attention is not the issue: the issue is whether we seek attention.

In my opinion, some believers end up garnering more attention by throwing a wrench in the works (book keeping, etc.) because they demand to be anonymous. In addition, others may lose the blessing of being able to say “thank you.”

The issue is motive, nothing more. We need not go out of our way to give secretly, we just need to be careful about going out of our way to give publicly. Being like everyone else (when it comes to giving) is perhaps the most discreet approach.

The Jewish ethic is also interesting. A common Jewish viewpoint is that publishing one’s name (as a contributor) motivates or shames others into giving, thus resulting in more funds for the need.

The focus in both of these ethics differs: Jesus is focusing upon our rewards in heaven; the Jewish ethic focuses upon a successful campaign, fundraiser, or benevolence project.

Yeshua’s focus is definitely the eternal in Matthew 6:19-21,

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

He also urges us to develop a good (healthy) eye in Matthew 6:22-23,

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

A “good eye” or “bad eye” is a Jewish idiom for “generous” or “stingy.” The ESV of Proverbs 22:9 paraphrases the “good eye” as the “bountiful eye” to help clarify the meaning:

“Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.”

The type of worship or religious practice that pleases God comes from a sincere heart and is directly connected to the way we live every day. Having a “good eye” is not something one does, it is part of who one is.

CONCLUSION

To my way of thinking, the similar themes and wording between Isaiah 58 and Matthew 6 suggest Jesus is expositing Isaiah 58 in a midrash style.

Whether the Savior recited the Isaiah passage first and then commented, we will never know in this life. Whatever our view of the relationship between these two passages, I believe we can agree that neither Jesus nor Isaiah are not tolerant of a merely mechanical religion. That is a no-brainer!

Why Did Joseph Go to Bethlehem?

Why Did Joseph Go to Bethlehem?

By Ed Vasicek

In a previous article, I suggested that the ruling descendants of David had migrated from Babylon to Nazareth. It is also possible that some of the descendants of David first moved to Bethlehem — David’s original home town — and then later migrated to Nazareth, perhaps joining other family members who had come from Babylon. Or perhaps they had all come, more recently, from Bethlehem.

When Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem for a census (Luke 2:1), it is unlikely that they returned to Bethlehem simply because David had been born there a full thousand years earlier. Luke’s brief summary for the reason of their journey to Bethlehem is just that: a brief summary of what might otherwise be an involved (and tedious) explanation.

For centuries after David, his descendants lived in Jerusalem (called the “city of David” in the Old Testament, see 2 Samuel 5:7  for an example), not Bethlehem (call the “city of David” by the Christmas angel, Luke 2:11). Keener comments:

Pottery samples suggest a recent migration of the people from Bethlehem area to Nazareth around this time; Joseph’s legal residence is apparently still Bethlehem, where he had been raised (Craig  Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, p. 183).

A later census schedule, beginning in 6 AD, required land owners to return to their home towns (where they owned land) every 15 years for purposes of taxation and accounting. In light of this, we can postulate that Joseph owned land — probably inherited — from when his forefathers (well after the return from Babylon) lived in Bethlehem [see Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, and also G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, p. 266).

Behind the logistics and movement of the Davidic line was the obvious hand of God whose sovereign hand not only foreknew the future, but determined that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” [Micah 5:2, ESV]

A Couple of Midrashim in I Timothy 2

A Couple of Midrashim in I Timothy 2

By Ed Vasicek

Although the Holy Spirit inspired Paul with new revelation, much of what he wrote was the application of pre-existing Scripture to his recipients.  This application is a central aspect of what we call “midrash” (elaboration). Today we will casually discuss two possible midrashim (the plural of midrash).

 

Supporting local and central governments

 

The Talmud talks about obligations resident Jews had to participate in their cities of dispersion.

A man must reside in a town thirty days to become liable for contributing to the soup kitchen, three months for the charity box, six months for the clothing fund, nine months for the burial fund, and twelve months for contributing to the repair of the town walls. (Bava Batra 8a)

They probably partly based this on Jeremiah 29:7 [ESV],

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

 Could I Timothy 2:1-2 be a midrash on the Jeremiah text (at least partly)? I think so:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

Although Paul targets praying for the leaders, the implications between this and Romans 13:1-7 are clear: Christians are not to isolate themselves into separate communities, but need to contribute toward public welfare.

The God Incarnate As Man Mediator

I Timothy 2:5 is a key verse, akin to John 14:6 and a number of others. I am suggesting it could also be a midrash on a First Testament text. It reads (in the ESV),

 

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…

This verse might be a midrash on Isaiah 59:16-17 where we see the divinity of the Messiah and his incarnation (figuratively described as putting on armor):

He saw that there was no man,  and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate,  and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.

Thus, in addition to the idea of God existing as Three Persons, we see the Messiah (the Son) represented as part of God Himself, his own right arm!  This right arm dresses for warfare (the incarnation) to intercede (serve as mediator).

Many New Testament texts are expositions (midrash) of Old Testament texts. Putting these texts together enriches — or reinforces — our understanding of God’s Word.

 

Numbers 13 and the Apostolic Pattern

Numbers 13 and the Apostolic Pattern

By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

When scouring the New Testament for Midrashim (explanations, interpretations, and applications) mothered in Old Testament passages, one usually begins with a New Testament text and seeks to trace its origins backward to the Old Testament. Today, I intend to do the reverse, probing an Old Testament text and then postulating New Testament Midrashim.

I am proposing that Numbers 13 certainly was the basis for the Midrash in the book of Hebrews. But this Torah text may have influenced how Jesus went about naming twelve men to serve as apostles as well. In one sense, apart from their application in Hebrews, these verses are not exactly Midrashim because they are not explained in the New Testament. In another sense they might be something akin to Midrashim because they could explain why Jesus behaved as he did in reference to choosing apostles.

Many have observed that the Old Testament books of Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms and Isaiah have so much influence on the New Testament (and Paul in particular) that Richard Hays calls them, “…. a de facto canon within the canon…”[1]

The fact remains, however, that the New Testament draws upon many portions of the Old Testament, and Numbers 13:1-33 [NASB] qualifies as a key passage:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses saying, ‘Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel; you shall send a man from each of their fathers’ tribes, every one a leader among them.’  … These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land; but Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua.

“When Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, he said to them, ‘Go up there into the Negev; then go up into the hill country. 1See what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many.  How is the land in which they live, is it good or bad? And how are the cities in which they live, are they like open camps or with fortifications? How is the land, is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not? Make an effort then to get some of the fruit of the land.’ Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes…

“Then they came to the valley of Eshcol and from there cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes; and they carried it on a pole between two men, with some of the pomegranates and the figs…

“When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation … and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land.  Thus they told him, and said, ‘We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. …’

“ Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.’ But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us’ …”

Pulling Back and the Hebrews 6 Passage: The Obvious Midrash

The most obvious Midrash on this passage comes from the famous Hebrews 6:4-6 [ESV] passage.

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Just as the Israelites had seen God’s miracles of deliverance from Egypt and received the Law, so those among New Covenant believers had seen evidences of God’s power and grace; some of these professed believers had been indoctrinated and were seemingly convinced that Jesus was truly the Messiah.  Just as the ancient Hebrews “tasted… of the goodness of the coming age” [the fruit and produce retrieved by the spies] but could not enter the land of Canaan because of unbelief, so those who taste the firsfruits of the Messianic era – but later shrink back in unbelief — cannot enter the Promised Land.

In Numbers 14:39-45, the Children of Israel experience a change of heart and decide to attempt the conquest of Canaan.  Moses forbids them, informing them that God had tightly closed their window of opportunity. They refuse to heed Moses, make an attempt at attack, but are overwhelmingly defeated.  It was impossible to renew them to repentance.  Thus the writer to the Hebrews applies the same paradigm to professing believers who do not merely fall away into sin, but deny Jesus as Messiah and view their profession of faith as a farce. Being unconvinced that Jesus is the Messiah crucified and raised for them, they align themselves with the unbelieving soldiers and religious leaders who crucified Jesus because they believed he was a fraud.

The concept that much of Hebrews is a series of Midrashim on Numbers is evident. Less evident is the suggestion I am making: Numbers 13 is the source for some of Jesus’ behavior with his disciples — and his appointing twelve of them as apostles.

The Tradition of Nick-naming Leading Disciples

In Numbers 13:16b, we read, “Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua.”

Since the rabbis tried to base their view of the relationship of a rabbi to his disciples as a continuity of Old Testament practice, what better example is there than that of the relationship of Moses to Joshua? Moses is the model rabbi, Joshua the ideal disciple.

The practice of nicknaming disciples was Rabbinic practice at the time of Jesus.[2] So when Jesus nicknamed James and John as “the sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), or Simon as “Peter” (Matthew 16:18), this practice itself may have been something like a Midrash on Numbers 13:16b. At bare minimum, this Numbers text exemplifies the practice.

In addition, a Rabbi would often single out his leading disciple for special honor, as Moses did with Joshua (perhaps creating the spiritual equivalent of a “firstborn”). David Friedman, in his book, They Loved the Torah comments:

I see Shim’on as Yeshua’s Torah-observant…. talmid hakham…a Hebrew technical term meaning the leading student (of a rabbi). Every famous rabbi who daily taught the same students had a talmid hakham, his chief student. This is the student who figured most prominently in narratives about his rabbi. In first-century Judaism, the chief student was trusted by his rabbi to learn and pass on the rabbi’s teachings.[3]

The Idea of 12 Apostles

The fact that Jesus chose 12 apostles – not 11 or 13 – is significant. The number in itself seems quite reasonable since Israel was made up of twelve tribes (Levi, 10 other “full tribes,” and the subdivided tribe of Joseph, which consisted of the “half tribes” of Ephraim and Manasseh).

In Matthew 19:28 [NASB], Jesus indicates a correspondence between the number of apostles and the number of tribes:

And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. “[4]

Let me suggest that selecting twelve men to be apostles may also be an idea that Jesus adapted from our text in Numbers. Just as Moses sent twelve men to prepare for establishing the Kingdom of Israel in the land of Canaan, so the Messiah sent twelve men to establish his spiritual kingdom, the church. The Matthew 19:28 text quoted above (“the regeneration”) also suggests a millennial purpose in mind. We could include both the current church and Millennium under the common banner of the Messianic Era.

Perhaps I have missed it, but in my pursuit of Jewish parallels, I find nothing in Judaism that is similar to the idea of apostleship. David Stern prefers to translate the term “apostle “(“sent one”) by the word, “emissary.” Still, Rabbinic Judaism has no apostles in the sense that the 12 experienced the office.

We cannot rule out that Jesus’ plan to name 12 apostles by the Father through the Spirit. But neither can we rule out that this process included Jesus’ study of Numbers 13; if so, we can conceive of an apostle as both a representative authority and as a scout of sorts.

As representatives of both the church (Jesus’ assembly) and the nation of Israel, the 12 laid the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20). Yet, once again, the Jewish nation fails to respond in faith and so does not enter the promised land of the earthly, Millennial Kingdom. Just as the nation of Israel experienced a delay in conquering and dwelling in the Promised Land, so the Jewish people are yet wandering in the spiritual wilderness until a generation arises that believes.

The Forty-Year Preparation Period

The unbelieving Israelites over the age of 20 – with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, the two faithful spies – had to die off before the new, purified generation would inhabit the Promised Land (Numbers 14:30, 33).

The new generation, under Joshua’s leadership, would begin the conquest (Joshua 1:1-3). So the Jewish people in Jesus’ day were given one generation – forty years – in which to repent, believe in Jesus, and thus bring down the millennial rule. Acts 3:17-23 [ESV] records Peter’s words. Peter may be, in a sense, the “new Joshua.”

“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’”

Just as Yahweh was not surprised at the unbelief of the Exodus Israelites yet held them accountable, so he was not surprised at the unbelief of the Jews in the first century. Jesus came to him own, but his own rejected him (see John 1:11). Both of these events were in the Sovereign plan of God.

We can only take our parallels so far: difference between these accounts surface. If Jesus began his ministry (or was crucified) in 30 A.D., then the people of Israel had 40 years to turn to him before judgment came; the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D. This also explains an amazing statement in the Talmud (Rosh Hoshanna 31b), “For forty years before the destruction of the Temple the thread of scarlet never turned white but it remained red.” The implications of such phenomenon mesh well with Christian expectations.

When Israel repents and receives the Messiah, the Father will indeed send the Christ to rule. Zechariah tells us that “he whom they have pierced” will first reveal himself to his kinsmen; they will mourn and repent when they see him (Zechariah 12:8-14), and the surviving remnant of Israel will all believe (Zechariah 13:8-9). Because God is sovereign and controls history — and the human heart, he can make good on seemingly remote promises.

Unlike the conquest of Canaan, which took 400 years to complete, the Messiah will immediately reign over the entire earth when he establishes his kingdom on our planet (Zechariah 14:8-9).

Conclusion

The events in this section of Numbers at bare minimum parallel the structures and plans of Jesus and his disciples. I would suggest that Jesus might have actually structured his kingdom with these passages from Numbers in mind.

Because of the kenosis, God the Son was limited during his stay on earth; the Son emptied himself of the use of his supernatural powers apart from the Father’s permission and the Spirit’s power. While in such a humble state, he did not know “the day nor the hour” when his kingdom would be established on earth (Matthew 24:36). Before he emptied himself he knew; now that he is exalted (Philippians 2:5-11), he knows. The Living Word, I believe, typically relied upon the written Word.

Jesus apparently followed the same pattern that Moses followed, and the people (i.e., the Jewish people) mostly followed the same pattern of unbelief. Caleb and Joshua proved a faithful remnant, so a faithful remnant of Israel chose to believe (Romans 11:5). God was not surprised in either instance, nor were his plans thwarted. Currently God is grafting in gentiles for his glory (Romans 11:17-21) until the time he restore the natural branches.

[1] Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, p. 162.

[2] Rabbis and other spiritual leaders sometimes also acquired nicknames; the use of nicknames is common to many cultures and has always been the case in Judaism. Gideon, for example, was nicknamed, “Jerub-Baal” in Judges 6:32.

[3] David Friedman, They Loved the Torah, p. 59.

[4] In a practical sense, Israel is made up of 13 tribes. We could argue that, with the addition of Paul, there were – for a time – thirteen apostles! We could also suggest that this is perhaps why Dan is left out of the list of 12 tribes in Revelation 7.

The Fascinating Feast of Pentecost

The Fascinating Feast of Pentecost

By Ed Vasicek

Studying the Levitical Feasts can be absolutely fascinating. Many students of the Word believe that the Feasts are both literal and rich in “shadows.” Hebrews 10:1a offers us a hermeneutical license to investigate these shadows: “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.”

When it comes to shadows, the Feast of Pentecost is no exception. In my understanding, Passover foreshadowed that Christ would die for our sins; Unleavened Bread defined one result of His death, namely, to make us holy; Firstfruits anticipated His Resurrection as the “first fruits of them that sleep,” so Pentecost foreshadows the coming of the Spirit –and resultant harvest — as seen in Acts 2.

The first three feasts occurred within an 8 day period: I believe that Christ died on Passover day, was buried before the first day of Unleavend Bread, and arose on Firstfruits morning. Pentecost (aka, “Weeks”) was celebrated 50 days (hence the prefix “pente”) after Firstfruits, during the month of Sivan (May/June).

Pentecost foreshadows the truth that a new phase in God’s program has emerged: Jewish and Gentile believers are united in one body through the Holy Spirit — and God uses New Covenant believers to serve as laborers in his fields.

In the Old Testament (Lev. 23:15-23), Pentecost was considered the primary harvest celebration, reminding us of the Savior’s words in Matthew 9:37-38, “‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’”

Firstfruits celebrated the barley harvest, but Pentecost celebrated the wheat harvest, the main staple. In addition to offering a sheep, two loaves of bread were offered before the Lord. The Jews understood God’s description of Israel as “a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey” an impetus to offer these other foods as well (Deut. 8:8).

Bruce Scott, in his book, “The Feasts of Israel,” describes the celebration:

As they traveled onward, the holiday pilgrims journeyed up to Jerusalem. During the day they sang songs of praise to God and rejoiced in His goodness. At night they slept in the squares of the towns through which they passed. Preceding their procession was an ox, its horns covered in gold and its head adorned with a wreath of olive leaves. A flute player also preceded the group, playing his instrument all the way into the city of Jerusalem. Once near their destination, the excited pilgrims sent word ahead of their imminent arrival. The chief priests and officers of the Temple came out to greet them….

“…They then took the baskets off their shoulders and held them at the top as the priests held them underneath. Together the priests and worshippers waved the … fruits before the Lord….The worshippers…repeated a portion of Scripture….and left their baskets….next to the altar. The priests could them consume the…fruits.” (p. 65).

Although Jews at the time of Christ recognized the giving of the Torah (Law) as having occurred at Pentecost (Shavu’ot), this became the emphasis of the holiday after the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. Modern Jews describe the holiday this way: “Passover freed us physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavu’ot redeemed us spiritually from our bondage to idolatry and immorality” (source: www.bus.ualberta.ca/yreshef/pesach/shavuintro.html).

According to pre-Christian Jewish tradition, when God spoke the Law, He spoke it in the 70 languages of the world, and, if you study Exodus 19 and 20, you might agree that He did so on Pentecost! Of course we have no way of knowing whether the 70 languages tradition is accurate or not, but it educates us as to how first century Jews would have understood the “tongues” event of Acts 2.

In Acts 2, Pentecost was the day in which the Spirit came in a unique way and spiritually baptized believers into one body, the Body of Christ. Yet there are many incorrect assumptions and controversies about this special day.

First, Pentecost was a timed event. The gathered believers were praying together as they were waiting for the Spirit to empower them. If they had not prayed at all, the Spirit would have come at Pentecost anyway. Contrary to countless hymns and sermons, their prayers did not bring the Spirit’s power.

Second, the 3,000 people who came to Christ on Pentecost had been prepared (many of them for years) to accept Christ. They were fluent in the Old Testament (more so than most pastors), many of them had heard the preaching of John the Baptist, and all of them would have heard something about Jesus. When Paul preached to the gentiles later in Acts, for example, smaller numbers responded. It is not that the church has lost the Holy Spirit’s power; it is, rather, a matter of God preparing or not preparing hearts.

Third, it is reasonable to believe the languages spoken on Pentecost were real earthly languages, not miracles of “hearing.” The Jewish tradition that God spoke the Law in the 70 languages is crucial to our understanding of Acts 2. In other words, Pentecost was at least as important as the giving of the Law, as verified by tongues and fire (in this case, tongues of “friendly” fire as opposed to the harsh fire of Mount Sinai).

Additionally, Pentecost contrasts nicely with the giving of the Law. On Pentecost, 3,000 came to spiritual life. When the Law was given, 3,000 died (Exodus 32:28).

On Pentecost, two loaves were presented before the Lord, probably representing two castes of believers: believing Jews and believing gentiles. Through the baptizing work of the Spirit, both people groups were united into one single body (I Cor. 12:13). The Law’s barrier that distinguished between believing Jews and believing gentiles has been torn down (Eph. 2:13-15). The Age of the Torah has been replaced – or at least altered — by the Age of the Spirit.

The Old Covenant was initiated at Passover but formalized at Pentecost (when the Law was given). The New Covenant was initiated at Passover (Good Friday) and formalized at Pentecost.

When we look at Old Testament shadows in light of the new, we must watch out for shaky ground; that is why we need to keep our excavations near the surface and address the obvious parallels and contrasts, truths that cannot be mere coincidence. Yet even at the surface level, we are awestruck by our ingenious God, the God Who knows the beginning from the end, the Sovereign God who has a plan and had it all the time!

Midrash: Justification by Faith Apart from Works in Isaiah

Midrash: Justification by Faith Apart from Works in Isaiah

By Ed Vasicek

In my quest to discover New Testament midrash (Second Testament teachings which are expositions or expansions upon First Testament Texts), I was perusing, Paul’s Use of Isaiah In Romans by Shiu-Lun-Shum, an academic work published by Mohr Siebeck. I  have gone way beyond the thoughts expressed by Shiu-Lun-Shum, to the point that I believe we can (and Paul did) deduce the concept of salvation by faith apart from works from the originating Isaiah passages.

Shum points to Isaiah 32:17 as the foundation for Romans 5:1.  Let me quote the texts (ESV) to get us started on our journey.

Romans 5:1 reads:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 32:17 reads:

And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.

We are beginning with the assumption that Romans 5:1 is indeed a midrash (explanation and expansion) upon Isaiah 32:17. If the texts themselves do not suggest this to you, then I have little more to offer. If, on the other hand, you think it likely that the two are connected, read on.

Romans 5:1 places the terms justified, faith, and peace in a logical, cause and effect western-style sequence.  I find it fascinating to see how the terms correspond to and define one another. That righteousness and justification relate is evident, and word studies delving into the original languages will make this a no-brainer (Hebrew, tzedek and Greek, dikaios).

That peace is a result of righteousness is stated in both cases, although the Romans 5:1 verse seems to be more clearly speaking of imputed righteousness whereas the Isaiah verse is more ambiguous. Still, in both verses, a condition of righteousness exists as the result, not the cause. We first have the righteousness, then the peace.

In Romans 5:1, the cause of righteousness is faith; in Isaiah (although a bit more nebulous), faith (quietness and trust) seem to be the result. Yet, at the same time, Paul seems to teach a doctrine of regeneration that creates faith, justification, and a transformed life (evident in Ephesians 2:1-10). Thus, in Paul’s thinking, faith produces justification and justification peace with God, and peace with God results in the Spirit working within, this producing more faith (quiet trust). He adds an understanding of faith at the beginning of the cycle as well as Isaiah’s result at the end.

I would like to call your attention, however, to the equating of quietness and trust with faith. Indeed, we might argue that the first two terms serve as a definition of true faith: quietly trusting the work of Yeshua (Jesus) on the cross as our final sin offering.

The idea of quiet is not far away from the idea of “apart from works.”  Thus saving faith must be apart from works or it is not truly quiet! An attempts at mixing works with faith as the basis for justification is a loud faith, a contradiction if true faith is quiet!

Isaiah 30:15 probably contributed (at least in concept) to Romans 5:1. I suggest that Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, contemplated these two verses and was thus guided to write Romans 5:1. This is obviously an opinion.  Isaiah 30:15a reads:

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Here we see similar concepts, in this case returning (which can be translated “repentance”) is added into the mix, thus further defining faith as repentance and rest. The idea of “quietness” once again suggests a lack of works.  The believer ceases striving to work for his justification but instead trusts with a repentant heart. Works flow as the true evidence of justification, but not as a cause or contributor toward justification.

This, then, ties into the Sabbath concept of believers having “entered that rest,” as stated so eloquently by the writer to the Hebrews 4:9-10.

 

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

Conclusion

Paul and the author of Hebrews both derive the doctrine of salvation by faith (trust) apart from works, under the inspiration of the Spirit, from the First (Old) Testament terms, “rest, quietness, Sabbath.” Although the Second (New) Testament expounds this doctrine more directly, it is implicit not only in Genesis (as Paul argues in the case of Abraham’s justification in Romans 4:1ff) but in Isaiah as well.

Paul summarizes the mutual exclusivity of laboring/working for salvation (not resting, non-quietness) with believing most succinctly in Romans 4:4-5:

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…

Despite the criticism leveled at the Reformers, they knew exactly what they were talking about when it comes to justification by faith alone. They did not invent it, nor did Paul, nor did Isaiah. The idea was God’s!

 

Special Births Connected to Christmas: Samson, Samuel, and John: the Nazirites

Special Births Connected to Christmas: Samson, Samuel, and John: the Nazirites

Judges 13:3-5, I Samuel 1:11, Luke 1:13-17

My favorite Christmas joke is a short one. He wanted a new car for Christmas; she wanted a fur coat. They compromised: they bought the coat, but kept it in the garage. Christmas time is obviously more that gifts, but most of us do enjoy the celebration.

Even from the Biblical perspective, the birth of Jesus and his resultant work is broader than the single night on which Jesus was born. There were countless events that prepared or foreshadowed the Messiah. Today I would like to suggest that even John – the one who prepared the way for Jesus – was foreshadowed.

Jesus commented on John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

We often associate John the Baptist with Elijah (as Jesus did in Matthew 11:14), because he came in the power and spirit of Elijah (Luke 1:17). When John was question as to whether he was Elijah (John 1:21), he answered, “I am not.” Even John is himself a foreshadowing of Elijah who will return “before the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5).

Many modern scholars believe John was part of the Dead Sea Scroll community (the Essenes), but I am skeptical about that. The Essenes promoted isolation and joining their commune. John taught people to bloom where they were planted (Luke 3:10-14).

Because John was a Nazirite from birth – which meant he was permanently under a vow that was normally temporary –Jewish readers would automatically connect him to the two other men in the Old Testament who were also lifelong Nazirites: Samuel and even more especially Samson.

The great rabbi, Hillel (grandfather of Gamaliel, the rabbi who trained Paul, Acts 22:3), greatly affected how the Jews understood the Scriptures by enumerating seven rules of interpretation. One of the particular rules is called, “G’zerah Shavah” which translates to “equivalent expressions.” This rule tells us to associate texts with similar wording or ideas, particularly if something unusual is mentioned. Thus John the Baptist would immediately be associated with Samuel and Samson because of their repeated convergences.

My main idea is this: there are only three men in Scripture who were under a Nazirite Vow from birth: Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. Putting them together demonstrates a pattern we associate with the birth and ministry of Jesus.

I. Similarities Between ALL Three: Samson, Samuel, and John

The rules for taking a Nazirite vow are stated in Numbers 6:1b-7 (ESV)

… When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.

“All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.

The three special obligations of a Nazirite include: (1) avoiding any grape product, including wine (later expanded to strong drink), (2) not cutting ones hair, and (3) avoiding contact with a dead body.

Paul the apostle apparently took a Nazarite vow in a typical, temporary way; because he would not be able to trim his hair during the days of his vow, he probably followed the practice of first shaving his head (Acts 21:23-24). This was the typical way to practice a Nazarite vow.

But the three men who are noted to have been Nazirites for the entire course of their lives (Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist) had much in common. All three were born to childless couples. Manoah and his wife had been married for some time, and his wife is described as barren (Judges 13:2). An angel appears (a theophany). We pick up the narrative from Judges 13:3-5,

And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son [Samson]. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Hannah and Elkanah were also childless, although Hannah was not beyond the age of childbearing. Neither was she commanded to make her son a Nazirite. I Samuel 1:11 reads,

And she [Hannah] vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son [Samuel], then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

In the case of John the Baptist, an angel appears to Zechariah while he is ministering in the temple. We pick up the action in Luke 1:13-17, “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.’”

Also note that all three prepared the way for David or David’s heir, the Messiah. Samson and Samuel were thought to be contemporary, ministering in different parts of Israel. They both oversaw the weakening of the powerful and oppressive Philistine people. Note that Samuel and Samson prepared the way for David, who would complete the conquest.

In the same way, John’s message of preparation and his service as the “voice in the wilderness” who would “prepare the way for the Lord” (see Luke 3:4) began the Messianic mission completed by Jesus in his atoning death and conquering resurrection.

Samson, Samuel, and John all died in seeming defeat. When Samson died, he died a death that seemed to terminate an unsuccessful ministry (Judges 16); Samson never lived to see the complete conquest of the Philistines. Samuel had anointed David as king, but he died while David was on the run from Saul, the disappointing king he had also anointed (I Samuel 25:1). John was beheaded during imprisonment, struggling with doubts that Jesus really was the Messiah (John 7:18-23).

II. Similarities Between John and Samson

Both Samson and John were stirred by the Spirit to begin their work. In Judges 13:25, we read of Samson, “And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him.” Of John we read in Luke 3:2, “…the word of the Lord came to John…”

Both were noted for their boldness. Both fell through sensuous women. Samson’s downfall was Delilah, though Samson’s own sinful behavior brought his downfall (Judges 16). In the case of John, it was Herodias’ and her daughter’s sensual dance (she is said to be named “Salome” by Josephus) that resulted in John’s death. They manipulated Herod to have John executed (Matthew 14:1-12).

Both had pyromaniac tendencies; Samson tied the tails of living foxes to a torch and released them to burn up the Philistines’ crops. John the Baptist preached boldly about the coming Messiah who would baptize with the Spirit and “fire” (Luke 3:16).

III. Contrasts Between Samson and John

John was given the name Yochanan (Yahweh is gracious) before his birth by the angel (Luke 1:13), while Samson, which means “daring” (according to Keil and Delitzsch) after his birth by his mother (Judges 13:24). Indeed, both men lived up to their names.

The biggest difference between them is obvious: Samson was ungodly, and God used him despite himself. In contrast, John the Baptist was godly; indeed, he was filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in the womb (Luke 1:15), a fact that argues for both the full humanity of the pre-born and the sovereignty of God, even over human will.

Jesus described John as the greatest of the prophets. Although John has his times of doubt, we could not find many who could compete with him on the spiritual level.

John’s influence was initially greater than the influence of Jesus, particularly within the Jewish community. One branch of Judaism believed that John the Baptist was the Messiah, or could have possibly been the Messiah. This school of though evolved into a religion which still exists, called “Mandaeanism. “According to Wikipedia,

Mandaeism or Mandaeanism … is a gnostic religion… with a strongly dualistic worldview.

Its adherents, the Mandaeans, revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Noah, Shem, Aram and especially John the Baptist, but reject Jesus of Nazareth and Christianity…

According to most scholars, Mandaeans… are Semites and speak a dialect of Eastern Aramaic known as Mandaic.

…. There are thought to be between 60,000 and 70,000 Mandaeans worldwide, and until the 2003 Iraq war, almost all of them lived in Iraq. Many Mandaean Iraqis have since fled their country (as have many other Iraqis) because of the turmoil created by the War on Terror and subsequent rise in sectarian violence by Muslim extremists… Most Mandaean Iraqis have sought refuge in Iran with the fellow Mandaeans there…

Although men like Samson, Samuel, and John were men God used in great ways, their special roles to prepare for David – and David’s heir, the Messiah – was their true calling. Despite their differences, they were preludes to what would follow.

 

Did the Aaronic Priesthood Begin Before The Law?

Did the Aaronic Priesthood Begin Before The Law?

(Exodus 19:22, 18:18-20, 15:25)

By Ed Vasicek

When commenting on God’s restriction of even the priesthood from approaching Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19:22, Walter Kaiser (in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary) writes:

“Certainly this was not the Aaronic priesthood that had not been established as yet. It must be a reference to the ‘firstborn’ of every family who were dedicated and consecrated to God (13:2).”

Although firstborn sons who were not descendents of Aaron could serve as priests even after the Law was given (as evidenced by the example of Samuel), I disagree with Kaiser’s assessment.

When Jethro offers a sacrifice to the Lord to celebrate the deliverance of Israel and their arrival at Mt. Sinai, we find that Aaron was invited to the sacrifice (and mentioned by name) along with the elders of Israel. Coupling this with the instance in which Aaron fashioned the molten calf leads me to conclude that he had been considered a priestly leader for some time.

Notice the counsel Jethro gave Moses in Exodus 18:18-20:

“You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do.”

One must ask, “What laws and statutes?” The Mosaic Law had not been given at this point. Jethro’s advice is found in Exodus 18, but the first part of the Law is given in Exodus 20. Some have suggested that Exodus 18 actually belongs later in the book of Exodus. But such relocation theories are usually an agenda-driven suggestion attempting to harmonize a supposed chronological discrepancy. So again I ask, “What laws and statues did Jethro have in mind?”

The Noahic Covenant and the ancient Priesthood (of which Melchizedek was but one while Jethro was another) were around hundreds of years before Aaron was born. But there is no evidence that Aaron participated in this priesthood while a slave in Egypt.

The best answer is found in the Jersualem Targum. Its paraphrase and expansion of Exodus 15:25 reads, “And Mosheh prayed before the Lord, and the Word of the Lord showed him the tree of Ardiphne, and he cast it into the midst of the waters, and the waters were made sweet. There did the Word of the Lord show unto him statutes and orders of judgment, and there He tried him with trials in the tenth trial.”

The ESV version of Exodus 15:25 reads: “And he cried to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the LORD made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them…”

Although the Old Testament ambiguously states that God gave the Israelites “a statue and a rule,” the Targum demonstrates the Jewish understanding that this meant “statutes and orders of judgment.” The Targum of Jonathan enumerates a number of specific commands (though none applying to the priesthood).

Exodus 15:25 is an important yet relatively obscure passage. Just as Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit to His disciples as a preview of Pentecost (John 20:22-23), here the “mini-law” may have been given before the formal giving of the Law (which, incidentally, was probably given on the Day of Pentecost, based on traditional Jewish calculations).

In summary, my theory is this: some of the Law was given before Moses returned to Mt. Sinai. Some of these statutes could have included minimal priestly instruction, instruction which was repeated and expanded upon later in cohesive fashion (when the Law was formally and comprehensively decreed). The information that Aaron’s line would become the priestly line may have been included in this prelude.

To put it in modern terms, God seems to have leaked out information about the Law before the News Conference!