Peter in the Temple | The Voice 9.28: July 14, 2019

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Preaching in Acts: Peter in the Temple

What had started as a normal day and a normal hour of prayer at the Temple became extraordinary very quickly. A man was healed; thousands more obtained a better hope and promise of healing and restoration. All this happened because Peter and John had gone up to the Temple to pray.

At some point after the day of Pentecost, after the Gospel began to be proclaimed in Jerusalem and the church had been established, Peter and John went up to the Temple to pray at the ninth hour, or around 3 o’clock in the afternoon (Acts 3:1). A man was at the Beautiful Gate, lame from birth, and one who had been seen frequently by those entering the Temple, seeking alms, and sought alms from Peter and John (Acts 3:2-3). Peter confessed he could not give gold or silver, but gave what he could: the ability to rise and walk in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (Acts 3:4-6). The man arose and entered the Temple with them, walking and leaping, and praising God (Acts 3:7-8). The Israelites noticed the man and recognized him as the one who frequently sought alms at the Beautiful Gate; they were filled with amazement and wonder regarding what had happened (Acts 3:9-10).

Peter then took the initiative and from Solomon’s Porch explained to the Israelites what they were seeing: this was not the work of Peter or John (Acts 3:11-12). Instead, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of their fathers, had glorified His Servant Jesus: this Jesus was the one whom they themselves had delivered up to Pilate to be killed, even though Pilate would have released Him, seeking a murderer to be given to them while they put to death the Author of life, and yet God had raised Him from the dead, and through faith in Jesus’ name the man born lame had been made whole (Acts 3:13-16; cf. Luke 23:16-23).

Peter then worked to assure his audience: he knew they acted against Jesus in ignorance, as had their rulers (Acts 3:17). Nevertheless, all the things God had foreshadowed in the prophets regarding the suffering of the Christ had been fulfilled (Acts 3:18). Peter then invited his audience to repent, turning again to God in Christ, so that their sins might be blotted out and they would receive times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and He would again send the Christ, Jesus, whom heaven has received until the times of restoration of which the prophets spoke came to pass (Acts 3:19-21).

Peter confirmed his message by appealing to what had been said of old: he quoted Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18 and referred to his whole message in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 about the one like Moses who would come and to whom Israel should listen (Acts 3:22-23). He summarized all the other prophets from Samuel onward as promising similar things (Acts 3:24). Peter spoke of his audience as the sons of those who heard these promises, and thus the recipients of the promise, and also as the sons of the covenant God made with Abraham, through whose Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Acts 3:25; cf. Genesis 22:18). God had sent His Servant, the Christ, first to them to bless them, turning them away from their iniquities (Acts 3:26).

At this point the record of Peter’s preaching is interrupted: the priests and Sadducees had heard of Peter’s proclamation of Jesus and the resurrection, and it disturbed them greatly, and so they arrested Peter and John (Acts 4:1-3). Nevertheless, many of those who had heard Peter’s word believed: at least five thousand men, not counting women or children (Acts 4:4). The Sanhedrin would be confounded, since the miraculous work was evident to all and impossible to deny (Acts 4:5-22).

A great miracle had taken place, and many Israelites proved receptive to Peter’s message on account of having seen the miracle. Nevertheless, without Peter’s proclamation of the Gospel, what would the Israelites have gained by the experience? Signs and wonders may have prepared an audience to hear what the Apostles had to say, but the Apostles still had to tell the message and exhort people to repentance.

Peter’s message in Acts 3:12-26 emphasized the continuity between what had been made known about YHWH the God of Israel and what God was accomplishing in Jesus. Peter identified the God who had made the lame man whole as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the fathers of Israel (Acts 3:13); twice Peter spoke of Jesus as God’s “Servant,” evoking Isaiah’s “Servant Songs” in Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-7, 52:13-53:12. Peter associated Jesus with the “prophet like Moses” whom Moses and all the prophets had promised (Acts 3:22-24); he also emphasized the continuity of the Israelites, identifying his audience as the sons of the prophets and the covenant God made with Abraham (Acts 3:25). Peter even maintained continuity in the hope of Israel, speaking of what God would accomplish in Jesus according to times of refreshing and restoration, highly resonant with the encouragement given in the prophets (Acts 3:19-21).

At the same time, Peter did not shy away from making explicit exactly what the Israelites in his audience had done: they were the ones who wanted Jesus to be killed, even though Pilate would have let Him go; they were the ones who wanted Barabbas and not Jesus (Acts 3:13-15). Few statements are as poignant as Acts 3:14: you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you! Peter associates Jesus with God strongly, for God is known as the Holy One of Israel (cf. Isaiah 1:4, etc.); nevertheless, the force of his imagery is the two paths available to Israel. There was the path of Barabbas, the insurrectionist, which would only lead to alienation from God and death for all; and then there was the path of Jesus, the Christ, who would provide refreshment and restoration for all who put their trust in Him.

On that day over five thousand Israelites would choose the path of Jesus. Far more, unfortunately, continued to follow the ways of Barabbas. Nevertheless, the Gospel had done its work. Peter demonstrated how what God accomplished in Jesus is not foreign or alien to the faith of Israel, but is in fact the fulfillment of all God had promised to their fathers, and a demonstration of God’s covenant loyalty to Israel. We do well to heed what Peter said, repent of our ways, and become the children of Abraham by faith, so that we may obtain refreshing from the presence of God as we await the return of Jesus and the restoration of all things as foretold by the prophets on the day of resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Dreams and Visions | The Voice 9.27: July 07, 2019

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Dreams and Visions

Humans have been enchanted by dreams and visions for millennia. We want to believe that our dreams may unlock hidden meanings and mysteries in life; cultures throughout time have featured many attempts to interpret what dreams might mean. Science has proven rather dismissive of dreams and visions, attempting to understand them in terms of our brains processing data while we are unconscious. How should Christians understand dreams and visions?

As in all matters of spirituality we do well to first explore the purpose of dreams and visions as seen in the pages of Scripture. In both Old and New Testaments God has communicated to certain people in dreams and visions.

The Scriptures record many instances in which God communicated to people in dreams. In some circumstances God directly spoke to people in dreams, most often about a specific situation the person was facing at the time. God warned Abimelech about taking Sarah as a wife in a dream (Genesis 20:3-7), and likewise warned Laban against harming Jacob in any way (Genesis 31:24). When Solomon was in Gibeon God appeared to him in a dream and asked what he wanted; the wisdom for which Solomon asked in a dream was given to him in reality (1 Kings 3:5-28). The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream three times: the first to give him confidence so as to marry Mary, the second to warn him to get away to Egypt to avoid Herod, and the third to warn him away from living under Archelaus (Matthew 1:20, 2:13, 19-22).

God also sent dreams to his servants and to rulers which required interpretation but spoke of things that would come to pass. Joseph and Daniel were both justly famous for having been given dreams and the ability to interpret dreams. Joseph’s dreams about his family were able to be understood without difficulty in interpretation (Genesis 37:5-11). He was able to interpret the dreams of others, and they all involved what would take place in the immediate future: the cupbearer’s restoration, the baker’s execution, impending abundance and then famine in Egypt (Genesis 40:1-41:37). Daniel was able to see and interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream through the revelation of the God of heaven, and it spoke of the kingdoms to come (Daniel 2:1-46); God would give Daniel dreams and visions of beasts with a similar interpretation (Daniel 7:1-8:27).

Visions are often closely related to dreams; God would send both, and while many visions were in dreams, other visions took place while a person was conscious or semi-conscious (Numbers 12:6, Daniel 1:17, 2:28). God granted visions to many people for different reasons; nevertheless, they all were corroborated by events which would take place or by other forms of revelation. God provided assurance of His covenant with Abram in a vision (Genesis 15:1ff). In the days of Eli and Samuel there was no frequent vision; nevertheless, God gave a vision to Samuel in which He summoned him thrice and prophesied doom for the house of Eli (1 Samuel 3:1-15). Isaiah and Ezekiel saw visions of God in heaven (Isaiah 1:1, 6:1-13, Ezekiel 1:1-28); most of Ezekiel’s prophecies featured some sort of vision. In the New Testament the Transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James, and John is called a vision (Matthew 17:1-9). Peter is given a vision of unclean animals; the Lord Jesus told him to kill and eat; after Peter protested, Jesus told him that what God has cleansed he is not to call common (Acts 10:9-17). Peter was initially perplexed about the vision’s meaning, but through revelation from an angel and the Holy Spirit he discerned that God was calling him to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and other Gentiles; the vision was the first in a series of revelations which made it clear that God had cleansed the Gentiles and granted them the repentance that leads to life (Acts 10:17-11:18, 15:7-11). The Bible ends with a grand vision, the Revelation of God given to John, setting forth the impending struggles of believers and the victory of God in Christ through images simultaneously fantastic and yet consistent with what the people of God beforehand had experienced (Revelation 1:1-22:21).

Just because something was a vision did not necessarily make it unreal. There is great continuity between the heavenly scenes seen by Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John; Paul speaks of having been taken up into Paradise, the third heaven, in which he saw things unable to be described in human language (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Elisha’s servant’s eyes were opened and he saw horses chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:15-17); the servant may be seeing a vision, but the vision proves more real than what we imagine reality to be.

Therefore it is evident that God did communicate with people through dreams and visions in Biblical times. That communication, however, was not always for the best, nor was every claimed dream and vision really from God. In 1 Kings 22:19-23 Micaiah son of Imlah described a heavenly vision he saw in which God revealed how He would entice Ahab to meet his doom: a lying spirit from God would enter the prophets to deceive him. The prophets warn the people about those who have claimed to receive dreams and visions from God but do so falsely (Jeremiah 23:32, 27:9, 29:8, Lamentations 2:14, Ezekiel 13:9, Zechariah 10:2). Paul warns Christians about giving heed to those who trust in visions and give devotion to angels but do not hold fast to the Head who sustains His Body, the Lord Jesus (Colossians 2:18-19).

As Christians we do well to be careful about claims regarding dreams and visions. We have every confidence from Scripture that whatever messages God would communicate in dreams and visions would be consistent with what He has revealed through other means and would work to encourage and sustain Christians in Christ; yet on what basis should we expect Him to continue to communicate in such ways? He has made known His will for mankind in Christ and has communicated through the witness of the Apostles all things we need in order to accomplish His purposes (Acts 1:8, 2 Timothy 3:15-17). We do well to heed the wisdom of the Preacher:

For in the multitude of dreams there are vanities, and in many words: but fear thou God (Ecclesiastes 5:7).

May we all honor and revere God and seek to accomplish His purposes in Jesus Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Book of Jubilees | The Voice 9.26: June 30, 2019

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The Book of Jubilees

The Genesis author is famous for his economy in writing: he only tells the stories and details he wishes to tell according to his purposes. The people of God have been left with a host of questions ever since. Where did Cain’s wife come from? What was the name of the wives of all the men of old? Who exactly are the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” in Genesis 6:1-4? Untold amounts of ink have been spilled in speculation regarding these matters. We can see how some Jewish people of the Second Temple Period expanded upon the Genesis narrative in the Book of Jubilees.

The Book of Jubilees is also known as “Lesser Genesis” (Greek Leptogenesis), considered lesser in age and quality, not in size. While the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Beta Israel (a group of Jewish people of Ethiopian descent), consider the Book of Jubilees to be inspired, everyone else recognizes the work as pseudepigraphal. The Book of Jubilees had been primarily preserved in Ge’ez Ethiopic manuscripts of the late medieval era along with quotations found in many early Christian works; many fragments of the Book of Jubilees in Hebrew were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a Latin translation of a Greek translation preserves part of the text. Most believe the Book of Jubilees was composed during the Maccabean period, ca. 150 BCE. The Book of Jubilees sets forth Genesis and a brief summary of Exodus according to the temporal framework of the jubilee, blending the Genesis narrative with midrashim (traditional stories about Biblical characters) and laws as given by God to Moses in an attempt to explain the origin stories and characters of Israel in greater detail.

The Book of Jubilees can be found here. Moses is said to have received the substance of the Book of Jubilees from God while on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights and commanded to write it down, and an angel would set forth all of history from the creation until the restoration of the Temple at Zion according to the number of jubilees (Jubilees 1:1-28; cf. Exodus 24:15-18); the Book of Jubilees will go on to feature the first fifty jubilees, from creation to Israel in the Wilderness. The jubilee is a festival which was to recur every fifty years and was to proclaim liberty for Israelite slaves of Israelites and a restoration of ancestral property (Leviticus 25:8-55).

The narratives of Genesis 1:1-11:32 are set forth and expanded upon in the Book of Jubilees 2:1-12:15, covering the first forty jubilees. The author of the Book of Jubilees listed out in greater detail that which God created (e.g., types of spiritual beings on the first day, sea monsters on the fifth day; Jubilees 2:2, 11). Later laws regarding the Sabbath in the Law of Moses is brought to bear on the description of God’s rest on the seventh day (Jubilees 2:17-31). Adam and Eve are said to have lived in the Garden of Eden seven years before partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Jubilees 3:15); the author believed God closed the mouths of all the beasts as part of the curse, assuming all the animals had discourse with one another and man in the Garden (Jubilees 3:28). Eve is said to give birth to a daughter Awan a few years after Cain and Abel, and Awan is then said to be the wife of Cain (Jubilees 4:1, 9; cf. Genesis 4:1, 17). The Book of Jubilees often supplied names for the wives of the characters in Genesis 1-11. The author of the Book of Jubilees also attested to Enoch as having received revelations from God, as one who recounted early history, and thus seems to attest to the existence of the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch; Jubilees 4:16-19). It is thus not surprising that the author of the Book of Jubilees explained the coming of the Watchers, angels sent to earth who would marry the daughters of men and corrupt themselves (Jubilees 4:15, 22, 7:21-25; cf. Genesis 6:1-4). The Book of Jubilees attempted to contextualize the death of the notable patriarchs like Adam and Noah in terms of those still living (e.g. Jubilees 4:28-33; cf. Genesis 5:1-6).

In a similar way the narratives regarding Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph in Genesis 11:26-50:26 are set forth and expanded in the Book of Jubilees 11:11-46:4, covering the next six jubilees. Abram/Abraham is portrayed as always having been monotheistic and very explicitly disavows the pagan idolatry of his father (Jubilees 11:15-16, 12:1-18). Abraham is certainly the hero of this story; we do not learn of much that would ever make us question his wisdom, and he is portrayed as the archetypal firm believer in God. The Jubilees author would have us believe that Abraham and Jacob had a strong relationship, that Abraham affirmed Jacob as the recipient of promise, and that Abraham gave many instructions in death regarding offerings and sacrifices (e.g. Jubilees 21:1-23:32). The author attempts to portray Jacob as a more upright character from the beginning, and much of the story of his association with Laban is passed over; he is said to have brought Levi and Judah to be blessed by Isaac, retrojecting Levi’s call to the priesthood and Judah’s to authority (Jubilees 30:18, 31:8-32). The Book of Jubilees would have Esau break all promises to Isaac and Jacob and rise in war against his brother, and also would have Jacob kill Esau in that conflict (Jubilees 34:1-10). Joseph’s story is told in a relatively straightforward way, although not much is made of Jacob or Jacob’s final promises to his children.

The rest of the Book of Jubilees provides an overview of Israel in Egypt and their journey into the Wilderness to Mount Sinai, covering four jubilees (Jubilees 46:5-50:13). The Jubilees author spoke of a king of Canaan who proved victorious over the king of Egypt, leading to a closed border and the plot to enslave the Israelites (Jubilees 46:9-16). The rest of the work told the Exodus story and emphasized certain promises and laws.

The Book of Jubilees provides insight into the way the founding stories of Israel were understood in late Second Temple Judaism. The way the Book of Jubilees conveyed many of the narratives of Genesis may suggest it is using a manuscript of the text slightly different from either the Masoretic Text (MT) or the Hebrew text which was used to translate the Greek Septuagint (LXX). The Book of Jubilees affirms the importance of the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch) to many Israelites of the age. And yet the Book of Jubilees works best as a foil and a contrast to the book of Genesis as recorded in the Hebrew Bible, illustrating the complexity and power of Genesis. The Genesis author does well at giving detail when necessary and not over-explaining matters; the Book of Jubilees is weighed down with the concerns and emphases from a later period, telling the reader more about Israel in the Second Temple Period than it does about the patriarchs of old. As Christians today we do well to take this example under advisement: what the Book of Jubilees made explicit in its pages Christians often do in their commentary and exposition. May we uphold what God has made known in Scripture and find salvation in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Works Consulted

The Complete Apocrypha: 2018 Edition with Enoch, Jasher, and Jubilees. Covenant Press, 2019.

The Tower of Babel | The Voice 9.25: June 23, 2019

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The Tower of Babel

And they said, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4).

It may seem like just a little story tucked in-between the stories of Noah and Abraham; one might easily pass over it as they read in Genesis. And yet the story of the Tower of Babel proves instructive in many ways.

The Genesis author sets forth the story of the tower of Babel in order to explain how humanity has reached its present condition. After the Flood all humanity spoke the same language (Genesis 11:1); they remained together and came upon a plain in the land of Shinar (Genesis 11:2). They did not want to be scattered, and so they planned to build a tower whose top would reach high into the heavens (Genesis 11:3-4). God saw what they were doing, and recognized the very strong potential of what humans could do when they were all of the same mind and purpose (Genesis 11:5-6). God determined to confound them by confusing their speech; if they could not understand each other, they would prove unable to work with one another (Genesis 11:7). Thus it happened, and from then on humans scattered around the world, as God had intended, and we all speak different languages to this day (Genesis 11:8). The place was called “Babel” (Greek Babylon), the Hebrew word for “confusion,” because there God confused the languages of mankind (Genesis 11:9).

From the story of the Tower of Babel we thus learn why people speak different languages and how Babylon both came to be and received its name. We also learn about just how effectively humans can work together if they can effectively communicate with one another; God says that there is nothing we cannot do (Genesis 11:5-6)! So why would God want to hinder us from doing so? Isn’t cooperation among humans a good thing? Doesn’t God want us to become as one?

The problem with the tower of Babel is found in humanity’s motivations for its construction. They built the tower to make a name for themselves and to avoid being scattered over the face of the earth (Genesis 11:4). As humans, we like to think it is a good thing when we work together. Unfortunately, as is evident throughout time, humans too often work together for their own aggrandizement. They work together to use resources, to attack others and deprive them of resources, and to build monuments to their own greatness. God felt compelled to separate mankind from each other lest the entire creation be overrun with human “development” and “progress”!

Thus, when fallen man is left to his own devices, he builds some sort of monument to his own greatness and to keep him from feeling so alone and isolated in the world. Such things do not lead him back to the God who created him; they inflate his pride and ambitions. Therefore, while man has stopped attempting to build the tower of Babel, man has never stopped attempting to build all sorts of other Babels, monuments to their own greatness, attempting to stand and work against God’s purposes for His creation.

What would have happened if the Bible ended at Genesis 11:9? At that point man was lost in his sins with no hope for redemption, having been separated from his God since the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-24). After Babel man was separated from one another (Genesis 11:7-9). Mankind was separated from its God, from one another, without a nation, without a hope (cf. Ephesians 2:11-12). After Babel God chose one man, Abraham, and through him would provide hope for redemption in Israel (cf. Genesis 12:1ff). The hope of Israel was found in Jesus of Nazareth who provided reconciliation between God and man and through whom the curse of Babel is undone; in the Spirit His Apostles proclaimed the mighty works of God in many languages (Acts 2:7-11, Romans 5:6-11). God scattered mankind in their sinfulness; in Christ God makes one body out of all who would serve Him, and they are to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 2:11-22, 4:3). After Babel man despaired; through Christ, the promised Seed of Abraham, all mankind has hope in God. May we serve God in Christ and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Understanding Covenant VII | The Voice 9.24: June 16, 2019

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Understanding Covenant, VII: Hesed

One cannot come to a good understanding of God’s relationships with mankind without considering covenants. Covenants are agreements maintaining mutual benefits and obligations. God made covenants with the creation in the days of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel at Mount Sinai, and with David in days of old; in Christ God has established a new covenant with all mankind. Covenants maintain distinctive qualities, and yet great continuity exists among all covenants God has made with mankind. But what led God to desire to establish covenants with these people, and not only to establish them, but to remain faithful to them even when the people proved less than faithful? Throughout the Old Testament we hear how God is the Creator of heaven and earth; we also hear, just as frequently, how God has displayed hesed toward His people. Perhaps it is God’s hesed which is the key.

Hesed cannot be translated into English in such a way as to communicate its full range and depth of meaning, as can be seen in the variety of ways it has been translated in various versions: “mercy,” “kindness,” “love,” “lovingkindness,” “steadfast love,” or “loyal love.” hesed seems to capture the disposition of YHWH toward His people, and embodies provisions for love and care along with dependence and faithfulness in commitment: a mixture of “lovingkindness” with “covenant loyalty.” Among translations found in formal equivalence versions, “steadfast love” comes closest; among dynamic equivalence translations, “faithful love” or “loving commitment” is even better. hesed captures YHWH’s love, kindness, and mercy toward His people reflected in His loyalty and faithfulness to the covenant which He made with them. We can understand why it proves so difficult to convey this concept into English in a word or two!

Time would fail us if we spoke of all the ways in which YHWH’s hesed for His people is described in the Old Testament. God displays hesed to generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments (Exodus 20:6, Deuteronomy 7:9, 12). The Psalmists magnify YHWH for the hesed He has displayed toward Israel; in Psalm 136:1-26 all continually respond in their confidence of how YHWH’s hesed endures forever. Even in the midst of their despair about Israel’s present, the prophets maintained hope that YHWH would again show hesed to Israel as He promised to their fathers in Abraham (Micah 7:20).

Hesed was translated into Greek primarily by eleos, “mercy,” and we find plenty of examples of the Apostles praising God for His great mercy displayed toward us in Jesus. Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 in Matthew 9:13, 1:7, indicating how God desired Israel to show hesed, not sacrifice. Paul spoke of God as having displayed mercy toward all people in Christ, praised God for making known His glory to humans as vessels of mercy, and considered the proclamation and acceptance of the Gospel among the Gentiles as the opportunity for them to praise God for His mercy (Romans 9:23, 11:30-32, 15:9). To Paul, God is the God of mercies (2 Corinthians 1:3, Philippians 1:8); all Christians are saved by God’s mercy (Titus 3:5). When Christians speak of God’s “mercy,” we tend to do so by the standard definition of “not receiving what is deserved.” While this remains abundantly true, we must also consider the dimensions of the Hebrew hesed when considering mercy in the New Testament, for hesed is too important an aspect of God’s relationship with His people for the Apostles to have entirely neglected it.

God therefore displayed, and continues to display, hesed in His covenants with mankind. We know that God is love, and God desires to be relationally one with mankind His creation as He is one within Himself (John 17:20-23, 1 John 4:8); therefore, God established His covenants with mankind because of His desire to share in love, and established the boundaries of covenants in which to fully display that love and commitment. Such is why we must never neglect the covenant loyalty aspect to hesed; yes, hesed is lovingkindness or steadfast love, but it is always within covenant boundaries and displays great faithfulness to that covenant no matter what.

Only by understanding hesed can we understand how God has conducted Himself toward His people throughout time. Our God is our Creator; He displays great love and kindness toward His people in covenant loyalty. God made a covenant with the creation to never flood the whole world again, and He has proven faithful to that covenant. God made a covenant with Abraham, and on account of that covenant displayed love and kindness to Abraham’s descendants for generations, and through Abraham’s Descendant Jesus displays love and kindness to anyone who would come and share in the faith of Abraham. God manifested loyalty to Israel even when Israel served other gods; He denounced such betrayal simultaneously as adultery and prostitution, exemplifying the severity of the covenant violations in which Israel participated (cf. Ezekiel 16:1-63). Israel and Judah would suffer the Day of YHWH in 722 and 586 BCE, respectively, and yet because of His hesed God did not abandon them forever, restoring His people to their land and ultimately fulfilling all of His promises in Jesus and the Kingdom established in His name.

Our God has proven Himself over and over as loving, kind, and loyal to the covenants which He makes with mankind. God, not unreasonably, asks for us to therefore love Him and remain loyal and faithful to our covenant with Him. We are to be imitators of God by loving as Christ loved us (Ephesians 5:1-2): Christ has loved us by exemplifying God’s hesed, loving us to the point of death on the cross, faithful and loyal to God’s purposes, and so we are to display hesed toward God and one another (John 13:31-35). As Christians we may find ourselves in times of plenty or times of want, times of prosperity or times of want, times of happiness or times in despair, but we may maintain the firm conviction that our God displays hesed toward us: He loves us and is kind toward us, and is faithful to His covenant. We must live in that confidence, and walk worthily of the calling with which God has called us, renouncing the world and its idolatry, and proving loyal to God and His covenant (cf. Romans 12:1-2, Ephesians 4:1, 1 John 5:23).

As with Israel, so with Christians: God is faithful to His covenant and the promises He has made. For now He displays great love and kindness, but we should be careful lest we become complacent, for God’s kindness is designed to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Even though it has been almost two thousand years since Jesus ascended to heaven, we ought to have full confidence He could return at any time, for God is faithful to His promises, even if it takes far more time than we humans might imagine (2 Peter 3:8-12). On that day God’s hesed will be on full display for those who love Him and were loyal to His covenant: eternal life in the resurrection; sadly, on that day, the wrath of God will also be on full display toward those who did not know God or obey the Gospel of the Lord Jesus: eternal condemnation (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). May we serve God in Christ, and praise God our Creator, for He is good, and His hesed for His covenant people endures forever!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Peter on Pentecost | The Voice 9.23: June 09, 2019

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Preaching in Acts: Peter on Pentecost

Momentous events had descended upon Jerusalem. Visitors who had come from all over the known world began to hear the mighty works of God told to them in their own language, and by ignorant men from Galilee at that! Some may have felt those speaking were drunk, but many wanted to know what these things meant. Peter from Galilee would explain these things, and the world would never be the same again.

These events took place in 30 or 33 of our era. This was around fifty days after Jesus died and rose again from the dead and ten days after Jesus ascended into the heavens (Acts 1:1-2:4). The occasion was the day of Pentecost: the Feast of Weeks, simultaneously celebrating the harvest and Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, and an event for which many Jewish people would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate (Exodus 19:1, 20:1-20, Leviticus 23:15-22, Numbers 28:26). The timing was perfect to proclaim an important message for Israel, as attested by the number and variety of Israelites present in Acts 2:8-11. The Holy Spirit had filled the Apostles so as to be able to proclaim the Gospel in a variety of different languages (Acts 2:4-12); the Apostles now had the attention of all the Israelites who heard these things.

Peter took full advantage of the situation. He summoned the men of Jerusalem and Judea to listen to him, and refuted the charge of drunkenness: it was only the third hour, or 9 A.M. (Acts 2:14-15). He then explained to the Israelites how what they were seeing fulfilled what God had promised them through the prophet Joel: God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, would show wonders in the heavens and on earth, and whoever would call on the name of the Lord would be saved (Acts 2:16-21; cf. Joel 2:28-32).

Yet Peter did not quote Joel’s entire message, and for good reason: Joel’s hope for salvation of Israel had found its fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and Peter then bore witness to what God had accomplished through Him. After appealing to the men of Israel to hear his words, Peter spoke of Jesus and how God had approved of Him based upon all the signs and wonders He accomplished and which those very Israelites had seen. Peter spoke of how Jesus died, not as an accident, but according to God’s determined counsel and foreknowledge and carried out at the hands of lawless men. Jesus had died, but it proved impossible for death to hold on to Him: God had raised Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:22-24). Peter then appealed to the witness of David in Psalm 16:8-11: David spoke of one whose soul would not be left in Sheol, or see corruption, and yet David’s tomb was in Jerusalem to that day. David, therefore, spoke of his Descendant, Jesus the Christ, who would rise from the dead (Acts 2:25-31)!

Peter then added apostolic witness to David’s prophecy, testifying of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as a witness, along with his fellow Apostles, and declared that Jesus poured out the Spirit upon the Apostles since He had been exalted at the right hand of God and had received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father (Acts 2:32-33). Peter would again appeal to David’s testimony: David had written Psalm 110:1, yet had not himself ascended into the heavens; therefore, he was speaking prophetically of Jesus’ ascension and exaltation to the right hand of power (Acts 2:34-35). Peter then reached the climax of his message to Israel: God had made him both Lord and Christ, the ruler and king, this Jesus, whom they had crucified (Acts 2:36).

The Israelites present were profoundly moved and shaken by what they had heard. They had thought Jesus was a pretender; He was not the Messiah for whom they hoped. Yet now they saw God’s powerful hand at work in these men who were testifying how God had made Jesus their ruler. They came to the terrible and awful realization: they had killed the King God had sent them! They wanted to know what they should do (Acts 2:37); Peter told them to repent, be immersed in water in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of their sins, and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Peter would go on to exhort them further, summarized by Luke as “save yourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40). Three thousand heard and received this word from Peter and were baptized. Jesus’ Kingdom had been inaugurated; the church had begun.

In the first sermon on Pentecost we see the Gospel in all its fullness: the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and lordship of Jesus. Peter spoke to Israelites who had traveled for Pentecost: he knew they fervently believed in the God of Israel and hoped in the promise of the Messiah to come. They even had heard of the things Jesus had accomplished; many were eyewitnesses of what God had accomplished through Him. Peter did not rely on sly rhetorical techniques, smoke and mirrors, or any kind of subterfuge: he answered the question of all of the Israelites who had seen what God had accomplished through them: the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Apostles based on the promise given to Joel, and it was only possible because Jesus lived, died, was raised, and ascended to the Father, and was given all authority. Peter put the emphasis on witness: he appealed to the witness of David in the Psalms, and paired it with the witness of the Apostles regarding Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Peter did not even appeal to the vanity of the Israelites in any way: his focus was thoroughly on Jesus as the Lord and Christ of Israel. Yes, Jesus died for the sins of the Israelites, but Peter did not mention it. It was enough to declare that God had made Jesus Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth; if the Israelites accepted this claim, they would know how they would need to submit to His rule and follow Him.

The day of Pentecost proved momentous in the history of the world: a small movement featuring one man who had worked with twelve disciples now numbered in the thousands. From this beginning the message of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return would spread further in Israel and would eventually sound forth throughout the known world. While people would have to explain certain aspects of the message in greater detail, or provide greater emphasis on some parts over others, the basic paradigm would continue: God accomplished all He had promised to Israel through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return, and the prophets and Apostles bore witness to these things, and now you ought to serve Jesus because He is Lord and Christ, and the promise of the Holy Spirit in His name is given to all in every generation who hear and receive the calling of God in Christ (cf. Acts 2:39). Peter’s message remains powerful and effective almost two thousand years after he first spoke it, for its substance remains true. May we all call on Jesus as Lord and Christ, submit to His purposes in obedient faith, and serve Him in His Kingdom to be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Denominationalism | The Voice 9.22: June 2, 2019

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Denominationalism

For many years now Christianity has been associated with denominationalism in the eyes of many people in the world. Many continue to participate in denominational organizations; some decry the existence and maintenance of such organizations. What is denominationalism, and how did it develop? Should Christianity be denominated? What should be our posture toward denominationalism?

A denomination is a kind of classification; it is generally used these days to describe different types of dollar bills or different kinds of churches. As it relates to churches, a “denomination” is a type of a sect; in denominationalism, a sense of legitimacy is conferred upon each denomination in a sense that does not necessarily exist with a sect.

Since the days of the Apostles many arose and taught doctrines contrary to the ways of the Gospel and led people astray; for the first 1,500 years of Christianity, any such group which abandoned the proclamation of the Gospel was known as a sect, and its adherents condemned as heretics (from the Greek hairesis, “divisions” or “sects”). To this day, many within denominations will condemn other groups who have pursued similar ideas to those earlier “heretics” as “cults,” and do not consider them within the “accepted bounds” of the definition of what makes a “Christian”: Latter-Day Saints, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. In general, over time, most such sects either entirely dissipated or faded into obscurity. After the Reformation, however, multiple different religious organizations professing Christianity arose, and this time they persevered: Roman Catholicism had already existed, and to it were added Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, and Mennonite organizations by 1600. All of these groups would experience their own reform movements, and would give birth to entirely new organizations by 1800: Pietists from Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Reformed groups from Calvinism, Methodists, Religious Society of Friends, and Baptists from the Anglicans, and the Amish from the Mennonites. Most of these groups would undergo even more divisions afterward.

During this time the call sounded forth to get away from this kind of confusion and to find unity as Christians by following what God had established in Christ according to the New Testament, and we can certainly understand why. All of these different groups claimed to represent faithful teaching in Christ, and yet they disagreed with one another, and all maintained loyalty to their particular tradition and champions from the past. Some heeded the call to restore New Testament Christianity; the majority stayed within these various denominational organizations.

Denominationalism, therefore, developed under a very specific set of circumstances: all of these various organizations claimed to represent the Church of Christ, and most people attempted to make sense of how this was possible by considering them all denominations of the whole: just like a $10 dollar bill and a $20 dollar bill are denominations of currency, both having equal legitimacy even though distinct in value, so most in the Western world considered the various churches of “Christendom” as having equal legitimacy even though they maintained distinctive teachings. The full flower of this attitude has come forth in our own time with the rise of sectarian ecumenism: Christian denominations are now seen by most as simply different flavors of Christianity, considering the United Methodist Church and the Southern Baptist Church to be akin to the church in Corinth or the church in Ephesus.

Denominationalism and all forms of sectarianism are foreign to the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament. Paul chastised the Corinthians for developing parties among them favoring various preachers: “I am of Apollos,” “I am of Cephas,” I am of Paul,” and exhorted them to have the same mind and judgment (1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21). In the same letter Paul made it known that he taught the same teachings in every church (1 Corinthians 4:17): while churches in the world of the New Testament featured different groups of people in different areas from different cultures and backgrounds, they all were to share in the same faith in Christ as revealed once for all (cf. Jude 1:3). Different teachings were advanced in the days of the Apostles, and the Apostles stood to resist them firmly, warning that those who adhered to them would fall from grace, or be considered as antichrist (cf. Galatians 1:6-5:13, 1 Timothy 4:1-4, 6:1-10, 2 Peter 2:1-22, 1 John 2:18-27, 4:1-4, 5:1-4, 2 John 1:6-10, Jude 1:3-21). Instead, Paul affirmed the existence of one body of Christ, and one faith, just as there is one Lord and one God (Ephesians 4:4-6). God has made them into one body through the work Jesus accomplished on the cross, making one man out of Jewish and Gentile people, killing the hostility among them (Ephesians 2:11-22). Christians must strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3); contentions, divisions, and sects work against this unity, and are considered works of the flesh, and those who do such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).

Denominationalism and sectarianism, therefore, are not to be named among those who would serve Jesus faithfully according to what He made known through His life and through His Apostles. God is one in relational unity, and desires relational unity with and among His people (John 17:20-23); denominational sectarianism is thus of the world, and not of Christ. Christians do well to be of one mind and one judgment in the truth, as Jesus is the truth (John 14:6, 17:20-23, 1 Corinthians 1:10): the truth is not the opposite of what “denominations” teach. Nothing is true or false because a denomination of Christianity teaches it or rejects it; if our goal is to simply argue against those in denominations, we become a sectarian group ourselves, and prove no better than that which we resist. Thus, even those who would stand against denominationalism must take care lest they become as sectarian and equally condemned!

It would seem that denominationalism is quickly losing legitimacy in the twenty-first century. Many are recognizing that truth is found in God in Christ, and do better to serve Him outside of denominational organizations which developed at certain times in opposition to other views and ideas. While it is good to see so many leaving such organizations, it is important for those within them to make sure they are also leaving behind any teachings or practices which prove inconsistent with what God has made known in Christ in Scripture, setting aside the relics of past arguments and disputations. Sectarianism and denominationalism can never be the way forward in Christ; instead, we must find unity in God in Christ, and not through adherence to one divided group among many in the world. May we jointly participate with one another in faith according to what God has made known in Jesus, and find eternal life in Him through the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Disadvantaged | The Voice 9.21: May 26, 2019

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The Disadvantaged

For many people today the Law of Moses seems primitive, barbaric, or arcane. Far too often focus is heightened on those aspects of the Law which most today find off-putting. Despite all of this, most of the Law of Moses features commands and expectations which most agree would lead to a more healthy society if they were followed.

One concern noted in the Law might seem to be manifestly evident and obvious to us:

Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind; but thou shalt fear thy God: I am YHWH (Leviticus 19:14).

The idea of cursing the deaf or putting something in the way of a blind person is quite cruel to most of us. Who could do such a thing? Such actions are terrible ways of taking advantage of other people’s difficulties. We are saddened to know that such a law is established because it is something people did or could easily be imagined as doing. Perhaps we ourselves have seen a few revelers or “punk kids” who would curse the deaf or put hindrances before the blind. Yet surely this is not a major problem, right? Or perhaps is it a symptom of a greater concern?

Is God only concerned with those who are physically deaf or blind? One notable aspect of the Law of Moses, distinctive even in its own time, is the concern God manifested within it toward those who found themselves at a disadvantage: the poor, the orphan, the widow, those with physical disabilities, the sojourner, etc. A year of Jubilee was to be proclaimed every half century to release all Israelites from their debts and allow the poor to reclaim their heritage (Leviticus 25:8-55). Widows and orphans were not to be afflicted (Exodus 22:22). Israelites should not oppress or wrong a sojourner in their land, since they knew what it meant to be a sojourner while in Egypt (Exodus 22:21, 23:12).

Not long after God made provision for the honor of the blind and deaf, He declared that Israelites should “love [their] neighbor[s] as [themselves]” (Leviticus 19:18), a concept also established in the new covenant (Romans 13:8-10). Jesus rightly established how the “Law and the Prophets” are summed up in this command along with the command to love YHWH their God with all their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:34-40; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5).

People understand why they should love God. God is powerful; God has made all things; God has given us many gifts; God is worthy of honor and praise. But do people understand how they must love their neighbor as themselves if they truly wish to say they love God? God has no desire for anyone to take advantage of the deficiencies of their fellow men. And yet how many are so shallow and base as to do such things? Unfortunately, there are many in society who take advantage of other people, physically and economically, because they are weak, poor, disabled, sojourners, naive, or otherwise simple.

We can think of many culprits. Payday loan centers stay in business because of such practices. Banks have little compunction in loaning money to people who they know are unable to repay so they can squeeze out a lot of profit from interest and other fees. Senior citizens and those who are disabled are especially prone to con men and con corporations. As opposed to trying to instill proper spending habits in people (especially the young), plenty of people, agencies, and corporations are more keen to profit on their ignorance or lack of self-control. People come here in dire and terrible circumstances, and many exploit them and profit on them at every turn. The government looks away, having written the laws to benefit those who would exploit and providing little protection for those who have been exploited. Any moment at which it seems the tables would be turned, and those who have the advantage might become disadvantaged, the oppressors are overwhelmed with anxiety and fear: what if they become the disadvantaged? They certainly do not want to be treated the way they have treated others!

Far too often, when people think about “loving their neighbor,” they think of people like themselves. They think they are easily loved, and they love those who are like them. As Jesus makes plain, anyone can love those who love them or who are like them (Matthew 5:46-47). God calls people to something greater: His love, which is given for all, especially those not like Him (Matthew 5:38-48, 1 John 4:7-21)!

YHWH is God of gods and Lord of lords, and He executes justice for the widow and orphan, and loves the sojourner, providing her food and clothing (Deuteronomy 10:17-18). Why were the Israelites to avoid causing hindrances to the blind and deaf? Their God is YHWH, and they should fear Him. Such behavior is not at all what God is about. God is the champion of the disadvantaged: He shows no partiality and does not regard anyone to be any better than anyone else, and thus sees through human pretense of treating others poorly because they are perceived, by whatever metric, to be unworthy, “less than,” and inferior (Deuteronomy 10:17; cf. Romans 2:11). Government agents can be bribed; God cannot be. God sees through the pretenses humans make to justify their exploitation and oppression of others. He will not be mocked.

The Law of Moses may not be in force today, but most of its principles remain part of what God expects from those who would serve Jesus as Lord. Jesus expects Christians to be merciful, and to treat others the way in which we would like to be treated (Luke 6:31-36). Christians are to remember the poor and visit the orphan and widow (Galatians 2:10, 6:10, James 1:27).

The God of Israel, the God of gods and Lord of lords, is the God and Father of us all; His character is unchanged, and is manifest in Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3). We ought to love God, but we cannot say we love God if we do not love people whom God made in His image and among whom we live (1 John 4:7-21). In the world people will always attempt to gain an advantage over those in a less fortunate position, leveraging their power and strength to benefit themselves, and fomenting anxiety, fear, and hate, lest the tables are turned and those who have the advantage become disadvantaged. In Christ, however, it cannot be so (Matthew 20:25-28). Jesus freely gave up all advantage and suffered as disadvantaged; those who would follow after Him must do the same, and associate with the lowly, caring for the disadvantaged, and willing to suffer the shame in doing so (Romans 12:16, Philippians 2:5-11, 1 Peter 2:18-25). Let us not put a hindrance in anyone’s way; let us not be guilty of taking advantage of our fellow man in his weakness; let us care for him or her in their situation, loving them as ourselves, and obtain a share in life from the God who is love and has loved us so!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Understanding Covenant VI | The Voice 9.20: May 19, 2019

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Understanding Covenant, VI: Continuity in Covenant

The God of heaven has chosen to interact with mankind within the framework of covenants, agreements with mutual benefits and responsibilities. In days of old God established covenants with the creation in the days of Noah, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with Israel, and with David; in these days God has established a covenant with all mankind through His Son, Jesus of Nazareth.

Different covenants manifest distinctive characteristics, and thus, as Christians, we do well to recognize and honor covenant distinctions, especially between the new covenant in Christ and the old under the Law of Moses. Sadly many have departed from the faith delivered once for all in Christ because they incorporated aspects of the Law of Moses which were never bound upon Christians; the dangers of “Judaizing” have remained among the people of God ever since.

While we must respect the distinctiveness of the covenants God has established with people, we must also be on guard lest we overstate the level of discontinuity among the covenants; God is one, God does not change, and therefore the covenants God has established with mankind also maintain many forms of continuity throughout (Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Malachi 3:6, Ephesians 4:4-6, Hebrews 13:8). Within a century of the death of the Apostles many were led astray by Marcion and those like him: Gentiles who cast aspersions on the revelation of God to Israel and who sought to “de-Judaize” Christianity, suppressed the Old Testament, and carved up the New Testament to put a more palatable God on display. The dangers of Marcionism and anti-Semitism have remained among the people of God ever since.

The evidence of continuity in covenant is on display throughout the New Testament. At no point did Jesus or the Apostles abandon the God of Israel; they did not declare that God’s covenant to Israel was a mistake or a dead end. Instead, Jesus and the Apostles understood and proclaimed Jesus as the embodiment of God’s work in Israel brought to its fulfillment so God’s promises to Abraham would finally be satisfied.

In His life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promise of imminent return, Jesus demonstrated Himself to be the Servant whom God had promised to Israel (cf. Isaiah 42:1-53:12, Acts 3:13). Students of Isaiah, ancient and modern, have sought to understand who the servant represented, for at times it seemed to be Israel as a nation, and at other times an individual Israelite, perhaps the prophet himself (cf. Acts 8:34). Jesus proved to be the individual Israelite who represented the whole: as Israel was born in humble circumstances, sojourned in Egypt, wandered in the wilderness, entered the land, suffered exile, and was somewhat restored in a return, so Jesus was born in humble circumstances, sojourned in Egypt, was tempted in the wilderness, ministered in the land, suffered death, and was restored in His resurrection (cf. Matthew 2:14-15, 4:1-25, 1 Corinthians 15:1-7). Jesus continually framed all He did as the fulfillment of what God had promised Israel through the prophets (cf. Luke 4:16-21); such was no mere proof-texting, but a powerful display of God fulfilling His purposes for Israel in Jesus. Israel was liberated from bondage in Egypt to become the people of God, the means by which God would bestow blessings to the world; yet Israel did not hearken to God, and instead became like the nations of the world (cf. Romans 2:1-29). Jesus came in the flesh and did what Israel could not: He lived in the world but was not of the world, bore sin on the cross so as to defeat its power, and provided for the people of God a new Passover, liberation from the forces of sin and death (Romans 8:1-4, 1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus, as the Word of God made flesh, embodied the Torah and the Temple, and through His life, death, and resurrection Jesus fulfilled the Torah, and brought heaven and earth together in His glorified, transformed resurrection body which ascended into the heavens (cf. John 1:1-18, 2:13-22, Hebrews 4:15).

In all of this God never abandoned Israel according to the flesh: God instead had proven faithful to His promises to Israel, and provided liberation from the forces of sin and death and full restoration from the exile of alienation on account of sin in Jesus. Those in Israel who had trusted in Jesus throughout had no need to “convert”; Paul himself would speak of his moment of transformation less as conversion and more as the recognition that God had fulfilled His promises (Acts 26:4-8). The welcoming of Gentiles among the people of God was always described in terms of incorporating Gentiles into the faith as Gentiles, as made fellow-citizens and fellow-heirs of the promise of God in Christ: all such language presumed the continued standing of Israelites who put their trust in Jesus among the people of God (cf. Romans 9:1-11:36, Ephesians 2:11-22). Paul would stress in Romans 9:1-11:36 that God’s promises were not revoked; it was not as if Israelites ceased being children of Abraham according to the flesh. Furthermore, the importance of being a child of Abraham was never denigrated: Paul argued that in Christ Gentiles could also become (spiritual) children of Abraham through faith (Romans 4:1-23, Galatians 3:1-27). In Christ God brought the Gentiles into the covenant people; they could now share in the blessing of Abraham.

For that matter, the people and name of Israel were not cast off. Paul repeatedly insisted that Christians should learn from what God had done among Israel, and welcomed Gentile Christians to look at Israel according to the flesh as their fathers in the faith (Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:1-12). The Scriptures, not just including, but especially the Old Testament, were profitable (2 Timothy 3:14-17). Peter and Paul would speak of Christians, even Gentile Christians, as the Israel of God, and associated the covenant terminology of Israel with Christians (Galatians 6:16, 1 Peter 1:1-2, 2:3-9).

It is right, good, and necessary to draw appropriate distinctions in the covenants between God and mankind, but never to the point of creating discontinuity where God maintained continuity. God did not seek to abolish Israel or His promises to Israel: He fulfilled those promises in Jesus, and welcomed both Israelites and Gentiles to jointly participate in the Kingdom of Christ (Ephesians 2:1-22). Much of what was expected under the Law would remain normative for Christians in the new covenant (e.g. Romans 13:8-13). Christians who would arrogantly consider themselves as superior to Israel would be wiser to own Israel according to the flesh as part of their heritage as the people of God and be willing to see how they could stray according to similar patterns of disobedience (cf. Romans 11:1-36, 1 Corinthians 10:1-12). If we refuse to recognize Jesus of Nazareth as a first century Israelite of the Second Temple Period, sent to save the lost sheep of Israel, we can never understand Him properly at all. May we seek to uphold the continuity among the covenants of the people of God while respecting the points of distinction, navigating between the Scylla of the “Judaizers” and the Charybdis of Marcionism, and glorify God for fulfilling all of His promises in Jesus and making us all one man through His Spirit in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Justice in the Morning | The Voice 9.19: May 12, 2019

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Justice in the Morning

The Day of YHWH became all the more imminent during the days of Josiah king of Judah: the appointed time of judgment for Judah and the surrounding nations drew near. YHWH spoke through Zephaniah to warn Judah against its tendency toward idolatry, oppression, and casual indifference toward its God (Zephaniah 1:1-2:2); he also pronounced judgment on all the surrounding nations with condemnation of Assyria as his crescendo (Zephaniah 2:3-15). The Day of YHWH’s sacrifice and anger drew near; more warnings proved necessary. Nevertheless, after the judgment, justice would arise in the morning, and restoration and hope would return to the people of God (Zephaniah 3:1-20).

Zephaniah lamented over and denounced Jerusalem as a rebellious, polluted, oppressive city (Zephaniah 3:1; cf. Zephaniah 3:1-8). First, and most fundamentally, the inhabitants of Jerusalem did not obey the voice of YHWH, did not accept His correction, and did not trust in or draw near to Him (Zephaniah 3:2). They therefore functioned like every other small kingdom of the ancient Near Eastern world. Their rulers devoured the living of their people like a lion or a wolf; their prophets participated in treachery, profaned what is holy, and did violence to God’s instruction (Zephaniah 3:3-4). In contrast, YHWH who dwelt in Jerusalem’s midst is righteous and does not commit iniquity; He brings His justice to light every morning and does not fail, while the unjust revel in shameful deeds (Zephaniah 3:5). YHWH warned Jerusalem: He cuts off nations and destroys cities, leaving them with no inhabitants; all He had asked Israel was to revere Him and receive correction, yet they would not, and corrupted themselves (Zephaniah 3:6-7). The day would now soon come, the day on which YHWH would devour the earth with the fire of His jealousy, pouring out His wrath upon the nations and kingdoms of the world (Zephaniah 3:8).

The Day of YHWH would be terrible and catastrophic, but it would not be the end of the covenant or of God’s covenant loyalty. YHWH promised a restoration for the remnant of the humble and lowly in Israel (Zephaniah 3:9-13): the speech of the people would be made pure so as to call on YHWH and serve Him together, and all His people would return with offerings, even those beyond the rivers of Cush (modern day Sudan; Zephaniah 3:9-10). The people would no longer be put to shame by their rebellion, for God will have removed all who were proud and arrogant, and the haughty would no longer dwell on His mountain (Zephaniah 3:11). Those who remained would be humble and lowly, seeking refuge in YHWH, no longer doing injustice or speaking deceit, and would rest securely (Zephaniah 3:12-13).

Zephaniah continued to speak of God’s restoration of Israel, projecting into the future a time in which Israel and Judah would again rejoice in YHWH (Zephaniah 3:14; cf. Zephaniah 3:15-20). On that day YHWH would demonstrate His forgiveness of Israel, clearing away judgment by taking away their enemies and dwelling in their midst, and they would have no reason to be afraid (Zephaniah 3:15). On that day Israel would be strengthened to apply themselves to labor, for YHWH their God would dwell in their midst, and YHWH is a mighty God who would rejoice over His people in song, and give serenity to them in His love (Zephaniah 3:16-17). YHWH would gather the faithful remnant, those who yearned for the spiritual assemblies of the people of God, and who acutely felt the reproach of the burden Israel bore (Zephaniah 3:18). YHWH would handle those who afflicted Israel, save the lame, gather those driven away, and would make them a praise and a name, overcoming the shame they experienced throughout the earth: they would be gathered in and made a name and praise among the nations of the earth when He would bring them back from captivity (Zephaniah 3:19-20).

In this way YHWH spoke to Judah through Zephaniah. Zephaniah represented the substance of the prophetic message YHWH sent to Israel and Judah in summary: the Day of YHWH was coming against Israel and/or Judah, since they had abandoned their God and had become as the rest of the ancient Near Eastern nation-states, serving all sorts of gods, oppressing the poor and marginalized, and participating in immorality and decadence; the Day of YHWH was coming against the nations, for they had slandered and abused the people of God; after the judgment YHWH would heal His people by restoring them to their place and rejoicing in them again (Zephaniah 1:1-3:20).

The end of the message is as important as its beginning, but its purpose in its context must always be honored. YHWH was righteously indignant against Judah and the nations, and His Day of sacrifice and anger would be satisfied; but that would not be Israel’s end. YHWH would still prove loyal to His covenant and would manifest steadfast love to Israel. There would be healing and restoration. Israel would have reason to hope in YHWH, but not yet: judgment would have to come first, for the people would not return to YHWH. Israel would have to learn their lesson the hard way. It would require the complete devastation of the foundation of everything in which they believed and accepted for them to recognize the enormity of their separation from their God and what life was like when YHWH removed His presence for them and gave them over to the fate of all the nations of the world. Then, and only then, would some humble themselves and accept YHWH’s chastening, and YHWH would rejoice in them and restore them to their place.

YHWH always has a message of hope and joy for those who are downtrodden, the meek and humble of the earth, and those who have undergone His chastening and trials. The situation of the people of God is never hopeless, no matter how dire. But when the people of God live in decadence, as alienated from their God, taking comfort in such hope as if it will not involve the suffering and tribulation of the Day of YHWH is folly. Those who live according to the world but profess the God of Israel have no share in this hope of restoration and comfort; it comes only for those who look to YHWH and trust in Him!

All Zephaniah prophesied would come to pass. The Assyrians would fall to the Chaldeans; the Chaldeans would overrun Judah and Philistia; over time all the nations of the Levant would come under judgment. YHWH would again restore His people, in part in a return from the exile, but in its fullness through the work of the embodiment of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, and in the Kingdom established in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension, the fulfillment of all the hopes of restoration and reign of God nurtured and nourished by the prophets. This hope would extend not only to those in Israel according to the flesh: in Jesus God would cleanse the nations, and all from any nation who would submit to God in faith could receive adoption as sons, participate as fellow citizens among the holy ones, inherit the promise of faith in Abraham, and be reckoned among the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16, Ephesians 2:11-22). God’s justice comes in the morning: Israel suffered judgment and the remnant of the people of God find restoration in YHWH. May we share in the restoration of the remnant of God’s people, have YHWH’s justice shine on us, and obtain the resurrection of life in Jesus the Lord and Christ of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry