Transgressions and Punishments of the Nations | The Voice 8.32: August 12, 2018

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Transgressions and Punishments of the Nations

Life was good in Israel and Judah in the days of Jeroboam (II) and Uzziah. Territories lost to the Arameans had been recovered; Assyria was consumed with its own affairs. Prosperity had returned to Israel and Judah. The Israelites expected the good times to last; Israel had been made great again.

YHWH called a shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees from Judah named Amos to prophesy to the Kingdom of Israel (Amos 1:1; cf. Amos 7:14-15). He was not a prophet or a son of a prophet, yet he proved faithful to his calling.

YHWH roared from Zion and uttered His voice from Jerusalem, and the land withered (Amos 1:2). YHWH was the creator of heaven and earth; if He spoke a word of condemnation against a nation, it would come to pass. And so Amos began to prophesy against the nations surrounding Israel according to a pattern: for three transgressions and for four YHWH would not revoke the punishment (e.g. Amos 1:3, 6, etc.). Amos did not contradict himself; the trope indicated fullness, perhaps even overabundance, of sinfulness on the part of the nations, and thus the justice inherent in YHWH’s punishment of them.

Damascus, representing the Arameans, were the first indicted: they had devastated Gilead, Israelite territory, and the Arameans would themselves be devastated and lost (Amos 1:3-5). Gaza, representing the Philistines, and Tyre, representing the Philistines, had delivered up an entire people to the Edomites; fire would consume their cities and their rulers would be cut off (Amos 1:6-10). The Edomites come under condemnation for having attacked his brother, the Israelites, and maintained anger against him; fire would consume them as well (Amos 1:11-12). The Ammonites, like the Arameans, made incursions into Gilead, and slaughtered pregnant women; their cities will be devoured and their king exiled (Amos 1:13-15). The Moabites are indicted for their vile treatment of the king of Edom; they also will suffer fire and devastation (Amos 2:1-3).

So far all of the Israelites who would have heard Amos would have had no difficulties with anything he had said. They would all assent to YHWH’s care and provision for His people and the justice involved in the nations around them getting their just deserts for their mistreatment of the people of God.

But then the condemnation came for Judah: they rejected the Law of YHWH and followed the vanities of their fathers, and fire would come for their cities (Amos 2:4-5).

And now the moment of truth and indictment had come. If the Israelites had thought justice coming for the nations was good and right, then they had better be ready to endure the judgment YHWH would pronounce on them. YHWH would not revoke the punishment of Israel for its transgressions, either (Amos 2:6)!

Amos decried how the righteous were sold for silver, most likely a reference to rampant bribing of judges or other officials to pervert justice (Amos 2:6). Amos was deeply concerned regarding the treatment of the poor: the needy were sold for a pair of sandals, representing a paltry sum, the head of the poor were trampled, and the afflicted were turned aside, all no doubt in the pursuit of greater gain (Amos 2:6-7; cf. Genesis 14:23, Leviticus 25:39-46). Many among the wealthy had gained their wealth at the expense of the poor; soon all their wealth would be consumed and taken away.

Amos condemned the shocking immorality present in Israel: a man and his father would go into the same girl, profaning the holy name of YHWH, perhaps a reference to Israel’s participation in Canaanite religious rituals, or an indication of the level of sexual licentiousness among the people (Amos 2:7; cf. Deuteronomy 23:17). Amos envisioned the Israelites laying down next to altars on garments taken by pledge and drinking wine in the house of their God purchased with the fines of the poor: they likely presumed themselves to be the chosen people of God, and their wealth demonstrating YHWH’s favor, when in reality they were committing terrible sacrilege and heaping up iniquity for the day of judgment (Amos 2:8).

All of Israel’s prosperity depended on their position in the land and the favor of their God: it had been YHWH, after all, who had removed the strong Amorites from the land, and had brought Israel out of Egypt when they had been slaves (Amos 2:9-10). YHWH raised up prophets and Nazirites in the land, and yet the Israelites did not want to hear the message of the prophets, and forced the Nazirites to drink wine, breaking their vows (Amos 2:11-12; cf. Genesis 15:16, Numbers 6:1-21, 13:32, Joshua 10:1-27, 24:11).

All of this iniquity and presumption could no longer stand. The day of YHWH would come swiftly. YHWH would press Israel down in its own land: all of the mighty men would lose their strength, their ability, and the best of them would flee away naked on that terrible day (Amos 2:13-16).

While we might hope that some Israelites were convicted by Amos’ message, the historical record would indicate most would have tuned him out once he turned to indict Israel. Judgment for everyone else was expected; surely YHWH would not turn against His own people! And yet, within a generation, Israel would be devastated by Assyria, and all Amos said regarding the Kingdom of Israel would come to pass.

God sees the transgressions of the nations; He will hold them all to account in judgment. The people of God throughout time have taken comfort in God’s vengeance against those who work iniquity, especially those who persecute the people of God. And yet, as Peter reminds us, judgment begins at the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). If God will hold those in the world to account for their oppression of the people of God, what will He do to the people of God who oppress others, or, God forbid, one another? If God will condemn the nations for sexual immorality, what will He do to the people of God who have flagrantly committed sexual immorality? Yes, the day of judgment will come against all who commit iniquity; yet God will show no partiality.

Yet how will the people of God today respond? As in the days of Amos, so today: messages condemning the iniquity of the nations prove popular. But what happens when that same message is turned toward the people of God and their iniquity? Will we scoff as Israel did? Then we will reap the same condemnation as Israel. May we learn from the example of our ancestors in the faith and turn away from our iniquity and sin, repenting in lament, and seek to follow all God has established in Christ so we may obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Rest | The Voice 8.31: August 05, 2018

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God is the Creator and Designer of mankind, making him in His image; God rested after His works, and has made man to rest as well. Rest cannot be made into a privilege; it ought to be a right.

From the beginning God has established rest as a part of work and creativity. On the seventh day, having made everything in heaven and on earth in six days, the Genesis author says God “finished” His work by resting (Genesis 2:2). God’s day of rest was not divorced from His days of work; to say God created everything in six days is to miss the important element of rest in the work of creation. God created all things and enjoyed rest afterward; so it should be for humanity made in His image.

God’s work in creation would become the model for Israelites and their work: they would expend themselves in labor six days and rest on the seventh, the Sabbath, as a time of refreshment (Genesis 2:3, Exodus 31:15-17, Leviticus 23:3). Their rest was part of the fruit of their labor; it was not to be divorced from their labor. The Sabbath rest was not merely for the nobility and the wealthy; it was for everyone, including servants and farm animals (Exodus 31:15, 34:21, Deuteronomy 5:14). Even the land itself was to enjoy a Sabbath rest each seventh year (Leviticus 25:1-7)! All of the creation testifies to the need for rest.

When we think of rest we generally think of sleep or relaxation. Rest involves these things but also the kind of liberty and freedom which allows for them. Rest is its own form of liberation, and Israel was to maintain cycles of liberation along with rest. After each seventh land Sabbath, or every 50th year, Israel was to proclaim a Jubilee, releasing fellow Israelites from debts and enslavement (Leviticus 25:8-22). The Sabbath was therefore not just about resting from labor; the Sabbath also commemorates liberation from bondage, the ability to enjoy true rest without fear, and so God intended for Israel to allow all of their people to enjoy it (cf. Deuteronomy 5:13-15).

Jesus of Nazareth, as the Lord of the Sabbath, is the Lord of rest (Mark 2:28). In His day the Pharisees had turned the Sabbath into a burden in their attempt to delineate what was considered “work” from what was acceptable on the day of rest; they were indignant when Jesus would heal on the Sabbath, since they considered that “work” (cf. Luke 13:15). Yet Jesus was not cowed by them; He understood that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, and it was to provide release as well as rest and relaxation (Luke 13:15-17). In truth Jesus came to provide all mankind with the ultimate hope of rest and release, to no longer be burdened with the despair of sin and death (cf. Matthew 11:28-30, Romans 8:1-7).

When the subject of the Sabbath rest is discussed, most Christians tend to think of it in terms of its strict regulations in Judaism, or perhaps in terms of disputations within Christendom regarding whether Christians must observe the Sabbath or not. The Apostle Paul spoke clearly: Christians from the nations are not bound to observe the Jewish Sabbath, and if they do, it may reflect apostasy from the Gospel of Jesus (cf. Galatians 1:6-5:16, Colossians 2:14-18). The author of the letter to the Hebrews meditated on the meaning of Psalm 95:11 in light of Genesis 2:1-4 and discerned how the Jewish Sabbath was a type, or shadow, of the rest from all labors which God will give to those who have followed Him, and exhorted Christians to give diligence so as to enter this ultimate rest (Hebrews 4:1-11).

Christians are not bound to observe the Jewish Sabbath on the seventh day; and yet Christians also should not look at rest as a burden, obligation, or something which might endanger their souls. Christians must strive toward faithful obedience to the Lord Jesus to obtain the ultimate rest (Hebrews 4:1-11), but Christians do poorly if they neglect their built-in need for times of rest and refreshment. The nature of the creation has not changed; the nature of mankind has not changed. We still need times of rest, relaxation, and the freedoms which allow them to flourish.

Christians in the Western world not only live in a culture starving for rest but perpetuate the difficulty among themselves. Much has been made of the proverbs warning the sluggard and the lazy (cf. Proverbs 6:6-11), but precious little is made of the need for rest built into work and labor as seen from the beginning (Genesis 2:1-4). We are always “busy,” and we are afraid that if we are ever seen as not sufficiently working or active, we will be considered to be the lazy one and the sluggard, and no longer worthy of being named among the saints. People these days pride themselves on how many hours they work: it is the new status symbol.

We do well to heed the warnings given to the lazy and the sluggard; we ought to labor and make a living in peace (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). Yet we must also call out our culture’s tendency toward workaholism and oppression for what they are. Demanding work without rest from oneself or others is a form of slavery and is contrary to the purposes of God in the creation. Humans need rest in sleep; without it their functioning is severely impaired. Humans also need time off from work to recharge and refresh; they prove more creative, resilient, and productive when they enjoy such rest. Work was given for humans to do; humans were made for more than work. All humans, as children of God, should be free to pursue their own interests and desires in times of rest and refreshment as part of the fruit of their labors to support themselves and their families.

Rest should never become a “four letter word” among the people of God. If God rested from His work and enjoyed the fruit of His labor in creating the heavens and the earth, so people ought to take time, and be given the opportunity to take time, to enjoy the fruit of their labors. May we labor in the Lord’s vineyard diligently, take the necessary time for rest and refreshment, and strive to obtain eternal rest in the Lord Jesus in the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

4 Ezra | The Voice 8.30: July 29, 2018

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4 Ezra

The severity of the blow of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 CE to Israel is hard to overstate. How could YHWH have yet again delivered His people over to their enemies? Why would He allow His holy places to be again trampled by the uncircumcised? In the late first century CE an Israelite sought to understand this destruction of Jerusalem in terms of the first destruction of Jerusalem and in apocalyptic terms. The result is now called 4 Ezra.

4 Ezra claimed to have been written by Ezra the scribe of the Persian period, but the work is universally understood to be pseudepigraphal, written instead in the late first century CE. 4 Ezra seems to have been originally composed in Hebrew but then translated into Greek; from the Greek it was translated into many languages. 4 Ezra has been best preserved in Latin, but exists in Syriac, Ethiopic, Georgian, Armenian, and two Arabic translations as well. “4 Ezra” is the conventional name for the work among scholars, and it is known by different names in different editions. In antiquity it was sometimes referred to as the Apocalypse of Ezra; “4 Ezra” derived from the Clementine Vulgate, in which Ezra was 1 Esdras (Esdras is Ezra in Greek), Nehemiah was 2 Esdras, the work now known as 1 Esdras in many versions of the Apocrypha but 2 Esdras in the Septuagint was 3 Esdras, and our current text was known as 4 Esdras. It was known to some early Christians as 3 Esdras; in many editions of the Apocrypha today 4 Ezra is called 2 Esdras. If this were not confusing enough, the first and last two chapters of 4 Ezra are generally recognized to be later Christian interpolations, and thus called 5 Ezra (= 4 Ezra 1:1-2:48) and 6 Ezra (= 4 Ezra 15:1-16:78). 4 Ezra was held as inspired only among certain Ethiopic Orthodox; it was declared in the Roman Catholic Church to be “tritocanonical,” often found as an appendix to the New Testament. 4 Ezra represents a series of visions with revelations designed to work Israel through their questioning of God and ultimately to provide comfort after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in terms of the first destruction by the Babylonians; Christians throughout time have found the work compelling, which explains its presence in the Latin Vulgate and existence in translation in many other languages.

4 Ezra 3:1-14:48 contains a series of seven visions “Ezra” received from God and interpreted by angelic intermediaries, most often Uriel. In the first vision, “Ezra” was deeply distressed at the desolation of Zion and the wealth of Babylon: he rehearsed Israel’s history to David and Solomon, recognizing the sins of the people, but wondering how God could destroy His elect nation but allow their oppressors to prosper (4 Ezra 3:1-36). In the second vision, “Ezra” was again distressed: this time he insinuated that YHWH should have punished Jerusalem Himself and should not have handed it over to Babylon (4 Ezra 5:21-30). The third time “Ezra” described the order of creation and asked why God’s people do not stand in possession of all of it (4 Ezra 6:37-59). With each complaint Uriel would come and remind “Ezra” of God’s great power and purposes which are beyond “Ezra’s” ability to understand, and assured “Ezra” of God’s coming judgment of the nations and restoration of Israel under the Messiah (4 Ezra 4:1-5:20, 5:31-6:36, 7:1-9:25). Toward the end of the third vision “Ezra” experienced a “conversion moment” in which he gave thanks to God for His blessings and trusted in His ultimate goodness and justice (4 Ezra 4:8-36).

“Ezra’s” last four visions better reflect the apocalyptic genre. In the fourth vision “Ezra” saw a woman whose child was killed; he upbraided her for her concern about the one child when Zion had been bereft of so many more; she suddenly turned into a city, and Uriel explained to “Ezra” how the woman was the city Zion, and he was commended for his humility and faith (4 Ezra 9:26-10:59). In the fifth vision “Ezra” saw an eagle which ruled over the earth but then destroyed after a rebuke from a lion; “Ezra” is then given its explanation: the eagle is the fourth empire of which Daniel had envisioned (cf. Daniel 2:36-44, 7:1-14), and its specifics point to the reign of Domitian as the time of authorship; the lion is the Messiah who would lay low the Roman menace (4 Ezra 11:1-12:51). In the sixth vision “Ezra” perceived a man coming from the sea breathing fire on those who made war on him but proved peaceable to those who accepted him; it was explained to “Ezra” how the man was the Son of God, the Messiah, who would make war on those who would reject him but lead peaceably those from the northern tribes of Israel who had gone afar off and maintained the Law of Moses whom the Messiah would gather to himself (4 Ezra 13:1-58). In the seventh vision “Ezra” is told to spend forty days with selected scribes to write down all he has seen to make them known and give understanding to the people, and he did so (4 Ezra 14:1-48).

We can see why many would find 4 Ezra compelling; many people ask the same questions as “Ezra” did in the wake of great tragedy or catastrophe, and even if uninspired, the answers have strong parallels in the books of Job and Lamentations. In 4 Ezra we see the prevalence of apocalyptic language and imagery to address how God interacts with the world, and many of its images find parallels in the Revelation given to John by God in Christ. 4 Ezra speaks of “Gehenna” as a place of torment, as hell, in 4 Ezra 7:36, consistent with Jesus’ use of the term in Matthew 5:22, 29-30, etc.

As Christians we understand that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah to Israel, rejected by most of His people, and who thus prophesied the desolation and fall of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37-24:36). We thus believe the author of 4 Ezra to be misguided about his expectations of another Messiah for Israel, and wished he had perceived how Jesus fulfilled all which had been written. And yet early Christians are the ones who preserved and read 4 Ezra; its effect in Judaism can barely be perceived. We also can find ways to appreciate the difficulties with which the author of 4 Ezra is grappling, and perhaps gain something from his meditations on the subject. May we put our trust in God in Christ and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Works Consulted

Stone, Michael and Henze, Matthias. 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2013.

Bible Translations VII | The Voice 8.29: July 22, 2018

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Bible Translations, VII: Which Bible Is Best for You?

We began an exploration into the Bible in English by sympathizing with the modern English reader in regards to the alphabet soup of Bible translations and versions which exist today. We have come to a better understanding of why so many different Bible translations and versions exist and what motivated their publication. We are now in a better position to consider the question which confronts every modern English reader of the Bible: which translation or version is best for me?

Having explored the history of Bible translations and versions in English, we can maintain confidence that most Bibles in English do reasonably well at reflecting the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of the Old and New Testaments. Discoveries and research over the past couple of hundred years has led to greater understanding of the Biblical text and more accurate translations and versions.

The King James Version and New King James Version (KJV/NKJV) remain very popular Bibles until today, and for good reason: the King James Version was the Bible in English for almost three hundred years. Many continue to appreciate the sound and texture of the Elizabethan English used in its translation. One can certainly gain an understanding of the Gospel from the King James Version; it is not a problematic translation in its own right. There are many who wish to elevate the King James Version to a place it was not given by God, Jesus, or even its translators: it is not uniquely inspired, but represents the best efforts of scholarship as of 1611. Since then we have learned much about the text of the Bible and the cultures represented therein, and we as Christians do well to benefit from that learning and not close ourselves off from it. Furthermore, we have no reason to believe God gives special commendation to anyone for making Bible reading and study a greater challenge by reading from a version using language challenging to understand; to the contrary, God always communicated to the people in the common vernacular of the day.

The revisions of the King James Version in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries have produced excellent versions which attempt to faithfully translate the original into understandable English. They maintain the strength of the tradition of the King James Version without the archaic language and take into account the discoveries and insights gained over the past two hundred years. To this end the reader of the Bible in English does well to be at least acquainted with the American Standard Version (ASV), Revised Standard Version (RSV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and the English Standard Version (ESV). The NASB and ESV are especially recommended as primary Bibles for reading, studying, preaching, and/or teaching.

The past 50 years have seen a proliferation of dynamic equivalence translations, versions which seek to provide a “thought-for-thought” translation to help the reader understand the author’s primary purpose in the text. Paraphrases represent the extreme of this trend; on the other side, literal versions seek to render the text with as little translation as possible.

Dynamic equivalence translations may help a person new to the Bible to better navigate and negotiate the text; they also can challenge the more mature Bible student in how they understand the text. There is a place for dynamic equivalence translations, as well as for literal versions, but they should not become one’s primary way of approaching the Word of God in English. Too many nuances get lost in translation; the inferences a reader would build on the basis of a reading in a dynamic equivalence translation may not be sustainable in light of the specific wording of the original text.

Bible translation remains an art, and not a science, for good reason: every translation must balance two equally important imperatives. The translation must accurately reflect the wording and substance of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek; the translation must also convey that wording and substance in a way which the modern English reader can grasp and understand with as little confusion and distortion as possible. Anyone who insists on one imperative without the other is missing an important dimension to the work of communicating the Word of God in the 21st century. Disagreement can, and does, exist regarding specific translation choices and whether to translate a given verse or passage so as to emphasize original wording or primary intended meaning; no one, even translators, are entirely free from confessional or doctrinal bias. Nevertheless, on the whole, to suggest whole Bible versions are Satanically inspired or doctrinally compromised is presumptuous and unwarranted. With the exception of certain versions (the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular), translations of the text are mostly defensible, even if a reader might be uncomfortable with its implications or with inferences a person may draw from them. Accusations of bad faith are generally unwarranted.

Ironically, in the end, the initial question proves somewhat problematic, for there is no one translation or version in English which ought to be considered the best in all respects and which ought to have a corner on the market. Bible students have their favorite versions, and often for good reasons; yet honest Bible students will admit the weaknesses of their favorite version and will have no difficulty commending another version for having a superior reading. At other times it may not even be a matter of superior or inferior: sometimes different versions will translate so as to bring out different nuances or approach the same text in different yet mutually beneficial and enhancing ways.

Bible readers in English do well to learn to appreciate and value the treasure trove of resources at their disposal. They can learn to benefit from all the different ways the text of the Bible have been translated and conveyed into English. They do well to choose a version like the English Standard Version (ESV) or New American Standard Bible (NASB) as primary, but also can benefit from exploring readings in all sorts of versions to come to the best possible understanding of what God has made known in Scripture. Modern Bible software like Accordance, Logos, and e-Sword allow the Bible student immediate access to many versions to this end.

God intends for readers of modern English to come to an understanding of His Word and be saved; most modern English translations and versions can be used to this end in some way or another. May we dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of the truth of God in Christ and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and God the Father | The Voice 8.28: July 15, 2018

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The Christian and God the Father

Christians recognize and confess God as One in Three Persons according to what has been made known in Scripture: God the Father, God the Son (the Lord Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit (John 1:1, 14, Colossians 2:8-9). The members of the Godhead exist as distinct “personalities” (John 8:16-18), yet remain perfectly one in nature, purpose, will, and intention: in a word, one in relational unity (John 17:20-23). YHWH, the Creator God of Israel, is One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perfect unity (Genesis 1:26-27, Deuteronomy 6:4-6, John 8:58).

The triune nature of the Godhead is indeed a divine mystery, a matter we take by faith based on what God has made known about Himself. Such an understanding has always proven controversial; contentions regarding the nature of God consumed Christendom for its first half millennium, and to this day the triune reality of God is not well grasped by many.

Christians must be careful lest they make too much of the distinctions among the members of the Godhead; God’s unity remains a profound element of His nature, so much so that the Scriptures speak of God in the third person singular even though He is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, there is danger in the opposite extreme as well in entirely conflating the Three Persons of the Godhead. Jesus Himself, as well as the authors of the New Testament, found profit in speaking of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; we therefore also do well to explore the Scriptures to see how we as Christians should relate to each member of the Godhead.

The danger of conflation is nowhere more apparent than with God the Father. Far too often discussions of “God” only involve understanding the triune nature of the Godhead; Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit get described in greater detail as distinct “personalities” while the Father is neglected. While Christians have good reason to refer to the whole Godhead as God, New Testament authors tend to refer specifically to the Father when they speak of God (e.g. Romans 1:1, 7).

Such conflation is understandable: most of what we imagine regarding God in general is specifically true of God the Father. God the Father is the Creator of heaven and earth, having spoken all things into existence by His Word (Genesis 1:1-2:3, Psalm 33:6-7, John 1:1-3). God the Father has all authority; any authority which exists is empowered by God the Father (Romans 13:1; cf. Matthew 28:18-19). God the Father has communicated His Word to mankind by the Spirit through the prophets and in Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Furthermore, God the Father is not only spirit but also ineffable and literally inconceivable: as YHWH, the Existent One, no image can be fashioned which looks like Him, because no man has or could see Him as He is (John 4:24; Exodus 20:1-5, John 1:18, 6:46). Thus, whatever image we may have of God the Father in our minds inevitably proves wrong, and as humans, it is hard to identify with something or someone of whom you have difficulty mentally conceiving. And yet we are given assurances that Jesus is the express image of God, the imprint of His character; if we have seen Jesus, we have seen the essential character and nature of God (John 14:6-9, Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). Indeed, Jesus represents the great testimony of God the Father’s love, grace, and mercy: the Father sent the Son into the world to redeem it by His death and resurrection, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves (John 3:16, Romans 5:6-11).

While the Father may seem more remote than the Son or the Spirit, He need not be; the Scriptures have made His desire for relational unity with humanity well-known (John 17:20-23, Acts 17:26-31). The great revelation we obtain from Jesus involves recognizing God as our heavenly Father: a loving parent, not a cantankerous curmudgeon (e.g. Matthew 6:8, 9, 14). God is our Father because we are His offspring, made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27, Acts 17:28). God was under no compulsion to save us or care for us at all, and yet He gives good gifts to all mankind, and especially those who seek His purposes through His Son (Acts 14:17, Romans 8:31-32, James 1:17). God wants to hear from us truly and sincerely, as a parent loves to receive a word from his child (1 Peter 5:7). We are invited to see the Father in the tender portrayal of the father of the prodigal son and his older brother in Luke 15:11-32, full of compassion and mercy, welcoming all those who have grown weary of sin, darkness, and death, and gently (or, at times, not so gently) rebuking those who have considered righteousness their birthright. Having God as our Father ought to elevate our understanding of ourselves as human beings: we are of great value and we ought to act with integrity and dignity, seeking righteousness and holiness as He is righteous and holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Yet even as God is our Father, He is also seen as our Master, and we are His servants (Luke 17:7-10). We are the creation; He is our Creator; it is not for us to answer back to Him, but to heed what He says and do it (cf. Romans 9:19-21). God would rather be the kindly Father, but also warns that He will come in judgment against all unrighteousness and iniquity (Romans 1:18-20, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, 1 Peter 1:17-20). God is full of love, grace, and mercy; and yet He is also holy, righteous, and just!

We must resist drawing the wrong conclusions from the images of God as Father and God as Master: we are not entitled to salvation as a child would be entitled to his or her inheritance, and God is no oppressive taskmaster or tyrant. Instead, we ought to have the relational intimacy with God as a child does with a parent while proving willing to serve God as a benevolent Master.

From before the beginning until after the end, there is God (Genesis 1:1, Revelation 21:1-22:6). When it is all said and done, God will dwell in the midst of His people forever (Revelation 21:1-11). God the Father made us to love Him as He loves the Son, the Spirit, and us; in this life the Christian is to learn, grow, and mature so as to want God Himself, proving no longer satisfied merely with what God gives. Christians enjoy the great privilege of getting to know God the Father; we will spend eternity in His presence, basking in His light and love. May we draw near to God the Father through the Son and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Judgment Redounds upon the Nations | The Voice 8.27: July 08, 2018

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Judgment Redounds upon the Nations

The prophet Joel had forecast a message of doom and despair for Judah and Jerusalem: a terrible plague of locusts of historic proportions (Joel 1:1-2:27). Whether the locusts were actual insects sent to ravage the land or a way of describing the Assyrian host is contested; even if Joel spoke of locusts, we know the Assyrian, and then the Babylonian, would overrun Judah as judgments from YHWH (cf. 2 Kings 18:13-19:37, 25:1-26). In those days Judah and Jerusalem would be brought low; the nations would vaunt against her.

Yet Joel did not leave Judah and Jerusalem destitute: he spoke of a promised day when YHWH would pour out His Spirit upon the remnant which would be saved (Joel 2:28-32). These days would be fully manifest after the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Acts 2:14-39).

Joel continued by extending more hope for the vindication of Israel in Joel 3:1-21. YHWH promised to bring all the nations together into the “Valley of Jehoshaphat,” perhaps better “valley where YHWH judges,” in order to exercise judgment against the nations for scattering the people of God throughout their lands, enslaving others, and selling still more (Joel 3:1-3). Tyre, Sidon, and Philistia received special mention for having taken the resources of Israel and selling Judahite captives to the Greeks in order to depopulate them from the land: YHWH would recompense them on their own heads, and they would be sold into slavery (Joel 3:4-8).

Joel envisioned the judgment scene as it would play out: the nations would be summoned for war. In a reversal of Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3, the nations are called to beat their plowshares into swords and pruning hooks into spears so as to come and fight (Joel 3:9-10). All the nations would come together for judgment, and YHWH would reap the harvest and tread the winepress of their wickedness (Joel 3:11-13). The sun and moon would be darkened on the day of the valley of decision; the heavens and earth would shake from the roar of YHWH when He would prove a refuge to His people, a stronghold to Israel (Joel 3:14-16).

In this way Israel would recognize YHWH as their God in Zion: Jerusalem would be holy, and no stranger would live there (Joel 3:17). The land would produce wine, milk, and water, while Egypt and Edom will become desolations for what they have done to the Judahites in shedding blood (Joel 3:18-19). Judah and Jerusalem would abide forever, for YHWH would cleanse them, dwelling in Zion (Joel 3:20-21).

The conclusion of Joel’s recorded prophetic message underscored YHWH’s concern for His people. Yes, He would be compelled to judge them; yes, they would be laid low in the endeavor, and for a time, the nations would gloat and exalt over Israel and YHWH. Yet they would not get the last word; they would be gathered for judgment, and they would be held accountable for what they had done. God would vindicate His people. Jerusalem and Judah would be in distress, but only for a time; the day of the valley of decision would draw near. Even though His people often proved faithless and required the sharp blow of His justice, YHWH never abandoned or gave up on them or His purposes for them. There would be a time of restoration.

Images based in Joel 3:1-21 would arise in the Revelation given to John. John would see the one like a Son of Man reap the earth; an angel would then reap the grape harvest, and it would be trodden in the winepress of the wrath of God, and blood would flow for miles (Revelation 14:14-20). John would see the nations gathered for battle against the Lord of lords and King of kings at “Armageddon,” and the Lord Jesus would overcome them with the sword proceeding from His mouth, the Word of God (Revelation 16:12-16, 19:11-21).

If we look to the history books to find some grand judgmental event somewhere in the Levant we will be disappointed. If we thus project this event into the future we would miss the point. The judgment may not have concretely taken place in a particular valley in Jewish territory, but YHWH absolutely judged those who plundered His people. Assyria was overrun in a moment by the Medes and Babylonians, just as Nahum prophesied. Babylon would fall to the Persians and ultimately become a ruin: a backwater of little consequence in the days of Jesus of Nazareth, and completely forgotten until rediscovered by Europeans professing the God of Israel in the 19th century. Edom would be conquered by the Jews under John Hyrcanus and compelled to convert to Judaism. Tyre and Sidon would lose their independence to the Persians, Macedonians, and Romans in turn. Israel would suffer another Day of YHWH and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 CE; the Romans, after suffering wave after wave of tragedy, would ultimately profess Christ, and their Empire would be no more.

The people of God have much to gain from Joel’s prophecies in Joel 3:1-21. Perhaps there are times when God judges His people, or allows His people to suffer tragedy, humiliation, and loss. In those days the enemies of God’s people gloat and exalt, presuming their gods or they by their strength have conquered. Yet God will have the last laugh; whatever they imposed upon the people of God will redound back to them. As they represented the poured out wrath of God, so they will drain the dregs of the cup of the wrath of God. God may have to chastise and judge His people, but He does not give up on them or His purposes in them. May we serve God in Christ to obtain the resurrection, finding cleansing in Jesus!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Suicide | The Voice 8.26: July 01, 2018

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The news seems to come at an unrelenting pace: yet another person has taken their own life. Sometimes it is a teenager who would seem to have their whole life in front of them but felt as if he or she could no longer handle the pressures of life. Sometimes it is a celebrity who had fame and fortune but proved haunted by feelings of inadequacy and/or profound pain. Whether old or young, rich or poor, suicide is a terrible tragedy: for some reason or another a person has not found value in this life, and family members and friends are left to grieve and wonder how it all went so horribly wrong.

In modern Western culture, suicide is still seen as a shameful thing, a devaluation of the gift of life; in some religions, and even within “Christendom,” it is reckoned as a “mortal sin.” Suicide is against the law in much of the United States; granted, those who successfully commit the act cannot be prosecuted, but even the attempt is unlawful. For these and many other reasons suicide was one of the unmentionable things; families who suffered the loss of a family member to suicide are further burdened by shame, internally and externally.

One might expect the Bible to provide explicit and thorough condemnation of suicide; it may come as a surprise to find out this is not the case. King Saul of Israel fell on his sword to die once he was injured so that the Philistines could not get the glory of torturing and killing him; his armorbearer did the same once Saul was dead (1 Samuel 31:5-6). The Roman jailer in Philippi, presuming the prisoners all escaped after an earthquake, prepared to kill himself, since it was more honorable for a Roman soldier to take his own life in such a circumstance rather than face corporal punishment (Acts 16:27). These examples reflect ancient attitudes regarding suicide: at times it was a more honorable way of dying than being executed.

And yet, on the other hand, the New Testament presumes a level of self-interest and self-care. Paul would have the Philippian Christians look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). Paul rightly emphasized the need for concern regarding the welfare of others, but we do well to note that he assumed the Philippians will give at least some consideration to their own interest as well. In his instruction to husbands in Ephesians 5:28-30 Paul assumed self-love: a man is to love his wife as his own flesh, since no one hates their own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it. While we might look for the exception to the rule, Paul’s rule does reflect reality: in the absence of some mitigating factor, people automatically take care of their own bodies and its basic needs.

God has not only given us life but has also extended hope of life for eternity in the resurrection; death is the enemy, not a friend (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). Nevertheless, there is no blanket condemnation of those who commit suicide in Scripture; neither is there commendation or justification for it. As Christians we therefore do well to avoid any kind of blanket condemnation or justification of suicide; God, in His holiness, righteousness, love, and mercy, will render judgment (Romans 14:10-12, James 4:11-12). The reasons for suicide, after all, are legion. Some believe they are sacrificing themselves for a greater cause and die as “martyrs” while killing others; others murder people and kill themselves as well in order to avoid earthly consequences for their behavior. Some commit suicide as an attempt to “get back” at or hurt other people; others do so to escape shame or consequences of immoral behavior or personal failures. And then there are some who feel driven to suicide by relentless bullying and harassment by others. Many who feel driven to suicide experience forms of mental illness, especially depression. Few would expect much mercy to be shown to those who commit suicide for the earlier reasons; we hope many of the last find mercy, for they were not in their right mind when they acted as they did, and perhaps will be accounted as those who suffered from physical illnesses. We thus do well to trust in God and His judgment in such matters.

Suicide, no matter the reason or justification for the act, leaves tragedy and suffering in its wake. Family, friends, and other loved ones are left to grapple with the hole left in their lives from the loss of a loved one. Those who have lost family or friends to suicide ought to have our compassion, love, and care. We should grieve and mourn with them. Suicide can be the tragic action of a person not in his or her right mind and yet still a selfish act at the same time. May God comfort, strengthen, and sustain all those who bear the grief of the loss of a loved one by suicide.

We do well to not extend judgmentalism toward others in depressed circumstances but love, compassion, and mercy. People are starved for human contact and kindness; many just want to know someone cares for them. As followers of the Lord Jesus we ought to be that person who shows that love and care!

Perhaps you are contemplating suicide. You may be convinced that no one loves you and there is no reason to continue with life. Please do not listen to those voices inside your head. They are damnable lies. God loves you; He has sent His Son to die for you; He desires for you to spend eternity with Him in the resurrection (John 3:16). We love you as a fellow human being given the gift of life; you are as precious in the sight of God as any one of us (Galatians 3:28, 1 Timothy 2:4). Please reach out to us so we can talk and be of any service we can without judgment. Please call 1-800-273-8255; they also can help you at this difficult time in your life. May we all find hope in Christ and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Bible Translations VI | The Voice 8.25: June 24, 2018

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Bible Translations, VI: Literal Versions and Paraphrases

The Bible was written between 1,900 and 3,500 years ago in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek; in America today we speak and read in modern English. The Bible, therefore, reflects a different time and in many ways a different world than our own. Every Bible translator is confronted with a large task: how to render the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts in such a way as to faithfully represent what was written yet in a way which can be readily understood by the modern English reader. Most translators and revisers have attempted to strike a balance between faithfulness and comprehension; some will tend to favor a bit more faithfulness over comprehension (as in formal equivalence, or “word for word” translations), and others more recently have also begun to favor comprehension a bit over faithfulness (dynamic equivalence, or “thought for thought” translations). Some translators, however, have produced translations and versions which completely privilege one over the other: those who favor faithfulness fully over comprehension have produced literal versions, and those who favor comprehension over faithfulness have produced paraphrases.

The goal of literal versions is to render the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into English with the least amount of alteration as possible, so that the reader might get a feel for the original. The American Standard Version at times functions as a literal version; literal versions have been produced by Robert Young (1862), John Darby (1890), and Jay Green (Literal Translation of the Bible, or LITV; 1985). Recently the Modern Literal Version (MLV) has also been completed. All of these editions rely on the Textus Receptus or Majority Text for the New Testament and the Masoretic Text (MT) for the Old Testament; in the latter the literal format does not lend itself well to variants derived from the translations.

Literal translations have a heritage in much of the Greek Septuagint (LXX), infamous for maintaining Hebrew sentence structure and even idiomatic phraseology in much of the text. Yet it can be argued that Greek translators of the Hebrew text were primarily translating for fellow Israelites who would have maintained some familiarity with Hebrew or Aramaic.

Many literal translations do accomplish their purpose: they often render the text in barely translated English. For students of ancient languages these versions can help them work through translation issues; those not familiar with ancient languages can quickly see the types of challenges which translators face.

Nevertheless literal translations are a bit of a misnomer, for most literal translations are not 100% literal. Many idiomatic phrases or grammatical constructions are fully translated and not left as is. Many times a truly “literal” translation would be so incoherent in English as to be barely comprehensible; the translators have been forced to flesh out the text’s meaning to make at least some sense in English. One can use Bible software to compare how the different “literal” versions will render a given verse or passage and can see many differences which exist.

On the other end of the spectrum, the goal of paraphrases is to capture the meaning of the Biblical text into English with less concern regarding the constraints of the wording derived from the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. The most popular paraphrase of today is Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Many of the “dynamic equivalence” translations reach paraphrase level, like the Bible in Basic English (BBE), Common English Bible (CEB), Today’s English Version (TEV), The Living Bible, and The Voice.

Many cast aspersions on paraphrases and the motivations behind them; any such work of translation, especially done by one author, will manifest certain biases. Nevertheless, paraphrases themselves have a heritage in the medieval world, let alone in the ways that the Word of God is preached and proclaimed to people for their understanding throughout history.

On the whole, paraphrases do accomplish their purpose: the primary meaning of the text is front and center and easily understood by the modern English reader, but anyone who is hearing a paraphrase read while themselves reading a formal equivalence version might wonder at times if a different book is being read! The reader might get a clear understanding of the primary meaning of a passage from a paraphrase, but he or she cannot confidently draw any conclusions or inferences based on how the paraphrase renders the text.

Both literal versions and paraphrases have their place. Literal versions can help a reader piece together information about how the text is constructed in the original; paraphrases can help a reader understand the basic message of a text and can challenge a Bible student’s comfortable framework of looking at certain words, phrases, or passages. One need not always come to agreement with the translator of a paraphrase in order to appreciate the paradigm challenge.

Nevertheless, both literal versions and paraphrases suffer from the same challenge: Bible versions which overemphasize faithfulness over meaning, or meaning over faithfulness, prove unbalanced. Literal versions and paraphrases both distort in their own unique ways: literal versions distort by not providing the reader with enough information to come to a full understanding of the text, and paraphrases by entirely masking the phrasing and words used in the original texts. For good reason most translators have sought to balance the two imperatives. Those who suggest that literal versions are by necessity the most accurate are deceived, confusing their philosophy of translation for the work of translation itself. Those who suggest that meaning is all-important are also deceived, for God has communicated in specific words, and has often taught and made arguments based on precise phrasing (e.g. Matthew 21:31-32, Hebrews 4:1-11).

Literal versions and paraphrases of the Bible, therefore, can certainly enhance the Bible student’s understanding of what God has made known in Scripture, and to that end are useful additions to their repertoire. Yet literal versions and paraphrases should not be one’s primary text or used in preaching and teaching; the work of communicating God’s purposes to mankind requires a balance of faithfulness and meaning, found better in many formal equivalence versions (e.g. ESV, NASB, N/RSV). May we come to a mature understanding of what God has made known in Christ in Scripture and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Christian and Prayer | The Voice 8.24: June 17, 2018

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The Christian and Prayer

People closely identify Christianity and Christians with prayer. And yet, if most Christians were honest, they would admit they do not participate in prayer enough. Yet Christians should be a people at prayer.

In general, prayer involves making one’s petitions before God, a practice thoroughly expected of the Christian (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Ephesians 6:18, 1 Timothy 2:8). The early church was active in prayer (Acts 12:5, 13:3). The Apostles embodied the importance of prayer; Luke took notice of their practice in Acts 4:24-31, 6:4, 16:25. Jesus Himself, even though He embodied the character of God and was God in the flesh, prayed to His Father often (Matthew 14:23, Luke 6:12, 11:1, 22:41-45, John 17:1-26).

Christians have many reasons to pray; these reasons are effectively modeled in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13 / Luke 11:2-4). Christians ought to honor God’s name and revere Him, showing proper respect in prayer conversation, and giving thanks for all the blessings with which God has blessed them in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-23, 1 Peter 2:17). Thanksgiving is important, for it contextualizes the Christian’s present difficulties in light of what God has already done and will do for them, and reinforces our hope (Colossians 3:15, 17, 4:2, 1 Peter 1:3-9). Christians should ask for God to accomplish His purposes through them and for the Kingdom of Jesus to be advanced; by necessity, Christians must seek to align themselves to the will of God in these matters, and they will need His strength to accomplish His work in the world (Ephesians 3:14-21). Christians do well to ask God for their basic necessities: God is not so preoccupied with the major issues so as to neglect our daily needs, and we should always remain cognizant of our dependence on God for all things, including the basics of life (Matthew 6:14-33, 10:29-31). Christians must not shy away from confessing their sins before God (1 John 1:9), “speaking the same thing as” what they have done, admitting wrongdoing and seeking to change their hearts and minds for the better to walk worthily of the Gospel of Christ. Christians ought to pray for strength to resist the temptations and schemes of the Evil One and of the powers and principalities over this present darkness (2 Corinthians 2:11, Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 5:8). Intercession on behalf of others for their welfare, healing, comfort, sustenance, strength, etc. are always appropriate for Christians (Ephesians 6:19, Colossians 4:3, 1 Timothy 2:1-4); we ought to do so individually and collectively (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:14-17).

Christians will pray in different contexts for different reasons. Christians should maintain robust personal prayer lives; ideally, a Christian will orient their lives around prayer, as opposed to the other way around, testifying to their dependence on God for everything (e.g. Acts 3:1, 10:9). In the assembly Christians will pray to edify one another (1 Corinthians 14:14-17, 26). At meals Christians give thanks for the food they have received for its value and nourishment to the body (1 Timothy 4:4-5). In times of decision, grief, stress, or if driven for another reason, a Christian would do well to fast along with prayer, giving extra impetus for the need to pray (Matthew 6:17-18). Some prayer times are full of words; other times are better for more contemplation or meditation.

The Lord Jesus provided many other important exhortations regarding prayer. Christians must always remember what prayer is: communication with God: it must be meaningful; it must reflect the heart; it cannot be rote or empty ritual (Matthew 6:5-8). Anyone who prays to be seen by others has their reward; God will not hear anyone because they have droned on and on (Matthew 6:5-8). We must pray with confidence that God can and will accomplish what we ask; nevertheless, we must never imagine that prayer is a “one and done” experience, for we must persist and persevere in prayer (Luke 18:1-8, John 14:13-14).

Christians must be careful lest they allow their traditions and cultural expectations regarding prayer lead them to reject what may be good and profitable or becoming sterile. There is a time and place for spontaneous, personal prayer; there is also value and wisdom in considering the prayers prayed by people of faith throughout the generations. Praying a message written by another need not be empty of meaning; the one praying must own the meaning for him or herself. For that matter, a Christian can just as easily become guilty of rote, unthinking repetition in their “own” prayer as is possible relying on the words of others. Likewise, just because a Christian happens to pray for similar things in prayer does not mean the prayer is not meaningful; just as we tend to eat similar meals over and over again, and yet still find them nourishing, so it can be with prayer.

Christians do well to offer to pray for other people, individually and collectively, for their benefit (1 Timothy 2:1-4). There is power in prayer; the offering of prayer is not nothing. We are given the impression from Revelation 8:1-5 that the “seven trumpet” judgments are inaugurated on the basis of the prayers of the saints for justice to be done on the earth. We may not always understand how God answers prayer, yet God’s work on the earth is often activated by the prayers of His people.

And yet Christians are called to more than prayer. For Christians to just offer prayer and to believe the work is done is akin to telling a person in need to be “warmed and filled” but provide nothing to relieve their necessity (cf. James 2:15-17). Christians cannot imagine themselves as passive vessels who pray and then wait for God to do whatever He is going to do; Christians are active participants in the work of the Kingdom of God in Christ, and must diligently apply themselves to the practice of the faith while continually praying for God’s direction and empowerment to complete that work (Ephesians 3:14-4:1).

Prayer remains an extremely important aspect of the Christian’s life; we must always be in contact with “headquarters” if we will remain steadfast in the Lord and in His strength (Ephesians 6:10-18). Let us pray continually for the accomplishment of the Lord’s purposes, hastening His return, and living accordingly so as to obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Spirit for the Remnant | The Voice 8.23: June 10, 2018

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The Spirit for the Remnant

Joel had warned Judah and Jerusalem about a terrible invasion which proved imminent: a horde of “locusts” unlike anything anyone had ever seen would ravage the land, leaving nothing left but mourning and lamentation (Joel 1:1-2:17). They could have been actual locusts; they could be a reference to the marauding Assyrians. Regardless the land would eventually be made desolate; Judah and Jerusalem would be ravaged and then exiled. Joel had extended hope and promise for a future day in which YHWH would restore His blessings upon Judah and Jerusalem and they would obtain all they had lost and then some (Joel 2:18-27). Yet this hope paled in comparison with the promise to come.

After these things, Joel promised, YHWH would pour out His Spirit on all His people: their sons and daughters would prophesy, their old men would have dreams and young men would see visions, and even the servants would have the Spirit of YHWH poured out on them (Joel 2:28-29). Wonders would be seen in heaven and on earth: blood, fire, smoke; the sun would become dark and the moon would be turned to blood before the great and terrible day of YHWH (Joel 2:30-31). All who would call upon YHWH on that day would be delivered; on Zion and in Jerusalem would come those who would escape on the day of trial, the remnant called by YHWH (Joel 2:32).

Joel’s prophecy has generated a lot of interest, excitement, and speculation. Most interest has focused upon the middle section and the spectacular imagery of the sun going dark, the moon turning to blood, fire, smoke, and the like. People have looked to the heavens for the fulfillment of these portrayals, expecting some sort of eclipse or grand astronomical spectacle to herald the coming of the day of YHWH. But is that what Joel’s prophecy is really about?

Joel had already spoken of the sun and moon as being darkened before the coming of the locust horde in Joel 2:10; when given the burden of Babylon, Isaiah envisioned the coming of the day of YHWH against them with the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars (Isaiah 13:9-11). Later on in Joel the image of sun, moon, and stars as darkened on the day of YHWH will reappear (Joel 3:14-15). Jesus would appropriate the imagery as He described the impending day of YHWH against Jerusalem in Matthew 24:29 and Luke 21:25-26.

The darkening of the sun, the moon turning to blood, and the presence of smoke, blood, and fire heralded the Day of YHWH. Ancient people had a tendency to understand eclipses and other astronomical signs as portending calamitous events; YHWH thus spoke of calamitous events in terms of astronomical signs. Joel had already prophesied of a Day of YHWH against Judah and Jerusalem, possibly fulfilled in a terrible pestilence of locusts, possibly fulfilled by the Assyrian horde (Joel 1:1-2:27); many prophets foretold the terrible Day of YHWH against the Northern Kingdom of Israel at the hands of Assyria and the Kingdom of Judah at the hands of Babylon (cf. Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel). They also expected a Day of YHWH against their oppressors: both Assyria and Babylon would experience their own collapse (cf. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nahum).

Amos was right: no one should look forward to a Day of YHWH; it is quite unpleasant business (Amos 5:18-20). Through pestilence, plague, famine, drought, and sword, thousands would die and many more would be displaced or cast into exile. The Day of YHWH would be YHWH’s judgment on His people or on their oppressors, and most would not remain unscathed. Only a remnant would remain; and so it would be for Israel after the ravages of Assyria and Babylon.

While the middle section of Joel’s prophecy is vivid in its portrayal, it proves consistent with similar messages within Joel’s own message and among the other prophets as well. Ultimately Joel’s promises at the beginning and end of this section prove more unique and powerfully compelling for future generations.

The remnant, those who would escape, would call upon YHWH and find deliverance in Him, finding refuge on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem; upon all of these YHWH would pour out His Spirit. Throughout the covenant between God and Israel the Spirit of YHWH had come upon only select people, generally the prophets. The situation regarding Eldad and Medad is instructive (Numbers 11:26-30): Eldad and Medad began prophesying in the camp, and when Moses was told of it, Joshua wanted Moses to forbid them, yet Moses wished that all of YHWH’s people were prophets, and YHWH would put His Spirit upon all of them. Joshua wished to uphold the status quo among the people of God; Moses yearned for all Israel to receive the Spirit of YHWH.

Through Joel YHWH gave hope; one day Moses’ desire would come to pass, and all the people of God would receive His Spirit, and find deliverance in Him. As Christians we have complete confidence regarding the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32: God accomplished it on the day of Pentecost in 33 CE, when Peter solemnly testified before Israel that the outpouring of the Spirit on the Apostles of Jesus is what Joel had prophesied (Acts 2:16-21).

The Day of YHWH would come upon Jerusalem forty years later, but its fate was sealed with Jesus’ and then Peter’s proclamation. The great transition had taken place; God had established a new covenant with Israel, and ultimately all mankind, through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:22-36, Hebrews 7:1-9:28). Jesus had set all men free from the curse of the Law and gave life in this new covenant (Romans 7:1-4, Galatians 3:10-14). Now, all who heard the Gospel of the Lord Jesus, put their trust in Him, confessed that faith, and repented of their sin could now call upon the name of the Lord in baptism and receive forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38, 22:16). In so doing they would find refuge on Zion and in Jerusalem; not the physical places in Israel, but the spiritual reality in Jesus’ Kingdom (Hebrews 12:22-24). All who were baptized into Christ were baptized into the one Spirit of God, and received the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38-39, 1 Corinthians 12:13).

Joel’s famous prophecy became reality; Moses’ great desire had come to pass. The Spirit of YHWH would not fall only on a select few; all believers would have access to God in His Spirit, the down payment and earnest of their salvation, something denied to most Israelites (2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14, 2:18-22). Thus, in Christ, all come before God with equal standing and value; all could be priests to God in Christ, all maintaining equal citizenship in His Kingdom (Galatians 3:28, Philippians 3:21, Colossians 3:11, 1 Peter 2:3-9). The old covenant was in stone; the new covenant is in the Spirit of God (2 Corinthians 3:1-18). May we all come to God in Christ, find salvation by calling on His name, and live in the Spirit of our God so as to obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry