Latest


1 Kings 14; Colossians 1; Ezekiel 44; Psalms 97-98

Oct 10, 2014 | Don Carson

1 Kings 14; Colossians 1; Ezekiel 44; Psalms 97-98

IN THE ANGLICAN BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER, Psalm 98 is known as the Cantate Domino (“Sing to the Lord”) and is placed between the evening Old Testament reading and its New Testament counterpart. It overflows with exhilarating worship and joy.

The psalm has three stanzas. The first (Ps. 98:1-3) celebrates the “salvation” of God (found in each verse). The word is perhaps more comprehensive than the way it is used today. It includes victory over enemies: this “salvation” or victory was effected by the Lord’s “right hand and his holy arm” (Ps. 98:1). But it also includes what we mean by salvation: God reconciles people to himself and transforms them by his grace. While God “has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel” (Ps. 98:3), the glorious truth is that he “has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations” (Ps. 98:2); “all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Ps. 98:3). Small wonder, then, we must sing to the Lord “a new song” (Ps. 98:1). The expression signals not so much a new composition, written for the occasion perhaps, as a fresh response to new mercies showered upon us.

The second stanza (Ps. 98:4-6) responds to the first. The first celebrates God’s coming in power and salvation, the second responds to every act of God in exhilarated worship. Indeed, because the full salvation briefly described awaits the consummation, all our acts of worship are an anticipation of the end. We “shout for joy before the LORD, the King” (Ps. 98:6) as a prelude and an announcement of the consummation of his reign. The instruments listed here were regularly used as part of temple worship (cf. 1 Chron. 16:5-6) or on joyous occasions such as the accession of a new king (e.g., 1 Kings 1:39).

If the praise of the second stanza is carefully put together in orchestrated singing, the praise of the third stanza (Ps. 98:7-9) is inarticulate. But it is no less powerful for being artless. Even now the whole universe declares the glory of God. But if various Old Testament passages anticipate a vast renewing of the created order (Ps. 96:11-13; Isa. 2; 11; 55:11-12), Paul not only anticipates the same but recognizes that the fulfillment depends on the transformation of human beings at the end: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:19-21).

View Comments

1 Kings 13; Philippians 4; Ezekiel 43; Psalms 95-96

Oct 09, 2014 | Don Carson

1 Kings 13; Philippians 4; Ezekiel 43; Psalms 95-96

ALMOST TWENTY YEARS HAVE elapsed since the visionary experience in which Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord abandoning the temple (Ezek. 10:18-22; 11:22-24). Here in Ezekiel 43:1-12 he witnesses the Lord’s return.

Numerous phrases and clauses remind us that the glory Ezekiel now sees is to be identified with the glory he first saw in the mobile throne vision in Ezekiel 1-3, and with the glory that abandoned the temple and the city in the vision of chapters 8-11. Ezekiel makes the point explicit: “The vision I saw was like the vision I had seen when he came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown” (Ezek. 43:3).

Within the symbol-structure of the vision, this means that God is manifesting himself among his people once more. They are to respond by being ashamed of their sins (Ezek. 43:10-11) and by conforming perfectly to whatever he prescribes (Ezek. 43:11).

The culmination of this vision within the book of Ezekiel is found in the last verse of the book: “And the name of the city from that time on will be: THE LORD IS THERE” (Ezek. 48:35). That is wonderful. Wherever the Lord is, is holy. “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ ” (1 Pet. 1:13-16). John saw a vision of “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2). The voice cried, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3).

We must always remember that: The Gospel is not admired in Scripture primarily because of the social transformation it effects, but because it reconciles men and women to a holy God. Its purpose is not that we might feel fulfilled, but that we might be reconciled to the living and holy God. The consummation is delightful to the transformed people of God, not simply because the environment of the new heaven and the new earth is pleasing, but because we forever live and work and worship in the unshielded radiance of the presence of our holy Maker and Redeemer. That prospect must shape how the church lives and serves, and determine the pulse of its ministry. The only alternative is high-sounding but self-serving idolatry.

View Comments

1 Kings 12; Philippians 3; Ezekiel 42; Psalm 94

Oct 08, 2014 | Don Carson

1 Kings 12; Philippians 3; Ezekiel 42; Psalm 94

THE DESCRIPTION OF THE TEMPLE (Ezek. 41) is followed by a description of rooms reserved for priests (Ezek. 42). But I shall press yesterday’s discussion a little farther and briefly discuss two more of the ways these chapters have been interpreted.

(3) Many older commentators argued that chapters 40-48 are straightforward symbols of what is fulfilled in the Christian church. There is some truth to this view. It is given impetus when one observes, for instance, that John’s vision of the holy city in Revelation is drawn in substantial part from the language of Ezekiel. But the same passages in Revelation spell the weakness of this interpretation. When John uses the language of Ezekiel (or of Daniel or some other Old Testament writer), he regularly transmutes it, or picks up its words and phrases without putting it to exactly the same use. Although John’s description of the holy city leans heavily on Ezekiel, John’s city has no temple, for the Lord God and the Lamb are its temple (Rev. 21:1-22:5). In that sense, Revelation is not a direct and immediate fulfillment of a string of symbols.

(4) It is better, but messier, to take these chapters as belonging to the borderlands of apocalyptic literature and typology. The symbolism includes numerical features; its future-orientation springs not from mere verbal prediction or simplistic symbolism, but from structures of patterns and events that point forward. We have already glimpsed this sort of thing in chapters 38-39, depicting the final battle, when God sovereignly moves to destroy all his foes. Read this way, chapters 40-48 envisage the messianic future, but in the symbolic categories of Ezekiel’s present. The temple is a kind of enactment or incarnation of the presence and blessing of God in the age for which pious Israelites yearned. On this view, the theological themes and pastoral comforts of these chapters include: (a) God’s presence remains continuously as the fount of all blessing. (b) God’s people are perfectly restored, the perfection of his plan and of their experience bound up with the perfection of symmetry in the building. (c) Because God is perfectly present, fullness of life and fruitfulness flow from God’s presence to all the barren places of the earth. This is a transformed universe. (d) The worship of God is central, and undertaken exactly as God demands. (e) Justice and righteousness are the order of the day, seen in the perfect allotment of land and responsibilities.

If this is largely right, the ultimate hope lies at the very end of history—but that end has already invaded history itself, in these last days. The consummation is not yet, but the kingdom has dawned.

View Comments

1 Kings 11; Philippians 2; Ezekiel 41; Psalms 92-93

Oct 07, 2014 | Don Carson

1 Kings 11; Philippians 2; Ezekiel 41; Psalms 92-93

ALTHOUGH EZEKIEL 41 (or, more precisely, Ezek. 40:48-41:26) is devoted to the description of the temple within the great vision of chapters 40-48, I shall focus attention here on how this chapter, indeed all nine of these chapters, should be interpreted. I shall survey two of the more important options here, and two more tomorrow.

(1) Some hold that this is Ezekiel’s vision of what should in fact be built once the exile has ended and some of the people return to the land. In that case chapter 41 provides specifications for the building. The strength of this view is that it follows up on the many passages in this book telling that the exile will end. Nevertheless one has to say that, read as building specs, this chapter is pretty thin (much less detailed, for instance, than the specifications either for the tabernacle or for the Solomonic temple). Moreover, chapter 41 must be read within the framework of chapters 40-48, and as we shall see, there are numerous features that cannot be taken literally. Certainly there is little evidence that those who built the second temple thought they were bound to follow Ezekiel’s guidelines.

(2) The mid-twentieth-century form of dispensationalism argued for a similar literalism, but held that the construction of the temple and the return of blood sacrifices and Levitical and Zadokite priesthood will take place in the millennium. The sacrifices would look back to the sacrifice of Christ in the same way that the Old Testament sacrifices looked forward. But it is very difficult to square this view with the theology of Hebrews. Moreover, there are many hints that these chapters should not be taken literally. The division of land (chaps. 47-48) is all but impossible for anyone who has seen the terrain. The impossible source and course of the river (Ezek. 47:1-12) strains credulity—and in any case both the temple and the river of life are given quite different interpretations in Revelation, the last book of the Bible. With the best will in the world it is difficult to see how the prescribed tribal purity of Levitical and Zadokite lines could be restored. Intervening records have been lost, so that no one could prove his descent from Aaron. Presumably a dispensationalist could argue that God could reveal the necessary information. But the point is that the tribes have been so mixed up across the centuries that they cannot be unscrambled. The problem is not one of information, but of mixed lines. Thus this interpretation, precisely because it deals with something at the end of time when the tribal lines are no longer differentiable, is even less credible than the previous one.

How, then, shall we interpret these chapters?

View Comments

1 Kings 10; Philippians 1; Ezekiel 40; Psalm 91

Oct 06, 2014 | Don Carson

1 Kings 10; Philippians 1; Ezekiel 40; Psalm 91

APART FROM EZEKIEL 29:17-21, the nine chapters before us, Ezekiel 40-48, take place later than the other visions and oracles that constitute the book. As the book began with a vision, so now it ends with one. Although this vision is sufficiently cut off from the rest of the book that some have labeled it an appendix, nevertheless there are some dramatic connections. In the vision of Ezekiel 8:1-11:25, Ezekiel saw the glory of God abandon the temple; now he witnesses the glory returning and filling the new temple (Ezek. 43:5). In the years following the catastrophic sack of Jerusalem Ezekiel has been comforting the people by the promise of a return to the land and to God; in some ways this vision of a temple must have lent encouragement and hope.

But that does not make this vision an easy one to understand. Today I shall lay out, rather superficially, the flow of thought not only in Ezekiel 40 but through these nine chapters. Tomorrow I shall lay out four principal lines of interpretation, and indicate the one I think is closest to what this Scripture says.

In the twenty-fifth year of his exile (by which time he was about fifty), Ezekiel in a visionary experience is transported to “a very high mountain” (Ezek. 40:2) near what turns out to be the holy city. Probably Mount Zion is intended. An angelic figure gives him a tour around the temple area, measuring everything as he goes. He begins with a detailed study of the east gate to the outer court (Ezek. 40:6-16). This is followed rapidly by the outer court itself, two other gates to the outer court (north and south), then gates to the inner court (Ezek. 40:17-37). There are no gates on the west, because the temple itself is situated there. After a brief tour of the sacrificial equipment and of the rooms reserved for the sacrificing priests (Ezek. 40:38-47), Ezekiel is given a fairly detailed description of the temple (Ezek. 40:48-41:26), followed by a survey of the temple area with special attention devoted to the rooms for the priests (Ezek. 42:1-20). The glory of God enters the temple, and Ezekiel is told what he must do with this information (Ezek. 43:1-12). The rest of chapter 43 deals with the altar of sacrifice and how it is to be used (Ezek. 43:13-27). Chapters 44 and 45 give regulations for the ordering of the temple (not least with respect to Levites and Zadokites), and then with the distribution of land around the temple. More ritual regulations follow (Ezek. 45:18-46:24). Ezekiel 47:1-12 describes a flow of water from the sanctuary bringing life to the barren Dead Sea valley. The rest of the vision divides up the land for the twelve tribes and specifies the gates of the city.

View Comments

1 Kings 8; Ephesians 5; Ezekiel 38; Psalm 89

Oct 04, 2014 | Don Carson

1 Kings 8; Ephesians 5; Ezekiel 38; Psalm 89

CHAPTERS 38-39 OF EZEKIEL are among the most difficult chapters in the entire book. In many ways they stand apart from what comes before and after. Perhaps the simplest explanation is the following. Chapters 40-48 are so much later than most of the book (the twenty-fifth year of exile, 40:1) that they are almost like an appendix to the rest of the visions and oracles. If so, then chapters 38-39 must be seen as a conclusion to the preceding thirty-seven chapters, but not necessarily as a bridge to chapters 40-48. Precisely how this prophecy against Gog serves as a conclusion to all that comes before it in Ezekiel depends very much on how these two chapters are interpreted. Even to catalog the possibilities would turn these brief meditations into a commentary, so I must largely restrict myself to some tentative conclusions.

It cannot have escaped notice that in several previous chapters I chose not to comment on certain sections. In part this was nothing more than selectivity based on my restricted space. But in part these passages belong to the same genus, and can usefully be thought about together. For instance, Ezekiel 37:25-28 anticipates the time when Israel, under God’s servant David, will live in the land “forever,” and “David my servant will be their prince forever.” God’s “sanctuary is among them forever.” Such language must either be taken at face value—a temple in Jerusalem, with a Davidic king, the throne and temple enduring forever—or it points beyond itself. For reasons that will become clearer, I am inclined to think that these and similar prophecies look forward to the glorious messianic future, but are largely cast in terms of the familiar categories of the old covenant. These same categories, the New Testament writers insist, have a predictive function fulfilled in Jesus the son of David and all that he brings.

Along similar lines, Ezekiel 38 begins by denouncing “Gog, chief prince of Meschech and Tubal” (Ezek. 38:3). The suggestion that these names refer to Moscow and Tobolsk is without linguistic merit. The pair of names appears elsewhere (Gen. 10:2; 1 Chron. 1:5; Ezek. 27:13; 32:26) and refers to the known tribes of Moschoi and Tibarenoi. Gog is perhaps to be identified with Gyges, king of Lydia (called Gûgu in some ancient records). More importantly, this anticipated horde of opponents to God’s people comes from the “far north” (Ezek. 38:6)—which is the direction from which the worst of Israel’s foes always came. The chapter ends in apocalyptic imagery (Ezek. 38:18-23)—which begins to make the scene feel like an idealized and final outbreak against the people of God, in which God vindicates his name and his cause. Thus all previous outbreaks anticipate, and are concluded by, this final apocalyptic struggle.

View Comments

1 Kings 7; Ephesians 4; Ezekiel 37; Psalms 87-88

Oct 03, 2014 | Don Carson

1 Kings 7; Ephesians 4; Ezekiel 37; Psalms 87-88

SINCE THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF the fall of Jerusalem, Ezekiel has been promising new leadership, a restoration to the land, and moral and spiritual transformation. But just as his earlier announcement of the fall of Jerusalem was met with considerable skepticism, so now his announcement of blessings to come meets with the same. Their nation is shattered, their cities destroyed, and many of their people are scattered abroad, living as exiles in foreign lands. It is hard to detect even a glimmer of hope. They cry, in effect, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off” (Ezek. 37:11). In Ezekiel 37, God provides a vision and an object lesson to engender and nurture that hope.

The first is the vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37:1-14). Ezekiel is shown these “very dry” bones and is asked, “Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezek. 37:3). The bones represent the Israelites in exile. The northern tribes have been in exile for a century and a half. The exilic community in Babylon where Ezekiel is living has been there a decade. The bones are very dry indeed. First Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the bones. Miraculously, the bones come together and are covered with flesh and skin—but we have moved only from skeletons to corpses. Then Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the “breath” (rûah, which equally means “Spirit” and “wind”). Now the corpses come to life and stand on their feet—“a vast army” (Ezek. 37:10). In other words, although preaching of itself effects some changes, what is required is the sweeping power of the Spirit of God. Within the metaphorical world, this is nothing less than resurrection from the dead (Ezek. 37:12). The meaning of the vision, however, is that God will pour out his Spirit, and the exile will end (Ezek. 37:14).

The second part of the chapter is devoted to the object lesson of the two sticks (Ezek. 37:15-28). The first stick represents Judah; the second represents the northern tribes of Israel. Ezekiel stands for God. As he puts the two sticks together, so God declares that in the promised restoration there will no longer be two kingdoms, but one. “There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms” (Ezek. 37:22). Once again, the promise of inner transformation surfaces: “They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezek. 37:23). Most important of all, the promised Messiah will lead them: “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd” (Ezek. 37:24).

View Comments

1 Kings 6; Ephesians 3; Ezekiel 36; Psalm 86

Oct 02, 2014 | Don Carson

1 Kings 6; Ephesians 3; Ezekiel 36; Psalm 86

JUST AS IN CHAPTER 35 God through Ezekiel addresses Mount Seir (the region of the Edomites), so in Ezekiel 36 he addresses the mountains of Israel (Ezek. 36:1-15). This rhetorical device has the effect of linking chapters 35 and 36 together, not least since Edom is again specifically singled out (Ezek. 36:5; see yesterday’s meditation). The first part of the address to the mountains of Israel condemns the enemies who have ravaged and plundered them, not least Edom (Ezek. 36:1-7); the second half (Ezek. 36:8-15) foresees a time when the mountains will be prosperous again. The promise that the mountains will once again be fertile and densely populated is exactly the opposite of the curse pronounced against Edom (Ezek. 35:3, 7, 15).

As if thus addressing the mountains of Israel brings with it the danger that the Israelites will start thinking of themselves as mere victims and not as sinners calling down devastation on themselves, God provides a short historical review (Ezek. 36:16-21). Its purpose is to reiterate that God poured his wrath on the land because the covenant people themselves were so wicked. They themselves “defiled it by their conduct and their actions” (Ezek. 36:17).

But to a watching pagan world it looked as if the God of Israel was not able to protect his own people. So because God is committed to showing his holiness among the nations of the world, before whom the covenant people have profaned it, God will take action. He will not do so for the sake of the house of Israel (Ezek. 36:22)—i.e., as if they deserved it—but for his own name’s sake (Ezek. 36:22-23). And what action will he take to vindicate his glory? First, he will physically return the exiles to their native land (Ezek. 36:24). Second, he will follow this up with powerful moral and spiritual changes. The sprinkling with clean water (Ezek. 36:25) means more than forgiveness of sins. The language derives from ritual washings (Ex. 30:17-21; Lev. 14:52; Num. 19:17-19), but here it is tied to cleaning up the people from the dirt of idolatry. The gift of a “new heart” and a “new spirit” does not suggest mere aspects of human personality, but the transformation of all of human character. This is the equivalent of Jeremiah’s promise of a new covenant (Jer. 31:31ff.); its language is taken up by the Lord Jesus in his description of the new birth (John 3); the transformation is described by Paul (e.g., Rom. 8). This is what drives genuine repentance (Ezek. 36:31-32).

View Comments

1 Kings 4-5; Ephesians 2; Ezekiel 35; Psalm 85

Oct 01, 2014 | Don Carson

1 Kings 4-5; Ephesians 2; Ezekiel 35; Psalm 85

ONE MIGHT WELL ASK WHY EDOM should be specially denounced in Ezekiel 35. Doesn’t this material belong in chapters 25-32? Shouldn’t this passage be connected with the brief denunciation of Edom in Ezekiel 25:12-14? The easiest solution, of course, is to suppose that this is a late interpolation (which is what some critics allege). But that simply knocks the question back: why was the interpolator such an idiot? Moreover, if we can find reasons why the location of this chapter makes sense, then of course it makes sense if placed here in the original text.

Formally, Ezekiel 35 preserves some of the structure of the denunciations in chapter 34: “because … therefore” (e.g., Ezek. 35:5-6, 10-11). More importantly, of all the neighboring nations Edom was in one respect a special case. The nation of Edom was descended from Esau, and the old rivalry between Jacob and Esau was passed down into the rivalry between Israel and Edom, two nations of relatives divided by a common animus. Edom is not specifically mentioned in this chapter, of course; the reference instead is to Mount Seir (Ezek. 35:2)—i.e., the mountain region east of the Arabah, the valley running south from the Dead Sea. There they harbored their “ancient hostility” (Ezek. 35:5). But the four references to “blood” in this chapter (Hebrew dam) may be a deliberate pun on the unmentioned word Edom, as a way of pointing out that Edom’s callous treachery was all the more repugnant because of the degree of kinship they sustained with Israel. When Jerusalem was on the verge of collapse, Edom hoped that it could profit from the destruction of the “two nations” (Ezek. 35:10, Israel and Judah) for territorial aggrandizement. Probably they tried to trade support for Nebuchadnezzar for the promise of territorial gain. Above all, their gloating over their fallen rivals (Ezek. 35:12-15) is in God’s perspective nothing less than defiance of the Lord himself: “I the LORD was there” (Ezek. 35:10), God declares; “You boasted against me and spoke against me without restraint, and I heard it” (Ezek. 35:13), God warns. In fact, part of the restoration of Israelite exiles to the land will involve making it safe for them: the land must be rid of the “wild beasts” (Ezek. 34:25) that have ravaged it. If this subtly alludes to the surrounding tribes that tried to move in, this prophecy of the destruction of Edom is suitably placed here (see also tomorrow’s meditation.)

Thus quite apart from implicit warnings against nurtured bitterness and feud-like vendettas, this chapter also implicitly reassures the covenant people of God of his continuing commitment to their good—including the destruction of their enemies. What New Testament passages preserve the same tune, transposed to the key of the new covenant?

View Comments
1 2 3 4 5 140