Friday, December 29, 2017

The divine council and intercession

[O]ur earlier finding [was] that intercessory prayer goes not only hand in hand with the prophetic office, but also happens often in the Bible when the prophet is invited into the divine presence. Amos articulates it in the well-known verse:
Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7)
We shall see that it is often precisely when Yhwh reveals His will and purposes (in the divine council) that He engages His prophets in a dialogue (“Amos, what do you see?” Amos 7:8) and invites them to participate in the making of the divine plans. It is in the context of five visions that we find Amos interceding for Israel (Amos 7:2, 5). Although initially the prophet succeeds in averting disaster, it becomes increasingly clear to him that Israel has sinned to a point beyond the reach of prophetic intercession. Nothing seems left to do, but to describe the consequences of what he has seen and to proclaim a message of judgment.—Standing in the Breach, page 480

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Into the New Testament

[W]hen the Word became flesh and lived among the people, the Son reflects the glorious name of the Father. Jesus too is full of “grace and truth” (John 1:14–16). Behind the Greek terms χάρις and ἀλήθεια are the divine attributes of “steadfast love” (ֶחֶסד [ḥesed]) and “faithfulness” (ֱאֶמת [ʾemet]) from Exod 34:6 (cf. Exod 33:18–19). In other words, John claims that Jesus embodies Yhwh’s name. Thus, when people like the blind beggar or Stephen call on Jesus’ name (Luke 18:38, Acts 7:59), they stand in a sense in the long biblical tradition of calling on the gracious and merciful name of the Lord in order to the healed and forgiven.—Standing in the Breach, pages 473–74

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Still hoping

In the Old Testament, the outpouring of the Spirit of God is limited (with few exceptions) to the leaders and particularly to the prophets. It is through these Spirit-anointed leaders that Yhwh often speaks, directs, and intervenes on behalf of the people (e.g., Deut 34:9; Judg 3:10, 6:34; 1 Sam 16:13; Neh 9:30; Isa 42:1; Ezek 2:2). Joel, however, anticipates a time when all Israel would share in the Spirit of prophecy and know the Lord personally (Joel 2:28–32; cf. Jer 31:34). Philip notes that “for Joel, prophecy, visions and dreams appear to be characteristic of an intimacy with YHWH, made possible by the outpouring of the Spirit.”[Finny Philip, The Origins of Pauline Pneumatology (WUNT 2/194; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005) 67]The prophet seems to envisage a corporate gift of prophecy that will enable every member of the community one day to stand “among YHWH’s council and (hear) his word at first hand (Jer 23:18).” [Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (NICOT; London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1978) 99] In other words, Joel’s vision anticipates a prophetic community that will hear from and speak directly to God. Already Moses yearned for the day when all the house of Israel will be gifted with the enabling presence of God’s Spirit (cf. Num 11:25–29). Joel anticipates the fulfillment of Moses’ hope. Each will know God in an unmediated way through the Spirit (Joel 2:28–29).—Standing in the Breach, page 471

<idle musing>
Unfortunately, it seems we are still hoping for it. Perhaps because our culture is so antisupernatural and the church as a whole has absorbed that same mentality.

Lord, send you Spirit upon us that Joel's vision might become reality!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

By his sustaining grace

Although human repentance is an essential aspect in the process of reconciliation, the book of Joel makes it clear that the process is initiated by God. The prophet underlines though that human repentance does not guarantee divine forgiveness. Yhwh cannot be coerced into a favorable response (Joel 2:14; cf. Amos 5:15, Jonah 3:9). Achtemeier notes:

Repentance is not a meritorious work that compels God to accept us. When we have done all that is required of us, we are still unworthy servants (see Luke 17:10), and the truly repentant know that they have no goodness of their own to claim, but depend solely on the mercy of God. As the saying goes, the true saint is one who knows that he or she is a sinner.[Achtemeier, “Joel,” 319–20]
The reality is that the covenant relationship, at anytime in the history of the people of God, has been preserved by God. From the beginning, Israel, Judaism, and Christianity have been forgiven and are restored communities (cf. Gen 8:21, Exod 34:9, Luke 15:11–24). There was a covenant and a new covenant, but only because it has been graciously initiated and maintained from God’s side.—Standing in the Breach pages 470–71

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Aramaic irony

The Edict of Darius declares concerning any who may hinder the reconstruction: “that a beam (ʾāʿ) will be ripped out of his house and, once reerected, he will be hanged on it.” This curse acquires its full rhetorical significance only if one reads it in connection with the reference to building lumber in the preceding section ([Ezr.]6:4). Thus, it appears as an ironic antithesis to Ezr. 6:4: Just as Cyrus and Darius finance the reconstruction of the “house of God” (6:3) by also supplying, among other things, the wood for its construction, so must any who oppose this project provide the wood for his gallows from his own house, which will ultimately destroy it. Thus, wood here becomes a sign both for blessing and for the fates of the various groups depending on the extent to which they agree with God’s plan.—Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, XVI, forthcoming (this is the Aramaic volume).

Friday, December 15, 2017

What manner of man?

What is of great interest to us is that the priests in the book of Joel act under instruction of the prophet. Even the priests do not know how to pray. Joel has to teach them how to intercede under these challenging circumstances. In the Old Testament, it is usually only the prophet who has access to “the council of the Lord” and so is familiar with the divine will (cf. Amos 3:7). Authoritative and effective intercessory prayer require an intimate knowledge of the divine will (cf. Exod 32:7–14). Once again, we notice that the persuasive power of prophetic prayer is based on the simple fact that it engages with God’s nature and revealed purposes (Joel 2:13–14, Exod 34:6–7.—Standing in the Breach, page 469

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

All of God

Joel reminds us that any sacrifice that hopes to be effective has to be accompanied by repentance and a turning back to God. Even then, forgiveness depends ultimately on the grace of God (“who knows whether,” Joel 2:12–14). In other words, although we read in the Old Testament about elaborate cleansing rituals that the priests have to undergo in order to perform their mediatory role before a holy God (cf. Exod 19:22, Lev 1–8), the atoning efficacy depends on several important factors, such as the sacrifice, the ritual, the attitude of the sinner, and above all, God’s gracious willingness to respond favorably to the plea for mercy and forgiveness.—Standing in the Breach, pages 456–57

Monday, December 11, 2017

To everything there is a season...

How do we evaluate these two broad lines of interpretations of God’s prohibition on intercessory prayer? Let us first note that until now the biblical witness has made it evident that God expects His prophets to intercede on behalf of the sinful people. In God’s providence, He invites prophetic intercession and builds it into the decision-making process. Sometimes this invitation to pray comes by provoking the prophet to refrain from prayer (cf. Exod 32:7–14, Deut 9:14). If, however, the divine-human covenant relationship is undermined by ongoing ethical misconduct and idolatry, then God’s gracious responsiveness is no longer guaranteed. Thus, we have seen both in our treatment of Moses’ and Jeremiah’s prayers that effectiveness of intercessory prayer goes hand in hand with the responsiveness of the party that is being prayed for (cf. Deut 10:12–20, Jer 18:1–12). In spite of numerous prophetic summons to turn back to God, Israel in Jeremiah’s day would not turn back to Yhwh. In other words, there is a clear sense that the divine prohibition is strongly related to an unresponsive generation. Just like Moses, Jeremiah is initially not deterred by the divine prohibition to intercede for the people. The prophet continues to pray for the postponement of the divine judgment until he comes to realize that Israel is beyond help on the path to punishment (“Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people” Jer 15:1). It is at this point that Jeremiah’s intercessory prayers turn into ongoing laments and change to prayers for judgment. In doing so, the prophet continues to mirror Yhwh’s will and pathos in his prayers.—Standing in the Breach, page 436

Friday, December 08, 2017

Hope for the wicked

The second line of interpretation acknowledges that prophetic intercession is highly effective in God’s outworking of His plans. Precisely because of its power on swaying the divine mind, Yhwh has to prohibit His prophet to intercede in order to execute His judgment. By implication, this sort of reading would suggest that even when the people’s sins are as great and many as in Jeremiah’s days, the prophetic intercessor could hope to pacify the justified wrath of God and persuade Yhwh to show leniency and to withhold punishment from the sinful party.— Standing in the Breach, page 433

<idle musing>
That's assuming, of course, that there are people willing to intercede!
</idle musing>

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The power of prayer

Although we have seen again and again that there is indeed a fundamental link between the sins of the party that is being prayed for and the effectiveness of intercessory prayer, in our treatment of the texts the question arose as to why Yhwh needed to prohibit Jeremiah persistently and urgently from praying for this people. If it were simply a matter of the people’s sin outweighing the power of prayer, there would be no need for an urgent ongoing ban on intercession. The prophet’s prayers would simply prove ineffective, suffocated by the people’s sin. Therefore, it seems that the underlying logic of the prohibition is not just about the extent of Israel’s sin but also because prophetic intercession has an effect on Yhwh’s judgment.—Standing in the Breach, page 435

&tl;idle musing>
This paragraph is worth the price of the book! It gives me hope as I pray—hope that no matter how far-gone a situation might be, that God still might intervene if I continue to pray. Nothing and no one is beyond redemption—as scripture says, "God is not willing that any should perish." If we persevere in seeking God's face in prayer and interceding on behalf of others, against all odds, God might intervene.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

So what is wrath?

While I do not want to belittle the importance of this fundamental tension within God and the divine pathos or pain resulting from it, my concern is to see divine wrath in its proper biblical relation to the divine attributes of grace, mercy, covenant loyalty, and forbearance. According to Yhwh’s self-revelation, the seriousness of divine wrath should never be neglected in any portrayal of God, but it must be seen in its proportion to His attributes of love (“thousand to four,” cf. Exod 34:6–7).346 The inexhaustible depth of divine love also comes to expression in divine statements such as “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you”( וְאַהֲבַ֤ת עוֹלָם֙ אֲהַבְתִּ֔יךְ עַל־כֵּ֖ן מְשַׁכְתִּ֥יךְ חָֽסֶד׃, Jer 31:3). Moreover, it is important to highlight as Heschel does that divine anger is not an attribute of God. Rather it is “a mood, a state of mind.”—Standing in the Breach, page 433

<idle musing>
Take away point here, which needs to be in flashing bold letters: "divine anger is not an attribute of God. Rather it is 'a mood, a state of mind.'”
</idle musing>

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Hope through the ashes

The book of Jeremiah is heavy on suffering and on warnings of a forthcoming judgment. However, when one looks at the message of the book as a whole, it is evident that the fundamental aim of the book of Jeremiah is to establish a theology of hope. To be sure, it is a hope that arises from the ashes of pain, judgment, and death. Thus, in a real sense the theological movement of the book anticipates the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.—Standing in the Breach, page 429

<idle musing>
That was also the theme of a book I recently read: Habakkuk in the Two Horizons Commentary. He argues that Habakkuk came to the position of embracing the coming judgment because he saw God's restoration on the other side of it. Good book, by the way.
</idle musing>

Monday, December 04, 2017

A shift in viewpoint

God’s holy anger is directed to and absorbed in Jesus. So one could say that just as the blood of the godless had been the joy and victory of the righteous psalmist under the old covenant (Ps 58:10 [MT 11]), so the Christ, who bled and died for sinners, is subjected to God’s wrath, and is salvation for those under the new covenant. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, salvation takes on an eternal dimension. The people of God are no longer “saved” through the destruction of their enemies.

This radical shift in understanding salvation undoubtedly has important ramifications for the Church’s understanding of the imprecatory prayers. God’s justice is no longer primarily displayed in the punishment of the wicked, but in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.— Standing in the Breach, page 416

Thursday, November 30, 2017

To what end suffering?

Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross was not a one-off quotation from a psalm of lament. Both Jeremiah and Jesus were remembered as servants of God who “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death” (Heb 5:7; cf. Jer 17:14). When under persecution, however, we notice a first major difference. Jeremiah’s laments frequently move toward prayers against the enemies, while Jesus put his teaching on “love your enemies” into practice by interceding for them. Moreover, at no point in Jeremiah’s ministry, as far as I can tell, does it occur to the prophet that his mediatory suffering before God serves any deeper purpose. In the case of Jesus, however, there is good reason to believe that he understood his suffering as being vicarious. Jesus says that he came to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Between the death of Jesus and the suffering of Jeremiah stands the poem of the suffering servant. We have seen that Isaiah 53 in particular gives expression to something unprecedented in the Old Testament: the enabling of healing and new life through the substitutionary suffering of another. It is widely agreed that Jesus understood his forthcoming death in the light of the suffering servant (cf. Isa 53:10–12).—Standing in the Breach, pages 414–15

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

What of the violence in those prayers?

It is one thing to understand Jeremiah’s prayers for divine justice by their own logic and terms; it is quite another challenge to test their relevance in a new covenant Christian setting. Praying against one’s enemies is not the way Jesus taught his followers. This raises the immediate question of whether there is a way to reconcile the imprecatory prayers with Jesus’ message of love for one’s enemies (Matt 5:44, Luke 6:27–29).—Standing in the Breach, page 410

Thus, two patterns have emerged. On the one side, we have those who want to exclude these prayers from the functioning Christian canon, because of their time and culture-bound characteristics, while, on the other side, are those who tend to reinterpret or spiritualize the material in order to maintain its abiding witness for the Church. Traditionally, the Church expects that the Bible in its full complexity has relevance for its contemporary readers. This is what gives the Bible its vitality.—Standing in the Breach, page 413

<idle musing>
An enduring problem, indeed. I certainly don't have the answer! But it does seem ironic to me that a culture that is as warlike as ours, sending drones on innocent citizens, carrying on wars all over the world to "protect American interests," and that allows 33,000 people every year to be killed by hand guns has a problem with violence in the Bible!

Stop to think about that for a minute. It's like the current rage of firing people for sexual misconduct—which I think is totally justified!—in a culture that glorifies sex. Does anyone see the irony in this?

Ah well, just an
</idle musing>

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What about Jeremiah?

So, if Jeremiah’s imprecatory prayers appear at first sight like vicious selfish prayers, they often reflect the prophet’s concern for divine justice and his covenant duty to report to Yhwh about the state of the godless (Jer 12:1–3, 15:15). To stop Jeremiah from proclaiming divine judgment is in effect opposition to the Lord and what God is doing. We have seen that Jeremiah sought to oppose Yhwh’s judgment in prayer for a long time, until the prophet eventually aligned his prayers with Yhwh’s verdict to judge Israel. On the basis of Yhwh’s covenantal will, it becomes clear that Jeremiah’s imprecatory prayers have to be heard against the background of the blessing-cursing rhetoric of the Old Testament covenant. Recognizing this background helps us to see that not just anything goes in Jeremiah’s prayers, but that the prophet’s harsh curses “are petitions for the justice of God, for the vindication of God’s righteous nature and purposes.” [Miller, They Cried, 93]—Standing in the Breach, page 409

Monday, November 27, 2017

It's not automatic

On many important ancient Near Eastern treaties, law codes, or covenants one finds appended an extensive set of curses. These curses function as a kind of “divine safeguard” against breaking the agreement. The general understanding of the ancient Near Eastern religions was that these curses became efficacious by breaching the covenant stipulations in an almost mechanical magical manner. Van der Toorn comments:
one gains the impression that it (the curse) acts quite independently of the relationship between the individual and his gods. The many symbolic actions connected with the oath could, much more than in Israel, also be understood as magical manipulation to render the curses automatically efficacious.
There is, however, hardly any evidence for such a reading in the Old Testament.— Standing in the Breach, page 408

Friday, November 17, 2017

Prophetic mediation

The genuine prophetic mediator embodies not only the divine word but, to some degree, the divine pathos as well.— Standing in the Breach, page 394

Monday, November 13, 2017

I am weary of holding it in…

As the dialogue with God progresses, Jeremiah gives more and more expression to the tension of the mediator. On the one hand, he loves the people and intercedes for them, but on the other hand, the prophet sees their many blatant sins and thus he is weary with holding back the wrath of God that he came to embody (Jer 6:11, 20:9). Jeremiah’s inner struggle over the fate of Judah reflects in many ways God’s mercy and wrath (Exod 34:6–7). As mediator, Jeremiah stands between God and the people, he represents both sides to the other party, and he embodies the suffering, the uncertainty, the wrath, and the hopes of both sides at the same time.—Standing in the Breach, page 393

Friday, November 10, 2017

Intercession is a family affair

But it is also important to note that on the full biblical revelation, our prayers for justice are not our prayers alone. The Scriptures indicate that Jesus intercedes on our behalf (John 17) and “ever lives to make intercession for us” (Heb 7:25). They record that the Spirit intercedes as well, groaning on our behalf in our suffering (Rom 8:26–27). This shows us that even within the Godhead, the Spirit and the Son make intercession to the Father about the affairs of humanity, praying about sin and the mediating salvation of Christ (Heb 7:23–25), praying for support and fidelity to God (John 17), and groaning and interceding over suffering (Rom 8:26–27). In this, we are not alone in prayer, even in prayers of lament. God has gone before and behind us in the Son and the Spirit, drawing our prayers into his.—Heath Thomas, Habakkuk, forthcoming in the THOTC series (emphasis original)

Not even Moses and Samuel!

Jer 15:1 establishes a kind of biblical hierarchy as to who were the most influential mediators in the Old Testament. Moses and Samuel are Israel’s two great prophetic intercessors of the past. They have reached a proverbial status in the mindset of the Israelites (cf. Ps 99:6). We have seen in some detail how Moses and Samuel have managed to pacify Yhwh’s wrath and succeeded to preserve the covenant relationship. This time, however, there appears to be no room left for concessions. The fact that even Israel’s two outstanding intercessors could not achieve divine pardon for Israel anymore suggests that Israel’s relationship with Yhwh has reached an unprecedented low point.—Standing in the Breach, page 383

<idle musing>
Have we reached that point yet? I don't think so, but we do need to intercede more. See this. Here's a snippet:

If church history teaches us anything, it is that prayer meetings, seemingly out of style today, possess more potential to transform societies than vote counts.
And most "prayer meetings" that do happen end up being at least 90% singing and talking and at best 10% praying. Nothing wrong with singing and talking, but don't call it a prayer meeting if you aren't going to reverse the percentages!
</idle musing>

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Prophetic voice?

Lots of people want to be prophets, screaming doom and gloom, and calling down the end of the world on everybody and everything. Is that really what a prophet does, though? We've been extracting sections from Michael Widmer's Standing in the Breach for a while now. He would disagree, but he's not the only one.

Yesterday evening we went to the library. We hadn't been there for a while now, so I spent a good bit of time looking over the new books. One especially caught my eye, a short little 70 page book entitled Roots of Violence: Creating Peace through Spiritual Reconciliation, so I read it : ) Here's good little snippet that I managed to pull from it:

It isn’t easy to be a prophet. The prophet of doom prays like mad that his prophecy not be true. Any prophet of doom who isn’t praying like mad that it not happen is just on an ego trip. That was Jonah’s problem.—Krister Stendahl, Roots of Violence: Creating Peace through Spiritual Reconciliation (Brewster, MA: Paraclete, 2016)
Jonah sounds like far too many "prophets" doesn't he? : (

Accordance for Android!

Yes! Accordance has released a beta version of Accordance for Android!

To install it, I downloaded it via the link, copied it into Dropbox, and then accessed it on my phone to install it. Log in to your account, and do the Easy Install. Seems to run fine on my small phone, so I'm sure those of you with more memory will have no trouble.

Standing before the Lord

[I]t [Jer 15:10] is important because it uses one of the main “technical” terms to describe the role of the prophetic intercessor. The prophet was traditionally a mediator between Yhwh and the people (Deut 18:15–22). The prophets were responsible to pass on the words of God to the people and to “stand before the Lord”(`āmad lifnê) in prayer on behalf of the sinful people. The expression “standing before the Lord” on behalf of the people is also used by Jeremiah to describe his intercessory activity (cf. Jer 18:20), and it goes all the way back to Abraham’s prayer on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Gen 18:22–23, 19:27). Elijah introduces himself as the prophet of Yhwh, “before whom I stand” (1 Kgs 17:1; 18:15). God raises up prophets to serve him (“to stand before him,” Deut 18:5) as advocates and messengers (Deut 4:10).—Standing in the Breach, page 382

About that timeline of yours…

Faith means being faithful to God rather than relying upon a specific timeline. Temptation seduces believers when they begin to rely on God’s schedule for security and hope rather than in God himself. This is a kind of disordered love, which will lead to disordered lives. Timelines may take our eyes away from the One who gave it.—Heath Thomas, Habakkuk, forthcoming in the THOTC series (emphasis original)

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The inner life of God revealed

Following the logic of the text, Yhwh does not reveal the dramatic tension of His inner life primarily for the benefit of the readers, though with the canonization of these oracles this obviously became a central purpose of the text. God’s tears also introduce anew a note of hope for Jeremiah. They witness to a deeply involved God and to the changing nature of divine inner life. Divine tears raise the possibility of forgiveness and healing. In other words, taking the flow of the narrative seriously, it looks as if the divine tears encourage Jeremiah to persist in his intercessory prayer effort on behalf of the people (cf. Jer 14:19–22). Perhaps no other book of the Bible witnesses so clearly to the divine tension between love and wrath. Together, love and wrath cause divine pain, something that comes to powerful expression in these verses.—Standing in the Breach, page 374

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Anthropomorphism from a different angle

"Actually, Israel conceived even Jahweh himself as having human form. But the way of putting it which we use runs in precisely the wrong di- rection according to Old Testament ideas, for, according to the ideas of Jahwism, it cannot be said that Israel regarded God anthropomorphically, but the reverse, that she considered man as theomorphic. . . . It has been rightly said that Ezek 1.26 is the theological prelude to the locus classicus for the imago doctrine in Gen 1.26." [Footnote: Von Rad, Old Testament Theology 1:147.] Heschel (The Prophets, 51–52) makes the same point: “God’s unconditional concern for justice is not an anthropomorphism. Rather, man’s concern for justice is a theomorphism.”—Standing in the Breach, page 372

<idle musing>
I like that—especially the point made by Heschel!
</idle musing>

Monday, November 06, 2017

Your walk betrays your talk

The book of Jeremiah contains a long divine oracle that helps one to discern between false and true prophets further (cf. Jer 23:9–40). A mark of false prophets is that they tolerate or promote other gods besides Yhwh, or even prophecy in their names (cf. Jer 23:13, Deut 13:1–5). Spiritual adultery begins with ungodly spiritual leaders who lead the people astray. Thus, Yhwh is testing loyalty to Himself by seemingly allowing false prophets to appear among his people. Moreover, there is the important criterion of moral living (cf. Jer 23:9). False prophets commit adultery, walk in lies, and strengthen the hands of evildoers. Instead of turning Israel from their evil ways, they spread vain hopes and visions (Jer 23:14–16).—Standing in the Breach, page 370

Why don't we pray more?

In many ways, prayer is a difficult practice to understand. I say “practice” rather than “topic” precisely because prayer is not to be discussed in an abstract sense, but enacted through regular discipline of communion with God. Prayer is that practice, perhaps above all others, that is open to all Christians, and yet neglected most. This may be the case because we fear the terrifying intimacy of communion with God in prayer. We are intimidated by Martin Buber’s famous “Thou” that demands an exacting encounter. Or it may be that the church prefers the reduction of God to a list of doctrines or a mechanistic principle instead of encountering the numinous and personal God who encounters us in prayer just as we encounter him. Perhaps in these days it is easier to commodify God into a principle or a totem for consumption rather than treat him as the personal God that he is, who deserves (and demands) the reverence and awe that is due him in prayer.—Heath Thomas, Habakkuk, forthcoming in the THOTC series.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

What is faith?

Faith means being faithful to God rather than relying upon a specific timeline. Temptation seduces believers when they begin to rely on God’s schedule for security and hope rather than in God himself. This is a kind of disordered love, which will lead to disordered lives. Timelines may take our eyes away from the One who gave it.—Heath Thomas, Habakkuk, forthcoming in the THOTC series.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Gone too far

According to Jeremiah 14, however, not even the synergetic effort of all the cultic means that Israel has at its disposal is to gain a favorable hearing from Yhwh (Jer 14:11–12). Ever since Jeremiah’s temple sermon, it is clear that Israel had the tendency to profess God’s saving presence without obeying Him as the only Lord. Not only is Yhwh like “a traveler turning aside for the night” (Jer 14:8), but Israel seems to call on Yhwh whenever it served their purposes. They not only pay lip service to God through superficial penitential prayers when in desperate need but they also chased after other gods (cf. Jer 11:11–13, 13:26–27). Elijah’s sharp question to the syncretistic Israel of his days seems to apply also to the situation under discussion: “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kgs 18:21). It seems that a point in Israel’s history has arrived when not only will their prayers no longer be heard, but worse, prophetic intercession can no longer save the people.—Standing in the Breach, page 369

Review of Irenaeus of Lyon for Young Readers

I just received a new book in the mail yesterday and was asked to review it. I hope you find the review helpful.

Simonetta Carr, Irenaeus of Lyon (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017) is a nicely illustrated and well-written biography of an important early church father. In a little more than sixty pages, she does an excellent job of filling in the background of why he is important and how he obtained his source material (he was a student of Polycarp, who was a student of John the Elder).

Beginning with his birthplace in Smyrna (modern İzmir, Turkey), she gives background on what a typical male child’s education was like and why it seems that Irenaeus had that education (he shows a good knowledge of the Greek classics in his writings). She explains the importance of Polycarp, highlights Irenaeus’s time in Rome before he arrives at his final destination of Lyon in Gaul (France), where he became bishop.

If I still had children at home, I would definitely enjoy reading this book to them. What’s more, I’m sure they would enjoy it, which is quite an accomplishment for an author!

That being said, there are two places in the book where I take issue with her. The first is on the first page of the book. She seems to imply—no, she comes right out and says—that Paul was considered one of the Twelve. Unfortunately, that reflects the highly Pauline-centric view of too many in the Reformed world. There are many definitions of “apostle” in the New Testament, but Luke’s was the most restricted, as described in Acts 1, where the disciples choose a new twelfth member. Needless to say, it wasn’t Paul. Ok, maybe I’m nitpicking.

The second issue is in the final background information, where she states the common misinterpretation of Augustine’s comment about Ambrose reading silently. From that little statement has grown a common misconception that almost no one in the ancient world read silently. Wrong! That view was rightly put to rest back in the 1960s by Bernard Knox, but it has maintained a life of its own. It was considered in bad taste to read silently, largely because so many were illiterate, but it was not unheard of or unknown. I know, only a Classicist would get all bent out of shape over that. Color me guilty, but I’m tired of having to always correct that mistake—even in articles by New Testament scholars who should know better.

Irenaeus is an important source for the early church, especially in his refutation of gnosticism and witness to the rule of faith. But one other thing that I wish she had developed was his doctrine of theosis or divination, the process by which we become more godlike (without becoming God). In his Against Heresies 3:19, he has the amazing statement

For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God. For by no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality.
This idea would later be summed up by Athanasius (3rd century) as, “God became man that man might become god.” Mind you, not gods independent of God, but only in the likeness of God because we are adopted into God through Christ. The Eastern Orthodox have a wonderful theology of theosis that those of us in the West could do well to adapt and adopt. Indeed, if you look, you can find it in Luther to an extent, moreso in Calvin, and to a much greater extent in Wesley, who had the advantage of being at Oxford during a time of the rediscovery of the Eastern Fathers, which then influenced his idea of Christian perfection. If you do a search on theosis on this blog you will find a good bit more information. : )

Well, it seems we’ve gone far afield from the book at this point, but to sum it up again, this book, despite the two minor errors (and they are minor despite the space I gave to them), is highly recommended. In fact, this book has encouraged me to take a look at the other biographies for young readers that she has written. They might make good gifts for the grandkids!

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by Reformation Heritage Books. Needless to say, that didn’t influence my review.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

It gets complicated

Twice already Jeremiah has been prohibited to intercede. Nevertheless, God keeps on signaling to Jeremiah that He is emotionally attached and committed to His house and beloved (cf. Jer 12:7, 15). Thus, the prophet continues to probe the grace and mercy of God with amazing faithfulness in advocating on behalf of the people. In other words, Jer 14:1–15:9 testifies to the complex nexus of a God of grace and justice, a rebellious people, God’s overruling purposes for Israel, and the intercessory efforts of His chosen prophet.—Standing in the Breach, page 364

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Prayer as (honest) dialogue

Like the psalms of lament, Jeremiah’s prayers are intense and uncompromising in their voicing of complaints against God and his fellow Israelites. In many ways, they are models for unrestrained honesty that is characteristic of genuine prayer. In fact, one important feature of Jeremiah’s prayers as they are presented in chaps. 11–20 is that they are almost all followed by a divine response. This structural presentation comes not only as a stark reminder that prayer is essentially a dialogue but also that Jeremiah’s prayers ought to be read in conjunction with the divine response.—Standing in the Breach, pages 257–58

<idle musing>
I'm working through a commentary on Habakkuk right now, and this resonates very well. There are many similarities between Habakkuk and the confessions/prayers of Jeremiah.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

And you thought you had it bad!

Chapters 11–20 witness to the highly demanding role of the prophet. A series of accounts reveal Jeremiah’s tormented life of prayer in vivid detail. These chapters are also known as Jeremiah’s lamentations or confessions (cf. Jer 11:18–12:6, 15:10–21, 17:14–18, 18:18–23, 20:7–18). They witness not only to his frustration and anger against a stubborn and hostile people, but also against God who makes him carry out such a difficult task. The prophet discerns that the insistent will of God is that Jerusalem will be destroyed. This is a hard message for him to pass on, not least because his message of doom regarding the false temple ideology causes strong opposition.

In the following verses and chapters, one gets a sense that Jeremiah has powerful enemies. The people of his home town Anathoth want to silence his attacks on Judah’s two-faced religious life ( Jer 11:18–19). In other words, on the one hand, Jeremiah suffers at the hands of his people who persecute him for his unpopular prophetic warnings, and on the other hand, Jeremiah grieves over the coming misfortune of the people in faithful intercession. On top of this, the prophet wrestles with God over his calling, his role, and the divine will. Jeremiah’s exceedingly difficult ministry context finds expression in a number of stormy conversations with Yhwh.—Standing in the Breach, page 357

Monday, October 30, 2017

Food for thought

On the one hand, it looks very much as if under the current circumstances prayers will have no effect on God. Even Jeremiah’s intercession will be of no avail. On the other hand, the question remains as to why Yhwh needs to reinforce His prohibition on intercessory prayer. Is there not a sense that God needs to put a ban on Jeremiah’s prayer, precisely because prophetic intercession is highly effective?—Standing in the Breach, page 355

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Just for (Hebrew) fun

I'm working on a first-year Hebrew grammar right now and ran across this little gem in the chapter on geminates:
note the second person masculine plural form תִּסַּבּוּ the dot in the ת is a dagesh lene, the dot in the ס is the assimilated nun, the dot in the ב is the doubling of the geminate root, and the dot in the ו is the sign of the shureq.
Fun stuff!

Friday, October 27, 2017

No cheap grace here

Jeremiah acknowledges in prayer the necessity of divine discipline but he also pleads for leniency. Calvin draws attention to a general truth by pointing to the necessity of the people’s repentance as well: “the real character and nature of repentance is, to submit to God’s judgment and to suffer with a resigned mind his chastisement, provided it be paternal.” In other words, the intercessor urges Yhwh not to judge Israel in the heat of His justified wrath or nothing will be left of His people. The text makes a clear distinction between discipline in anger that would destroy the obstinate sinner and a discipline according to justice (ְbemišpāṭ) that will eventually lead to repentance and renewal. Here divine justice has the connotation of grace and mercy. Jeremiah does not plead for cheap grace. He clearly speaks of Israel’s guilt and its need for discipline, but he prays for a calm and well reflected judgment that would not endanger the future of the people of God (“. . . lest you would bring everything to nothing,” Jer 10:24; cf. Ps. 6:1).—Standing in the Breach, page 351

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Powerless? Not totally...

Jeremiah’s intercessory prayer comes at the end of a polemic juxtaposition between the gods and idols of the nations and the incomparability of God (Jer 10:1–16). The gods are portrayed as powerless and mere humanmade images. The fact that such an elaborate polemic treatment is necessary, however, suggests that the gods of the nations are everything else but powerless. Although these gods cannot save (Jer 10:5), they excercise seductive power over Israel. Jeremiah’s polemic makes it evident that the temptation to commit idolatry has been a real problem for Israel (cf. Jer 7:16–20). In fact, the prevalence of idolatry is the main factor that leads eventually to the collapse and exile of Israel (Jer 1:16, 7:16–20, 10:1–18). The point of Jeremiah’s polemic presentation is not to provide an objective description of Canaanite deities but to win Israel back to an exclusive and committed relationship with their covenant God. Yhwh is not only Israel’s covenant God; He is also the living and eternal King of all peoples (Jer 10:7, 10).—Standing in the Breach, pages 347–48

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

So where does that put us?

[P]rayer, even the intercession of a godly person, is intrinsically linked to the moral and spiritual standing of the third party that stands under immediate judgment. According to Jeremiah 7, people who “masquerade” as God’s pious people, who have the Lord “near their mouth yet far from their hearts” (Jer 12:2), seriously jeopardize the divine-human relationship (e.g. Jer 7:16, 11:11).50 Thus, one of the main lessons of this chapter is that prayer, even the intercessions of a mediator, has to be seen as part of a larger divine-human relationship. In other words, if the relationship is healthy by the standards of Torah obedience, then prayer is effective. If, however, the divine-human relationship is tainted by consistent ethical misconduct and disobedience, then God’s gracious responsiveness to prophetic intercession is not guaranteed.—Standing in the Breach, pages 345–46

<idle musing>
So, I repeat, where does that put the US as a country?
</idle musing>

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Poor Jeremiah

The Hebrew conjunction weʾattâ (“as for you”) marks a sudden shift of addressee away from the “temple audience” that is under judgment to the prophet himself (cf. Jer 7:16–20). Jeremiah is instructed with a threefold negative command not to pray for the people. The divine prohibition to intercede in v. 16 introduces the reader of the book of Jeremiah for the first time to the second intrinsic role of the prophet: that of the intercessor. Thus, the divine prohibition comes initially as a surprise because it is as much part of the prophetic office to intercede on behalf of the sinful party as it is to convey Yhwh’s word to them. In the light of the immanent disaster that is awaiting Judah (Jer 7:14–15), one would expect the prophet to advocate on behalf of the sinful people and stand in the breach to protect the people from Yhwh’s forthcoming judgment (cf. Ezek 13:5, 22:30–31). After all, seeking to pacify the righteous anger of Yhwh and to plead for mercy and patience is one of the main roles of the intercessor. However, it seems it is precisely this defining aspect of the prophetic ministry that is denied to Jeremiah.—Standing in the Breach, page 343

Monday, October 23, 2017

Intercession and sin

[I]ntercession, alongside speaking on behalf of the Lord are the primary responsibilities of the prophet. Jeremiah knew well that intercession is one of the marks of an authentic prophet and that refraining from intercession is thought to be a mark of a false prophet (cf. Jer 27:18). Samuel could even say that not to intercede for the disobedient people would be sinful for the prophet (1 Sam 12:23). In Jeremiah’s case, however, Yhwh prohibits the prophet four times from interceding on behalf of Israel (Jer 7:16, 11:14, 14:11, 15:1). Moses was also told not to pray on behalf of sinful Israel after the golden calf incident, and yet he disobeyed God and succeeded in pacifying Yhwh’s righteous wrath and achieved divine pardon and the restoration of the covenant relationship for the sinful people (Exod 32:10–13, Deut 9:14). Amos as well, in spite of God’s intended judgment, pressed ahead in his intercessory efforts (Amos 7:1–6). This raises an issue of discernment. When is it permissible to disobey Yhwh’s command to refrain from prayer and persist in knocking on heaven’s door, and when does the prophet need to desist from prayer? Is there a biblical principle that indicates how far the prophet can push Yhwh to show mercy?

Interestingly, all but one of the four references to God’s restraint on intercession appear within chaps. 11–20. These chapters contain several laments of the prophet that give expression to the suffering that was evoked through Jeremiah’s calling as a prophet. One could almost argue that the fourfold command not to intercede is matched by the fourfold lament of the prophet (Jer 11:18–12:6, 15:10–20, 18:18–23, 20:7–18). Strictly speaking, Jer 15:1 is not an explicit divine ban on intercession. Nevertheless, it is instructive to observe the interweaving of the references to God’s restraint on intercession and the prophet’s laments. It looks as though God’s prohibition to intercede violates the very core of Jeremiah’s prophetic self-understanding and thereby gives rise to great pain and confusion.—Standing in the Breach, page 338

<idle musing>
There's so much I could say here. I was recently talking to someone who told me that he was convinced that God was going to judge the US. I asked him if he thought revival was possible. He said no, that God always had to judge a nation when it went too far—and in his opinion, the US had. I asked him about the role of intercession. He downplayed it, saying there was no hope. I pushed back, but to no avail.

So, here's my challenge, to those of you who are convinced that Trump is the greatest thing and to those of you who think he's the worst thing that has ever happened to the US: Intercede! Shake the heavens for revival. Realize that all human rulers are transient and what really matters is the human heart.

I recently read a book review that concluded that by 2060 climate change will have destroyed humanity. The final sentence was something to the effect that "may the next species that rules the earth be better than we were at being stewards." Wow! I'm not that pessimistic! But, are we interceding with God for mercy? Or are we throwing up our hands in despair? Or are you convinced that the rising temperatures and strange weather are God's judgment?

Either way, Intercede!
</idle musing>

Friday, October 20, 2017


Jeremiah’s intimate prayer dialogues were not canonized merely in order to preserve the prophet’s personal prayer life. If Jeremiah’s prayers were ever (auto)biographical, they are no longer only about him. In the canonical process they have become Scripture through which the reader can hear the voice of God. Jeremiah’s prayers were canonized because these human-divine dialogues have paradigmatic character and became important means for the instruction and edification of subsequent generations.—Standing in the Breach, page 334

Thought for the day

23 The Lord’s word came to me: 24 Human one, say to her, You are an unclean land without rain on the day of reckoning. 25 The conspiracy of princes[c] in her is like a roaring lion ripping up prey. They’ve piled up wealth and precious goods and made many widows in her. 26 Her priests have done violence to my instructions and made my holy things impure. They have not clearly separated the holy from the ordinary, and they have not taught the difference between unclean and clean things. They’ve disregarded my sabbaths. So I’ve been degraded among them. 27 The officials in her are like wolves ripping up prey. They shed blood and destroy lives for unjust riches. 28 Her prophets have whitewashed everything for them, seeing false visions and making wrong predictions for them, saying, “This is what the Lord God says,” when the Lord hasn’t spoken. 29 The important people of the land have practiced extortion and have committed robbery. They’ve oppressed the poor and mistreated the immigrant. They’ve oppressed and denied justice. 30 I looked for anyone to repair the wall and stand in the gap for me on behalf of the land, so I wouldn’t have to destroy it. But I couldn’t find anyone. 31 So I’ve poured out my anger on them. With my furious fire I’ve finished them off. I’ve held them accountable. This is what the Lord God proclaims. Ezekiel 22:23–31

[c] MT has prophets.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Announcing the forthcoming destruction of temple and city and criticizing the religious leaders, one does not make oneself popular (Jer 7:1–15). By declaring that the society is unacceptable to God, Jeremiah was not accepted by Israel. The prophet soon realized that hardship (Jer 11:21, 20:2) and alienation (Jeremiah 15–16) was the inevitable cost of his prophetic ministry. Numerous references confirm that Jeremiah was a man of great suffering. Chapter 11 brings Jeremiah in close association with the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.

The canonical portrayal of Jeremiah raises the question of what sustained and enabled the prophet to endure all the physical and spiritual hardship over the long years of his prophetic vocation. Jeremiah’s profound joy in the words of the Lord may have helped. The prophet ate them and they “became a joy and a delight of his heart” (Jer 15:16). In absolute obedience to God’s words, to the point of death (Jer 26:14–15), Jeremiah proclaims what God had entrusted to him. As we shall see, prayer, a close relationship with his God is another, possibly even more important, source for Jeremiah’s perseverance and inner strength.—Standing in the Breach, pages 332–33

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Jeremiah's calling

The prophet [Jeremiah] was commissioned “to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Correspondingly, we shall see that Jeremiah’s intercessory activities express both God’s grace and mercy, and also Yhwh’s wrath. As Yhwh’s prophet, who has access to the divine council, Jeremiah is intimately familiar with God’s perception and plans (cf. Jer 42:4–18). As a mark of Jeremiah’s intimacy with God’s will, the biblical text often merges the voice of God with the voice of Jeremiah. More than that, Jeremiah is so rooted in God and His ways that his prayers often reflect the pathos of the Lord. The book as a whole testifies that, no matter how severe the divine judgment will be, the ultimate divine purpose is the redemption of the people of God (cf. Jeremiah 30–33). This dual theme of grace and wrath and the dual commission of destroying and building also come to expression in the prophet’s prayers. On the one hand, his intercessions seek to build up Israel, while on the other hand, Jeremiah also prayed for the destruction of his adversaries.—Standing in the Breach, page 330

Eisenbrauns to Continue Under Penn State University Press

The news of the week:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What does it take?

Intercessory prayer in itself may not have atoning value (cf. Jer 15:1), if, however, the prayer is a reflection of God’s will and intention, it may. Thus, effective intercession is at its heart a prayer that seeks to be one with the will of God (cf. Isa 50:5, 53:10). In the case of the Isaianic servant, intercession is a complete turning to God, even to the point of self-sacrifice. To this kind of intercessory prayer God ascribes atoning power sufficient for the renewal of the covenant relationship.—Standing in the Breach, page 325

Monday, October 16, 2017

Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 in tandem

From a canonical perspective, both Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 provide important hermeneutical keys for the church to understand the suffering, death, and vindication of Jesus Christ. While both Psalm 22 and Isaiah provide categories of the righteous suffering servant/king being vindicated and the nations coming into the sphere of God’s salvation (cf. Ps 22:27–28 [MT 28–29]), only Isaiah witnesses as to how an individual can become mediator and medium for God’s salvific purposes. In this sense Isaiah 53 is prophetic, not least because Isaiah 53 and the following two chapters contain powerful hyperbolic speeches that transcend Israel’s actual experience in Babylon. Thereby, the prophet’s message assumes an eschatological character that not only points to Jesus, but also beyond to its fulfillment at the consummation of time (Isa 54:11–13).—Standing in the Breach, page 322

Bury the term!

Scot McKnight has a good posting on the use of the word Evangelical. Here's the concluding paragraph, but you really should read the whole thing.
The one thing I despise about Christianity in the USA is its aligning with a political party. Mainliners have done it; they’re Democrats. Evangelicals have followed suit; they’re Republicans. Politicization is accomplished.

Let the rest of us call ourselves Christians.

<idle musing>
I dropped the term many years ago when it became evident that the pro-war people had taken it over. If asked, I will tell people the only way I can be called "Evangelical" is if you use the term to mean the 18th century Evangelicals, who were at the forefront of not just caring about souls, but caring for their physical well-being: establishing schools, orphanages, pushing for social reform, fighting slavery, etc. Those are the heroes of the faith that I can identify with, not the current pro-American, pro-war users of the term that we find today.

So, I'm with Scot, bury the term and call ourselves Christians. And may people know us by the love we have for others. What a radical thought!
<idle musing>

Friday, October 13, 2017

What happened?

Isaiah 53 does not only testify to the prophet’s suffering, but it also provides the reason as to why God restores the covenant relationship with Israel. The righteous one, somehow vicariously takes on himself the sins of Israel (Isa 53:6), intercedes for them (Isa 53:12), and thereby makes many righteous (Isa 53:11). The main thrust of chap. 53 is that of the suffering and wounded healer that gives wholeness to the many.

When we look at the immediate literary context, we can note a clear shift of tone between chaps. 52 and 54. Before Isaiah 53, the prophet still talks of the people’s guilt. The exiles are drunken with the cup of judgment and are full of Yhwh’s wrath (Isa 51:17–20). The time of divine judgment and hopelessness, however, is coming to an end. It is time to wake up and to leave the Babylonian captivity behind (Isa 51:17, 52:1). There is an expectation that Yhwh is resolved to intervene in a dramatic act of redemption.

For thus says the Lord: You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money. . . . Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isa 52:3–10)
The fourth poem is followed by chap. 54, a chapter that replaces the relationship of God and His prophet with the relationship between God and Israel. There is a dramatic shift of images. Israel who was portrayed as a barren, adulterous women who was left by her husband, is now called to rejoice.—Standing in the Breach, page 319

Thursday, October 12, 2017

What is an intercessor?

Intercession according to Isaiah 53, is nothing less than the surrender of one’s own right to life in favor of God’s will. The servant accepts a ministry of nothing but contempt and misunderstanding, even to the point of dying the death of one branded as an evildoer. The servant’s ministry does not show any trace of self-seeking or self-exaltation. His intercession is a conscious surrender to God’s will and yet the servant does it out of his own free will. The servant identifies completely with the divine will.—Standing in the Breach, pages 316–17

<idle musing>
That's a strong definition! I'm not convinced that's the correct definition, but it definitely is a goal to strive for as an intercessor. But perhaps he is correct. Take a look at Paul; he' was willing to have himself condemned in order that Israel be saved.

Food for thought, anyway. I recall that there have been times in my own life when the burden of intercession has been so heavy that I've come almost to the point where Paul was. And in the most recent example I can think of, God answered that prayer. As I said, food for thought.

Just an
</idle musing>

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Active prayer

[V]erbal intercessory prayer and intercession in the sense of vicarious suffering and death are not exclusive categories but rather they are intrinsically connected in the ministry of the servant.

We should remember that one fundamental Old Testament concept that led to the formation of the substitutionary understanding as we find it in Isaiah 53, is prophetic intercessory prayer.—Standing in the Breach, page 316

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Delaying the inevitable

In sum, Israel’s pardon, reconciliation with their covenant God, and restoration to the land are always dependent on a fundamental “turning” back to covenant obedience and Yhwh’s compassion evoked by the intercessory prayer of the mediator. The public context of Solomon’s intercession suggests that the prayer partially aims to foster an understanding of the essential nature of repentance among the Israelites. According to classic Christian theology, Jesus’ intercessory act on the cross also demands a wholehearted response in the form of repentance of sin and trusting in the faithful love of God (cf. 1 John 1:8–2:2, Acts 2:37–38). In other words, the intercessor might be able to stand in the breach for a while, prolonging Yhwh’s just punishment from being implemented, but in the long term a breached relationship requires a wholehearted turning to God and a firm commitment to the covenant relationship by the lost wanderer.—Standing in the Breach, page 285

Monday, October 09, 2017

Intercession, yes. Repentance? Essential

As we shall learn from Jeremiah, even the greatest intercessors cannot achieve divine forgiveness, if the party being prayed for remains in their sinful ways. As there is nobody who does not sin, Solomon anticipates in his prayer a future when the people need to turn consciously from their sin in order to attain divine forgiveness (cf. 1 Kgs 8:46). In other words, only if Israel turns from their evil ways and recommits to covenant obedience will Solomon’s intercession find a favorable hearing.—Standing in the Breach, page 284

Friday, October 06, 2017

Forgiveness is only the beginning…

[I]t is important to note that Solomon’s prayer is never, as Fretheim notes:
simply for God to forgive sins, but are also for God to act in other ways to reverse the effects that their sins have had on various aspects of their lives. Salvation, therefore, is understood to comprehend more than forgiveness of sin; it includes also the amelioration of the consequence of sin that have reverberated out into the larger community, including the natural order. (vv. 35–37)
Terence E. Fretheim, First and Second Kings (WBC; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1999), 50—as quoted in Standing in the Breach, page 268

Thursday, October 05, 2017

No coercion

We've been gone for the last ten days, visiting family, hence the hiatus. We're back and so are the daily excerpts from Standing in the Breach.

A consistent theme of Solomon’s prayer, and indeed of many Old Testament intercessory prayers, is however that divine pardon cannot simply be evoked by the intercessor. Brueggemann notes that “Israel’s only way into the future is to reverse its course and reembrace Torah obedience.”

The dynamics and circumstances of Solomon’s second petition are also reminiscent of Samuel’s intercessory activity in Mizpah (cf. 1 Sam 7:3–10). There as well, in the face of a military threat, the people gathered at the sanctuary to confess their sins and to recommit themselves to covenant obedience. The covenant mediator intercedes for the repentant Israelites. Samuel’s prayers are also accompanied by burnt offerings (1 Sam 7:2–12). The logic of these passages seems to be that, unless the sinful party recommits to Torah obedience, the intercessor can only pacify God’s wrath for a certain time.—Standing in the Breach, page 267

Friday, September 22, 2017

Small-town Minnesota

Just ran across a marvelous essay on living in a small town in (southern) Minnesota.
Yet I know that all that scarcity—or the perception of it—is what drives cultural life here. Rather than paucity, I see abundance of life and fullness of experience. A dynamic current runs through our community life. Though much of rural life is defined by scarcity of people and places, it’s precisely that sparseness that compels people to get involved. That’s what moves us toward action and makes events more meaningful. It’s a scarcity that’s vibrant.

Rural life is plentiful and life-giving in its own way. So I continue down this path, engaging in life’s mystery. I look for opportunities. I take on some of the boldness mirrored by so many around me. I say yes. I will continue to experience the mystery of life and faith as I cast anchor in the vibrant scarcity of rural life.

Indeed! Of course, Grand Marais is a bit different in that we aren't a farming community—not enough dirt or level ground here—and the nearest town over 250 is Two Harbors, about 1.5 hours away (or you could go to Thunder Bay in Canada). We already have a food co-op and a thriving art scene that is nationally known. And, most importantly, we have Lake Superior!

The limited role of intercession

Intercessory prayer, however, rarely eradicates sin. Sin usually remains suspended over the sinners until divine judgment has been fulfilled (cf. Num 14:19–25, Jer 7:16) or until an act of atonement has been made (cf. Num 15:22–29). The same understanding seems to apply to David’s intercessory prayer and his subsequent sacrifice of atonement. Not unlike in the wilderness rebellion against Moses and Aaron, the people’s offense required both intercessory prayer (“they fell on their faces”) and Aaron’s cultic form of intercession (incense offering) to propitiate the divine wrath and to atone for the people’s sin. Only then the plague came to a halt (cf. Num 16:45–50, 2 Sam 24:18–25).—Standing in the Breach, page 247

Thursday, September 21, 2017

From despot to servant

Schenker catches the narrative development insightfully when he observes that from 2 Sam 24:3 onward, especially from v. 14 to v. 17, the account testifies to the transformation of the ruler. David’s conception of power does a 180-degree turn. At the outset of the narrative, the king is only concerned about personal power that is expressed through a numerically strong army. When the king’s seer confronts David with his guilt, David repents and attempts first to save himself (v. 14). As the extent of the disaster that David has caused becomes evident to him, the king prefers the downfall of himself and his family to that of the people (v. 17). Schenker observes,
King David changes from a despot to a father of his country; he no longer exploits his people and his power, rather he offers himself and his family for the people.
Only when David comes to stand in the right relationship to the power of a just ruler does he receive divine instructions to build an altar for himself and the people.—Standing in the Breach, pages 244–45

<idle musing>
I think there might be a lesson for us there. Servant leadership is a buzzword, but this passage shows that if it is really embraced, and not just tossed about, God can do something.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Why was David forgiven, but Saul not?

A brief comparison with 1 Samuel 15 is quite illuminating. Besides the reoccurrence of the expression of God’s change of mind concerning the punishment (נחם [nḥm]; cf. 1 Sam 15:29, 2 Sam 24:16), in both accounts we find reference to the sin of a king. In both instances, God sends a prophet in the morning to draw attention to the monarch’s transgression (cf. 1 Sam 15:12, 2 Sam 24:11). This is followed on both occasions by a double royal confession of guilt (cf. 1 Sam 15:24, 30; 2 Sam 24:10, 17). Initially, however, Saul sought to justify his failure by blaming the people (1 Sam 15:14, 21), while David fully acknowledges his guilt and is eventually ready to take upon himself all the punishment (2 Sam 24:17). Saul is not even ready to accept his own judgment (1 Sam 15:24–25). In fact, Saul does not change much during the conflict with Samuel, while David acknowledges the divine word communicated through the prophet and thus repented genuinely. Authentic repentance of sin averts the wrath of God and often leads to the reestablishment of the divine-human relationship. By praying that Yhwh would redirect the punishment onto himself, David appears to earn the right to pray for pardon for the people. David’s prayer was heard.—Standing in the Breach, page 244

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Wrath? Yes!

The notion of the wrath of God is not a pleasant one. Indeed the modern consciousness resists it mightily. Jonathan Edward’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is cited often, but only for negative and antiquarian reasons, that is, an example of a time and a theology that are long gone. Again, however, a dismissal of this notion may be simplistic and reflective of a tendency to cut the moral nerve of our theology. The wrath of God is a metaphor, an anthropomorphic figure, to express the conviction that there is in the universe a moral connection, that the love and mercy of God are not apart from or understandable without the justice of God. Sin is not finally, and in the Bible never actually, an abstract notion. . . . It is a breakdown in the nature of relationship, a moral breach that always has consequences . . . It is not a divine appetite that confession seeks to satisfy, but a divine nature that is just and insists that the universe reflect that justice.— Patrick D. Miller, They Cried to the Lord: The Form and Theology of Biblical Prayer (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994) 247–48; cited in Standing in the Breach, page 239 (emphasis original)

Monday, September 18, 2017

Carta Online!

Carta has a new online program coming soon. It looks great; they are going to premier it in Boston at AAR/SBL in November. You can get a preview here:

Figurative language? Or literal? Is there a difference?

The traditional position, both in philosophy and in linguistics – and indeed the everyday view – is that (1) there is a stable and unambiguous notion of literality, and (2) that there is a sharp distinction to be made between literal language, on the one hand, and non-literal or figurative language on the other. According to this view, while literal language is precise and lucid, figurative language is imprecise, and is largely the domain of poets and novelists. In his 1994 book The Poetics of Mind, cognitive psychologist and cognitive linguist Raymond Gibbs examined this issue. Based on a close examination of the key features that are held to distinguish literal and figurative language, and based on a wide-ranging survey of different kinds of psycholinguistic experiments aimed at uncovering such a distinction, Gibbs found that there is no evidence for a principled distinction between literal and figurative language.—Cognitive Linguistics: An Introduction, p. 287

All that's left…

Like so often in the psalms, David entrusts himself to Yhwh’s mercy (cf. Ps 51:1 [MT 51:3]). Divine mercy is one of the fundamental attributes that Yhwh has revealed to Moses in the aftermath of Israel’s archetypal sin, the golden calf (רחם [rḥm]; cf. Exod 34:6). Since then, Israel has invoked divine mercy, as one of the last resorts, like one who has nothing left to claim for oneself, but to throw oneself to the “womb pity” of God (רחם [rḥm]; cf. Dan 9:18).—Standing in the Breach, page 237

Friday, September 15, 2017

How does this king thing work anyway?

The prophets speak on behalf of God to the people, while the kings are called to rule and judge wisely on behalf of the divine King. The prophets are called to stand in the breach on behalf of the sinful people, whereas the kings have the responsibility of protecting the people against earthly enemies (cf. Ps 72). Unlike the prophet, the king’s role is not primarily advocating for the people before the heavenly throne and speaking to the people on behalf of God. In fact, it is interesting to note that God communicates to a person as great and pious as King David through the prophets Nathan and Gad. Having said this, Israel’s kings also intercede occasionally for the people.—Standing in the Breach, page 224

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Worship wars, part 2

From The Christian Week
I have recently had the opportunity to visit two of the most popular churches in my city. They both had something in common when it came to worship. First, both had very good worship bands that were obviously very talented. The lights in the auditorium were dimmed (or right out) and the lights were on the band. The band only played a few songs and most of the congregation listened instead of singing along. Basically, both churches put on very nice and professional Christian music concerts.
I’m seeing and hearing a lot of this in the last several years.

Back some 15 years ago, while we still lived in the Twin Cities, we went to a all-city gathering of a megachurch that had local campuses scattered throughout the city, such that each branch was only a couple of hundred. Our daughter was involved with one of the branches and invited us to join her for the big gathering, advertised as a worship service. The first 30–45 minutes were basically a big concert, complete with light show. Truly spectacular, but I wouldn’t have called it worship; the songs were not singable by a congregation and there was no attempt to involve the congregation. It was just a (well-done) concert.

Sadly, that seems to have become the norm in many places—and not just megachurches, either. : ( Maybe I’m an old man waxing nostalgic, but I seem to recall that once upon a time people would enjoy sitting on the floor and singing (admittedly not very good or theologically deep) choruses together. If somebody could play a couple of chords on the guitar, they would accompany, but it didn’t really matter. What mattered was the body was together and sharing.

That seems to be dead now. People talk about getting together for a Bible study, and you enquire about the format. Response, “Oh, we’ll throw in a CD and sing along with some well-known Christian artist for a song or two, then we’ll throw in a teaching DVD by a well-known Christian teacher.” My question, “Is there any interaction on the part of those there?” Response, “Oh, sure, we’ll discuss the teaching a little bit, but hey, what do we know compared to the teacher?”

The Reformation is dead.
</idle musing>

Justice? What is justice?

In the Old Testament, justice always describes a relationship between two entities. When applied to God, the terms for justice can be used with reference to the relationship between God and the world, between God and society, or between God and individuals. Correspondingly, when applied to humanity, justice can refer to the relationship between an individual and the world, between an individual and God, or between an individual and society. The relational aspect of justice gives it a dynamic and process-driven character. That is to say, justice can increase and decrease, it can be attributed or denied, and therefore ultimately remains elusive.

The motif of justice in the Old Testament has two axes: divine justice and human justice. Both axes involve—albeit with different emphases—cosmological, historical, anthropological, theological, and ethical dimensions. Both axes share three further aspects: the belief in justice, the problematizing of justice, and the redefining of justice.—The Development of God in the Old Testament, page 30

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

There are limits!

The outcome of Samuel’s prayer (1 Sam 15:11) is already foreshadowed in the prophet’s warning that was voiced in the context of his commitment to pray for both people and king: “But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king” (1 Sam 12:25). We find the same dynamics in Deut 10:12–22. There intercessory prayer for pardon can only be effective in the long run, if the prayed-for party returns to Yhwh and His ways. In the case of Saul, we have seen that there are indicators that suggest that his repentance was not genuine. This understanding of intercessory prayer is strongly endorsed in Jeremiah’s intercessory activity. Jeremiah has to learn as well that there comes a time when intercessory prayer for the disobedient party is rendered ineffective and judgment takes over, if the party itself does not return to God (cf. Jer 15:1). In spite of the prophets’ persistent warnings and prayers, Israel persisted in their disobedience. The prophetic warning materialized in 721 and 587 B.C.E.—Standing in the Breach, page 222

<idle musing>
Yes, there are limits to how long. I was in a discussion with someone a week or two ago who thinks that it is "too late" for the US and the Western world. Personally, I don't agree. Anyone who has read about ancient Greece and then compares it to modern western society would have to agree that western society still looks puritanical compared to them … and look at the success of the early church in those areas! If only we would spend more time praying and less time soapboxing, maybe we'd see the same results.

Of course, praying isn't as "sexy" and doesn't bring the personal accolades. And big gatherings, proclaiming victory over the darkness, are much easier than the moment-by-moment death to self necessary for real victory over the darkness.

But the call remains. It's our choice to obey it—or not.

Whose praise would you prefer? Society's? Your subgroup's? Or God's?

Just an
</idle musing>

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Are you listening?

This pattern of informing the prophetic mediator is categorically spelled out in Amos 3:7: “Surely the Lord God does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.” Particularly in the case of Moses’ advocacy, I have argued that Yhwh does not just make the prophet privy to His intentions for information’s sake, but Yhwh does it because He seeks to elicit an intercessory response from the mediator (cf. Exod 32:10, Num 14:12, Deut 9:14). Moses responds to what is most likely a concealed divine invitation to plead for mercy by imploring the Lord: “why does your wrath burn hot against your people. . . . Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind (נחם [nḥm]) and do not bring disaster on your people” (Exod 14–32:11). As a result of Moses’ prayer, Yhwh changed His mind (נחם [nḥm]). about the intended judgment (Exod 32:15). So when we read in 1 Samuel 15 that “The Word of the Lord came to Samuel,” saying that God regretted (נחם [nḥm]) that He made Saul king because of his disobedience, we are most likely to understand that Yhwh is not only informing Samuel in characteristic fashion about His plans, but also that God is inviting a response from His prophet.—Standing in the Breach, page 209

<idle musing>
Are you listening to God? Are you hearing him say he's going to judge? If so, maybe instead of getting on your soapbox and condemning everything, you should get on your knees and intercede. OK, forget the maybe. You definitely should get on your knees and intercede. Then, and only then, do you have a right (and responsibility) to warn the people.

My experience (limited though it may be) is that if I start blasting without interceding first, it's out of a self-righteous attitude. On the other hand, if I intercede first, I find that I'm crying out for them because of love, not with a judgmental attitude. Try it!
</idle musing>

Monday, September 11, 2017

No silver bullet

In the context of Moses’ prayer, as recorded in Deuteronomy 9–10, there is good reason to argue that the efficacy of the intercessor’s prayer is dependent on the reception of the prophets’ instructions (cf. Deut 10:12–22). In other words, the response of the guilty party plays a decisive role in whether the mediator’s prayer is answered or not. Only if the sin is recognized and confessed, and one is committed to do so no more, is the mediator’s intercession likely to be effective long-term. This dynamic of biblical intercession is further confirmed in the context of Jeremiah’s intercessory ministry. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that Samuel’s speech ends in a warning that reminds of the covenant curses as we find them in the book of Deuteronomy: “you shall surely perish” (Deut 8:20, 27).—Standing in the Breach, page 205

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Long-suffering defined

The fact that Yhwh kept on calling and commissioning prophets over the centuries reveals that God is fundamentally committed to His people in love and righteousness.—Standing in the Breach, page 204

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

I can't help it!

[First Samuel 12] Verse 23 strongly suggests that intercession “is an inextricable part of the prophetic role.” It seems as if Samuel is not at liberty to refuse Israel’s request for advocacy before Yhwh. We shall see in our reading of Isaiah’s, Jeremiah’s, and Amos’s intercessory prayers that their ministries were driven by a compulsion to defend the sinful party even against divine prohibition to pray for the people. … Defending the sinful people in intercessory prayer before a loving and just God is the benchmark of the authentic prophet. Like Moses, Samuel is aware that Israel breached the covenant, and yet he could not but advocate for divine grace. In doing so, the prophet reflects in a sense the heart of Yhwh. Just as God could not cast away His repentant people in spite of their sins (cf. 1 Sam 12:22), so Samuel could not help but intercede for the undeserving.—Standing in the Breach, pages 203–4

Monday, September 04, 2017

Sensing the tension

Psalm 99 illustrates well God’s fundamental challenge. That is, how to be both a loving God and an “avenger of their wrongdoings” (Ps 99:8). According to Psalm 99, Yhwh’s kingship and holiness are ultimately defined by divine willingness to bear Israel’s sin, without leaving the sinners unpunished. Yhwh does not avoid sinners and their wrongdoings, but is patiently willing to endure their sins. At the same time God ensures that justice is done. This portrayal is not only fundamentally rooted in Yhwh’s self-revelation as a God of love and justice (cf. Exod 34:6–7), but is also of central importance for our discussion of Samuel’s intercessory ministry as depicted in chaps. 12 and 15.—Standing in the Breach, page 201

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Languages change, so should we

The old King James translation “helpmeet” does not mean a help mate but rather a helper who is “meet,” that is, suitable for the task. Woman is not man’s maid, nor merely his assistant, but a “suitable companion,” corresponding to him. She is the crown of creation, God’s last act that makes it all very good.—Ben Witherington in Torah Old and New, forthcoming from Fortress Press

Friday, September 01, 2017

Not just a veneer

Chapter 7 [of 1 Samuel] portrays a people who come to their senses in the face of opposition. With the help of Samuel, the covenant mediator, Israel is readily willing to remove all their idols from their midst and put their trust anew in their covenant God only. As we have seen, the narrative reports in some details of their repentant hearts. Israel confesses their sins and put their entire trust in Yhwh and His mediator (1 Sam 7:6). In other words, it is not about manipulative or mechanical practices that seek to evoke Yhwh’s favor. Rather, the narrative paints a picture of genuine repentance, reorientation of trust, and allegiance.—Standing in the Breach, page 189

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Obedience? Or politics?

In the first book of Samuel, the sea-people represent in some sense Israel’s fear. Thus, one of the central issues of chap. 7, as in so many other passages of the Old Testament, is the issue of trust. In whom does Israel put their trust? The foreign gods of a technologically more advanced people, a tangible symbol such as the ark, or their covenant God who delivered their fathers from Egypt? The reader knows from chaps. 4–6 that Philistine power rests on idolatrous loyalties that cannot save. Israel has little choice than to take refuge in Yhwh. Samuel’s intercession is in some sense detached from the world of warfare and politics, it is an act of obedience and courage in the face of a real danger and threat.—Standing in the Breach, page 188

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

He will hear!

Samuel’s intercessory prayer is emphasized by the comment that he cried out to Yhwh on behalf of Israel. This time, it is not the people who cry out in the face of danger (cf. 1 Sam 12:10, Ps 107), but their mediator. Here we find employed the most fundamental terminology to describe the dynamics of intercessory prayer: Israel urged Samuel not to cease to cry out to the Lord for them. Samuel cried out to Yhwh on behalf of Israel and Yhwh answered him (1 Sam 7:9). Miller argues that not only is the cry from trouble and suffering “one of the thematic threads of the Scriptures,” but so is the certainty that God will “hear and respond to that outcry.”—Standing in the Breach, page 184

Monday, August 28, 2017

A recurring theme

After Samuel disappeared from the biblical text for more than two chapters, he finally reappears in the narrative without introduction (1 Sam 7:3). Back on the scene, Samuel demands three things of Israel: (1) that they remove all foreign gods and turn radically from idolatry (2) that they renew their commitment to Yhwh (3) that they serve Yhwh alone (1 Sam 7:3). Samuel’s postulations echo Moses’ covenant faith as we find it expressed in Deuteronomy (cf. Deut 6:4–5, 10:12–22). Thus, Samuel affirms the core claim of Mosaic covenantal faith: to turn (שוב [shuv]) from idolatry and to recommit themselves wholeheartedly to Yhwh. Only then, God will deliver them from the oppression of the Philistines.—Standing in the Breach, page 179

Friday, August 25, 2017

What was he doing all night?

[First Samuel] Chapter 15, among other things, illustrates what Samuel meant when he declared that he, as a prophet, considers it as sin (חטא [ḥt']) against the Lord not to intercede for those entrusted to him (1 Sam 12:23). In characteristic fashion, the prophet is not only informed about Yhwh’s intention but is also commissioned to deliver the will of God (cf. Amos 3:7). In this case, Samuel is sent to inform Saul that God has rejected him as king because of his disobedience. In response to Yhwh’s strict words, Samuel spends the entire night in prayer with the Lord (1 Sam 15:11). Chapter 15 raises issues of great theological delicacy, such as the power and discernment of genuine repentance, election, and covenant obedience, divine mutability, and the limits of prophetic intercession.—Standing in the Breach, page 177

<idle musing>
What was Samuel doing all night? Another model of what a true prophet looks like. He's given a message to deliver, but before he delivers it, he spends the whole night interceding, asking God to be merciful—at least that's how I read it, based on Samuel's comment in 1 Sam 12:23. That doesn't seem to be the way some of these so-called prophets work today.

Even if you can get them to say anything other than "God will bless you with abundant material blessings," all they will do is stand on a hill and pronounce curses.

I know of exceptions, real prophets who almost sweat blood interceding, but they are the exception, not the rule.
</idle musing>

Thursday, August 24, 2017

It's in your hands

We have seen that Moses’ intercessory activity enabled Israel to make a new start. But ultimately, it is the people’s choice that will determine their future (the same dynamic is found in Numbers 13–14, where after a temporary pardon, it is up to the new generation whether they want to follow Yhwh or not). As faithful mediator, Moses stands in the breach before Yhwh in order to obtain pardon for them. He does not stop there, for with prophetic vigor equal to when he defended the people before God, Moses admonishes the people to change their sinful ways and recommit themselves to God and His ways (cf. Deut 10:12–20). This twofold ministry of representing the people before Yhwh and of representing Yhwh before the people is reminiscent of the later prophets. In fact, both aspects mark the genuine prophet (cf. 1 Sam 12:23; Jer 27:18; Ezek 13:5, 22:30).—Standing in the Breach, page 170

<idle musing>
This is beginning to sound like a refrain, isn't it? The intercessor stands in the gap, then rebukes the people. If the people respond in repentance, i.e., they change their hearts and their ways, then judgment doesn't fall.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

High standards

The narrative states several times that God was going to destroy Israel (cf. Deut 9:8, 14, 19, 20). It was only through Moses’ sacrificial and persistent prayer that YHWH showed mercy, changed His annihilative intensions, and renewed the covenant with them (Deut 9:19, 10:10; cf. Exod 32:10–14, Ps 106:23). Thus, the theology of this narrative seems to suggest that God’s grace and mercy must first be invoked and claimed in prayer (Exod 34:6–9). Not just by anyone, but by a faithful mediator.—Standing in the Breach, page 170

<idle musing>
OK, you "name it and claim it" people: There's the standard. Can you meet it?

I suspect not, because the goals of most are self-centered, not God-centered. You can't be a faithful intercessor without being God-centered. And if you are God-centered, the only things you want to claim are ones that will bring the maximum glory to God, not to self. And that basically disqualifies 99% of what most people in the U.S. want.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Ouch! That hurts

Just ran across a (longish) post that attempts to explain why 81% of self-identifying evangelicals voted for, and largely continue to support, the current POTUS.
Donald Trump is what we evangelicals already are, or at least are becoming. It explains why he is so supported among us. Even after a cavalcade of circus-like activity coming from the White House since his inauguration, he still retains his support. Why? Why not, I say, if he matches what we actually value. We love entertainment, ourselves, power, and money. Trump gives us those things. We need to admit it. We love these values even more than the Son of God they obscure behind them. We might fill out surveys and claim differently, but we don’t live that way.
<idle musing>
Ouch! Unfortunately, as he points out in the main body of the post, it is true. The keynotes of traditional Evangelicalism of the 18th through mid-20th century (as highlighted by Bebbington) have been eclipsed by the love of self, which manifests itself in the love of entertainment, power, and money. The exact opposite of what conversion used to mean.

Lord, have mercy! Bring revival to your church!
</idle musing>

Moses as a type

The twofold prophetic role anticipates Jesus’ life and ministry. As one who is part of the divine council, he speaks with divine authority (Matt 5:21–22; John 5:19–30, 12:49–50, 17:8). As for Jesus’ intercessory prayer, as one who was tested in every way, yet without sin, Jesus can advocate on behalf of humanity in a unique way before the throne of God (cf. Heb 4:15, John 17).—Standing in the Breach, page 168

Monday, August 21, 2017


Moses speaks to the people as one who has intimate knowledge of Yhwh’s nature and purposes. Not only does his prophetic utterance presuppose intimate knowledge of the divine, but Moses’ intercessory prayer also testifies to a deep understanding of Yhwh’s attributes and plan. The intercessor can influence the divine decision-making and rebuke the people with divine authority because he has a “place” at the divine council (cf. Exod 24:2–4, 15–18; Deut 5:27, 31).—Standing in the Breach, page 168

Friday, August 18, 2017

No, it's more than that!

Often the prophet’s prime or sole responsibility is mistakenly perceived as receiving and communicating God’s words (judgment or salvation), but the biblical picture of the prophetic office is clearly twofold. It entails both the communication of God’s will and the representation of the people’s concerns before God. The prophets usually spoke with as much fervor and zeal to the Lord in prayer as to the people in judgment oracles. The reality of judgment and threat usually go hand in hand with intercessory prayer. Only the office of the prophet allows for this dialectic role.—Standing in the Breach, page 167

<idle musing>
If there is one thing you take away from reading this book, this is it. Prophets don't primarily foretell or even forthtell. Prophets primarily intercede.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I have so much of a problem with the current rage of "personal prophecy." Where's the intercession? How can you intercede when all you ever prophecy is "good stuff?" It reminds me of the false prophets in Jeremiah.

Of course, it didn't end so well for Hananiah, did it? (See Jeremiah 28.) Just an
</idle musing>

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Me, at book exhibits

This is me, at book exhibits (ARC = Advance Reading Copies)
You've got to go there to see the whole thing...

Fix it!

Restoring a breached wall by doing righteous community work is a longterm process. When the hour of destruction is advancing, it is the prophets’ duty to stand temporarily in the breach in prayer, before the gradual process of restoring the divine-human relation can begin. Deuteronomy 9–10 gives exactly expression to this dynamic. First, in prophetic fashion, Moses draws attention to Israel’s sin by shattering the covenant tablets (Deut 9:15) and hastens to defend the breached wall from YHWH’s destructive wrath (“For I was afraid that the anger that the Lord bore against you was so fierce that he would destroy you” Deut 9:19). After having successfully fended off the first attack (Deut 10:10–11), the mediator urges Israel to repair the wall by recommitting themselves to fear YHWH and to love their neighbor (Deut 10:12–22).—Standing in the Breach, page 166

<idle musing>
Indeed. That's one reason I have a problem with "declaring the powers bound" thinking. If there is no repentance, you can rebuke demons all day long and it won't have any effect. Repentance is essential to repair the walls. Yes, we need to stand in the breach as intercessors, but we also need to call people to repentance—and live lives that reflect holiness ourselves!

I like how the CEB translates repentance: change your hearts and minds. Too often in the US Evangelical community, conversion has been nothing more than a change of mind. No change in behavior, just a mental assent to a set of beliefs.

Sorry, but that doesn't cut it. That's selling out the biblical definition for cheap grace, easy believism. I'm with the early Anabaptists here: no change in lifestyle equals no salvation. That's one reason Wesley organized his converts into bands and societies: to keep people accountable and to promote "scriptural holiness throughout the land." We could do a lot worse—and are : (
</idle musing>

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Judgment will catch up!

[E]ven after their most grievous offense was pardoned, they continued to be rebellious (cf. Deut 9:22–24). The continuous intercessory activity of Moses indicates, however, that his prayer, though powerful and effective, provides only a temporary solution to Israel’s predicament. It appears that Moses’ summons to a change of heart suggests itself as a more permanent solution to Israel’s rebelliousness. Their stubbornness, in the long run, can only be remedied through circumcision of heart (Deut 10:16), a metaphor for an inner renewal of the covenant relationship, a decisive act of committed obedience.—Standing in the Breach, page 165

<idle musing>
At the risk of overextending the application of this, I would say we're on the same path in this country...there's a limit to what intercession can do. At some point, individuals have to decide whether they want God or not. Contrary to what some think, you do reap what you sow. And violence always begets violence, just as hatred always begets hatred.

Unfortunately, the current evidence is that the choice is "not."

But we are called to pray anyway.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Faithfulness hurts

The fact that YHWH responds favorably to Moses’ threefold appeal reveals not only that mercy depends on YHWH’s character and His promises but also that God allows Himself to be persuaded by His faithful servant to let love triumph over justice. This is not to deny the fact that YHWH has the freedom of disciplining His rebellious son, but the outcome of Moses’ prayer strongly suggests that one of the central purposes of Israel’s election is God’s commitment to fellowship with His people. This is a commitment that in times of rebellion costs Him dearly.—Standing in the Breach, page 163

Monday, August 14, 2017

The stakes are high

In spite of the fact that Israel has been obstinate and rebellious from the moment of birth (Isa 48:4; cf. Deut 9:7, 24), YHWH is determined to glorify Himself by delivering Israel from exile and thereby show once again that He is God of gods (cf. Isa 52:5–6). This is a costly undertaking on God’s part because the restoration and preservation of God’s name (and covenant) is ultimately only possible by way of self-sacrificial commitment to His people. Thus, it has become clear that Moses raises a problem, which reaches to the very heart of God’s internal dilemma. How is one to consolidate divine justice with divine grace and loving commitment? There is no way that one can or should try to resolve this tension because it belongs to the very essence of God’s being (cf. Exod 34:6–7, Num 14:18). The fact, that YHWH allows, even invites, Moses to participate in this dilemma in faithful prayer speaks volumes for YHWH’s solidarity for His people. We have seen that Moses at no point excuses or belittles Israel’s rebellion and disobedience, but he juxtaposes it with YHWH’s history of loving and faithful commitment to them and with the fact that YHWH’s name would be at stake if Israel were annihilated.—Standing in the Breach, pages 161–62