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Archive for the ‘election’ Category

An old post from my five part series on David and Goliath: Five Smooth Stones.  Through the lens of this story I looked at preachinggrace, faith and reward.  Here I look at the subject of election, trying as always to keep the Anointed King at the centre.

Israel did not elect David.  Not even his nearest and dearest wanted David as king.

In 1 Samuel 16 we see the choosing of this king.  Yet it is not man’s choice but God’s.

The LORD said… “I have chosen one of [Jesse’s] sons to be king…”

Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”…

Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.”…

Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint [David]; he is the one.” So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.

Here is the LORD’s election.  Not the firstborn Eliab, whose name (My God is Father) was clearly very well suited to the post of Christ!  The LORD rejects what man chooses.

His choice always confounds human wisdom.  We choose the rich and powerful.  He chooses the lowly and lifts them up.  This is just what we have been taught by Hannah’s prayer at the beginning of the book:

e.g. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honour. (1 Sam 2:8)

How does this work out?  Hannah goes on…

“It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the LORD will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven; the LORD will judge the ends of the earth. “He will give strength to His King and exalt the horn of His Anointed.” (1 Sam 2:10)

The LORD chooses His Anointed – His Messiah or Christ – and strengthens Him in order to shatter the proud and powerful.  And Chapter 16 has shown us that even this choice has been counter to human intuitions.  The Israelite electorate did not choose David, the greatest Israelite kingmaker, Samuel, did not choose David, his brothers did not choose David.  The LORD chose David.  And He anointed him “in the presence of his brothers.”

This is both a judgement and a comfort for David’s brothers.  It is a judgement – they are not the chosen ones.  They have been passed over by the LORD. He has searched their hearts and found them wanting.  This must have been a bitter disappointment to them.  But, at the same time, there is great comfort.  Immediately these brothers have been made royalty!  Though in themselves they are not chosen, in their brother they belong to the royal household.  This election has thrust them down and brought them back up.

Now if chapter 16 was the LORD’s choice of David, chapter 17 shows David choosing himself for his people.  In chapter 17 David comes to the front lines but already his brothers have forgotten or dismissed his identity.  They were there when he was anointed and they must have known Hannah’s song – the anointed one would shatter the enemy (1 Sam 2:10).  But again, David is not man’s choice.  He is not even the choice of his own brothers. (1 Sam 17:28)

In the end David takes matters into his own hands.  On the basis of the LORD’s election, David basically chooses himself for Israel.  He convinces Saul to let him fight (v33ff) and effectively goes in Saul’s place (Saul being the Israelite’s giant (1 Sam 9:10) and the natural human choice for Champion).

The chosen king chooses himself to the post of Champion, no thanks to any human support.  He even rejects the armour of Saul and single handedly defeats the enemy.  No Israelite could say on that day ‘I knew David could do it!’  Not even his own brothers could say ‘I cheered him on.’  His own arm worked salvation for him.  And it was not even for a willing people.  He went into battle for those who had rejected him.

The victors on that day in the valley of Elah were not those who had previously backed the right champion.  They couldn’t even claim to have voted for David.  They were simply those who found themselves, contrary to all their previous doubts and denunciations, caught up in the victory of another.  Dismay had turned to praise as they saw the LORD’s chosen king who had chosen himself for them.  The stone the builders had rejected had become the capstone and – suddenly, unexpectedly – it was marvellous in their eyes (Ps 118:22).

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Previous posts in this series have looked through the lens of David & Goliath to consider preaching, grace and faith.  In each case we have seen the temptation to approach these subjects without the Anointed King at the centre.  In such a vision, the battle scene simply boils down to an anaemic vision of the sovereignty of God and the eventual victory of His people.  But without an explicit Christ-centred-ness, what are we left with?

Well, preaching becomes simply the rallying cry to soldier on.  Grace becomes simply God’s sovereign empowerment for battle.  Faith becomes our work in trusting this sovereign God against all odds.  But all of this (ironically since this vision usually seeks to be “”God-centred””) focuses on ourselves.  For where do we look in this version of preaching?  To ourselves and our soldiering abilities – Are we faithful to His military briefings?  Where do we look in this version of grace?  To the (sovereignly empowered) works that God has wrought through us.  And so evidences of grace are found where?  In us.  And where do we look in this version of faith?  We test our own believing state, looking for this internal mental act within.   Without Christ-centred-ness at the heart of it, even “”God-centred-ness”” will turn us in on ourselves.

And this is also true in the realm of election.  Just as preaching, grace and faith should be turning us away from ourselves and explicitly to Christ, so election must be focused on Him.  I do not find grace or faith in me – I find it in Christ.  Similarly I do not find election in myself, I find it in Christ.

Election is God’s choice of Christ (and His choice to fight for us) in spite of our doubts and denunciations.  Election is the gospel for Christ is the Elect One.

Election is the Father’s choosing of Christ contra to all our rejection of Him (Is 28:16; 42:1; 1 Pet 1:20).  If I ask myself whether I am choice in God’s eyes the answer can only be a resounding No.  In myself I am repugnant, reprehensible, reprobate.  But in Christ I share His chosen status – I share His royal name, I share His family relations, I share His victory.  Election focuses us on Christ and only on ourselves when considered in Him.

Election (like grace or faith) becomes a dark truth whenever we turn our eyes to ourselves.  How quickly faith evaporates when we examine it – for faith is essentially looking away to Christ.  Election is the same.  Election is neither hidden in myself, nor is it merely hidden in an inscrutible divine will – election is hidden (and therefore revealed) in Jesus.  Notice that phrase from 1 Samuel 16:13 – ‘Samuel anointed David in the presence of his brothers.’ Election does not simply occur in the divine counsels of eternity.  Election is disclosed as it really is in Jesus Christ.  The electing Father declares His eternal choice to all as He points us to the One who tabernacled among us:

“Here is My Servant, Whom I uphold, My Chosen One in Whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him and He will bring justice to the nations.”  (Is 42:1)

Election is laid bare whenever we look to Jesus.  The eternal choice of God is on view in Christ.  To lay hold of this Elect One is to lay hold infallibly and eternally upon the election of God.  It lies outside ourselves, but precisely because of this it lies in the safest place for us.

So where do we fit in all this?  Well where did we fit in with ‘grace’ or ‘faith’?  Simply put, we found ourselves the happy recipients of them.  We found ourselves rejoicing in the victory of Christ when we saw Him.  It’s no different with election.  At one time we doubted and denounced Him, now we trust and exalt Him and find ourselves (like David’s brothers) benefiting from His chosen status.  And so all those who look away from self, who look to Jesus and say a belated but grateful ‘yes’ to God’s choice of king, they find themselves participating in the chosenness of their Champion.  Their choice has done nothing.  His choice has done everything.  They do not look to themselves to understand their election since it really doesn’t reside there.  It resides in Christ – the Elect One of God.

It’s been a lengthy post already but I don’t think I can do better than to quote Spurgeon once again.  This is perhaps my favourite quotation on the whole topic:

“Many persons want to know their election before they look to Christ, but they cannot learn it thus, it is only to be discovered by ‘looking unto Jesus.’ If you desire to ascertain your own election; after the following manner shall you assure your heart before God.  Do you feel yourself to be a lost, guilty sinner? Go straightway to the cross of Christ and tell Jesus so, and tell Him that you have read in the Bible, ‘Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.’  Tell Him that He has said, ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’  Look to Jesus and believe on Him, and you shall make proof of your election directly, for so surely as thou believest, thou art elect.  If you will give yourself wholly up to Christ and trust Him, then you are one of God’s chosen ones; but if you stop and say, ‘I want to know first whether I am elect’, you ask what you do not know. Go to Jesus, be you never so guilty, just as you are.  Leave all curious inquiry about election alone.  Go straight to Christ and hide in His wounds, and you shall know your election. The assurance of the Holy Spirit shall be given to you, so that you shall be able to say, ‘I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him.’  Christ was at the everlasting council: He can tell you whether you were chosen or not; but you cannot find it out any other way.  Go and put your trust in Him and His answer will be – ‘I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.’ There will be no doubt about His having chosen you, when you have chosen Him.”  (‘Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.’ Morning and Evening, July 17.  1 Thess 1:4.)

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Like this.

Rich ‘Bugsy’ Owen has outdone himself with this sermon on Genesis 27.  Highly recommended!

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Yesterday I posted a quotation by TF Torrance on the new birth.  Essentially Torrance said he was born again when Jesus was born from the virgin womb and rose from the virgin tomb.  What do you make of that?

As Dave commented, it only highlights the objective side of the new birth, and you’ve got to balance that with the subjective.  That’s absolutely right, we need both.  By itself the quote is unbalanced and insufficient.  But let me ask you – have you ever heard sermons/teaching/quotations about Jesus being born again?   Where have you heard about Christ’s objective achievement of the new birth through His Person and work?  And how often have you heard about your need to subjectively appropriate it?  Balance is indeed called for!

Recently I saw the “evangelical” episode of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s “History of Christianity” (you can still watch it for the next 6 days on BBC iPlayer).  He continually describes the distinctive focus of evangelicalism as “our choice for God.”  Of course every time he said it I howled at the tv screen.  Theologically, “our choice for God” is the very reverse of the evangel.  It’s His choice for us.  But the more I watched and the more I thought about evangelicalism the movement, I had to admit, it’s a pretty apt description.  How much of what passes for evangelicalism is actually “our choice for God”?  “Be more committed, more devoted, more serious, more emotional – choose for God.”

So what’s the answer?  Well let’s think about John 3 a little bit.

“You must be born again (or ‘born from above’)”, says Jesus (v7).  Therefore it is not in your power – not of ‘the will of the flesh’ as John 1:12 puts it.  Flesh only gives birth to flesh (v6) – it never gives rise to Spirit-life.  Something needs to come down ‘from above’.

Think about it – birth is something that happens to you.  When you were born, someone else suffered (your mother), and you benefited.  (cf John 16:21-22).  You were entirely passive in your first birth.  So it is with your second birth.

Or think of the wind (v8).  You don’t control it, you just get blown on.  Again it’s passive.

Well alright then – it’s out of my hands.  Does that mean it’s just completely arbitrary?  Is it just a case of drifting about hoping for a favourable wind??

Well let’s look a little deeper.  In verse 8 Jesus is using a play on words.  ‘Spirit’ is the same word as ‘wind’ (or ‘breath’) and ‘voice’ is the same word as ‘sound.’  So Jesus is saying “The Spirit blows where He wills, you hear His voice.”

That’s interesting.  The Spirit might be sovereign and invisible – but He is audible.  He speaks.  And the voice of His breath blows on us fleshy corpses to give us life.  Ring any Old Testament bells?  Jesus has just made an allusion to Ezekiel 36 – “born of water and the Spirit” (cf Ezek 36:25-27).   And now it sounds like an allusion to Ezekiel 37 – the valley of dry bones.  Remember?

Then He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them,`Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath (Spirit) enter you, and you will come to life.  (Ezekiel 37:4-5)

Jesus says in John 3 that dead, fleshy people will hear the voice of the Spirit and receive new life.  Proclamation will bring the new birth!  And what is the content of this proclamation?  What will the Spirit’s voice be saying?

Well He won’t be instructing you about your ascent into spiritual life (v13).  Instead He’ll tell you about the Son of Man’s lifting up (v14ff).  As Christ is lifted up so we look to Him and find new life (cf Num 21:8).

It’s not something we achieve, it’s a birth from above.  It’s given to us by the Father as we hear the voice of the Spirit and look to the Son.  So the new birth is not our work.  It’s nothing that flesh can produce.  But neither is it the arbitrary caprice of some abstract divine sovereignty.

You see commonly people teach that the new birth is outside ourselves – which is true.  But to secure that truth they locate it in a hidden and inscrutable divine will.  Others who find that hard to swallow draw attention to the way the chapter continues.  They point to verses 14-16 and proclaim that this new life is in our power.  After all, they say, we have the power to ‘believe’ don’t we?

And so it becomes a fight between determinism and free will.  One side finally locates the new birth in a hidden divine will, the other finally locates it in us.  But neither side locates it in Christ.  And Christ Himself is the One who makes good both verses 1-8 and verses 14-16.

Because Jesus was born again.  He is Himself the Pioneer of the new birth.

He became flesh (John 1:14) and lifted up that old humanity to suffer its brazen judgement.  Like a seed He took the Adamic ways down into the grave to die and be raised up new (John 12:24).  And when He rose again, He rose into new Spirit-life.

[Christ was] put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18)

At Christmas, Jesus assumed flesh-life.  On Good Friday, Jesus destroyed flesh-life.  On Easter Sunday, Jesus birthed Spirit-life.  Jesus was born again.

The new birth was achieved completely apart from our own fleshly powers.  But it was not done in a secluded corner of heaven.  No, Jesus has been raised up for us in our midst, that the whole world might look to Him and find new Spirit-life.  That’s what John 3:14-16 is about.  And it’s completely of a piece with the first part of the chapter.  Born-again Spirit-life is the eternal life of verses 14-16.  Jesus is not switching between determinism and free will.  Throughout this passage He’s talking about the way new life comes.  It comes from above – from the man of heaven who took the man of dust back into the ground to raise Him up new to become a Life-giving Spirit (1 Cor 15:45).

And so we have been born again through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:3).  TF Torrance’s answer is biblical.  And it’s helpful when it points us away from an obsession with our own ‘choice for God’.  So many John 3 sermons can make the congregation look within for signs of life.  And all the while the chapter screams to us “Look to Christ!”

Torrance’s objective emphasis guards us from thinking our regeneration lies in us – in some experience that we need to work up.  The new birth doesn’t lie in me – it lies in Christ.  Look to yourself and all you’ll find is flesh.  Look to Christ and there you will find your new birth.

My recent sermon on John 3:1-15

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Read Exodus 19

“Watch out for the LORD on the mountain!” said the LORD on the mountain. “When the LORD comes to this mountain,” continued the LORD on the mountain, “you won’t even be able to touch the mountain.”  (v10ff)

Of course these kinds of statements would be absurd if we assumed a uni-personal God in the OT.  But they make perfect sense when we take seriously our theme verse from Exodus 3:12.  It is the Divine Angel – the great I AM – who brings His people to the mountain to meet with God (Ex 3:12).  The LORD Jesus saves a people to serve the Father.

Verses4-5:  He has now brought them on eagles wings (cf Deut 32:11; 2 Sam 1:23; Ps 103:5; Is 40:31) as His treasured possession (Deut 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Ps 135:4; Mal 3:17).  Their election is for the sake of the world.  They are the treasure in the field (cf Matt 13:44).  The whole field is purchased by the LORD that He might set His special affection on the treasure.  But that special-ness is a priestly special-ness.  The world is purchased for the treasure and the treasure exists for the world.

The whole earth is the LORD’s and Israel is His priest to the nations.  The whole purpose for their existence is to bring the nations to God and God to the nations.

In the rest of chapter 19 we get a little picture of priestliness.

The whole nation is commanded to go up the mountain in v13.  Yet when the trumpet blasts and then gets louder and louder (v19), the Israelites remain at the foot of the mountain.  It seems to me that what the LORD (Jesus) says about the LORD (the Father) in v21 is a response to their reticence:

The LORD said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.”

They were too scared to come up and then the LORD confirms their decision (that’s how it seems to me).  And so the nation remains at the foot of the mountain.  The priests come a certain way up.  And (v24) Moses and Aaron (and later Joshua) can come all the way up.  Here is a kind of tabernacle division before the tabernacle.

The nations are right outside the camp.  The Israelites can come a certain distance.  The priests can come up further (with consecration).  But the High Priest / Head / Joshua(Jesus) will go into the heart of the firey/cloudy Presence on behalf of the people.

From now on this kind of priestly access to God will be enshrined in the tabernacle and Levitical laws.  This is what priesthood looks like.  One body acting on behalf of the greater mass. And one man in particular summing up that priestly body.

In Deuteronomy 18 we see what the Israelites were to learn about this:

15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire any more, or we will die.” 17 The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.

The Mediating LORD who brought them to the mountain would one day be the Priestly LORD-Man.  No more divisions within Israel between the Son, the High Priests, the priests and the people.  He will be the people, the priest, the high priest, Moses, the temple, the sacrifice all rolled up in one!  And we still remain the treasured priestly people (1 Peter 2:4-6).  We have been brought all the way up the mountain by our ascended Priest.  And now we exist as the priestly nation bringing the world to the unseen LORD through the Saving God-Man.

Sorry this was late.  And rushed…

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Luke Ijaz is a minister at Holy Trinity, Wallington. He recently preached this cracker of a sermon –  “Do not worry” – at Farm Fellowship.

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Read Exodus 12:1-30

The plagues had threatened the unravelling of creation (10:21), and in their wake a mighty empire had been brought to its knees.  There could not have been a person alive in Egypt who did not now know the power and the name of the true and living God (9:16).  And yet their Pharaoh would still not bow down and worship him as Lord.

One thing remained untouched by the enacting of these “wonders” through Moses: the human heart.   It is doubtful that the heart of any – Egyptian or Israelite – had been warmly affected and drawn to Christ.  More likely they were further embittered and made fearful – because all alike were still under judgement.

The LORD must now act in a very different way, if this nation and its inhabitants were not to be consumed completely.  He must perform the very greatest of his “wonders”: the one that will display most clearly his glory to the watching world…

You see, it would not do for Pharaoh to let the Israelites “go”.  Then the generations to come would be in praise of the king of Egypt as ‘the great liberator’; the reformed champion of human rights.    It is for the LORD to become their Liberator and save them when they are still utterly helpless.  Neither would it do for the LORD simply to take the Israelites by the hand and lead them out of Egypt.  Far be it from the LORD to show such unfair discrimination and favouritism!  For him to take for himself a people on the basis of arbitrary choice would have shown him to be a petty tribal deity – certainly not the Lord of the whole earth.  On what basis could the LORD make a distinction between Egyptian sinners and Israelite sinners (11:7)?

Indeed, a great distinction would be made!  The liberation that the LORD would bring about would mean far more than freedom from the darkness of Egyptian slavery.  The Israelites would be brought out into a dawn of a new day – a day so new that their calendar would need to be reset (12:3).  The hearts of everyone in the land would be cut at the deepest level – for good or ill – and in the process judgement would finally be pronounced on the gods of Egypt (12:12), and their stranglehold over the nation broken.  The people would be shaken to the core and truly new possibilities would open up for everyone.

Everything turns on the firstborn.  More specifically: everything turns on the death of the firstborn.  This death will be the fruit of wrath – the righteous anger levelled at a stubbornly rebellious humanity.  But the fruit of this death itself will be new life for a humanity that is perishing.  How glorious!  The Living God has made it possible for those whose lives are forfeit to be re-established.  Blood for blood, life for life.  Now the LORD can make that distinction between those who will turn to worship him and those who will not; between the Israelites and the Egyptians.

But even the Egyptians are not left without a witness to this gospel.  Christ – in his office of Judge (John 5:23) – passed through the land of Egypt that night and, among the Egyptians, “there was not a house without someone dead” (12:30).  Did any of them overhear the instructions that Moses conveyed to the Israelites, regarding the lambs and the blood on the doorposts?  They certainly failed to heed it.  So all the firstborn perished.

The next day the nation was mourning their loss.  And what a loss!  On the firstborn – the inheritors – hung the peoples hopes for the future.  Now, for a time at least, those hopes were cut short.  But why were any of them left alive?  “It should have been me that was taken!”  Yet these parents were acutely aware that the only reason they – and their families – were still alive was because the firstborn had been taken in their place.  For as long as living memory would endure, there was now in Egypt a witness to what is necessary to avert the LORD’s judgement.

In Israel the witness would need to last that bit longer.  Every year on the fourteenth day of the first month – Passover – they were to slaughter again a lamb at twilight, for all the generations to come.  They were never to forget that their security and life was assured only by the shedding of blood.  These evenings must have been emotionally charged as the family gathered around their table – the firstborn right there in their midst – ready to consume this meal.

“The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over” (12:13).

This was more than mere commemoration.  The Israelites could never afford to get smug or become complacent.  They needed the ongoing shelter of the blood.  But one thing that this annual sacrifice taught them by the very necessity of its repetition was its insufficiency.  After all, this was only a lamb that they were sacrificing – leaving them with a longing for something more final.

When Jesus came to share a final meal with his apostles it was at Passover.  But this time there would be a break with tradition and the meal would be celebrated in a new way.  No attention would be drawn to the lamb.  Why?  The words that Jesus speaks over the bread and the wine – “This is my body… this is my blood” – make it clear that he himself sits in the place of the lamb.  And this becomes all the more striking when we realise just who this Jesus is: the Firstborn of the Father, the eternal Judge.   The firstborn is about to die; the Judge is about to be judged.  “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

“Then the people bowed down and worshipped” (12:27b).  This is the first time in the book of Exodus that the LORD has received any worship from the Israelites.  Worship is now the only fitting response of those whose hearts have been warmed by all they have seen and experienced.  For the LORD has displayed to the watching world the greatest of his “wonders” – the glorious way in which he can liberate anyone, even the Israelites.

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Jacky has his christological commentary of the whole bible here.  He’s up to to 2 Samuel at the moment.  His collected posts on the Pentateuch are here.

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Read the verses here

“Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips. How will Pharaoh listen to me?”

Moses’ words ring true of his temporary role as the mediator on behalf of Israel.  He is a man of uncircumcised speech (v.30).  Some have taken the liberty to interpret this as if Moses had a physical speech impediment, but the LORD’s response in chapter 7 which reveals Moses’ true concern – that he is unable to speak words which will convince the Pharoah to bring the people out of Egypt (v.26-27).

This is the reason why the LORD replies by ordaining Moses as like elohim to Pharoah, just as Aaron is made Moses’ prophet.  Notice how in chapter 7v.2 the LORD states that both Moses and Aaron will be speaking to the Pharoah, ignoring the interpretation that Moses is worried about his speech impediment, or that Aaron is a more “suitable” choice as a speaker before Pharoah.  Rather, the LORD’s choice is for the purpose of showing to Pharoah the dynamic between God and His prophet – through Moses and Aaron respectively.  Where Moses speaks, Aaron repeats Moses’ words and acts in execution: a pattern which re-occurs throughout the plagues.  The Word of God, once spoken, evokes immediate response and action: and the one Word which the Father wishes to speak of concerns the Son.  The Father’s Word is Jesus Christ.  In his framework series, Paul Blackham says,

“…the Word of God confronts us with the plain fact that our minds are as deeply fallen and wicked as our feelings, our bodies and our wills. In fact Colossians 1:21 tell us that because of our sinful behavior, our enmity against God, resides in our minds. However brilliant our reasoning may be, until we have been reconciled to God, our thinking always militates against the gospel. It will always rebel against the truth.”

Such a fundamental truth should not escape the purpose behind the LORD establishing an elohimprophet dynamic before Pharoah to present to him in clarity the intercessory nature of salvation:  the procession of the Spirit from the Father to the Son; from the Son to men; from men to other men; and the glory ascending through the Son and back to the Father.  For what is a prophetes, a nabiy, other than (literally defined as) a Spirit-inspired man?  And what Word does the Triune God wish to speak in the Third Person?

Yet, before we move onto describing this ‘word’ which the LORD wishes Moses to speak and Aaron to act upon, the LORD immediately reveals the conclusion in vv.3-4:

Exo 7:3-4  But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt,  (4)  Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment.

It is easy to immediately assume that we are handling a case of double predestination – of predestined reprobation of the Pharoah.  Yet, let us be mindful of the greater analogy of the history of Pharoah versus the Angel of the LORD; the story of Exodus is not merely dealing with the salvation of an individual Egyptian king.  It is displaying the grander scheme of the LORD’s salvation through The Prophet, whose uncircumcised lips meant that no word is uttered other than the Word from the Father:

Deu 18:15-20  “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers–it is to him you shall listen–  (16)  just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’  (17)  And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken.  (18)  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.  (19)  And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.  (20)  But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’

Here, we should notice two things:

  • Though Moses is seen as a ‘god’ before Pharoah and Aaron is his prophet, this is to display the dynamic of elohim and His prophet before the pagan king
  • Furthermore, Moses is seen in Deuteronomy 18 as referring to himself as a prophet – and that a ‘prophet like [him]’ will be raised who will speak the words of the Father.  Aaron is no longer in the picture as a ‘prophet’, but his role becomes that of the first priest of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:10).

This Prophet is the One Sent (John 7:18, ch.8) from the Father to speak of the Father’s glory (c.f. Matthew 11).  Moses is not the prophet; neither is Aaron; yet through the arrangement laid out in Exodus 7, we see the Father speaking and the Son acting; and this is placed before the Pharoah to display him as something more than a mere individual pagan king, the same way that Ezekiel looks at the king of Tyre.  This king is no mere ruler of foreign lands – but he is taken to be the anointed guardian cherub in Eden, destroyed for his pride (Ezekiel 28:13-19).  Only by seeing this greater picture in Exodus 7 can we then come to understand how Pharoah’s heart comes to be hardened, and the picture of the serpent-staff seen already in Exodus 4 as the first thing witnessed of the LORD’s power which granted Moses confidence, and re-iterated once more in chapter 7 as the first thing witnessed by the Pharoah which further hardened him.

At this point, it is important we take a step back to consider the greater picture of what is being said concerning the Pharoah’s relationship with Moses and Aaron; concerning Satan’s relationship (or lack of) with the Triune God.

Allow me to make a lengthy quotation of Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics.  Its relevance will be seen shortly:

“At any rate as they are systematised in Leviticus 14 and 16 it is obvious that the following form is common to both.  Two creatures which are exactly alike in species and value are dealt with in completely different ways.  The selection of the one for this and of the other for that treatment, seems to be a matter for the priest in Leviticus 14:15f, while lots are cast in Leviticus 16:8.  In both cases it is obvious that the selection is inscrutable, and that it is really made by God Himself.  It is also obvious with what special purpose and meaning these two acts accompany the history of Israel, and to which special moment of this history they refer as sign and testimony of the divine intention.  We obviously face the special aspect of this history according to which it is the history of the divisive divine election of this and of that man.  What these choices mean, or what it is to which the whole history of Israel points as a history of such choices, is attested by these particular rites, the witness being given a fixed and permanent form by the detailed legal regulations.

…Yet we must observe that the second goat is also ‘placed before the Lord’, that the treatment meted out to him and the tragic record of his unusability also form an integral part of the sign and testimony set up on the Day of Atonement.  Cain is just as indispensable as Abel, and Ishmael as Isaac.  For the grace which makes an elect man of the first can be seen only from the second, because the first, the elect, must see in the second, the non-elect, as in a mirror, that from which he was taken, and who and what the God is who was delivered from it.  It is only as one who properly belongs to that place that God has transferred him from it.  Because election is grace, the unused belonged to the used, the sacrificed goat to the goat driven into the wilderness, the non-elect to the elect…

…The ceremony described in Leviticus 14 obviously runs in exactly the opposite direction… The treatment of the first bird speaks of this necessary presupposition of his purification.  The bird is slain, its blood is shed and then made ready for what follows, as in the case of the first goat in Leviticus 16.  But this time everything really depends on what follows… The healed leper is sprinkled seven times with this blood, while simultaneously the second bird is allowed to fly away ‘into the open field’… to freedom… The purpose, and the only purpose, in the death of the one bird, the separation and reservation of the one man, is that the other may live.  But how comforting it is for all who are separated and reserved that, according to Leviticus 14, it is to the second bird, which has no part in the accomplishment of the decisive action, and which is unusable in the sense of Leviticus 16, that the benefit of the sacrifice of the first and usable bird accrues.  That which was done to the first turns to the advantage of the second… The recipient of the fruit of election is obviously for the non-elect.  How can we fail to see that Cain and Ishmael and Esau are now given yet another right than that which is remotely visible in Leviticus 16?  They are witnesses to the resurrection reflected in Leviticus 14.  The promise addressed to the men on the right hand is manifestly fulfilled in those on the left.”

The explanation of the picture of Satan and Christ in Exodus 7 should not end with Barth’s lengthy quote, for the narrative is designed to explain the dichotomy of the Angel of the LORD and the rebellious anointed cherub through the battle of the serpents:

Exo 7:10-12  So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent.  (11)  Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts.  (12)  For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.

Yet, why is the imagery of the serpent, such a wicked imagery (Revelation 20:2), used to defeat the other serpents?  This recalls the same imagery of the brazen fiery serpent set on the pole (Numbers 21:5-9; John 3:12-15) which can heal those who see it despite being bitten by other serpents.  Such a peculiar picture of serpents against serpent repeated in the story of Moses can be explained in Barth’s observation of the sacrifices in Leviticus 14 and 16 – the dichotomy of Christ and Satan, the dichotomy of the Elected Head and the Rejected Head.  The raising of the brazen serpent equivalent to the ascension of the Sent One (c.f. John 3:12-15).  This is sweetly summed up in the words of Habbakuk:

Hab 3:13-14  You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah  (14)  You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors, who came like a whirlwind to scatter me, rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.

Exodus 7:1-13 lays up the scenario for Pharoah’s destruction, which in turn leads to Egypt becoming an increasingly threat-less kingdom throughout the rest of history.  A once prosperous nation benefiting from the mediation of the Christ-like Joseph falls in the hands of Pharoah, Herod, Cain, Ishmael, Esau, all types of he who is the ‘head of the house of the wicked’ (Habbakuk 3:13).  Yet, it is by the serpent that the serpents are crushed; it is by the sting of death that death is defeated; it is by the wicked capital punishment of the cross that the wickedness of death is eradicated – and so the arrows of Satan piercing Christ’s side did not leave Christ dead; but from His side birthed the church (c.f. Genesis 2:21) born-again from the victorious blood and water which in turn defeated the bites of the fiery serpent, swallowing up the serpent-ry of ‘wise men’ (c.f. 1 Corinthians 1:19) and ascending once again as the beautiful staff of Aaron:

Num 17:5-8  And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.”  (6)  Moses spoke to the people of Israel. And all their chiefs gave him staffs, one for each chief, according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. And the staff of Aaron was among their staffs.  (7)  And Moses deposited the staffs before the LORD in the tent of the testimony.  (8)  On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds.

What a beautiful picture of Christ’s death in becoming the rejected serpent by taking upon the sins of mankind, yet through his death on the cross he had swallowed up the death of men to bring about new creation birth!  Yet, the glory does not cease with the staff restoring to its original form – but that upon the Israelites’ salvation from Egypt, the same serpent-staff sprouts and puts forth buds and produces blossoms, bearing ripe almonds.  Upon the taste of this new creation life far greater than a mere restoration to the Garden of Eden, still (v.13) the Pharoah’s heart was hardened.  The outstretched arms of the Son on the cross has not led Pharoah to repentance (Romans 2:4), prompting the necessary salvation from Egypt.

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Athanasius… declares that Christ the eternal Son is the “living will” of the Father, and as such His Advent is the advent of the decree, God’s choice, in human flesh.  (Peter Leithart)

Is God’s election secret or revealed?  Both.  It’s hidden.  But hidden in Christ – Matthew 11:25-28:

25At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

27“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Christmas is the advent of God’s eternal decree – Christ Himself.  Lay hold of Him and you lay hold of God’s eternal choice.

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