Posts Tagged ‘Old Testament’

It’s popular to speak of Genesis 12 as the interpretive crux of the Hebrew Scriptures.  God’s blessings pronounced on the seed of Abraham are said to be the centre-piece of Old Testament  hope.  Wherever you are in the Law or Prophets you can, supposedly, bring it back to Genesis 12… and then move it on to its (eventual and, humanly unforeseen) fulfilment in Jesus.

Mostly, when I hear someone assert Genesis 12 as the centre, I shrug my shoulders and think “Odd choice, but each to their own.”  But more and more I’m thinking it’s a problem.

Firstly, you have to ask the question Why?  Why Genesis 12?

The answer comes back: Because Paul points to it in Galatians 3:6-8.  Well, maybe.  Or maybe he’s pointing to Genesis 18, or maybe to Genesis 22.  (He certainly references Genesis 15, which would be a wonderful focus for a bible overview.)  But even if we were certain that Paul was referencing Genesis 12 – why are we privileging Galatians 3:8?  Especially when that same chapter is so clear on the Christocentricity of this promise to Abraham.  As verse 16 declares – the Seed which is promised is not plural, it’s singular.  It’s Christ.  For Paul, Christ is not the surprising fulfilment of Israel’s more general hopes.  He is the source and substance of them from the beginning.

Yet, for those who make Genesis 12 their crux interpretum, that’s not generally the argument.  First they concern themselves with the seed plural (Israel) then the Seed singular (Christ).   So even as they claim apostolic warrant for this focus, they go about it in an unPauline way.

On the other hand, listen to Luther on Galatians 3:6-8:

All the promises of God lead back to the first promise concerning Christ of Genesis 3:15.  The faith of the fathers in the Old Testament era, and our faith in the New Testament are one and the same faith in Christ Jesus…  The faith of the fathers was directed at Christ…  Time does not change the object of true faith, or the Holy Spirit.  There has always been and always will be one mind, one impression, one faith concerning Christ among true believers whether they live in times past, now, or in times to come.

To understand the nature of God’s promises concerning the Seed, of course we should go back to Genesis 3:15.  That seemed obvious to Luther.  And it has seemed obvious to many other Christians too!

But I can’t help thinking that a preference for Genesis 12 over Genesis 3 represents a desire to be Israelo-centric before we are Christo-centric.  In short, it disregards what Paul actually says in Galatians 3, i.e. that the Seed is singular.

The second problem with a focus on Genesis 12 is this: It’s almost always set forth as part of a framework where Christ Himself is not the source and centre.  He’s only the climax.  That which binds the Scriptures together becomes “blessings” and “land” and “people” and “rule”.  Certainly, on this understanding, Christ is important – crucially important – as the Fulfilment of these realities.  But the foundations of faith have been laid.  Christ comes later and works within an existing arrangement.

In all this, the unifying principle of the bible (and it is a principle) is progress towards Christ.  Not Christ Himself.  Progress towards Christ.  The difference is hugely significant.

When a new believer is introduced to a principle of biblical unity there’s usually a grateful shout of joy.  “Ah I see!” they exclaim, “these 39 books really do belong with the other 27.  They all tell the one story of God’s rule and land and people and blessings.  Wonderful!  Oh, and Jesus fits that pattern too.  Hurray!”

Their sense of excitement may last weeks.  But probably not much longer.  When anyone learns a system there is a sense of cognitive wonder.  Previously unexplained data now fits.  Good.  But a system cannot sustain joy.

On the other hand…

I still remember finally surrendering to the inevitable on Genesis 3.  Of course the LORD who walks in the garden is Christ.  I’d fought it for months, but no – it’s obvious.  He is the One against Whom we have sinned.  Of course the sin that condemns is rejection of Christ – that was the original sin.  And He is the One who pursues us – the Hound of Heaven from the beginning.

I still remember the goosebumps of meeting Christ in Genesis 15 – the divine Word of the LORD in Whom Abram exercises justifying faith. Of course this is Paul’s example of saving faith.  Of course Abraham is our father in the faith.  Surely Paul could only say that if Abraham trusted the same Person!

I still remember crying – and still cry today – to see how clearly the death of Christ was proclaimed in Genesis 22.  They even knew the mountain on which the true Son – the Atoning Lamb – would be killed.  For centuries they were saying “On the mountain of the LORD, God will provide Himself the Lamb!”

That’s not just cognitive rest.  That’s meeting Jesus in the Scriptures.

There’s a world of difference between mastering a system and meeting the Son.  I fear that privileging Genesis 12 centres us on the system and not the Son.

My third reason for questioning an emphasis on Genesis 12 is this: It skews our hermeneutics towards a theology of glory.

If it’s all about God’s rule and people and land and blessings, then Christ comes to uphold God’s rule, to be an obedient Covenant Partner, to be the Firstfruits of the new creation and to share the blessings He’s enjoyed from eternity past.  All of those things are true and good.  But… where’s the cross?

You can work it in for sure.  But it probably won’t come naturally to a person raised on the system we’re discussing.  Instead, the rule of God will be the dominating theme.  Sin will be understood primarily as rebellion against this rule.  And Christ’s coming will be to establish again the rule of God.  His dying will certainly be explained – and explained as vital.  But it’s vital in order to clear a path for rebels to submit again to God’s rule.

As the cross is explained, there’ll be phrases like “Jesus died so that all those who turn, put their full trust in Him and submit their whole lives to His rule, will be spared the judgement that otherwise belongs to them.”  The cross serves a pre-determined understanding of God’s rule.  It doesn’t radically shape that understanding.  The wonder of the Lord reigning from the tree is not allowed to blow our minds as it ought.  Instead Jesus dies so that, later, He can reign.

But what if a verse like Genesis 3:15 was preferred as a crux interpretum?  Here we begin with the crushed Crusher, the struck Striker.  Here we have the One who would join wicked sinners like us to defeat an enemy we’d brought on ourselves.  Here we have One who loves us to incarnation, death and resurrection.

With this promise in view we can make perfect sense of Jesus’ and the Apostles’ interpretations of the Scriptures:

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  (Luke 24:46-47)

I am saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles. (Acts 26:22-23)

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.  (1 Peter 1:10-11)

Jesus, Paul and Peter thought it was perfectly obvious that the Old Testament was about the sufferings and glories of Christ.  I’ve noticed that those who highlight Genesis 12 are also those who struggle to see this reality.  I’ve heard many who simply deny that OT believers could have anticipated a suffering Christ.  But the inadequacy is not in the OT believers – it’s in a system which effectively makes every Hebrew saint a theologian of glory.


Genesis 12 is, without doubt, a vital passage in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Abraham clearly has an exalted place in the history of salvation.  But just make sure you’re not privileging Israel over Christ, a system over the Son and glory over the cross.

Let the crux be the Crux.

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I’m preaching on Ecclesiastes on Sunday so I’ve been listening to some other preachers.  They pretty much all preach Ecclesiastes as the futility of atheism.  And of course when you preach it like that, what’s the solution?  Good old theism.  Yay theism.

And one or two preachers have even suggested that Christian theism gives the most amount of meaning.  So yay Jesus too.  (Although the last preacher I listened to — BIG NAME —  was way too excited about theism to get around to that Jesus nuance.)

Anyway, just thought I’d state something that’s pretty darned obvious but it seems like it needs saying.  The Teacher aint no atheist.  He’s a hard-core theist.  Check it:

Ecclesiastes 1:13; 2:24-26; 3:10-22; 5:1-7, 18-20; 6:1-2; 7:13-14; 18,20; 8:2, 11-17; 9:1,9; 11:5,9; 12:1-14;

Here’s just a sample of what he says:

God has set eternity in the hearts of men…. He’s done it so that men will revere him… Stand in awe of God… God made mankind upright but men have gone in search of many schemes… I know that it will go better with God-fearing men who are reverent before God… God will bring you to judgement… Remember your Creator… Fear God and keep his commandments.

He’s a theist right?  A pretty ardent one.

But what do you expect from a son of David, a king of Jerusalem? (Ecclesiastes 1:1)  Here is a christ – an anointed king.  But, here’s the thing, he’s not the King of Heaven.  He’s a king under heaven (notice how ‘under heaven’ and ‘under the sun’ are parallel 1:3; 3:1).  He’s not the One full of the Spirit without measure, instead he seeks to shepherd the Spirit (or chase the wind, e.g. 1:14) while he must receive his teachings from the true Shepherd (12:11).

The teacher is self-consciously not the Messiah (he’s a very naughty boy!).  He’s not the Christ with a capital C certainly. But he is a christ with a small c.  And so he embarks on a sustained meditation of life in which the king is subject to all the forces that we are.  This christ is also under the sun and therefore under the powers that enslave mankind and even nature itself.  This king, for all his wealth and power and wisdom cannot pierce through the shroud of sin, law, judgement and death.   And so what hope is there?  None!  Not with this king.  Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.  And then we are judged – by the God is who is ever-present in Ecclesiastes.  But ever-present as Judge.  And who knows how we will fare under His judgement.

That’s life under the sun.  Here’s what we can expect if the Teacher is our christ.

But if that’s the problem, what’s the solution?  The glories of theism?  The truth that God knows us and has a wonderful plan for our lives?  The thought that my actions have eternal significance?  The Teacher knows all these things and declares them utterly meaningless.  Our only hope is Christ.  The true Christ.  The Christ from Heaven.  The Christ who conquers sin and law and judgement and death and bursts through into resurrection hope.  That’s the answer to Ecclesiastes’ meaninglessness.

Any other solution is vanity of vanities.


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I’ve been asked to give some talks to teenagers on Christ’s “mission impossible” – that’s the name of the camp they’re on.  They suggested I do it from the OT.

I thought at some point in each talk I’ll address a sneaking suspicion that Christians have deep down that eats away at our faith.  So, something like:

Jesus and Adam (Genesis 3) – “Jesus can’t be that important.”

Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End, the world’s only hope.


Jesus and Abraham (Genesis 22) – “The bible’s weird and sometimes shocking.”

The bible is not a rule-book, but with Christ at the centre it makes sense.


Jesus and Moses (Exodus 3) – “I can’t believe in God in a suffering world.”

The LORD meets us in suffering to lead us out.


Jesus and David (1 Samuel 17) – “I’m too weak for Jesus.”

The gospel is not, do it for Jesus, it’s: Jesus did it for you.


Jesus and Isaiah (Isaiah 53) – “I’m too sinful for Jesus.”

Jesus’ mission is for sinners – He’s for you!


Anyone have any ideas for good youth-friendly video clips or jazzy stuff.  I’m not the youthiest, jazziest speaker ever!


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Following on from last Thursday’s post – Psalms are about Christ.   They tell of the interaction between the LORD, the King through Whom He rules, the righteous who hide in Him and the wicked who rebel.

These interactions are pictured from many angles.  But one key perspective is for the King Himself to speak.  This most often happens in the Psalms ‘Of David’.

Of course all the kings reigned under the knowledge that they were simply throne-warmers for the King to Whom universal tribute was due. (Gen 49:10)  But David was the most idealized of these kings.  The Messiah is often spoken of simply as David.  (e.g. Ezekiel 34:23f; 37:25).  And David himself is aware of his idealized role.  Just before his death he said: “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; His word was on my tongue.” (2 Sam 23:2)  He didn’t speak better than he knew, but he certainly spoke better than he lived. In the Psalms the king most often spoke as The King.  The anointed one spoke most often as The Anointed One.

Peter confirms this for us in Acts 2.  Even when David spoke in the first person he was speaking the words of Christ (see Acts 2:25).  Quoting Psalm 16, Peter makes it clear that David was not describing his own experience. (Paul underlines this in Acts 13:36-37).  Rather, David “was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:30-31).

Does this mean that such Psalms have no application to David?  No of course they do – but such application runs from Christ to David rather than David to Christ.  This is the nature of the whole of David’s life –  from shepherd boy to rejected ruler, to reigning king to his death, he is a shadow of the Coming King.

This is my understanding anyway.  Whether you take the Psalms from David to Christ or Christ to David, I hope we can all agree that the emotions and experiences of ‘The King’ are ultimately taken up and owned by Christ.

All of this is just a precursor to what I really want to discuss…  What do we do with the Psalmist’s intense desire for the LORD?

On one level that’s simple – copy it.  Be challenged by it.  Be inspired by it.  Seek it for yourself.

Well, yes, ok.  But here’s the question – what do I do when I don’t earnestly desire the LORD?  Because maybe once or twice in your life your white hot devotion to God has dipped below the zeal of the Psalmist.  What do you do then?

Here’s the first level of my response:  When I don’t desire God, first I need to see that Christ does.  And He does so for me.

What do I mean?

Well take a favourite Psalm of mine: Psalm 63

Here the Psalmist says:

1 O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.

3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.

4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.

Now be honest, doesn’t some part of you go “Really?  Have I really beheld His power and glory?  Really?  Have I in the past and will I in the future praise Him so wholeheartedly?  Really?  As long as I live?  Am I perjuring myself here??”

But friend, read on to the final verse…

11 But the king will rejoice in God

These are the words of the king – the king on whose lips are the words of The King.  And He has beheld the power and glory of the LORD in the ultimate sanctuary.  He is the ultimate, white-hot Worshipper of God.  These words are not a guide to human worship so much as a window onto divine worship.

So what should be our response?

Sit back and be awed by The King’s desire for the LORD.  You don’t yet feel such intense passion.  Well alright.  In the deepest sense you never can match His devotion.  But let the King’s worship be enough for you.  Don’t despise his devotion like Michal (2 Sam 6:16).  Simply allow your King to offer what you cannot summon up yourself.  Know that He offers in your place a worship you could never initiate.  And if the Praise-Worthy does not elicit your praise, let the Praise-Giver show the way.  In ourselves we could never work up the right response.  In Christ we see what reckless and joyful abandon to God looks like.

He is like the first Dancer onto the floor, moved by the Music, laughing and clapping and dancing as we never could.  The more you watch Him dance, the more your foot starts to tap, then you start clapping.  Pretty soon you’ll link arms and join in.  The Music itself should get you on the dance floor.  But in fact the Music never does – not really.  It’s the Dancer who inspires, who links arms and who leads.

Read Psalm 63 again.  And add your own Amen.  For now that is enough.  If these words were simply the prayer diary of an ancient near eastern ruler, your Amen would mean nothing.  If these were just passionate words from an inspired and inspiring devotee they could only judge your apathy.  But they’re not.  This is the worship of The King.  Your King.   This is Christ your Substitute, your Priest, your Vicarious Worshipper.  He bears your name on His heart as He comes before the LORD in joyful abandon.  For now just allow Him to offer the praise you cannot find in yourself.  In time you’ll join the dance.

For more on Christ offering worship on our behalf, here’s a half hour talk I gave recently.


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From Professor Mike Heiser, Academic Editor of Logos Bible Software and author of website, The Two Powers:

For the orthodox Israelite, Yahweh was both sovereign and vice regent occupying both ‘slots’ as it were at the head of the divine council. The binitarian portrayal of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible was motivated by this belief. The ancient Israelite knew two Yahwehs one invisible, a spirit, the other visible, often in human form.  The two Yahwehs at times appear together in the text, at times being distinguished, at other times not.

Early Judaism understood this portrayal and its rationale. There was no sense of a violation of monotheism since either figure was indeed Yahweh. There was no second distinct god running the affairs of the cosmos. During the Second Temple period, Jewish theologians and writers speculated on an identity for the second Yahweh. Guesses ranged from divinized humans from the stories of the Hebrew Bible to exalted angels. These speculations were not considered unorthodox. That acceptance changed when certain Jews, the early Christians, connected Jesus with this orthodox Jewish idea. This explains why these Jews, the first converts to following Jesus the Christ, could simultaneously worship the God of Israel and Jesus, and yet refuse to acknowledge any other god. Jesus was the incarnate second Yahweh. In response, as Segal’s work demonstrated, Judaism pronounced the two powers teaching a heresy sometime in the second century A.D.

Here’s his video on ‘The Two Powers’ in the Hebrew Bible

There’s quite a bit on my own blog about this:

The Angel of the LORD part 1

The Angel of the LORD part 2

The Angel of the LORD part 3

Trinitarian passages in the OT

Some multi-Personal passages in more depth – Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah

But Professor Heiser says it a lot better and with a lot more learning behind him.

His website on The Divine Council is also fascinating.



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This guy really rocks!


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Before this sermon I wasn’t entirely sure about that Paul Blackham fellow.

And then on Christmas Eve 2000, everything changed…

I’m hoping the picture quality will improve over the next 12 hours (it did with my previous uploads).

Download Paul’s original sermon here

And here’s an older sermon jam I did of Paul’s Philippians 3…


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