Category Archives: Old Testament
I apologize for the delay in getting to the next entry in our Theology Memeology series. So other responsibilities feel into my lap. I’ll be working to get some writing done this week. In the meant time, here is this golden nugget:
God’s cosmic purposes are also intensely personal and particular, seen in the way God has chosen to bring about these purposes through covenant promise and fulfillment, mediated through the line of Abraham. After demonstrating God’s creational origin of the whole universe and his salvation of all animal and human life through the Noahic flood, God builds a vision of the end of all things through covenant promises with a chosen people, beginning with Abraham. The Abrahamic covenant promised material land, a name of great renown, and a multitude of offspring (Gen 12:1–7; 17:1–14).
Thus, faith itself is defined as forward-looking and eschatological from the beginning—as Abraham offered up the promised son, knowing God could raise him from the dead (Gen 22:1–19; Heb 11:17–19) and as Joseph pleaded with his brothers to carry his bones into the promised land, knowing that his death could not annul God’s covenant purposes for Israel (Gen 50:25; Josh 24:32; Heb 11:22).
With the foundation of the Abrahamic promise, God further reveals the contours of biblical hope. Through the Mosaic covenant he outlines the blessings of an obedient nation and the curses of a disobedient people. In the Davidic covenant he promises a son to David who will build a dwelling place for God, defeat God’s enemies, and rule the people in the wisdom of the Spirit (2 Samuel 7; Psalms 2; 73; 89). In the prophesied new covenant God promises to unite the fractured nations of Israel and Judah into one people, a people who all know Yahweh, are forgiven of their sins, and are restored as a nation in the promised land (Jer 31:31–40).
The covenants look forward—past Israel’s then-present disobedience—to the day when the vine of God bears fruit (Ps 80:8–19; Isa 5:1–7; 27:6; Ezek 15:1–8; 17:1–24; 19:10–14; Hos 10:1–2), the harlot of God’s people is a faithful bride washed of all uncleanness (Isa 54:5–6; Jer 3:20; Ezek 16:1–63; Hos 2:1–23), the exiled refugees are returned to a secure homeland, and the flock of God is united under one Davidic shepherd who will feed them and divide them from the goats (Jer 3:15–19; 23:1–8; Ezek 34:1–31; Mic 5:2–4; 7:14–17). In this coming future Israel will be what she is called to be, the light of the world, a light that the darkness cannot overcome (Isa 60:1–3). In this future God’s favor on Israel is clear to the nations because he is present with his people. The repeated promise of the covenants is: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” As Joel prophesies: “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, that I am the Lord your God and there is none else” (Joel 2:27).
With this in view, the covenants picture their fulfillment not just in terms of inheritance blessings but also in terms of a restoration of Eden (Ezek 36:33–36; 37:22–23), the building of a glorious temple (2 Sam 7:13; Ezek 40:1–47:12), the return of a remnant from exile (Isa 11:12–16), and the construction of a holy city of Zion in which Yahweh dwells with his people in splendor (Pss 48:1–14; 74:2; Isa 18:7; Lam 5:17–22; Ezek 48:30–35).3 The covenants will come to their goal when Israel is judged for sin, raised from the dead, and anointed with the Spirit of Yahweh—a public act in the face of the hostile nations (Ezek 20:21, 35–49; 37:11–27). These eschatological covenant promises are then inherently eschatological and messianic—a truth seen in the fact that the patriarchs themselves died and rotted away without seeing the realization of the promises (Heb 11:13–16). – Russell D. Moore, A Theology for the Church
In his massive Doctrine of the Christian Life, John M. Frame helpfully highlights a number of ways the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) points us to the Jesus Christ as “the end of the law” (Cf. Rom. 10:4). This is something certainly worth reading meditatively.
If all Scripture testifies of Christ (Luke 24:27; John 5:39), then the law of God surely cannot be an exception. As we study the law, then, we should examine its witness to Christ. I assume that some readers of this book are preparing for Christian ministry. They especially need to know how to use the Decalogue in their preaching and teaching. But all of us need to learn how to see Christ in the law.
The law bears witness to Christ in a number of ways, some of which I shall discuss in the following points.
1. The Decalogue presents the righteousness of Christ. Jesus perfectly obeyed God’s law. That is why he was the perfect lamb of God, why God imputes his active righteousness to us, and why he is the perfect example for the Christian life. He never put any god before his Father. He never worshiped idols or took God’s name in vain. Despite what the Pharisees said, he never violated the Sabbath command. So the Decalogue tells us what Jesus was like. It shows us his perfect character.
2. The Decalogue shows our need of Christ. God’s law convicts us of sin and drives us to Jesus. It shows us who we are, apart from Christ. We are idolaters, blasphemers, Sabbath breakers, and so on.
4. The Decalogue shows us how God wants us to give thanks for Christ. In the Decalogue, as we shall see below, obedience follows redemption. God tells his people that he has brought them out of Egypt. The law is not something they must keep to merit redemption. God has redeemed them. Keeping the law is the way they thank God for salvation freely given. So the Heidelberg Confession expounds the law under the category of gratefulness.
5. Christ is the substance of the law. This point is related to the first, but it is not quite the same. Here I wish to say that Jesus is not only a perfect law keeper, according to his humanity, but also the one we honor and worship, according to his deity, when we keep the law.
(a) The first commandment teaches us to worship Jesus as the one and only Lord, Savior, and mediator (Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5).
(b) In the second commandment, Jesus is the one perfect image of God (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). Our devotion to him precludes worship of any other image.
(c) In the third commandment, Jesus is the name of God, that name to which every knee shall bow (Phil. 2:10–11; cf. Isa. 45:23).
(d) In the fourth commandment, Jesus is our Sabbath rest. In his presence, we cease our daily duties and hear his voice (Luke 10:38–42). He is Lord of the Sabbath as well (Matt. 12:8), who makes the Sabbath his own Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10).
(e) In the fifth commandment, we honor Jesus, who restores us to the divine family as he submits himself entirely to the will of the Father (John 5:19–24).
(f) In the sixth commandment, we honor him as our life (John 10:10; 14:6; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:4), the Lord of life (Acts 3:15), the one who gave his life that we might live (Mark 10:45).
(g) In the seventh commandment, we honor him as our bridegroom, who gave himself to cleanse us, to make us his pure, spotless bride (Eph. 5:22–33). We love him as no other.
(h) In the eighth commandment, we honor Jesus as the source of our inheritance (Eph. 1:11), as the one who provides everything that his people need in this world and beyond.
(i) In the ninth commandment, we honor him as God’s truth (John 1:17; 14:6), in whom all the promises of God are Yes and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20).
(j) In the tenth commandment, we honor him as our complete sufficiency (2 Cor. 3:5; 12:9) to meet both our external needs and the renewed desires of our hearts. In him we can be content with what we have, thankful for his present and future gifts.
For other helpful works expounding a Christ-centered reading of the Ten Commandments, see:
- How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments– Edmund P. Clowney
- Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life– Joachim Douma
- The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses– Vern S. Poythress
John Frame on the unity between Old Testament and New Testament faith:
But consider this: the religion of the NT is essentially the same as that of the Old, centered on the Word of God. People sometimes think that the Old Testament is centered on words while the NT is centered on a wordless kind of spirituality. But there is not the slightest suggestion of this in the Bible itself. Remember how important the words of Jesus are, so that Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Remember how the apostles told people that their own words are the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37)? Well, that shows that the New Testament is just as word-centered as the Old Testament is. And it also makes it very important for us to be able to find these words of eternal life, spoken by Jesus and the apostles. God provided a written form for the Old Testament revelation. Can we expect him to do any less for the New Testament revelation, for the fulfillment of the Old Testament?
-John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord
J. C. Ryle was a marvelous preacher and expositor of Scripture. His words on John 1:43-51 are worth quoting at length:
Christ is the sum and substance of the Old Testament. To Him the earliest promises pointed in the days of Adam, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. To Him every sacrifice pointed in the ceremonial worship appointed at Mount Sinai. Of Him every high priest was a type, and every part of the tabernacle was a shadow, and every judge and deliverer of Israel was a figure.
He was the prophet like unto Moses, whom the Lord God promised to send, and the King of the house of David, who came to be David’s Lord as well as son. He was the Son of the virgin, and the Lamb, foretold by Isaiah,—the righteous Branch mentioned by Jeremiah,—the true Shepherd, foreseen by Ezekiel,—the Messenger of the Covenant, promised by Malachi,—and the Messiah, who, according to Daniel, was to be cut off, though not for Himself.
The further we read in the volume of the Old Testament, the clearer do we find the testimony about Christ. The light which the inspired writers enjoyed in ancient days was, at best, but dim, compared to that of the Gospel. But the coming Person they all saw afar off, and on whom they all fixed their eyes, was one and the same. The Spirit, which was in them, testified of Christ. (1 Pet. 1:11.)
Do we stumble at this saying? Do we find it hard to see Christ in the Old Testament, because we do not see His name? Let us be sure that the fault is all our own. It is our spiritual vision which is to blame, and not the Book. The eyes of our understanding need to be enlightened. The veil has yet to be taken away.
Let us pray for a more humble, childlike, and teachable spirit, and let us take up ‘Moses and the prophets’ again. Christ is there, though our eyes may not yet have seen Him. May we never rest till we can subscribe to our Lord’s words about the Old Testament Scriptures, ‘They are they which testify of me.’ (John 5:39)”
–J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Vol. 1, 55-56.
(HT: Tolle Lege)
I’m presently working through Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and it’s Interpretation, the latest volume by my former seminary professor Dr. Scott Swain. It’s fairly small in size, but packs a strong punch. I plan on pulling some quotes to post over the next few days, just to give you a taste of the gems found therein.
Here’s a sample where Swain discusses the link between God’s self-disclosure in both Old Covenant and the New:
The progressive nature of revelation does not suggest evolution from more “primitive” to more “sophisticated” stages in humanity’s knowledge of God, of redemption, and of itself. Nor do earlier stages of revelation require correction or augmentation by later stages of revelation. Contrary to every form of Marcionism that has plagued the history of Christianity, it is the same God who makes himself known to Israel and to the church. Moreover, Jesus, God supreme self – revelation and final word (cf. Heb. 1.1-4), did not come to abolish earlier revelation but the fulfill it (Mt. 5:17-19). Even those institutions that are abrogated in the new covenant (e.g., the Levitical priesthood, the Temple cult, etc.) serve as tokens, promissory notes of the final institutions that Christ came to establish, and therefore function as paradigms – indispensable models – understanding those institutions. As such, they are never truly left behind but are rather incorporated into the brilliant mosaic of New Covenant revelation. Each stage of God’s revelation thus represents God’s wholly reliable redemptive truth, tempered to that stage of redemption by the Divine Rhetor, and therefore profitable in its own rights for imparting the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and to a life that is pleasing to God (2 Tim. 3.15-17).
The following is an article written by Dr. Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, for their newsletter. It’s so helpful that I thought I would quote it in it’s entirety:
I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits, or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because “they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey.” What I hear most often is “Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts—about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible?”
It is not that I expect everyone to have the capability of understanding that the whole Bible is about Jesus and God’s plan to redeem his people, but I vainly hope that one day someone will access their common sense (or at least talk to an informed theological advisor) before leveling the charge of inconsistency.
Closing. The Book of Leviticus has much in it for us to learn. There is a spiral of imaging going on between Christ’s atonement and the sacrifices presented in Leviticus. For example, Christ’s one-time sacrifice is patterned after the priestly regulations given to Aaron. Yet Hebrews makes clear the instructions that Moses and Aaron received were patterned after heavenly realities which existed independently and in fuller “realness.”
With these parallels we come to see the way of salvation has always been the same for God’s people in both the Old Covenant and the New. The Law was given as God’s gracious provision. When properly understood, according to Paul, it served as a Law of faith (Rom. 9:30-32). In both Exodus and Leviticus the Lord reminded the people of Israel of His mighty act of delivering them from Egypt, calling their attention to His supreme trustworthiness. His Law was given to curb sin, provide loving guidance, and introduce a means for fallen mankind to worship their holy God. God’s Law, when scene as a divine Doctor’s prescription, in not the impossible burden that many see it as today. Of course because of sin the simple requirement God requests, faith in an ultimately faithful God, is now rendered impossible in the flesh (Rom. 8:7-8).
Yet, the contrasts we’ve discussed demonstrate the New Covenant’s superiority to the Old. Christ fulfills and supercedes the Old Covenant in every way (Rom. 10:4). Through His once-for all perfect sacrifice Christ has succeeded where all others have failed.
The Lord’s Messiah has achieved the victory promised back in Eden in Genesis 3:15.
Imperfect sacrifices vs. the perfect work of Calvary. A striking characteristic of the contrasts between the Levitical priesthood and Christ’s is the accomplishment that each one secures. Hebrews 10:1-4 sheds great light upon the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Many for whom the sacrifices were offered perished in their rebellion without their sacrifices procuring for them any lasting benefit. The chief reason the old covenant sacrifices continued year after year (Lev.16:34) was because they perfected no one. Though the Mosaic Law demanded them they nonetheless failed to secure salvation and ultimate remission of sin. So God had no “pleasure” in them (Heb. 10:6).
With the Levitical sacrifices came only a reminder of sin (Heb. 10:3). Each year the high priest offered his sacrifices, knowing that sin, just as in the year before that and the year before that, kept God distant, within the Most Holy Place. Hebrews 10:1-4 contrasts these ineffectual sacrifices with the Christ’s ability to cleanse our conscience and bring us to God through His once-for-all sacrifice (Heb. 9:13-14) . No longer is there a reminder of sin; instead there is a reminder of a perfect Savior. Now we are told that we may come boldly before God’s throne, and enter in by the veil that is Christ Himself (Heb. 10:19-23).
Likewise those for whom Christ’s sacrifice is offered are actually perfected (Heb. 10:11-14). His sacrifice is completely effectual and Christ’s continuing ministry of intercession as high priest guarantees the final salvation of His people. As opposed to the Aaronic Priesthood, Scripture teaches that the reason why the Lord Jesus never fails in His mediation is “he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). Christ’s high priestly function is that which preserves the sheep of His fold.
A few more contrasts.
Many priests vs. the everlasting Christ. One of the most precious contrasts between the Old and New Testament priestly ministrations is the duration of their services. Ex. 29:29-30 speaks of the garments Aaron was to wear while performing his service, and in passing a succession of priests is mentioned. One reason why the Levitical priesthood was unable to bring about perfection, according to Hebrews, was that those who ministered were mortal, unable to continue their work forever. Their work never perfected those for whom it was sacrifices were offered. Since the priests who made such offerings were always subject to death the priesthood of Aaron would never be the tool through which God brought about complete atonement and shalom for His people. “The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office” (Heb. 7:23).
Now that we’ve taken a brief look at some of the parallels between Christ’s work as mediator and the OT Levitical priesthood, we’ll move on to the contrasts.
Hebrews, in an impassioned exhortation to believers to stand firm in their Christian confession, presents us with the greatest degree of contrast between the Old and New Covenants. It would be impossible to plumb the depths of the high Christology in the pages of this challenging epistle. While we don’t know with certainty the identity of the author, we do know two things primarily dominate the his mind, the Old Testament and Christ. The Lord Jesus is seen as the interpretive lens through which all of the Old Testament coheres and ultimately points. Here we’ll briefly highlight 2 of the most notable differences between the mediatorial services of the Old Covenant and the sacrifice and high priesthood of Christ Jesus, the Son (Heb. 1:1).
Let’s continue with the parallels between the mediatorial work of the Old Testament priests and the work of Jesus Christ.
Blood Atonement. God’s holiness is absolute. No sinful creature can enter into His presence and live. The demand of divine justice is death. “[f]or the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). God warned both Adam and Eve in the garden that the penalty of disobedience and rebellion was separation from the ultimate source of life (Gen. 2:16-17). Leviticus 17:11 makes the point that the blood of the sacrificed animal represents its life, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” By the offering of the sacrifice the sins of the people were (temporarily) dealt with. This occurred on the solemn Day of Atonement, otherwise known as Yom Kippur. “The verb kipper (as in Yom Kippur) …seems to derive from a concrete notion of rubbing clean. In the cultic lexicon, it has the more abstract-indeed, theological- sense of effecting atonement.” R. Laird Harris points out that, “[b]lood…plays the major role in the sacrificial system…” Elsewhere, in Lev. 16:14, we see the presentation of the blood upon the atonement cover (also called the mercy seat) as the evidence that the appointed substitute had been executed. In fact the belief in blood atonement was so common in both Israelite and mid-east culture that the author of Hebrews mentions it in passing without even attempting to support it (Heb. 9:22).
Parallels. While the astute student of Scripture would certainly be able to mutuply both the parallels and differences between the old covenant priesthood and Christ’s own, I will limit my study to Leviticus and the later chapters in the epistle to the Hebrews (7-10 mostly).
It would go without saying that the Bible presents us with a view of the continuity between the Old and New Covenant. The point being that the Levitical administration was both foreshadowed and was fulfilled in Christ. Here I draw your attention to but a few of the important points of contact. First, let’s start with mediatorial necessity.
Mediatorial necessity. Vern S. Poythress states,
The priesthood represents the fact that God’s relation to human beings in a personal one.” (The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses [Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1991], 60.)
Due to humanity’s moral pollution after the Fall, directly approaching God is rendered impossible. As a result a mediator is necessary.
While the functions of the priests are significant, these functions must be understood as proceeding out of their identity. (Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit, Tremper Longman, Colin Duriez, Douglas Penney, Daniel G. Reid, The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998], 662.)
The Levites were “holy” people, set apart for “holy work.” They were holy because they were separated from the rest of Israel’s tribes in order to devote themselves to God’s work. The Levites received no land, a major benefit of the other tribes, financial and agricultural security. In a mainly agricultural environment the most stabilizing commodity one can possess is land. The reasons are obvious; land 1) provides the necessary shelter needed to survive and 2) when tilled properly provides the much needed food both for sustenance and sale. Priestly mediation is God’s gracious provision for fallen man. Leviticus 16:6 speaks of God providing Aaron the means by which to cleanse both himself and the people of Israel, thus eliminating the enmity between God and man.
Likewise, Christ is portrayed as the Great High Priest who stands between God and those who need representation before Him (Heb. 5:5, 6:20, 7:26, 8:1). As stated earlier, “It is a pervasive biblical principle that nature is determinative of actions not vice verse. The priestly identity was founded not in function but in essence” (Ibid).
Christ is appointed high priest for the people of God because He is who He is. His person and work must never be separated. Only the Son of God is suited to be the ultimate intermediary between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).
If there’s ever been a misunderstood book of the Bible it would have to be the third book of the Torah, the book of Leviticus. Unfortunately saying it’s “misunderstood” is not really presenting the case as it is, for in the American Church today Leviticus is more than misunderstood, for intents and purposes it’s totally ignored. In conversations with others I’ve repeatedly heard the admission that Leviticus was the nail in the coffin to their “read the Bible in a year” plan. The second half of Exodus was rough enough, but Leviticus? Who wants to read about ripping the wings off a turtledove and all of that?
I can understand their plight.
Perhaps you’ve seen the poster pictured above in your journeys across the interwebs. It’s a quasi-comical statement about the “foolishness” of Biblical marriage. The point is clear, while many (or most) Christians strongly advocate a definition of marriage that sees it as a lifetime covenantal union between one man and one woman, there is a “clear” discrepancy between their “traditional” position and the Book from which they’re supposedly basing that view. My friend Ra McLaughlin, webmaster and Vice President of Curriculum and Web Delivery at Third Millennium Ministries, has given me permission to repost his response to this poster on Facebook. His thoughts are clear, detailed, and yet concise:
Biblical law doesn’t require women to marry their rapists (cf. Ex. 22:17). The bride price to be paid by rapists was a sort of reverse dowry, not payment for “property.” It was owed whether or not the woman married the man. In the only example of rape and subsequent attempted marriage that I can think of at the moment, the woman’s family chose to murder the rapist and his people rather than give her as a bride (Gen. 34).
The Bible also doesn’t require the stoning of women that couldn’t prove their virginity (unless otherwise stated, legal penalties are maximum not mandatory; cf. Joseph’s treatment of Mary in Matt. 1:19). Similarly, levirate marriage was not a requirement; it was assumed that the women would want an heir, but it wasn’t a necessary arrangement (cf. Deut. 25:7).