Category Archives: The Story of the Bible

The Myth of the Old Testament

Perhaps I should expand on something I wrote about the hexeteuch, Genesis through Joshua:

The Penteteuch refers to the first five books of the Bible, commonly called the books of Moses. (I suspect that Genesis is a compilation of ten books written earlier than Moses but which come to us through Moses). The Hexeteuch refers to the first six. It is rather easy to see the Penteteuch as the first “Old Testament” and then Joshua as the first “New Testament.”

Of course, it can be divided more finely: One could see Genesis as the first OT and then Exodus through Joshua as the fulfillment record–the NT.

Or one could take all the books of Genesis except the last one (Genesis 1.1-37.1) as the first OT and then the story of Joseph in Egypt as the fulfillment. For it was the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15.

Despite the qualifications I make, I still think the most obvious way to interpret the Hexeteuch is with the Penteteuch as the first OT and Joshua as the first NT.

In fact, the transition from Moses to Joshua is treated in the Gospels as a pattern for for the transfer between John the Baptist (the greatest of the prophets) to Jesus, as I wrote in 1997:

John the Baptist as the Final Moses

Let’s start with some seemingly random observations about John the Baptist. Notice that John confronts a king (Matt 14:3; Mark 6:17; Luke 3:19) and stays in the region of the Jordan (Matt 3:5; Luke 3:3) in the wilderness (Mark 1:4) across from the Promised Land (John 1:28; 10:40).

Now a few of these details do remind us of Elijah. He too confronted an evil king (1 Kin 17:1; 21:17-19) and spent a lot of time outside of Israel proper (1 Kin 17:3, 9). But he also did more. He called down plagues on the Land (1 Kin 17:1), called down fire on his sacrifice (1 Kin 18:38), was fed by angels in the wilderness (1 Kin 19:4-7), and met God at Mt. Sinai (1 Kin 19:8-14).

I don’t think it is too hard for people who know their Bibles at all to begin thinking about Moses when they notice these things. Moses confronted Pharaoh and called down plagues on Egypt. Also, he’s the first person in the Bible to call down fire from Heaven onto an altar (Lev 9:24).

So far, this has been pretty sparse, but I do think that Elijah stands out among Old Testament prophets as a new Moses. No one else I know of was met by God at Mt. Sinai. It is a unique marker in the Bible. Incidentally, both Moses and Elijah end their careers by ascending-Moses up a mountain to die and Elijah in a fiery chariot. In both cases, this happened across the Jordan from Jericho (Deut 34:1; 2 Kin 2:4-8).

There is more to the connection between Moses and Elijah and John, however, when we consider their successors.

Jesus the Greater Joshua

Elisha accompanied Elijah when he crossed the Jordan from Jericho (2 Kin 2:4-8; 15). When he ascended into Heaven, Elisha was granted a “double portion” of his spirit (2 Kin 2:9-11). Elisha then walked through the Jordan on dry ground (2 Kin 2:14)

Centuries earlier Joshua walked through the Jordan on dry ground, leading the Israelites into the promised land to conquer Jericho (Josh 3:14-17; 6). Just as Elisha was Elijah’s successor, Joshua was Moses’ successor. Furthermore, before Moses had ascended to his death, he laid his hands on Joshua so that he “was filled with the spirit of wisdom” (Deut 34:9; Num 27:18-23). Moses also prophetically gave Joshua his new name, which had originally been Hoshea (Num 13:16).

The similarities between Elisha and Joshua also show interesting redemptive-historical contrasts. Elisha, too, marched through parted waters to Jericho. But he miraculously healed the water there so it was fit to drink (2 Kin 2:19-22).

Now in the Gospels, Jesus goes to the Jordan to be baptized by John, and there the Spirit comes upon Him visibly (Matt 3:13-17). Like Moses and Elijah before him, John says that he must become lesser as Jesus becomes greater (John 3:26-30). Just as Joshua entered the Promised Land, leaving Moses behind, and just as Elisha re-entered the Promised Land with a double-portion of the Spirit, so Jesus as the true successor to Moses and all the prophets begins His ministry after being baptized by John (see Matt 11:7-15). Jesus is the true Joshua, going into Israel conquering and to conquer–though here we see an even greater transition from wrath to grace since Jesus conquests were over demons and disease by His word and Spirit, not over people by fire and sword as was done by the first Joshua.

So the generation that Joshua lead over the Jordan had the five books of the recently-departed Moses. A few decades later, when Joshua was ready to die, they received another book which detailed the history of how God had fulfilled the promises made by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, by giving them the land.

That is what I meant by saying that “It is rather easy to see the Penteteuch as the first ‘Old Testament’ and then Joshua as the first ‘New Testament.’”

But we can go further. For a three centuries or more, the Hexeteuch was Israel’s Scripture. But eventually God started to transform Israel, beginning with the Prophet Samuel. He writes a history of Israel’s decline (Judges), a vindication of God’s faithfulness to the tribe of Judah to provide a king (Ruth), and the story of the establishment of Israel’s Monarchy (First and Second Samuel–finished by Samuel’s successor).

These were new books written by God’s inspiration for Israel.

But there was more. In addition to these books on Israel’s history, other kinds of literature were written for Israel by God’s inspiration. Before Second Samuel was completed, David and Korah and others began writing Psalms.

God’s work in Israel included not only establishing a royal dynasty for Israel but living among them in a new way, in a palace rather than a tent. So the history continues in the book of kings, recording Solomon’s construction project and then the failure of him and his sons to fulfill their duties. Thus we have First and Second Kings, taking us up through the exile of Israel.

And with the reign of Solomon came other literature to add to the Psalms: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles, and probably Job at this point.

Let’s stop here for a moment.

During the years leading up to exile in Assyria (Northern Kingdom) and then Babylon (Southern Kingdom), an Israelite had a body of literature consisting of an earlier period an (Hexeteuch) and one from a more recent period. There was an “Old Testament” setting up a confederation of tribes under judges. Then there was a “New Testament” setting up the present order of Monarchy with a Temple and orders of choirs and other new developments.

And this second body of literature breaks down rather easily into two types of work: a history of what happened and documents from that history. This should seem familiar to us. What we call “the New Testament” also has the same types. The four Gospels and Acts give us the history  of Jesus and the beginning of the Christian Church establishing a new order; and the documents produced during that history: the letters of Paul and otherr NT writers.

Now lets return to Israel’s exile.

When God brought Israel back from exile, a new history was inspired. First and Second Chronicles are a new version of the history of the kings, and then Nehemiah, Ezra, and Esther. Leading up to that period we have the prophets.

This is rough. For all I know, Isaiah was recognized as Scripture before the Exile.

But, roughly speaking, it seems quite possible that we should view the Bible not as two testaments, but as four–four groups of literature that come from periods of time that are separated from one another. In each of these times God creates a new order and leaves the old behind.

As the final “Testament,” the Greek Scriptures understandably view all that came before as what was left behind. But to understand that older history fully, we should realize that it was not all the same. It involved transfiguration. Indeed, these transformations were themselves not only necessary preconditions leading up to what God finally did on Christmas and then Easter and then Pentecost. They were also prophecies, types of the final Returne from Exile and final Exodus that God would bring about through Jesus Christ.

 

 

The emperor as the Messiah and king of kings

Peter J. Leithart » Blog Archive » Justice and righteousness.

I think Peter is absolutely right about (among other things) the position of Gentile world-emperors and his perspective is confirmed by other lines of evidence.

Consider the term “king of kings” in the Bible. When did that term first get used in Scripture? Daniel used the title for Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2.37) and so did Ezekiel (Ezekiel 26.7). Ezra records it as the title used by Artaxerxes (Ezra 7.12).

David and Solomon were glorious but they fell short as types of Christ in this regard.

But there is more. Daniel describes Nebuchadnezzar as not only ruler over men but over animals:

You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all

While the birds seem to be Daniel’s own insight he may have learned about the beasts from the prophet Jeremiah:

Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him (Jeremiah 27.6).

For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have put upon the neck of all these nations an iron yoke to serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they shall serve him, for I have given to him even the beasts of the field (Jeremiah 28.14)

Even though Daniel will later compare the empires to beasts (Daniel 7), the emperors are also types of the one like the son of man/Adam. They are new Adams given dominion like Adam was given. They are a new royal humanity.

The Story of the Bible 05

So Adam and Eve are created to have dominion.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

All very simple and straight forward.

Only later do we learn that it required a passage through deep sleep to get to that point.

Adam and Eve were not created together. Adam was not given Eve immediately even though the above passage makes clear that he was not complete, and that humanity was not even fully yet in the image of God without her with him.

Adam is created and put in a garden where he is found to be “not good” because he is alone just the way God made him.

Then he is given the task of naming the animals (the cattle are already sanctuary creatures but God has to bring beasts and birds from the wild lands). Adam fulfills his task and names the animals. He learns none is right for him.

So then what? He can’t make a wife, obviously. God can make a wife. He could do so instantaneously. He could extract tissue from Adam painlessly and cause Eve appear right next to him.

But he doesn’t.

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

The next time we will read about a deep sleep is when God makes a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15). That gives us some idea why marriage is a covenant (as the prophet Malachi says) even though the word is not used in this passage.

But here is the point: all of this was required to get us to the place in Genesis 1 where God spoke to the Man and Woman together. Only now are Adam and Eve ready to be given their Dominion Mandate, their Great Commission. Only after a near death experience and a raising to new life is Humanity given all authority over the earth and sent out to disciple the nations (compare Matthew 28.19-20).

PS. Note that it has been awhile since I last contributed to this series.

Story of the Bible 04

God wanted change in the world and he proves it by making the world dark and empty and shapeless and then illuminating, filling, and shaping it.

God’s work is unique but it is a foundation, not a capstone.  Even his work is not a complete filling.  He tells the birds and fishes, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth” (Genesis 1.22).  So we know he only made a small population of both and wanted them to work at making more until the ocean and sky were properly utilized.

This is a hint of what is to come.  On the sixth day God makes humanity and here again they are to change the world further than God has done. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1.28).

So humanity is to change the world not only by filling it, but also by taming it. God has made the world wild in some way and humanity is to domesticate it in some way. While all the world is God’s, some of it is meant to be conformed to other parts of it.

Humans do this in God’s image.  They are God’s representatives and under-rulers. They are his ambassadors who change the world in a way that reflects how God changed the world, bringing light, order, and fullness. The world is meant to be humanified and thus brought into a more accurate reflection of God.

So before sin and death, there is already a mediatorial kingdom.  Later there will be a redemptive mandate to this kingdom, but it will follow the track God already put down for a transformative mandate.  Humanity is to rule and grow as God’s kingdom.

The Story of the Bible 03

I originally wrote:

God likes change and created a world that was supposed to do so.

He starts out with both an undeveloped area and an ideal or goal or model for the development that will take place.

We see a new hint of this in the second day of creation:

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day (Genesis 1.6-8).

What is missing from this day is the evaluation present the other five or six days: “And God saw that it was good.”  The barrier between heaven and earth is not called good.

Of course, God doesn’t make anything evil. But somethings are so undeveloped that he doesn’t call them good either.  For example:

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2.18).

Who put Adam in this “not good” state? God did. God could have created Adam and Eve in the same moment or in two successive seconds (taking Eve from Adam) if he had wanted to do so and avoid the “not good” state.  But he didn’t want to do that. He wanted Adam to experience loneliness, go through some time, and then be granted relief of his created problem.

Genesis 1.6-8 indicate the whole cosmos wants completion as well.  Jesus, we are told by Paul, did not just come to deal with sin and evil, but also to bring about this better arrangement.  In Ephesians we read about “the mystery of God’s will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1.9, 10).

Jesus was not only sent to rescue us from sin but to bring us to completion and maturity. Just like Adam was brought to completion with Eve through a deep sleep, Jesus too lay down to wait for God to raise him up to a new reality.

The Story of the Bible 02

We are told in Genesis 1.2 that the Spirit of God took a specific place before illuminating, shaping, and filling the earth.

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

The Hebrew words for “without form and void” and “hovering” only occur one other place in the Pentateuch. Here is Deuteronomy 32.10, 11 in some context:

Remember the days of old;
consider the years of many generations;
ask your father, and he will show you,
your elders, and they will tell you.
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
But the Lord’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.

He found him in a desert land,
and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
he encircled him, he cared for him,
he kept him as the apple of his eye.
Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
that flutters over its young,
spreading out its wings, catching them,
bearing them on its pinions,
the Lord alone guided him,
no foreign god was with him.
He made him ride on the high places of the land,
and he ate the produce of the field,
and he suckled him with honey out of the rock,
and oil out of the flinty rock.

Moses is describing how God led Israel through the wilderness.  The text has shown us that God did so leading them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. That cloud stationed itself on Mount Sinai. Moses went up into it to receive the Ten Commandments from God. The cloud moved into the Tabernacle with great fire and glory (Exodus 40).  Moses compares God’s actions to that of an eagle but he is also appealing back to the original creation.  God flying above Israel in the wilderness in a cloud is like the Spirit hovering over the original chaos of creation in order to bring new light and life.

This opens up a lot of significance to the reader. For example, one sees that, when Pharaoh and his army pursued Israel at the Red Sea, the cloud came between them, bringing light to Israel and darkness to the Egyptians. Then the waters were moved and new dry land appeared.  This is a powerful reminder of the first and third days of creation and designate Israel, in its founding, as a new creation.  Thus Isaiah explains that Israel is a kind of new creation:

I am the LORD your God,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the LORD of hosts is his name.
And I have put my words in your mouth
and covered you in the shadow of my hand,
establishing the heavens
and laying the foundations of the earth,
and saying to Zion, “You are my people” (51.15, 16).

It also clearly establishes that the Glory Cloud that led Israel through the wilderness and that moved into the Tabernacle (and later Solomon’s temple) is especially a manifestation of God’s Spirit.

When Israel returns from Babylon to rebuild the Temple, many are overwhelmed with sadness about it:

And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away (Ezra 3. 11-13).

This led to discouragement and, for awhile, the exiles gave up on rebuilding the Temple. The prophet Haggai was sent to rebuke them for this, and to encourage them that, even though small, the Temple was important.

Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not” (2.2-5).

So after Sinai God’s Spirit moved into the Tabernacle so that God could dwell among his people, and God is telling the people that he also dwells in the Temple they are making even though it isn’t as visibly glorious as Solomon’s was. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters at the original creation was with the exiles to re-create them.

The Story of the Bible 01

God likes change and created a world that was supposed to do so.

He starts out with both an undeveloped area and an ideal or goal or model for the development that will take place.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.

So the earth is the area that needs changing, not the heavens. God starts changing the world by bringing it form, fullness, and illumination.  Included in this change are the creation of stars in the “heavens.” This indicates that the initial “heavens” of Genesis 1.1 is not some place you can travel in a spaceship.  All the area filled by stars is technically part of the “earth.”  The initial “heavens” of Genesis 1.1 is God’s throneroom and his angels. That dimension was made instantaneously complete (at least compare to the earth).  It is the model and the source of change on “the earth.”