Things That Are Above

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God is Good, Just, and Sovereign in Our Suffering (Part 1)

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How should we think about God’s sovereignty in relation to our suffering? Do our sufferings disprove God’s goodness, if not his sovereignty and even existence, as well? Such rebellious unbelief is the default human response to God in the midst of suffering, but this response is an unbiblical, un-Christian response to suffering. James upholds Job as an example of one “who remained steadfast” and through whom later readers of the Bible can see “the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (Jas 5:11). Even in the midst of our suffering, God is sovereign, and God in his sovereignty, even over our sufferings, is good. This point is the main point of Job 38:1–42:6, where God confronts Job’s wavering faith in the preceding chapters in order to strengthen Job’s faith so that it is truly steadfast.

As we work our way through Job 38:1–42:6 over the next month, we will see how God’s good sovereignty shines through each section. In Job 38:1–40:2, God establishes his just goodness in the natural world, which prompts Job to respond in 40:3–5 with an initial response of humility and faith. However, Job’s reply to God’s first speech is explicitly a humble promise of silence, so God renews his rhetorical assault in 40:6 and continues through 41:34. God’s second speech emphasizes his good sovereignty over the supernatural world, particularly over the enigmatic figures of Behemoth (40:15–24) and Leviathan (41:1–34). At this point Job finally responds with mature humility and faith by repenting of his previous ignorance and admitting that God has been in the right all along (42:1–6).

Job 38:1–42:6 is a foundational text for thinking biblically about God’s sovereignty in relation to human suffering. As we will see in more detail, this text teaches that God is good and just in his exercise of sovereignty over our suffering. This truth should prompt us to respond to God in humble faith even when we suffer. As James says, Job teaches us that God’s purpose is to be “compassionate and merciful.” If Job believed this fully at the end of God’s two speeches, how much more should we believe this truth today, when we have the whole counsel of God in the Bible? How much more should we trust God to be compassionate and merciful even when we suffer, since God has supremely revealed his compassion and mercy in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, the Savior and Lord? I pray that this study of Job 38:1–42:6 in the coming weeks will help us to set our minds on things that are above, where Christ is, because he is the ultimate reason we can think and feel biblically about suffering as taught in this text.

Written by Jordan Atkinson

June 22, 2015 at 12:04 PM

Wisdom for a King (Wisdom Wednesday #2)

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Two basic questions to ask when reading a book are (1) who wrote this book? and (2) to whom was this book written? Knowing both the author and audience of a book helps the reader to read the book well. Applying these questions to Proverbs is thus helpful in understanding how it applies to us Christians today.

Solomon wrote and compiled Proverbs in the tenth century BC. Proverbs begins by identifying him as the author of the book as a whole: “The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel” (1:1). According to Prov. 10:1, “the proverbs of Solomon” continue through 22:16. According to Prov. 22:17, the following two and a half chapters are comprised of “the words of the wise” that Solomon has incorporated into his “knowledge.” Chapters 25-29 “also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied” (25:1). Proverbs 30 and 31 conclude with “the words of Agur” and “the words of King Lemuel,” which “his mother taught him,” respectively (30:1 and 31:1). Solomon is thus the main author of Proverbs, both by writing original proverbs and by compiling others, all under inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit.

Solomon originally wrote Proverbs to his sons, especially Rehoboam who was to succeed him on the throne of Israel. The father-son dynamic in Proverbs is apparent early on and throughout the book. In Prov. 1:8, Solomon writes, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” He also addresses his “son” in 1:10 and 15, as well as 2:1; 3:1, 11, and 21. Solomon addresses his “sons” in 4:1-9 before focusing again on his “son” in 4:10, 20; 5:1; 6:1, 20; and 7:1. Solomon, the wisest man ever to live, recorded his God-given wisdom for his sons, especially Rehoboam, who would need this wisdom in order to govern the nation of Israel well.

The individual Proverbs of Solomon gave Rehoboam practical advice for being a wise king. “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (11:14). “By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts [or taxes heavily, ESV footnote] tears it down” (29:4). “It is an abomination to kings to do evil, for the throne is established by righteousness” (16:12). Biblically, a king should be just and merciful. Sadly, Rehoboam was neither. Though the wisest man in the world, Solomon was not perfect, and in Proverbs he urges his sons not to repeat his mistakes but rather to learn from them. Rehoboam, however, both repeated and worsened his fathers mistakes, which cost him ten of the twelve tribes of Israel (1 Kings 12:1-24). The wisdom for a king found in Proverbs was humanly impossible even for the wisest man on earth and his descendants, which ultimately lost the kingdom of Judah to the Babylonians in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:1-21).

To understand how Solomon’s wisdom for kings applies to us Christians today, we must go through the perfectly wise king, King Jesus. Jesus “established” his throne “by righteousness.” As it is written in Romans 3:21-26,

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Jesus’ life and death were wholly righteous, and his righteousness established his eternal throne over the universe, as Paul puts it elsewhere,

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name (Phil. 2:8-9).

Jesus is the perfectly wise king who established an eternal and universal throne by his perfect righteousness.

Which brings us to how Proverbs’s wisdom for kings applies to us Christians. Adam and Eve were originally meant to rule over creation (Gen. 1:28) but abdicated the throne of this world to Satan when they sinned in Eden (Gen. 3). Jesus, however, has fulfilled God’s promise in Gen. 3:15 to crush the head of the serpent. By his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has defeated Satan. Although Satan still functionally rules over nonbelievers, Jesus has established his throne over all the universe, and we believers are no longer under Satan’s dominion. Paul says that we believers are “fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17)–and if fellow heirs, then restored vice-regents as were Adam and Eve before their fall. We believers should therefore strive to live righteously in this life. Put simply, Solomon’s wisdom for kings is universally wise. Kings should be righteous as an example for their people to follow. King Jesus is perfectly righteous, and by the grace of God, we his people are being conformed to that righteousness day by day (Rom. 8:29). Let us Christians therefore wisely “walk in newness of life” because through faith we have been “raised from the dead” with Christ (Rom. 6:4).

God in Solomon’s Proverbs (Wisdom Wednesday #1)

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In the Introduction of his commentary on Proverbs, Tremper Longman III rightly confronts the tendency among some scholars to conclude that Proverbs is a book of “secular advice” in which any mention of God’s name Yahweh “is a sign of a late addition to a consistently secular book” (Proverbs, 57). God is as central in Proverbs as he is throughout the Bible. As Thomas R. Schreiner points out, Proverbs is, in fact, “God-Centered” because “even if Yahweh is not mentioned [in individual proverbs], there was no arena of life in Israel where he was absent” (The King in His Beauty, 281). To take Solomon’s proverbs specifically (10:1-22:16 and 25:1-29:27), we see that God was central to all of Solomon’s wisdom, for he was its source (1 Kings 4:29-34). Not only is God central to Solomon’s wisdom on a variety of subjects as diverse as wealth and speech, work ethic and anger, but Solomon also writes proverbs specifically about God himself. Solomon writes proverbs about God’s divine attributes as the basis for how people should respond to him in faith and obedience.

In his proverbs, Solomon focuses on four attributes of God. First, God is all-knowing. Solomon writes, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3; cf. 20:27). Second, God is just: “The eyes of the LORD watch over knowledge, but he overthrows the words of the traitor” (22:12; cf. 16:2). Third, God is meticulously sovereign over all things, even things as seemingly random as a roll of dice (16:33). Fourth, God is the all-powerful Creator: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the LORD has made them both” (20:12). God’s omnipotence is also evident because nothing “can avail against the LORD” (21:30), not even the strongest armies (21:31). Like the rest of the Bible, Proverbs presents God as the all-knowing, just, sovereign, and all-powerful Creator.

The proper response to this Creator is faith. In Proverbs, “fear of the LORD” is the dominant phrase, but it is comparable to “trust in the LORD.” For example, “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life” (Prov. 14:27) and “blessed is he who trusts in the LORD” (16:20). Those who properly fear God do not fear his power without also trusting in his goodness. And as the New Testament repeatedly makes clear, Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah Savior who is not only human but also divine. In Jesus’ own words, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30; cf. 17:11, 21). In light of the New Testament, we see that to fear/trust in the LORD is to trust Jesus for salvation. Peter and Paul agree with one another: “You have been born again, not of a perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; … And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Pet. 1:23, 25), for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Before Christ’s first coming, people were saved through faith in a vague but certain “Messiah” who was to come. Since Christ the Messiah has come, we must believe according to the revelation given us. It is not enough to believe in a generic God or a generic Savior; to be saved we must trust Jesus, the God-Man, to save us from our sin by his life, death, and resurrection.

Obedience to God must be based on such faith in him and his Christ. In Proverbs, true wisdom begins with the fear of the LORD. Good works apart from faith are damning, for apart from faith they are filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). Nevertheless, we Christians should begin to respond to God wisely on the foundation of our faith in Jesus for salvation. As Solomon writes, we are no longer to fear people (Prov. 29:25); rather, we should always fear the LORD (28:14). Persevering faith is a central theme in Hebrews (see, e.g., Heb. 3:12-15). Furthermore, we Christians should do good to others, even to our enemies, out of faith in God’s ultimate justice (Prov. 20:22; 25:21-22). (Paul offers the same lesson as Prov. 20:22 and quotes Prov. 25:21-22 in Rom. 12:19-21.) Obedience to our Creator must flow from faith in him as our Savior and Lord.

Proverbs thus confirms the message of the rest of Scripture. As the author and primary actor throughout Scripture, God is prominent in Proverbs, as well. James M. Hamilton Jr. maintains that the message of the whole Bible, of biblical theology, is summed up as: “God is glorified in salvation through judgment,” and Proverbs “teaches” this in addition to every book of the Bible (God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, 301). As I have noted in a review, I agree with Dr. Hamilton’s center of biblical theology. I thus believe that the above exposition of Solomon’s proverbs that are explicitly about God (and not tied to other specific topics) demonstrates the centrality of God in Proverbs.

God is central in Solomon’s proverbs. The question posed to us now becomes threefold: Is God central to us in our daily lives? Is Jesus the Son our personal Savior and Lord? Do we strive to please God in faithful obedience to him? May God use the wisdom contained in Proverbs to convict us of sin, to turn us to the only Savior for our sin, Jesus Christ, and to turn us from foolish sinfulness to wise, righteous living for his glory.

Sources

Hamilton, James M. Jr. God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.

Longman, Tremper III. Proverbs. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Schreiner, Thomas R. The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2007.

 

Genesis 3:15 Throughout the Bible (Review Thursday #1)

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James Hamilton. “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10.2 (2006): 30-54.

Having read two of Dr. Hamilton’s books (God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment and God’s Indwelling Presence), I can testify that this article is as profitable a read as his books and even more accessible. (The link at the top of this page is to a free copy of Dr. Hamilton’s article on his own website.) I highly encourage everyone to read this article for its tracing of the gospel through the first to last books of the Bible.

Dr. Hamilton’s reading of Genesis 3:15 has influenced my own ministry since I first read it in God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment in 2011. In “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman,” Dr. Hamilton demonstrates how the whole Bible bears out not only his interpretation of Genesis 3:15 specifically but also of the Old Testament as a whole. To Dr. Hamilton, “the OT is a messianic document, written from a messianic perspective, to sustain a messianic hope” (30). Genesis 3:15 is an excellent text for testing this interpretation of the Old Testament because it gives the first hope of the Christian gospel.

The LORD God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:14-15)

The bulk of Dr. Hamilton’s article argues that in addition to being the Messiah specifically, the “offspring” of the woman is the people of God generally. Satan “shall bruise his heel,” but his “offspring” will be at “enmity” with the plural “offspring” of the woman (32-41). The children of the devil will oppose children of God. As Dr. Hamilton notes, Jesus himself admits this conflict in John 8 (33). Of course, the seed of the woman who will defeat not only Satan’s children but Satan himself is Jesus the Messiah. In “an unexpected development,” God’s Servant himself will be crushed as he crushes Satan’s head:

Twice in Isa 53 we read that the servant was crushed: first in verse 5, “he was crushed (daka’ in the pual) for our sins;” and then in verse 10, “Yahweh was pleased to crush (daka’ in the piel) him.” Here again the crushing judgment first announced in Gen 3:15 seems to be due to Israel because of its sin, but the servant takes their sin upon himself and is crushed for their iniquity, with the result that Yahweh is satisfied (cf. 53:4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12). (42)

Praise God that the “crushing” we deserve as natural born offspring of the serpent was taken by Jesus, the perfect offspring of the woman, in our place on the cross! Jesus’ crushed heel crushed Satan’s head and set us free from Satan! By Jesus’ death we go by faith from being the bondage children of Satan to being the adopted children of God! Praise the Lord for his mercy and grace!

Herein lies this article’s devotional value for all of us Christians: in Christ, we can overcome the temptations of Satan as believers. We can fight sin in our lives and overcome it by God’s grace. Luke 10:18-19, Romans 16:20, and Revelation 12 all point to believers’ struggle against Satan in which we will ultimately be victorious because Jesus was victorious at the cross and is returning one day to cast Satan forever into the eternal lake of fire (42-43).

The article, of course, was not perfect. Formatting is a minor issue. SBJT article notes are endnotes rather than footnotes, which makes reading them more cumbersome and more distracting from the main flow of the article’s main text (if you care to read them). In the case of this article, this format was particularly frustrating because many of Dr. Hamilton’s endnotes were quite interesting. For example, Dr. Hamilton’s note on the translation of Hebrews 11:11 is outstanding:

The emphasis on the important line of descent is also attested to in Heb 11:11, though translations usually obscure it. … [T]he text “woodenly” reads, “barren Sarah received power for the foundation of the seed.” In view of the Bible’s interest in the “holy seed,” the statement that “Sarah received power for the foundation of the seed” carries more freight than “Sarah received ability to conceive.” This common rendering of the text obscures all connection to the Bible’s “seed” theme. (48 n. 33)

Having taught Hebrews to the youth Sunday School class two years ago, I can attest that no commentator I used advocated this understanding of Hebrews 11. (David L. Allen came closest to agreeing with Hamilton’s translation because he was the only commentator to whom I had access who maintained the traditional reading of Sarah being the subject of this verse rather than Abraham, but he explicitly disavowed Hamilton’s reading. Nevertheless, an unspecified “some”  do side with Hamilton, Allen notes [551].) Despite Dr. Hamilton’s minority reading of Hebrews 11:11, in the context of biblical theology, in which a single theme is traced throughout Scripture (in this article “the skull-crushing seed of the woman”), his understanding is preferable to others’ translations. (Dr. Hamilton himself notes, however, that the KJV, NKJV, and HCSB translations also concur with his understanding.)

More significantly, the allusions to Genesis 3:15 cited by Dr. Hamilton are unequally persuasive. Many of them serve his argument well, but a few allusions seem stretched. Many of these unlikely allusions appear in the “Broken Enemies” section of his article in which he admits to “loosening … the image of the crushed head of the seed of the serpent in Gen 3:15, but it still remains related” (38-39). Nevertheless, this section does include a compelling argument about 1-2 Samuel being bookended by allusions to Genesis 3:15 (38). Although individual examples Dr. Hamilton gives do not seem, in my opinion, to support his argument that Genesis 3:15 is a foundational messianic text that is alluded to throughout Scripture, most of his examples do, so his argument stands. I highly recommend this article to every Christian to help them gain a better grasp on the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was promised–however faintly–all the way back in Genesis 3:15.

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