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Assistant Editors: Richard A. Riesen and David L. Roth
KERUX is a publication of Kerux, Inc. and appears three times each year. Editorial offices are located at 1131 Whispering Highlands Dr., Escondido, CA 92027. Correspondence should be directed to the editor at this address. Subscription rates for one year are: $15.00 (U.S. and Canada); $20.00 (elsewhere). All remittances should be made payable in U.S. Funds. KERUX is abstracted in Religious and Theological Abstracts, Myerstown, PA.
ISSN 0888-8513 Vol. 6, No. 1
This issue contains the last of Geerhardus Vos's previously unpublished sermons. Kerux counted it an honor to present these messages to the church. They have been transcribed from Vos's personal notebook on deposit in the Heritage Hall Archive of the Library of Calvin College and Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan (and published with their kind permission). Many of our readers are aware of the Vos sermons published during his lifetime in Grace and Glory (1922). The Board of Kerux has decided to make these sermons available once more through the pages of our journal. Thus, at the conclusion of this effort, all the sermons of Vos known to be extant will have been published by Kerux.
We are delighted to announce that Kerux is currently being indexed and abstracted by Religious and Theological Abstracts (RTA) of Myerstown, Pennsylvania. RTA abstracts more than 300 journals quarterly by summarizing the contents of articles contained in the pages of each title. Readers and librarians will now be able to locate materials in Kerux by author and subject.
Finally, we wish to acknowledge our gratitude to the Rev. Jack Smith, pastor of the Church of the Servant Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Irvine, California, for his service to the Board during the past three years. Godspeed Jack! The man he replaced, Dr. Richard A. Riesen, rejoins the Board and our masthead. Welcome back, Dick!
A Sermon on Mark 10:45
This saying is marked as important by the word "verily" so frequently used by our Lord where he wishes to lay special emphasis upon some truth or principle. Here it introduces a saying to which great interest attaches for more than one reason. In the first place, the passages in which our Lord comments upon his own death as a saving transaction are rare in his teaching and their value is, of course, enhanced by this rareness. Although he did refer frequently and emphatically, especially towards the close of his life, to the subject of his death and emphasized that it was certain and necessary, yet an explanation of the purpose which it was to accomplish he did not add except just on two occasions—the one here spoken of and the other the institution of the Supper.
In the second place, it is plain that a unique interest must attach to such a saying not merely because it throws light upon the mystery of the atonement, but particularly because the light comes from the
inner mind of Jesus himself. We may feel sure that such a word as this will lead us straight into the heart of the matter and give us some conception of how the process presented itself from within to Jesus' own view. After all he alone could fully understand with the understanding of experience what it meant to die for sinners. What first came to his mind in contemplating his saving death could not fail to be the center and core of it, not some secondary aspect or bearing such as we might perhaps be disposed unduly to emphasize. The atonement becomes illumined with its own inner radiance. It is the consciousness of the cross itself that here speaks to us.
In the third place, this statement has value because it is peculiarly adapted to meet the doubts that have been raised against (often against this key passage) the historicity of the references to the atonement in the teaching of our Lord. Suspicion has been cast upon the gospel account because after a long period of silence it makes our Lord all at once, during the closing days of his life, come forward with this new subject of his death and that in such a mysterious way—positing the fact and not explaining the why. Don't you see, we are asked, that that is just the result of carrying back the later doctrine of Paul and the others into the mind of Jesus himself; and don't you see that it brings him into conflict with his entire previous teaching in which no mention is made of his death as in any way essential to salvation, thus sacrificing the purity and simplicity of his true gospel to the speculations indulged in by the early church upon the tragedy of the crucifixion? Now there is one element in the passage before us that has some bearing on the question here at issue. I refer to the purely incidental fashion after which the principle of the atonement is introduced by our Lord. As you will observe, it is not dwelt upon for its own sake as if the proximate purpose were to communicate truth or give instruction regarding the cross. The cross is simply appealed to by way of illustration of quite a different subject: it serves to furnish an example of the self-sacrificing service which constitutes the law of life for the disciple in the kingdom of God. It seems safe to draw from this the inference that the design of the passage cannot lie in any desire to import the apostolic doctrine of the atonement into the teaching of
Jesus where it was originally lacking. For in that case a point would have been made of introducing it after a more positive and unmistakable fashion so as to place upon it the central stress of the statement. One who wanted the authority of Jesus or the doctrine of the atonement would have been sure to make him express it and vouch for it in a far more direct manner than is done here.
In the fourth place, this passage is equally decisive against the view which assumes that the idea of the cross was a late development in the mind of Jesus himself; that at first he contemplated a different method of salvation in which his death played no part and in which there was no provision for atonement, and that only towards the end, when his violent death became to him a certainty did he modify his original belief in accordance with this and as an afterthought put the best possible construction upon his death by making it an atonement for sin. Against such a view also the incidentalness of the statement would seem to be quite conclusive. The incidental nature of the reference shows that to our Lord's mind the conception was long since familiar, however strange it may have been to the mind of the disciples. Jesus had thoroughly accepted it as an established fact. He does not indulge in any reflection upon it, but simply takes it for granted and treats it as one of those things by an appeal to which other things can be confirmed and illustrated.
Advent and Atonement
But even more conclusive on this point is the explicit avowal of the statement itself. For as you will notice our Lord affirms that he came to give his life as a ransom. The verb "came" belongs not merely to the first thing named—the ministering—but it belongs equally (as) much to the second thing named—the giving of the life by way of ransom: the Son of Man came to minister and to give. I beg you to notice this form of the statement sharply because many have tried to put upon it the weakening interpretation: Jesus came to serve and found, in the course of his life, that to serve to the full meant for him to die. But that merely makes the death the outcome of the service.
What our Lord affirms is that it was the implication and the avowed end of the service from the outset. What he says carries the knowledge (of) his death and of the saving purpose of his death back into the initial act of his appearance upon earth: his coming was with this end and none other in view. He came to serve not merely to the possible limit of death, but to serve by the absolutely free and deliberate employment of death as the supreme instrument of his service. No one took his life from him. He gave it voluntarily. And he expected to give it from the very moment in which he received it. Hence the writer of the epistle of the Hebrews represents him as entering the world with the words of the Psalmist upon his lips: "Lo I am come to do thy will, O God" (Heb. 10:7, that is, it was God's will that he should suffer). And "a body didst thou prepare for me" (Heb. 10:5, that is, God gave him a body in order that it might be possible for him to experience death as the true sacrifice for sin).
You see, therefore, how all this excludes the view that our Lord only late in his career began to entertain the idea that his death might be a contribution to the success of his work. No—he carried the conviction that his work centered in his death with him in the silence of his inner life all the days of his pilgrimage. From the beginning he set his face deliberately towards this goal and unswervingly shaped his course with reference to its attainment. The gospel in the mind of Jesus did not need first to develop into a gospel of the cross. He took up the cross when he breathed the first breath of his earthly life. Thank God we are justified in reading the gospels with this thought in mind. Jesus did not live the greater part of his life in a naive ignorance and unconsciousness of the web of destiny that was being woven around him. In his case, as in no other case, destiny and conscious purpose were identical. Not only that he died, but that he meant to die for us, this constitutes the preciousness of the gospel story for everyone who reads it with the eye of faith.
Atonement and Self-Sacrifice
The passage speaks of our Lord's atoning death and yet is
intended to place before the disciples an example to be followed by them in their own conduct of life. At first sight this might seem to involve an impossibility because the case of Jesus was so peculiar and unique as to be by reason of its very nature and purpose inimitable. Of course it goes without saying that we cannot follow him and are not expected to follow him in this great act of sacrifice whereby he made his death a ransom for sinners. And even when we say it is not the death itself, but the mind of Jesus out of which the act proceeded—the spirit that animated him in his ministry of life and death—even then the example still remains something so altogether by itself, so incomparable in its whole setting and in the attending circumstances that impart to it its high meaning, that one might well feel disposed to ask: How can a weak, sinful man, even though he be regenerated by the grace and controlled by the Spirit of God, ever attempt to reproduce this in his character or conduct? For let us notice that it is not a human act but a divine act—the act of a divine subject that is here set before us as an ideal to model our mind upon. Just as in Paul's statement in the 2nd chapter of Philippians where we read that Christ made himself of no reputation, emptied himself (Phil. 2:7); and in the other statement of the same apostle in the 2nd epistle to the Corinthians to the effect that for our sake the Lord became poor when he was rich (2 Cor. 8:9): just as in these two instances, the reference in our passage is to a self-denial, a self-sacrifice, a self-humiliation which coincides with the entrance upon the incarnate state and therefore, strictly speaking, precedes the incarnate state and is predicated of the divine person who condescends to enter into that state. Our Lord says that he came into the world to give his life for ransom; not as a man who had come, but as God who was in the act of coming did he set us this example.
Son of Man
Let us not, nor must we, overlook the contrast in which the state of ministry and of death is placed with the state and manner of life previously possessed by him through the significant use of the name Son-of-Man in the subject of the statement: The Son of Man came to
minister and to die. This name (Son-of-Man) points back to the glorious, heavenly figure that appeared in Daniel's vision (Dan. 7:13-14); the one to whom the earth and its fullness belonged; for whom the service of all nations was destined as his rightful inheritance; this Son-of-Man came to submit to and seek the very opposite—service, obedience, death. Thus the title Son-of-Man brings before us as nothing else could do the unspeakable grace of our Lord who being rich as God alone can be rich yet for our sakes became poor as only a dying creature can be poor that by his poverty we might be made rich.
And there is still another aspect in which the proportions of the example are equally overwhelming. When it is said that the Son-of-Man came to minister, this form of statement makes the purpose of ministering cover his entire earthly life. Our Lord's incarnate life not merely had this purpose among others, it had this purpose exclusively. It consisted in this—was exhausted by this. There never was in human history such an absolute concentration of life upon the single specific task as our Lord here and elsewhere ascribes to himself. Everything else was with him swallowed up in the one great intent to accomplish this ministry. All the forces of his life flowed into this. Of course in this also there was something unique, something that can never be reproduced precisely in this form in the life of even the most consecrated servant of God. There was something absolutely unrepeatable in the manner in which our Lord made the sacrifice of his life redound to the service of others. He gave his life as a ransom in exchange for other lives. He died not merely for their benefit, but died in their place. This was a transaction which, strictly speaking, was possible to him alone. Others might minister unto death, or minister by their death, but no one else can minister through the payment of his death as a ransom in the literal, vicarious sense.
Service to Others
There enters then into the ministry of Jesus all these elements of uniqueness by which it is and must ever remain something apart and
incapable of reproduction by us. And yet after this is said, it ought to be equally noted on the other hand that precisely in the incomparable manner of his service and the unapproachable limit to which our Lord carried his service lies its force as an example for our conduct. For these unique features all point in one direction; they all have the one effect of imparting to Jesus's life the character of a service greater and more intense and more comprehensive and more absolute than which nothing can possibly be conceived. Though therefore the concrete circumstances are unreproducible in our case, this not only does not hinder them from being but is the very cause of their becoming the most powerful incentives to us to make our self-denying service of others as unlimited and unqualified as it is possible within the range of our powers and opportunities to make it. We cannot, like the Son of Man, inaugurate our ministry by coming down from a heavenly state of glory; but precisely because he was willing to make this sacrifice in which we can never equal him, what limit would we dare to set upon the poor little self-denial which the conditions of our earthly life do enable us to practice? We cannot concentrate our whole existence upon the one purpose of saving sinners, but precisely because our Lord condescended to shut up all the riches of his infinite life within this narrow compass, how can we ever dare to urge the excuse that the Christian life, with its constant thoughts of others and its consequent forgetfulness of self, is too narrowing and stagnant a thing for us to submit to? We cannot put ourselves in the place of others as the bearers of their sin, nor receive into ourselves the punishment of their transgression with all the dreadful experiences which the atonement involved for our Lord; but precisely because he did not shrink from entering into these depths of shame and death and exposure to the wrath of God and to the hiding of his Father's face, how can we ever plead that any degree of humiliation, any extent of entering into the sorrow and shame and sin of man makes too great a demand upon our peace and purity to comply with it? And so the impossibility of our doing what Jesus did furnishes the most constraining argument for making the spirit in which he did it the supreme, governing principle of our Christian life and for recognizing that there simply are no limits
which we can set upon its application.
What has been said will become clearer still if we look for a few moments into the supreme end of our Lord's service and the method pursued towards accomplishing this. His ministry had for its supreme end the procuring of freedom of those for whom he gave his life. It was a ministry with that specific thing in view. It was not to help them generally but to set them free. This is clearly given with the contrast between what he does and what the rulers of the Gentiles do (Mk. 10:42). They lord it over them and exercise authority. That is to say: their striving is to make their subjects minister unto them and more and more to reduce them to a state of bondage. Jesus' purpose is the opposite. He came to minister unto men so as to place them in a state of freedom. But the same thing is also explicitly stated in the figure of the ransom-giving here employed by our Lord. A ransom is that which buys the freedom of a person. The many, therefore, for whom our Lord gives his life are in a state of bondage and his death procures their liberation. What then is this bondage? People have been over-quick to answer: it is the bondage of sin as a power reigning in the heart and life of man. While it is, of course, perfectly true that our Lord's work and also his death deliver us in this sense from the power of sin, I do not think that the answer exactly reproduces what Jesus had in mind on this occasion. We must try to refrain from inserting our general ideas into his words and endeavor to get at his own point of view. And the way to get at this is to ask: Is there any other occasion on which he speaks of the giving of a ransom; and if so, the sense which he there connects with the figure will be entitled to the preference over all other interpretations in the present case.
Atonement and Satisfaction
Now our Lord does speak in terms of this same figure in the well-known passage where he urges upon the disciples the necessity of taking up the cross and following him (Mt. 16:24). He enforces this with the reminder that whosoever would save his life shall lose it and whosoever is willing to lose his life shall save it, viz, in the day of
judgment. And then he adds: "For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what shall a man give in exchange (ransom) for his life? For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father with the angels, and then shall he render every man according to his deeds" (Mt. 16:26-27). That is to say—in the hour of judgment when the Lord of the judgment shall declare a man's life forfeited, shall impose upon him the awful sentence of eternal death—in that hour, it will not avail a man having gained the whole world for himself if he were to bring this world with all its riches in his hands and offer it to God as a ransom for his lost soul. The offer would not be accepted for not a whole world can satisfy God. His justice demands not gold or silver but the soul, the spirit, the life of man because sin is a spiritual thing and it must be paid for in kind by the life of the sinner.
Here then it is perfectly plain what the ransom means, to whom it would be paid and what it would have to pay for (if such a thing were possible—a possibility which our Lord denies so far as all material riches are concerned). The ransom is nothing else but the price paid to God the Judge in the last day for the deliverance of a soul from eternal retribution. That this is actually the meaning of the passage becomes still clearer if we consider that in speaking these solemn words, our Lord plainly had in mind an Old Testament statement found in the 49th Psalm, where the Psalmist declares of the rich men who trust in their wealth that when God comes to judge, not one of them shall by any means be able to redeem his brother nor to give to God a ransom for him and then assigns as the reason for this impossibility—the redemption of their life is too precious, it must be let alone forever (Ps. 49:6ff.). Here then we have the same thought as formulated by our Lord in his own words: No material riches can avail as a ransom to satisfy the demands of God in the judgment. If now, in the word we are considering, our Lord speaks of a ransom paid for the life of many, it must be in the same sense and with the same situation in mind. He will pay in the judgment for sinners whose life is forfeited to God.
But how, we ask, can he here declare such a ransom-giving possible, whilst in the other connection he emphatically denied, as the Psalmist had denied, that such an offer could be ever accepted or that enough could be offered to induce God to accept it? The answer is found in this, that in the one case where the impossibility is affirmed, the reference is to be a ransom consisting of material things—silver, gold, the whole world—none of which can pay for a life; whilst here, where the transaction is represented as actually to occur, the ransom consists of a spiritual thing—the life itself and not merely life in general—but of the precious inestimable life of the Son-of-Man who is the Son-of-God. Therein lies all the difference. What the whole world could not pay for, the life-giving of the Son-of-Man will pay for. For when it becomes a question of such a life for that of sinners, God will consider the ransom sufficient and set the prisoner of his justice free. And as for the impossibility in the former case, our Lord could refer to an Old Testament passage in the Psalter, so for the possibility of the transaction in this other case he could have appealed (and possibly did refer in his own mind) to a passage in the book of Job. In the 33rd chapter of this book we read of the man who lies under the judgment of the Almighty—how he is chastened with pain and with strife in his bones, his flesh consumed away so that his soul draws nigh unto the pit and his life to the destroyer and all hope of his deliverance has been abandoned. But having shown him in that extremity, the writer suddenly reverses the picture: "If there be with him an angel, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show what is right for him, then God is gracious unto him and says: Deliver him from the pit, I have found a ransom. His flesh shall be fresher than a child, he returns to the days of his youth" (Job 33:23-25). That is to say: what gold and silver and the world cannot purchase might be purchased if a mediator, an angel, one among (a) thousand were able to say to God, I have found a ransom. Such a mediator, such an angel, such a one among a thousand was our Lord Jesus Christ; and the ransom that he has paid and which he felt sure God would not disdain was none other than his own life.
The Measure of Christ's Service
Now in the light of this let us consider once more the extent to which our Lord went in his service; and I think we shall once more be prepared to say that it is beyond computation. We do not measure it by saying that he gave up his life; the mere doing of that might have been a small thing which others have done before and after him. No, what he did was to give that life as a ransom. That is to say he deliberately took his life and put it into the bondage of guilt and shame and death in which our lives were held by the divine justice. To become a ransom means to take the place of the other and accept all the consequences. And this Jesus did. I am afraid that as a rule we do not penetrate far enough into the mystery of the cross to realize this situation. What must it have meant to the Son of God whose blessed life had never been disturbed by the least cloud of trouble to enter into that tremendous strain of the divine justice, to feel the waves of guilt and wrath unleashing their fury upon him, so that he cried out in the bitterness of his anguish: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" All this and more than we can possibly realize lies in this single phrase—that he gave his life a ransom for many. But only in the same proportion that we realize something of all this shall we begin to measure what is meant by the other phrase that he came to minister, and what is the unique force of the admonition that we should minister not like, but at an infinite distance minister as he did minister.
Let me in conclusion call your attention to two other points implied in this statement. The first follows directly from what has just been said. It is this—that underneath the service rendered by Jesus to men lay a service rendered to God. He gave his life for men, but he gave it to God. The ransom which effected our freedom was paid to the divine justice, paid to satisfy God. And our Lord did not look upon this satisfaction of God as a hard necessity that could not be evaded if man was to be helped but in which he took no further interest. On the contrary, in this, as in all other matters with him, the service of God took precedence over the service, even over the
salvation of men. He put his heart into the cross equally, nay more on account of what it meant for God than on account of what it meant for mankind. In dying, as in all else he did, he hallowed God's name. That he was willing to make himself a ransom was a supreme act of love for God no less than for man. Let us not forget this. There is so much talk of service at the present day and it (is) so often deplorably noticeable that the idea people connect with this word is purely that of benevolence and helpfulness to man. If that is the meaning then the word is not fit to be the synonym of religion. Only such service is true religious service as puts foremost and guards foremost the supreme interest of God. That and nothing else is a true copy of the ministry of Jesus.
In the second place and lastly, because the service of Jesus was supremely a service of God, it had connected with it the promise of abounding fruitfulness. Notice the words: a ransom for many: words are not of course meant to limit the atonement as if the meaning were not for all. This question, whether it is for all or not for all, lies altogether beside our Lord's intent. What he means to say is that the self-sacrifice of the one, because it was the sacrifice of the Son-of-Man (of transcendent value inherently and brought to bear at the central point), would buy the freedom not of one but of many. It is the same thought that Paul expressed when he said that they who received the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one and that through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men to justification of life (Rom. 5:15-19). Because Jesus directed his service to this one central point where the source of all evil and misery lies—the guilt-relation of man to God—therefore in remedying this fundamental evil, he ministered unto mankind on the largest and thoroughgoing and most comprehensive scale—the ransom of the one became the liberty of the countless many. There is a lesson in this for us. We in our own way also should see to it that we do not foolishly squander our efforts at serving men in a thousand various directions when they will touch only the periphery of the evil of this world and can hardly expect to make a transitory ripple on the great sea of its sorrow. Rather let us concentrate our energies where
alone they can permanently tell for the true betterment of things not for time merely but for eternity. Let us work for the salvation of souls from the judgment of God. If this is attained, then by the grace of God all the other regenerative and cleansing and uplifting effects are bound to follow in the wake of our service. The law from the one to the many as illustrated in the atonement of our Lord will repeat itself in our experience—we shall see of the travail of our souls and be satisfied.
Princeton Theological Seminary
Princeton, New Jersey
Meredith G. Kline
Confronted with the tableau of the rider on the red horse in the midst of the myrtles by the deep (Zech. 1:8), Zechariah requested an explanation (v. 9). It was given by the Angel-rider himself. In particular, he identified the horsemen (v. 10), whose report on their world mission (v. 11) prompted his intercession in behalf of Jerusalem (v. 12). The response of the Lord of hosts to this was then disclosed by the divine Angel to Zechariah through the interpreting angel (vv. 13-17). In the successive steps of this explanatory process each of the elements of the symbolic scene is in turn illuminated: the deep (vv. 9-11), the myrtles (v. 12), and the Glory-Presence (vv. 13-17).
I. State of the World Report (1:9-11)
A. Jurisdiction over the Deep: We have found that the sea symbolized the mighty forces of disorder and satanic hostility which the Lord overcomes in working out his creative kingdom purposes in
the history of his covenant people. In Zechariah's vision, the deep represented the world power which had subjugated Israel and terminated the Davidic dynasty. Dispatched to this deep of the nations, the heavenly horsemen were to discover whether the imperial powers were now in compliance with the rule of Yahweh as sovereign of heaven and earth; more specifically, whether they were assuming a proper stance with respect to the nation of Israel, at that time God's kingdom on earth.
Indicative of the judicial character of the horsemen's mission is the verb used for their ranging over the earth (Hithpael of halak). Zechariah employs it again for the world traversing heavenly chariots in the parallel seventh vision (Zech. 6:7). Its first appearance in Scripture is in Genesis 3:8, where it denotes the advent of God for judgment at the Fall of man. A judicial connotation may be present in the following passages, in all of which the Lord is the subject of this verb: Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 23:14; 2 Samuel 7:6; and Job 22:14. Used with reference to Enoch (Gen. 5:22,24) and Noah (Gen. 6:9), it signifies their involvement in the judicial council of the Lord of hosts, the heavenly experience that later characterized the true prophet in Israel. Similarly, the judicial oversight of Israel by the prophet-judge Samuel is summed up by this verb in 1 Samuel 12:2, where it is also used for the king. In Psalm 82 (whose setting—God standing for judgment in the midst of the Elohim-beings of the divine council—is not unlike that in Zechariah's first vision), this verb describes the activity of the earthly judges who are the objects of the divine condemnation (v. 5). In Job 1:7 and 2:2 it refers to Satan's malicious scrutiny of men as he goes about like a lion (cf. Ezek. 19:6) securing evidence for his accusations.
In the Job passages just cited a parallel verb is shut, which is used in 2 Chronicles 16:9 for the eyes of the omniscient Lord judicially surveying the earth. The Lord's eyes are a figure for the divine agents of world surveillance, the same reality that is symbolized by the horsemen in Zechariah's first vision. Indeed, Zechariah himself employs the imagery of the seven eyes of the Lord in 3:9 and 4:10,
making much the same point as 2 Chronicles 16:9, viz., Yahweh is Judge of all the earth. A prominent element throughout Zechariah's prophecy, the theme of the sovereignty of Israel's Lord over all the nations emerges in his opening vision. The scope of the heavenly horsemen's reconnaissance "to and fro through the earth" (1:10) which is reflected in their earth encompassing report (1:11) manifests the universal authority of him who sent them on their judicial mission.
B. Eschatological Delay: At the same time, however, the horsemen's report gives rise to an urgent theological question which becomes the central issue of this vision. It concerns the perplexing absence of penal enforcement of God's holy will against those who scorn his claim to universal sovereignty. For the scoffer this provides an occasion to call that claim in doubt. For the people of God this translates into a soul-trying postponement in the realization of the promised goal of their salvation, the coming of the kingdom in glory. In all ages until the end of their pilgrimage through this fallen world, eschatological delay places the patience of the faithful under severe strain. This is a theological issue that cannot be raised with theoretical detachment; it is profoundly existential and emotive. When the report of the horsemen brought this matter into focus, the divine Angel was at once stirred up to pastoral intercession, pleading, "How long?"
According to their report all the earth was living quietly at rest (shaqat). That verb describes regions and peoples experiencing prosperous security, free from civil strife and warfare. It is used for the intermittent periods of relief from the succession of foreign oppressors during the time of the judges (Jdg. 3:11,30; 5:31; 8:28) and for times of quiet after conflict during the monarchy (e.g., 2 Chron. 14:6; 20:30; 23:21). More to the point, in God's promises to his people this word depicts the happy conditions they would enjoy when he brought them home from exile (Jer. 30:10; 46:27) and the peace of the messianic era (Isa. 14:7; 32:17). It is precisely in connection with these cherished prospects that the report of the horsemen posed a problem. Their reconnaissance disclosed that what had been promised to God's people as distinctly their blessed future was being enjoyed instead by
the other nations, the nations symbolized by the deep. Is not the sea supposed to be restless? Isaiah had described it as that which cannot rest (shaqat). He used the turbulent waters of the deep as a simile for the wicked who are not supposed to have peace (Isa. 57:20; cf. Jer. 49:23). But strangely, according to the findings of the heavenly patrol, it was not the land of Israel but the sea of the wicked nations that was peacefully calm. In contradiction of the hope of Israel, the deep was undisturbed.
This peace predicated of the world in Zechariah 1:11 is sometimes interpreted narrowly of the political fortunes of the Persian empire. It is then disputed whether the tranquility reported in v. 11 harmonizes with the date formula in v. 7, since there is a question whether the disturbances that marred the beginning of the reign of Darius had completely subsided by his second year. But though the Persian empire was of central interest, the mission of the horsemen was of global scope and their report not restricted to the state of Darius' reign. More importantly, such a narrow interpretation is out of touch with the redemptive-historical realities and concerns of the canonical context of Zechariah's visions.
The focus of concern is the myrtles by the deep—God's covenant people in relation to the world. In the history of the redemptive program Israel had been established as God's own nation, a unique holy kingdom of priests set apart from the common nations. This intrusion of a theocracy into world history produced for the contemporary surrounding nations a special situation, imposing on them peculiar obligations with respect to the cult and community of the Lord God thus kingdomized in their midst. It is the demands of this special historical-redemptive situation that are in view in the horsemen's scrutiny of the nations.
Specifically, their world reconnaissance was to discover what the world powers were doing in the second year of Darius by way of helping or hindering the Israelites in their efforts to reestablish themselves in their land and to restore the temple-cult of Yahweh in Jerusalem. Measured in terms of their special obligations in this
typological situation, the nations were found wanting. They showed no inclination to fulfill the commitments that had been made by Cyrus to provide subsidies from the Persian treasury for restoring the Jerusalem temple (Ezra l:lff. and 6:1ff.). Opposition to the restoration of Jerusalem from various quarters had brought initial efforts to rebuild the temple to a halt (Ezra 4; cf. Hag. 1:2) and in the interval the Persian officials had in fact become ignorant of the very existence of the earlier grants (Ezra 5). Moreover, whatever aid of this sort Persia rendered at one time or another, their imperial dominion over the Lord's covenant community was not relinquished. Any attempt to restore the Davidic dynasty and independent sovereignty would have been totally unacceptable to the Persian overlord.
The point of the patrol's report was not that there was a lull in the incessant international strife and warfare but rather that the world powers were manifesting their defiant indifference to the God of heaven and earth by failing to assist his covenant people in their struggle to recover from the devastation of the Babylonian exile and to rebuild the sanctuary where he placed his name. This indictment of the nations as guilty of hostile disregard for the honor of God's name and for the plight of his people is repeated in the Lord's own description of them as "at ease" (sha'anan, v. 15). The overtones of scornful complacency, insolence and hateful arrogance attaching to this term are plain in the plea of the oppressed saints in Psalm 123. They cry to the Lord for mercy, lamenting that they have experienced their fill of "the scorn of those at ease and the contempt of the arrogant" (v. 4; cf. Isa. 32:9,11,18; 37:29; Amos 6:1). What was disclosed by the horsemen's survey of the deep corroborated the portrayal of the great sea in Daniel's night vision. It was the spawning place of beast kingdoms, hostile to the kingdom of the Son of Man, animated by the spirit of antichrist (Dan. 7; for symbols of Persia see 7:5 and 8:3,4,20). Not only were the nations arrogantly ignoring their obligations to Israel and Israel's God, they were doing so with apparent impunity. The proverbially restless sea was at rest.
C. Antitypical Dimension: Another vital factor in interpreting the
horsemen's state of the world report is the typological character of the prophetic idiom. In the divine structuring of redemptive history the old covenant was designed to relate to the new covenant as anticipatory prototype to the later ultimate reality. Israel's restoration from Babylonian exile is an instance of this. Like their exodus from Egypt, it was arranged by the Lord of history and redemptive revelation as an instructive model of the messianic salvation. Reflecting this topological structure of the history, the language of prophecy portrayed the coming new covenant salvation history under the figure of its old covenant prototypes. The prophets spoke of the messianic kingdom in parables, parables drawn from the Lord's grand historical parable, which was old covenant Israel.
In keeping with this parabolic idiom of prophecy, the reference of the horsemen's report is not limited to the immediate typal situation but carries a level of meaning pertaining to the messianic age. It has a more ultimately eschatological dimension. Hence the assessment of the nations as at rest is to be understood according to the standard of the ultimate kingdom hope of the redemptive covenant. A promissory forecast of that was made by Zechariah's fellow prophet Haggai four months earlier (Hag. 2:6-9, cf. v. 1) and repeated just two months before (Hag. 2:21-23, cf. v. 20). Haggai foretold a total reversal of the present subservience of God's people under the world power. As divine warrior the Lord would launch holy war against the enemy nations. They would be overthrown (haphak) amid cosmic convulsions and their treasures would be appropriated as battle spoils to adorn God's temple. Here again the prophecy was cast in the prophetic idiom, pointing beyond the typal level to the messianic antitype. Certainly no such total reversal of positions occurred before the new covenant order replaced the old. Moreover, the shaking of the nations prophesied in Haggai 2:6 is interpreted in Hebrews 12:26-29 in terms of the kingdom inheritance still anticipated by believers under the new covenant. Isaiah had also foretold this ultimate spoiling of the world power in a declaration that combined the verb of overturning or reversal (haphak) echoed by Haggai and the image of the sea for the nations found in Zechariah 1:8. "The abundance of the sea will be
overturned on you; the wealth of the nations will come to you" (Isa. 60:5; cf. Zech. 2:8,9[12,13]; 14:14; Rev. 21:26).
The condition of the nations discovered by the agents of the Angel-rider was in stark contrast to that eschatological hope. Seismic upheavals overturning the nations and emptying out the glory of their treasures into the holy city were nowhere to be detected. Not a tremor registered on the seismograph of heaven. All the earth was at rest. The great deep was calm. "Here is the patience and the faith of the saints" (Rev. 13:10; cf. 14:12).
II. Advocacy of the Angel (1:12)
Here the focus moves from the deep to the myrtles. The depressed condition of the covenant nation was the correlate of the ease of the dominant world nations reported by the horsemen. Upon receiving that report, therefore, the Angel of the Lord was constrained to make intercession for Jerusalem and the cities of Judah (v. 12).
A. Completed Retribution: As the basis for his petition Israel's advocate referred to a completed period of seventy years. This was an allusion to an earlier divine promise given through Jeremiah. The Angel was thus appealing to the integrity of the Lord of the covenant as he sought prompt action on behalf of Judah.
Some two decades earlier Daniel, still in exile, had made a remarkably similar prayer-claim (see Dan. 9). It was the first year of Darius the Mede (that is, Cyrus),1 the year the Medo-Persian empire had overthrown Babylon (Dan. 9:1). Study of two prophecies of Jeremiah concerning a seventy year period of exile (viz., Jer. 25:9-14 and 29:10-14) had convinced Daniel that the time for restoration had arrived (Dan. 9:2). The first passage dated to 605 B.C. (cf. Jer. 25:1), the year Jerusalem's captivity began and Daniel himself was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 1:1). In it Jeremiah indicated that the end of the seventy years appointed for subservience to the king of Babylon (25:11) would be marked by the fall of Babylon (25:12). Implicit in Jeremiah 25 was the promise of the return of the captives
at the completion of the seventy years and that promise became explicit in the second passage (see Jer. 29:10). Having witnessed the fulfillment of Jeremiah 25 in the fall of Babylon to Cyrus, Daniel proceeded in the first year of Cyrus (538 B.C.) to plead for the fulfillment of Jeremiah 29. His prayer-claim was that the promised restoration of the holy city and temple had been joined to Babylon's fall as a twin indicator of the end of the allotted seventy years (Dan. 9:3-19; cf. 2 Chron. 36:22) and should, therefore, shortly come to pass.
Of course, the Lord was going to honor his prophetic promise and in the vision of the seventy weeks (Dan. 9:24-27) he assured Daniel that restoration of the typological cultic order would begin at once and be satisfactorily completed, in spite of certain difficulties (v. 25). That very year Cyrus issued a decree authorizing the return (2 Chron. 36:22,23; Ezra 1:1-5) and the Israelites soon were availing themselves of the privilege. However, the troublous times of which the Lord forewarned had followed (cf. Ezra 4). Indeed, the restoration of Jerusalem and its temple progressed so slowly and relationships with the world powers remained so little improved that twenty years later (in 520 B.C.) the Angel of the Lord, as seen in Zechariah's vision, had to reiterate the plea of Daniel. He appealed to the fact that the returned captives were the ones "against whom you had indignation those seventy years," that is, the period of exile predicted by Jeremiah.2 The debt to divine justice had been fully met (such is the significance of the seventy years, as we shall see), and surely now, these twenty years later, it was time for a more conspicuous display of God's restoring mercies. This was the contention of the Angel advocate.
As interpreted above the seventy years were a literal, if slightly rounded, number for the critical period of captivity (605-538).3 In the biblical context it appears that "seventy years" carries additional symbolic overtones. It amounts to ten sabbatical periods. Such a sabbatical significance of the seventy years exile is brought out in the Chronicler's account of it as a fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy. From the perspective of the land of Israel the time of exile was one of
Sabbath rest in which it made up for (rasah) the Sabbath years in which it should have lain fallow but had been worked by the covenant-breaking Israelites (2 Chr. 36:21). According to the Chronicler each of the seventy years of exile was in effect a sabbatical year, and each seven years was then equivalent to forty-nine years, a jubilee period, and thus the seventy years were tantamount not just to ten sabbatical periods but to ten jubilee periods (or seventy weeks of years).4
By virtue of these sabbatical-jubilee overtones, the seventy years of Zechariah 1:12 suggest a period that entails the full completion of a work, the consummating of a divine purpose. The specific divine purpose, as the Angel's plea indicates, was that of manifesting God's indignation against the violation of his covenant. Isaiah 10 is the main source of this indignation terminology.5 Isaiah prophesied that the nation God employed as the instrument of his indignation against his disobedient vassal people Israel (Isa. 10:5; cf. Ezek. 21:31) would itself succumb to another world-power, also serving as the weapon of Yahweh's indignation (Isa. 10:26, 13:5; cf. Jer. 50:25). This event was coordinated in Isaiah's prediction, as in Jeremiah's prophecy of the seventy years exile, with the completing of God's indignation against his own people (Isa. 10:25).
When the Babylonian captivity of Israel is perceived as a combination of the Lord's indignation and of the seventy years understood as signifying the completion of divine action, it emerges as a parable of the eternal perdition of hell, as a punishment that constituted at a temporal-typological level a consummate divine retribution, a full satisfaction of divine justice. Such significance had been assigned to this ultimate covenant curse of exile by Moses in his prophetic overview of the course of old covenant history in Leviticus 26. This passage depicts the exile as an extended Sabbath for the land (the idea echoed in 2 Chron. 36:21) and it contains the motif of sevenfold (i.e., complete) punishment for sin (vv. 18,21,24, and 28). Most to the point, it states that the exiles' experience of misery and anguish would make up for (rasah) their iniquity (v. 41). This verb is
used in v. 34 to express the land's making up for its missed Sabbaths during the exile (again cf. 2 Chron. 36:21). These two ideas are indeed conjoined in v. 43, with rasah used for both: "The land will make up for its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them and they will make up for their iniquity."6
Israel in exile received a full equivalence in penal recompense for her sins. Those sufferings were not a sacrificial atonement akin to the propitiatory achievement of the Cross. Captive Israel was not the suffering Servant heralded by Isaiah, the vicariously suffering Servant stricken of God for the transgressions of others. Her sufferings were rather the kind of reparations paid by those condemned to hell. However, unlike the doom of the lake of fire, God's judicial response at the ultimate eschatological level of radical religious reality to reprobate individuals, the sentence of Babylonian exile dealt with Israel at the typological level of the provisional Mosaic economy. At the level of the second death retribution is unending; at the typological level a finite period of retribution, the seventy years, sufficed as a complete payment, a making good in full for national Israel's transgressions.
B. Poignant Appeal: That is the point being made by the Angel advocate in Zechariah 1:12. Israel had met in full the curse-debt of the broken covenant. The allotted seventy years indignation had been completed some twenty years ago. But how disappointingly slow had been the progress in restoring the theocratic community and its temple. Still scarred by ruins, Jerusalem remained without walls for defense. Scarcely any headway had been made on the temple since the original efforts had been interrupted by vociferous foes. The land was unproductive. Recovery of independent national self-rule and reinstituting of the Davidic dynasty were nowhere in sight. How long was this to continue? Had not the Lord promised in a prophecy of Haggai just two months before Zechariah's night visions that from that day onward, the day of the community's taking up afresh the task of building God's house, he would bless them (Hag. 2:19)?
"How long?"—the cry of the Angel—is a familiar introduction to
prayers that lament intolerable circumstances and express yearning for relief. They are characterized by calls for divine mercy and deliverance from adversaries. Most poignant is the lament that longs for a cessation of what is perceived as the displeasure of the Lord himself (see, e.g., Pss. 6:3; 80:4; 90:13; cf. 79:5). Some Psalms where the "how long?" appears reflect situations like that in Zechariah 1:12 and indicate more explicitly the kind of divine action the Angel would have been requesting. Psalm 74:10 asks how long the enemy will continue to reproach and blaspheme God's name. Adversaries have devastated God's sanctuary, profaning his name (vv. 3-8). The psalmist laments that God has cast off his congregation in anger forever (vv. 1,2) but appeals to him as the Creator (vv. 16,17), the God of the exodus who overcame the sea and the sea-monsters (vv. 13-15). In remembrance of his covenant (vv. 2,20) let him achieve victory in the midst of the earth (v. 12). Psalm 80:4(5) asks how long the Lord, the God of hosts, would be angry against his people, beset by derisive foes (vv. 6,12,13[7,13,14]). God is identified in terms of the Glory enthroned above the cherubim, which he is requested to manifest in power, shining forth for the salvation of his people (vv. 1-3,7,19[2-4,8,20]). Psalm 94:3 asks how long the arrogant defiance of the wicked will continue. They have crushed the Lord's people and afflicted his heritage, as though divine justice were blind (vv. 4-7). As judge of all the earth, the God of vengeance, the Lord is petitioned to shine forth, rising up in judgment to render to the proud their deserts (vv. 1,2).
C. Sojourning Saints: While the Angel's plea for such divine intervention in Zechariah 1:12 does take account of the immediate situation and though it is couched in the typological terms of that stage of redemptive history, the horizon of his concern extends far beyond into the antitypical age of the new covenant. This perspective is required by the context. When dealing with God's response to the Angel (vv. 13-17) we shall see that it contains promises clearly pertaining to the messianic age. Here we want to observe that the wilderness situation of the faithful portrayed in the symbolism of the myrtles by the deep (v. 8), the situation that evoked the Angel's intercession, continued throughout the remainder of old covenant
times, into the new covenant age, and indeed obtains until the Final Judgment.7 If so, then the rectifying of that situation sought by the Angel must also ultimately be the final, eschatological deliverance.
The Angel's advocacy was not without more immediate results at the typological level. For the rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem with its environs did move forward decisively, even though the city walls were not finished for many years (cf. Neh. 7:4; 11:1). Nevertheless, in fundamental respects the existence of the covenant community continued to be a wilderness experience. Restoration of the temple did not end the domination of the temple-community by the kingdoms of the earth. The succession of world beast-powers surveyed in Daniel 7 continued in the state of defiant ease reported by the horsemen to the Angel of the Lord for centuries longer. That would at last be changed by the cataclysmic judgment predicted by Haggai (Hag. 2:6,7,21,22), but nothing of the sort accompanied the limited restoration after the Babylonian exile. David's fallen tabernacle remained in ruins, not to be raised up within Old Testament times.
Why was restoration of the kingdom in its typological form so limited? In particular, why was the Davidic throne not restored and another glory age enjoyed in those postexilic centuries? For one thing, although Israel had, at the typological level, fully paid for its past offenses by the seventy years exile, that payment did not earn future blessings. Israel's restoration to the land, like their original reception of it after the exodus, was a gift of grace. Moreover, in the postexilic phase of the old covenant as in the preexilic a principle of works was operating in the sense that retention of the typological kingdom blessings had to be earned by demonstrated covenant obedience, with the measure of such blessings fluctuating with Israel's erratic faithfulness (cf. Rom. 10:5,6; Gal. 3:12). Further, since it was a major purpose of the Mosaic economy to prepare an appropriate historical setting for the advent of the Messiah and since he must appear in a state of humiliation to fulfill his mission as the suffering Servant, the covenant community could hardly have been in a state of glorious power with a representative of David's dynasty on the throne when
Jesus Christ was born.
Wilderness status still characterizes God's people in the present new covenant era. To be sure, the Lord, true to the Davidic Covenant and in fulfillment of specific promise, has raised up the tabernacle of David (Amos 9:11,12; Acts 15:16-18), and that not merely on the level of the typal throne in old Jerusalem but on the antitypal plane of the heavenly reign of Jesus. Nevertheless, the New Testament portrays the church on earth as a sojourning pilgrim people, as a church in the wilderness (cf. e.g., Heb. 3:7-4:11; 1 Pet. 1:17; 2:11; Rev. 12:14).8 Satan's agent, the Beast power from the deep, still wars against the saints and is yet to come up out of the abyss for his hour of apparent triumph over them before he goes into perdition (Rev. 11:7; 13:1ff; 16:13-16; 17:10-13; 19:19; 20:7-9).
The purview of the whole context before and after the Angel's intercession in Zechariah 1:12 thus includes the future of the covenant people down to the consummation of the messianic age and this clearly determines the eschatological horizon of that intercession. Such a long-range concern is only what would be expected on the part of this Angel. The "how long?" question he raises in Zechariah 1:12 had been put to him not long before. The occasion was the vision described in Daniel 12, one that resembles Zechariah's first vision in several respects. It contains a theophany by the waters; it deals with a situation fraught with peril for the saints; and it envisages the church age, including the final antichrist crisis (cf. Dan 11:36ff.; 2 Thess. 2:3,4). At that time, the "how long?" was voiced by one of the heavenly beings who accompanied the Glory-Angel (Dan. 12:6). By way of answer the theophanic Angel spoke of the three and a half times (v. 7), the symbol in the books of Daniel and Revelation for the preconsummation history of the church of the new covenant, the time of the church in the wilderness (Rev. 12:6,14; cf. Rev. 13:5; Dan. 9:27). Only after this period would deliverance come to the people of Michael-Messiah (cf. Dan. 12:1-3). Whether answering or asking the "how long?" of eschatological hope, the messianic Angel could not but have in view those new covenant developments that would be set in
motion by his own entrance into history as the Messiah, the son of David. When he cries "how long?" he is expressing the eagerness of the Son for the arrival of the hour when the Father will send him to earth on his covenanted mission to make an atonement for his people, to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to anoint the eternal temple. His cry of longing reveals the passionate love of the savior-shepherd for the flock he hastens in spirit to seek and find and bring home.
D. Christ—Judge and Advocate: In the opening night vision of Zechariah the messianic Angel is cast in the dual role of judge of the nations and advocate of the Israel of God. Remarkably, this portraiture of Christ in his royal-priestly office is found again at each main juncture in the structure of Zechariah: in the central, fourth member (3:1-10) of the seven night visions; in the central hinge section (6:9-15) of the overall diptych form of the book; and in the central unit (11:1-17) of the burdens that comprise the second half of the prophecy. Most like the first vision is Zechariah 3, where the Angel of the Lord is again present, presiding as judge, yet simultaneously advocating the cause of Joshua the high priest, Satan-accused but chosen of God.
The Christian readily recognizes his savior-shepherd as the subject of this priest-king portrait. Jesus is the Angel of the Lord, now come in the flesh. To him all authority in heaven and earth has been given and in the day of his parousia he will judge all the nations in righteousness. Until that day he intercedes in the court of heaven for his afflicted flock in the wilderness. His claim before the ancient of days is that the "seventy years" curse of divine wrath has been fully accomplished for his redeemed. That eternal wrath of God against them was compressed into the hours of his once-for-all sufferings on the Cross. Hence, the accuser of the brethren is rebuked (cf. Zech. 3:2). They overcome him because of the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 12:11). Beyond his passive obedience in his enduring of the "seventy years," our advocate at the right hand of the Father presents in our behalf the claim of his active obedience, the fulfillment of the covenant probation, and that merit imputed to us is the ground of our
inheritance of the heavenly Jerusalem. The advocacy of our ever-living heavenly priest is not in vain. It prevails to bring the longed for response of favor and blessing from the Lord of hosts (cf. Zech. 1:13-17). He is the true Servant of the Lord, able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him (Isa. 53:12; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:28).
South Hamilton, Massachusetts
* This article and another to follow continue the biblical-theological reading of the first of Zechariah's night visions begun under the title "The Rider of the Red Horse." See KERUX 5:2 (September 1990), pp. 2-20 and 5:3 (December 1990), pp. 9-28.
1. Cf. Dan. 6:28, translating: "even in the reign of Cyrus the Persian."
2. Note the correspondences of Zechariah 1:1-6 to the Jeremiah 25 context, especially vv. 3-9.
3. The seventy years have also been understood as a conventional expression for a full span of divine displeasure (cf. Isa. 23:15). Others see a reference to the period from the fall of Jerusalem in 587 to the time of Zechariah's night visions (520), or to the revelation he received two years later (and thus almost exactly seventy years after 587), in which "these seventy years" are again mentioned (Zech. 7:5).
4. This symbolism was then used again in the prophetic vision of Daniel 9:24-27, given in response to the prayer of Daniel, itself prompted by reflection on Jeremiah's seventy years prophecy.
5. Isaiah 10 lies behind the passages in Jeremiah and Daniel that
were the literary background of Zechariah 1:12 (cf., e.g., Isa. 10:22,23 with Daniel 9:26,27).
6. For rasah in the sense of make good, make up for, receive one's due (whether compensation or retribution) see Job 14:6, where it refers to the hired laborer working off his contracted day, and Job 20:10, where it means to indemnify in a case of ill-gotten gain. In Isaiah 40:2 this verb refers, as in Leviticus 26:41, to making up for sin. It is reinforced there by statements that the allotted years of the sentence have been completed and that God's people have received from the Lord's hand the full equivalent (not "double") for all their sins.
7. The wilderness image in the above analogy is simply the area outside the promised paradise land through which the saints make their pilgrim journey. It does not entail the notion of exile-like banishment to wanderings under the sentence of divine wrath. The redeemed travel a processional highway home through this wilderness (cf. Isa. 11:16; 35:8-10; 40:3; 49:11,12).
8. Cf. Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., "Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections on Postmillennialism," in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, eds. W. S. Barker and W. R. Godfrey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp. 197-224.
Come Out of Babylon
Isaiah 40-66 is a book of comfort for an afflicted people, an exiled people, a people under judgment, an oppressed people held in captivity in Babylon. God's "comfort" is administered in the proclamation of "Good News" (Is. 52:7)—that they shall be free from the tyrant (49:25); that they shall depart from Babylon as though raised from the dead (52:2); and that they shall be brought back to restore the land. The call to "come out" in 52:11 is God's call to his priestly people that they "come out of Babylon."
They were in Babylon because of their sinful covenant-breaking. Yahweh, having forewarned them, placed them under the covenant sanctions of cursing. Within this section, rich in literary and redemptive-historical themes, is placed probably the most famous text of the Old Testament—Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the Suffering Servant pericope. This text, pregnant with the future (the "new things" the Lord is about to do), raises Isaiah 40-66 to a new prophetic and
eschatological highpoint. For the real Babylonian deliverance is from the evil tyrant of this world, a redemption accomplished through the Servant's sufferings. The real deliverance from the curse of the broken law is a result of the propiatory sufferings of the Lamb-like One who would render himself a guilt offering for the sin of many (Is. 53:7,10,12). Due to his groaning labor, the Father will "allot" and "divide" to him the booty of redemption (53:12). Such Old Testament terminology is consistently associated with the apportioning of the promised land of the inheritance. But under the cover of the New Covenant this terminology reveals to us the reality of the resurrection of the Servant wherein he enters into and gains the inheritance of the heavenly land, the final homeland of the people of God (54:1-3). The jubilant "shout for joy" (54:1) is due to the subsequent packing of the land with a seed set free from cursed captivity and coming out of Babylon to resettle the empty but growing land. But this land upon the prophetic horizon is canopied by the holy tent of God's dwelling which can barely contain its spreading numbers. Here, in Old Covenant language, is a prophecy of New Covenant blessing. Holy cult and holy culture become undifferentiated in the eschaton introduced by the Servant. People and priests, land and temple, are one and the same.
The Old Covenant call to "come out of Babylon" is heard again in the covenant proclamation of the "Good News" that Isaiah's prophecy anticipated (2 Cor. 6:17; Rom. 10:15). Thus, the Babylon of the Old Covenant was anticipatory of the whole fallen order, the world under Satan, "this present evil age" (Gal. 1:4). And like the Babylon of old, this world too, having first surrendered the people of God, will come under the devastating judgment of God (cf. Rev. 18). Again, at the end of the world, that ancient call is heard for the last time: "Come out of her my people" (Rev. 18:4).
Our Relationship to Babylon
In light of this overarching biblical-theological outlook, we are faced with the well-worn question: what is the Christian's relationship to the world?
One of the loudest voices today in directing Christians's minds to settling their relationship to the world comes from the Reconstructionist school. This model anticipates not merely salvation from the world but salvation for the world in the transforming power of the Kingdom of God in culture and commerce. The Kingdom is seen as exerting its rule over the powers of this world so as to bring them into line with the law of God. This is called "theonomy". These Kingdom labors are expected to produce an eventual global victory, an expression of postmillenialism. Thus Babylon is reclaimed for Christ.
Another voice, enduring but not loud, is heard from the Anabaptist or Mennonite perspective. Here, when faced with the Babylonian world, only one piece is claimed, separated out and then run on the basis of Christian principles of discipleship. "Discipleship" becomes mingled with a distinctive cultural baggage separate from the rest of "worldly" culture. In other words, one creates a subculture. Yet, biblically speaking, this world and this age is simply Babylonian, and headed for damnation/destruction.
Babylon is part and parcel of this world. It is part and parcel of this age. The whole thing is coming under destruction. At this point one can begin to see that, though the Reconstructionist and Mennonite perspectives seem light years apart, they are in reality quite close. The Mennonite perspective draws from the world at large a portion of disciples in order to create a separate community with its own distinctives. In Reconstructionism there is a central ideological hub from which the program spreads outward. But in either case, Babylon is being Christianized, whether it is a small chunk separated out or the whole conquered by spreading out. In either case it is Babylon! That is why both perspectives are mistaken. Both are seeking to Christianize Babylon, and both consequently retain only a thin layer, if any, of common grace. In both cases the pure, spiritual mission of the church in proclaiming the gospel gets mingled with a fleshly struggle with the world. Quite simply God does not call us to Christianize either part or the whole of Babylon. Rather, he calls us to "come out of Babylon." But how do we "come out of Babylon" and at
the same time live in this world?
Life in Babylon
Let's look at Jeremiah 29:4-14 for some insight on how to live in this world. The historical situation is that Israel has been ousted from the promised land to live in Babylon, away from their homeland as exiles. What are they to do while they are there? Build houses, make gardens, continue to marry and multiply and be a blessing to the city. They should pray for the welfare of the city and be there for its blessing. So, they are to live in and participate in Babylon.
Now, generally speaking, two things should characterize life in Babylon: allegiance to Yahweh and hope. First of all, participation in Babylon would be free of idolatry. At any point where living life in Babylon presents a compromise with allegiance to Yahweh the brakes must be applied. The book of Daniel is illustrative of this principle. Daniel was in Babylon. He rose high in the political process in a terribly demonized society. Daniel was cultically separated but culturally involved. When Daniel was required to stop praying what did he do? He prayed. He did not seek to implement the demands of the Mosaic law within that society. He engaged in no campaign to knock down idols. When given an opportunity to seek the execution of the magicians he spared their lives and never actively pursued their elimination. But were he back in the promised land he should have done all of it. Yet when his life and allegiance to God were put on the line, he stood firm, unwilling to give one inch, trusting the consequences to God. Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego are also examples of stout adherence to this principle of allegiance to Yahweh while in exile. Contrary to these principles, the Anabaptist-Mennonite outlook would say Daniel was dead wrong, for he was participating in the world. And Reconstructionism would question Daniel's failure to implement theocratic law.
The second thing which should characterize or shape one's life in Babylon is the location of one's hope. Israel's great hope was that someday they could return to the freedom, the belongingness, and the
holiness of their homeland. Their hope was grounded in the land of the theocratic kingdom. But what is a theocratic kingdom? A theocratic kingdom is basically a religiously confessing, geopolitical institution. Old Testament Israel was constituted a theocratic kingdom. As a nation they were covenantally bound to Yahweh. Religious freedom was not the order of the day in the promised land. The death penalty was the proper way to deal with idolatry and lawlessness. Israel was a religiously confessing kingdom. It was also a geopolitical institution. The land with its perimeters constituted a specific geography. And over that land was a God-appointed political institution organized with a king and subjects, a court, taxes and levies. That is what a theocratic kingdom is, namely, a religiously confessing, geopolitical institution.
Israel and the Church
Are Christians part of a theocratic kingdom? Yes. Obviously, in the Old Testament, Israel was part of the theocratic kingdom. But when they were in Babylon, they were not in the theocratic kingdom for they were not within its geographical boundaries. At that time, though they were the people of the kingdom, they were not in the kingdom. While away, their hearts yearned to return to the land, free from captivity where Yahweh's rule could be exercised and his worship instituted with all the blessings flowing from it. The New Covenant Church is in an analogous situation. We are citizens of the theocratic kingdom living in Babylon as exiles, sojourners in a strange land. The same basic instructions in Jeremiah 29 on how to act while in Babylon are applicable to us in the church. Daniel becomes a model for the church's relationship to the world. The apostle Peter tells us that we are aliens and strangers in this world (1 Pet. 2:11). So was Israel when they were in Babylon.
There is a critically subtle point to be clarified in this comparison between Israel and the church. The Israel in Babylon was the people of God of the typological theocratic kingdom. They were alienated from the typological kingdom when in Babylon. We are the people of
the antitypological and final theocratic kingdom. We are alienated from our homeland. We are in Babylon now, in the flesh. There is a good deal of discussion today about whether the kingdom is now or in the future. It is both! It is now and it is future. "Now" the kingdom has arrived in the power of the Holy Spirit. But where are our feet? On the earth. Our feet are in Babylon. So in the realm of the Spirit, we are in Christ, and thus in the kingdom of heaven, delivered from Babylon. What does it mean to be "in Christ"? It means to be in the heavenlies, up there. Colossians 3 says: "your life is hidden with Christ in God. Seek those things above where Christ is seated." Where is he seated? At the right hand of God. He is seated on the throne. He is seated in the kingdom. And that is where our life is found.
When the children of Israel were in Babylon, where was their life? It was called the land of life, the land of the living. In the Old Testament, to possess God's blessing was to have "long life in the land." Now, to have God's blessing is to have eternal life "in the land." In other words, the Old Testament blessing of "prolonged days in the land" (Dt. 5:33; Ps. 91:16; Is. 53:10) anticipated eternal life in the New Covenant kingdom. Christ is now in the kingdom, in the land. In the Old Testament, the word "inheritance" primarily applies to "the land." "The land" is the geographical inheritance of the Old Testament Kingdom of God. They inherited "the land." The book of Joshua records how they moved into their inheritance—"the land." The New Testament speaks of our inheritance too. It too is "the land," but it is the heavenly one, the earthly real estate anticipated. 1 Peter 1:3 states, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." I am born again through the resurrection of Christ. When I find myself in Christ, what has happened to me? I have been born again, that is, new life emerges. I am raised up. I am joined to Christ in the newness of resurrection life and I experience the exodus. His resurrection life becomes my life within my soul. I have new life. I have eternal life. I am born again.
Now, that resurrection life has removed me from Babylon and placed me with Christ in the promised land. Where does that life lead? It leads to "an inheritance" (1 Pet. 1:4). This inheritance is "imperishable, undefiled...does not fade away." But where is it? It is reserved in heaven. By virtue of Christ's resurrection he entered into the inheritance. He entered heaven and exited out of this world, this Babylon. By his resurrection he came into life eternal. He came into the land eternal, the kingdom of God. His resurrection led him up to David's throne (Acts 2:27-34). He is raised up to the inheritance. So now, when we are brought to faith in Christ, we have that resurrection life within us. Our inheritance is where? It is in heaven where Christ is. Do we share in it now? Yes, in the Spirit. But, on the other hand, we are still waiting for it. We are still waiting in Babylon for that inheritance. We are still waiting for our homeland to appear, while the Holy Spirit is a down payment of the inheritance of life in the land (Eph. 1:13-14).
So, the kingdom of God has come in the power of the Spirit. I have been raised up spiritually in Christ to inhabit the heavenly places. I have come out of Babylon and I have come into the Kingdom of God in that sense. But in terms of my present earthly existence in the flesh, the inheritance is on reserve; it hasn't appeared yet. So, the land, the physical land where my feet will one day be settled, will not come until Jesus returns. And that is the future aspect of the kingdom of God. So because of the "now/already" character of the kingdom, we share in the power of the Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance to come; and at the second coming that inheritance which is reserved in heaven for us appears as our eternal homeland in the new creation "not yet." Consequently, the kingdom of God is here "already" and it is "not yet" here. It is here in the Spirit. It is not here in its manifest glory of the consummation. So, my relationship to this earth/world is one of a stranger and an alien while my true "politic" (the New Testament word "commonwealth"), my true "citizenship" is in heaven (Phil. 3:20).
Now, what is Israel's politic? Where is Israel's commonwealth?
This is a hot topic today. Ephesians 2 tells me where Israel's politic is. Paul declares: "Now therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh who are called uncircumcised by the so-called circumcision which is performed in the flesh by human hands, remember that you were at that time (i.e., prior to the advent of Christ) separated from Christ, and excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, (that is, the political citizenry), and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now (you were then strangers to Israel's commonwealth), but now in Christ you who were far off have been bought near" (Eph. 2:11-13). Verse 19 continues this train of thought: "So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints and of God's household." What is the point? The point is simply this: Israel's Old Testament typological commonwealth has come into actual existence in the heavenlies in Christ. Christ has entered into it as the resurrected Davidic King. The kingdom of God has come. We should never, never think that Israel's commonwealth, Israel's citizenry, Israel's theocratic kingdom is something that is to be presently reproduced or is going to occur in a future millenium in some linear manner on earth as it occurred in the Old Testament. That notion denies the reality of fulfillment in Christ. That notion denies the type-antitype dynamic. That notion denies the simple principle that the New Covenant fulfills, and in fulfilling transcends, the Old Covenant. The way that Israel's commonwealth and citizenry is fulfilled is in Christ. And as such it has been transformed into its full intention in the already/not yet Kingdom. The Old Covenant inheritance of the land in the New Covenant that Christ brings is that land where Christ is in the heavenlies—that land which will one day dawn in the emergence of the new heavens and new earth at his return.
So, are we part of Israel? Yes and no. No, we are not part of the Old Covenant typological situation. We are part of the New Covenant situation which the Old anticipated typologically. And yes, therein we are part of Israel. Because it is Israel's promises that "in Christ" have been fulfilled and realized. In them, along with the Jewish remnant, we
share. As Ephesians 2:19 says: "We (Gentiles) are fellow citizens with the saints" (Israel's remnant).
Christ the True Israel
Christ is the fulfillment of the whole thing; this is the basic presupposition; in him the theocratic kingdom that Israel anticipated has come, and it has been transformed. The Old Covenant caterpillar has become the New Covenant butterfly. All that the Old Testament anticipated regarding Israel's theocratic kingdom finds its fulfillment in the already/not yet dynamic of the kingdom heralded by Christ. The "not yet" sphere will be realized in the second advent of Christ in the consummation at the appearance of the new heavens and new earth, the new Jerusalem, the temple and the resurrected people of God with Christ dwelling in their midst. But now, "already," these very realities exist in the heavenlies, communicated by the Spirit to earth.
So where is the temple now? Hebrews tells us. It is where the land of the Kingdom is—in heaven! Christ entered the Holy Place in heaven, the real, eternal, of which the Old Covenant was merely a symbol. Believers now enter the Holy Place by faith. When the church assembles on earth for worship, by faith, they sit around Christ in the true sanctuary. There we enjoy, by the Spirit, our true homeland in heaven. With physical eyes we are seen as any other Babylonian assembly, where people gather to sit, speak and listen. The physical, earthly dimensions are the same. But to interpret this assembly biblically, we are in the Holy Place, the true sanctuary where Christ our Priest/King resides, perceived only by the eye of faith as informed by the Word and Spirit. Here we are in the midst of the cherubim and the angelic host. We are in the heavenlies with Christ. We are seated around him in worship, in the land, in Jerusalem, in the temple of the Lord. And we too "in the Spirit" have become the temple of the Lord with him dwelling in the midst. We have been united to Christ in his death and have been resurrected and removed from Babylon to join our King in the homeland of his theocratic kingdom. In union with Christ's death and resurrection we have "come out of Babylon." You
can't see it. It is all hidden. Our life is "hidden with Christ in God." But it is going to be revealed when he returns in manifest glory (Col. 3:1-4). So, all that Ezekiel's temple anticipated (40-48) has begun now in the power of the Spirit. Yet, it will be revealed in the consummation when Christ returns to destroy Babylon forever in the final exodus of the people of God.
Consequently, Isaiah tells us, "Come out (of Babylon), you who bear the vessels of the Lord" (i.e., "you priests," 52:11). As the real, New Covenant priests of the Lord we are to come out of Babylon. Why? Because our cultic identity and our cultural identity are merged in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is separated from the religious as well as the political rudimentary principles of the world. Christian utopianism in either a conservative or liberal postmillennialism is plainly unbiblical. Thus, drawing swords "in the name of Christ" for dominion over this earth is contrary to the origin of our true "commonwealth" where we have become fellow citizens with the people of God (Eph. 2:12,19). "Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly wait for our Savior" (Phil. 3:20).
Our Present Citizenship
Then what, as Christians, are we to be doing on earth? We are "ambassadors" (2 Cor. 5:20). As such, our homeland is elsewhere, in heaven with Christ. Yet we are now, in the flesh, in Babylon. On earth we are strangers because we are not home. We are ambassadors, away from our homeland, commissioned by the King of our commonwealth with a message to Babylon. What is that mission? Is it the theocratic reconstruction of the whole of Babylon? Or are we to create a culture within a culture? No, neither of these. Our mission is to proclaim that the judgment of God which is upon Babylon and about to destroy it has been exhausted in Christ. Thus the urgent cry is "come out of her my people" (Rev. 18:4; Is. 52:11; Jer. 51:6,45). This call of the gospel is a call for resurrection life in the city of sin and death made effectual by the Spirit of the resurrected Christ. In order to "come out of Babylon," the curse abiding on the elect dwelling in Babylon must be
removed through the Suffering Servant's death on their behalf. To "come out of Babylon" is to be joined to Christ in his resurrection and be seated with him in the land of life in the kingdom of God. That resurrection shout at the second advent to "come out of her my people" (Rev. 18:4) is echoed backward into the present preaching of the gospel. In this way, some will be raised from their Babylon tombs, while others will be left to ripen for the judgment to come. Reconciliation is nothing less than the removal of hostility and the joining of alien parties. Biblically, the removal of that wrath is accomplished by Christ (2 Cor. 5:21), the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. Hostility, wrath, judgment, and the just execution of the curse are about to fall. So we cry out, "Come out of Babylon."
Our Present Mission
What therefore is our mission while we are in Babylon? Well, we do indeed participate in the daily culture and commerce of the world. This "participation" perspective as opposed to a militant dominionism or cultural isolationism is the only perspective consistent with the theological idea of common grace. But though participating in the world we do not "make full use of the world" (1 Cor. 7:31). Why? Because this world is not the homeland of the people of God. It is not our reason for living and can provide no ultimate or lasting purpose. Thus, in "seeking first the kingdom of God" we are living for another world, the world to come. And in the meantime, we have a message of reconciliation—that though wrath is going to come upon this world, the enmity has been removed in the cross of Jesus Christ. The holy war that is coming upon this world from the other country has already been finished and exhausted in Jesus Christ. Paul says in effect, God reconciled the world to himself and he is on his way to destroy the unrepentant; in the meantime, we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19,20). Our mission, as we are strangers, away from our homeland, to the Babylonians of this world is to call them to be reconciled to God because judgment is coming. Babylon will be destroyed! And that is why the call of the gospel is to "come out of Babylon." Yet, how do we "come out of the world?"
How do we "come out" of Babylon? We come out of the world/Babylon when we are joined with Christ in his death, burial, resurrection and ascension in the heavenlies. As people seated in the heavenlies, we have tasted of the world to come, ahead of time, so that now we live differently in Babylon. That difference of life is reflected fundamentally in three ways.
First, when we come out of the world, God becomes our God and our idolatry is forsaken. 1 Thessalonians 1:9 tells us what conversion is. Paul says, "You turned from idols to serve the living God."
Second, we come out of the world when our hope in life is no longer set upon either large or small earthly circumstances. In other words, when neither the productivity of one's personal career nor the eventual political justice and peace on earth is the quest of our existence, but rather the return of Jesus from heaven (1 Thess. 1:10). Where my hope is constitutes the location of my heart's treasure. My hope is my reason for living. As a believer I hope for the new world at Christ's return. I live for another world. My hope is set in another place. No matter what happens in this world, I have hope. I may be terminally ill, but I have hope. If you have hope in the returning kingdom of God to replace Babylon, the worst thing imaginable cannot swallow you in despair. As painful as life may be, the Christian has the hidden joy and strength within—he has hope. Paul's summation of conversion in 1 Thess. 1:9-10 consists in the same two Old Covenant distinctives for living life in Babylon: allegiance to the living God and hope in arriving in another land, the land of the theocratic kingdom of God.
The third way the Christian's life is distinctive in Babylon is that his mission is unique. The position of the church is not one of competing for world dominion with other Babylonian powers. Such a view is totally mistaken. Certainly believers will participate in the world commercially, politically and culturally. Sometimes we will do significant things. But this is not our mission. Our mission is based on the principle that the land of the kingdom of God is not this earth. We are not to labor to "kingdomize the world." We are not called to
plant the kingdom here. God is going to remove this world. As Revelation 18:2 announces (quoting from Isaiah 13:12): "fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!" But the land of the kingdom of heaven where Christ is, will remain. It is this which gives the church an urgent message. Each Christian has a message and mission, not of Babylonian reconstruction, but of reconciliation through repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. The world, Babylon, is under the wrath/curse of God. Yet the Christian's message is not a gloomy or self-righteous dirge of "you are doomed—period." But rather "Gospel", "Good News", "Exodus", "Release to the captives", "Come out of Babylon", "Your God reigns"—for "How beautiful are the feet of him who brings Good News!"
Leland Ryken. Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987, 382 pp., $15.95 paper. ISBN: 0-8010-7743-5.
If you are my age and attended a secular college or university, as I did, you can remember the reputation of a course, usually in the English department, called "The Bible as Literature"—taught by an atheist or agnostic, specifically designed to dispel forever the notion that there was anything special, let alone divinely inspired, about the Bible, a course where plenty of students had lost their faith, etc., etc. It was, as I recall, one of those courses, like philosophy and world religions, that evangelicals tended to avoid—or, on the other hand, to take purely for the opportunity it afforded to test one's mettle against the Philistine. (The course was taught at my university, incidentally, by a man who, it was rumored, had graduated from Calvin College, but who no longer believed and now amused himself by taunting
fundamentalist students with his blasphemies.) Such in those days was the Christian student's view of studying the Bible "as literature," the phrase meaning, of course, merely or only as literature; in this case the literature of the Jews, but no different in the way we handle it than that of any other ancient people.
Times have obviously changed. No doubt part of the change can be explained by the fact that we university students have grown older and wiser. But there has clearly been a shift in evangelical convictions as well. From Baker Book House (1987) we have Leland Ryken's Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible. Ryken teaches at Wheaton and has numerous articles and several books on the subject to his credit, including The Literature of the Bible (Zondervan, 1974) and How to Read the Bible as Literature (Academic Books, 1984), both similar to Words of Delight. Ryken's work and that of one or two others—on the Old Testament the latest is Reformed Theological Seminary professor Richard Pratt's He Gave Us Stories (Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1990)—indicate that the Bible as literature is now an acceptable evangelical enterprise. Well it should be.
Ryken's thesis, stated often and supported by dozens of examples, is simply that the Bible is literature—primarily, essentially, as of first importance—and that if we do not understand it as such we shall not really understand it at all. In other words—and this is of course what makes the point particularly relevant to most of us—the Bible is not a book of theology, at least not in the first instance. On the very first page Ryken admonishes that, "The thing that it is emphatically not is what we so often picture it as being—a theological outline with proof texts attached" (11) and he never lets up. Commentators who neglect or fail to take seriously the essentially literary character, the sheer artistry of Scripture, are more than once rebuked. On Ruth, for instance: "I cringe every time I read a theologian's comment that 'when the narrative "trimming" is stripped away, the story of Ruth takes its place as simply one more bit of Heilsgeshicte,..."' Against such reductionism (his word) Ryken offers the view of a critic who argues that the author of Ruth is "an artist in full command of a
complex and subtle art, which art is exhibited in almost every word of the story" (125).
This is Ryken all through: the Bible is literature and its writers were literary artists—and not by accident. The biblical poets, to name perhaps the most representative, "wrote as self-conscious artists aware of the conventions or 'rules' of their craft" (241). Nor is "artistry" a frill or impediment, something to be "gotten through" in order to get to the kernel of theological truth. Of Psalm 19: "The sheer beauty and artistry of a psalm like this are not extraneous to its meaning. They are part of the total effect of the poem" (196).
Ryken's method is to walk us through the various genre—narrative (including epic, tragedy and hero story), encomium, proverb, satire and drama—describing, first, the key elements of each, then showing how each is represented in Scripture; also when and how Bible tragedy or epic or drama differs from its profane counterparts. For those not familiar with such things as the elements of narrative or epic versus anti-epic, this is Lit. 101 audited, without exams (or a review of what you've forgotten from university days), applied this time to the Bible.
Ryken goes further than explanation and example: he provides us with literary analysis—exegesis, not in terms of theology or the structure of language, but of metaphor, simile, personification, image, etc. His analyses are models for us to emulate, lessons in how-to for the novice. And in this Ryken is nothing if not thorough, perhaps too thorough. His explication of the variety of psalms, for example, goes from literary introduction to commentary; and when the book fails it does so because it falls between these two stools. Depending on one's knowledge of Ryken's subject, one will find some of his analysis either nuts and bolts practical (he gives us almost five pages on Psalm 90, doing it for us) or pedestrian, telling us what in many cases we already know, or should be able to figure out, as in his treatment of Job.
Indeed, the fault of this book is often the defect of its virtues. "Analysis is well as death is well," said George McDonald. How much
better, in most cases, simply to read the text itself. (But of course Ryken would say the same; that is, after all, what he is trying to teach us to do.) Nor are we drawn closer to the text by technicalese (admittedly limited): "scene-act ratio," "scene-agent ratio," etc. But the problem here may be built in: it is difficult to have literary analysis without—well, literary analysis!
Ryken is most helpful when he opines, exhorts or instructs: the Song of Solomon, for instance, "a collection of love poems," not a spiritual allegory, or drama, or a story about a love triangle, "has been extravagantly misinterpreted throughout the centuries and continues to be so today" (271); Jonah is "the greatest satiric masterpiece in the Bible" (337); and the apparently contradictory passages in Ecclesiastes make sense when we understand that "the book is structured on a dialectical principle in which opposites are contrasted to each other" (320). His comparison of John 1 to Old Testament encomium (300ff.) and the cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 12 to the cloudy pillar of wilderness wandering (309) are, moreover, not only interesting; they are grist for the biblical-theological mill.
This kind of critique, borne of Ryken's considerable knowledge of his subject, offers us another approach to and possibly a way out of traditional dilemmas, vis-a-vis strictly linguistic or theological exegesis. At the very least Ryken causes us to see the Bible in a new way, gets us out of our ruts; he gives us the professional's view. And if we were ever in doubt about the self-conscious artistic intent of the Bible's authors, or ever thought Scripture a kind of theological handbook, Ryken sets us straight. The Bible is art, often great art; its message comes from the pens of poets, story tellers and aphorists, not professors of dogmatic theology. (I have long thought, by the way, that the literary perspective is precisely what is missing in the often fruitless debate between theologians and scientists over the early chapters of Genesis, where the sides appear to be firing past one another.)
Having made his point, Ryken reminds us at the end that for all its art the Bible's purpose is didactic. Art, yes, but not for art's sake.
"The Bible is a continuously religious book. It is always ready to sacrifice literary concerns for didactic ones, and even when it does not do so, its literary dimension is permeated with religious and moral preoccupations" (354). Ryken has brought us full circle. Having explained, with 350 pages of argumentation and in no uncertain terms, that the Bible is understood best, perhaps only, when it is read with a full appreciation of its essentially literary character, he does not fail to remind us, quoting C. S. Lewis, that "those who read the Bible as literature do not read the Bible" (note, 354)—a fitting conclusion for those of us who need both to read it correctly and obey it.
Words of Delight is not casual reading. At times it is slow going; and its occasional hesitation between introduction and commentary, in my view, does not help. Its message and insights, however, are worth having (not least for the sake of our theology), and so, therefore, is the book—because, of course, the Bible is literature. Those old university courses were misguided to the extent that they failed to acknowledge that it is much, much more.
—Richard A. Riesen