KERUX: A JOURNAL
Editor: James T. Dennison, Jr.
1. ISAIAH'S CHRISTMAS CHILDREN:
2. SIMEON'S FAREWELL SONG.....................................................................................................................................................................10
3. THE EARLY SORROWS OF CHRIST...........................................................................................................................................................18
4. THE SONG OF MIRIAM................................................................................................................................................................................35
5. WAS THE TREE OF LIFE ALWAYS OFF-LIMITS? A CRITIQUE OF VOS'S ANSWER..........................................................................42
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ISSN 0888-8513 December 2001 Vol. 16, No. 3
Isaiah's Christmas Children:
Isaiah 8:1-15; Matthew 18:1-4
Charles G. Dennison
In Isaiah chapters 7 through 12 (the so-called "book of Immanuel" in Isaiah's prophecy), we find an unmistakable and unavoidable concentration upon the figure of the child. We have five distinct passages over the course of these chapters in which the prophet Isaiah sets before us the figure of a child. First, there is Isaiah's very own son, Shear-jashub, by name, spoken of in chapter 7, verse 3. Then, we have the enigmatic child Immanuel, from that famous text in chapter 7, verse 14. Third is Isaiah's newborn son, the child with the foreboding name Maher-shalal-hash-baz. He is followed then by the inexplicable glory-child of chapter 9, verse 6the one known as "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." And finally, but by no means the least, there is the child of chapter 11, verse 1; indeed, the same child as that glory-child in chapter 9, though now differently described as "the branch from Jesse's stem."
Five presentations of the figure of the child, each presentation being propheticthat is, each presentation speaking about the future of God's dealings with his people. To be more specific, God is pleased to convey the expansiveness of his plan in the figure of the child. He is pleased to convey even the
monumental transformation he intends to bring for the entirety of the world in its course of history. God's big dreamshis biggestcome in tiny packages. The large and the immense is compressed into the small and the minuteinto the figure of a child. God's magnificent work of salvation by which he changes everything is brought about through and in a child.
But why? Why this concentration on the child? Why this choice of the figure of the child to convey God's purpose and his activity? Well, of course we know, don't we? Kids are so cute. They're so cuddly. They're so attractive in and of themselves. They draw attention. They even command attention. And they are so innocent. Well . . . no. God's reason for concentrating on the childhis reason for choosing the child as the appropriate imageis not for any of these reasons that may interest the world. Why is it then that the child is appropriate? Why does Isaiah, led by the Spirit throughout the course of these chapters, repeatedly put before us the figure of the child? Why is it then, in the final analysis, that God chooses the child as that suitable vehicle in the effecting of his purpose even to the point of coming to us himself in the form of a child?
First of all, the child is a proper figure in the administration of the government of God's kingdom because the child speaks to us about new beginnings. Children and the birth of a child speak to us of the arrival of a new state of affairs. Ask any parent. Nor does it matter how many children are in the family already, a new child in itself speaks about an altered environment. Things will be different. And inevitably that altered environment is one that is filled with hope. Thus the birth of a child is accompanied by joy. In actual fact, God intends the child to be the sign of the transition into the permanently altered state of eternal joy. And that is effected in and through the last childthe ultimate child. Joy invariably is associated with the birth of a child and speaks about new beginnings; and this telegraphs to us the new beginnings which God intends for his people.
But at the same time (as is the case with Isaiah's Christmas children), each of the children he mentions is a sign which either implicitly or explicitly communicates God's justice. A child in joy! Yes! But here with Isaiah's children, the child and wrath. Compared with the cases of the two children mentioned be-
fore, this child in chapter 8 (Maher-shalal-hash-baz) communicates this line of justice and wrath a bit more subtly. After all, Shear-jashub's name means "a remnant shall return" (Isa. 7:3). Despite its jubilant message on the surface, the name implies a horrible devastation out of which the remnant will be gathered. So while it may seem as if the joy and the rejoicing are there blatantly; accompanying even this child, the first of the children mentioned, is this implied message of horrible devastation out of which the remnant must arise.
The same can be said for the second child, Immanuel (Isa. 7:14). What compares, we might ask, with the positive meaning of that name Immanuel? It means "God with us." No joy equals the joy of the people of Immanuel, the people who know in keeping with that name that God is with them. But you see, even this name implies a darkness in which the light of the name then shines. It is specifically because God has not been with his people that his renewed presence as symbolized in the coming of the child means so much. But even more, if that were possible, it is God's presence now which continues to mean so much to the people of God, particularly as they continue to face distress, threat and manifest evil. And even the consequences are the same, namely death. Truly, in the midst of a persistent, unnerving reality, even as that reality testifies to God's dealings with a wicked worldif not a wicked churchhow comforting for those who truly believe to know that God is with them, Immanuel.
But while his wrath has been implied with the message of joy in Shear-jashub and Immanuel, the message of God's justice now becomes explicit and dominant in child number three. The account of the third child's appearance is dramatic. Beginning at verse 1 in chapter 8, the Lord instructs Isaiah to write on a large tablet in easily readable letters the Hebrew words Maher-shalal-hash-baz; these words meaning "swift is the booty, speedy is the prey." Or as one translator has rendered it: "quick loot, fast plunder." With regard to this action on Isaiah's part, the Lord then secures two witnesses (v. 2), Uriah and Zechariah, who validate what Isaiah writes regarding the circumstances of his actions in inscribing the tablet. Then, as if Isaiah's inscribing of that tablet in verse 1 were itself prophetic of the prophet's relationship to his wife, she, his wife herself, becomes the means of his writing the name yet again. Isaiah "knows" his wife who now is described as a prophetess (v. 3) and she con-
ceives and gives birth to a son. At the birth of the child, the boy is given the name that was written on the tablet (v. 1) as if the child had been prophesied by the inscription itself. We are then told that the infant will not know how to call out the words "my father" or "my mother" before the dreaded Assyrians loot and plunder both Damascus and Samaria (v. 4), the two cities that have set themselves presently against Jerusalem. However the boy's name will continue to have significance as the Assyrians, not content with the plunder of Damascus and Samaria, turn their gaze southward toward Jerusalem itself (vv. 5-8).
To say the least, this third child communicates the explicit and dominant message of God's just judgmenthis wrath, upon his people, north and south alike. But as clear as this is, we must not be deaf to the message of joy laid within even this child. The message of God's judgment may not have been all that clear in the first two children because the message of joy was dominant. But here we come to the third child and recognize fully that the message of judgment is there on the surface for all of us to read. But in seeing that message of justice, we might miss the message of joy laid within the child and his appearance. After all, this child also is a child. This child, in his embodiment of Israel and Judah's judgment, is at the same time the son of Isaiah and Immanuel's brother. And this is why verses 9 and 10 then pick up on the name Immanuel at the end of verse 8 and go on to speak about the ultimate undoing of the heathen nations and their plansthose who stand against the people of God. And why do these verses go on to speak about the ultimate vindication of God's people so wonderfully trumpeted at the end of verse 10 by a restatement, in translation form, of the meaning of Immanuel's name? For Immanuel! "God is with us!" Here is judgment, yes; but here is also the joy laid within the child.
But going even further, we can discern a positive note in the story of this child's birth, moving back to the beginning of the chapter. This is truly subtle. So you will have to concentrate. You see, the pattern of the inscription (v. 1), sealed by the dual witnesses in verse 2 and then giving way to the content of the inscribed message in the birth of a child, is the very pattern of the movement of God's revelation as it courses history. Here is the movement from the Old Testament to the New and into the birth of Jesus Christ himselfthe movement from an inscribed message sealed by dual witness. Are they priest
and prophet? Are they law and prophet? Is that the significance of Uriah and Zechariah in the second verse? Are they priest and prophet, law and prophet, giving testimony and sealing the testimony of the inscription of the written record? And then that written record, testified to by the priest and the prophet, gives way to the birth of an actual childas the Old, with its inscripturated record and its letter, gives way to the administration of Jesus Christ in the Spirit.
Does this third child thenso much wrapped up in the message of God's justice and wrathalso communicate the marvels of God's activity in fulfilling his word and sending redemption so that in the new day, the tragedies and terrors of the old are truly set behind the people of God and they now live in his glory? As you think of this, you should remember and reflect on it in light of Christ's very birth. As we have worked with child number three moving from wrath to joy, we must also understand in considering Christ that we will have to work from joy to wrath. You will not be permitted to forget it. The birth of Christ is indeed positive. What joy is equal to the joy that accompanies that birth? However that birth also seals God's judgment climactically upon a resistant, stiff-necked, hard-hearted people. In the words of the fourteenth verse of this eighth chapter, that very child, born as a sign of hope and joy, in his maturity becomes as God himself, a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling.
But what is it about God's ways that both houses of Israel, both Samaria and Jerusalem, find so offensive? What is it about God's ways that both houses of Israel identify as such a stumbling stone for themselves? It is here that we must be sensitive to the second reason why God chooses the child as the appropriate vehicle for revealing his plan and purpose. Yes, the child speaks about new beginningseven that new beginning laid within the gospels. Seen in the most pejorative and prophetic light, the child tells us about God's saving activity over against the darkness and termination of an old, decadent world. The child as a child also says as much by its smallness. Not just as it speaks to us about a new beginning, but as the child as child speaks to us about its smallness, its weakness, its vulnerability.
By God's determination, the figure of the child in itself then deflates the pumped-up estimation of self-important people. The child becomes a sermon to such people, preaching God's delight as he proves his power through the
meekest and the weakest means. In that way, there is no argument about whose power is power. If God chooses the vehicle of the child to demonstrate his power, there can be no question as to where the power resides and as to who has the power. "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger" (Ps. 8:2). The little things, the weak things, the insignificant, the dismissable, the vulnerable: God has chosen the weak things of the world in order to set his power before the world. It is not because of your strength that you are redeemed. It is not because of even a moral strength that you are redeemed. It is because of your powerlessness. Isn't it interesting that as the Lord chose the child for Isaiah as the instrument of instruction concerning his eschatological ways, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, does the same? For he places a child in the midst of his bickering disciples who are arguing about who is greatest in the kingdomthat is, who has the power. Now the child becomes the eloquent message to which Jesus then adds commentary: "Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself as this child, he is greatest in the kingdom" (Mt. 18:3-4).
And actually, if you consider what Jesus has done and what he has said, both points that we have been making in this sermon are made by him: the point with regard to new beginnings and the point with regard to powerlessness and humility. Personal conversion is rebirth. Personal conversion is a new beginning by which you become a child and partake of the brand new beginning brought about in the gospel. But that this transformation for you takes place in your personal conformity to the figure of a child means that, as far as you are concerned, there is absolutely no question where the power has come from.
And most amazingly of all, such power as is now visited upon you is in true fact located in the One who speaks to his disciples in this passage in Matthew 18. This One not only has the power and even the greatness as his ownhe being the Eternal Son of God equal to the Father and the Spiritbut he has this power and this greatness because in keeping with the divine purpose, he himself became a child. Before you were called upon to become a child yourself and follow him, he became the child. So now it's not even your strength
in thinking that it's a bright and good idea for you to become a childlike child because that's the route to powerNo! No! No! No! Your experience of being a child is now found in him and through him. It is all of him. He, in becoming a child, also becomes the perfect expression of a child's humble weakness and vulnerabilityand that for you. If you sense then that your grasp upon God's new beginnings in Christ, together with your own expression of an appropriate humble weakness, is inadequate, then I plead with you to turn to Jesus, who not only sets the child in the midst of the disciples, but himself became the child so that you might be led to glory; so that you might stand before your heavenly Father a true child of God. Isaiah's Christmas childrenintended for all God's children. And aren't you among them?
Simeon's Farewell Song
James T. Dennison, Jr.
The music of Christmas did not originate with Antonio Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Friedrich Handel. The music of Christmas originated with God himself. That is a pleasant thought, is it not? God himself the originator of musicyes, even the sweet Christmas music which hymns the advent of his beloved Son. The music of Christmas first came from heaven. Vivaldi, Bach, Handel: they are but faint imitators, straining to tune their choruses to the tones of the celestial spheres. Heaven's Son came down at Christmas and heaven's deep organ wove a symphony of hymns to sound forth his birth.
Luke's gospel contains these hymnsthese advent hymnsthese hymns proclaiming the coming incarnation of the Son of the most High: "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God." Luke's infancy narratives contain these hymnsthese advent hymnsthese hymns proclaiming the advent of God's uncreated birth. There are four advent hymns in Luke 1 and 2. Four hymns sung by the inspiration of heaven's Holy Spirit. First, the Magnificat (1:46-55), the virgin Mary's song in which she magnifies the Lord for the miraculous conception wrought in her and the wondrous child carried by her: "my soul doth magnify the Lord." Second, the Benedictus (1:68-79), the song of Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, whose loosened tongue is employed prophetically: "salvation for us . . . salvation from our enemies . . . salvation by the forgiveness of sins"benedictus, "blessed be the Lord God of Israel." Third, the Gloria (2:14), the choir of angels serenading the frightened shepherds in the
fields of Bethlehem; a hymn from heaven's own angelic symphonyGloria in excelsis, "glory to God in the highest." And finally, the Nunc Dimittis (2:29-32), Simeon's song; a hymn inspired by heaven's great Spirita song of departurea song of departure and arrival with heaven's visitation cradled in his longing arms. Nunc dimittis, "now your servant may depart in peace O Lord."
Our hymn singing at Christmas time is our faint imitation of heaven's very own advent choruses. So sing, sing with choirs of angels, sing with yearning, longing hearts, sing with wonder and amazement, sing with the blessed fathers and mothers of old, sing at heaven's very own invitation, sing the birth of God's Sonthis giftthis grace-gift who brings you salvation. And when you hear Vivaldi's glorious Gloria; when you are trumpeted into Bach's magnificent Magnificat; when you are drawn to your feet by Handel's Hallelujah chorus, know that your ears, your hearts, your tongues are repeating the sounding joy that heaven itself inauguratedGod himself commissionedwhen he conducted heaven and earth in songs of praise for the birth of his infant Son. We will not shrink back from voicing the carols of Christmas! God's Holy Spirit himself sang before us; we but follow the glorious, the magnificent, the blessed paradigm of our Comforter, our Paraclete, our Helper.
The profusion of song and hymn in Luke's infancy gospel is not incidental. If there is an abundance of singing in Luke 1 and 2, surely something remarkable is afoot. I believe that the four songs of Luke's opening chapters are a poetic marker of a megashifta paradigm shifta turning point of history. Angel's sangindeed sang creation's birthand angels sing again. Surely something remarkable is afoot. A new creation? When Israel stood dry shod across the Reed Sea, Moses sang and all Israel sang with him, "In Thy lovingkindness Lord Thou hast led the people whom Thou hast redeemed." The act of redeeming grace of the Old Testamentthe Exodus from Egyptand Israel sings. Luke's infancy hymns are songs of redemption. Surely something remarkable is afoot. A new Exodus? And what of the prophets? Did they not sing? Take the prophet Hosea for instance. He prophesies a wedding song for the beloved of the Lord. "Behold," says the Lord, "I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and I will speak to her heart; and she will singshe will sing there as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt!" When the Lord's covenant bride will return to the wilderness
return to the land in-betweenreturn to the land of her espousalsshe will singsing as she sang on her exodus from Egypt. Surely, Hosea projects, something remarkable is afoot. A new wedding song? First creation songnew creation song; old exodus chorusnew exodus choruses; former wedding song for the pilgrim bridelatter wedding song for the bride who sojourns in the end of the age.
Mary's Lukan hymn says something remarkable is afoot, "The Lord has done mighty deeds in remembrance of his mercy to our fathers." Zacharias's Lukan hymn says something remarkable is afoot, "The Lord has visited his people because of his tender mercy with which the Dayspring from on high shall visit us." The angel's Lukan hymn says something remarkable is afoot, "Glory to God and on earth peace." Luke's infancy hymns are hymns of fulfillment. God's promises are being accomplished in this child Jesuscreation promises (now in him, a new creation); covenant promises (now in him, a new covenant); exodus promises (now in him, a new exodus); Davidic promises (now in him, a new David); wedding promises (now in him, a heavenly wedding banquet is prepared).
The remarkable thing which is afoot according to Luke's infancy hymns is that God's Son has come to incarnate not only human flesh, God's Son has come to incarnate the promises. In his infant to adult life, all the promises of the former era are lived, embodied, incarnated. The incarnation of the person of God's Son is the incarnation of the history of God's promises. And this child's accomplishment of those promises means they are once and for all accomplished for us. The promises of God are Yea and Amen in this child; and they are Yea and Amen in us who belong to this child. Luke is writing to us in songssongs of the fulfillment of God's promises through his infant Son, Jesus Christ. As you sing with Mary's Magnificat, as you sing with Zacharias's Benedictus, as you sing with the angels's Gloriayou sing that that remarkable shift from promise to fulfillment belongs to you in Christ Jesus. Mary's words are your song; Zacharias's words are your song; the angels's words are your song. In Christ, you now sing the hymns of your infant Lord.
But what of Simeon? What of Simeon and his song? Patient, long suffering Simeon. What of Simeon's Nunc Dimittis? He sings his song forty days after the birth of the child he holds in his arms. Jesus is nearly six weeks old
when he is brought to the Temple by his devout parentshis devout and poor parents. Devout because Mary and Joseph perform the requirements of the ceremonial law. Luke lays great emphasis upon the obedience of the parents of Jesus by emphasizing no less than three times in verses 22-24 that they act in accordance with the law of the Lord. But these upright parents are pooras with so many others in Luke's gospel, the main characters are not the rich and famous, they are the lowly and insignificant poor. Joseph and Mary can afford only a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. Poor and devout Joseph and Mary meet aged and devout Simeon in the Temple courts. An accident? Three times Luke tells us the Holy Spirit was upon aged and devout Simeon. How profoundly does Luke foreshadow for us, in the work of the Holy Spirit upon Simeon, the descent of the Spirit in the second volume of his record of the gospelnamely the Spirit outpouring at Pentecost in Acts 2. It is the Holy Spirit who overshadows the virgin Mary in that miraculous conception; it is the Holy Spirit who fills Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist and causes her to bless the fruit of Mary's womb; it is the Holy Spirit who prophecies through Zacharias. It is in the Spirit that Simeon meets the child and his parents.
Old Simeonnewborn child. Aged Simeonforty-day-old child. Simeon whose long life is nearing its end. The child Jesus whose young life is just beginning. Last days of the old patriarch; first days of the young infant. There is a vivid contrast between the old and newno, not just the contrast between the gray hair and the babe. Something remarkable is afoot. Aged Simeon waitswaits to diewaits to embrace a newborn child before he steps aside. He holds the new, clutches him to his breast, recites his song, returns him to his parents and disappears. Do you see that in verse 35? Simeon disappears. The old patriarch steps down from the stage. Aged Simeon, full of the Spirit, disappears and leaves the newborn babe in the spotlight. The old is gone; it has been supercededit has been transcended by the new! Do you see it? The rest of Luke's gospel is about the baby become a man. The rest of Luke's drama is about the new. Jesus takes the spotlight from Simeon and Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and Zacharias and Elizabeth. Jesus takes the spotlight and turns it on himself because he is the remarkably new thing God has done for the salvation of his people. The newborn child is the center of the story. Luke's story is about the child Jesus, not about aged Simeon.
The child is the consolation of Israelthe child is the Lord's Messiahthe child is the one in whom our eyes behold salvationthe child is the light and the glory. Simeon takes the child and confessesLet me go, O Lord! O Lord, let this child remain. Dear Lord, my eyes have fulfilled their destiny. Close my eyes, O Lord, let my eyes shut in peace, for my eyes have beheld your gift, my eyes have possessed your promised Savior. My eyesmy eyes, O Lordcan become dark, for I have seen your light, I have beheld the glory of the Lord.
And did you notice in this remarkable transition from the old to the new, did you notice how passive and silent is the new in the presence of the old? The child Jesus is brought to the Temple, he is taken in Simeon's arms. He passively submits to the law in fulfillment of all that the former era required. What is done to him is done according to the custom of the law and Jesus submitspassively submits. What is spoken of him is spoken by figures who represent the best of the Old Testament erathe best of the law and the prophets: Mary, Zacharias, Angels, Simeon, Anna. They speak; he is silent. What the law and the prophets portend is directed to this childthis passive, silent child! So that when this child does speakhis words and deeds will fulfil the law and the prophets. Is this not exactly what Luke tells us at the end of his gospel? that Jesus taught his disciples on the road to Emmaus how he was to fulfill "all the things which were written of him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets." The infancy narratives of Luke's gospel are replete with the end of the law and the prophets; their final appearance is to give way to the fullness himself. Jesus, not Simeon. Jesus, not the shepherds. Jesus, not Zacharias, Elizabeth or even Mary. The new silently accepts the witness of the law and the prophets and then bursts forth in a torrent of word and deed revelation demonstrating the passing away of the old. Like Simeon, the Old Testament economy passes awaypasses away in fulfillment. Farewell, says Simeon! Farewell, says the former era! In peace, farewell! The Old Testament economy, as Simeon, is dismissed in peace. This child is all the light and the glory of the law and the prophets. This child is everything longed for by the law and the prophets. Simeon has seen the light and the gloryand Simeon is contentcontent to leave the stagecontent to diecontent to disappearbecause the child Jesus has come! All things have become new; even for righteous and devout Simeon, everything has changed.
Remarkable is the change in Simeon's song regarding the objects of salvation. In the Nunc Dimittis, for the first time in Luke's infancy hymns, we learn that salvation will include the Gentiles. The last advent hymn of Luke's gospel invokes the saving blessing of God at last upon the Gentiles. Foreshadowing the second volume of Luke's inspired writing in which the apostles bear the glad tidings of Jesus to Asia Minor and Macedonia and Greece and Rome, Simeon announces the remarkable new thing that is afoot: Koreans, Filipinos, Chinese, Hispanic, Native American, Afro-American, Caucasian, even Scots-Irishthe nations will come to the light and behold the glorythe glory of the Lord, his Son, our Redeemer.
Simeon beholds the Messiahhe holds the Messiah; what a marvelous change. What every longing Hebrew heart desired, Simeon cradles in his arms. Simeon looks for the consolation of Israelhe beholds the consolation of Israelhe holds the salvation of the Lord in his arms. Indeed, what a wondrous change! To embrace the Christ; to possess the light and the glory; to clasp the redemption of IsraelBless the Lord, O my Soul! Simeon beholds the revelation to the Gentiles; Simeon holds the salvation of the nations; Simeon clutches to his heart the Savior of the world. Alleluia, what a wondrous change has come!
But our text contains more than Simeon's song. Simeon's song is followed by Simeon's oracle: this child is a sign to be opposed. The Latin text reads contradico. This child will endure contradiction. And a sworda piercing swordwill accompany this child. What ironic juxtaposition. Simeon's sweet benediction immediately followed by an ominous contradiction. Not mere opposition, but opposition which carries with it the image of the instrument of death. As if this piercing sword will sever life in death! This child's life is overshadowed by death. Strange juxtapositiona dying Simeon prepares to surrender his life; an infant child takes up his newborn life. Yet the dying patriarch draws the child within his own circle as he enfolds the child in his dying arms. There is life in Simeon's song, but ironically there is death in Simeon's oracle.
The sublime Dutch painter, Rembrandt, has a portrait entitled "The Holy Family." It is a quiet domestic scene of Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus. The happy advent of the child is portrayed in the peaceful content-
ment of the family's surroundings. But as we look more closely, we notice Joseph at work at his carpenter's bench; and the piece of wood that he is carving resembles a cross. Rembrandt cannot portray the birth of the Christ-child without portending his death. So too, Simeon's songit is followed by his foreboding prophecy.
Simeon's oracular remarks, like Rembrandt's Joseph carving, remind us of Calvary because Christmas is inevitably followed by Good Friday. We know the rest of the storyas Simeon did not. Righteous and devout Simeon is still an Old Testament figurestill peering behind that veil that separates the full disclosure of God's remarkable plan of salvation from its promises, its types, its shadows, its anticipations. As wonderful as Simeon's song is, it is still a song short of the resurrection. As remarkable a thing as Simeon perceived was afoot, you and I have perceived a more remarkable thing. The full story of the life of this child is his undeserved deathsurely the contradiction of sinners! And his glorious resurrectionsurely the justification of believing sinners. We know that Christmas is followed by Easter.
May I bring you once again to the Temple? to aged Simeon in the Spirit laying his eyes upon Jesus for the first and last timeand taking Jesus in his arms to sing a song of fulfillment. And may I invite you to embrace this child as the Christ, the long-expected Messiah; may I urge youmay I beg youto cradle him in your dying arms as your salvationthe sweet, everlasting consolation of your soul? May I remind you that there is no peaceno peace in life or in deathexcept in and through this childthe Savior of sinnersJew and Gentile alike.
And as you cuddle him by faith through grace, as you sing with Simeon, may I assure you that this child holds youthis child holds you in his living arms. And as you cuddle him by faith through grace, as you sing with Simeon, may I assure you that this child sings a song over youthat this child sings heaven's song of life eternal because this Christmas child is at the same time the Easter child.
All heaven sings at the incarnation of the Son of God, our Savior. And all heaven sings at the resurrection of the Son of God, our Savior. And so you sing: with Simeon, and the angels, and Zacharias and Mary, and the elect from
Israel and the Gentiles. Magnificat, Benedictus, Gloria in Excelsis, Nunc Dimittis, Hallelujah!
Northwest Theological Seminary
The Early Sorrows of Christ
William J. Baldwin
No mother like Mary the wide world can show
Here begin in earnest the sufferings of Christ. He has already humbled himself more than we can imagine to become man. But at least he came with great fanfare!
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. His coming was announced to Joseph by an angel. Wise men came from afar to worship at the cradle of the king of the Jews. And they brought with them such gifts as befit a kinggold, frankincense, and myrrh. Not since the Queen of Sheba traveled to see Solomon had such gifts come from the East. And behold, One greater than Solomon is here. It is altogether fitting that such gifts should come again.
Now this. He will not grow up in Bethlehem, the town of his birth. He will live life on the run before he is old enough to walk. Before he can do much more than sleep and cry, before he can say a word, he has offended men so bitterly that they seek his life. So he will grow up in a backwater town, surrounded by Gentiles, in obscurity.
Here we see in Jesus a new Israel. For this is the identity and experience of Israelfrom the Exodus to Babylon to the Returnconferred on Christ. This is your Savior's identity and experience. And in him, it is yours.
A Pilgrim Identity
From these, his earliest days, Jesus takes on the identity of a pilgrim. He cannot make his home in this world. We might have hoped otherwise given the sweet beginnings of his life on earth. But in the background of angelic jubilation and the worship of sages, already there was the agitation of the wicked.
Herod and the chief priests and scribes had been troubled, not comforted, to hear of his birth. How could it be otherwise? Were they not the movers and the shakers of their world, the ones with power and honor and glory? Yet wise men come with gifts to set before the "king of the Jews." Herod claimed that title for himself, yet he was not the one the wise men sought. The chief priests and scribes claimed moral and religious authority over the Jews, yet they were not the rulers whose birth was announced by a star.
Naturally, they hate the child and must seek to destroy him.
He is born at odds with the world in which he lives. His very existence is a repudiation of the powers that be. For in Christ a new and eternal power has arrived to which all else must bow the knee. The world hates him. How could it not? Thus he must begin his life as a fugitive, hated by the rulers of this present evil age who seek his life.
So it was with Jesus. So it is with you.
Jesus confers this pilgrim identity on you, his body. You too are pilgrims in this present evil age; you cannot make your home here. You too, by your very
identity with Christ, have become hopelessly at odds with the world in which you live. Your desires, your values, your allegiances all focus on the world that is to come. Your very existence as a citizen of heaven, a new creature born from above, denies the permanence and significance of the things of this earth and the powers of this age. Your every breath repudiates the world that is passing away.
The experience of Jesus, conferred on you, prepares you for how the world must react. The peaceful beginning to the Christmas story is shattered by the murderous rage of the pretender to Christ's royal throne. Herod seeks his life to destroy him.
A New Exodus from a New Egypt
Joseph is warned in a dream and so he flees by night for Egypt. There they stay until the death of Herod. "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, 'Out of Egypt I called My Son.'" We'll take a look at the context of that prophesy in a moment. But first let's look at how it is fulfilled in Christ.
We look at that statement "Out of Egypt I called My Son," and we think, that's fulfilled by Jesus taking refuge in the land of Egypt and then being brought up out of that land. Jesus had to go down into the land of Egypt so that he could be brought back out, thus fulfilling the Scriptures. But that's not what Matthew is saying. Do you see the context?
There is a king, Herod, who seeks to destroy Jesus, just as in Egypt there was a king who sought to destroy the children of Israel in general and Moses in particular. This king, Herod, orders the slaughter of innocent children, just as Pharaoh, king of Egypt, ordered the slaughter of the Hebrew infants. Do you see how the parallels are going? The "Egypt" Matthew is talking about is right in the middle of Israel.
Geographical Israel has become spiritual Egypt.
It is in Israel that a king like Pharaoh exists, seeking to destroy the children of God. It is out of Israel that Jesus is called to flee. Israel is Egypt in this story. Do you see it? Geographical Israel has become spiritual Egypt.
The prophecy "Out of Egypt I called My Son" is fulfilled when Jesus leaves Israel, fleeing the persecution of a wicked king. It is Israel that has become the place of unbelief and wickedness. And it is out of this New Testament Egypt that God calls his Son.
Matthew here testifies against the unbelieving Jews that they are like the wicked ones of Egypt, with Herod even repeating the sins of the Egyptian Pharaoh. And ironically, where does Jesus flee this spiritual Egypt? He flees to geographical Egypt where he is protected. Again Matthew foreshadows the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant of grace (just as he did when the Gentile wise men came to worship). For it is in Gentile Egypt that the Christ is received and nurtured and protected.
Is this what you expected for the king of the Jews? Is this where the story seemed to be headedthat he should run and hide as one who fears for his life? Why does he not rise up and smite his enemies? Why does he not put Herod the pretender in his place and take his seat in Jerusalem and establish his kingdom and begin his dominion? Where is his power? He is a helpless, squalling infant. He cannot even run from danger but must be carried to safety by another.
This beginning of his sufferings foreshadows the consummation of those sufferings at Golgotha, the hill where he was crucified. The eye of flesh can see no power, no strength in this picture, just as it can see no power in the shame and weakness of the cross. So they mocked him, crying "Hail, King of the Jews!" They thought it obvious that one so weak and apparently defenseless could not possibly be a king. There was no visible power in that weakness.
But by faith, you apprehend what the world cannot see. By faith, you embrace this defenseless child, murderously hated by the world, forced to flee and hide as though he has no strength. By faith, you embrace this king who was exalted in this world not by being raised up on a throne but by being lifted up on the cross. In this apparent weakness, you see strength. In these humble circumstances, you see greatness. And in this suffering, you see victory.
So it was with Jesus. So it is with you.
Will this life of triumph you lead manifest itself as you renovate the culture, dominate the society, and revolutionize the politics of your world? Put such thoughts behind you lest you seek the things of men rather than the things of God. Your victory will manifest itself in suffering, your strength in weakness, your conquest of the world in events the world will see as your defeat.
The experience of Christ is here given to you to compel you toward this understanding.
A New Israel Is Begun
We see then how Christ has fulfilled the prophecy "Out of Egypt I called my Son." But what is the context of this prophecy? What understanding can we gain by looking at the text Matthew quotes?
Matthew quotes Hosea 11:1"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son."
Clearly this refers to what? To the children of Israel being brought out of geographical Egypt, physically, in the time of Moses. It's a historical observation, isn't it? Not what we normally think of as a "prophecy."
Yet Matthew just helps himself. He says, do you want to know what that passage was ultimately talking about? It was talking about Christ. God has ordained that the history of Israel's origins should point to a greater and more glorious story of a greater and more glorious Son of God. The whole experience of Israel in being brought out of Egypt is taken as a picture of Christ, a picture to be definitively fulfilled in Christ's suffering, death, burial, and resurrection.
Matthew is teaching us how to understand this Old Testament experience in the light of our Savior. And in turn he is teaching us how to understand our experience as those who belong to Christ. The story of Israel has become the story of Christ. And the story of Christ has become ours. We share in his
definitive fulfillment as we appropriate the sufferings of Christ and look for the glory that is to come.
The story of Israel's beginning is about much more than the historical event of physically leaving an earthly Egypt to seek a geographical promised land. It's about following in the footsteps of Christ. It's about leaving behind the false, enslaving security of this world and seeking the kingdom that is in heaven.
Israel's rejection by Egypt signaled Christ's rejection by the world. And Christ's rejection by the world signals what must happen to all who put their hope in him. "Do not be surprised if the world hates you," Jesus said. "It hated me first." So the experience of Israel becomes the experience of Christ and through him it becomes your experience as well.
This is your identityto be rejected by the world, to be unable to make your home here, to live your lives as pilgrims who travel from place to place. Not literally but spiritually. You may live in one physical house all your life, yet spiritually your identity is that of a wanderer, a nomad, someone who has no permanent city here. You look to the city that has foundations whose builder and maker is God.
A Life Surrounded by Suffering and Apparent Weakness
We see our thoughts confirmed as the passage continues. For Jesus is not the only one who suffers in this story. All those identified with him suffer as well. Innocent children are identified with Jesus because of the time of their birth. And they are slaughtered for it.
And what can they do to resist? And what can their mothers do but weep? The scene is terrifyingly somber. How helpless everyone appears! How far from a reign of power and glory this new king seems!
Is this what you expected from the king of the Jews?
Yet here it is. His suffering is conferred on those identified with him by birth. How much more shall it be conferred on those who are spiritually identified with him by being born from above?
He is murderously hated by the world. And all those identified with him are murderously hated as well.
And let us note again, Herod does not hate him for his deeds but for his identity. The problem is fundamental. If the offense were something he'd done, he might be able to change his actions and ingratiate himself to this earthly king. But here he is, a baby; and Herod hates him before he's done anything, hates him for who he is.
Who is he? He is the Son of God and so he represents all authority and power. Remember the sin of the first woman in the garden? The serpent deceived her saying, you can be like God and make your own decisions about what's right and wrong. This desire to usurp God's authority is the original sin and is at the root of all sinswe want to rule ourselves. So when someone comes who has the authority of God himselfit's only natural that sinners want to kill him.
The difference, as we say, is fundamental. It can only be resolved by their bowing the knee to him, which they shall do at the last day if not before. Now, though, he must suffer persecution in accordance with the Scriptures and in that way enter into glory.
A New Israel from Start to Finish
Commenting on the slaughter of these babes, Matthew makes another one of his daring applications of prophecy, this time from Jeremiah 31:15: "A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." And what was this prophecy originally about? If you guessed Israel, you're starting to get the picture. Jeremiah is referring to the event of the Jews being deported to Babylon.
The area of Ramah, the place of Rachel's burial, was the way station where the Babylonian conquerors gathered the conquered Jews together and deported them in bulk to Babylon.
And in Jeremiah's depiction of this, Rachel, the favorite wife of Jacob, is portrayed as weeping for her children being taken away from their home in the Promised Land. The figure of Rachel represents the whole of Israel weeping because the children of Israel are being exiled.
As with the last quotation, the prophet is making a historical observation about a past event. But again Matthew takes this historical observation and calls it prophecy. The history of Israel, he tells us, is no mere history. It is an experience that must be fulfilled in Christ and through him in his church.
So it is that Jesus' exile is accompanied by great mourning and lamentation as the mothers of Israel weep, because their sons are not merely being deported but slaughtered. From the very beginning, Christ's life is surrounded by sorrows and misery, and he himself is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
So it is that you are called to partake of Christ's sufferings, to share in his humiliation, and to be hated by the world.
But that isn't the end of the story.
A Greater Triumph in Store
Let's look a little further at the context of the Jeremiah quotation. Jeremiah speaks of Rachel weeping for her children, then immediately says this (Jeremiah 31:16, 17):
Do you hear that? The bit about Rachel weeping was history. And now Jeremiah is prophesyingthings won't end up that way. Israel will return to her country with great joy. God will ransom her and bring her back never to languish again. The mothers of Israel have mourned to see their sons taken away, but they shall rejoice to see their sons returned.
But how is this possible in the story of Jesus? How can this apply to these children, slaughtered as infants? Who will bring them back into the land of the living that they may rejoice and their mothers may be comforted?
Truly a greater salvation than has yet appeared is necessary if these mothers are to rejoice and receive their sons again. Truly Christ has come to provide a better triumph. These children have gone down to the grave. That is their exile. But up from the grave they shall come, to everlasting life. They shall be restored not to the earthly Israel but to the heavenly.
Do you see how it must be so?
If the slaughter of these innocents fulfills the text about Rachel weeping, then only their resurrection can fulfill the text about the rejoicing that will occur at the return of the exiled sons.
Indeed, the text about Rachel weeping is surrounded by such assurances. We have heard what comes after that text. Now hear what comes before it:
The talk of Rachel's weeping is hemmed in, behind and before, with assurances of joy, joy at last.
Christ begins as a man of sorrows, surrounded by suffering. But already our attention is directed to the end of things when he shall rise with great joy, having conquered sin and death.
So it was with Israel. So it is with Jesus. So it is with you.
With this, Matthew has just helped himself to Israel's entire history and applied it to Christ. From her beginning in being brought out of Egypt, all the way to her exile to Babylon almost one thousand years later and her return from that exile. Matthew is boldly announcing, it ALL belongs to Christ. It ALL speaks of him. It is HIS history.
And in him it is yours.
Israel was taken away into Babylon with great weeping and returned with great rejoicing. So it was the identity of Jesus to be persecuted and then to receive his reward. Did you not know from the whole of prophecy how the Christ must suffer many things and then enter his glory? Do you not know from the history of Christ that this must be so for you as well.
The apostle Peter did not understand this before the resurrection. And so he attempted to dissuade Christ from going to the cross. But afterwards Peter understood and embraced the way of the cross. Hear what Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12ff.:
A Life of Obscurity and Rejection
We have seen that this new Israel is a pilgrim; he suffers and appears weak; he is hated by the world. Now, lastly, we see that he is a man of obscuritynot world-renowned, not likely to rub elbows with those who are great in the eyes of men.
Joseph returns his family to Israel, but not to the southern half where evil Archelaus reigns. Rather, he goes to a backwater town in Galileeactually the town Joseph was living in before going to Bethlehem to be taxed. Thus Jesus ends up living in a mostly Gentile area of Israel, again a symbol of his rejection by his people and of his extending salvation to the Gentiles.
And Matthew says this was done, "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, 'He shall be called a Nazarene.'" What is Matthew talking about?
There is NOWHERE in Scripture that speaks of the Messiah being called a Nazarene. There's nothing even close.
Some have suggested that Matthew is making an obscure pun on a Hebrew word, but that's quite a stretch. We can do better. If we understand what we've read so far, the answer will come to us.
Look at what Matthew says. In verse 15, he speaks of the word of the Lord through the prophet, referring to Hosea. In verse 17, he speaks of what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet. Clearly, he has specific prophecies in mind for those two examples.
But here he speaks more generally. He talks about what "the prophets" have said. He doesn't say this is a quotation taken from this or that prophet specifically. Rather, he says, the basic message of all the prophets together is that the Messiah will be a Nazarene.
What then is a Nazarene?
Perhaps you remember from John 1:46 what Nathanael said when he was about to meet Jesus and found out he was from Nazareth: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nathanael was reflecting the feeling of the time. He
wasn't suggesting Nazareth was evil, merely that it was insignificant. "Can anything of much importance come from Nazareth?" is his sentiment.
Nazareth was an obscure city. It was a backwater town, a place of no consequence. And people who came from there were obscure and of no consequence. To have the Messiah come from Nazareth of all places just seems like such a letdown. It's as though he came to America only to take up residence in a small town in South Dakota.
Yet that's exactly what happened. The Messiah came from an obscure, backwater town. He was a yokel, a hayseed, a hick. From the beginning he was marginalized and deprived of earthly significance and splendor.
That's what it means to be a Nazarene.
And that's exactly what all the prophets had said. The Messiah will not be a mover and a shaker with a lot of clout in the world. He will be despised and rejected by men. He will have no form or comeliness that we should desire him. He will be weak and foolish in the eyes of the world. The king of the Jews will enter Jerusalem, "humble and riding on a donkey." He will be the stone that the builders rejected, yet he will become the chief cornerstone of a new temple.
So it was with Israel, So it is with Jesus, So it is with you.
Israel also was obscure. Their experience foreshadows that of the Messiah in this way as well. See what the Moses tells the people in Deuteronomy 7:7, 8:
So it is with Jesus. Born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth. Rejected by the scribes and the Pharisees, the movers and the shakers. He gathered together a ragtag crew of fishermen, tax collectors, political extremists, and what have you
as disciples. He had no clout, no power, no outward glory. And he died the death of an outcast, a shameful death, deserted by even his friends.
He is indeed a Nazarene. And so are you. Let us go to him then, outside the camp, embracing his reproach. The message of the Nazarene is the message of the cross. His life bears the image of that cross from the very start, and so shall yours.
Paul tells the Corinthians as much in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:
And is this not what your own pastor has been telling you week after week from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians? Paul begins that letter like this:
And in chapter 4 he again states this central theme:
And toward the end of the letter, in 2 Corinthians 12:9,10, Paul shares how God declined to remove a certain "thorn in the flesh," a malady that afflicted Paul greatly:
The list of passages could go on and on, and not just from 2 Corinthians. This is the theme of the cross and therefore the theme of Scripture itself. The experience of Christ is held out to you, not only so you may know what he suffered on your behalf, but also so you may appropriate his suffering and share in it.
A New Year
Child of God, what will the new year bring? At this time of year, the world busies itself with hopes for a brighter and more prosperous future. But you consider the reproach of Christ greater than all the treasures of this spiritual Egypt in which you live. So you seek, rather, to be conformed to the sufferings of Christ. You may be confident that the new year will bring exactly that.
Be not afraid. Behold, this is good tidings of great joy! Christ does not suffer still. He sits in heavenly glory, having received his reward. He has secured that reward on your behalf so that you who suffer with him will assuredly
also be glorified with him. He testifies from heaven that even his deep sufferings were not worthy to be compared to the glory that has been revealed in him. A cloud of witnesses who have gone before you testify to this as well.
Come and embrace this heavenly pilgrim, and be yourself a pilgrim. You have a home with Christ in heaven. Come and suffer and be weak as he suffered and was weak. (Yet, oh, how strong he was and how strong you are in him.) Come even though your experience may have the appearance of defeat. Christ was not defeated by the cross; and you shall not be defeated if you take up your cross and follow him. Come and be a Nazarene obscure, marginalized, dismissed, ignored. As long as the eschatological Nazarene does not dismiss you, you have lost nothing.
Set the world behind you; it is passing away. Set your face like flint toward the heavenly Jerusalem as those who long for the day of Christ's appearing. And in that day? Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, no one has ever conceived the vastness of the glory and the richness of the reward that awaits you.
Postscript: A Note to the Reader
This sermon is an expansion of a sermon originally written in outline form. I originally delivered it as part of a sermon series in Matthew with all the extemporaneous comments and fleshing out of details that is usual with that method of sermonizing. That same outline, slightly retooled, became the subject of a sermon I delivered as a guest preacher at New Life PCA Mission Work in La Jolla, California on New Year's Eve of 2000. I have transcribed this latter version above, but without the benefit of a tape. (There was a problem with the recording equipment.)
As such, there are some notable differences between the transcription above and the original outline and the sermon as delivered at New Life. A brief discussion of these differences may prove helpful:
1. The sermon as preached took 35 minutes. I suspect the above would take 10 minutes longer. So some of the material provided probably consists of things I wish I'd said, but didn't. It's also true that a preacher can make things clear through tone, volume, and speed of delivery that can only be made clear on paper by adding words.
2. The sermon as originally preached included some material that was appropriate as part of a series, but less so as part of a stand-alone sermon. Specifically, I omitted the observation that Jesus is not only portrayed as a new Israel but as a new Moses in this passage. Like Moses, he is saved from the slaughter of the innocents that he may grow up to lead his people. And the statement of the angel in verse 20"those who were seeking the child's life are dead"deliberately echoes the Lord's words to Moses in Midian. "Go back to Egypt, for all those who were seeking your life are dead" (Exodus 4:19). (Note that this also confirms the thesis that Israel has become a spiritual Egypt in the time of Christ. It is to Israel that Christ returns when it is safe, just as Moses returned to Egypt.)
The theme of Jesus as a new Moses could make a whole sermon on its own (so I did not include it in this one). Or, in a series, the theme can be mentioned here and then developed at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. There, when he takes his seat on the mountain and delivers his discourse, he reveals himself as a new and better Moses. Both the parallels and the great contrast are deliberate.
3. The sermon as preached at New Life has a couple of contexts that the original one did not. First, it came as a hiatus from the regular sermon series in 2 Corinthians being preached by New Life's pastor, James Lee. That is why near the conclusion the examples of triumph in suffering have been selected from 2 Corinthians. As I mentioned in the text (though not, I suspect, in the actual sermon as orally delivered) such examples really could have been selected from anywhere in the Bible.
The sermon also came on the occasion of New Year's Eve. It was therefore particularly appropriate to begin the sermon by quoting the Christmas hymn "I Wonder As I Wander." And it was appropriate to address at the end the question of what they ought to seek in the coming year.
I elected not to delete these context-specific elements to make the sermon more generic. I hope that these elements may serve to illustrate how a Redemptive Historical preacher may address the context of the congregationsomething we are accused of never doingwithout compromising the context of the Scriptures or vitiating the other-worldly focus of his preaching.
The Song of Miriam
Robert Van Kooten
Each Saturday morning, I meet with some of the men from my congregation for prayer. I often begin the prayer meeting by reading the next morning's sermon text and then sharing with them a preview of the message. As I was preaching through the book of Exodus, I found myself at a transition point in chapter 15. I had preached on the Song of Moses (vv. 1-18) and I was preparing to preach on the Waters of Marah (vv. 22-27). On the particular Saturday morning in question, I told the men that I was going to skip the Song of Miriam (vv. 19-21) and go on to the Waters of Marah (vv. 22-27).
The men expressed great disappointment in skipping over a portion of God's Word. After the prayer meeting, I took their disappointment to heart and returned to my study to reexamine my research on the Song of Miriam. As I looked over my sources again, I discovered that over the years most conservative scholars have handled the Song of Miriam in very much the same way that I had originally planned. They skip over verses 19-21. Most conservatives skip over these verses because they seem to tell us very little that is new. We already know what happened to Pharaoh and his army (v. 19), because we have been told that at the end of chapter 14. We also already know the words of Miriam in verse 21 because they are almost the exact same words as the beginning of the Song of Moses in chapter 15, verse 1. In fact the only new thing that we are told in these verses is found in verse 20. Here we are told that Miriam was a prophetess and that as Aaron's sister, she took the tambourine in her
hand and, with all the women of Israel following her, started singing and dancing before the Lord.
I believe that a second reason that most conservatives skip over these verses is because verse 20 scares them. Miriam is described as a prophetess. In our day of women's ordination, most conservatives would rather not touch this verse because of all the questions it raises. And so to be on the safe side, most conservatives move right on.
But what about the liberals? How do they look at the text? Most liberals pick up right where the conservatives left off. They know the reason why conservatives skip over these verses and so this is the very issue that they raise. The liberals claim that Miriam is being neglected by the church. They charge conservatives with ignoring her and her song because she is a woman. They claim that the church needs to reexamine Miriam's identity and her role in this passage. Some of them go so far as to claim that both the Song of Moses and the Song of Miriam should be credited to Miriam because the narrative of verses 19-20 seems out of place and would be better placed at the beginning of chapter 15. This means that verse 21 ought to replace verse 1. Some liberals conclude that conservatives have taken the Song of Moses right out of Miriam's mouth and credited it to Moses because he is a man. After all, these authors claim, we are told in the text that Miriam is the prophetess, not Moses.
As I concluded my research on that particular day, I came to the conclusion that neither side is correct. We should not take the conservative route and skip over the verses. Nor should we take the liberal route and try to change the text. What then should we do?
Let's take a little closer look at our text. The first question to ask is why does the author of Exodus separate the poems with the narrative of verses 19 and 20? Verse 19 does not give us any new information and to some it seems as if it should be at the end of chapter 14. However, when you examine the Hebrew verbs of verse 20, they indicate a sequence following upon verse 19. This is why some liberal scholars conclude that these three verses really belong at the beginning of chapter 15, for verse 20 follows what happened in verse 19 and should be displaced to the end of chapter 14.
On a closer look at the whole chapter, there is no indication that Moses sang his song first and then Miriam sang hers. When you observe the sequence of the verbs in verses 19 and 20, you notice that Miriam's song was sung immediately after God's deliverance. The verbs are telling you that both songs probably were sung at exactly the same time, meaning that both of these songs are equally important.
But why then is Miriam's song included here after the song of Moses? Remember we are in the book of Exodus. The Lord has delivered his people from the land of Egypt. Since the very beginning of the book, we have read about the fulfillment of God's promises. God has promised his people that he would free them from the land of slavery and destroy the Egyptian army. This has been the story of the book of Exodus since chapter 1. And now that the army of Pharaoh is destroyed and Israel is on the other side of the sea they are completely free from slavery and from Pharaoh's grip. His army and chariots have been destroyed!
Thus as we look at these two songs, we must keep in mind that they are the conclusion to the deliverance of the Lord for his people. God's people are now free from slavery! And how do we know this? How are we sure that this is the end of the story of God's deliverance from slavery? Because the salvation story for God's chosen people Israel is bracketed with the story of Miriam.
Remember how our story began? In Exodus 2, Miriam is by the bank of the Nile. Pharaoh has made an edict that all the Hebrew boys that are born should be thrown into the river. Miriam stands by the bank of the Nile and watches her brother float away in a tiny basket. When Pharaoh's daughter sees the boy, we are told that Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, goes to talk with Pharaoh's daughter. She brings her brother Moses back to his mother to nurse, so that Moses, God's appointed savior of Israel, will live.
In the next twelve chapters of the book of Exodus, we read nothing more about Miriam. But now at the end of the story, Miriam reappears. Once more she is again standing on the banks of the water. This time it is the Red Sea, where she has witnessed the reversal of Pharaoh's wicked edict. In chapter 1,
Pharaoh makes an edict that all the Hebrew boys are to be thrown into the water and drowned, lest they become so numerous that his power in the land is threatened. And now in chapter 15, at the end of God's deliverance, Pharaoh's army is drowned and he has no more power. Miriam now stands on the banks of the Sea and sings the song of the Lord's deliverance. "Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and the rider he has thrown into the sea."
The story of the salvation of Israel delivered from Egyptian bondage begins and ends with Miriam. God has placed this song in our text immediately after the song of Moses not because it is less important. God has carefully placed the song here because Miriam's story brackets the salvation of the Lord! Israel's salvation from Egypt begins when Miriam saves Moses and it ends when Miriam sings her song.
As you look at these verses, it is clear that the Lord's salvation is not just for men. For in verse 20, Miriam leads all the women of Israel in song. It was common in the ancient Near East for the women of a nation to greet their warriors with dancing and song when they returned victorious from battle. Now the women of Israel sing their song about their warrior, the Lordwho has delivered them and all Israel.
But you will notice that the song in verse 21 is not a different song. The first verse of the Song of Moses (15:1) and the Song of Miriam are almost identical. The intent of the author of Exodus is not for us to compare the Song of Moses and the Song of Miriam so that we can try to determine which song is better. The author is telling us that they are the same song! There is only one change in verse 21 as compared to verse 1. That change is in the first word. When Moses sings the song, he sings the song himself. He starts out singing, "I will sing to the Lord." When Miriam sings her song, she includes everyone by singing, "Sing to the Lord." Her song lets us know that the Song of Victory to the Lord is for the salvation of both the men and the women of Israel.
In some ways, the liberal scholars do have a point. These three verses of Exodus 15 are not to be skipped over as so many conservatives do. God has placed these three verses here to remind the church of all ages of the importance of women within the kingdom of heaven. In his plan of salvation, God
has equally redeemed both men and women together, just as he redeemed both men and women in the Exodus. Women also participate in the salvation that God has provided for his people. In Exodus 1, the Hebrew midwives save the Hebrew babies; in Exodus 2, Miriam saves Moses so that the promised savior of Israel may live. Finally, in Exodus 15, Miriam the prophetess joins with Moses in singing the song of the Lord's deliverance.
The story of salvation in Exodus also anticipates God's greater salvationthe salvation which has come to us in Jesus Christ. For women also bracket the salvation story of Jesus Christ as it is revealed to us in the gospels. In Luke 1 and 2, we read that at the beginning of the gospel story an angel appears to the Virgin Mary and tells her that she is to be with child. Upon the news that she would be the mother of Jesus, Mary burst out into song. And at the end of the gospel story on that resurrection morning when God reveals to the world that his people have been freed from bondage and death, it is Mary the mother of Jesus and other women who first discover the empty tomb.
The Song of Miriam is truly an eschatological event. God uses both men and women mightily in the salvation he brings to his people. And when his final victory is complete, all those (men and women) who are victorious will stand alongside of the sea of glass in heaven, singing together the Song of Moses and the Song of the Lamb in celebration of the destruction of the beast (Rev. 15). Indeed they will reprise once and for all what the men and women of Israel once did when Pharaoh and his army were cast into the sea.
The Song of Miriam reminds us that God has an important place for women in the salvation that he provides, but it also means that he has given them a specific role. In Exodus 15, Miriam is a prophetess and she sings the song of deliverance, but she also knows her role. After Moses is delivered from the Nile and taken into the palace, we read nothing about Miriam until chapter 15. God brings about the salvation of Israel through her brothers, Moses and Aaron, as they go to confront Pharaoh. God uses Moses and Aaron to lead the people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. But Miriam comes back into our story at the end. She also has a role in God's plan. She leads the women of Israel, not the women and men, in singing the song of God's deliverance that he has brought about through her brother Moses.
And even though Miriam has an important role, some time later she must be reminded of her role. In Numbers 12, Miriam, the prophetess opposes Moses and claims that God has also spoken through her. She wants to take on a role that God has not planned for her. God punishes her for her rebellion with leprosy and she is put out of the fellowship of God's people. But Moses, her brother, prays for her and she is delivered from this uncleanness and restored to fellowship with the Lord and his people.
Miriam functions as a prophetessan office for a specific time and a specific place. God has granted her an exceptional gift and an exceptional role. As a prophetess, she sings the song of deliverance! Yet in her specific role and office, she is clearly not to take over for her brother, Moses, in his office or her brother, Aaron, in his office. God reminds her of that in Numbers 12.
In New Testament passages such as 1 Timothy 3, the apostle Paul spells out for the New Testament church specific instructions about the qualifications of officers. The elders and the deacons of the church are to be men. But this does not diminish the role of women. Sometimes conservative Christians begin to look down on women because the Bible forbids them to hold church office. Sometimes they make the women of Christ's church feel less important.
But the Song of Miriam reminds us that the women of the church have a very important role in God's plan of salvation. God uses Miriam in Exodus 2 to protect Moses so that he can save Israel. God uses Mary in Matthew 1 and Luke 1 and 2 to bring Jesus into the world. Thus it is Miriam who participates in the song of deliverance in Exodus 15, as at the end of time Mary and all believers who are victorious in Christ, will participate in the Song of Deliverance by the sea of glass in Heaven.
Perhaps the way conservatives have skipped over this song is a reflection of how the church has looked at the role of women. The church must always be thankful for the way that each female member of the church serves and the love that they have for the Savior. They have a very important role, which sometimes the men do not recognize. Remember how the disciples sat in stunned silence as a woman anointed Jesus's body for burial by pouring out expensive
perfume upon his feet and drying it with her hair (Mark 14). This woman recognized something that they did not. God uses both men and women to bring about his salvation, as they serve Christ by fulfilling their specific roles in his church. May we not forget the Song of Miriam and may we never forget the important role of women within the church of Christ.
Sovereign Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Was the Tree of Life Always Off-limits?
A Critique of Vos's Answer
Stewart E. Lauer
Geerhardus Vos seems inclined to answer the above question in the positive. That answer was defended by Robert Starke several years ago in the pages of Kerux.1 This short study seeks to argue from the text of Genesis 2-3 for a negative answer, but will avoid taking up the related question of how the Tree of Life was intended to function from the outset.2
Vos's Words on the Subject
1 "The Tree of Life: Protological to Eschatological," 11/2 (September 1996): 15-31, esp. 23-24.
2 While that question (admittedly important) inevitably arises if one accepts the thesis argued below, the case arguedhere is that the exegesis has been flawed and the text forced. The faithful biblical theologian must never force the clear exegetical data into what he believes is the biblical theological 'superstructure' (semper reformata). Thus, I argue that the exegetical data have been, heretofore, manipulated. If the exegesis below is thought compelling, future articles will have to work through the implications for the 'superstructure'.
While conceding that "nothing is recorded concerning any prohibition" against eating from the Tree of Life prior to the fall, Vos is yet convinced that eating from that tree would have been inappropriate ("out of keeping"). Thus, Vos leans strongly toward seeing the Tree as somehow having been "reserved for the future," despite the lack of any recorded prohibition. To be "reserved for the future," presumably by Godwho else? is a more positive way of expressing 'placed off-limits for the present'. Thus, Vos has given what might be characterized as a reluctant 'Yes' answer to the question of this essay: "Was the Tree of Life always off-limits?". Amazingly, in addressing this question, Vos makes no explicit mention of Genesis 2:16.
Genesis 2:16-17, the Central Biblical Passage
The very simple answer as to why I believe that Adam was permitted, if not encouraged, to eat from the Tree of Life is because God said so. "God commanded the man, saying, 'From any [lit. 'all' or 'every'] tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat'" (Gen. 2:16-17). This statement is very, very clear. Depending upon how the verb is rendered, God is authorizing, or even commanding, Adam to eat from "every" tree of the Garden, and then setting forth a specific
exception.3 God has at least allowed, if not commanded, Adam to eat from all of the treesexcept one. That necessarily gives him the right to eat from every tree except the one in the exception clause.
Most importantly in confirming this, the specific mention of an exception in v. 17 ensures that the "every" of v. 16 is intended to be truly comprehensive. God intends only one exception. At least two other factors in the broader context reconfirm the accuracy of this understanding.
1. In the literary flow of the narrative, the reader's attention has recently been drawn to the two trees in the middleplanted with man apparently looking on.
3 The verbal expression here (literally something along the lines of, 'eating you will eat'infinitive absolute + imperfect) has traditionally been rendered as above (NASB; similarly, NIV, NRSV, etc.). However, this is also a verbal form used to make an emphatic demand or rule. Thus a rendering such as "you shall surely eat from every" should also be considered seriously. Supporting such an imperatival rendering would be the label given by the author to introduce the divine words: "God commanded." (For a clear cut example of this usage, see the same verbal form juxtaposed with the prohibition form, "If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty; but you shall surely return to Him a guilt offering"1 Samuel 6:3, NASB).
Bruce Waltke and M. O'Connor categorize 2:16's verb form as a paronomastic use of the infinitive absolute (p. 582). As to its meaning, they contend, "In our opinion the paronomastic infinitive is always an intensifying infinitive" (An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax [Winona Lake, Indiana: 1990], 585).
4 The NIV for 2:8-9, though slightly paraphrastic, rightly reflects the Hebrew idiom which has both trees in the middle. G. Wenham brings this out more literally: "the tree of life was in the middle of the garden and also the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 1-15, WBC, p. 44).
Thus, both trees have been highlighted and are, with Adam, at the center of focus in the Garden narrative. From a literary or rhetorical point of view, this strongly reinforces the presumption that the absence of the mention of the first special tree in v. 16 is no mere coincidence. Therefore, the Tree of Life is rightly understood as included in the "every" or "all" of the command or authorization to eat in v. 16.
We might say that the author has painted a verbal picture of the garden in the preceding verses. At the center of that picture, as if drawn in a unique color, are two trees that are special. These two, and they alone, have namesnames which point to specific and important functions. When the author reaches vv. 16-17 he completes his sketch of the Garden by drawing circles around "every" tree in the garden as "OK" to eat, and he then puts an enormous X over one of the only two with names. To postulate a similar X over the second tree stands against the literary picture so carefully sketched by the author.
2. The rest of the text in this portion of Genesis (2:4-4:26) presupposes a duty on man's part to perform a very close, even a literalistic, 'reading' of this divine command in 2:16-17. In Genesis 3, when the woman is tempted, the reader is invited to take note of both the cunning twisting of God's words by the serpent and the lack of precision in the woman's citation of God's words that she had (sort of) learned from her husband.5 Thus, the author's own later treatment of 2:16-17 argues against anyone reading anything not mentioned by God into the divine command.
Summary of 2:16-17
In short, there is good reason both in the nearer and broader context of the words "from every tree you may freely eat," and every semantic reason in the words themselves, to believe that the "every" (except one) is expressly intended to include the Tree of Life.
5 "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden...?' God has said, 'You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die'" (3:1-2).
In the face of this data, an enormous burden of proof falls on the shoulders of anyone who wishes to say that Adam was somehow to be kept from additional trees prior to 3:22ff., where the text tells us that God took action to place this previously authorized (or commanded) tree off-limits.
Despite a difficult Hebrew text at the juncture of v. 22 and v. 23 (literally, "and", rather than, "therefore"), the logical connection between the "lest " of v. 22 and "and the Lord sent", of v. 23 is indeed, "therefore". God both expelled man from the garden and stationed the guard at the gate in order to bar access to this tree. There is good reason to believe that this tree was previously fully accessible and that man was either expressly permitted or even ordered to eat from it.6 Whatever the implications of this passage are for eschatology in no way suggests that before "the man ha[d] become like one of Us," he was in any sense prohibited from the Tree of Life. In this passage, God is instituting measures to prevent man from eating. The verse says nothing about such measures having been in place prior to this verse. In fact, because God found it necessary to take such measures, one may infer that prior to 3:22 eating from the Tree of Life was certainly possible.
6 It is not necessary to take "from every tree you shall surely eat" (if the infinitive absolute be so rendered) as a command that, for example each day Adam must eat from each tree. Rather, the imperative would function to prescribe for his diet all trees but one.
Conclusion from the Biblical Data of Genesis 2-3
Once again, the answer as to why I believe that Adam was permitted to eat from the Tree of Life is because God said so and the context reinforces a conclusion that the author of Genesis believed that Adam would have taken that authorization at face value.
On the other hand, arguably the best (both in skill and in fidelity) biblical theologian since the apostle Paul, Geerhardus Vos, seemed hesitant to take 2:16 at face value. Despite the legitimacy of much of the above Vos quotation, his argument has two weaknesses.
First, Vos seriously understated the problem. The clause, "while yet nothing is recorded concerning any prohibition" fails to address 2:16, mentioned above. Not only is there no prohibition, the text of chapter 2 (as we have seen) contains a very promising candidate for the category of "an authorization." Thus, the barrier against inferring that God had previously somehow placed the second tree off-limits ("reserved for the future") is not merely the lack of an explicit prohibition, it is above all the presence of what has all the appearance of an explicit authorization that is in the textwords which Adam should have grasped as either conferring a right, or even a duty, to eat of the Tree of Life.
Second, Vos extrapolates from (1) the fact that Adam did not eat of the Tree of Life prior to his expulsion ("man before his fall had not eaten of it") to make (2) the claim that it was somehow off-limits ("The tree was reserved for the future"). The first represents sound exposition. The second does not necessarily follow from the first.
Starke's 1996 article repeats the same errors. He does note 2:16, but again argues from the fact of Adam's not having eaten to a claim that Adam had no right to eat. His sole logic is an appeal to what he claims is the theology of the Tree in later biblical revelation. Furthermore, Starke never explains why Henri Blocher's exegesis of 2:16 is wrong.
The later use of the Tree of Life in Scripture may well shed light on earlier passages, but when the New Testament is not purporting to exegete the Old,
7 Starke, 23-24; citing Henri Blocher, In the Beginning (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1984) 123.
few would argue that theological inferences on their own can become a substitute for exegesis of the Old Testament text. Vos left 2:16 untouched. Starke has simply pushed aside Blocher's exegesis on the basis of what he believes ought to be inferred about the Tree of Life in Revelation. Starke's methodology, even more clearly than that of Vos, violates important interpretative principles.
Concerning the exegesis of Scripture, the Westminster Confession rightly teaches two important hermeneutical principles. First, doctrine (points of teaching) from Scripture may come in one of two waysteaching
(1) Genesis 2:16 expressly sets down that every tree in the garden was authorized (or perhaps even commanded) except one, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Further, (2) the contrary is not a necessary deduction from 3:22 (Vos, himself only goes so far as to say, "it appears"). Furthermore, on the second principle, "when there is a question about the sense ," we must look to the more clear passage for light and interpret the less in the light of the more clear. The only passage which directly speaks to the question of allowing or prohibiting trees is 2:16. That is its focus; that is its subject matter. Does Genesis 3:22 (or Revelation), which may appear to suggest that the second special tree was also off-limits before the fall, actually teach such a doctrine? The Westminster Confession of Faith urges us to look to the more clear passage for the answer. Starke's treatment implies that 2:16 is less clear, but he never returns "to make it known" by the supposedly more clear passages.
"God commanded the man, saying, 'From any [lit. 'all' or 'every'] tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.'" This statement is very, very clear. Depending upon how the verb is rendered, God is authorizing, or even commanding, Adam to eat from "every" tree of the Garden, and then setting forth one, but only one, specific exception. One must conclude from 2:16-17 and the broader context, until expelled from the Garden following his sin, Adam was expressly permitted to eat from all other trees in the Garden, including the Tree of Life. The fact that he did not does not change this.