What Should We Think About the Imprecatory Psalms?

imprecatoyHow should we make sense of the Imprecatory Psalms?

Imprecatory psalms (e.g., Pss 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140) are those psalms which call upon God to destroy the wicked, and they include some of the most shocking words in the Bible. Take just a few examples.

Psalm 35 provides one of the most acceptable imprecatory Psalms. Verses 4–6 read,

Let them be put to shame and dishonor
     who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
     who devise evil against me!
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
     with the angel of the LORD driving them away!
Let their way be dark and slippery,
     with the angel of the LORD pursuing them!
(Psalm 35:4-6)

In Psalm 109, the language gets more severe as David calls for the personal ruination of the wicked.

Appoint a wicked man against him;
     let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
     let his prayer be counted as sin!
May his days be few;
     may another take his office!
May his children be fatherless
     and his wife a widow!
May his children wander about and beg,
     seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
May the creditor seize all that he has;
     may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
     nor any to pity his fatherless children!
May his posterity be cut off;
     may his name be blotted out in the second generation!
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD,
     and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out!
Let them be before the LORD continually,
     that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth!
(Psalm 109:6-15)

Finally, in Psalm 137 David pronounces a benediction on those who destroy the children of the wicked:

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
     the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
     down to its foundations!”
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
     blessed shall he be who repays you
     with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
     and dashes them against the rock!
(Psalm 137:7-9)

Due to their graphic violence and divine approval—they are in the Bible, after all—many Protestant liberals have charged the God of Israel with violence unbecoming a deity. Other modern readers have written off Christianity entirely because of the imprecatory Psalms and Israel’s violent history. Even for evangelicals, who love the Bible, the cries for vengeance in these Psalms make us feel uncomfortable, because they don’t immediately fit our normal grid for a God who is love. What, therefore, should we think about the imprecatory Psalms?

A few years ago, Dr. Stephen Wellum gave a Sunday School lesson on these psalms, and what follows is an amplified outline of his lesson. Continue reading

Nine Benchmarks for Healthy Intrabiblical Exegesis

bealeOkay, so I admit “intrabiblical exegesis” is a mouthful, but it sums up in two words what any student of the Bible does when he or she tries to understand why Jesus calls himself the Son of Man (e.g., Mark 10:44–45), or what Jude is doing when he says that first century false teachers are walking in the error of Balaam (Jude 11). Intrabiblical exegesis is the process of comparing the Old Testament to the New and seeking to understand how the New Testament writers employed the Old. In short, it is a process of interpretation that engages the whole Bible.

Why Method Matters

Since the Bible was composed over many centuries (about 14 in total), it has many layers of divine revelation. And those layers (read: prophets and apostles) that come later depend upon and recycle (through citation and allusion) antecedent stories, images, turns of phrase, theological ideas, and so on. Therefore, as anyone reading the book of Hebrews knows, it is impossible to understand the New Testament without a general understanding of the Old. And the more you know of the Old Testament, the more you see the way the New Testament writers wrote what they did.

On Monday, I listed five basic principles for discerning types in the Bible. For those just beginning to think about intratextual exegesis, these five “best practices” are a good starting point. But they are only a starting point. So, today I want to go to the other end of the spectrum and consider the very best ways to interpret the New Testament’s uses the Old. And instead of providing my own list, I will cite G. K. Beale who leads the way on helping evangelicals think about these things. Continue reading

How do you recognize a biblical type?  

seekfindIf we agree that typology unites the Bible, identifies who Jesus is, and reveals God’s progressive revelation (which I argued here), then it is vital to know how to recognize a type. Indeed, one of the of the reasons people doubt the validity of a given type (e.g., Joseph as type of Christ, or Noah’s ark as a type of salvation) is that they fear reading too much into the Old Testament. Perhaps, they have seen typology gone wild and have concluded that such interpretations are fanciful and forced. Indeed, while there are many poor examples of misinterpretation, typology remains a vital reality in the Bible. And it behooves us to ask again: “How do you recognize a true biblical type?”

In what follows, I’ve given 5 ways to help you do that. This list isn’t exhaustive and it (over)simplifies some very technical discussions, but for those just beginning to consider or reconsider typology, may it serve as a starting point for recognizing types in Scripture. (For a more comprehensive approach to detecting types, allusions, and patterns in Scripture, see G. K. Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretationesp. chapters 3 and 4). Continue reading

Typology: What It Is and Why We Need It

 

typologyWhat is typology?  

In yesterday’s sermon on Numbers 20, we ran into something known as typology. As it has been variously defined in church history, typology occurs in the Bible when an historical person, event, or institution—in this case a water-giving rock—foreshadows the coming Son of God. As with Exodus 17, this life-giving, water-streaming rock is a type of Christ, at least according to the apostle Paul.

Writing in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul recounts a number of events in Israel’s history (see vv. 1–13), including this rock. He writes, “All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (vv. 3–4). In these words, Paul makes the stunning claim that the Rock was to be identified with the Lord, and since Christ is the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 8:6), the Rock is to be identified with Christ.

Two verses later, he adds, “Now these things took place as examples (typoi) for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (v. 6). Most versions rightly translate typoi as “examples” but you can see from the Greek word that the examples Paul has in mind were types, a word he uses elsewhere to relate Adam and Christ (Rom 5:14), a word Peter uses to speak of Noah’s baptism (1 Pet 3:21), and a word used in Hebrews to relate the tabernacle on earth with the one in heaven (Heb 8:5).

On the basis of passages like these, Christians going back to the early church have rightly seen (and looked for) ‘types’ of Christ in the Old Testament. But at the same time, questions have arisen to ask: What is a type?

That is the question I want to answer today in broad and simple strokes. I recognize that large tomes and complex articles have been written on the subject, but for those just getting acquainted with the idea, I want to introduce typology as simply as I can.

Continue reading

My Twelfth ‘Old Book’

My son, beware of anything beyond these.
Of making many books there is no end,
and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
— Ecclesiastes 12:12 ESV –

On Monday I listed eleven old books that every Christian should read. I asked you what the twelfth book should be. Here are the books suggested.books

  1. The Scandal of the Incarnation selections from Irenaeus’ Against Heresies (Jason Miller)
  2. The Bondage of the Will (John T. Jeffery) 
  3. On the Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther (Jeffery Hutchison)
  4. Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade**
  5. The Mortification of Sin by John Owen (Ben . . . )
  6. The Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall (Ben . . . )
  7. The Life and Diary of David Brainerd by Jonathan Edwards (Josh Philpot)
  8. Lives of the Three Mrs. Judsons by Arabella Stuart (Jerod Harper)
  9. Holiness by J. C. Ryle (Cade Campbell)
  10. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Terry Braswell)
  11. In His Steps by Charles Sheldon (Terry Braswell)
  12. The Cross of Christ by John Stott (Tony . . .)

From the responses, it looks like we have our next twelve. I would heartily commend ten of them, with caveats about a few. Continue reading

Twelve ‘Old Books’ Every Christian Should Read

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did.
Were every one of them to be written,
I suppose that the world itself could not contain
the books that would be written.

– John 21:25 –

Growing up my summers were consumed by sports. Until college, the only books I read on my own were biographies of professional athletes. In short, Books had little appeal.

When I became a Christian, however, that changed. Very quickly I discovered that I needed spiritual guidance. What I found was that good books were one of the best ways to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.old

What is a ‘Good Book’?

Yet, I didn’t know what a “good book” was. As a freshman in college, I found myself reading a book by T.D. Jakes who distorts the Trinity and preaches a prosperity gospel. Later I gravitated towards recent releases that mixed biblical truths with the latest psychological fads.

Like so many evangelicals, I missed the classic works of the faith because the Christian bookstores I visited only promoted current authors. Yet, such attention to the new and novel only gives us what C.S. Lewis has called ‘chronological snobbery.’ Simultaneously, it keeps us blind to our contemporary errors and robs us of a rich heritage. Again Lewis corrects us:

It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old book to every three new ones. . . . We all . . . need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.

With that in mind, I have compiled is a list of twelve “classics” that every Christian should venture to read over the course of their lives. These books come from different eras, and are written in a variety of styles. Some are long, some short, but for any Christian who wants to walk with the cloud of witnesses who have gone before them, these are volumes you should take up and read. Continue reading

Preaching Larger Sections of Scripture

bibleIn creation, God put beauty and design into the largest galaxy and the tiniest cell. Accordingly, we have, for centuries, used different instruments to behold the glory of God in creation: the microscope enables us to see God’s miniscule  handiwork; the telescope opens our eyes to heavenly vistas. From both ends of the spectrum, we benefit from considering God’s micro-creation and macro-creation.

Something similar takes place in the Bible. When we read Scripture, we can find gospel truth in a word (propitiation), a phrase (‘it is finished’), a verse (John 3:16), a story (Job’s suffering and restoration), or a series of songs (the Psalter). Indeed, from every angle, we behold God’s wisdom and goodness in his word. Yet, unless we are intentional, it is easy to focus on the smaller parts of the Bible and to miss the larger ones.

There are many reasons for that—lack of time, lack of understanding (what is Revelation about?), lack of interest (why do I need to read the minor prophets?). In our fast-paced world, it is easy to overlook the Bible’s big picture, and often pastors have not helped their people “put the Bible together.” Still, I am convinced that if we are to have minds renewed by the Scriptures, we must not simply have a collection of unrelated memory verses free-floating in our heads; we must also understand the larger framework(s) of the Bible. For that reason, I want to suggest five reasons why I preach larger sections of Scripture. Continue reading

What Good is the Book of Numbers?

serpentFew books in the Bible hide their riches better than the book of Numbers. Concealed by an accountant’s title (‘Numbers’) and begun with a lengthy census (ch. 1), the casual reader of Numbers may come to the honest, but mistaken, notion that this book is a boring, impractical book.

However, Paul has the exact opposite feeling. In 1 Corinthians 10, he says that the events of Numbers (along with everything in the five books of Moses) “were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (v. 11). Specifically, Paul lists Israel’s sexual immorality at Baal-Peor in Numbers 25 (vv. 7–8), the incursion of serpents in Numbers 21 (v. 9), and the grumbling of Israel which occurred throughout the exodus journey (v. 10).

In truth, Paul reminds us that these ancient words are ever true and that in God’s wisdom they were written down for me and you. To put it more generally, the book of Numbers is not simply a book of Jewish history, a record of priestly duties, and medicinal wound care for scabs and leprosy victims. Oh no. It is more. It is a book of Christian Scripture that points us to Christ. Continue reading

The 2014 Southern Baptist Convention

sbc14logoartFor two days in Baltimore this past week (June 10–11), 5,294 Southern Baptists (plus guests and children) met to spur one another on in the Lord and discuss business pertaining to the Southern Baptist Convention. (See this earlier post for more information on the SBC).

Representing our church, Wendy and I had the joy of hearing what God is doing all over the world among Southern Baptists. Let me share a few of these things with you.

The Resolutions

In total, messengers adopted nine resolutions ranging from payday lending to church revitalization to the celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Resolutions are statements adopted by the convention that speak with biblical conviction about beliefs that Southern Baptists share in common.

The most important resolution, and the one you are likely to hear misrepresented in the media concerns transgender identity. Denny Burk, along with Andrew Walker, made a proposal that Southern Baptists should treat with compassion those who adopted transgender identity, but that in no way should we permit or condone such behavior. Since transgender acceptance has reached a tipping point in our culture, according to Time magazine’s recent cover story, it is worth your time to read the resolution. Although, this resolution has received secular condemnation, it is a vital statement about the gospel and God’s good design for humanity as male and female.  Continue reading

The Centrifugal Mission of the Church

outreachHow should the church live, move, and have its mission?

In him we live and move and have our being
– Acts 17:28 –

 Just before this verse, Paul makes an important point about God’s relationship with the nations. He writes, “He made . . . every nation . . . to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”

The theological truth Paul posits is that God upholds the universe and directs the ways of history, and he establishes the boundaries of nations. Even with the back-and-forth of disputed territories, God is the determiner of the “allotted periods and boundaries.” Set in the context of redemptive history, this means that God dealt only with Israel for two millennia. Paul calls this “the times of ignorance” (v. 30). It was a time when the nations were without God’s law (Ps 147:19–20) and had to feel their way towards him, if they could.

Such was the wreckage after the fall. Adam’s sin led the human race into disobedience (Rom 5:18–19) and death (Eph 2:1–3). With no natural power to seek God (Rom 3:10–23), the nations were utterly lost, without hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:11–13). Yet, in his love, God initiated a course of action that would bring salvation to the world.

In Genesis 12, God chose Abraham to be the source of blessing for the world. Through God’s promise to him, God would bring an offspring to bless the world (Gal 3:16). Yet, in sending his Son there was and has continued to be confusion about how the nations would come to receive the blessing of God.

Here’s what I mean: In Israel, the confusion was a theological problem—how can an uncircumcised Gentile be saved? Today, it is a methodological problem—should we focus our mission on bringing people to church? Or should we go to them? Continue reading