Christus Agonistes: the
and Arrest of the I AM
John 18 begins with the betrayal and arrest of the Word made flesh, the beginning of the climax of John's gospel. John has been preparing us for this hour, the passion narrative, the final and ultimate irony of an evangel filled with ironies.1 But this of all ironies is the most glorious and most blessedthe glorification of the Son of God in the very hour of his humiliation and suffering. We have been given many adumbrations along the way that Jesus' hour looms, the hour for which he had come from heaven to earth (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1). With Jesus' betrayal and arrest that hour has now come.
The Context and Structure of the Narrative Unit
It is clear that chapter 18 introduces a major new section in the gospel, since the preceding section (John 13-17) forms a unified thematic and literary
1 John is a master of dramatic irony. For a useful survey of this literary technique in John's gospel, cf. R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design (Philadelpia: Fortress Press, 1983) 165-80.
wholeJesus' farewell discourse. In fact, chapter 18 has several points of contact with chapter 13 which indicate that the intermediate material is to be bracketed as a self-contained section that serves to introduce the passion narrative as a whole. The first of these points of contact is found at the very beginning of each chapter. At 13:1 we read, "Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end" (cp. v. 3). At 18:4 John makes a similar editorial comment concerning the Savior's self-conscious state of mental preparedness: "Jesus therefore, knowing all the things that were coming upon Him, went forth, and said . . . ." Note that John employs the identical Greek word and form for "knowing" (eidos) in both instances.
Another point of contact is the parallel use of the phrase "having said these things" (tauta eipon), with Jesus as the subject, in both 18:1 and 13:21. No mere verbal parallel, these two texts bear a close affinity to one another in connection with the motif of the betrayer, a theme that is found not only here but throughout the gospel and which finds its obvious finale and completion here in chapter 18. In fact, Judas is not mentioned by name after 18:5.2 As early as chapter 6 the narrator had repeatedly notified us that Judas is the one who would betray Jesus (6:64, 71; 12:4; 13:2, 11, 18). These foreboding premonitions of his betrayal reinforce the theme of Jesus' divine knowledge and his firm resolve to do the Father's will. "Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him" (John 6:64). Since chapter 13 is the last time the betrayal theme was visited, its being picked up and finished here in chapter 18 significantly identifies the farewell discoursethe content of "these things"as a literary unit bracketed by an inclusio, but also serving to provide the theological context for what is about to unfold.
Having taken a brief look at the broader literary structure in which the arrest scene is imbedded and finds its significance, let us now turn to deter-
2 There is one oblique reference after this point: in the epilogue, the narrator refers back to the upper room scene, where the beloved disciple had asked Jesus who was going to betray him (John 21:20). John 19:11 actually refers to Caiaphas, not Judas.
mine its textual boundaries. Clearly, the text begins at 18:1. This is indicated by a shift in scene from Jerusalem (presumably the upper room, although we know this only from the synoptic accounts) to a garden across the Kidron Valley, a deep gorge that runs along the east of the Holy City (again, we know from the synoptics that this garden is called Gethsemane and is located on the Mount of Olives). Not so clear, however, is the closing boundary of the pericope. Should we conclude the arrest scene with the incident in which Christ rebukes Peter for striking off the ear of Malchus, the high priest's servant (vv. 10-11)? Or should we extend it further to include the next three verses, which narrate the actual arrest and appearance of Christ before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas? Most Bibles, including the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament, set off vv. 12-14 as a separate paragraph or as the beginning of a new section. This initial reading seems justified by the fact that v. 13 indicates a change in location from the garden to the high priest's palace, and hence, a change of scene.
However, several considerations indicate that we should include vv. 12-14 as an important part of the entire betrayal and arrest scene, but without failing to recognize its function as a bridge-section enabling the narrative to develop naturally.3 First, the entire section is defined by an inclusio involving the words "cohort" (speira) and "assistants" (huperetai). Both words occur together in v. 3 (the third clause from the beginning of the pericope) and in v. 12 (the third clause from the end). These are the only references to a Roman cohort in John's gospel.4 Furthermore, the assistants mentioned in both verses are the attending officers "of the chief-priests and the Pharisees" (v. 3), or, more generally, "of the Jews" (v. 12).
3 George Mlakuzhyil, The Christocentric Literary Structure of the Fourth Gospel (Rome: Pontifical Institute, 1987) 106.
4 Technically, a cohort is a tenth of a Roman legionwhich comes to around 600 to 1000 soldiers, though some have suggested that a reduced contingent of 200 soldiers could have qualified as a cohort. John also mentions the presence of the cohort's commanding officer, the chiliarch, or tribune (v. 12). This is an amazing display of forceJudas must have convinced the Romans that Jesus was a very dangerous man indeed, or that his disciples were armed and planning to lead a rebellion (cp. Luke 23:5, 14). Interestingly, the synoptic evangelists do not mention the presence of Roman troops at the arrest.
Second, vv. 1-11 and vv. 12-14 must be taken together due to the thematic coherence that is apparent once the two sections are seen as a unit. That theme is not made explicit until v. 14: "Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people." This editorial comment provides the theological key for unlocking several puzzling details of the immediately preceding narrative (vv. 1-11). With this theological clue in hand, when we hear the Lord say, "If therefore you seek Me, let these go their way," we are to understand something far more profound than a literal request for the disciples to be let go unharmed. Rather, with these seemingly ordinary words, Jesus articulates the principle of substitution, the one dying on behalf of the many. As if to underscore the point, John provides an interpretive commentary: "[He said this] that the word might be fulfilled which He spoke, 'Of those whom Thou hast given Me I lost not one'" (v. 9). Such language is strongly allusive of Christ's earlier prophetic declarations guaranteeing the salvation of all those whom the Father had given to the Son in the eternal covenant of redemption (John 6:39; 10:29; 17:12). Just as verse 14 harks back to the earlier prophetic declaration of Caiaphas, who spoke not of his own accord but by Balaam-like inspiration (John 11:49-52), so verse 9 states that Christ's own prophetic word is in the process of being fulfilled. All of this shows that parenthetical remark of v. 14 would have to be viewed as an irrelevant detail devoid of any significance were it not brought into the closest possible connection with the foregoing narrative. It certainly has little bearing on what follows (the first denial of Peter). This is borne out by the fact that the remark about Caiaphas' prophecy is introduced by the introduction of another unimportant detail, namely, that Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas (v. 13). This is not the kind of detail one would expect at this point. But it is easily explained if we recognized that the author simply needed a quick transition from Annas to Caiaphas in order to point out the fulfillment of the latter's prophecy and thus to guide the reader in interpreting the theological significance of the arrest scene. Thus, vv. 12-14 cannot be severed from vv. 1-11 without doing violence to theology of the narrative itself.
A third piece of evidence that vv. 12-14 belong with vv. 1-11 is the simple fact that the arrest does not actually occur until v. 12: "So the Roman cohort and the commander, and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound
him." Thus, the pericope must be extended to at least v. 12. But if it includes v. 12, then it must also include v. 13, since v. 13 is grammatically dependent on v. 12 (note the paratactic kai introducing v. 13). And if it includes v. 13, then v. 14 is necessarily connected as a parenthetical remark expanding on the previous reference to Caiaphas (note the typical Johannine use of the particle de meaning "now"). These, then, are the pieces of evidence pointing to 18:1-14 as the natural boundaries of a narrative/thematic unit.5
What about the structure of John 18:1-14? Peter Ellis seems to be on the right track in observing a chiastic structure (although he incorrectly links vv. 12-14 with what follows, thus making the significance of this section unintelligible).6 The key is to note that the dialogue between Jesus and the arresting party is repeated almost verbatim in this textonce in vv. 4-5, and again in vv. 7-8.7 Jesus takes the initiative: "Whom are you looking for?" They respond, "Jesus of Nazareth." He replies, "I AM." This exchange occurs twice, the second being signaled by "again" (palin v. 7). But sandwiched between them is v. 6: "When therefore He said to them, 'I AM,' they drew back, and fell to the ground." Thus, we have the nucleus of a chiasm: the centerpiece (v. 6), and two dialogue sections surrounding it (vv. 4-5 and vv. 7-9).
The second dialogue section introduces the Malchus incident (vv. 10-11), which then stands as a parallel unit to the section in which Judas the betrayer and his cohort enter the scene at the beginning (vv. 2-3). In both sections, the concept of betrayal is present. Although Peter is no Judas, he
5 This is not to deny that our text is related to the subsequent narrative. For example, Christ's "I AM" confession (ego eimi) is mirrored by Peter's "I am not" anti-confession in v. 17 (ouk eimi). Peter seems to be Christ's foil throughout chapter 18, which alternates between scenes of Peter's denials (vv. 15-18 and 25-27) and Christ's good confession (vv. 19-24 and 28ff.).
6 Peter F. Ellis, The Genius of John (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1984) 249ff. Less satisfying is Charbonneau's chiasm, which attempts to draw parallels between vv. 1-2 and v. 11 (gift) and between v. 3 and v. 10 (violence), while finding the crux in vv. 4-9 (victory); cf. A. Charbonneau, 'L'arrestation de Jesus, une victoire d'apres la facture interne de Jn 18.1-11," Science et Esprit 34 (1982) 155-170.
7 Couplets are frequently interpreted as "evidence" of multiple sources in the Documentary Hypothesis of Pentateuchal origins. But such an approach betrays an insensitivity to the Semitic literary style. John was Jewish not only in his thought but also in his literary sensibilities.
nevertheless sides spiritually with the forces of darkness in his unwillingness to allow his Lord to go the way of the cross. The synoptics report that Jesus himself made this connection earlier when he identified the Satanic origin of Peter's earthly attitude: "Get behind me, Satan!" (Matt. 16:23). In taking up the sword in defense of his Lord, Peter failed to recognize that Christ's kingdom is not of this world. "If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm" (John 18:36). Judas was equally blind to the mystery of the kingdom, for he came "with lanterns and torches and weapons" and an entire Roman cohort in a futile attempt to defeat a heavenly king whose victory is secured through defeat. Earthly weapons can only defend or attack an earthly kingdom.
Finally, v. 1 and vv. 12-14 mirror one another in dramatic movement. In v. 1 Jesus, the Bridegroom arrives in the garden with his Bride, while in vv. 12-14, he is led away bound without his Bride. Thus the outer shell of the pericope's chiastic structure contains the theme of the close relationship between Jesus (the one) and his disciples (the many). Verse 1 makes emphatic mention of the fact that Jesus "himself and his disciples" (autos kai hoi mathetai autou) entered the garden (kepos)an Edenic trysting place where (we are told in v. 2) he had frequently met to consort with his Bride (eschatological Israel as symbolized by the twelve apostlescp. Rev. 21:2, 10-14). This theme is recapitulated in v. 14 by the reminder of Caiaphas's oracular prediction of Jesus' death on behalf of "the people" (ho laos), which does not signify Israel according to the flesh (1 Cor. 10:18), as Caiaphas supposes, but the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16). Thus:
A (v. 1) The Bridegroom enters the Garden with his Bride
B (vv. 2-3) Judas the Betrayer and his Cohort
C (v. 4-5) 1st Dialogue I AM
D (v. 6) The Epiphany of the Last Adam guarding the Bride I AM
C' (vv. 7-9) 2nd Dialogue I AM
B' (vv. 10-11) Peter the Betrayer and his Sword
A' (vv. 12-14) The Bridegroom exits the Garden without his Bride
The Biblical Theology of the Narrative Unit
The most striking feature of this pericope is the epiphanic flash in which Jesus' self-attesting declaration of divinely homoousionic identity, "I AM," causes the stunned band of armed soldiers to fall backward to the ground. Some, following the rationalism of gospel-critic H. E. G. Paulus (1761-1851), have attempted to explain the miracle away by positing that the soldiers merely did a double-take as Jesus confidently asserted himself. But the text clearly states that they "fell to the ground." Could an entire cohort of two to six hundred men be knocked off their feet simply by being startled at the sound of two words? By focusing our attention on this crucial moment, the chiastic structure of the passage, indicates that this is no ordinary event but a lightning-bolt of resurrection power intruding itself proleptically as Jesus puts his lips to the bitter cup.8 The armed band stands in military array crouching to pounce upon its prey. Jesus does not flee or hide but steps forward in bold majesty and utters the superlative title of equality with YHWH (Exod. 3:14). Though he goes like a lamb to the slaughter and does not open his mouth in self-defense, the Son of God nevertheless lets his enemies know in no uncertain terms that "no one takes my life away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father" (John 10:18).
By powerfully demonstrating that he deliberately lays down his own life he also allows a glimmer of resurrection victory to shine briefly through the veil of his suffering. It is an instance of Johannine irony.9 In the very moment of his greatest weakness, in the very throes of agony, there the divine glory of the Son of God beams forth. Throughout the passion narrative, John parts the curtains and lets the true identity of his Subject gleam through, initiating the church into the mystery of the secret power of the cross. Earlier, Christ's
8 The theme of the Messiah's enemies stumbling and turning back is found in Psalm 27:2 and 35:4.
9 "The reader who sees as well as hears understands that the narrator means more than he says and that the characters do not understand what is happening or what they are saying" (Culpepper, p. 166).
humble reign was inaugurated as he rode into Jerusalem "seated on a donkey's colt" (John 12:15), the doomed colt of covenant ratification.10 The mockery scene is also redolent with the overtones of dramatic irony, for there we behold the glory of Christ as he is arrayed in the mock purple of royalty and crowned with thorns (John 19:1-5). Pilate and the Jews are engaged in the height of blasphemy! Yet, unwittingly, they proclaim the hidden mystery of our King's reign. Ironically, too, Pilate mockingly posts the inscription over Jesus' cross: "Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews" (John 19:19). Is not this what Jesus had said would happen? "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM" (John 8:28). It would be in his humiliation that he would be glorified (John 12:23). His weakness would be his power. His falling like a grain of corn into the earth would be the secret to his fruitfulness (John 12:24).
Indeed, fruitfulness is an implicit theme in this pericopefor one of its central thrusts is the creation of the new people of God. Although the three-fold repetition of the ego eimi (I AM) formula, with its middle member coinciding with the crux of the chiasm (v. 6), is the bull's eye of this text, we must not overlook the outer circles that surround it. We have already observed that the text opens with a reference to the close bond between Jesus and his disciples as they meet in the intimacy of a garden. The Septuagint employs the term "garden" (kepos) repeatedly in the Song of Songs, thus raising the strong possibility that John is alluding to the biblical symbolism of the garden of paradise.11 In the secluded bower of Edenic fruitfulness, Jesus, the Bridegroom,
10 Commenting on Genesis 49:11, Kline observes that "the foal, the donkey's colt (v. 11a) is mentioned in an ancient treaty account as the animal slain that was slain in order to ratify the covenant (cf. Zech. 9:9, 11)." Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (S. Hamilton, MA: By the author, 1991) 204.
11 Songs 4:12, 15, 16 (2x); 5:1 (2x); 6:2 (2x), 11; 8:13. Derrett observes that "John alone tells us about Kedron (Qidron), and connects garden and torrent. This at once suggests LXX Cant 6,11 (cf. 6,2), where alone such a grouping is to be found" (J. Duncan Derrett, "Peter's Sword and Biblical Methodology," Bibbia et Oriente 32  183). He does not develop this insight much further, although he does notice the interesting parallel between Peter's sword and Canticles (Song of Songs) 3:8, which speaks of Solomon's body guards having "each man his sword at his side, guarding against the terrors of the night." In his conclusion Derrett makes these suggestive comments: "The Messiah, with his bride, the church, in the Garden, with his companions (Cant 5,1), is armed against the enemies in the night (Cant 3,8), and finds that he alone, and none of his 'sheep', will suffer the punishment designed by God for the people, for 'cup' means punishment. At the commencement of the process, his 'attendants' strike the first
woos and espouses to himself a Bride, the New Jerusalem. But unlike any bridegroom that went before him, this Second Adam, this Greater-Than-Solomon will gain his Bride by losing her. He will exchange his life for hers, thereby gaining his lifeand wifeagain.
In addition to the paradise-marriage imagery, we also find shepherd-sheep imagery here. "Jesus had often met (sunago) there with his disciples" (v. 2). John employs an unexpected term (sunago) to describe the meetings that Jesus and his disciples had enjoyed together many a time beforea term that has pastoral connotations. Literally the term means "to gather together." The way has already been prepared for this in the discourse of the Good Shepherd. Mark Stibbe has pointed out that John 18:1-11 contains several echoes of John 10:
First of all, the narrative settings are similar, with the action of 18.1-11 occurring in and around a walled enclosure12 during the hours of darkness. Secondly, Judas' approach to the garden enclosure mimics the approach of the kleptes ["robber"] in John 10, a connection which seems to be borne out by the description of Judas as kleptes ["robber"] in 12.6. Thirdly, Jesus' protective stance towards the disciples (he stands outside the walled garden whilst they huddle inside) imitates the protective conduct of the shepherd throughout John 10, as is indicated by the reference to 10.27ff in 18.9. Fourthly, John 10 itself anticipates this first step towards the passion, with its recurrent stress on the shepherd laying down his life for the sheep.13
An even more explicit link that demonstrates the presence of shepherd-sheep imagery here is the allusion (v. 14) to an earlier text where that imagery is explicit. This earlier text states that Caiaphas, "being high priest that year,
blow of the battle to drive Aaron from the temple and the city, while a New Israel rises from the ashes of the Old" (p. 191).
12 Equivalent to the sheepfold (aule) of John 10:1, 16.
13 Mark W. G. Stibbe, John as Storyteller (Cambridge University Press, 1992) 103.
prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but that he might also gather together (sunago) into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (John 11:52). This passage in turn is itself an allusion to the previous chapter, where Christ speaks of "other sheep which are not of this foldI must gather them also" (John 10:16). Thus, we have a chain of texts leading us back to the discourse of the Good Shepherd.
However, there is a shocking twist. Although John 18 does not record the fact that after Jesus was arrested the disciples all fled and were thereby scattered (in fulfillment of Zech. 13:7; cp. Matt. 26:31), we are nevertheless led to expect it: "Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me" (John 16:32).14 What? Wasn't Jesus supposed to be gathering his flock, not scattering it? Yes, and that is exactly what he is doing. For it is here that the broader Johannine theme of the twelve disciples as the New Israel is brought to its typological finale. Just as the Old Israel had to be exiled from the garden (land) and dispersed (scattered) throughout the nations, so the New Israel. Only this time the scattering is a redemptive scattering. It is only if the Son suffers alone that the work of salvation can be accomplished. "The time is come for you to leave me alone." Though he stupidly volunteers to lay down his life for Jesus (John 13:37), Peter cannot follow his Lord in this matter, for this work of redemption, this new exodus, is a work that only Godthe great I AM himself, God manifest in the flesh can accomplish (Exod. 3:14ff.). Thus is fulfilled the prophetic hope that the exiles would be gathered in an eschatological exodus from all the nations to which God had scattered them: "He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock" (Jer. 31:10).
Christ is also pictured here as the Second Adam, securing for himself a Bride by paying the bride-price that she cannot supply. He does so by defeating that old serpent, the Devil (Rev. 20:2) who had first intruded into the garden of God to snatch the bride away from Adam. Satan comes in the form
14 The verb "scatter" occurs three times in John's gospel, all in reference to sheep (John 10:12; 11:52; 16:32). It is also found in the Septuagint with reference to the dispersion of the Jews in the exile (Ezek. 5:12note the reference to the unsheathed sword pursuing Israel in wrath like the wind blowing away the chaff).
of Judas the betrayer, for the narrator has already informed us that Satan had "entered him" after he took the morsel at supper (John 13:27). But unlike the first Adam (and his recapitulation, Israel), Christ meets the intruding serpent head-on, in place of his spouse, and conquers him. "Now is judgment upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out" (John 12:31). "The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that he might destroy the works of the Devil" (1 John 3:8). The Last Adam steps forward to meet the enemy and sovereignly substitutes himself in the Bride's place: "If therefore you seek me, let these go their way" (v. 8). Offering his own heel to the foe, the Seed of the woman thereby crushes the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15). It is now clear that the scattering of the sheep is necessary for their very redemption. Scattering and exile, banishment from the garden, are hereby transformed into a sign, not of covenant curse, but of covenant blessing. "Let these go their way!" The scattered sheep become the rescued sheep, the purchased Bride, for the sword now no longer pursues them but Christ himself.15
This point is driven home in the Malchus incident (vv. 10-11). It is crucial to understand that it is really a continuation of the exposition of v. 9. Having heard Jesus declare, "Let these go their way," we are then given three verses expounding the full import of these words (vv. 9-11). There was no place in Peter's theology for the death of his Lord. Rather than humbly receiving his Master's invitation to depart unharmed and safe, he became swollen with pride, thinking that his inexpert swordsmanship was necessary or even useful in the battle against the Devil. But had he not just witnessed the divine energy of the God-man who slew an army with the breath of his mouth?16 What did he think he had to offer that could be of any aid? True, we should not be overly judgmental of Peter, for he was motivated by a deep love and devotion to his Lord. But he nevertheless failed to recognize the real nature of
15 By this acted parable Christ instructs his disciples and the church of all ages concerning the profound mystery of the vicarious, limited atonement. Christ died only for those whom the Father had given him. So definitely-designed, so pointedly-effective, and so narrowly-intended is his blood, that the narrator theologizes, "This occurred that the word might be fulfilled which he spoke, 'Of those whom thou hast given me I lost not one'" (18:9).
16 Isaiah, speaking of the Messiah, says that "he will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked" (Isa. 11:4).
the conflict. He failed to perceive the divine nature of his Lord who had just twice asserted his ontological equality with the self-existent God. Even more importantly, he was blinded to the redemptive necessity of the death of the Lamb of God on his behalf. "Peter," Jesus asks, "the cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?" (v. 11).
Verse 11 (with John 12:27-28)17 is the Johannine echo of the synoptic agony in the garden. Transformed by John's unique insights, the agony becomes just thatan agon in the Greek sense, a heroic combat. Christus Agonistes. He girds up his loins and steps into the ring with Satan himself. He rejoices like a strong man ready to run his course. Jesus says in effect, "Peter, you are weak. Peter, you are a mere man. You don't stand a chance in this match. Step aside. Put your sword away. Let me handle this one. Make way for the Theanthropos, the God-man. Only I can drink this cup, and I must drink it alone." John paints a slightly different portrait of Christ in the final moments before his arrest than the synoptics. In the synoptics, Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. In John, Jesus boldly identifies himself first. In the synoptics, Jesus is in agony, desiring the cup to pass from him, if that were possible. In John, Jesus runs to the cup.
But it is equally true that the Jesus of John is a suffering servant. He has Peter put up his sword. Having just clearly evidenced his divine power (v. 6), he allows himself to be taken prisoner and led away to an unjust trial, rather than calling down fire from heaven upon his enemies. Christ is strong and weak at once.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you (2 Cor. 4:8-12).
17 "Now my soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify thy name."
Where did Paul learn to speak with such paradoxical delight in the glory of suffering? Was it not from his Lord? Did he not see in his Lord first that the power of resurrection life was manifested even as he was being delivered over to death? Did he not see in his Lord first the principle that death works in him, but life in his people? The way of the cross is the way of victory. The way of death is the way of life. Peter, put away your sword of carnal triumphalism! Bride of Christ, stand back and behold the Lamb of God, the divinely-appointed Sheath, receive the plunging steel of divine wrath to the hilt for your sins! There in the paradise-garden the Bridegroom was arrested, led away bound under the judgment of the world. And there in the paradise-garden a Bride was stripped of the sword of carnal self-assertion, was scattered, but was sent away free, justified, and remade after the image of her meek, lowly, suffering Head who reigned from the tree.
Redeemer Orthodox Presbyterian Chapel
San Fernando Valley, California
Mosesin Egypt and Midian
On the surface, in examining the respective accounts of Moses in Egypt in Exodus 2:11-15 and Moses in Midian in Exodus 2:16-21, it appears that in contrast to all the hardships that faced him in Egypt, Moses finally finds a home in Midian. In fact, everything that went wrong for him in Egypt, seemingly goes right for him in Midian.
We arrive at this preliminary conclusion upon viewing these two accounts in which Moses witnesses an injustice and attempts to bring deliverance to the oppressed. In examining vv. 11-15, we read about Moses visiting his brethren and looking upon their hard labor. Upon witnessing an Egyptian unfairly beating a Hebrew slave, Moses decides to intercede and attempts to deliver the one oppressed. He looks one way and then he looks the other way before he strikes down the Egyptian. Finally, to cover his deed, he buries the slain Egyptian in the sand.
That is the initial act. What is the result of this attempted deliverance? When he attempts to reconcile two Hebrews who were fighting the next day, Moses is mocked for what he has done. From Stephen's speech in Acts 7:27, we know that he is literally pushed away at the same time that the words are shouted at him, "Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intend-
ing to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" And as Stephen further makes clear in Acts 7:35, Moses is disowned and rejected by his brethren at this point for his efforts.
Disowned by his brethren, Moses is next rejected by Pharaoh. Pharaoh hears of the slain Egyptian and seeks to bring judgment against Moses. Moses, however, does not wait for the sword to come. He flees from Pharaoh's presence and travels to the land of Midian where he comes to a well and sits down.
Summarizing the key points, then, from vv. 11-15: (1) Moses sees the hard labor of the Hebrews; (2) he witnesses an injustice against those laboring; (3) he decides to intercede and to attempt to deliver the oppressed; (4) the attempted deliverance brings mockery and rejection to Moses; (5) the judgment of Pharaoh comes upon him; (6) Moses departs to another land.
Now, with this summary in mind, notice what happens in vv. 16-21. In v. 16, we read that the seven daughters of the priest of Midian were laboring at the well where Moses sat down. They were drawing water (a strenuous task in ancient times) to fill the troughs in order to water their father's flock. In parallel fashion, then, to the events in Egypt, Moses witnesses those doing hard labor. Again, as he looks upon those laboring, an injustice takes place. In this case, evil shepherds who had waited at a distance prey upon the defenseless daughters. After the water is drawn and the hard labor is completed, they drive the daughters away to take advantage of the daughters's work. Egyptian oppression of the defenseless Hebrew is matched by the wicked shepherd's oppression of the defenseless in Midian. Witnessing this injustice as he had done previously in Egypt, Moses intercedes and attempts to deliver those oppressed. Here in Midian, he stands up and helps the daughters by scattering the evil shepherds.
So far things have been quite similar in the two accounts, but now notice how things change. For example, before Moses intercedes in Egypt and strikes down the Egyptian, we are told that he looked this way and that before he acted. Then, after slaying the Egyptian, Moses immediately becomes preoccupied with his own situation. He is worried about what the consequences of his action might be. He fears being caught and he hides the body of the slain man in the sand.
In Midian, the deliverance takes on a much different nature. In Midian, Moses intercedes, scatters the evil shepherds, and then serves those who had been oppressed. Moses stands up and helps the daughters. He intercedes for them, but he does not stop there. He continues by serving them. He takes to himself their hard labor. He draws the water and he waters their father's flock.
This is the initial act. What is the response of those in Midian who had been delivered from oppression? At first, the daughters run back to their father, Reuel. Upon their arrival, he asks them why they have returned home so soon. They respond, "An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherd; and what is more, he even drew the water for us and watered the flock." The daughters are stunned by the graciousness of the man as they tell the good news to their father. This man delivered us from the shepherdsand on top of that, he drew the water for usand on top of that, he watered the flock for us.
Thus, the response of the father is not the mockery and rejection that greeted Moses in Egypt. Rather, having heard the good news, the response is punctuated by gratitude and thanksgiving. Reuel tells his daughters to go back and get this man so that he might dine with him in fellowship. Previously, in Egypt, when the actions of Moses recounted in vv. 11-14 become known to Pharaoh (the head of the Egyptian household and the father of the one who had drawn Moses out of the water), Moses was threatened with death. But, now, in Midian, Reuel offers Moses the opposite of the sword. Now, in Midian, Reuel offers Moses life and fellowship in his home, for in having heard from his daughters of the action of Moses recounted in vv. 16-17, Reuel is thankful.
Rejected, disowned and cursed in Egypt by both his Hebrew brethren and his adopted royal family, Moses is now brought into a filial relation in Midian. The blessing of Midian displaces the judgment of Egypt, and in contrast to his fleeing Egypt and Pharaoh's presence, Moses now dwells securely in Midian in Reuel's presence.
The reversal is staggering! The parallelism is undeniable! Truly, everything that goes wrong for Moses in Egypt seemingly goes right for him in Midian. In Midian, the deliverance is no longer tainted by the dubious and illegitimate character of the deliverance in Egypt. In Midian, Moses does not
become preoccupied with himself, but gives himself over to others. In Midian, thanksgiving and adoption replace mockery and rejection. In Midian, blessing replaces judgment. And in Midian, instead of fleeing for his life from the head of one household, Moses is invited by the head of another household to dwell securely with him. And that dwelling is with a man who worships the true and living God (note Exodus 18 where Reuel, whom we know better as Jethro, worships and serves the living God).
But there is even more for Moses in Midian. In Midian, Reuel gives Moses his daughter, Zipporah. According to Acts 7:29, Moses and Zipporah are blessed in that place with two sons.
Is not Midian great for Moses!
What more could he possibly ask for? He is safe from the persecution of Pharaoh and blessed abundantlyblessed to be able to worship the living God, blessed with a wife and two sons, blessed with a wonderful father-in-law. What more could his heart desire? That which was lacking in Egypt seems fulfilled in Midian. Midian seems gloriousso glorious, in fact, it is as if in moving from Egypt to Midian, Moses moves from darkness into the kingdom of light. That is how stupendous the change is! It is as if the kingdom of God had dawned for Moses. It is as if old things had passed away and all things had become new. The mockery, rejection, and judgment of the old world replaced by the praise, adoption and blessing of the new world.
And what of the transition for Moses himself? In keeping with the changed environment, there is a seemingly new Moses. In Midian, we are not looking at the same man. The events of Egypt have humbled Moses. A new Moses, a humbled Moses, appears in Midian. The new Moses surrenders to God. The new Moses learns to die to self; and in doing sohe rises! Moses learns that only by his surrender to God could he deliver the people of God and be a type of the promised deliverer to come. Moses learns to die, and in doing sohe stands up! And having stood up, he helps and he serves.
Do you not see Jesus Christ standing behind Moses here? Do you not see Christ informing Moses as to the true nature of the deliverance in store for the people of God in all agesnot just the upcoming deliverance of Israel from Egypt, but the greater Exodus that would come with the greater Moses. For
you see, Jesus Christ humbles himself to the point of death giving himself over to those oppressed by sin. Jesus Christ humbles himself to deliver those who could not save themselves. And after having delivered them, he serves them. Jesus Christ did not stop his work two thousand years ago when he died and rose again. He delivered his elect by his blood and continues to serve them in heaven. There at the right hand of God the Father in heaven, the glorified Christ serves his own as he makes available to them all the merits of his work upon the cross, and that for all eternity.
Moses endures in Midian because by faith he sees the one who is unseen. In doing so, he now knows that he is no longer central. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is central. And so Moses dies, and in dying, he lives. In dying, he lives, and in giving himself over to God, he serves. Pointing forward to the work of Jesus Christ, Moses, the Old Testament mediator, delivers; he serves, and the blessings flow.
Yes, it appears that life is great for Moses in Midian. He is even blessed during his stay there with children. Thus, with the birth of his first son, Moses, in naming his son, has the opportunity to express all that weighed upon his mind while in Midian. In naming his son, Moses has the occasion to reveal the history of his seemingly blessed stay in Midian. Yet he names his firstborn son, Gershom, "stranger there." When it comes to revealing the history and character of his stay in Midian, Moses tells all through the naming of his firstborn son. Moses was a stranger in Midian!
Obviously the question becomes, why this name? Everything seemed to be going Moses' way in Midian, yet to commemorate the occasion he names his son "stranger there." With the naming of his son, Moses reveals his grasp of the biblical hope. He reveals with this name his knowledge that the goal had not been reached in Midian. He reveals with this name that as good as Midian had been to him in certain respects, it was not his final destination. By the grace of God, Moses knows that there must be a further movement for him, and he is a stranger there until that day comes.
The transition for Moses from Egypt to Midian appears most blessed as the respective accounts are matched up, and then v. 22 stops the reader in his tracks. It makes one consider what has happened previously. In fact, it makes
one consider how the story of Moses begins. In a real sense, v. 22 brings one back to the beginning of Exodus 2 while at the same time wrapping things up. Verse 22 takes the reader back to vv. 1-10 where the birth and naming of Moses occurs, but it also sums up the chapter with the birth and naming of Gershom. This means that Exodus 2 begins with the miraculous salvation of one child who is drawn out of the water of death and ends with the naming of the second child by the one who is both delivered and yet a stranger at the same time.
Thus, the history of the people of God short of the consummation is before one's eyes in the story of Moses in Exodus 2. Supernaturally saved from death, the redeemed of the Lord, short of the goal of heavenlike Moses in Midianshort of the goal of the promised land, find themselves both delivered and yet strangers in this sojourn on earth. For Moses in the historical setting of the Old Testament in which he found himself, the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob rested with the deliverance of the people of God into the promised land of Canaan.
Life in Midian therefore, could not be the final goal or resting place. Moses in his exodus to Midian (which precedes the grand Exodus of the people of God from Egypt), knows not to make Midian the final goal. By faith, Moses knows that he and the Old Testament people of God must press on to the day of Christ and his coming. No matter how temporally blessed things might be for Moses in Midian or later for Israel in Canaan, the hope is eschatological. The hope is the coming of Christ, his Kingdom and his glory. To be content to live short of Christ's coming, either his first coming (in the case of Old Covenant believers), or his second coming (in the case of New Covenant believers), is to live in poverty no matter how blessed one's life might seem to be. In fact, if Moses had rested contentedly in Midian, Midian would have become Egypt to him just as Jerusalem becomes Egypt in the day of Christthat place, according to Revelation 11:8, where the Lord is crucified.
Exodus 2 is, in fact, a microcosm of the history and the goal of the people of God in the Old Covenant. Their history and their goal are seen in Moses who goes before them experiencing all things for them. They are to be conformed to Moses as he is conformed to the one who is to come.
Thus, in coming to vv. 23-25, where we are told that Israel has cried out to God, and God has heard their groanings and remembered covenantally to redeem, the implied question becomes: will Israel know not to make the land of Canaan the final goal of their existence? Or, in other words, will Israel's life conform to the life of Moses, the mediator of the Old Covenant, as he finds his life in the promise of the mediator of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ? And will their goal when they reach Canaan be the same as Moses' goal in Midian? Will their goal be to transcend the earthly and reach for the heavenly, because in reaching for the heavenly, they reach for God himself? To the extent that Israel in the Exodus is willing to surrender to God, and to recognize that they are strangers as they wait for the coming of the Messiah even while dwelling in the temporal blessings of the promised land of Canaan, to that extent they glorify the God of their fathers.
These questions apply with equal force to the church of Jesus Christ which finds herself living between the times waiting for the Lord's return and the consummation of all things. The church's hope is not any city in this creation. The church's hope is heavenly as she seeks the fulfillment of the promise of Godthat where the risen Lord dwells bodily, he has prepared a place for her. Like Moses then, the church is eschatologically oriented because of the promise of God. Like Moses, the church's desire for a better place is directed by the covenantal word of God. The church's desire is positive for she seeks that place where God has promised to be with his people. That is the church's hope and it defines the church's journey through this life as she follows after Jesus Christ, that prophet greater than Moses who has preceded his own in the great drama of redemption.
Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Introduction to the Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:1-3; Luke 12:48
Something quite unprecedented is happening in our text. Never has God so clearly, comprehensively and categorically expressed the duties he requires of his covenant people in all the areas of their lives until now. Beginning from this section and continuing through the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, God will set down specific laws and regulations as guidelines for various aspects of Israel's covenant life as citizens of a new theocratic nation; specific laws and regulations concerning their relationship with God as well as specific laws and regulations concerning their relationship with one another and with other nations. Through the law, Israel will know clearly how to worship God, both in public and private arenas; how to build the tabernacle, ordain priests and offer sacrifices; what religious festivals and holidays to celebrate and how to do so; how to deal with one another as fellow citizens through codes of private, socio-political, judicial and religious ethicscodes covering everything that happens between the birth and the death of man both socially and individually.
The laws given at Mount Sinai (what is popularly called the Mosaic laws) are usually divided into three categories: the ceremonial, the civil and the moral. The ceremonial laws are those which are connected with the Old Testament worship at the tabernacle and temple. They include those regulations
concerning all types of animal and grain sacrifices and temple rituals performed by the Levitical priests. The civil laws are those which are particularly connected with the government and maintenance of the theocratic nation that Israel once was. As the civil laws of the theocratic nation of Israel, they were unique and applicable only to Israeldespite many who insist on implementing the ancient Jewish civil laws in modern non-theocratic nations. The uniqueness of these civil laws stems from the fact that Israel was a theocratic nation in which the state and the church were united. Thus we see in the Mosaic laws many penal codes imposing corporal punishments upon "religious" and moral offenses as well as criminal offenses. We also see provisions made for the executive branch of the government to oversee cultic practices and even to initiate religious reforms. Both the priesthood and the imperial court had the Mosaic laws as their common standards.
The third category of the Mosaic law is the moral laws. What distinguishes these from the ceremonial and civil laws (which were temporary in nature) is their permanent and universal application: they are not unique to Israel, but universally applicable to all peoples of all ages. These moral laws, however, must be divided into two categories: there are some which are permanent temporally; there are others which are permanent eternally. The former deal with human relations; the latter deal with man's relationship with God. For example, the commandment to love God and worship him alone is eternally true, abiding and effective, since our relationship with God is eternal. However, the commandments to honor our parents and love our spouses will not be in effect in heaven because those human relationships, being temporary and temporal in nature, will not be present there: we will all be brothers and sisters. And yet we can talk about even these temporal moral laws as being permanent because they remain valid for all people (whether they are Jews or not) so long as this world continues.
However, we must remember a very important fact. The moral, ceremonial and civil laws are not completely separate, unrelated categories of law. As they all come from the same divine Lawgiver, they are all interrelated. And they are interrelated in this way: the ceremonial and civil laws are temporary, situational applications of the eternal moral laws to the specific religious and social context of the theocratic Israel. After all, the ceremonial laws are concerned with our relationship with Godmore specifically, how
we may approach our holy God. Our relationship with God is the central concern also of the moral laws (namely, the first four of the Ten Commandments). Yet, the Mosaic ceremonial laws were temporary in nature because they revolved around the physical temple which was only a type and shadow of the eternal, heavenly temple. This is true for the civil laws as well. The civil laws deal with our relationship with one anotheralso the main concern of the moral laws (namely, the latter six of the Ten Commandments). The Mosaic civil laws were temporary because the context in which they were applied (the theocracy of Israel) was also temporary: the theocratic Israel was also a type/shadow of the eternal kingdom of God.
What must puzzle you at this point is how God's laws can be subject to situations and be only temporarily applicable. This may sound to you very much like situational ethics. However, there is a fundamental difference between situational ethics and what we are talking about. Situational ethics does not believe in any absolute standard for human morality. Each situation calls for a different code of ethics, fully determined by pragmatic concerns of that particular time and situation. What we are talking about, however, is different. We are not talking about changes; we are talking about a progressive revelation of God's law. And this progression we are talking about is not an evolutionary processa gradual process of the formation, maturation and perfection of ethical codes and principles through trial and error. The progression we are talking about is of an organic naturelike a butterfly going through different stages of organic growthgoing through the egg, the caterpillar and the larval stages to finally become a beautiful butterfly. In each ensuing stage, the preceding manifestation of life is replaced by the new through a wondrous metamorphosis. However, through all the different stages and forms, the essence of the butterfly remains the same. Such is the nature of the progressive revelation of God's law in redemptive history. The eternal law of God is given to his people in different organic stages. Even the displacement or replacement of certain portions of the law (such as the ceremonial laws) does not indicate any change in the fundamental principles. This is so because the law of God is not merely a code of ethics arbitrarily devised by God just for man. The law of God is more importantly God's own self-expression of his holy character given in the form of commandments to his covenant people. As such, the law of God, though given in a progressive manner, is firmly
anchored in the absolute, eternal holiness of the unchangeable, immutable God. As God cannot change in his holiness, neither can the eternal principles from which God's commandments come. And these eternal, immutable principles, emanating from God's holy character, manifest themselves progressively throughout redemptive history. We can say then that the nature of this progression in the revelation of God's law does not consist in any change in essence and principle, but in the increasing clarity of expression and the heightening demand of obedience.
Why such a progression in the first place? you might ask. Why didn't God give us his eternal law from the very beginning? This is a legitimate and important question. This question can be answered only when we reaffirm the law as a divine self-expression of God's holy character. We realize that the full, unrestrained self-expression of God's holiness was impossible in the fallen world, without destroying sinful humanity. We all know too well the destructive power of God's holiness in relation to sinful man. Many, who encountered the theophany of God throughout redemptive history, cried out with fear and despair, "Woe is me, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" Due to this total incompatibility between God's holiness and man's sinfulness, the divine self-revelation of his holiness had to be keeping in step with his redemptive work. And the divine redemptive program was progressive in natureto go through the process of promise and fulfillmentthe typological fulfillment first and then the real fulfillment in the end. Thus, the self-revelation of God and his holiness through the law had to come in a progressive manner. There is indeed an intimate and directly proportional relationship between the law of God and the redemptive work of God. The degree and extent of the revelation of God's holiness through the law is directly proportional to the quality and magnitude of God's redeeming work.
Therefore, we are not surprised to find this relationship at work at the beginning of the Ten Commandments. In v. 2, we have what we call the preamble to the Mosaic law: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." This preamble provides the historical background and the theological rationale for the giving of the law and for the obedience required of God's people.
Notice, first of all, the redemptive-historical character of this preamble. The Lord declares that he redeemed Israel by bringing her out of the bondage in Egypt. God is asserting his rightful authority to be obeyed by his people as their Redeemer-Lord. Second, notice the causal relationship between God's redeeming work and the giving of the law: it is because the Lord redeemed Israel that she must obey the commandments. Even at the inauguration of the Mosaic covenant, it is made clear that redemption is given freely by God's grace and not by man's own meritorious works. Israel was to keep the commandments because she was already delivered by God, not in order to be redeemed by God.
In the light of this causal relationship between God's redeeming work (the cause) and the giving of the law (the consequence), we may assert that such a clear, comprehensive elucidation of God's will for his people (given through the law) was possible only because of the great redemption which God accomplished in the exodus of Israel. The validity of this claim is not difficult to see. The law had always been present in God's covenantal dealing with maneven in the garden of Eden. There, the cultural mandate to populate the earth and rule over other creatures was given. Also, a prohibition concerning the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was decreed. Although in the garden of Eden before the fall, God's redemption from sin (per se) was not necessary as a provision for the giving of the law, the "law" and its sanctions were given in the garden in accordance with the sinless condition in(to) which God created man.
We also know from God's words to Abram that a certain moral standard was imposed on him (even before the giving of the law at Mount Sinai): "I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless" (Gen. 17:1). Though God's specific act of redemption is not clearly stated here, we know from the context that God's demand for Abram to walk before God in a blameless manner was indeed based upon his act of redemptioncalling Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans. Yet God's redemption for Abramthe fulfillment of God's promiseswas limited, though a son was given in his late age. Abram did not come into the possession of the land in his life time; Abram did not see his descendants become as many as the stars in the sky; Abram did not see all the families of the earth being blessed because of him. This limited fulfillment of
God's redemption in his life was the very reason why Abram received a version of the law which was sketchy at best, falling far short of the comprehensiveness of the law given at Mount Sinai. The Israel at Mount Sinai, on the other hand, experienced a far greater redemption of God: their number became as many as the stars in the heavens; they were delivered out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt by God's great and mighty power; they were about to receive the promised land as their inheritance, etc. Through God's redemption, the conditions necessary and conducive for a higher level of spiritual living were created; accordingly, a higher and greater demand for covenant obedience is placed upon the redeemed people of God through the fuller revelation of God's law.
Thus, the law begins with a clear affirmation of God's great and mighty work of redemption: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." The Lord through the preamble declares that the conditions for the next stage of redemptive history have been prepared by his redemption. Then he proceeds with the giving of the law, starting with the first commandment. We may paraphrase the beginning of the Ten Commandments in this way: "Because I have brought you out of the Egyptian bondage, you shall have no other gods before Me."
However, it is precisely this inseparable connection between God's redemption and the self-revelation of God's holiness through the law, which makes the Mosaic law far from being a complete expression of the holy standard of God. Here, we are not only referring to the imperfections and limitations of the ceremonial and civil laws, but also of the moral laws represented by the Ten Commandments. The exodus of Israel from Egypt was not the ultimate, full redemption of God for his people. The ultimate salvation could not be just an external liberation from physical bondage, as the exodus of Israel was in the Old Testament. The ultimate salvation had to deal with the inner, spiritual corruption of man. For the external, political bondage to which Israel was subject, both in Egypt and later in the promised land as well, was only a physical indication of the inner, spiritual bondage to sin and death. Indeed, Israel's bondage to sin was the very cause of all their miseries. Unless this problem of sin was fully dealt with, man could never experience the true redemption. And this ultimate redemption was what was in God's mind from
the very beginning. All of the redemptive acts of God in the Old Testament, with all of their externality and attending limitations, pointed to the ultimate, perfect salvation to be brought to God's people in the fullness of time. Therefore, the Mosaic law, connected with the imperfect, merely typological salvation of Israel from Egypt, could not be a full expression of God's holiness and of his holy demand from his people. The full expression of God's holiness had to wait until the fullness of time when God's full redemption of his people was accomplished.
Many hundreds of years later, Paul triumphantly declared in Romans 8:3-4, "What the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." In the atoning death of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, the requirement of the law was fulfilled for us. And we know that the requirement of the law, which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, goes far beyond the requirement imposed by the Mosaic law. All that the Mosaic law requires for the forgiveness of our sin is the sacrifices of bulls and goats. This should have been a clear indication of the terrible limitation of the Mosaic law. For the atoning death of Jesus Christ clearly tells us that our sins require something far greater than mere sacrifices of animals. Doesn't the sacrifice of Jesus ChristGod of God, Light of Light, very God of very Godshow us what the ultimate law of God requires for the forgiveness of our sins? Did Jesus himself not say that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it? He meant more than meeting the requirements of the Mosaic law. In Jesus Christ, the full expression of the law of God in all of its holiness was givenfar beyond the Mosaic law. Isn't it clear that the Sermon on the Mount outshines the Mosaic law in its surpassing righteousness? Isn't it clear that Jesus on that mountain is the One who is far greater than Moses at Mount Sinai? Consequently, what Jesus had to deal with was not the demands of the Mosaic law. He had to deal with what the Mosaic law was a faint reflection ofthe absolute standard of Godwithout any compromise or diminution.
That is why the true nature of our sin in all of its ugliness and repulsiveness could not be exposed until the death of Jesus Christ. The first function of
the law is to bring in the knowledge of sin. Yet, the knowledge of sin brought out by the Mosaic law was not complete. It gave an impression that all that was required for the atonement of our sins was animal sacrifices. However, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross showed that sin, being an offense against an infinitely holy God, is a crime deserving an infinite, eternal damnation. No blood of bulls and goatsthough they may be thousands and tens of thousands in numbercan atone for our sins. Not even myriads of angels with their deaths could pay for a single sin of ours, for they are finite beings and as such insufficient payment for our infinite sin. Nothing less than the blood of Jesus Christ, the infinite God himself, can pay for our infinite sins.
On the other hand, we must understand that the death of Jesus Christ acquired the full remission of our sins. None of the judgments of God in the Old Testamentas terrible as they might have beenwere ever a full expression of God's wrath. That means that there could not have been a full remission of sins in the Old Testament. (This doesn't mean that no one in the Old Testament was saved. Though they were not saved by the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, they were saved through their faith in the coming Messiah, represented in the sacrificial system.) For the divine justice requires the full punishment of our sins for their perfect forgiveness. The horrible death that the generation of Noah died in the flood was not a sufficient punishment for their sin against the infinite God; the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone from heaven was not even close to the full punishment which they deserved from God. Those who perished under the sword of Joshua still have to undergo the eternal punishment of God in hell. The full wrath of God was never unleashed in the Old Testament because the full release of God's wrath would have burned up the whole universe in its consuming fire. This full wrath of God is reserved for the time of the final judgment and eternal damnation in hell. But we know that this full wrath of God against the sins of his people was fully unleashed upon Jesus Christ hanging on the cross. What made Jesus pray at the garden of Gethsemane that the cup be passed from him was not the physical pain of crucifixionas excruciatingly painful as it might have been. He knew full well that, for the first time in eternity, God the Father would look upon him with eternal wrath and pour out on him all that the heinous sins of his people deserved! All of God's righteous wrath against the sins of his people would be concentrated upon this Lamb of
God and Christ would experience, while he hung upon that cross, all the damnation of eternal hell!
In Jesus Christ, the full redemption could be accomplished because the full wrath of God was unleashed and satisfied in the once-for-all sacrifice of the eternal Son of God. How does this affect the law? Did Christ's redemption abolish the law? Of course not! We know that the ceremonial laws were fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ; as we come, not bringing bulls and goats but fully trusting in the all-sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, the ceremonial laws are fulfilled. We also know that the civil laws administered through the power of the sword are replaced with the laws of church discipline administered by the moral, spiritual authority of the church. But then, what about the moral law?
The Sermon on the Mount shows clearly what is demanded of those who received their salvation in Jesus Christ. And there we find that far greater is God's demand for New Testament believers than for Old Testament believers. The reason is very simple: the greater the grace, the greater the demand. Because God's grace abounded to the fullest in Jesus Christ, God's demand for holiness from his people becomes perfect as well. Jesus himself said in Luke 12:48, "And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more." This must be understood in terms of redemptive-historical progression, not just in terms of individual gifts. No matter what your individual spiritual gifts may be, all the believers of the New Testament have been given much much more than the believers of the Old Testamentbecause of Jesus Christ. All of you are to live in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called: to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
There is a radical reversal in Jesus Christ, however. First of all, a higher demand of holiness does not come any more through a greater volume of commandments. Our life is no longer to be tied up in the web of rules and regulations. Christ told his disciples in John 15:15, "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father, I have made known to you." We can no longer mindlessly follow the commandments out of fear; now we are called to understand the very heart of God and live in
union with him and his will. This, of course, does not mean that we do away with the law. The law provides for us a framework and boundaries so that we do not become antinomians and heretics. (The antinomians would say that, as long as they have good motives and sincerity, whatever they do for God is good and acceptable. Not so! Our sincerity is not enough unless what we do out of sincerity of our love for God is also according to God's own way prescribed for us in the law. The law provides the boundaries for our actions.) However, when Christ calls us friends, he is calling us to a relationship of love and understanding which no law can express perfectly nor do full justice. A slave does what is required of himno more nor less. That is why clearer and more detailed directions need to be given to insure that the assigned task be properly executed. A friend motivated by love and understanding, on the other hand, will use all that is at his disposal to bring pleasure and delight to his friend beyond what is required of him. In the same way, if we love our Lord, we will obey his commandmentsthis is the least we would do for the Lord whom we love dearly. However, to love the Lord is more than just obeying his commandmentsthat is what slaves do. We go an extra mile to fulfill the spirit of the law.
Second, the demand was already perfectly met in Jesus Christ through his perfect righteousness. The death of Jesus Christ did not just bring us back to the garden of Eden for a second chance. Through faith, we have been brought into a union with Jesus Christ. We now live by the very resurrection power of Jesus Christto die to sin and to live to God. In Jesus Christ, God's promise given through Ezekiel is fulfilled: "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes." (Ezk. 36:27). The difference of the new covenant from the old is not the absence of the holy demand from God, but the presence of God's effectual help for you to walk in the lawGod's effectual and gracious help in Jesus Christ (in his perfect righteousness) and in addition through the Holy Spirit (for our sanctification).
However, we must remember that the law itself has been perfected in Jesus Christ. The Ten Commandments, given in the context of the theocratic Israel, could not fully express the law of God. For there is an inseparable relationship between the law and the environment in which the law must be executed. The law of God could be given its full expression only with the inauguration of the true, heavenly kingdom of
God. This kingdom is the kingdom of God's beloved Son, Jesus Christ (Col. 1:13). That is why the true meaning and the full extent of the Ten Commandments can be seen only in and through Jesus Christ. This is exactly what Paul meant in 2 Corinthians 3:15-16 when he said, "But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away." Apart from Jesus Christ, the Ten Commandments can no longer stand as some kind of independent, absolute moral standard: without Christ, there can be no true understanding of the Ten Commandments; neither can there be true obedience without Christ. That means that even the most pious Jews cannot obey the Ten Commandments. Here, we are not just talking about their inability to perfectly obey the commandments. No one can. But the Jews, to whom the Ten Commandments were originally given, cannot even begin to obey them. As a matter of fact, their very (genuine) efforts to keep the commandments result in sin. We know this to be true with regard to their sacrificial system: offering any cultic sacrifices would be a downright rejection of the all-sufficiency of Christ's atoning sacrifice. But this is true even in the moral law. Take the first commandment, for example. The monotheistic faith of the Jews in YHWH is now terribly deficient. No one can come to the Father except through the Son (Jn. 14:6) because the full revelation of God came through Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:2). It is impossible to observe the first commandment without knowing God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. To continue to worship YHWH without acknowledging Jesus Christ is nothing less than idolatry.
Brothers and sisters, let us rejoice that the kingdom of God has dawned upon us. And in and through Jesus Christ, we have been brought into the kingdom of God to receive all the riches of our heavenly inheritance. That means that we have been given a call to holy living, worthy of being citizens of the heavenly kingdom of God's beloved Son. God's high calling is a testimony to the great redemption accomplished in Jesus Christ, which makes our obedience possible and real. So we may compose a new preamble for the new covenant.
"I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the bondage of sin and death. `Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members
as instruments of righteousness to God . . . . Present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship'" (Rom. 6:12-13; 12:1).
New Life Mission Church, Presbyterian Church in America
La Jolla, California
Enveloped By God
In 1922, Geerhardus Vos, Professor of Biblical Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey, published six of the sermons which he had preached in the chapel of the seminary, in a volume entitled Grace and Glory. That volume contained, arguably, one of the greatest sermons ever written"Rabboni"an Easter message on the garden encounter between Mary Magdalene and her risen Lord as recorded in John chapter 20. When republished in 1994, in an edition with ten additional sermons, Grace and Glory, as in the first edition of 1922, began with a sermon on Hosea 14:8 entitled "The Wonderful Tree." What could one say on this passage that Vos has not already said? Would it not be a virtual sacrilege to suggest that there is more in Hosea's remarks than Vos drew out? Would it not be the height of presumption to revisit this text? Well, perhaps, fools do rush in . . . . An old pastor once said, "God hath yet more light to break forth out of his Word." Neither Geerhardus Vos nor Jim Dennison will have the last word 'til he comes'til the eschatological prophet comes again.
Hosea's dramatic prophecy is set against the chaos in Israel, northern kingdom of the Palestinian dualism, in the second half of the 8th century B.C.from about 750 to 722 B.C. You will recall that the united kingdom of David and Solomon was divided north and south by Solomon's recalcitrant son, Rehoboam. The dual kingdoms had dual kings, dual capitals (Jerusalem
and Samaria), dual cult or worship centers (the temple on Mt. Zion, two golden calfs at Bethel and Dan), dual names: the northern kingdom was called Israel or Ephraim; the southern kingdom was denominated Judah. The history of the northern kingdom of Israel was a dreary catalogue of sin and iniquity. Baalismfertility worship or the worship of sex via sacred prostitutes (what Hugh Hefner and Bob Guccione, among other pornographers, have offered our enlightened culture). Political treacheryin the space of some thirty years, Hosea witnessed the rise and fall of no less than six kings, four of whom came to the throne by assassinating their predecessor: Shallum assassinated Zechariah; Menahem assassinated Shallum; Pekah assassinated Pekahiah (Menahem's son); and Hoshea, the last king of the northern kingdom of Israel, assassinated Pekah (the record of this blood lust is found in 2 Kgs. 15). The 20th century has not advanced much beyond this murderous agendaStalin, Mao-Tse-tung, Idi Amin, Pol PotBosnians, Arabs, Rwandanspolitics at the point of a gunpower through terror and bloodshed (read Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Robert Conquest, historians of the Red Guard, biographies of survivors of South East Asia's killing fieldsand in the last two years, read your newspaperwe are living in the bloodiest century in human history).
Hosea's 8th century B.C. Israel was obsessed with foreign policy intrigues. As the northern kingdom sought to perpetuate her life-style and standard of living, she became squeezed between the two superpowers: Egypt and Assyria. So Israel's State Department played the one off against the otherEgypt versus Assyria, Assyria versus Egypt. But by her duplicitous foreign policy, Israel only succeeded in getting herself invadedby the Egyptians and the Assyrians. Nations are still being duped by other nations at foreign policy conference tablestwenty-eight centuries after Hosea, nations still have not learned that their word is their bond. Hosea's 8th century B.C. Israel was a nation rampant with social injustice. Oppression of the powerless was commonplace; courts of justice were suborned by bribery; religious leaders were self-promoters of the good lifethe good life of pleasure, power, prestige. As we approach the 3rd millennium, the powerless are still oppressed; the courts seem not to recognize justice; and the religious guruseven Reformed religious gurusare promoting themselves, they are not building up the body of Christ which is his church. Hosea's 8th century B.C. Israel was an era flooded with the sewage of vile debaucheryharlotry (Hosea's favorite word), ille-
gitimacy, robbery, lewdness, insolence, idolatrythe list is an endless encyclopedia of depravity, perversity, debauchery. The decadence of our own culture has left us numb, our hearts and minds reeling at what newspapers and newsweeklies describe routinely. As one magazine described it, we are witnessing the descent of man. Actually we are witnessing the open heart and hand of human depravity increasingly unrestrained by natural or revealed law.
Hosea's dreary catalogue of Israel's sins produces a litany of divine judgment. Thus saith the Lord, says Hosea, I have instituted divorce proceedings against this nation; a covenanted lawsuit of divorce has been filed by Godlo-ammi (not my people). Monarchical assassination and bloodshed is judged by reciprocal counter-assassination; the lex talionis (law of just retribution) is applied by God to political assassinsthey are assassinated in return. Foreign exploitation is the fruit of foreign footsyGod vows to bring the very powers down upon Israel that Israel has been duping at the conference table. Social decline brings social collapsethe society which has become essentially lawless is the society which God destroys by the sword of Assyria. And the debauchery, demoralization in turn on the general premisewhat debauchery goes around is the debauchery that comes around.
The climax of this downgrade of divine judgment was the conquest and destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians, together with the simultaneous deportation and absorption of the ten tribes in 722 B.C. "O Israel, you have played the harlot, you will not remain in the Lord's land" (Hosea 9:1, 3). "Yet a little while and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel." (Hos. 1:4). "Ephraim mixes himself with the nations, strangers devour his strength, like a silly dove they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria, woe to them destruction is theirs for they have rebelled against me" (Hos. 7:8-13). "There is no faithfulness in the land: there is swearing, deception, murder, stealing, adulterybloodshed touches bloodshed" (Hos. 4:1, 2). "O Israel, your harlotry is before your face, your adultery between your breasts, you have loved harlots wages. I will uncover your lewdness in the sight of your loversI will strip you naked and lay you bare as the day you were born" (Hosea, passim).
And thus the covenant Lord becomes the instrument of the covenant curse. I will punish the house of Israel. I will not have compassion; I am not your God. I will remember your iniquity. I will punish your sins. The eternal first personthe eternal first person personal pronoun: III will judge. The divine retributionyour sins will be punished; and the fury of this wrath is expressed in similes of vengeance. Now a simile is a way to liken a thing to something similarit is used in all types of literature. Here are God's similes of vengeance revealing the eternal first person and his terror as recorded in Hosea 13:7,8: "I will be like a lion to them, like a leopard, I will lie in wait. I will meet them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will devour them like a lioness." God becomes like a raging beast embodying his vengeance in the reversal of the harmony which existed between man and the beasts in the garden. Even as man's fall alienated the wild animals, so God, as it were, incarnates his enmity against sin like a wild beast. But Hosea is not through with his similesthe similes of condemnation (God as a wild animal) reciprocally yield similes of consequence; that is, here are the results of God's furious judgment in simile (form). Israel is like the morning cloud. Israel is like the dew which soon disappears. Israel is like the chaff which is blown from the threshing floor. Israel is like smoke from a chimney (Hos. 13:3). Similes of judgment reciprocated by similes of being judged. Transcendent equity reciprocated by transient mutability.
The arena of the prophet's vision is obsessed with the eternal Ithe eternal I in his vindictive fury and the evanescencethe disappearance of the nationthe eternal I and passing away of Israel in God's wrath.
But in chapter 14, verses 4-8, a marvellous changea marvellous reversal has transformed the obsession of the prophet. The eternal Ifirst person, personal pronounthe eternal I now will heal, now will love, now will be a benediction, not a malediction to his people (ammi, no longer lo-ammi; ruhammah, no longer lo-ruhammah). And as the face of the everlasting I AM has been turned in grace and mercy toward his people, even so there is a reversal in similes: "I will be like the dew" (v. 5); "I will be like a luxuriant cypress" (v. 8). No longerI will be like the dew which goes away earlylike Southern California's summertime night and morning low clouds vaporized by 90 to 100 degree desert sun. No longer, says the Lord, will I be like the
dew which burns off, but now, says the Lord, I will be like the dew which hangs on the lilyI will be like the dew which clings to the cedarsI will be like the dew which cleaves to the olive treeI will be like the dew which sticks to the vine. In Hosea 14, verse 5, God says I will be like the dew which drenches the garden of God like a mist rising up from the ground to water the whole face of the earth. No longer, the simileI will be like the desert, like the arid wilderness; but now, God says, I will be like a verdant paradisea lusk microcosm of beauty and fruitfulness and sweet fragrances and delicious tastes.
This eschatological reversal in Hosea 14 is a protological recapitulation superimposed upon the land of milk and honey. Let me unpack that statement: Hosea forsees a reversal of judgment by salvation in the futurethe eschatological age to come, but he describes the future reversal by looking back to the beginningthe protological age that once was; and he does this eschatological-protological reversal from the viewpoint of the promised land. Now, in Hosea's day, languishing under the curse of human iniquity and nature's groaning travail, the promised land becomes a paradigman exampleof a garden paradisean eschatological garden of Eden. In fact, this land of milk and honey blighted by the curse is to become a veritable heavenly land when transformed by the divine initiative. Note carefully the triplicate I will, I will, I will (verses 4 and 5)they are a triune affirmation that only God can!Only God can transform the land, the nation, the people, the curse. Hosea 14:4, 5 affirm there will be no remission of the curse unless God acts to take away the curse. Hosea 14:4, 5 are a revelation that there will be no heavenly gardenthere will be no eschatological gardenunless God ordains it. Hosea has shut up the eschatological Israel of God to the divine initiativedivine monergism in which God alone worksa monergistic initiative with a wondrous assurance: I will heal your iniquities; I will love you freely; I will bring you in to my very own paradise garden.
And when, by his monergistic grace, you come into this garden, you, even you, will blossom like the lily, lovely before him who has planted you, beautiful to his eye who has shaped youyou who are now yearning, bursting, maturing before the face of this eternal gardener who has tended and nurtured you. When, by his electing grace, you come into his garden, you, even you, will take root like the cedars of Lebanondeeply twined roots
embedded in the eschatological gardenroots permanent, immovable, anchored deep in the heart of Godroots displaying the glory like the glory of Lebanonher mountain-crowning cedars, verdant, fragrant, evergreen, a sweet-smelling savor. When, by his predestinating grace, you come into his garden, you, even you, will sprout like the splendor of the olive treeperennially fruitful year after year after year. When, by his foreordaining grace, you come into his garden, you, even you, will dwell under his shadow; he will stretch forth his canopy over you so that under the shadow of his free love, under the cover of his healing grace, you will not wither, nor shall you ever be blown away like the chaff. When, by his all-sufficient grace, you come into his garden, you, even you, will blossom like the vine, like the wine of Lebanonlush, sweet in his presencethis eschatological gardener who has made you like the sweet wine of Lebanon.
But there can be no reversal without an instrument. There can be no covenant restoration without one to bind the covenant to himself. There can be no eschatological garden paradise without an eschatological Adama second Adama man from heaven. This lovely portrait of Hosea repeats so much of the imagery in the history of redemption looking backwardsthe history of redemption retrospectively looking backwards to the land of Canaan, a land of milk and honey like the garden of Godthe Edenic paradise. You see, Hosea ends where Genesis beginsin a garden. But the vision from Hosea looking back to the original garden must not forget that Hosea is not the last word from God about his garden. Hosea's garden in chapter 14 is succeeded and superseded by another gardena garden in front of himprospectively projected into the future to appear in Revelation 21 and 22. With the whole Bible, we have the whole story. What a man lost in a garden is now restored by a God-man in a garden. The garden returns because the Lord of the garden opens the way to its lush trees, its delicious fruits, its fragrant aromasthe eschatological Lord of the garden opens the way to the heavenly, paradisiacal, Edenic garden of God. And it is that gardenthat heavenly garden which intrudes itself into the prophetic vision of Hosea 14:4-8. More than typology, the heavenly garden of God intrudes itself into the 8th century B.C. and under the images and similes of that era in the history of redemption, that heavenly garden embodies itselfincarnates itself through the land. But this
land is more than Canaanthis land is more than Lebanonthis land is more than the earth; this land is the eternal land of the eternal I, first person personal pronoun. The I who in these last days has revealed himself in the flesh as the I AM. Only this OneGod in the fleshis able to possess the gardento go through the flame and under the knife so that youyoumay have free access to the tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nationsJew and Gentile alike.
Hosea's garden is more than he knew, but his vision is an invitation to you to possess the heavenly arena as you possess the heavenly gardener; nay, as you are possessed by the eschatological gardener.
I conclude with a comment on the structure of our passage Hosea 14:4-8. Glance again at v. 5"I will be like the dew," says the Lord; and now down at v. 8"I am like a luxuriant cypress." In literary terms, we call this an inclusio. An inclusio begins and ends a text in similar fashion. Here we have the same first person personal pronoun followed by a simile from the world of nature. At the end of the book of Hosea, God himself becomes the similelike the boards or the cover of a book, God himself becomes the bindingthe bracket to this garden prophecy. God himself the inclusioGod himself bracketing his gardenGod himself enveloping his IsraelGod himself enfolding an Israel of God which is like a lush garden, a milk-and-honey land, an Eden-paradise.
You who love him, you who have been healed of your sins by himyouyou are enveloped by God himself. And hehehe has made you like a beautiful garden in his presence. Through Jesus Christ, you are the Israel of Godthrough Jesus Christ, you are the garden of God; through Jesus Christ, you are the fruitful vine, fragrant blossoms, luxuriant cedars of this present age. May you revel in his free lovethis one who brackets your whole beingthis one who enfolds you, surrounds you, includes you in his eschatological garden.