Free Associating Scripture: Name As Protection And Gift

hebrew textToday I read Psalm 54 and the first verse (after the introduction about David) struck me as odd:

O God, save me by your name,
and vindicate me by your might.

I can’t help wonder if this is related to the Aaronic benediction:

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

Was David intending to remind God that he bore His Name? Was he appealing to that fact as a basis for his protection?

Trinity House » What Advantage the Jew? (My notes for a sermon on Romans 3.1-8)

1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.

A lot of people speculate here about what kind of advantage Paul is talking about, or what kind of value he sees in circumcision. Basically, most people read this passage as saying that the Jews had the opportunity to be saved, if they would believe those oracles or put their faith in God and not their own flesh, as circumcision called them to do.

It would be great if I thought that was Paul’s intention because then I could preach for all of you to do the same with your baptisms. Jews would stand here merely for members of the visible Church before Christ. We could all easily apply this to ourselves.

But it’s not so easy. Paul speaks of these oracles of God earlier and he speaks of circumcision later. Let’s look at what Paul singles out in those other passages and then see whether that helps us here.

When Paul later talks about circumcision as the covenant God made with Abraham, he singles out that it is a covenant that calls and promises Abraham that he will be the father of many nations.

Read the rest: Trinity House » What Advantage the Jew?.

We read “spiritual metaphor” when we should recognize sacrament

cuploafbookHere is one example among many:

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.

When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”

These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

via Psalms 42-43 –

What is David thirsting for? Try this from Deuteronomy 14:

You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you

This was one of the festivals at God’s sanctuary. David thirsted for God because he remembered the good taste.

Thumbnail sketch of Romans 1-12

apostle paulRomans 1.1-15: Introduction

Romans 1.16-5.11

God’s righteousness is revealed in the Gospel because God’s wrath is revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus so that Jew and Gentile alike can enter resurrection life–moving from grace to greater grace.

Romans 5.12-8

Part 1: Romans 5.12-6.23

Thus, grace will far exceed past curse, but Law came to increase sin so that wrath would be built up in Israel and Jesus could conquer all sin and bring resurrection life. This will happen in our own bodies as we go from obedience to more obedience.

Part 2: Romans 7.1-8.39

Thus, Jesus death and resurrection not only frees us from sin but from the Law that was powerless to save us under the power of sin. OT Israel was stuck in covenant unfaithfulness until Jesus came and did what the law was not able to do. Now his resurrection provides us with life even in our sufferings.

Romans 9-11

Thus, Israel’s sin served the purpose of God in showing God’s wrath and making his power known in the death of Jesus, so now all who believe, Jew and Gentile, may be saved. In fact, the Gentiles must not be arrogant but realize that just as Jewish disobedience brought them salvation, not Gentiles must obey to bring the Jews to salvation.

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now5 receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counselor?”

35 “Or who has given a gift to him

that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.


How to come to understand the Bible

hebrew textThe way we normally read the Bible is the way we read any book–or at least any book that is translated into our language and comes to us from another time and place. It isn’t that special an activity. I’ve heard a story about a pastor reading an English translation of a “New Testament’ passage of Scripture. A member of the congregation asked what that passage “meant in the Greek.” So the pastor re-read the English translation. It often is that simple.

But from time to time questions arise and Evangelical readers want to “figure out” what the text means. Sometimes these questions aren’t helped by a commentary–maybe that is even often the case. When I say they are “not helped” I am not referring to mistakes and errors in commentaries. Even when the commentary contains truthful information, it doesn’t really help the reader fully understand anything. To do that, he needs be reading many other parts of the Bible and think it all through. The commentary functions as a shorthand hint at the answer but it can’t really enable the reader to grasp the answer.

My advice for you is that you consider your quest for Scriptural understanding somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle.

  1. Don’t let anyone else assemble your puzzle for you. If the only object was to  see the picture at the end of the process, this might be fine. But the actual challenge is that the Bible contains many such puzzles and, taking shortcuts can often lead to more shortcuts. You can get help from people, but they need to work in such a way that they solve the puzzle with you rather than for you. That way you will become better at solving them for yourself and truly understanding Scripture.
  2. Keep the puzzle around. A jigsaw puzzle typically has a place of its own and people work on it bit by bit. If you are going to only allow the puzzle out of its box for a few hours, then you aren’t going to solve anything.
  3. Work what you can and when you can but take breaks. Once you have committed to keeping your questions “on the table” for a long period of time, you can afford to alternate between bouts of concentrated effort and relaxed non-attention. You never know when you might get a flash of insight that pulls it all together. Newton supposedly “discovered” gravity when he was sitting under an apple tree and an apple hit his head. I suspect, however, that he had been thinking about the issue before. Many other heads have been hit by apples without the victim revolutionizing physics.
  4. Never leave pieces in the box. Don’t settle for “the picture” when you know there is data you haven’t accounted for yet. One of the real problems with continuous passage by passage, week by week, preaching through a book of the Bible is that people can assume they now “know” the book when, in fact, they actually have no idea how the book works as a whole. By separating out passages for focused attention, it is easy to miss mistakes.
  5. Never force pieces together. Don’t be satisfied by shoving a piece into a hole you know it doesn’t fit.

Coming to understand the Bible is really a lot like any kind of productive thinking. In fact I got that Newton analogy from chapter 4 of  Henry Hazlitt’s Thinking As A Science.

Faith or Faithfulness in Habakkuk 2.4?

jesus-paulHabakkuk 2.4 is the verse from the Minor Prophets made famous by the Apostle Paul:

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.

But there is a footnote next to the word, “faith” in the ESV, which states an alternative translation would be “faithfulness.”

Which is it? In many contexts faith and faithfulness do not need to be opposed to one another. There are many places in the Bible, for example, where members of God’s covenant people are called to continue to trust in the Lord without wavering rather than lose faith in Him and turn to other gods or other lords. So trusting in the true God is also faithfulness to his covenant.

That fact is probably related to the reason why the word can go either way in Hebrew and Greek.

But there are other contexts where something totally different might be going on. “Faithfulness” can have moralistic overtones. I can have two employees, both of whom I regard as my friends, but one might be much more diligent in showing up to work on time, or not skipping work, or doing above and beyond the minimum expectations. The latter one might impress me as the more “faithful” worker.

So what about Habakkuk 2.4? How should it be translated.

I think the context demands we prefer “faith” to “faithfulness.” The issue in Habakkuk is whether or not God can be trusted to deal with evil when he seems to be doing so by bringing about more evil. Is God trustworthy?

God’s statement is that those who trust in Him, despite the questions they have and the tribulations they undergo, are the ones he regarded as righteous. Thus, Habakkuk ends with one of Scripture’s most beautiful calls to faith:

I hear, and my body trembles;
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

Facing the Future With Paul’s Letter to the Romans

apostle paulIf you want a generic gospel presentation written out in what Christians in North America today might call ‘doctrinal form,” you would probably be best served by Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It presents human salvation through the work of Christ and the action of the Spirit in a thorough and direct way.

But if you are thinking about history and the future and how you should work toward it, then the most important book in the Bible is probably Paul’s letter to the Romans.


While Paul’s message overlaps with Ephesians, naturally, Romans concentrates on the Great Commission and they course of history. A few observations:


  • Romans begins and ends with the Great Commission (“the obedience of faith” 1.5; 16.26; note also 15.18).
  • Romans shows a spiral downward into apostasy and death in history (1.18-3.20; 5.12-21; 7.7-24; 9.1-22) which, surprisingly, provided the opportunity for God, in Christ, to condemn sin and vindicate (justify) all who believe in Jesus (3.21-26; 5.6-11, 16, 20, 21; 7.25-8.8; 9.22ff).
  • Romans shows how intensifying sin was so important to God’s plan to save us, that he gave the Law to Israel for just that purpose–to intensify sin (Romans 3.19, 20; 4.15; 5.20; 7.9-11).
  • Romans directly takes on the accusations made against God’s character for using Israel in this way (1.16; 3.1-8; 6.1; 9.19-23).
  • Romans assures us that the life and grace and salvation that is to spread and rule the world after the death and resurrection of Christ must far surpass and overwhelm the sin and death that Adam brought into the world by his sin (Romans 5.12-22).
  • Romans promises that God will bring this about by breaking the cycle of sin leading to more and worse sin (Romans 1.18-32; 6.19) and replacing it with the work of the Spirit to bring us from new obedience to more new obedience (Romans 5.1-11; 6.1-23; 8.1-39).
  • Romans shows us that God’s promise that his grace will triumph over and conquer sin in the world (Romans 5.20, 21) is meant to be carried out by each Christian in his own body conquering his own body parts (6.1-23).


To recap then, Romans is a book about past and future history, promising that as the world was marred by Adam’s sin, it will be more than fixed by Christ’s obedience for for and in us. Christ’s kingdom on future Earth will far outshine Adam’s slavery in the past.

via Facing the Future With Paul’s Letter to the Romans | 2k+.

From Romans 3 to 4, the Passover connection and transition

apostle paulPaul writes in Romans 4.

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his reward is not counted as a gift but as his due.

Paul, as N. T. Wright has argued is probably not referring to abstract wages, but to the specific reward in Genesis 15 to which he refers as he writes of Abraham

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

Both Abra[ha]m and YHWH understand this reward to be an inheritance in people and land. Thus Paul argues this reward includes the “cosmos” and a people who are both his own descendents in the covenant of circumcision and all the uncircumcised believers in all the nations (“Gentiles”).

Paul is then arguing that the inheritance that Abraham was promised was not earned but rather inherited by trusting God’s promise.

This raises the further possibility that Paul is arguing that the promise to Abraham has now come true in Christ. That certainly seems to be how Romans chapter 4 concludes:

But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

But this might be also the way Romans 4 is introduced. Consider how Genesis 15 reads. God spells out to Abraham how his seed will come to inherit the promised land:

Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.”

This predicts and communicates to later readers the entire Passover story, with the displayed blood on the doorway turning away the destroyer so that Israel could be redeemed from Egypt.

And this is precisely what Paul has already alluded to at the end or Romans 3:

For there is no distinction: for fall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified hby is grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood through faithfulness.

I don’t think Paul could write those words without intending to remind us of the Passover night and the Exodus when Israel, along with a multitude of believing Egyptians left the house of bondage.