Psychology and Theology: Part 1

At least three things cause tension between Theology and Psychology, today I want to explore two:

1) Psychology and subjectivity.

Psychology[i] is a soft science. It is susceptible to philosophical influences because the target of its study is immaterial (the human mind). Even the most secular materialistic psychologists acknowledge that the object if there is such a thing, of study in psychology, is abstract.

Still, psychology finds legitimacy in studying the human mind based on the idea of “logical positivism”. Logical Positivism came into existence to fix the disconnect between philosophy and human experience. Philosophy was stuck trying to figure out ultimate reality, giving a secular explanation of it. Then on philosopher, Edmund Husserl suggested that we put a pin in that question and simply take for granted what is common to human experience as real. Psychology builds on this as well as pragmatism.

Due to these philosophical origins of psychology, there is a general avoidance of making claims about what humans are, how humans work, or any other objective claim. Consequently, psychologists tend to go from description to prescription. Psychologists will preform a scientifically rigorous study of human behavior, memory, cognition, perception, sensation etc and then another psychologist will make suggestions for clinical application in a separate paper.

It is this reluctance among psychologists to make objective statements about reality that makes it difficult for their to be dialogue between themselves and theologians, since theologians are primarily in the business of explaining objective reality.

  1. Theologians don’t like learning from psychologists

Theologians have an issue with thinking pragmatically. They are happy to make objective claims about reality and give the task of translating those claims into daily life to individual believers. This omission is comparable to the psychologists omission of dealing with objective reality. Theologians neglect the immediate reality, that is the subjective data.

Theologians have a legitimate reason for this, since the discipline of theology and orthodoxy is an objective field of study. The neglect of subjective human experience is easy for theologians since their source material and object of study is the Bible. The Bible itself needs no modernization, progress and integration. The Word of God is fixed, definite and authoritative, which is why it is an excellent source for theology. Science however is progressing, and modernizing, and thus dialogue between the two is difficult.

 

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[i] As a discipline, not including fields such as psychotherapy and psychiatry

 

Sandra Haag’s Story

The following is an excerpt from a booklet my mother wrote, she is now at home with the Lord after serving Him as best as she could. In her zeal for evangelism she mingled her story of coming to know Jesus with an apologetic against pretty much every major religion. I have removed the extensive apologetic section with a desire just to share her story in particular

I came from England to South Africa in 1962. In 1965, at the age of 16, I worked as a nurse at the Frangwen Maternity Home, where I met lovely Jewish people. They were always kind to me and appreciative of good nursing care.

I remember on one occasion taking an eight day old for his bris. The rabbi used to come to a house next door to the Frangwen where he would perform the bris. Afterwards he would give the baby a little wine on a cotton dummy.The name of one Rabbi stands out clearly in my mind and that is because the staff had a nickname for him. His name was Kopolosky but the staff called him Chopitoffsky. Later on in my search for God, the bris (circumcision) of Jewish males helped my faith grow in the one-true God of the Jews because I thought it could only be God who would lead people to cut a small baby exactly on the 8th day toprevent bleeding. Only God would know thousands of years ago before there were blood tests and medical knowledge that the 8th day was the safest for circumcision.


It was quite an experience being so young and watching babies being born seeing a caesarian section for the first time. Later when I married I had three of my own babies at the Frangwen, two boys and a girl. When the girl was in her sixth month she became ill and died. Her name was Karin and she was my second child.

She had croup and wasadmitted to thbe Fever Hospital, after a few days the doctor said she was well enough to take home. That afternoon I went to visit her with my sister Christina. She was in a private ward with a sign on the door saying “Put amask and gown on before entering”. My sister is an eyewitness to what happened next. A blonde nurse came from the infected wards, ignored the rules on the sign and went into Karin’s ward picked her up and repeatedly kissed her on the mouth and face trying to make her smile for her visitors. I was shocked and my heart sank at the nurse breaking the rules, because I had nursed at the Frangwen, I knew all about germs and spreading them andthe importance of barrier nursing. My sister turned to me and said, “Sandra tell her to stop it.” I said “No it’s too late. She’s already kissed her and if I complain now she might be unkind to Karin, and anyway she’s coming hometomorrow.”

The next afternoon I went to pick up my beautiful red-cheeked blue-eyed baby. Pushing her home in her pram I noticed she had a temperature and was ill. Within about 24 hours she had virtually stopped passing urine. My doctor sent a sample of her urine away for testing. The results showed she had an infection which needed treatment with certain antibiotics all of which had sideeffects. The antibiotic the doctor chose had the side effect of causing vomiting.

I tried so hard to make her well, and I knew if I could keep the antibiotic in Karin’s stomach for at least 20 minutes it would be absorbed into herbloodstream and then she could start getting better. I tried to shush her and keep her quiet so the antibiotic would stay in her stomach, but to no avail. Within 5 minutes she vomited it out and she steadily grew worse. I asked the doctor if I could bring her to his rooms every four hours so that he could give medicine in injection form, but he said she must go back to hospital, a paediatrician was called in, but nothing helped.

Daily Karin became weaker. One Sunday night I went to visit her. She was lying on her back. She tried to suck her thumb but was too weak. Her hand just flopped back on to the bed. She was too weak to grasp even a small rattle I held out to her, and then she started to vomit. I quickly lifted her up fearing that she would choke, and was shocked to feel how weak and light she was. She didn’t feel like my strong sturdy baby any more. I think it was then I knew she was dying.

The next morning my husband and I were called to the hospital. when we arrived the nurses must not have been expecting us because the curtains were not drawn around ber bed and there lay her limp little dead body under a sheet. I remember thinking that what only happens to others has actually happened to me, but my main concern was still Karin. I felt guilty because I’d let her retun to hospital and chided myself. Surely if I’d kept her home I could have loved her better?


The next day I went to see Dr Heitner and asked him where Karin was. I meant Karin, not the dead body. He said I must ask a minister or priest. I walked to the Roman Catholic Church and asked the priest for help. He said God had chosen Karin from a lot of children. This was just empty talk, it did nothing to fill the vacuum that was searching for truth. I thanked him and left. Outside was a nun, I ran to her thinking she would be able to help. She told me to go inside and ask the priest, I told her I already had..
My mother said nice things to me such as “Its all right love, don’t worry you can have more children”, but I didn’t want placating. I wanted more. I wanted satisfying ! I did not know God was using the megaphone of pain to drive me into my Faithful Creator’s arms. But who was my Faithful Creator? 


God made Adam and Eve. That means He made Karin and I too. I now know that in the Tenach (Old Testament) a gentile Ruth joined herself to the Jews by joining herself to Naomi, and that God even named one of the Old Testament Books after her, the book of Ruth. Only two books in the Old Testament are named after women. The other one is Esther, who was a Jewess. You know I used to think all the Tenach (Old Testament) prophets were Jewish and was glad to discover that Great men of God such as Abraham and Noah were Gentiles. It makes me feel more comfortable knowing God uses Jews and Gentiles. Integrity tells me there can only be one God. Is he only the God of the Jews? Then why did he allow me to be born? I know now that He promised through Abraham blessings would come upon all the nationsof the earth and that brings me a white gentile into the big picture.


All my life l’d been surrounded by white gentiles until I came to South Africa where I met black gentiles too. My parents and family, my school teachers, my neighbours were gentiles. In other words they were not Jewish or Christian. A mistake which is made by Jews and the world is that if you’re bom into a white non-Jewish family it makes you a Christian, except for Muslims. etc. This is not true. My father is an Italian Roman Catholic, my mother Church of England (Protestant) and my husband was Lutheran (Protestant). We had all been christened or baptised as babies or children. All this did was give us small doses of Christianity that stopped us from catching the real thing. As you can gather this is organised religion. I call it organised Immunity. 


I was 21 years old when Karin died and had only met 2 real Christians. They were different. The same love that is now in my heart was in their hearts. Love that is gentle, kind, merciful but trueful. Love that does not care about oneself but puts the other person first. I know this love is not human. If it were, the world would be a lovely place. The one and only Christian I’d met in South Africa had given me a Bible a few months previously. I went home to my flat in Hillbrow and although there were sympathy cards with comforting words they meant nothing to me, but the words I read in the Bible were empowered by God because they were alive, supernaturally alive. I read Thess 4:13″Brothers we do not want you to be ignorant about those who die, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope, we believe that Jesus died and rose again. So we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have died in Him.” Peace and Joy entered my heart as the Holy Spirit healed my hurting heart.It didn’t stop even when I put the Bible down. A supernatural power was with me, a voice speaking deep within my heart, words that loved me and Karin, words that as I walked in the streets said ‘Sandra look at the children in their prams and pushchairs, what are their lives going to be like, what suffering isin store for them.’ words that healed like cream on a wound and said Karin is in Heaven being loved by her faithful Creator. 


Yes, this is how I joined myself to the One True Living God of the Jewish people, through the kind and gentle Jew, Jesus.


By the way I don’t know if Karin died as a result of the nurses kiss or if the germs of the original croup spread throughout her body. What I do remember is the docior saying she died from bacterial shock. On a lighter note, a few days after she died my littie two year old son Warren asked me what insect spray was for. When I told him, he said, “Mommy, why đon’t they have one like that to kill germs? Then we could have sprayed all the germs and Karin wouldn’t be dead but alive.” We do know she is alive and in Heaven with herFaithful Creator.

Understanding Zechariah 14 – Part 6

Today is our final look at Zechariah 14 where we see the holiness of the Jerusalem to come. Verse 20-21 reads:

20 And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the Lord.” And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar. 21 And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.

This passage has the peculiar reference to bells on horses. A strange thing to mention. Well it would have been strange to Zechariah’s audience as well. According to Leviticus 11 a horse is ceremonially unclean. Yet in this new Jerusalem, things that were once regarded as unclean are now not only clean but holy. The inscription on the horses’ bells is the same as that on the high priest’s turban. Consider the original giving of this inscription:

The inscription on the bells of the horses is the same as that on the high priest’s turban! Notice the original context of this inscription:

“You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the Lord.’  And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord. (Exodus 28:36-38)

The high priest in the Levitical priesthood wore a seal of holiness which took away the lingering iniquity of the people’s consecrated gifts. Now Zechariah sees a time when the most common everyday items would be as pure and consecrated as the garments that the high priest would wear in the holiest place of the temple (Exodus 29:29-30).

Clearly this has implications for New Covenant saints. The high priest’s holy crown which he would bear before God’s own presence prefigured the perfect holiness of Jesus our high priest (Exodus 29:6). Christ’s undefiled holiness makes the spiritual sacrifices of His people acceptable to God; but one day all our lives will overflow with radiant holiness. We will have not only the imputed righteousness of Christ, but we will be transformed to be holy as He is holy.

Zechariah then drives the point harder by bringing up pots and pans. The cooking pots in the temple are going to be as holy as the basins in front of the altar. Even the most common pot would become holy, holy enough that one could use it to make a sacrifice.

If this is all speaking about a literal temple, why then is there no demand for the strict distinctions between holy and common? If this is what Ezekiel saw in his vision, why is it not a restored temple as per the law? The notion that all things are alike holy (as Zechariah is driving home) totally contradict the idea of a literal millennial temple. E.B. Pusey writes well when he says:

“In this priestly-levitical drapery the thought is expressed, that in the perfected kingdom of God not only will everything without exception be holy, but all will be equally holy.[i]

Zechariah ends by saying, “And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day” some translations have Canaanite. The background of this is probably from Nehemiah’s day when Tobiah the Ammonite had storage rooms within the temple courts and the Canaanite merchants from Tyre sold merchandise in Jerusalem on the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:4-9, 16, 20-21). With these considerations, Zechariah could be thinking about the pollution of merchants just as Jesus spoke against in the temple courts. MacKay explains,

“The mention of the Canaanite is not to debar any on racial grounds, but on ethical and spiritual. ‘Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life’ (Rev. 21:27)[ii]

Through this series I hope you can see that Zechariah’s prophecy is describing the removal of the present creation and the resultant establishment of God’s eternal kingdom.

 

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[i] E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets: A Commentary, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1950), 414.
[ii] MacKay, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, 319.

Understanding Zechariah – Part 5

Today is our penultimate study of Zechariah 14,  and we come to verses 16-19. This passage speaks about what happens to the Gentile nations after the climactic events of the previous sections.

16 Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. 17 And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. 18 And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. 19 This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.

Yesterday we saw the terrible end of the nations who attacked Jerusalem. There are Gentiles that are around after the Day of the Lord. Even though previously they were strangers and enemies to Israel and Yahweh, these remaining Gentiles now become worshippers with the Israelites. These Gentile surviving nations participate in a newly formed and ongoing celebration of the Feast of Booths. This pictures for us how the Old Testament Feast of Booths is wonderfully fulfilled and the depth of meaning behind it.

What does conversion of Gentiles to the New Covenant look like? It is not circumcision or the mosaic law’s ceremonies, but rather the worship of the one true God. The phrase “go up” in v16 is a term used of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. What New Covenant reality is this Old Covenant language being used to express? If we take it in a literalistic fashion, then it is a going backwards from what Jesus had taught (John 4:23). No, it is expressing the same thing John sees in Revelation 7:9, a great multitude that no one could number from every tribe, tongue and nation standing before the throne and worshipping the lamb (Revelation 7:9). John also notes that the multitude were holding palm branches in their hands (Revelation 7:9), which echoes’ Christ’s triumphal entry in John 12. However, it also fits in with what is written in Zechariah 14v19 about the celebration of the Feast of Booths.On the first of this seven day feast, the Israelites would, “take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days” Leviticus 23:30).

Why this festival though? Why is it singled out so? It is the last of the religious festivals of the Israelites, so in a way summed up the worship of the nation (cf. Deuteronomy 16 and Leviticus 23). It was also one of the festivals which aliens were permitted to participate in (Deuteronomy 16:14). At this time people would live in booths made out of branches to remind them of the period Israel spent in the wilderness and how God preserved them and kept them (Leviticus 23:42-43).  It was also a time to remember the Lord’s on-going preservation of them in the harvest (Leviticus 23:39; Deuteronomy 16:13-15). Thus, this celebration was a rejoicing in what God had done and what He is doing now.

Considering this double rejoicing it was a feast characterised by joy (Deuteronomy 16:14-15). That’s why the redeemed nations celebrate it with joy. We see here an eschatological significance of this festival as the former enemy nations now become worshippers and come together to give honour to their rightful King.

Most appropriately the text puts a harvest celebration in juxtaposition to withholding rain. In Chapter 10:1 we see it is a blessing and Christ Himself uses it as an example of kindness (Matthew 5:45). These things are withheld from the rebellious. In Deuteronomy 28:22-24 with withholding of rain is named as one of the curses God would give for covenant disobedience. Here that same curse is made over the nations since God rules them all.

T.V. Moore comments,

“In this future condition, the present mingled state of reward and punishment shall end. Now God sends rain on the just and the unjust, then he will separate the good and the evil, and render unto every man according to his works”[i]

To say that the nations who do not celebrate the feast of Booths will not receive rain is simply another way of saying that those who will not follow Israel’s Lord will not receive His blessing. Why is Egypt mentions especially? Andrew Hill helps:

“Egypt is singled out for mention, perhaps because it was the origin of the Hebrew exodus (of which the Feast of Tabernacles was to be a reminder, Lev. 23:43), and in the past it was a nation that ‘had suffered the most from the plagues at God’s hands. If it did not participate in the future, it would suffer again’”[ii].

In Isaiah however, we see Egypt as sharing in worship with God’s people in the future. These pagans must then be converted (19:19-25). In our passage in Zechariah, Egypt represents those who refuse to worship. In must be noted that Revelation uses Egypt as a type of Satanic world system which persecutes God’s people. The trumpet and bowl judgments of God’s wrath all harken to the plagues God sent on Egypt when Pharaoh refused to release the Israelites. In Revelation 11:8 the city where the two witnesses are killed is symbolically named Egypt. Why would Egypt kill the witnesses? It is because of the plagues which come against Egypt, including drought (Revelation 11:6, 10). Today the prophetic witness of the church is a painful reminder to the unrepentant that already God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness of men who supress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). In the future day that Zechariah sees, Egypt as well as all unrepentant nations will forever suffer the unmitigated plagues of God’s wrath ( cf. Revelation 14:10–11; 15:1; 18:8; 21:8; 22:14–15, 18–19).

If, however, this feast is speaking about a literal reinstitution of the Feast of Booths, Lanier comments:

Are these interpreters ready to accept the restoration of the Old Testament feast with its offering of animal sacrifices? During the feast of tabernacles, which began on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, daily offerings of animals were made by fire, 199 animals of all kinds were offered, “besides the continual burn-offering, and the meal offerings thereof, and the drink offerings thereof” (Num. 29:12-38). Among these daily offerings was “one he-goat for a sin-offering.” Jesus is our sin-offering, and if we go back to offering he-goats for sin-offerings we must reject Jesus as a sufficient offering for our sins.[iii]

It is a reading of Scripture as if Hebrews 9:10 was never written and the New Covenant had never come, “They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.”

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[i] Thomas V. Moore, A Commentary on Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, Geneva Series of Commentaries (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1993), 313.

[ii] Hill, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, 270

[iii] Lanier 1965, 633

Understanding Zechariah 14 – Blog 4

The next section of Zechariah I will cover is v12-15. It reads

12 And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. 13 And on that day a great panic from the Lord shall fall on them, so that each will seize the hand of another, and the hand of the one will be raised against the hand of the other. 14 Even Judah will fight at Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance. 15 And a plague like this plague shall fall on the horses, the mules, the camels, the donkeys, and whatever beasts may be in those camps.

This forms part of a larger section that goes up to verse 19. In this chapter Zechariah describes how the Lord secures final dominion of the nations.

This verse is a flash back and bigger picture of the scene described earlier where the Lord comes to fight against Jerusalem’s enemies. His wrath is swift and gruesome as he destroys man and beast as they stand. A plague eliminates large chunks of the armies while the surviving warriors turn their weapons on each other in terrified confusion, obviously echoing previous Old Testament battles where God had done a similar thing in defence of His people.

God promised a rotting-disease-type of curse in the covenant curses made to Israel in the situation should they become disobedient (Lev. 26:16–17, 25, 39; Deut. 28:21–22, 25, 27–28, 59–61), this may be the allusion made to how Judah will have victory over her enemies. Now however those curses turn to Israel’s enemies.

There is so much military imagery in apocalyptic texts, and many anticipate a military conflict in the Middle East before the 2nd Coming of Christ. That however overlooks the deeper significance of related prophecies.

As I have already demonstrated, Jerusalem is a symbol for the church at the end of this age known as the tribulation: it is the church on earth, surrounded by enemies. Thus, the armies sent against her need not be the same forces as used in military campaigns, even though physical force may doubtlessly be involved.

There is additionally no need for them all to be gathered in one locale. Wherever the church is the nations will assault her. John saw a vision of these nations as they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city (Rev. 20:9a). The camp of the saints are God’s people preserved in the wilderness of this world (Rev. 12:6, 14), and are also called the “beloved city.” To oppose her, these deceived nations marched up over the broad plain of the earth. This warfare is recapitulated for us in Revelation 11:7; 13:7; 17:14.

The vision Zechariah receives and gives is that of total decimation and terror among those opposing God and His people. All their military materials are brought to naught as the sword issues from Christ’s mouth (Revelation 19:15,21). In their great confusion they destroy each other. Verse 14 brings in the thought, “Even Judah will fight at Jerusalem. And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance”. At the end, the church faces her final battle. But as they are about to be overrun, the glorified church in heaven returns with the Lord in this final battle as the victorious armies of heaven (Revelation 19:8, 14). As was promised the earth they share the spoils of the victory, they indeed inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

Understanding Zechariah 14 – Part 3

Zechariah 14:6-11:

“On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter.

And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.

The whole land shall be turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem. But Jerusalem shall remain aloft on its site from the Gate of Benjamin to the place of the former gate, to the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananel to the king’s winepresses. And it shall be inhabited, for there shall never again be a decree of utter destruction. Jerusalem shall dwell in security.

In this part of the passage the Lord has arrived to rescue Jerusalem and He remains there forever. There is a mention of a phenomenon found in Revelation 21:25, namely that there is no night there.

The major items I need to deal with in this passage include the light without heavenly bodies, the living water, the worldwide worship of Yahweh, the lifting of Jerusalem above the surrounding landscape, the security of Jerusalem’s population and the absence of the curse.

The NASB helps us with verses 6 and 7, it reads, “the luminaries will dwindle.” At the end of v. 6. The cessation of heavenly bodies has both a literal and figurative significance throughout apocalyptic and prophetic writing. It is particualry connected with events called “the day of the Lord” (see Joel 2:31; cf. also Isa. 13:9–13; Joel 3:15; Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24–25; Luke 21:25; Rev. 6:12–13).

If we remember God’s promise to Noah that the normal cycles of day and night would not stop so long as the earth endured (Genesis 8:22), here Zachariah is showing that although the earth, as his readers understand it, has passed away, the holy city and old city of Jerusalem will be part of the New Creation[i].

John MacKay speaks about the “living waters” saying:

Jerusalem was always poorly provided with water, but the renewed city is the source of a divinely provided supply. Zechariah here resumes the picture presented by Joel and Ezekiel of the Temple as a source of water (Joel 3:18; Ezek. 47:1–12). This is not just typical of physical change, but of the spiritual blessings that water represents. It is ‘living’ water flowing freshly from a spring or fountain, and symbolic of true spiritual life given in salvation (Jer. 2:13; John 4:10; 7:38). This looks back to the river of Paradise, when ‘a river watering the garden flowed from Eden’ (Gen. 2:10), and it looks forward to Paradise restored…Truly ‘there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells’ (Ps. 46:4).

Unlike Ezekiel’s river which flowed only to the east (Ezek. 47:1, an embarrassment for those who take both prophecies to refer to the same literal future event), the water splits half to the eastern sea, that is the Dead Sea, and half to the western sea, that is, the Mediterranean. In this way it is available for all the land. And it is available all the time, in summer and in winter. Many streams in Palestine were only winter torrents which dried up in the heat of summer, when the need for water was at its greatest. Not so this source of supply. It is available all the year round. There is no disruption of the bliss of the new creation ‘for the old order of things has passed away’ (Rev. 21:4).[ii]

This destruction of the heavenly bodies also ties in with 2 Peter 3:11–13, very clearly marking the coming of a New creation, not the half-baked continuing of the Old.  Verse 8 speaks of living waters going forth from Jerusalem in summer and in winter. Since summer and winter will occur only as long as the earth remains (Gen. 8:22), and as the earth will not remain beyond the coming of Christ in the same way as now (2 Peter 3:4, 10), it is obvious that the events of this verse cannot happen in a literal way after the return of Jesus.

We read in v. 9 of this worldwide, universal worship and submission to the only true God, “And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one.” Night is gone. There is a river of living water. All the earth is worshipping the Lord. It is clearly connected with John’s vision of the eternal state in Rev. 21-22. If that doesn’t convince you that its not during the millennium but during the eternal state, nothing is going to.

We turn our attention now to the prophecy about the holy city being raised above the levelled surrounding terrain.  It has a clear parallel in Isaiah 2:2-3:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem

The words of that prophecy are also found in Micah 4:1-2 where they follow and contrast the Babylonian desolation of rebellious Jerusalem (Micah 3:11-12). God has removed his presence from Jerusalem because of her sin, but one day He will dwell forever in a purified Jerusalem, and that city will never be put to shame and will tower over the nations. The kingdom of that heavenly Zion will become a great mountain that fills the whole earth (see Daniel 2:35).

The geographical markers are significant, listen to Bryan Gregory explain:

Before the exile, Geba and Rimmon denoted the northern and southern boundaries of Judah during the days of Josiah’s reform. In other words, the land will be restored to her preexilic, pre-disaster state, and being ‘leveled out,’ will provide a geological setting for the crown jewel of the new creation, the city of Jerusalem…The city itself will then be defined by distinct boundaries, stretching from the Gate of Benjamin (on the city’s northern side) to the place of the First Gate (the location of which is now lost but possibly denotes an old gate on the east side of the city), down to the Corner Gate (on the western side), and from the Tower of Hananel (probably near the northwest corner) down to the king’s winepresses in the south. The boundaries are not only a way of tracing the city’s limits but are more importantly an allusion to Jeremiah 31 where the Lord had promised that the city would be rebuilt from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate (Jer. 31:38). Part of the promise to Jeremiah was that the whole city would once again become holy, never again to be uprooted or demolished (Jer. 31:39–40; cf. Zech. 14:20–21). In other words, the boundaries paint a picture of Jerusalem as a city entirely safe from the threat of violence.[iii]

Zechariah was echoing Jeremiah’s promise in language those living in Jerusalem could understand. The promise that the holy city would remain in place from one wall to the other, and exalted above the whole land.

Verse 11 states that people will live in the city. MacKay explains,

In the period after the return from the Exile, there seems to have been an ongoing problem with population in Jerusalem. Many of those who returned preferred to live in the countryside and had to be forced to come to the capital (Neh. 7:4; 11:1–2). But there will be no problem about getting people to live in the capital when the king has returned to it.[iv]

Regarding the curse, MacKay explains, it

refers to the ‘ban’ which the Lord imposed on the cities of Canaan because of their great wickedness (Josh. 6:17–18; see also Mal. 4:6). The fate of God’s people for their rebellion had been understood in similar terms (Isa. 43:28). But when the Lord returns to the city, ‘no longer will there be any curse’ (Rev. 22:3). His people will have been purified and will be ready to enter into his presence.[v]

Given these understandings it should be clear that Zechariah’s prophecy fits far better within the context of the New Jerusalem that “dwells in Security” in the new creation, rather than a millennial Jerusalem which will continue to experience day and night and the effects of the Adamic curse and will eventually be surrounded by some kind of Satanic coalition of nations planning her demise (Rev. 20:9).

 

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[i] Boda also suggests an allusion in the Hebrew text to Genesis 1:3–5, implying a recreation. “This suggests that 14:7 refers to a day of recreation, with 14:6 returning the earth to a state prior to the creative activity in Genesis 1, and 14:7 initiating the process of creation in Genesis 1. This recreation day, just as the original creation day, is known only to Yahweh, in whose hands are the times and seasons (see Ecclesiastes 3). However, the fact that the light appears now in the evening suggests a clear shift in the cosmos, so that there is perpetual light and no night. This is a feature of texts envisioning a future idyllic age (cf. Isa. 60:19, 20; Rev. 21:25; 22:5).” See Boda, Zechariah, 762–63.
[ii] MacKay, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, 308–309
[iii] Gregory, Longing for God, 208–209.
[iv] MacKay, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, 311
[v] Ibid

Understanding Zechariah 14 – Part 2

This is part 2 of a series, to view part 1 click here

Why take Zechariah 14 symbolically or literalistic [i]? The options we have are a wooden-literalism or a symbolic reading of this Apocalyptic genre. As I said yesterday, the historical context of this Apocalyptic literature gives us warrant for a symbolic reading (see the understanding given Daniel of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream-vision in Daniel 2:31-45).

With a literalist reading, Zechariah 14 is fulfilled in the midst of a battle called Armageddon, with Jerusalem in Palestine being invaded and taken with great force and violence. Thereafter the Lord returns to brings vengeance upon those attacking His people. After the huge clean-up (the dead of all the unsaved nations are lying there), Jesus would take the throne of David and rule in Jerusalem for 1000 years. Revelation 19 describes the event further. The Lord still has people to rule over, even though those not in Christ are destroyed, there are of course the elect and somehow some surviving non-believers.

Not only that but if the Antichrist is the leader of the nations, a glaring inconsistency is introduced: he will at this time also be sitting in the temple as God at Jerusalem (2 Thess. 2:4); is the Antichrist outside attacking the Antichrist within the city?

In this Revelation 19/Zechariah 14 battle, all the nations come against Jerusalem, which could mean the UN representing the world. The picture of this prophecy then is that the Lord of Glory will come back to a decaying earth and govern a mixed population of glorified and unglorified people. Mixed in are a bunch of pretenders who fake compliance with His Holy will, but are secretly waiting till the 1000 year period is over when they can finally openly rebel and seek to defeat these glorified immortal saints and the all-powerful Jesus (as per a pre-mil reading of Revelation 20:7-9). That would be a literalistic reading.

Does a symbolic reading have any precedence or warrant in this text? If we look at some of the previous chapters like 12, it looks like a mixture of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus and also Jerusalem at the end of the New Testament age before Christ’s second coming. Notice that on the one hand we see all those nations destroyed who come against Jerusalem (v. 9), and on the other in v. 10 ff. we see the LORD,

pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourning for his only son.

This appears both to be the case in Acts 2:36-37 upon Peter’s preaching after Pentecost (this unto repentance and life for the hearers), and then again– this time with regard to the whole world– in Revelation 1:7, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him,” but now unto the perdition of the ungodly.

So chapter 12 has a mixture of Jerusalem after the Lord’s ascension, and also the shock of the world at His second coming (multiple fulfilments, as with the abomination of desolation).

Similarly in chapter 13:1 we get a picture, “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” When was this fountain opened? Is it a literal fountain or a symbolic fountain? It seems clear that it was opened when Jesus was crucified. Second, it wasn’t an actual fountain, but figuratively pictured as one. Under the Old Covenant there were sprinklings for cleansing, now there is a overflowing fountain pouring out cleansing power. Multitudes now have access to the cleansing blood of the Saviour by Faith.

Chapter 13 thus has a symbolic fountain for all believers cleansing, and in 13:7 we have a symbolic sword smiting the shepherd (see Matt. 26:31) and scattering the sheep.

So the question is: could the Lord’s return for his weary suffering people in chapter 14 also have a symbolic element? If Jerusalem and Zion are meant to be understood in their New Testament reality from a heavenly perspective, we also get a broader picture.  If the heavenly Jerusalem is manifest worldwide and is the camp of the saints (Revelation 20:9), then we have a picture of Armageddon that is in unison with all of Scripture.

Notice the wording of Zechariah 14:2, “I will gather all nations”. Similar words in numerous places speak about the same event: Revelation 16:3, 14, 16; 19:19, 20:7-8 (Since Revelation is structured by recapitulation it is mentioned so often), Isaiah 66:16,18; Joel 3:2, 11, 12, 14-16;  Zephaniah 3:8. All of these appear to refer to the same event, the nations against God’s people in an event called Armageddon (Revelation 16:16) or the battle of God and Magog (Revelation 19:17; Ezekiel 39:1,6,11,17; Revelation 20:8). Now is this a local battle in Jerusalem and in its vicinity, or a worldwide battle before the Great Day of Judgement and the eternal state?

The New Testament teaches that the final battle is against believers worldwide. Are we going to interpret the vision of the New Testament by the vision of the Old dressed in imagery taken from the residents of Jerusalem? Or will we see the Old Testament prophecies as interpreted by the events revealed in the greater light given by Christ and His apostles?

Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog attack on Israel have never been fulfilled but John. In Revelation 20 we see its fulfilment in a global campaign against God’s people (compare Revelation 19:17 with Ezekiel 39:19). These are universal attempts to destroy God’s people, though in the Old Testament prophecy designations are used like Jerusalem, Israel, Zion to refer to God’s people. In the Old Testament the destruction of Judah or Jerusalem would have been the destruction of all the people of God.
Speaking of the opening verses of chapter 14, H.C. Leupold says,

Nor is this a strictly literal historic account. The fact that “the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city” allows for a substantial remnant to remain in the city of God in spite of the most bitter ravages on the part of the foe. That is always the situation in the church.

This has been recorded chiefly for the purpose of preparing for the marvelous story of the Lord’s deliverance, v. 3-5. The Lord now “goes forth” (yatsa’). The parallel statement in Mic. 1:3 suggests that this going forth is from heaven itself. The reference is again not to any particular instance when an individual deliverance was wrought for His own. One scene pictures the eternal truth that the Lord is continually going forth to deliver His own when their plight seems desperate. Yet this does not exclude the thought that there will ultimately be a day of final victory at the end of time. . .[ii]

At this point God’s appearing on the scene is described, but in terms that allow for any single deliverance that He may work for the good of His own as well as for His final coming. In fact, the latter is particularly under consideration, for the next section describes conditions in the final consummation.[iii]

G.K. Beale writes helpfully on how God gathers his enemies for this climactic battle

The purpose of the deception [of the world’s kings by the frogs / demons of Rev 16:14] is “to gather them together for the war of the great day of God Almighty.” The same expression occurs in chs. 19 and 20, where it refers respectively to the beast and the dragon gathering kings together to fight against Christ at his final coming:

19:19 “the kings of the earth . . . gathered together to make [the] war”

20:8 “the nations . . . of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war”

16:14 “the kings of the whole inhabited earth . . . to gather them together for the war”

The reference here [16:14] is probably the same as in chs. 19 and 20: the confrontation between the forces of the beast and Christ at the end of the age. These three references to the war are based on OT prophecy, especially from Zechariah 12–14 and possibly Zephaniah 3, which predict that God will gather the nations together in Israel for the final war of history[iv].

The place for the final battle is called “Armageddon”. But could it not be used exactly how “Babylon and “Euphrates has been used? It is obviously so given then genre. Armageddon is not a specific geographical location but rather the whole world.

The battles in Israel associated with Megiddo and the nearby mountain are typological symbols of the last battle against the saints and Christ which happens through the earth,

One other key indicator of the symbolic nature is how Old Testament prophecies about the final battle in history always mention it in the vicinity of Jerusalem or Mount Zion, yet the plain of Megiddo is two days walk north of Jerusalem

 

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[i] I am using the phrase literalistic on purpose as opposed to literal. If the meaning of something is meant to be taken symbolically, then that is the literal meaning of that test. What some hermeneutic systems do is insist on the literalistic interpretation of a text and not the literal meaning which in this particular genre I take to be symbolic.
[ii] Exposition of Zechariah; Baker, 1965, page 260- 261
[iii] Ibid pg 263
[iv] New International Greek Testament Commentary: Revelation Page 834, 835

Understanding Zechariah 14 – Part 1

This post marks the start of a series through Zechariah 14. I hope to show a Biblically faithful and hermeneutically coherent way to handle this passage over the next few days. So join me on this journey through an exciting passage.

Zechariah 14:1-5,

Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst.  For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle.  On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.

The 2nd verse of this passage put the text into a helpful perspective, God will Himself gather the nations together for battle against Jerusalem. This prophecy is repeated throughout Scripture in passages like Ezek. 38:1–23; 39:1–6; Joel 3:2; Rev. 16:12–16; 19:19; 20:8–9. But Zechariah is not merely wasted space in the pages of Holy Scripture, he has a particular perspective in his prophecy.

The nations gather and attack Jerusalem, and it seems that at first, they are successful. They capture half the city, plunder the houses, rape the women and carry away half the inhabitants. The other half of the city though seem to be spared, and the reason for that is the Lord Himself appears on the scene and catches the nations in their wicked act. God comes in full battle array.

When He touches the ground outside the walls of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives split to form a valley, a way of escape for the besieged inhabitants of Jerusalem.

This genre of Scripture is called Apocalyptic literature. It is not narrative, nor is it didactic text. Apocalyptic literature is symbolic literature. One only needs to read the understanding given to Daniel of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream-vision in Daniel 2:31-45; the prophecy was entirely couched in symbolic imagery. Tomorrow I will make a post about why I believe there is good internal evidence in the immediate chapters to see this as symbolic language.

This prophecy is a message about the future people of God will be involved in a time when they are surrounded by enemies and overwhelmed by them. It uses the word Jerusalem, because as this time of God’s revelation, it is what the audience understands the people of God to be, they are Israel, the people of Jerusalem, where the temple of God is. This is an apocalyptic mention of Jerusalem, not a didactic or historical account.

Now we are not free to make Jerusalem mean anything we want, but within the text of Scripture, as God progressively reveals Himself, we are given the key to this Apocalyptic use. Hebrews 13:14 reads, ““For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come”: this is clearly pointing beyond the earthy city of David. So who is in this city? Well the New Testament church already, “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem”. We do not belong to the old Sinai covenant “which corresponds to the present Jerusalem”; we are of the new covenant corresponding to “the Jerusalem above” who “is our mother” (Gal. 4:24–26).

James points to the prophecy of Amos and confirms that God has rebuilt and restored the ruined tabernacle of David so that the Gentiles may seek the Lord and be called by His name (Acts 15:13-18). The nations are now joining themselves to Zion, the redeemed city of God, the New Testament Church of Jesus Christ.

If James and the other apostles could confidently use this hermeneutic with Apocalyptic texts, so we and should we. This and other prophecies like it are realized by the heirs and successors of the Old Testament Zion, Jerusalem and Israel, none of this means we rewrite the prophecy or promise, or that the original audience was lied to, but rather that this prophecy is satisfied in a far fuller and proper extent.

If this Jerusalem is pointing to the church, it means that the church is the future people of God who are surrounded by enemies and seemingly overwhelmed. This picture then of an ancient city being plundered represents the church suffering terribly at the hands of her enemies, and yet there is always a remnant left.

Verse 4 mentions the return of the Lord to rescue His people and speaks of the Mount of Olives being the place of His arrival. This ought to remind us of the words in Ezekiel. The words “His Feet” mean this is a Theophany (appearance of God). It also mentions the phrase “east of Jerusalem: which would be a strange thing to mention the location of a well-known hill, unless it is meant to connect in our minds with Ezekiel’s vision, when the Lord’s glory left Jerusalem and ‘stopped above the mountain east of it’ (Ezek. 11:23).

The Lord whose visible presence with His people had left, now returns in power as prophesied in Ezekiel 43:2. But it doesn’t return to some reconstructed Jerusalem, it comes to the New Jerusalem which as I have pointed out above is the reality of these visions, it is the city that bears the name “The Lord is there” (Ezek. 48:35), a city made up of saints who have conquered as per Revelation 3:12, “Upon him I will write the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God (the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from My God), and My new name.”

Verse 4 goes further is that it pictures the Lord making an unexpected way of escape for His people. Verse 5 pictures them using it.

Now there are other details, like the earthquake and the valley leading to Azel, and if this is symbolic, should we expect Jesus to come to a hill called the Mount of Olives. After all, if Jerusalem is just an apocalyptic reference to the New Testament church, why the emphasis on geographical markers?

It seems most likely that these descriptions about earthquakes and a palace called Azel refer to the historical details of an earthquake during the reign of Uzziah[i]. The prophet is drawing on those past details and the incredible power of that event to create a picture of what it will be like when the Lord returns to defend His city. The warrant for this is in v. 5, “And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.” So the prophecy is drawing on historical facts to paint pictures of future realities and feelings. That historical event is called up to compare something of what the Lord’s coming will be like, yet it will shake the entire earth (cf. Hag. 2:6–7; Heb. 12:26–27).

If, however, this chapter refers to the literal return of Christ (i.e., the second coming) upon the mount of Olives, exactly who is it that will make that escape flight to the east when the mountain is cleft? It cannot be the wicked, for the Bible plainly teaches that they will be destroyed when the Lord returns (Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Moreover, it cannot be the righteous, for they will be “caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Will the believing Jews be caught up in the air or flee through an earthquake valley? Is it unbelieving Jews that the Lord is rescuing or does he return to destroy unbelievers?

With this beautiful imagery, we must remember that the literal Mount of Olives may have a prominent role in the 2nd Coming of Christ. In both Matthew and Mark Jesus taught about the second coming while sitting on the Mount of Olives. Luke records that Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives, at which time two angels declared that Jesus would return just the same way they saw Him leave (Acts 1:1-11). We have a precedent for this kind of fulfilment in that the Messiah came out of Bethlehem and Judah symbolically since it was David’s ancestral town and Jesus is David’s seed; but Jesus was also literally born in the city of Bethlehem.

A great summary of this text from Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg goes,

It is very obvious that the whole account is figurative, and that the fundamental idea, the rescue of believers and the destruction of their enemies, is clothed in drapery borrowed from the local circumstances of Jerusalem.[ii]

 

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[i]  https://patternsofevidence.com/2019/01/20/biblical-quake-confirmed/ https://www.icr.org/article/scientific-scriptural-impact-amos-earthquake.
[ii] (EWH), Christology of the Old Testament, Volume 4, T. & T. Clark, 1858. p. 125​

WE FEAR NAUGHT BUT GOD

The following is a devotional taken from my upcoming 30-day devotional book. To pre-order your copy click here

The Recces, South Africa’s Special Forces Brigade, were an elite counter-insurgency special operations unit that specialised in long-range combat reconnaissance and unconventional airborne operations. The Recces carried out several combat operations in the Rhodesian Bush War, South African Border War and the Mozambican Civil War. In 1982 during Operation Mebos they penetrated deep into Angola, destroying the terrorist group SWAPO’s Headquarters in their wake. Two years later, during Operation Askari, they cut off all supply lines to and from SWAPO Angola. In an operation in Congo, the seventh longest sniper shot was successfully taken by a Recce at 2,125m (2,324yd). These world elite special operators have as their motto, “We fear naught but God”.

It is a wise motto to have, Proverbs 29:25 warns, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.” Jesus speaking to His disciples imbibed the spirit of this motto when He said, “I tell you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more” (Luke 12:4). The type of missions Recces engaged in meant that fear would indeed be a snare to them, it would not serve them at all. The same is true for you as you go out and serve Christ. Don’t fear your spouse, children, parents, employer, employees, sickness, demons or even death. Those things can only kill the body. God is the one who you should fear. He is the destroyer of body and soul.

The good news is that the more you fear God the less you fear everything else. The more you realise the unmitigated power that formed the universe; that stops the most powerful storm with a word; that scoffs at the collective military prowess of the world; that overcomes death and disease with the smallest whisper, the less you come to fear those things. All these things chaff against the chain of the Divine Warrior Yahweh.

The fear of God however, is not a paralysing one, as John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). One man used the fear of God as an excuse for paralysis and said, “Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow” (Luke 19:19-20). The master in the story replies, “I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest? (v22-23).

God has entrusted a deposit to you of resources, skills and gifts. Use them without fear of anything or anyone. Fear God alone and get after it.

Death or Glory

Thank you so much for visiting this page. I have just completed writing a 30-day devotional book that I’m sure you are going to enjoy.

“Death or Glory” takes some of the most awesome military mottos and pulls them through the Scriptures, imbibing them with new gravitas and deeper meaning. I find so many mottos beneficial, but I have seen them in the light of the Scriptures and it really makes for some light-and-fire meditation.

The book is about to be sent to the printers, but I wanted to give you the opportunity to pre-order a copy. The cost is R90 to have your own copy of “Death or Glory” 30-day devotional sent to you.

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