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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Prodigal Nation

We see time and time again how many of the texts that we read have multiple meanings. These interpretations are Equally legitimate because of the richness of the Scriptures which most certainly inspired by God. In the story of the prodigal son is found in Luke 15 in the context of things that have been lost. A lost sheep, then a lost coin and then finally a lost son. In the context there are some pharisees who are complaining that Jesus is eating and receiving sinners. It is these three parables that are a response to the grumbling of the Pharisees. Jesus is just showing on a natural level that it is perfectly understandable about how someone could get excited about repentant sinners being FOUND by God.

On another level though with the story of the prodigal son there is more going on, and we know this by the vocabulary that Jesus uses, reflects vocabulary in the Old Testament about two nations.

The tribes of Israel under David became one nation, but during the reign of his grandson the one nation split in two the Nation of Israel in the North and Judah in the South. Many people reading the Old Testament think that these names are synonymous, but that would be a mistake. Israel and Judah are like two brothers that live near one another and have a kind of animosity toward one another, like the brothers in the Prodigal son story.

These two nations are in fact related to the story of the prodigal son. It is interesting historically what happens to Israel in the North. They are taken captive by the Assyrians in 722 BC and go to a far country. Like where the younger son takes his inheritance and squanders it is in a country far off.

Now Israel had been punished by God because they had been worshiping false gods and persecuting those Loyal to the Law of Moses like the prophet Elijah. So God says in effect, Hey you want to worship the gods of the nations, go there and worship them like they do.

Of course one they get there, they desire to come home and worship the true God, and it is during the time of Jesus that this all happens. The sinners, not just those idolaters of ancient Israel, but all sinners are now invited back home by the Father who awaits them with open arms.

The verses in the Old testament that point us to this story in the New Testament begin in Genesis 48:14 14 And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it upon the head of Ephraim, who was the younger,
Ephraim was literally the youngest of the tribes of Israel.

- Luke talks about a famine in the land where the son went. In the context God is talking to Israle in the North.
Amos 8:11 11 "Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord GOD, "when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.

- Luke talks about the son considering going home. Hosea is as well talking to those in Israel in the North.
Hosea 2:6-9 6 Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns; and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths.
7 She shall pursue her lovers, but not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them. Then she shall say, `I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better with me then than now.'
8 And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished upon her silver and gold which they used for Baal.
9 Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season; and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness.

Now that the Son is returning, the older son who has been with the father the whole time shows his disfavor with the younger brother. Just like those who had remained faithful to God namely the Pharisees where counting the tax collectors and sinners to be disqualified from the kingdom of heaven because they were coming home a bit late.

All of this reminds me of another parable in Matthew 20 where the landowner goes out at different times of the day and get laborers to work in his field but at the end of the day pays them all the same wage. Those who started earlier complain that those who came late should not be paid the same. but the landowner (God) says "Hey I can spend my money however I like."
So we should spend our time helping God spend His money (grace) wildly on those who have come early and those who might be a bit late.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Cross in the Old Testament Part 1

While in the desert, the Israelites are attacked. During the battle, Moses climbs a mountain and holds up his staff in his hands, and provided his arms were outstreached the battle was to be won.

Exodus 17:8-15 8 ¶ Then came Amalek and fought with Israel at Rephidim.
9 And Moses said to Joshua, "Choose for us men, and go out, fight with Amalek; tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand."
10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.
12 But Moses' hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.
13 And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
14 ¶ And the LORD said to Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven."
15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD is my banner,

There are several things here that I wanted to point out.
  • Moses goes to the top of a hill/mountain to hold up the rod. - Jesus would go to the top of a mountain to hold up the wood of the cross.
  • It is Joshua who defeats the enemy - Jesus and Joshua share the same name, and it is Jesus who defeats our enemy.
  • Verse 12 says that his hands were stead until the sun went down. - Jesus says in John 12:35 Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, lest the darkness overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light." (this is in fact in context of the Cross as we will see below.) - I thought it wonderful that the enemy was defeated during the 'light' in both cases.
  • Verse 15 - Moses calls the place 'the LORD is my banner' (the word here for banner can also be sign, or standard.) Keep this in mind while we look at the next example of the cross.
The Israelites once again are being rebellious so God sends firey serpents to bite them and some of them die.

Numbers 21:5-9 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food."
6 Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.
7 And the people came to Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people.
8 And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live."
9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a standard; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

The word here "standard" stuck me, and I was curious as to other places that it was used, and I was pleasantly surprised what i found.

Isaiah 11:9-12 10 ¶ In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an standard to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.
11 ¶ In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant which is left of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.
12 He will raise an standard for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

Jesus in the New Testament is drawing on this imagery in

John 3:14 4 "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;

John 12:32 and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."

Isn't this just what Isaiah said that Jesus would do? So God is saying - if anyone has been rebellious and has been bitten by the serpents, look at this image of a serpent that can't hurt you, because it is just made out of bronze and you will be healed. The same is true with Jesus, the Father says (so to speak) - whoever has been bitten by the devil and has come into sin. Look upon the man on the cross, though while it looks like he has sinned as well, is in fact innocent, and you will be healed.