Thursday, December 15, 2005

Deliverance from Enemies by Grace: Evidence of Divine Monergism in the Pattern of the Kings of Judah (Part 2)

David’s Census
“Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.” (1 Chronicles 21:1 NASB) Throughout his life and rise to power, David had seen God’s grace in action. From the slaying of Goliath to numerous military defeats to David’s sin of adultery, God had given David forgiveness and deliverance from enemies, but now David, at the urging of Satan himself, turns for a moment to lean on human works and power instead of God’s gracious protection. Joab realizes the folly of the act of counting the men even when David fails to do so. He responds to David’s request by saying, “May the Lord add to His people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?” His comment seems to understand the fact that the number of the men does not matter and even that relying on human might by counting the men would make Israel guilty before God.

David remains a king who trusts in the Lord by faith, as can be seen from his repentance and sacrifice after he has been corrected for his actions, and God does not destroy David or let David destroy himself by his works. Instead, God uses punishment to correct the erring King and preserve him from falling away from faith. We see in David that God acts graciously toward Israel by defeating their enemies, but when their King begins to rely on human might instead of God’s gracious deliverance, that he fails. The text of Chronicles even tells us that Satan himself inspired David’s action. Our enemy, Satan, would surely rather have us trust in our own works and might instead of God’s grace, but the story of David and the kings who follow will show that victory comes only through God’s grace and defeat comes when man trusts in his own power. It seems that David understands this by the end of his life when in his words to his son Solomon he says, “Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20 NASB)
The Pattern of David’s Descendants as Kings of Judah

In the Chronicler’s account, the succession of kings is told quickly and succinctly. Because of this, we can see very clearly a pattern develop among the kings of Judah as chapter by chapter each king’s reign is laid out in succession. Chronicles shows a line of kings, some faithful, some unfaithful, but the line of kings is always preserved. Sometimes this occurs by God’s giving of a long reign to a good king. Other times, it occurs when God brings disaster to a faithless king and preserves his people in that way. This pattern goes even back to the beginning of the book. While the genealogies do not tell the story of every person they name, the reader knows that Abraham was called out of his country and made great and given Isaac by God’s grace alone when Abraham and Sarah could not produce a son on their own. They know the events of the famine and God’s saving of Jacob’s family in Egypt, and of God’s deliverance from Egypt and giving of the Promised Land after they were made slaves. The names of Tamar, Ruth and Boaz, and many others mentioned in these genealogies all bring to mind stories in which God’s grace was evident in saving and preserving those who had faith in Him.

Even the Chronicler’s omission of the trials through which David and Solomon passed during their rise to the throne could be seen as drawing the focus more tightly onto God’s gracious acts to preserve those faithful to Him. Also, even though it is not told in Chronicles, we know that Solomon fell into the worship of other gods, but in the Chronicler’s account of His death, he is described as “sleeping with his fathers” and given a proper burial, seemingly indicating that maybe God’s grace even preserved Solomon and returned him to faith after his spiritual adultery to idols.

The Kings after Solomon
Reheboam (2 Chronicles 10-12): Even though Reheboam was unwise in listening to the young men over the old men, and the kingdom became divided, God did not forsake Reheboam. When Israel turned away to false God, the priests and Levites assemble in Jerusalem and Reheboam’s kingdom in Jerusalem prospers. After Reheboam was made strong and established, though, He abandoned the Lord and as a result suffered defeat. The king and officials repent after hearing the word of Shemaiah the prophet and the destruction is cut short. Following the defeat, “conditions were good” again in Judah and Reheboam completes his reign as a faithful king.

Abijah (ch. 13): When Abijah goes to war against Jereboam, his speech demonstrates the source of his strength and victory. Abijah gives credit to God for His promise to David that his offspring would hold the kingdom. He points to Judah’s continuation of the sort of worship God has prescribed. He cites as a charge against Jereboam and Israel and the reason for their coming defeat that they have forsaken the true God and worshipped “what are no gods” In this battle, even though Abijah is outmaneuvered and ambushed from behind by Jereboam, he still is given victory. The credit is given to God that “the men of Judah prevailed, because they relied on the Lord, the God of their Fathers.” Victory in the battle again comes, not by the might of the army but because of faith in the God who gives victory.

Asa (ch. 14-16): Asa began his reign as a faithful king and was given victory over his enemies. Asa trusted in God for victory, and God defeated an army of a million Ethiopians before Him. Asa tore down idols and idolatrous altars and it is said that “Asa was wholly true in all his days.” Then, even after being given this great victory, Asa begins to trust in works and human power for victory instead of relying on God. When confronted by Israel, Asa not only seeks out the King of Syria for relief instead of the Lord, but he uses the treasures of the Lord’s house to buy off Syria. When Hannai was sent to warn Asa of the danger of this action, Asa became enraged and put him in the stocks. At the end of his life, even when faced with disease, he refused to trust in the Lord for healing, and he died trusting in physicians rather than the Lord.

Jehoshaphat (ch. 17-20): Jehoshaphat begins by “walking in the earlier ways of his father David.” He trusted in the Lord and took down high places and idols from the land, even sending out officials and Levites to teach the people from the Law of the Lord, but Jehoshaphat, even though the Lord had protected him from enemies and enlarged his army, made an alliance with the idolatrous Ahab. Even in spite of this alliance, God saves Jehoshaphat’s life in the battle because Jehoshaphat himself was faithful. After his life was saved and he returned from the battle after Ahab’s death, Jehoshaphat continued his religious reforms in Judah. When a great horde of many nations comes against Jehoshaphat, he acknowledges that it is not he but the Lord who must win the battle, saying, “O our God, wilt Thou not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on Thee.” (2 Chronicles 20:12) The Lord did deliver Judah from this horde by making the three allies turn against one another and destroy themselves, and after that “God gave him rest all around.” At the end of His reign, Jehoshaphat again forms an alliance with a wicked king of Israel, but only the fruits of this alliance are destroyed, not Jehoshaphat or his kingdom.

Jehoram and Ahaziah (ch. 21-22): Even though Jehoram did what was evil, God’s promise to David prevented him from destroying Him and his house. Jehoram built up high places instead of tearing them down. Because of this unfaithfulness, God brought a plague and defeat upon Judah and Jehoram and he “departed with no one’s regret” and was not buried with the kings. Ahaziah too did evil as he was taught by his mother and allied with the son of Ahab and was put to death.

Joash (ch. 23-24): Athaliah, mother of Ahaziah killed off the royal family at the death of her son and took the reign over the land for herself, but God preserved Joash, one of the king’s sons and brought down Athaliah and he became king. Joash grew to become king and repaired the temple, but after the death of the priest Jehoida, he turned away from the Lord, would not listen to the prophets, and kills Zechariah the priest who warns the people of their sin in forsaking the Lord. Soon after, Judah is defeated and Joash assassinated, even though the Syrian army “had come with few men.”

Amaziah (ch. 25): Amaziah initially allied with Israel to defend against the Edomites, but when warned by a man of God against this, he sent the hired soldiers away and fought with only his own army. The man of God spoke the promise that the Lord has the power to help or cast down and the Lord can give Amaziah far more than the 100 talents of silver he lost by sending away the hired soldiers. Even after the Lord gave him the victory over the Edomites, Amaziah returns to Judah and begins to worship the gods of those he defeated

Uzziah and Jotham (ch. 26-27): Uzziah began by trusting in the Lord, but when he had been made strong, he became proud in his strength and went in to burn incense before the Lord which was not his place and was struck with leprosy. Because of this, Jotham his son took his place and “became mighty because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God.”

Ahaz (ch. 28): Ahaz committed idolatry and sacrificed to idols and because of this, he suffered defeat both to Syria and Israel and many people were taken captive. When faced with invasions by the Edomites and Philistines, Ahaz still did not turn to the Lord, but instead the king of Assyria, paying him out of the possessions of the Lord’s house, but instead of helping him, the King of Assyria also came against Ahaz. After the defeat, he once again committed idolatry by worshipping the gods of those who had defeated him and stopped the worship of God at the temple.

Hezekiah (ch. 29-32): Hezekiah succeeded Ahaz and cleansed the temple and restored worship there, even celebrating the Passover again. When faced with an overwhelming invasion by Assyria, Hezekiah still trusts in the Lord, saying, “With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” Even when faced with Sennacherib’s blasphemy against the Lord and his boasting of how he would defeat Israel, Hezekiah trusted the Lord and Assyria was defeated by the Lord. In sickness, Hezekiah was proud for a time, but was quickly corrected.

Manasseh and Amon (ch. 33): Manasseh was evil and committed idolatry, even sacrificing his sons to idols, but repented when faced with defeat to Assyria, and was restored. Amon, his son also turned to idols, but did not repent as his father did, and he was put to death by his own servants.

Josiah (ch. 34-35): Josiah destroyed the idols and cleansed the land of Israel from false gods. He set out to repair the house of the Lord and the Book of the Law was found and it was foretold that all the curses written in it would come on the people for their unfaithfulness, but the curses were delayed until after Josiah’s reign because he repented and was faithful. Josiah even celebrated the Passover in Jerusalem, but when faced with battle, he did not hear the word of the Lord from the unlikely source of Neco the Pharaoh and was killed in battle.

The last four kings (ch. 36): Jehoahaz was deposed by Egypt 3 months into his reign, and the three kings who followed him, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, all were evil and idolatrous along with the people. Even after this, God still had compassion and continued to send messengers to correct them, but they would not listen. Jerusalem was then captured and burned, including the temple, and the people taken away into exile.

Divine Monergism in the Pattern of the Kings
In this pattern of the Chronicler’s history of the kings of Judah, we can see in quick succession how God sustains the faithful but destroys the evil. Some kings, such as Abijah, Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah are portrayed completely as faithful. They trust in the promises God has given them, and they are fulfilled. They follow the worship that God has given them, reform the land and destroy the idols rather than submitting to them. Reheboam is faithful, even if he is unwise in his choice of counsel, but he is corrected and counted as a faithful king. Jehoshaphat is faithful, then stumbles into trusting in human might in two alliances with Israel, but he is corrected and also portrayed as a whole as a faithful king. Two other kings, Uzziah and Josiah, begin as faithful, and fall into a pride, which, while it does not lead to faithlessness and their destruction, prevents the continuation of their reign.

Other kings are purely evil from the beginning, including Jehoram, Ahaziah, Ahaz, Amon, and the kings during the final decline of Judah after Josiah. Three kings begin as faithful but fall into idolatry to other gods or to trust in human might, but in spite of correction do not return. These are Asa, Joash, and Amaziah. One king alone who was evil finds repentance and in his death is counted faithful. This is Manasseh.

The simple way one might explain the relation of works and salvation to a confirmation student can be seen in the events of the kings of Judah. If anyone is saved, it is purely God’s action. If anyone is condemned, it is purely their own fault. Throughout the account of these kings, we constantly see God seeking to preserve His people and bring them and their kings back to faith in Him. Sometimes he accomplishes this by the king’s repentance. Other times the king hardens his heart and God must preserve His people by destroying that king.

God does not deliver the kings and the people because their repentance or faithfulness merits repentance. They are delivered because god is faithful to his promises. They are able to rely on God’s promises because they are reliable. They do not need to turn away to their own works or idolatrous worship to earn the victory because it is already theirs through faith in the Lord.

The truth of Luther’s words from the Heidelberg Disputation can be seen throughout the events of the kings of Judah. When a king believes he can achieve victory through his own works, he is utterly disappointed, but this should not cause despair, but instead should inspire faith in God who does not disappoint. The schizophrenic God who hands out rewards and punishments in the Old Testament but gives Grace in the New is not profitable or necessary in Christian thought. In all times, God saves because he is gracious. Those who rely on Him are given victory, but those who trust their own works are defeated. This is true both for a king in battle or a sinner whose conscience is terrified by the punishment he deserves. The harder one tries to pay for their own sin, the more lost they will become, but like Luther, the one who believes that their gracious God forgives them already has victory over the world, the devil, and their own sinful nature and receives forgiveness, life, and salvation instead.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Deliverance from Enemies by Grace: Evidence of Divine Monergism in the Pattern of the Kings of Judah (Part 1)

Paul says to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-10 NASB) If one is not careful, it can be easy to mistakenly fall into the thinking that this is a New Testament innovation—something started after Jesus death, a new idea started by Paul, or a change in God’s way of dealing with man. For many Christians, there is a division in their mind that God saves by Grace in the New Testament and by Works in the Old, or that he forgives sins because of Jesus in the New Testament, but because of sacrifice in the Old. To do this sets up a scenario where we see two radically different Gods, or at least a God with two radically different personalities. This view makes Old Testament a story of a God who hands out rewards and punishments based on human works—a complete Theology of Glory, as if the Theology of the Cross did not exist before the cross itself.

This misunderstanding of God’s nature does not limit itself to the interpretation of the Old Testament. The same people who read the Bible in the way described above also continue this Theology of Glory into their application for the life of the modern Christian. While they might give acceptance on paper in official documents to the teaching that man is saved by grace through faith, they undermine this teaching with the way they apply God’s Word in their preaching, teaching, and writing. Here, they teach that if you just follow these steps, God will bless you, or if our country would just do this thing, God would bless the nation. Contained in the book of Chronicles are the occasions for two prevalent examples of this misapplication of God’s Word that occurs when reading the scriptures from an outlook of the Theology of Glory by those who follow American Popular Christianity.

The Prayer of Jabez
The first of these examples is the Prayer of Jabez. In this work, the author uses 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 to demonstrate what he claims is God’s desire for people to do and for people’s lives to be like. The prayer reads, “Oh that Thou wouldst bless me indeed, and enlarge my border, and that Thy hand might be with me, and that Thou wouldst keep me from harm, that it may not pain me!” (1 Chronicles 4:10, NASB) If the reader will just repeatedly pray this prayer persistently enough, the author claims that God will have no choice but to give them great earthly blessings. Prayer is used by the Christian to manipulate God in a way more fitting of paganism than Christianity. This prayer is effective, not because of God’s grace or Christ’s work, but because of the earnestness and persistence of the person praying it. Prayer becomes a work by which the one praying earns God’s favor and earthly wealth.

This reflects the Theology of Glory that underlies all of American Popular Christianity. According to the author and most English Bible translations, Jabez is blessed by God because he is “honorable.”[2] In reality, the Hebrew word is a Niphal participle and should be translated passively as “honored,”[3] since the Niphal normally indicates a passive translation. This correct translation would point to God’s grace in favoring Jabez, where the common translation points instead to the character of Jabez, as if anything in him merits the favor God showed to him.

2 Chronicles 7:14
The second example of this misapplication of scripture in the practice of American Popular Christianity is the frequent usage of 2 Chronicles 7:14 applied to the United States of America as a political nation. ”[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” This passage may be one of the most familiar and often cited verses of Chronicles,
[4] and is unique to the Chronicler along with the surrounding verses. This verse can be seen displayed regularly on T-shirts and bumper stickers as an exhortation to the general public around the one displaying it that America had better get its act together and how it should be done. Type the reference into Google along with terms like “devotion,” “sermon,” or “and an abundance of websites will be found which expound on this verse. Sermons have such titles as “God's Recipe for Power in His Church”, and devotional responses include such comments as “It tells us that we personally (and as a Nation) must turn to God, change our ways, and take a stand in our land to continue to enjoy the Lord's protection.”[5] and “It tells the steps one must take (humble yourself and pray and seek God) to walk closely with God.”[6]

The abuse of this verse shows most clearly the works-righteous theology of Glory in American Popular Christianity, which seeks to have the favor and punishment of God rely on the merits of men. They transform a passage in which God is giving a divine promise and comfort into a command where God requires men to seek him and humble themselves in order to receive healing and forgiveness. One commentator sees this verse in Chronicles as a key verse in explaining the remainder of the book because it shows the Chronicler’s “theology of immediate retribution.” He claims “’Seeking God’ becomes a touchstone for weal or woe; similarly ‘humbling oneself’ or the failure to do so determines the divine response. Prayer and ‘turning’ occur at critical junctures in the narrative.”[7] He continues by saying “God does indeed bless or judge each generation in terms of its own response to his commands…Acts of piety and obedience are rewarded with success and prosperity…Conversely, disobedience and infidelity bring military defeat, the dissatisfaction of the population, and illness.”[8]

Those who use this verse as a kind of give and take relationship between God and man where man does some work to merit God’s forgiving response could better interpret this verse if it were not removed from its surroundings. Reading from verse 12, we find that God is speaking here to announce to Solomon that he has chosen the temple as a place to dwell. God then promises in verses 13-14 that even though Israel will fall into wicked ways and need correction, that when the correction has worked repentance in the hearts of the people, that he will heal the land. God is the active one here, not man. God chooses, God corrects, and God forgives. In verse 15-16, God promises that the temple will be his dwelling. This applies both to Solomon’s Temple, and encourages the Chronicler’s readers that the rebuilt temple is God’s dwelling place as well. Much like we have the sure promise that God comes to us through the Word and the Sacraments, this promise assures Israel that the temple is the place where God will come to them.

This verse is spoken by God for Israel as a promise, but many would recast it as spoken to America as law. Teachers who still look to Israel for the fulfillment of eschatology take a promise spoken to Israel and inconsistent with their own teachings, apply it to America instead. Additionally, why do the translations render the Niphal verb in verse 14 reflexively as “humble themselves” instead of passively as “be humbled”? It seems this would reflect better the truth that even when man repents, even that repentance is a gift of God as well as being the simpler and more common translation of the verb.

These two passages, used by many in separation from their context, serve as perfect examples of the misapplication of Scripture by American Popular Christianity. Both the story of Jabez and God’s promise to Solomon regarding the temple are packaged and marketed to law-loving Americans who consider themselves Evangelical Christians. This is our inclination as humans to run to the law. We seek to find what we can do, how we can earn right standing with God. We cannot accept that it is as simple as Grace, so we search for something to return the focus to ourselves instead of God and thus satisfy our selfish sinful hearts.

Luther on these Two Theologies
Martin Luther writes to admonish the Church against this tendency in his Heidelberg Disputation, which is the place where he begins to speak of the Theology of the Cross and the Theology of Glory. He demonstrates that salvation does not and cannot come by works of the law, but only by the Grace of God.

16. The person who believes that he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so that he becomes doubly guilty.
17. Nor does speaking in this manner give cause for despair, but for arousing the desire to humble oneself and seek the grace of Christ.
18. It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.
25. He is not righteous who does much, but he who, without work, believes much in Christ.
26. The law says, ‘do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘believe in this,’ and everything is already done.

Luther’s language here in 17 regarding “humbling oneself” is more closely related to what God speaks to Solomon about in 2 Chronicles 7:14. To humble oneself is not to do some work to appease God. It is not to “decide to follow Jesus.” It is to despair in one’s own works which can earn nothing toward salvation, but know that God is gracious and forgives the sins of those who trust him.

According to the Theology of Glory, humans merit rewards and punishments by their actions. God rewards good behavior and punishes bad. When God’s grace in introduced, it is in the sense of a synergism where “I do my best and God will do the rest,” and Jesus death is only to make up the difference. On the other hand, the Theology of the Cross trusts completely in Jesus merits and God’s grace for salvation. In the Theology of the Cross, not only do good works merit nothing, placing any trust at all in works increases one’s guilt before God and separates the person from God’s grace.

This is the pattern we see played out in the story of the kings of Judah in Chronicles. A faithful king who trusts in God has long life and a prosperous reign, not because he merits it by believing, but because he knows God’s grace and is given His gifts. A king who is spiritually adulterous and seeks after other gods is corrected or destroyed and brings danger and difficulty to God’s people. A king who relies on his own works instead of depending on God for victory finds himself defeated, even though he has the superior army, but the king whose forces are outmatched by the enemy is given victory because God fights on their behalf.

[1] Wilkinson, Bruce; The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking through to the Blessed Life; Multnomah, 2000.
[2] Gard, Daniel, “The Prayer of Jabez”, Class Handout.
[3] Lange, John Peter; Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, vol. 4, tr. Philip Schaff; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1960, pp. 54-55.
[4] Dillard, Raymond B. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 15, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1987, p. 58.
[7] Dillard, Raymond B. and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1994, p. 176.
[8] Ibid. p. 177.
[9] Lull, Timothy, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1989, p. 31.
[10] Ibid. p. 32.