A Kingdom that Cannot Be Shaken

Daniel chapters 2 and 7 both relate dreams that cover the same progression of kingdoms from different perspectives, and both serve to contrast the succession of fleeting manifestations of the City of Man with the solid, eternal City of God.

In chapter 2, Daniel interprets a dream that troubled Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. The dream was of a great image, a giant metal man with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, and legs of iron. A stone not cut by human hands struck the image and crushed it all to pieces so that it blew away like chaff in the wind, and then the stone grew to be a mountain that filled the earth. Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that he and his kingdom are the head of gold and that after him would arise other kingdoms: a kingdom of silver, and one of bronze, and one of iron that would break in pieces and shatter all things. But after these, Daniel says, “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. [This kingdom] shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and [this kingdom] shall stand forever.” This kingdom is the stone that grows to be a mountain that fills the earth.

Daniel 7 is a parallel passage, a dream that comes to Daniel and troubles him. He sees four beasts rise out of the sea: the first, a lion with the wings of an eagle to whom is given the mind of a man — this again is Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon; the second, a bear raised up on one side — the coming Medes and Persians; the third, a leopard with four heads — four stages of the Greek Empire; and fourth, a great iron beast that devours and breaks in pieces all things — Imperial Rome. He sees a court of judgment set up and books opened and the iron beast killed and all their dominion taken away. The he sees one like a son of man presented to the Ancient of Days and to him is given a kingdom and dominion that will not pass away and will not be destroyed.

This “one like a son of man” nearly jumps off the page as a reference to Christ, but it is explained in verse 18 that, “the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever,” in verse 22, “judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom,” and again in verse 27, “the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them.” It is true that this is Christ, but it is the total Christ, the head and the body.

Paul, writing to the saints in Ephesus, says that we are blessed in Christ and adopted as sons; the saints are made sons of the Most High God. The church is both the “one like a son of man” who obtains an inheritance and the one who is given as a glorious inheritance to the Son. The power of God raised Christ “from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” This is an amazing statement: the church, the body of Christ, is the fullness of Him who fills all in all. The total Christ, the head and body together, is the mountain kingdom that grows to fill the earth, a kingdom that cannot be shaken.

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Heart of Flesh

Ezekiel 36 talks about the uncleanness of Israel, not just in the land but in the presence of all the nations to which God had driven them out. This uncleanness is not dirtiness but death, the death of empty idolatry, of exposed flesh, the death that Jesus says comes up from the inside, from the heart, and flows out to defile a person (Mat 15:1-20). They had defiled the land and the name of God, carrying His name in vain, profaning it among the nations. But God says that He will vindicate His holy name by gathering Israel again to her own land, cleansing her from her uncleanness, removing her heart of stone and giving her a new heart, a heart of flesh, and blessing her in the land with abundant fruitfulness. He will vindicate His name by restoring His covenant with His people.

About this new heart, God says, “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” The Word of God had been given to them, and this was their heart: statutes and rules written on stone tablets. But now we have the Word written in human flesh, the very Son of God incarnate, and the Spirit of God indwells us and causes us to walk uprightly. And this is what Paul is addressing in Galatians 3. How can we, who have Christ and His Spirit in us, return to the stone law? How can we expect to merit our own perfection? Can we make this stone heart alive? Life is given in Christ and we receive it through faith. Just as God established His covenant with Abraham, so He establishes His covenant with us through baptism. What was promised to him — that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed — is fulfilled in us. We put on Christ and in Him we are heirs.

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So All Will Know

Leviticus 19 includes the phrase that Jesus quotes as the second great commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” God gives examples of what this means, anticipating the pharisaical question, “Who is my neighbor?” He includes the poor, the sojourner, the hired worker, the deaf, the blind, the great, the one living near you, and any of the sons of your people. This would pretty much include anyone you might happen to meet or do business with in your daily life.

The whole passage is structured with the refrain, “I am Yahweh.” Why do we love our neighbor? Because Yahweh is who He is and we are His people. In Exodus, Pharaoh refused to let the Hebrews go, saying, “Who is Yahweh? I don’t know Yahweh.” When Moses brought this to God, He responded, I am Yahweh; I have heard the cries of the people of Israel in their slavery and I have remembered the covenant I made with their fathers. I am Yahweh; I will deliver you from your slavery. You will be my people and I will be your God. I will bring you to the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I am Yahweh.

God’s deliverance of His people — the exodus from Egypt — was an answer to the question, “Who is Yahweh?” He does this so Israel would know Him, so Egypt and the surrounding nations would see and know that He is God over all. Likewise, when He says, “You shall be holy, for I Yahweh your God am holy,” or, “Love your neighbor as yourself. I am Yahweh,” it is a reflection of His character, a witness to us and the surrounding world that He is who He says He is. Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Paul says it this way, “We are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” We love one another because we are one body. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The gifts we’ve been given, whether it’s service or teaching or generosity or any other thing, are given for the benefit of the whole body. The hand has the gift of grasping and the eye the gift of seeing, but these only make sense in the context of the body. The eye doesn’t see just for the sake of the eye, but for the rest of the body. So we love one another because we are members of one another. We love one another so that the world will see and know that Jesus is Lord over all.

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Though He Slay Me

The book of Job fits in with the book of Proverbs as a book of kingly training. It begins with the familiar story of this great and wealthy man who loses everything he has — his family, his home, his servants, animals, and crops — all in one day. He is plagued with sores from head to foot and his friends, the advisers or counselors of this great, powerful man, come to sit with him and comfort him. But they don’t. They sit with him for seven days without saying anything. When Job finally speaks, saying, It would be better if I’d never been born, they pounce on him and begin to attack, accusing him of unbelief and unrepentance. The innocent are not torn down like this, they say; you are guilty of sin. Repent! “God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.” A man reaps what he sows.  This at least is certainly true. But Job’s friends reason backwards. If we sin and try to cover it up, we can expect trouble to find us. But it doesn’t follow that if we have trouble, then it means we must have sinned.

Job maintains his innocence, rejecting their false accusations, and longs to plead his case before God, the Judge. The beginning of the story — the part we get to see that Job didn’t, the conversation in heaven between God and the Accuser — shows us that Job is not just being caught in the machinery. “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” He is not being punished for sin. He is not being crushed merely on the whim of a capricious devil. God initiates and maintains a watchful eye over the whole process. The trials that He sends Job, and the accusers He sends to wrestle with him, are for his training in kingly rule. Job gains his victory by clinging to God in trust. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away; blessed be the name of Yahweh.” “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” “Though he slay me, I will hope in him”

Certainly Paul recognizes this same progression in his trials. “I am being poured out as a drink offering… I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.” Victory and kingship come through our suffering, our struggles, our wrestling because in our suffering we follow Christ. He has gone before us in this; He leads the way, and He is our hope.

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As the Waters Cover the Sea

Isaiah 45 is addressed to Cyrus, king of the Persians, whom God calls His anointed — His messiah, His christ — the one who would shepherd His people. God tells him that He will give him the nations so that all will know that Yahweh is God and there is no other, so that all will know that He is the one who declares the end from the beginning and salvation to the ends of the earth. This is fulfilled initially during the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther when Cyrus was given the nations to rule and released the Jews from their exile to return and rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple. Of course, this pushes beyond Cyrus and points ahead to Jesus, the Anointed, to whom the Father gives all the nations. It is Jesus who says, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!” and “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”

This salvation that is declared to the ends of the earth, to all the gentile nations, is set in motion by Jesus through his church in the book of Acts. He gathers them together to pour out His Spirit on them and to send them to be His “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This is just how the book plays out. The first seven chapters take place in Jerusalem, and then persecution arises with Saul and the Jews against the church and it is scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. After Paul’s conversion, he begins to push out, taking the gospel into Asia, Greece, and what is now Europe. This is still the charge of the church, to take the gospel to the ends of the earth so that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”

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Proverbs 11

Proverbs 11 is a contrast of the wicked and the righteous — their desires, means, and ends. The desires of the wicked are to undermine and destroy the righteous, to take what he can get, to amass for himself riches. He tears down his neighbor with his mouth, slandering and exposing secrets. He relies on his wealth and his cunning. The chapter begins, “A false balance is an abomination to Yahweh, but a just weight is his delight.” The Lord takes cheating in seemingly simple economic transactions as an abomination, an act of defiance against God, a serious injustice that would cause the nation to be spewed from the land.* This way causes the wicked to walk into trouble, to stumble and fall, to be taken captive, to be overthrown and destroyed.

The righteous is the one who desires good; he diligently seeks good and pursues it. He deals justly; he remains humble and keeps his integrity. His words bring blessing, exaltation, and deliverance to those around him. He does not trust in his riches but is generous, and the fruit of his righteousness is a tree of life. Because he keeps his ways blameless, he is a delight to the Lord, and the Lord will deliver him and his children from destruction.

* See Peter Leithart for more on this economic injustice.

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Father to Son

It is significant that the book of Proverbs is addressed from father to son. Teaching should take place within an existing relationship of trust and love, and that relationship must be cultivated if teaching is going to be effective. An estranged son will not be receptive to the wisdom his father offers. But this is not a democratic or egalitarian relationship. A father’s teaching is backed up by authority. He can exhort his son to remember his teaching and to keep his commandments because he is the agent for communicating Yahweh’s teaching and commandments.

It is also significant that it is specifically this father, Solomon the king, addressing his son. This is a book of kingly training, training in justice and wise rule. The Proverbs communicate the wisdom needed to be true sons of the King, taking dominion over the earth and ruling those who are under our authority so that they flourish. The Proverbs train us as kings in the basic sense that they teach us how to take mastery of life, rather than stumble through life from one crisis to another.

Wisdom involves skill in doing what is fitting and in producing results that are beautiful. The  craftsmen chosen by God displayed their wisdom in the construction of the tabernacle and the fashioning of the high priest’s garments of glory and beauty. A musician displays wisdom in making music; a father displays wisdom in training and guiding his children. There is a “craft” or “art” to each of these endeavors. Overall, the Proverbs teach us how to live skillfully, and how to construct a life that is attractive, fitting, and beautiful.

Paul’s exhortations to fathers to train their children rely on this foundation. Children still need to be trained in wisdom, they still must be cultivated, nurtured, and disciplined. And this, Paul says, rests primarily on the father’s shoulders. It is through the father that this teaching comes, and so it is the responsibility of the father to know what he must teach. A man cannot teach his children the way of God if he himself does not know it. Our children are our masterpieces, our wisdom on display.

Sons and daughters honor their fathers and mothers by receiving this wisdom humbly, by building on this wisdom, broadening and deepening it by the word of God. And we have a Father also, who trains us and disciplines us. We honor Him by remembering His teaching and keeping His commandments. He reproves us and reshapes us because we are His workmanship, His masterpiece. He reproves him whom He loves. He says of His faithful children, “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased.”

 

A good bit of this was taken from Peter Leithart but now I’ve gone and mixed it all up and don’t remember which is which.

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Dry Bones

Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet of God during the Babylonian exile, when Judah was cast out of the land and Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. In chapter six, Ezekiel was told to prophecy to Israel, “Thus says the Lord Yahweh to the mountains and the hills, to the ravines and the valleys: Behold, I, even I, will bring a sword upon you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars shall become desolate, and your incense altars shall be broken, and I will cast down your slain before your idols. And I will lay the dead bodies of the people of Israel before their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars.” Judah had become like the surrounding nations, worshiping at the feet of idols and so were caught up in the destruction that Yahweh poured out on these false gods.

In chapter 37, God brings Ezekiel to this valley of bones and asks him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Can these dried-up, idolatrous, scattered bones of the house of Israel live? Ezekiel is told to speak to the lost, hopeless bones so that they would hear the Word of God and be resurrected from this death in idolatry. The Word is spoken, a new creation, “Let us make man in our image.” Ezekiel sees the bones come together, a corporate body of Adam with sinews and flesh and skin, a man of dust with no breath. Again, Ezekiel prophecies, but this time to the Spirit Himself, “Come, breathe into these nostrils the breath of life,” and he sees the host of Israel rise, a people of Word and Spirit.

The near-fulfillment of this resurrected Israel is seen in the return from exile and the restoration of the city and temple with Zerubbabel, the prince of the line of David as their head. But the greater fulfillment came with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, again raising Israel to new life, with Jesus as King over His people.

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Babel and Pentecost

Genesis 11:1 says, “Now the whole earth had one lip and the same words.” This “lip” refers to a common confession, a common religious belief. They built a city around their common culture and language, and they built a tower as a shrine with its head in the heavens for their common credo, “I believe in me.” They say, “let us make a name for ourselves,” as an attempt, like Adam’s, to become like God. Just as God came down to evaluate and judge Adam’s work in the garden, so He came down to see and judge this city and tower built in the name of Man.

When the Spirit came down at Pentecost, He reversed the confused lip of Babel. He allowed them to keep their cultural and linguistic diversity; He did not cause everyone to suddenly speak the same language, but He reoriented men from all nations to confess with one mouth, “Jesus is Lord.” It was a sign to the Gentiles that the Word of God was coming into each of their cultures and languages to glorify them and transform them, making them fit to carry the Word. It was also a sign and judgment against the Jews because this Word was not being spoken in Hebrew, but in all the diverse languages of the empire. In order to continue as the people of God, the Jews would have to confess not that Yahweh was the God of Israel only, but that Jesus is the Lord of the cosmos.

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Messianic King

Psalm 110 celebrates God’s gift of a messianic king over the people and the restoration from judgment*. It echoes themes from earlier in the Psalter. This king to whom Yahweh says, “sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool,” is the same one who received the commendation, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” The king that rules from Zion stretches out his scepter over the nations and breaks them in pieces like clay pots. He is the son of man who, for a little while, was made lower than the angels but has been crowned with glory and honor and dominion. The Psalm echoes the promise of Genesis that the seed of the woman would shatter the head of the serpent. And it calls up that mysterious figure Melchizedek, the gentile priest-king who came from Jerusalem to bless Abraham after his victory in battle, and to whom Abraham gave a tenth of all the spoils. This Messiah would be a priest-king like that, blessing with bread and wine.

Fully aware of and anticipating the fulfillment of all these Messianic promises, the disciples ask Jesus: are you going to bring the kingdom now? are you going to set up your throne and crush your enemies under your feet? Is Israel going to be the great kingdom that it once was under David and Solomon?

His answer seems to brush them off: it is not for you to know times or seasons. But he isn’t brushing them off. He is just reorienting them. All through the gospels he has told them that the kingdom is not quite the kind of thing they were expecting. His authority is made manifest in his obedience to the Father. His power is displayed in his service, in laying down his life for his church. He already has all authority in heaven and on earth and he says that his disciples would receive power when he sent the Holy Spirit to them. By his Spirit, they have authority to go out to be witnesses, messengers of his resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of the Father. By his Spirit they have the authority to disciple the nations, teaching them to obey all that he has commanded.

*see Jim Jordan’s helpful summary of Book Five of the Psalter.

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