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Monday, March 29, 2021

Psalm 67: A word in season

Traditionally, observant Jews recite Psalm 67 daily in this period of counting the omer (grain sheaves), from Pesach/Passover to Shavuot/Pentecost. Apart from the title line, Psalm 67 has seven verses and 49 words in Hebrew, corresponding to the seven weeks and 49 days of counting the omer: one word to contemplate per day and one verse per week.

Particularly striking is the psalm's echo of the priestly blessing in verse 1 (using the common English numbering, which ignores the superscription). Verses 2-7 form a symmetry that hinges on v4b, the climax, of God judging (governing) the peoples of the earth fairly. Moving out from the centre, verses 4a and c speak of the nations. Verses 3 and 5 are the same: the peoples praise God. Verses 2 and 6 speak of the earth, and verses1 and 7 assure us of God's blessing. So the whole song is mirrored on the middle (a chiasm/chiasmus), like a mountain reflected in a lake.

Another interesting feature is the psalmist's deliberate use of three different, but closely related, words: goyim (nations), amim (peoples), and l'ummim (nations). This makes Psalm 67 especially suitable for mixed multitudes to join together with Israel in praising God who has indeed made his salvation known among all nations through his Anointed One, Yeshua (Jesus) himself! Like a Passover lamb, he was executed on Passover day. God resurrected him on the third day, the Festival of Firstfruits; as Paul wrote that Messiah's resurrection is the firstfruits of those who have "fallen asleep"—there is a great harvest (resurrection of the righteous dead) yet to come when he returns! On the fiftieth day (Pentecost), God poured out his Holy Spirit on the disciples of Yeshua in the temple (the [Holy] House) where they were gathered. Now God's salvation has been proclaimed in every nation, as the psalmist anticipated. Yet we still await the fulness of his Kingdom, when he shall reign through Messiah, judging all nations with fairness. May he bring it speedily and soon, and in our days, Amen!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

A Pentecost on Passover?

The first person to speak in tongues in the famous Azusa Street Revival did so on 9 April 1906. This was the 14th day of Nisan, that is, Passover. (Use https://www.hebcal.com/converter to check.) Just a fluke, or truly an appointed time? Yet the Pentecostal renewal in 1906 didn't come easily; extended and fervent fasting and prayer led up to it.

The history seems all the more pertinent for my home country (and many others) when we consider that the Revival came through the preaching of an African American, William Seymour—an object of ethnic prejudice in his time. And there seems rich irony in that Seymour was blind in one eye; he could "see" better than his contemporaries what the unseen God wanted to do!

May the LORD strengthen us to seek Him wholeheartedly in our days, and at the imminent Passover, that we too may be refreshed by his Holy Breath!

Monday, March 15, 2021

Remembrance of Polycarp

Although the date of Polycarp's martyrdom is disputed, at least one source names today (2 Nisan) as the day of his death. In any case, he's worthy of remembrance as a leader of the ecclesia in the mid-second century and as a martyr for the faith in Messiah (against Roman paganism). I also honour him for his firm stance on Quartodecimanism [1] (Passover on 14 Nisan, according to the biblical calendar) and for transmitting premillennialism [2] (the future kingdom of God on earth).

Just one of Polycarp's works remains, a letter he wrote the the congregation in Philippi. Here is chapter 2 of that letter from Rick Brannan's accessible new translation [3]:

2.1 Therefore prepare yourselves. Serve God in reverence and truth, leaving behind empty, fruitless talk  and the deception of the crowd, believing in the one who raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and gave him glory and a throne at his right hand, to whom all things in heaven and earth are subject, whom every breathing thing worships, who is coming as judge of the living and dead, whose blood God will require from those who disobey him. 2 But the one who raised him from the dead also will raise us if we do his will and follow in his commandments and love the things he loved, refraining from all unrighteousness, greediness, love of money, evil speech, and false witness, not paying back evil for evil or abuse for abuse or blow for blow or curse for curse, 3 but remembering what the Lord said when he taught: Do not judge so that you may not be judged; forgive and then you will be forgiven; show mercy so that you will be shown mercy; with what measure you measure out it will be measured again to you; and blessed are the poor and those being persecuted for the sake of righteousness; for theirs is the kingdom of God.

I pray and trust, in accord with Revelation 6:9–11, for the vindication and proper vengeance of the blood of all the martyrs—including Polycarp.

[1]  This includes both the remembrance of the original Passover of the Hebrews and the execution of Jesus/Yeshua.

[2] Disputed, but I believe a firm case can be made.

[3] Brannan, Rick, trans. The Apostolic Fathers in English. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Book Review: Models of Premillennialism

My review of Sung Wook Chung's and David Mathewson's Models of Premillennialism (2018, Cascade Books) has been published in Conspectus 28 (September 2019). The review includes a summary and critique of the book. Here is an excerpt:
Chung and Mathewson have produced a digestible review of premillennial eschatologies put forward since the second century, showing how each one developed and what its unique characteristics are. By restricting their scope to premillennialism, the authors avoided inundating the reader with too much information which is readily available elsewhere. I was particularly glad to discover that the majority view of evangelical theologians is premillennialism, where the impression I had was that it was a minority view among them (even if is evidently popular in the camp of dispensational laymen.) Even so, Chung and Mathewson are not polemical in their presentation, nor do they seek to persuade the reader to adopt any eschatological position.
The review is freely available here: https://www.sats.edu.za/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Conspectus-28-11-Woods.pdf.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Wisdom in Esther

What wisdom can we gain from the main characters, Mordecai, Esther and Haman, in the book of Esther?

We learn that the wise decline to act on bad advice, but they respond positively to good advice.

  • Day after day, the king's servants pressed Mordecai to obey the command of the king, to kneel and bow down to Haman, but Mordecai resisted. This appears early in the narrative (Est. 3.2-4) and it's only toward the end that we see that Mordecai's determination not to obey a bad command proved to be wise.
  • In Esther 4.15-17, Queen Esther tells her relative, Mordecai, to arrange a fast for all the Jews in the city of Susa. Implicit in the narrative is an appeal for all Jews in the city to pray for her. Mordecai acted on Esther's word, and God acted in response to the Jews' fasting and prayers, and he saved them. Here, the wise Mordecai acted on a good command, as verse 17 says, "he did everything that Esther commanded him."
  • In another place, Queen Esther was prompted by Mordecai to "go to the king and make supplication to him and entreat before him for her people" (Est. 4.8). Thus she did, contrary to the custom--even at risk of her own life. The wise take good advice!

We also learn from the book of Esther that fools reject good advice, but they act upon bad advice.

  • The wicked Haman took the bad advice of his wife and all his friends (he must have kept bad company!) As Esther 5.14 says, they advised him to erect "gallows" on which to hang Mordecai; "The advice pleased Haman, so he had the gallows made." Later in the story, we learn that the fate he intended for his enemy came upon him instead--and his ten sons!
  • In contrast, when Haman's advisers and his wife gave him good advice, warning him that he would "not prevail against [Mordecai] but certainly fall before him," Haman rejected it (Est. 6.13). His baseless hatred for the righteous Mordecai compelled him to reject words of wisdom and act in folly instead.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Review of Mark Kinzer's "Jerusalem Crucified, Jerusalem Risen"

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to review Mark Kinzer's latest book, Jerusalem Crucified, Jerusalem Risen, for Messiah Journal (issue 133, Winter 2019). I wrote that it is a:
groundbreaking work aimed at providing an integrated, coherent interpretation of the biblical text on diverse yet inextricable and indispensable components of the euangelion (good news): the Jewish people; the land of Israel; the city of Jerusalem; the temple, the Torah; the ekklēsia (including Jewish and gentile members); and the divine plan for humanity and the cosmos, especially in modern Jewish history. Ultimately these lead to an interpretation of the euangelion as a message that addresses all these matters with “integrative power.” Moreover, the euangelion is not merely historical (pointing to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus) but also prophetic, pointing to what is yet to come for all its components listed above—or all but the temple, which is a special case. ...
The book is not for casual readers; it is for thought-leaders in the ekklēsia and the Jewish world, and it is an absolute must-have for advanced students of Luke-Acts. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The land of promise

Hebrews 11.9 says that Isaac and Jacob were “coheirs of the same promise” as Abraham. Which promise? The promised land, as the same verse tells us: “By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise.” Therefore, the New Testament tells us that the land was promised by God to Abraham and his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob who inherited it from him as his heirs. Jacob is also named Israel. His children became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Recall that Romans 15.8 reminds us that Messiah came “to confirm the promises to the fathers”. Now, then, to whom does the New Testament promise the holy land?