Be Doers of the Word… but not too quickly.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22)

If we are good Bible readers, we aren’t content to simply read the Bible, we want to do what it says. We aren’t content to simply interpret it, we want to apply it as well. However, sometimes we can be so eager to apply the Bible that we don’t take the time to interpret it. We can be so eager to be doers, that our ability to be good readers suffers.

We must be hearers and doers, in that order. Bible reading isn’t a craft where we can cut corners. Quickly finding an application, when not built on the foundation of interpretation, can cause problems. In fact, a hasty application can cause us to miss the entire point of a passage. In some cases it can even cause us to work against the point of the passage.

Take for instance, Matthew 5:1-26

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

A Hasty Application
A quick glance at this passage reveals that anger and resentment are the common theme. The subtitles in our Bibles confirm this. The ESV, for instance, chose anger as their subtitle, the NASB chose personal relationships, and the NIV chose murder. All of these subtitles raise the suspicion that this passage is about how we should treat others. If we stop there, assuming that the subtitles did our job for us, we are likely to assume that the passage is written to encourage us to be less angry and more loving. Our application will sound something like this: “Don’t get angry with people and don’t speak poorly about them, instead try to be more loving.”

Consider the Context
This short passage is the first of several instances in chapter five where Jesus takes a law that the people were familiar with and intensifies it. To understand each of these it is helpful to remember how he introduced the section. Jesus explains in Matthew 5:17-20,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 

Jesus is setting up a fact that we don’t often like to consider. The Law is hard. He explains that his coming doesn’t make it any easier. To make his point he puts forward a shocking claim. He essentially says, consider the most righteous person you know, consider someone who has dedicated their entire life to knowing the laws and to taking serious steps toward keeping them, you would have to be far more righteous than that person if you want any hope of getting into heaven.

Anger as an Example of Our Trouble
Because this claim seems so over the top, Jesus gives some examples to help make it more clear. The first one is this text dealing with anger. Jesus makes two points here to drive the message home.

First, Jesus explains that keeping the law is harder than we think. In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus shows us exactly what he means by not relaxing the Law. If you thought not murdering was enough to keep the commandment, you misunderstood the commandment. Instead, to keep this commandment we have to keep from being angry. Just as murder, even one murder, was enough to condemn us as a murder, anger, even just one time, is enough to send us to hell. The prospect is scary because even though most people had never murdered, everyone, even the Pharisees, are guilty of anger.

But perhaps this is were the Pharisees thought they were prepared. Sure they have been angry, but they have offered sacrifices to cover that sin. They offered burnt offerings to cover their guilt. Yet, in Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus makes his second point by calling the sacrifices into question. If they thought that their burnt offerings would cover their sins, they were wrong. Instead Jesus says to forget the burnt offerings, first go and make everything right. In fact, giving a burnt offering, or going to worship, when there is anger in our hearts is the most dangerous thing we could do.

We may wonder why it would be dangerous to worship, or offer a sacrifice, when we are angry. To clarify, Jesus offers a little story. He compares the sacrifice to going before a judge, and cautions that whenever you stand before the judge, you are liable to be judged. And when you stand before a righteous judge he will not let you go until you have paid the last penny. Only a fool would go before the judge while there is still guilt on his hands.

As we consider this message we realize that this is not meant to encourage us to be more loving, it is meant to scare the socks off of us. If we simply tried to be more loving, when would we ever be loving enough to enter into His courts? How good is good enough? Jesus himself answers that question in the last verse of the chapter. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

A Better Application
When we consider the argument that Jesus is making, it becomes clear that any effort to be more loving misses the boat. It’s not that we shouldn’t be more loving, but that we must realize that we can never be loving enough to get into heaven. Worse, we have been so angry that we deserve hell and that no amount of effort, including offering sacrifices, worship, or in our modern context, going to church, can help.

So how do we apply a passage like this? Do we simply get depressed at our own failures? That may be a good start, Jesus does introduce the entire sermon with “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” However, that isn’t going far enough. We must remember that though Jesus did not come to abolish the Law, he did come to fulfill it. As Jesus’ conclusion to this sermon reminds us, our efforts to get to heaven can be built on one of two foundations. The foolish option is to build on the sandy foundation of our own ability to do good and avoid anger. The wise man, however, will choose to stand on the firm foundation of Jesus. Though we cannot fulfill the Law on our own, Jesus did so on our behalf.

If we apply this passage too quickly, if we try to be doers without considering the heart of the message, we run the risk of doing the very thing Jesus is cautioning us of. We can never get to heaven by trying to be better. We can never know God on the basis of our own good deeds. Instead we must despair of our own ability and cling ever more tightly to the only one who has ever fulfilled the Law. It is only on his shoulders that we can ever enter the kingdom of heaven.


Is God Good? A Wise Response From Psalm 73

Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart. (Psalm 73:1)

Is that true? Is God good to the people who love him and follow Him? What about missionaries like Jim Elliot who are brutally massacred by a savage South American tribe? What about godly people like Job who loses his family, his health, and all his money? Or what about more modern examples like my two friends who have both been left by unbelieving husbands while they struggle to be godly single mothers to their three children? What about my seminary professor, Steve McKinion, whose son was recently diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia? What about the countless other stories of people who love Jesus and are living through enormous amounts of suffering and pain?

In Psalm 73, Asaph considers the suffering that God’s followers go through and he says, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped” (Psalm 73:2). He knows he should say that God is good, but the evidence is making him question whether it is even true. And to make matters worse, he points out that those who don’t believe in God, those who reject God and set themselves against him, seem to be much better off. Consider his complaint.

For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
Therefore his people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease,
they increase in riches. (Psalm 73:3-12)

The obvious question that Asaph is facing is, “if God is so good, why do his followers suffer while those who oppose him get all the rewards?” As adults we ask why non-Christians, who lie and cheat, and refuse to pay all their taxes, seem to make all the money. As a student at a Christian high school I used to wonder, why do the public schools have better sports programs that we do? Either way, the question was the same, is there any reward to following God? Is God truly good to those who love Him?

Asaph really struggled with this question. He began to think:

All in vain have I  kept my heart clean,
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.

If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task, (Psalm 73:13-16)

He knows that he isn’t supposed to say that obeying God is all in vain, but the evidence seems stacked against him. The more he thought about it, the more tired and defeated he became. How in the world can he agree that God is truly good?

Then something happened that changed Asaph’s perspective for the better. He steped into the sanctuary of God (Psalm 73:14). It’s here that he gets perspective. It is when he steps into the sanctuary of God that he becomes wise. And he shares with us three ways to wisely respond when we see suffering among Gods people.

A Wise Person Expands Their Frame of Reference
What Asaph had failed to realize is that he was only looking at a small part of time. He forgot that there was an eternity before him. He forgot that while God doesn’t promise immediate judgment, he does promise complete judgment in the end. He forgot that God will always handle his business.

until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when you rouse yourself,
you despise them as phantoms. (Psalm 73:17-20)

God is eternal, we are but phantoms. We are like wisps of smoke that appear briefly and fade away. We may think our little times on earth are long, but they are but a blink of an eye in the mind of God. Asaph’s wisdom is that he moves his thoughts from the now, to the eternal. What happens now is a small thing, what matters is the end. An eternity awaits us. The wise man does not covet the temporary successes of today, instead he longs for the treasures that moths and dust will not destroy.

In our foolishness we think of Jim Elliot as a Christian who suffered a tragic, violent death and we question how a good God could allow this. However, Jim Elliot did not share in our foolishness. Instead he famously stated, “he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot was wise because he, like Paul, did not consider the sufferings of this present time to be worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Romans 8:18).

A Wise Person Repents of Their Lack of Faith
Several times I have heard someone offer the dangerous advice, “it is okay to be angry with God, He can handle it.” Certainly that was the initial response of Asaph. However, that was Asaph’s response when he was acting a fool. Watch what he says after he met with God.

When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you. (Psalm 73:21-22)

Asaph realizes that our lack of faith isn’t natural or to be expected, it is sin. When someone we love gets sick or dies, it is not okay to be angry with God. When someone we trust hurts or betrays us, it is not okay to be angry with God.
It may be that you and I have already become angry with God for the hardships he has allowed in our lives. In this situation it is helpful to consider God’s interaction with Job in chapters 38-40. God concludes by asking Job, “shall a fault finder contend with the Almighty” (Job 40:2)? Job, who like Asaph, had a encounter with God responded,

Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice by I will proceed no further. (Job 40:4-5)

If we are wise, our response to suffering will look like Job’s and Asaph’s. Our fear of God will keep us from being angry with him (Proverbs 1:7). If we have become angry, rather than seeking to justify our anger, we will quickly repent of it, confessing that we have become brutish and ignorant. Repentance is the response of a wise person.

A Wise Person Seeks a Better Reward
The root of Asaph’s troubles, and ours, is that he misunderstood the rewards of the Gospel. Asaph thought that the reward of following God was that he wouldn’t suffer as much as if he didn’t know God. He thought knowing God should bring money, success, and peace. When I was in High School, I thought it would bring our soccer team more wins. How foolish we were to think that the rewards of the gospel were so meager.

But when Asaph meets God, he becomes wise. It’s then he realizes that his reward is much greater.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:23-26)

Who needs money, or life, or more wins for your soccer team, or anything else this world can offer when you have God? Asaph explains, “there is nothing on earth I desire but you!” This completely redefines what it means to say that God is good. Why would we measure God’s goodness by such small things as money, friends, spouses, or even our own lives when we have been given something that is so much more valuable than all of this? WE HAVE GOD!

John Piper once asked a great question that helps reveal if we have begun to understand this truth. He asks.

Would you be satisfied to go to heaven, have everybody there in your family that you want there, have all the health and restoration of your prime, and everything you disliked about yourself fixed, have every recreation you’ve ever dreamed available to you, and have infinite resources and money to spend, would you be satisfied…if God weren’t there?

If so, you have missed the Gospel. Heaven isn’t great because we are reunited with our loved ones. Heaven is great because we get to be with God. The Gospel isn’t great simply because we get our sins forgiven. It is great because when our sins are forgiven we get to be reunited with God. God is the great reward of the Gospel.

Being Wise When We Suffer
Suffering is a real thing. Christians really go through it, often in truly devastating ways. We must not underestimate suffering or trivialize it. At the same time, we must approach it with wisdom. If we are wise, we will expand our visions. We will not simply think of the present, but believe that all suffering fits into the eternal plan of God. If we are wise, we will not allow ourselves to become embittered against God. Instead, we will humble ourselves and repent of the arrogance of thinking that we know better than he does. Finally, if we are wise, our suffering will move us even closer to the only one who can provide true, eternal satisfaction. In Hosea 6:1, the prophet gives Israel some perspective for their suffering.

Come, let us return to the Lord;
For he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.

When we face suffering we must be wise. We must not waste it. We must use it as an opportunity to be healed and sustained by God.

Helpful tools from Desiring God

Desiring God released an app today for your ipads and ipods. It has basically every sermon, book, or article that John Piper has ever released. It is easy to use and super helpful.

Today I found a gem from 1976 where John Piper explains what we mean when we say that the Bible is inerrant. I definitely suggest looking up, “How Are the Synoptics ‘Without Error’?” It gives a couple of examples of “errors” in the Bible and explains why they aren’t really errors.


How We Failed Sarah Moon… and ourselves

A couple of weeks ago I started my series on how I felt that we (complementarian men) have failed women (see “For the Love of Women” for the beginning of the series). Since then I began following a couple of blogs from women who would describe themselves as feminists. My thoughts were that perhaps listening to people with a different perspective could help me think through the issues a bit more thoroughly. In the process I have begun to realize that the problem may be even more severe than I had realized. 

Sarah Moon’s Important Point
One blog in particular really caught my attention. Sarah Moon, whom I have never met, wrote a thought provoking critique of the language we use to criticize modern Christianity. In her post titled, “What The Effeminate Christianity Crisis Says About Women,” she refers to Tim Challies’ blog post titled “Soft, Effeminate, Christianity.” Though I have never met Tim Challies, I have generally appreciated his sharp mind and helpful insights. However, in this case I think Sarah did an excellent job of demonstrating a significant error in his language and his thinking.

Sarah quotes Challies’ post, which is predominately a quotation of the famous hymn writer Horatius Bonar. The quote began like this:

For there is some danger of falling into a soft and effeminate Christianity, under the plea of a lofty and ethereal theology. Christianity was born for endurance… It walks with firm step and erect frame; it is kindly, but firm; it is gentle, but honest; it is calm, but not facile; obliging, but not imbecile; decided, but not churlish.

Sarah points out that there is a real problem with labeling the bad kind of Christianity as effeminate. It suggests that women are all the things a Christian shouldn’t be. It suggests that women aren’t able to endure. They lack firmness and honesty. They are facile (simplistic or superficial), imbecile (stupid), and churlish (boorish or rude).

This leaves Sarah with no choice but to conclude:

So what’s a woman to do? It’s a lose-lose situation for us, according to the CBMW. If we aren’t “manly,” by CBMW’s definition, we’re betraying our faith and can’t “taste that the Lord is gracious.” If we are “manly,” we pervert God’s “perfect design” for the sexes. We already know that evangelicals certainly don’t want us doing the latter, so what we’re left with is the final implication that women are not really Christians.

To be fair, I don’t believe that Challies would actually suggest that these things are true of women. I think it is unlikely that he realized the implications that Sarah is bringing out. However, he does demonstrate that the church is guilty of communicating to women that this is how we think of them. We (complementarian men) have, perhaps unintentionally, told women and the world, that they are too weak and stupid to be true Christians. 

Avoiding a Dangerous Response
The way we have insulted and discouraged women is certainly a major problem. It is something that we must realize, and repent of. However, I am concerned that it is only a symptom of a deeper problem. The problem lies beneath the surface of this entire debate. The problem is that by presenting Christianity as a religion for the strong or macho we have distorted the very nature of the gospel. We have suggested that Christianity is for the strong rather than for the weak. We have encouraged people like Sarah to prove their strength rather than to boast in their weakness.

There seems to be different streams of the feminist movement. The good thing about Sarah is that she represents a stream of feminism that has not walked away from Christ, His Church, and His Word. Instead of walking away from Christianity, Sarah has chosen to fight for a seat at the table. She challenges women to follow her lead saying,

Women, let’s show the church how wrong he is. The church needs to hear our stories of strength and endurance. Stories that display our capacity for intelligence and discernment and leadership. Stories that prove we can stand strong.

Or in another post titled “Tell Us We’re Not Strong Enough. But You’re Wrong.

A few weeks ago, I put out a call for all women to challenge the mainstream definition of a “feminized” church.  To share our stories and show our intelligence and our strength and our importance in the body of Christ. I did that because I know a lot about women.  I know we are strong.

It seems that Sarah, offended with the idea that women are not strong enough, has bought into the lie that Christianity has something to do with strength. She is representative of a feminist Christianity that has entered into a competition to prove their strength, when the Bible suggests that Christians should be doing the opposite.

Consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

For consider your calling brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many of you were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it was written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.

A Christian’s pride should never be in his or her own strength, or his or her right to be at the table. We are the weak and the foolish of the world. Our seat at the table comes from God’s grace and power, not our own. Consider, for instance, Paul’s reflection on his own physical weakness in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Three time I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am contented with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

In the world, places such as business, politics, sports etc., a woman’s weakness, be it real or simply perceived, may be seen as a hindrance. But not in the church. In the church, our weakness is our boast. Our pride is not that we are strong, but that Christ is strong. It doesn’t take strength to taste that the Lord is gracious, it takes weakness. If there is any competition, it shouldn’t be over who is stronger, but who is weaker. Consider Paul again in Philippians 2:1-10

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others. Have this mind among yourselves which is also in Christ Jesus, who though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name…

My fear is that we have failed women like Sarah by telling her that strength and power has something to do with being a Christian. If this is true, we have pushed women to pursue the very things that keep them from experiencing the grace and goodness of God. We have told them in order to do something good for Christ, they must be strong, when God says My strength is made complete in your weakness. We have told them that to get a place at our table they need to prove their worth, when God says humble yourself and I will exalt you. 

Finding the Root of the Problem.

If we are willing to probe just a little deeper, we may realize that we haven’t only failed Sarah and the women she represents, we have failed ourselves. Women have seized on the quest for strength because we truly believe that it matters. Even aside from our foolish and insensitive critiques of women, we show this mindset in our propensity to praise the strong and ignore the weak. We exalt pastors for their celebrity status, not for their humility. We target our church planting and evangelism efforts toward young leaders, not the “least of these.” We have become convinced that God needs our strength. We have forgotten that God seeks to show his power in our weakness.

We have created a culture in our church and in our world where being considered weak is an affront. Power and influence are the new mark of a genuine believer. A woman’s desire to assert her strength is evidence that we have exalted our own. The unfortunate consequence is that as we engage in our battle for strength and influence, we are continually moving away from the true source of both. We fight over the position of influence, yet in so doing, we put ourselves in danger of an eternal humiliation.

Perhaps it is best to end this argument with Christ’s parable from Luke 14:7-11.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Bridegroom of Blood

I have a startling confession to make. I have never seen Charlton Heston’s The Ten Commandments. I have seen some clips and I know that by not watching the whole thing, I am missing out. But cut me some slack. The movie is even older than my parents (not that they are old, but they’re older than me, and the movie is older still). Plus by the time I was a kid, Star Wars had completely eclipsed the special effects of the 1956 classic.

I have to admit that I want to see it. I hear that Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses rivals the original. On the other hand, I am worried that it might leave out some of the best, strangest, and most obscure parts. For example, I can’t imagine them including Exodus 4:24-26.

At a lodging place on the way the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me! So he let him alone. It was then that she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” because of the circumcision. (Exodus 4:24-26)

Passages like this make you wonder, why in the world would God have included this little paragraph? Well, at least it should make us wonder that. Unfortunately, it seems that many people have trouble with this passage because they are convinced that the answers lie in the small details, which are sparse in this passage. Instead, they should be asking the more important question of why the author includes it, and how it fits with the bigger story.

Many commentaries seemed obsessed with the details that are not given in the text. For instance, why did the Lord seek to put him death? Which of Moses’ two sons was circumcised? Why did Zipporah use a flint instead of an iron knife? How did this event affect Moses and Zipporah’s relationship? The questions seem limitless. But for some reason, very few seem to be asking the most obvious and important question, why tell this story at all?

I think the story is included in Exodus to do three things. It was designed to connect us with the past, introduce us the present, and look forward to the future. It sets up the story by reconnecting the Exodus with God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 and 17. It provides important contextual clues for the current story, especially the passover. And, when viewed in light of the entire scope of the Bible, it serves as a type of the ultimate Bridegroom of Blood who sheds his blood so that we can live.

The Past: The Exodus, Circumcision, and the Covenant
Its easy to forget that the book of Moses, and the Bible for that matter, is one book. Its easy to think of each story as a completely separate lesson. But passages like this challenge us to remember that the Bible is one big story that is continually building on itself. The story is so sparse in details that it practically forces us to flip our Bible’s back for a little context. In fact, it is next to impossible to understand what a story about circumcision would be doing here in Exodus without turning back to Genesis 15 and 17.

In Genesis 15 and 17 God establishes a covenant with Abraham. Circumcision was the physical sign God gave Abraham to remind the people of the blessing and the curse of his covenant. The blessing given to Abraham is that God will make him the father of many nations and would give his descendents all the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession. Further, Abraham’s seed will be a blessing to all the nations (Galatians 3:16). Circumcision was an physical sign given to every Jewish male as a reminder great promises, including one son who would be a blessing to all the world.

However, the sign of circumcision also reminded Israel of the covenant’s curse. Genesis 17:14 explains that “any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Circumcision was a way of showing that you were “cut off” from the world, and united with God through his promise. However, uncircumcision showed that rather than being cut off from the world, you were cut off from God and would not benefit from his great promises.

The story of Exodus is the story of how God keeps his covenant to Abraham. The author seems intent on demonstrating this by drawing us back to the sign of the covenant. In essence he is saying, this is not simply the story of how God rescues Israel, it is the story of how God kept his promise to rescue his chosen people. It builds confidence in us that God will be true to his people and it forces us to ask, how can we be part of God’s people?

The Present: Circumcision as a Bloody Substitution
In addition to reminding us of the past, this story adds some new details which are very important to understanding the present narrative. For example, while we might have expected that circumcision was a bloody process, this passage makes that explicit. Now we are seeing that part of the significance of circumcision is related to the spilling of blood.

The other new idea that this passage introduces is the theme of substitution. Moses wasn’t the one circumcised, it was his son. Nevertheless, when Zipporah touched Moses’ feet with their son’s foreskin, the Lord relented and Moses was saved. Yet, as strange as the story is, it fits quite nicely with the theme of substitution that the author is developing.

The paragraph immediately before our unique circumcision story tells us of God’s harsh plans to free his people. Exodus 4:22-23 God tells Moses to tell Pharaoh, “Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, let my son go that he may serve me. If you refuse to let him go, behold I will kill your firstborn son.” For Egypt, the sins of father will bring death to the son. However, in this story, it is the obedience of the son that brings life to the father.

The idea of a substitution is being slowly introduced to the narrative. However, as the story progresses, the theme becomes increasingly prominent. As Moses confronts Pharaoh with God’s plagues, each of them build anticipation for the final plague that God promised. God would strike the firstborn sons of the entire nation. Yet, God explains, in Exodus 12:12-13, that if the people of Israel wished to be spared, they could rely on a substitute. The blood of a spotless lamb is smeared on the door frame of the house was sufficient to assuage God’s wrath and allow him to pass over their homes.

For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

This story of circumcision is an important context clue to the reader. It teaches us that God’s wrath demands blood. His wrath will consume those who are outside of his covenant. However, blood can be spilled by a substitute in order to save his beloved children. But, as the details aren’t complete and the story isn’t finished, it causes us to ask, what will allow a just God to cause his anger to pass over his guilty children?

The Future: The Bloody Bridegroom

Robert Plummer points out that “because God is completely sovereign over all history, all Old Testament-era saving events, institutions, persons, offices, holidays, and ceremonies served to anticipate the final saving event, the final saving person, the final saving ceremony, etc.” It is not hard at all to see how this saving event was sovereignly planned to anticipate the final saving event. As great of a saving story as Exodus 3:24-26 is, Jesus exceeds it in every way.

The circumcision event caused us to ask, how can we become the children of God. John 1:12 answers that promising “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The substitution of the son’s blood for the father’s causes us to ask, who will be our substitute. Paul answers the question in 1 Corinthians 5:21 saying, “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This little passage in Exodus told a small story of Moses’ salvation. More than that, it helped us understand more about God’s faithfulness to save an entire nation. Yet even more than that, this little story helps remind us of how Jesus offers the final and ultimate salvation for our souls. All that is required, like a much easier and less painful version of circumcision, is that we believe in the name of Jesus and thus become his child.

Matthew said that Hosea said what?… An Intro to Typology

Sometimes the New Testament authors use the Old Testament in ways that make us scratch our heads. One famous example is in Matthew’s description of Jesus’ trip to Egypt.

Now, when they had departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.”   (Matthew 2:13-15)

Immediately, if you’re like me, you probably get excited. An Old Testament prophet, hundreds of years before Jesus was born, predicted that the Messiah would come out of Egypt. While a prediction and fulfillment like this probably serves as an initial confidence boost, you may be a little disappointed when you try to find this prophecy in the Old Testament. The only other time this phrase shows up in the Bible is in Hosea 11:1. The problem is that Hosea doesn’t seem to be making a prophecy.

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son. 
The more they were called,
the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals
and burning offerings to idols.    (Hosea 11:1-2)

This is where you cue the scratching record. What just happened? Clearly, Hosea is not making a prediction, he is talking about something that had happened a long time ago. Further, he’s not talking about the Messiah. Instead he is recounting the story of Israel. So what in the world is going on? Did Matthew take Hosea out of context? Worse, is Matthew lying, saying this was a prophecy when it was really just a poem about the history of Israel?

Don’t worry, the answer is no. Matthew is right, but we may need to expand the way we understand the Old Testament’s message about Jesus to see why he is right. There are a couple of ways in which the Old Testament shows us who Jesus is. In this case, it seems that Matthew has picked up on something called typology.

The easiest way to understand typology is to think of it as a sort of living picture, kind of like a parable. Parables are fictional storyies that paint a picture to help us better understand a spiritual reality. Typology, rather than being a fictional story, is a historical reality found in the Old Testament that paints a picture to help us better understand who Jesus would be and what he would do. Typology recognizes that God has sovereignly controlled history, and its interpretation in the Old Testament, to paint a picture of who Jesus is and how he would be the savior of the world.

Sometimes types work in a sort of one to one fashion. For instance, you may remember the story from Numbers 21:4-9. When the people of Israel sinned against God, he sent fiery serpents who bit them, causing many of them to die. Then, when the people repented of their sins, God instructed Moses to make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole. Even if someone were bit by a serpent, they could look to the serpent on the pole and live.” Its easy to see how Moses’ serpent is a type, or a picture, of Jesus, who also hung on a tree so that we might look to him in faith and have eternal life.

In this verse, Matthew is pointing out that Israel is a type of Christ. It is a theme that he is going to use throughout his gospel, and he is quoting Hosea to begin the comparison. Just as Israel is called a son of God, Jesus is the Son of God. Just as Israel was called out of Egypt, Jesus was called out of Egypt. Matthew makes another clear comparison in chapter 4. Just as Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days. Yet, here Jesus supersedes the original picture, he becomes what the picture should have been. While Israel was in the wilderness they repeatedly sinned, creating a golden calf, grumbling over food and water, and not trusting God to take them into the land he promised. Jesus, on the other hand, was tempted by the devil himself, yet succeeded in every way that Israel had failed. Ultimately, Jesus takes on the sins of the world, becoming the blessing that Israel was meant to be. In this way, Jesus becomes the fulfillment, a sort of final and perfect version, of Israel.

Robert Plummer describes Matthew’s use of typology in this passage, saying:

Against initial appearances, Matthew is not haphazardly citing from the Old Testament. Along with the other inspired authors of Scripture and the Jews of his day, Matthew affirmed a providential understanding of history. Moreover, he believed that history recorded a series of successive, corresponding saving events moving toward a divine climatic intervention in Christ. The earlier divine interventions served as types (corresponding anticipations) for the final antitype (fulfillment). Because God is completely sovereign over history, all Old Testament-era saving events, institutions, persons, offices, holidays, and ceremonies served to anticipate the final saving event, the final saving person, the final saving ceremony, etc.

Understanding typology is an important part of seeing how the Old Testament and New Testament interact. The Old Testament recounts how God designed history, the New Testament shows how that history reflects Jesus. Typology recognizes that God is not only the author of the Bible, He is the author of history. That God, being an amazing story teller, has designed history to be a story that helps us anticipate the coming of his Son. Understanding typology is what helps us see why Matthew was not misunderstanding or misrepresenting Hosea, instead he was showing how Hosea’s story fit into the bigger picture of God’s story.

By the way, if you are interested in learning more about how the Old Testament is used by the New Testament authors, there is one book which is, in my opinion, hands down the most helpful on the subject. D.A. Carson and G.K. Beale edited the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. It discusses almost every instance where the Old Testament is cited or alluded to in the New Testament. I have found it to be extremely helpful.