Psalm 96 Made New in 1 Chronicles 16

O SING to the LORD a new song” (Psalm 96.1)

Chronicles and God’s Fresh Word of Grace

First and Second Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible. Some scholars have referred to this book as the first commentary on the Bible. It is Holy Spirit interpretation of the whole history of Israel. As Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible it says to us: this is the point, please don’t miss it. Sadly however Chronicles is among the least known books of the Bible. And we often miss the point. Central to the Spirit guided message of Chronicles is the Temple and the worship of Israel. The Temple and Israel’s worship provide the key to the burning question of the Chronicler’s day: Will Yahweh take us back after our horrific sin? Will Yahweh still dwell among us, a people proven to be unfaithful? The “Last Word” of the Hebrew Bible (Chronicles) is that Yahweh not only will but does keep God’s people, does dwell among them in grace, and calls them to mission yet.” Grace is the Last Word of the Hebrew Bible. See my article Grace the Last Word: Two Stories, One People or Why the Bible tells the Story of Israel not only Twice but Differently.

Chronicles is a fascinating work but many never make it past the geologies to find out. However the Chronicler was an interpreter of earlier Scripture. The author uses, and quotes, large portions of what we would call the “Bible” today. Among the texts used by Chronicler is the Book of Psalms. The Chronicler sometimes combines several older Psalms to make a new one. Artists to this day are often inspired by and mine the work of previous masters in order to produce fresh and powerful contemporary works of art in music, literature, movies and paintings.

A classic case is found in 1 Chronicles 16 after David has brought the Ark to Jerusalem. David assumes the priestly role of leading Israel in worship through offering sacrifice (16.2) and song. He arranges the instruments for “sacred song” (16.4-6, 42) as well. What follows in 16.8-36 is three psalms made into one.

1 Chronicles 16.8-22 is Psalm 105.1-15 nearly verbatim

1 Chronicles 16.23-30 is Psalm 96.1-10 nearly verbatim

1 Chronicles 16.31-35 is Psalm 106.1, 47-48

New Song: Verse One

All of these Psalms come near the end of Book IV of the Psalter. Psalm 105 and 106 are long theological reflections on the story of Israel. Psalm 105 tells of Yahweh’s gracious HESED and never ending faithfulness to Israel. Psalm 106 is a stark contrast from Ps 105 telling the equally sad tale of Israel’s never ending faithlessness to Yahweh’s Covenant of Love. (The use of these psalms also shows that the at least a large portion of the book of Psalms was in use in the fifth century BC.).

The Chronicler skillfully, and subtly, edits one or two lines of text to create a new Psalm that speaks appropriately for David’s day but even more so for his own day. Most commentators on Chronicles do not even attempt to deal with the new psalm. They say just read the Psalm commentaries. But the Chronicler has made a new psalm (interestingly enough Ps 96, begins with “Sing to the LORD a new song” which is omitted by the Chronicler and he begins his quote with “Sing the LORD all the earth” the second line of v.1) with a fresh message in its own narrative context. The new song has a meaning in Chronicles and explicates the unique Spirit message for that day and ours.

The new psalm can be outlined as follows …

I. Israel is called to praise and remember Yahweh’s works (16.8-22)

II. The Nations are called to worship Yahweh (16.23-30)

III. The Cosmos is called to worship Yahweh (16.31-36)

Israel. The Nations. The Cosmos. This is all creation is called to fall before Yahweh’s throne (in the temple) and gather in worship before the Creator, the God of Israel.

David calls Israel to “seek” Yahweh, to “seek his face regularly” (vv. 10-11). They are called to “remember his marvelous deeds” and that his “judgements are in all the earth.” To God’s people, who had been exiled, these are powerful words. Even in Babylon it is Yahweh who calls the shots and remembering his salvific rescue out of Egypt is a paradigm for hope. For the Chonicler’s day the message is, even in the “grave” of Exile, Yahweh’s Hesed is greater than Babylonian gods and … and … greater than our sin.

In verse 18-19 the Chronicler subtly changes one word, but the NRSV/NIV ignore this. It is after all a subtle change. The text reads,

To give you [Abraham] I give the land …
When YOU were few in number …”

The Chronicler’s text, Psalm 96, reads “they” (which is what the NIV/NRSV also read for 1 Chronicles 16.19). But the Chronicler changes it to a third person plural. That is from “they” to “you.” This rather subtle move places the Chronicler’s little band of believers in David’s audience. David is thus addressing “us” now and not just the ancestors centuries ago. What happened seven hundred years ago is a message for “us” is the point. David’s is not just an ancient word but a contemporary word to God’s people in a new and desperate situation. They (the Chronicler’s audience) surely are “few in number” and they clearly have been sojourners in the land (Babylon and perhaps even in their new Persian province). Israel is then called, by David, the anointed ones, the prophets (16.22). The small post-exilic community is a band of prophets!

New Song: Verse Two

In part 2 the nations are called to worship. Israel can never escape her identity, even through exile. Yahweh created them as a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19.6) or as David calls them here, “my prophets.” Priests and prophets bring the message of Israel’s God. Israel has that function, even as an insignificant entity.

So in 16.23-30 “all peoples,” “the nations,” “O families of the earth” are exhorted to acknowledge Yahweh. In the ancient world this would have been heard as outrageous and pompous. It was assumed that a nations status was tied to the power of its god. Since Israel was absurdly tiny this would imply Yahweh was less than relevant both in David’s day and the Chronicler’s. Yet the nations gods are simply “idols.” Yahweh is ironically fulfilling the mission of Israel through exile because she must still call the nations to worship the Lord.

Also, no less scandalously, the nations, the nations who have tortured Israel, the nations who have been the enemies of God’s people, the nations who have been the enemies of Yahweh (!), Israel is called to

declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is Yahweh,
and greatly to be praised.

Assyrians. Babylonians. Persians. All nations are to hear the good news of Yahweh and to come and worship the God of Israel. Even after Exile, Israel is still to be a light to the nations. Israel was created for such a purpose and her sin has not unhitched her from God’s commission in the Exodus.

New Song: Verse Three

The final section of the psalm which draws on Psalm 106 calls the cosmos to join Israel and the nations in worship of the Creator God, the God of Israel.

Let the heavens rejoice,
let the earth be glad,
let them say among the nations,
YAHWEH IS KING!
Let the sea roar and its fullness …
For he comes to judge the world
.”

The heavens and the earth is called to worship in praise (cf. Psalms 104, 148, 149, 150, etc) of Yahweh. The salvation of Israel and the nations is good news for creation itself. Yahweh’s faithfulness to Israel is not thwarted by her perfidious track record of covenant keeping. The idolatry of the nations has not kept Yahweh from loving them and calling them to join Israel before the throne and live joyfully in God’s life-giving Presence.

What is the reason for Creation’s praise. Yahweh is coming to judge! To those schooled in typical modern Protestant theology judging is a fearful notion. Coming to judge is a very misunderstood concept in modern times. It does not signify primarily coming to destroy or punish. It sometimes may include that but that is not the basic idea when the Bible speaks of it. The sea is not exhorted to roar because Armageddon is about to be unleashed. Destruction of the nations is not why the “seas roar.”

When Yahweh comes to judge means that justice will finally cover the earth like the waters of the sea. To come and judge means that the wrongs of this world will be made right. To judge means to make the world right, to put it back together again. To come and judge means to heal the world. This is something to burst out in praise for. This is why creation bursts out in praise because Yahweh has shocked Israel and the nations with Grace and healed the world. And this is a message that is desperately needed by God’s people existing constantly on the precipice of disaster.

In verse 35 the Chronicler adds the words to Psalm 106.47, “And say” or “say also.”

Who?
Who is to “say?”
What is to be said?

The “who” are the people in the Chronicler’s own day. The people gathered in worship in the Chronicler’s day are invited to join the prayer “And say.” Say what?

SAVE US, O GOD of our salvation,
Gather us and deliver us from the nations
to thank your holy name,
and glory in your praise
.”

The Chronicler conflates the centuries between David and post-exilic Judah and suddenly makes them one. They are together standing before the King. But not just them … us.

Then all the people had a fantastic dinner. Worship culminates in eating, communion, with the gracious God of Israel, Yahweh. All Israel, even over space and time, one by the grace of God and is blessed in God’s presence.

The Chronicler’s message is a powerful one.

What a great new song.

A Quotable Quote

“So far as I know, the Bible nowhere teaches, either expressly or by necessary implication, that the Holy Spirit dwells in the word. If it does not, no man is under any obligation to say it or believe it, but he is expressly represented as dwelling in Christians … This we must believe and affirm.” (James A. Harding, “The Holy Spirit – A Bible Reading,” The Way 1.8 [1 August 1899], 116).

Experiencing God

Is experiencing God merely a reading exercise? I have a few questions that seem like common sense to me but apparently are controversial.

1) Did Noah experience God only in and thru the Bible?

2) Did Abraham experience God only in and thru the Bible?

3) Did Moses experience God only in and thru the Bible?

4) Did David experience God only in and thru the Bible?

5) Did the various Psalmists (Heman, Korah, Asaph, etc) experience God only in and thru the Bible?

6) Did Mary experience God only in and thru the Bible?

7) Did Peter, Paul or John experience God only in and thru the Bible?

8 ) Did the church/Israel of the Bible experience the God of the Bible only in and thru the Bible?

9) Did Jesus experience the God of the Bible only in and thru the Bible?

The answer to all of these questions is exactly the same … No.

So why would anyone, that believes in the Bible, make the claim that the only way one can experience the God of the Bible is in and thru only the Bible? This is exactly what is affirmed in the old saw “the Spirit indwells only through the word and does not work separate and apart from the Word.”

Does this not come dangerously close to saying that God and the Bible are the same “thing?”

None of the names listed questions above could experience the God of the Bible only in and thru the Bible because there was no such thing as the BIBLE … historical context can settle this notion.

Psalms

The Psalmist praises God for the Torah, for the Word, for the Promises and Precepts. But the Psalmist did not confuse the Word with the active and ever present God whom fellowship with was a precious gift of grace. Note carefully these texts from Psalm 119 that are a prayer to Yahweh:

open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things in your torah” (Ps 119.18)

I treasure your word in my heart … teach me your statutes” (Ps 119.11, 12)

teach me your statutes, make me understand the way of your precepts” (119.26)

Put false ways far from me; and graciously teach me your law” (Ps 119.29)

Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (Ps 119.34)

Direct me in the paths of your commands, for there I find delight” (Ps 119.35)

Turn my heart towards your statutes and not towards selfish gain” (Ps 119.36)

The earth, O LORD, is full of your hesed (steadfast love/grace), teach me your statutes” (Ps 119.64, see v.65, 73, etc)

Your statutes are forever right: give me understanding that I may live” (Ps 119. 144)

I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me” (Ps 119.102)

Read them again. Even in the Hebrew Bible the Psalmist prays for God to come personally alongside the Israelite to teach, guide, instruct, to be with the person. Prayer is not directed to the Torah but Yahweh. Yahweh can and will act upon the one praying. But it is God’s personal Presence that the psalm bears witness to.

YOU are all I want, O LORD” (119.57)

Bless me with your PRESENCE” (119.135)

but YOU are near to me, O LORD” (119.151)

The Psalmist has a connection to God outside the Torah. God is not the Bible and the Bible is not God.

Psalm 119 is hardly alone. Psalm 51 voices the craving of all God seeking Israelites,

Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.


Give me the joy of your saving help again
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit

(Ps 51.11-12, The First Testament: A New Translation).

I am thankful for God’s holy and inspired word but I know I do not experience the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit only thru that word. The Bible itself declares such to be a false conception, indeed a false doctrine.

I have a relationship with God thru the Spirit that transcends the sacred page. I experience God in prayer, in worship, in fellowship, and even in daily life. Indeed, we have access to the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit In fact, if the Scriptures themselves are to be believed, I need God to help me see what God wants me to see in the Word. “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things …” That prayer is for God to unleash the Spirit upon us … this by the way is exactly what Paul prayed in Ephesians 1. The “Ephesians,” like the Psalmist of 119 already had the Torah, Paul’s teaching and even the Epistle itself. But the apostle prayed,

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1.17f).

The Real Biblical Question

The question in the Bible itself is not

“Does the Holy Spirit work separate and apart from the Word.”

Rather the question in the Bible itself is,

“Does the Word work separate and apart from the Holy Spirit?”

The word is the sword of the Spirit, it is not the other way around. A soldier wields his/her sword. If a soldier does not grasp, raise, swing that sword then it does nothing though sharp as a razor and made out of the best steel on the planet. On the other hand that soldier can walk, talk, raise hands, use other weapons, in fact do anything he or she wants to do. The soldier and the sword are not equivalent.

This is, in fact, what the Bible itself teaches. Just a thought.

Thank you Father for the gift of your Spirit living in us, among us, that bears witness with our spirit that we belong to you and your Dear Son Jesus. This, I thank you, is not simply comprehending the words on a printed page. But actually communing with you, basking in your glory and love and presence. Amen.

Of Related Interest

The Messianic Age is the Age of the Holy Spirit: Fourteen Themes

The Holy Spirit and the Disciple in Ephesians, Pt 1

Worship Unites People at the Table

Many of you read through the Bible in a year and I do the same. I comment on the daily Psalm reading (the Psalms are read every month) more frequently. But today’s reading has occupied my mind for a while since reading during lunch.

My Bible has the “Middle Testament” (the Apocrypha as Protestants call it). But I learned several years ago that if I read three and a third pages every day I can read the Hebrew Bible, Middle Testament and the New Testament easily in a year. That did not seem too burdensome so I have hung with it over the years. I reflect on this today because I finished reading First Esdras today.

First Esdras (Esdras = Ezra) covers the same basic ground as the ending of 2 Chronicles, Ezra 1-5 and Nehemiah 7-8. It is nine chapters long and I read chapters 8-9 today. The book was used by Josephus instead of the version of Ezra-Nehemiah of the Hebrew Bible in his Jewish Antiquities. Alexander Campbell quoted from 4.35 on the masthead of the Millennial Harbinger for many years, “Great is the truth and stronger than all things.”

The whole book gives us a unique window on the worship, especially corporate worship, of God’s people during the centuries leading up to Jesus. In chapter 8-9 there is a great assembly in which Ezra leads the people in confession, prayer, the reading of the Bible (the Law) that culminates in a great feast at the table. The prayer mingles amazing faith in God’s grace and mercy as well as a call to repentance. It ends with a covenant meal and the sharing of that meal with those who have none. Worship binds all God’s people together as equals at God’s table. So Ezra prays,

And now in some measure of mercy has come to us from you, O Lord, to leave us a root and a name in your holy place, and to uncover a light for us in the house of the Lord our God, and to give us food in the time of our servitude. Even in our bondage we were not forsaken by our Lord but he brought us into favor with the kings of the Persians, so that they have given us food, and glorified the temple of our Lord, and raised Zion from desolation, to give us a stronghold in Judea and Jerusalem.” (8.78-81).

The Lord has “lifted the burden of our sins” (v.86).

What Good News!

The people gather with Ezra for the Festival of Trumpets, as the book closes. A pulpit was made of wood and Ezra climbed it to read the “law of Moses” from early in the morning till mid-day. He was joined by others who either interpreted or translated the law for the people. The crowd lifted their hands in the air and then fell down and worshiped the Lord shouting “Amen” as the Bible was read to them.

Because the day was “holy to the Lord” (9.50) the crowd is forbidden to be sorrowful. The reading of Moses was not to produce condemnation. Rather the goal is to be filled with “great rejoicing.” Joy flows from communion with God in worship.

The Word of God was heard. Then the people sat and ate in the joy of the Lord. Such a day can only be shared with those who are less fortunate – the poor.

This day is holy; do not be sorrowful.

Then they all went their way to eat and drink and enjoy themselves, and to give portions to those who had none, and to make great rejoicing; because they had been inspired by the words which had been taught.” (9.54-55).

The Word of God leads to the Table of God, and that my beloved friends, leads to the unity of God’s people. First Esdras literally ends with this note,

And they came together.” (9.55).

That is pretty good theology. God’s word certainly makes us aware of our sin. But the word makes clear that God has been merciful even as we have been faithless. We have seriously misrepresented God’s word if we do not come away awed that Grace is greater than sin.

God’s word “inspires” us by bringing us to God’s grace.

God’s table is spread for those who know they have been graced.

When we know we have been graced, we share the riches of God’s table.

God’s word and God’s table bring us to unity in the joy of the Lord.

Yes, that is pretty good theology.

The Messiah has come.
The Messiah lived.
The Messiah taught.
The Messiah suffered.
The Messiah died.
The Messiah has been raised bodily in the flesh in harmony with the Scriptures.

The life of a disciple of the Messiah is a life of ALREADY but NOT YET. Have you noticed that?

There is a Past Tense. God has saved us (Eph 2.8, etc)
There is a Present Tense. God is saving us (2 Cor 4.16, etc)
There is a Future Tense. God will save us (1 Pt 1.5, etc)

We have eternal life and yet die.
We are saved but live in hope of the redemption of our mortal bodies.
We have the first fruits of the Spirit as a down payment.
We share in the kingdom and yet wait for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven.

Christians live in anticipation of the future where, as the saying goes, faith shall be sight.

This dynamic of the Christian life and faith, I think also applies to the so called “new” covenant as well. We have noted before that Jeremiah means a REnewal of the covenant between God and his People. (See Jeremiah 31.31-34: Explorations in “New” an “Renewed” in the Bible.) But have you ever noticed what Jeremiah says (and his contemporary Ezekiel who speaks of a covenant renewed as well). Central to Jeremiah’s promise are these words (and they are echoed in Ezekiel),

I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts …
No longer will they teach their neighbors,
or say to one another,
‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least to the greatest

Central to the notion of this renewal is that God’s people are so intimately connected to Yahweh (we “know” him) that his will is ALREADY inscribed on our hearts, we will not have teaching or teachers. The whole idea in Jeremiah is that it was possible to rebel against the Lord because God’s law was external to the people, but now will be part of the DNA make up of the person. It is pretty hard to counteract DNA.

When the Hebrews Preacher quotes Jeremiah 31, he does not seem to indicate that this part of the promise has been realized yet. Why would he/she be teaching if they already knew what it was that God desired? Clearly they did not understand.

But many do not seem to realize that the Hebrews Preacher is not the only person to quote Jeremiah 31 in a sermon/letter. But it is important to see that Jeremiah 31.31 is in fact quoted and NOT applied to Christianity at all or at least to its present state. Who and where?

It is the apostle Paul who quotes Jeremiah 31.31, he does so in Romans 11.27. In the context, Paul is discussing the fate of Israel (the very folks the covenant is renewed with in Jeremiah 31.31-32). Gentile believers were bragging/boasting over Israelites (Romans 11.13, 18, 20) and Paul tells those Gentiles not to be “wiser than you are” (11.25). Paul combines a quotation from Isaiah 59.20-21 and Jeremiah 31.31 to put a stop to such Gentile arrogance. But Paul applies Jeremiah 31.31. Look at what he says,

Out of Zion will come a Deliverer;
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob

(Isa 59.20)”

Interestingly enough, verse 21 mentions (like Ezekiel and Jeremiah) a covenant where the Spirit is placed in them so they know the will of God.

And this is my covenant with them,
when I take away their sins”
(Jer 31.31)

Here Paul quotes Isaiah 59 and Jeremiah 31 and applies them to the future. He does not even apply those texts to Gentiles in Romans 11 but Israel. So we read in Romans 11.27,

As it is written:

The deliverer will come from Zion;
    he will turn godlessness away from Jacob
[=Isaiah 59.20].
And this is my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins”
[=Jeremiah 31.31].

Paul says Jeremiah’s new/renewed covenant is still a future hope for Israel even as it has already come in part. The full realization of God’s promise thru Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel is still yet to come. It is Already, Not Yet.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have to struggle to know God’s will and sometimes I never know just what God wants.

I don’t know about anyone else but I have needed teachers many times to help me understand God’s word.

I don’t know about anyone else but in my experience I’ve met (and am one) hundreds of Christians that God’s law is not tattooed on their heart. So the renewed/new covenant came with the Messiah, just as salvation did but we wait for it yet.

So the renewed/new covenant is here and we participate in it. Yet, just as we have eternal life yet wait for it. So the renewed/new covenant is a yet to come in its fullness just as we have experienced resurrection in baptism but wait for it in the future. So like all aspects of Christian faith we share in the renewed covenant by God’s amazing grace but wait for its realization in the Eschaton. That is the time when our bodies will be redeemed from the stain of sin, our minds will be renewed and our hearts pump with the beat of the Holy Spirit that like Jesus himself our will is naturally that of God’s.

Blessings.

There are many things for which Alexander Campbell can be criticized, just like all of us. And like all of us, sometimes it is our weaker positions that live on. One area Campbell has come in for criticism is what scholars call “Dispensationalism.” We recognize this from the Jule Miller filmstrips: Patriarchal, Mosaic, Christian dispensations. There has been a long tendency among us to mean more radical things by this than Campbell did. It is not uncommon to find the spiritual offspring of Campbell believing that the NT is essentially the antithesis to the “Old Testament.” As we shall see that is not what Campbell meant.

So for today, I think there are three truths that Campbell left us that are often overlooked. These truths are also sound beginning points to faithfully reading the New Testament.

First: A Moral Requirement. Campbell believed a certain moral quality is required to reading Scripture. It is this moral dimension that makes Bible study an act of worship. It is in fact the beginning and the ending of the matter. “God himself is the center of that circle, and humility is its circumference.” One enters Scripture not as a master, to debate, or the like, but humbly where we seek and find genuine communion with God through the power of the Spirit. “the voice of God is distinctly heard.” Our eyes are fixed upon God to be in joyous communion with God. So we do not read to prove another wrong but to commune in God’s holy presence.

Second: The Bible Requires Effort. There are few people who championed the right of ordinary people to read the Bible for themselves as Alexander Campbell. But Campbell did not believe that “the Bible alone” is equivalent to “ALONE with the Bible.” The Bible can be daunting and requires effort on the part of disciples. He put it like this,

“[N]o volume in the world can surpass the Bible, in all its varieties and peculiarities of style; and that no book demands so much discrimination on the part of the student, who would accurately understand and intelligently interpret, its ancient and venerable compositions” (Christianity Restored, p. 18).

The Bible is the greatest book. But the Bible makes “demands” upon a student for understanding. The Bible is “ancient.” One of the demands for reading the New Testament is a deep and proper comprehension of the Hebrew Scriptures. Campbell states this in numerous places. I will refer to both Christianity Restored and Christian System.

“Remember that the authors of the New Testament were Jews, and well versed in the Jewish Scriptures; and that an intimate acquaintance with the Jewish Scriptures is indispensable to your knowledge not only of the ancient communications, but to an acquaintance with the style and phraseology of the New Testament authors” (Christianity Restored, p. 65).

“Every one, then, who would accurately understand the Christian institution must approach it through the Mosaic; and that he would be a proficient the Jewish must make Paul his commentator … The language of the new institution is therefore explained by that of the old. No one can understand the dialect of the kingdom of heaven who has not studied the dialect of the antecedent administrations of heaven … All the leading words and phrases of the New Testament are to be explained and understood by the history of the Jewish nation and God’s government of them” (Christian System, pp. 117, 118-119).

“Paul was a Hebrew, and spoke in the Hebrew style. We must learn that style before we fully understand the apostle’s style. In other words, we must studiously read the Old Testament before we can accurately understand the New” (Christian System, p.231).

Campbell simply declared, “though the New Testament is written in Greek, it has the soul of Hebrew.” (Preface to the Living Oracles).

These words of Campbell, which can be multiplied, are almost stunning. For Campbell dispensationalism meant you could not base church PRACTICES like infant baptism (as the analogy to circumcision) on the OT. Campbell did not think and mean that you could even understand the Christian faith as written in the New Testament apart from living and breathing the “Hebrew style.” The thought of the New Testament is from the Hebrew Bible. In short NT doctrine means what it means based on the “Old Testament.”

Campbell’s emphasis here was correct. To use a Pauline image, it is “sound.”

Third, Epistles are Surprisingly “Hard.” For Campbell the Epistles of the New Testament embody the previous three ideas. We still seek God. And they are challenging for a myriad of reasons. They must be entered through an Old Testament framework. But there is one more obstacle that makes them “difficult.” They are “occasional.” In his “Preface to the Epistles” in the Living Oracles, Campbell wrote,

“EPISTOLARY communications are not so easily understood, as historic writings. The historian writes upon the hypothesis, that his reader is ignorant of the facts and information, which he communicates; and therefore explains himself as he proceeds. The letter-writer proceeds upon the hypothesis, that the person or community addressed, is already in possession of such information, as will explain the things, to which he only alludes, or which he simply mentions. This is more especially the fact, when the writer of a letter addresses a people, with whom he is personally acquainted, amongst whom he has been, and with whom he has already conversed, upon most of the subjects on which he writes. A letter to persons who have heard the writer before, who know his peculiarity; and, above all, who are perfectly acquainted with their own circumstances, questions, debates, difficulties, conduct, &c. may be every way plain, and of easy apprehension to them, when it may be very difficult, and, in some places, unintelligible, to persons altogether strangers to these things. It is a saying, to which little exception can be made, that every man best understands the letters addressed to himself. It is true, if another person were made minutely acquainted with all the business, from first to last, with all the peculiarities of the writer, and circumstances of the persons addressed, and with all the items of correspondence, he might as fully and as clearly understand the letter, as those for whom it was addressed.”

A letter writer makes a large number of ASSUMPTIONS on the part of the reader. These assumptions are typically not shared by those who were not the original recipient. After all, as Campbell states,

“we are to remember, that these letters were written nearly eighteen centuries ago. This fact has much meaning in it: for it follows from it, that, excepting the prophetic part of these writings, not a word or sentence in them, can be explained or understood, by all that has happened in the world, for eighteen hundred years. We might as well expect to find the meaning of Cicero’s orations, or Horace’s epistles, from reading the debates of the British Parliament, or the American Congress of the last year …”

What Campbell says is that New Testament Epistles have a historical context. They have an “occasion.” They were written “eighteen hundred years ago.” We need to learn the “style” of the authors (they were Jewish) and we need to try to enter the world of the readers. So we come to the Bible as a whole as humble students seeking the greatest gift, communion with God. We read the pages of the New Testament with reference to the Hebrew Bible. That is the New Testament is explained by the “Old Testament.” And admit that some of the text is challenging and requires effort and paying attention to the context both the wider biblical context and the historical context.

I think these pointers from Campbell would deeply enrich and bless our churches today.

Seems like a small thing to do for the sake of love

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6.2)

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil 2.4)

Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious … it does not insist on its own way … love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13.4-7)

At Eastside we desire to be a family that is rooted and grounded supremely in the love of God shown in our Lord Jesus and fills us through the Holy Spirit. We want to be that place where we bear one another’s burdens, where we look out for the well being of others (because we love them), we want to be a place where patience, kindness and going the extra mile happens because we fulfill the law of Christ.  In short, we all want nothing more than to be the people of the Jesus Creed.

For months during our lock-down, we practiced these things.  We shifted to online services and then outdoor ones precisely because we believe the texts just quoted. As vaccines were developed in answer to our prayers we have been able to gather together once again.  We confess with Israel of old, “I was glad when they said, ‘Let’s go to the house of the LORD” (Ps 122.1).

We are still to practice love, especially now. The apostle Paul reprimanded the Corinthians for not looking out for those in their congregation that were the most vulnerable. His entire instruction regarding the Lord’s Supper is grounded in the Corinthian callus attitude toward the vulnerable. In that setting the vulnerable were the poor.  In our setting, in our time, in reference to Covid-19 those people are the at-risk people among us.  As we watched out for one another during “lock-down,” so we must remain diligent in the practice of love as we come together.

It is because of love for one another that we

encourage everyone to get vaccinated

if you are not vaccinated to wear a mask

The Contra Costa County Health Department and the State of California requires that unvaccinated person wear a mask. In fact on Friday, they recommended masks for indoor gatherings. We have had several cases of Covid among us and we know that it is dangerous. With the rise of variants of Covid (like the Delta) we want to be cautious but more than that we simply want to show people that loving is second nature to us.

Love, Love, Love, Love
the Gospel in a word is Love,
Love they neighbor as they brother,
Love, Love, Love, Love …

A Classic Restoration Quote

The Bible translated,’ is our motto, not the Bible hid in the past, buried in the tomb of an obsolete, and forgotten language, but the Bible trembling all over with the spirit of life; the Bible full of eyes before and behind, like the living creatures in the Apocalypse. And as the ocean reflects the image of the sky with all its brilliant jewelry, so to a world shrouded in darkness, the lights of the spiritual firmament may be mirrored forth by true and faithful translations of the oracles of God.”

– James Challen, “Address of Elder James Challen,” The Bible Union Quarterly, No. 7 (February 1852), 318.

It Doesn’t Mean What it Says

I grew up on the KJV (when I read the Bible that is what it was). In 2011 a few of us read the 1611 KJV cover to cover in honor of the 400th anniversary. I was truly grateful when I came back to a modern version. I have made a list of words that did not mean what I thought they mean in the KJV. These are just a few examples that could be expanded into the hundreds. References are to the KJV below …

1) “Sometimes” – “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:13)

This important verse is obscure on several levels in the KJV. We would think the word “sometimes” means something like “occasionally” or “every once in a while.” Which is completely wrong and not what “sometimes” meant in 1611. The word means formerly! You can see this in Eph 5:8; Col 1:21; Titus 3:3; etc

2) “chief estates” – “And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee” (Mk 6:21)

An average reader would be confused. When we read “chief estates” we might think this is piece of property, probably an expensive one at that. But the phrase means “important people” or “leading men/people” and has nothing to do with property.

3) “suffer” – “Suffer not the little children” and “But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up” (Mt 24:43)

I remember growing up totally confused about the suffering of children. And what pain was the house experiencing? But the word “suffer” has nothing to do with suffering! How confusing! It means “to allow” or “permit.” Permit the children and the owner would not permit his house be broken into. (other examples of this confusing KJVism is Lk 4:41; 22: 51; Ac 14:16; etc)

4) “Stomacher” – “And it came to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth and burning instead of beauty.” (Isa 3:24)

What in the world is a stomacher? Is Isaiah telling folks their gut smells horrible and need some deodorant? Well stomacher is nice clothing or fine clothing!

5) “Conversation” – “Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles” (1 Peter 2:17; etc)

This is another of those words that simply does not mean what we think it means. Conversation has nothing to do with talking. The word meant “example.” In our language today we might say “live a good life in front of nonbelievers.”

6) “Concourse” – “For we are in danger to be called in question for this days uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse” (Acts 19:40)

I did not know they had airports in Paul’s day! Isn’t a concourse where planes park? Well no. What is of concern is the “commotion.”

7) “Leasing” – “O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah” (Ps 4:2; 5:6; etc)

Don’t sign a lease when you move into an apartment. Don’t seek a lease? Of course “leasing” has nothing at all to do with a modern lease. Leasing has do do with “false” or “lies.” Do not seek lies … in the context the lies are false gods or idols.

8 ) “Doctors” – “And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions.” (Lk 2:46)

Jesus is not in the middle of a conversation with medical personnel. He is not inquiring about medicine or anything related to health. In 1611 the word “doctor” had the meaning of “teacher.” Jesus is in a conversation with the “teachers” in the temple.

Most folks will not know shamefacedness is modesty (1 Tim 2:9) or that bruit is noise or commotion (Jer 10:22). Straitened is distressed or even restricted. Being mean does not make us bad/unkind, but ordinary and perhaps obscure. But if you are noisome then you are beyond bad but evil (Ps 91:3; Ezk 14:15, 21; etc).

We can have fun with my list all day long. There are many reasons to let the KJV retire. Beyond the places where it is simply wrong, where it is dependent upon faulty knowledge of Greek or Hebrew, where its underlying text is corrupted and so on. But a significant reason is that the KJV is an alien tongue (language) both in the structure of the language and its vocabulary.

Read the Bible. Read the Bible a lot. But there are many outstanding translations that are vastly superior to the KJV in all respects today. The NIV is probably the most like normal English and is outstanding for simply reading. The ESV is more formal and at times stilted but it is a good English translation. The NRSV is among the best translations.

I regularly read from about a dozen English translations for class and sermon preparation. I like the TEV/Good News Bible and CEB/Common English Bible. I encourage you to have multiple standard translations of the Bible. But my go to reading for my personal reading is the NRSV with Apocrypha and the NIV. But modern translations will always be welcome.

Related Articles

The Living Oracles. (Alexander Campbell’s effort to give a contemporary English New Testament)

Campbell & the King James Version (Campbell’s attitude toward the 1611 version)

Words Easy to Understand: The Restoration Movement and the King James Version (an in depth look at the quest for an accurate contemporary English Bible in the Stone-Campbell Movement from the 1820s to 1900)

Today I have decided to offer a confession. There are things that are not worth fighting over and in fact should never have been fought over. A friendly chat perhaps but not fighting. Most of the things we fight over are, to quote Paul, “stupid and senseless controversies” (2 Tim 2.23).

Among these include wearing jeans, swimming, playing cards, instrumental music, colleges, orphan homes, Sunday schools … we have fought so much over stuff that, literally, does not matter. But we ignored the fact that we embraced serious false doctrine that cultivated the ground for outright heresy. I realize this is not politically correct and some will likely be offended. I do not wish to offend.

The Soil that Gave Rise to Hyperpreterism

There are things worth fighting about and the Christian hope, the foundation of Christianity, is one of them. I have seen a number promoting “AD 70ism” recently in Church of Christ Facebook groups and other social media. Here is the framework for one particular heresy that grew out of Churches of Christ, hyperpreterism.

First, our neglect of, in fact at times nearly antagonistic attitude toward, the “Old Testament.” So, when we conceive of Christian faith as the opposite, even antagonistic, of anything Jewish this creates serious problems, especially in regard to the doctrine of creation and resurrection. Closely related is the utter misunderstanding of the world spiritual where the word is defined as “non-material” or “nonphysical” (all rooted in anti-Jewish understandings of these ideas). Much of the material I have read from hyperpreterists is not far removed from blatant anti-semiticism. The New Testament means what it means in relation to the Hebrew Scriptures, words mean what they mean in the apostolic writings because of their previous history in the Hebrew Scriptures. So closely are the Testaments tied that Paul literally calls salvation, the resurrection of the dead, “the hope of Israel” (Acts 28.20; cf. 23.6; 26.5-7). The importance of this cannot be overstated.

Second, our historic, and still prevalent in some quarters, denial of the indwelling Spirit. We have failed to see how the indwelling Spirit is a divine pledge to the Christian hope.

Third, our war on R. H. Boll virtually killed any kind of “eschatology” in Churches of Christ. Eschatology became, quite literally, ecclesiology (teaching about church and mostly the “marks of the church”). But proper eschatology is not simply, or primarily, about premillennialism, postmillennialism, or amillennialism. Eschatology is about the goal, or the purpose, of God’s creation. Proper eschatology spans from the incarnation of the Christ to dwelling of God with humanity in the New Heavens and New Earth as the goal of creation.

These three things cultivated soil. And to be honest it is no surprise that hyperpreterism came out of the Churches of Christ (Max King is the “father” of the “AD 70” theory). Hyperpreterism, or AD 70ism, has many other interpretive and exegetical flaws but the core is the denial of the future and bodily resurrection of the saints. It asserts that Christ returned in AD 70. There is no future, bodily, resurrection of God’s people. Not only is this grave error, it is heresy.

Resurrection: It is Worth Fighting For

Now, I am not going to argue with you about instrumental music. God could care less. Literally. I might point out bad arguments but it will never break fellowship in a first century worldview. But Paul states quite clearly that the beginning and the end, the center and the circumference of the Christian faith is the resurrection of the body (1 Corinthians 15). But the soil for hyperpreterism has been prepared well by us in the three things above.

There are some fundamental misunderstandings that are prevalent among many simply because we have often focused on trivia rather than what Scripture declares to be the heart of our faith. So to begin with,

Resurrection is not and never shall be a synonym for life after death, eternal life or living with God.

Resurrection does not mean that when I die I go to heaven.

Paul does not chastise the Corinthians for not believing in “life after death.” This is simply paying attention to the historical context of Paul and the Corinthians. Practically every pagan in the Mediterranean world believed in some sort of “life after death.” The “immortality of the soul” is a classic Platonic doctrine that permeated the Greco-Roman world. Pagans did not reject “life after death.” The pagans rejected the resurrection of the body!

The issue of 1 Corinthians 15 is not life after death but the resurrection of the body – the physical body – that God created and is made out of the same stuff as the earth itself. For a detailed look at 1 Corinthians 15 see the linked article: What Cannot Enter the Kingdom of God? (1 Cor 15.50-51): Flesh, Blood, The Living, The Dead?

Resurrection always means the bringing back to life of the human body that died. Luke stresses the physicality of the resurrection.  Jesus stands with the disciples and tells them to touch him, feel him, study him.

Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have FLESH and BONES as you see that I have” (Lk 24.38).

Every time the word “resurrection” occurs in the Book of Acts it is defined by Luke 24.36-42. Peter goes out of his way to emphasize the physical, embodied, Jewish definition of resurrection,

But God raise him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him … ‘my FLESH will live in hope … his FLESH did not see corruption” (Acts 2.22-26, 31).

Luke has told Theophilus what he means by that term by presenting the resurrection of Jesus as the pattern. The pagans in Acts 17.31-32 also knew what that term meant.

In the New Testament the term spiritual does not mean non-material, pious, religious, nonphysical or any such thing. Spiritual is an adjective that means of the Holy Spirit. There is no dualism in Scripture between materiality and Spirituality. Human beings are not all matter and they are not all “spirit.” They are living beings made from the earth infused with life as the gift of God. Alexander Campbell understood this as well as anyone.

“Immortality, in the sacred writings, is never applied to the spirit of man. It is not the doctrine of Plato which the resurrection of Jesus proposes. It is the immortality of the body which his resurrection is a proof and pledge. This was never developed till he became the first-born from the dead, and in a human body entered the heavens. Jesus was not a spirit when he returned to God. He is not made the head of the new creation as a Spirit, but as the Son of Man. Our nature in his person is glorified; and when he appears to our salvation, we shall be made like him … This is the Christian hope” (Christian System, p. 237, Campbell’s emphasis).

The Christian Hope: Sealed by the Resurrection & Indwelling Spirit

The Resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit are essential in the NT for our hope of eternal life in our resurrected bodies. I will close by quoting Luke Timothy Johnson a highly respected NT scholar.

“Paul’s point is simple and powerful. The transforming Spirit that God has given to humans is the pledge and portent of future life in the resurrection [my emphasis]. The resurrection, as Paul argued in 1 Cor 15.35-44, is not to be of the soul only but of “physical bodies,’ that is, the human body … The present passage [i.e. Romans 8.11ff] brings home once again the extraordinarily close connection Paul draws between the resurrection of Jesus, the gift of the Spirit, the transformation of the human spirit, and the resurrection of humans to eternal life, all of this being the ‘gift of God in Christ Jesus.'” (Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary, p. 131)

Resurrection of Jesus = the pattern for our own.

The Gift of the Spirit = is God’s promise that “I” will follow the Jesus pattern in resurrection.

Resurrection is not redefined into some nebulous paganism (Platonism) or heresy (Gnosticism which is baptized Platonism).

There are believers that have a misunderstanding, frankly because we preachers we have spent so much time arguing about nonsense and not enough time on the “basic teaching about Christ” which includes “the resurrection of the dead” (Hebrews 6.1-2). There is a difference between misunderstanding and actively promoting the heresy of AD 70/hyperpreterism, the denial of the resurrection. I will oppose it because the resurrection is worth fighting for.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised: and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain … For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile …” (1 Corinthians 15.12-17).

Blessings.

Of Related Interest

Unity, Diversity & Resurrection Faith: A Brief Post-Easter Meditation

Resurrection: A Medley from the Early Church

Matthew 4.1-11

The Evangelist Matthew begins his work on Jesus the King by insisting to the church, “Ya’ll cannot have Jesus without the Hebrew Bible and Israel.” We cannot have the person of Yeshua without his DNA. In fact Jesus is Israel in a very real sense. Matthew has been doing this from 1.1 and the entire “book of genesis of Jesus” that is so frequently skipped. Israel’s history is Jesus/Yeshua’s history with all that entails. So how does Matthew continue to establish this claim?

Through the Water

In Jesus’s baptism there is a voice that says “This is my Son” (3.17). These are words that had been spoken to the “son of David” for hundreds of years as each son was anointed as King.

I will tell you the decree of the LORD:
He said to me,
“You are my son;
today I have begotten you”
Ask of me, and I will make the
nations your heritage
.” (Ps 2.7).

But the reader of Matthew already knows that Jesus is the son because just a few short verses away the narrator tells us “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (2.15). This is a quotation from Hosea 11.1 which speaks of Israel coming out of Egypt. The prophet Hosea is himself pointing back to the events of the Exodus where Yahweh states Israel is God’s son. In words directed to the tyrannical Pharaoh we hear,

Israel is my firstborn son … Let my son go that he may worship me” (Ex 4.22-23).

Through the Water into the Wilderness

God’s son went through the water. Then God led the people with a pillar of fire into the wilderness. The pillar signified God’s indwelling presence with Israel. This presence would take up residence with Israel in the tabernacle at the end of the Exodus narrative (40.34-38). The pillar is “Immanuel!” (Matthew plays on the significance of the word “Immanuel” for Israel). Isaiah remembered Yahweh’s stunning grace on behalf of the exiles. Notice what he says about that pillar of fire.

I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD,
the praiseworthy acts of the LORD,
because of all the that the LORD has done for us,
and the great favor to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy
according to the abundance of his HESED
[steadfast love, NRSV]

It was no messenger or angel
but his PRESENCE that saved them,
in his love and in his compassion he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all
the days of old.
But they rebelled
and grieved his HOLY SPIRIT …

Then his people recalled the days of old,
the days of Moses and his people—
where is he who brought them through the sea,
with the shepherd of his flock?
Where is he who set
his HOLY SPIRIT among them,
who sent his glorious arm of power
to be at Moses’ right hand,
who divided the waters before them,
to gain for himself everlasting renown,
who led them through the depths?
Like a horse in open country,
they did not stumble;
like cattle that go down to the plain,
they were given rest by the SPIRIT of the Lord.
This is how you guided your people
to make for yourself a glorious name.

(Isaiah 63.7-14)

God led the people through the water into the wilderness with his presence, with his “Holy Spirit.” Yahweh placed his “Holy Spirit” in the midst of the people to guide them and ultimately give them rest. God led them, by the ruah into the wilderness and instead of walking by faith they rebelled.

God fed the people the bread of angels. Moses ascended the mountain and fasted for forty days and nights. And God’s son failed. Instead of worshiping “me” (Yahweh), Israel worshiped the Golden Calf. In the words of Psalm 106, God’s son exchanged the glory of the redeeming God for “an image of a bull, which eats grass.

At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
They exchanged their glorious God
for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,
miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea

(Psalm 106.19-22).

An Ingrained Story

This story was ingrained into the psyche of Jews in Jesus’s day. First, the Torah was read through every three years. It is narrated in Exodus. It is preached in Deuteronomy 6-12.

Second, the Feast of Tabernacles takes Jews symbolically back to the wilderness remembering their lack of faith in Yahweh and his stunning grace in spite of their failure. The week of worship through Tabernacles highlights Psalm readings that speak of listening to Yahweh, avoiding “strange gods,” and that Yahweh will personally feed them the finest bread (Psalm 81 is not only the Psalm read every Thursday in the Temple but is read during Tabernacles). Psalm 81 contains a speech by Yahweh to Israel,

I [Yahweh] hear a voice I had not known:
I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.

In distress you called and I rescued you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder,
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.

Hear, O my people! while I admonish you;
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the LORD your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it

(Psalm 81.6-10)

For more on Psalm 81 see: Psalm 81: Thursday’s Psalm (and Tabernacles), Renewing Our Covenant.

The story forms a critical part of Psalm 78 and 106. Psalm 78 ends with David (the King) faithfully leading God’s people. Neither scripture nor liturgy allowed Israel to forget the “fall of Israel” at the Golden Calf. The story also forms a critical part of the Wisdom of Solomon. It was ingrained and it was well known.

Jesus the Faithful Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Son of God

Israel failed. Israelites in Jesus’s day were very conscious of the fact that “we” (our ancestors and ourselves) have failed. When the reader of Matthew comes to chapter 4 and hears (and they would hear it!) what is happening it is like a deja vu moment: here we go again, will Israel fail?

Jesus recapitulates the Story of the Torah. Jesus is led through the water into the wilderness by the Spirit for testing. This recalls the Pillar of Fire, God’s visible presence. In Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach the Pillar that guides Israel is the dwelling and throne for God’s personified Wisdom (Wis 10.17; Sir 23.3-4). Moses said that God led Israel into the wilderness to “test” Israel’s “to know what is in your hearts” (Deut 8.2, 10; Ps 81 above). Will Jesus follow God’s lead?

But Israel put God to the test! The test regards mere food.

They tested God in their heart
by demanding food they craved.
They spoke against God saying,
‘Can God spread a TABLE

in the wilderness?
(Ps 78.18; cf. Deut 6.16).

They did not believe God would, or could, feed them. The problem is hit on the head in Ps 78,

they had no faith in God
and did not trust his saving power
” (78.22)

It is no accident that the first testing by the devil is after forty days of fasting (like Moses) and focuses upon food. Jesus knew this story. Every Jew knew the story. But the story is not really food beloved, not in Matthew nor in Deuteronomy not in the Psalms (78 or 81). The story is about trust. Will Jesus/Israel trust Yahweh.

The very text Yeshua quotes to the devil, Deuteronomy 8.3 is about both food and trust. The bread of angels was given to human beings to teach them to trust. Here are Moses’s words, the caps are the quoted part by Jesus.

He [Yahweh] humbled you by letting you hunger [Jesus is famished], then by feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, in order to make you understand that ONE DOES NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE, BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT COMES FROM THE LORD.” (Deut 8.3).

As Psalm 78 puts it, God commanded the heavens to rain down manna and “humans ate the bread of angels” (78.25) or as Psalm 81 (read on Tabernacles) “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (81.10).

Will Jesus test God over whether he can put a table out in the wilderness?

Or will he trust Yahweh to command and the angels will deliver food to him.

Will he trust in God’s saving power?

What is in Jesus’s heart?

The last test follows this Exodus story as well. Israel bowed and worshiped false gods in the Golden Calf. The devil promises what Psalm 2 promises, the inheritance of the nations. The “Son” is supposed to inherit the nations (Ps 2.7-9). Jesus can be King. Just “fall down and worship me” (4.9; recall the words of Yahweh in Ps 81 above).

But Jesus, who has been living in the Story listens to Moses. He is the faithful son. Jesus’s retort is “worship the Lord and serve him only” quoting Deuteronomy 6.13. Jesus will do what God called his Son to do way back in Exodus 4.22-23.

Triumph, the King is Faithful

God called his son, Israel, to worship him. Instead Israel made a calf and bowed before it. They did not trust in Yahweh. Jesus will do what Israel failed … he will worship God only. Israel failed. Even David failed. God’s people went into Exile (mentioned explicitly in the genealogy). But faith triumphs in Jesus. Yeshua the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Messiah (King) is indeed God’s faithful Son.

Jesus relives the Story of Israel in the wilderness. It is a familiar story for every Jew. Our ancestors failed to be the loyal trusting Son. But Yeshua, the Son of David, will trust, he will be faithful, he will worship. He will lead the people … as Psalm 78 closes with these words, (78.70-72).

He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheep pens;
from tending the sheep he brought him
to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
of Israel his inheritance.
And David shepherded them with integrity of heart;
with skillful hands he led them.

(Psalm 78.70-72).

Jesus is the faithful “son of David.”

A Table Spread for the Faithful Son

It is not without significance that Matthew ends his testing narrative with the strange (to Gentiles) words, “then the devil left him and suddenly the angels came and waited on him” (4.11). Jesus/Israel did not stumble in the wilderness and God did in fact spread a table in the wilderness and the angels “waited” on Jesus. They brought the bread just like God rained it down on the faithless Israelites to take care of his Son.

We too are invited to live the Story each day and be faithful sons and daughters.

The Hebrew Bible is the Story Jesus lived. It is also the “ink” from which the New Testament writers not only write about Jesus but also the “doctrine” they proclaim.

Related Articles

Exodus: The Biblical Context of the New Testament (in Wineskins)

27 Aug 2021

The Dead Sea Scrolls, Psalms and The Apocrypha

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Apocrypha, Bible, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Psalms
The Great Psalm Scroll, 11QPs

The Psalms

Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows Bobby is a Dad nerd, Bible nerd, a craft beer nerd, an Astronomy nerd, a Rock nerd, a Harley nerd, and an outdoor adventure nerd. Probably a few more “nerds” in there too. These have all developed (except for astronomy and rock) in my adult life.

As a younger person I knew very little about the Book of Psalms and had never heard of the Apocrypha. Once I discovered the Apocrypha, I imbibed the prejudices of American Evangelicals towards these books: Catholics “added them;”; full of false doctrine; Jesus and the NT never used them; they were not written in Hebrew; Jews rejected them; the Church Fathers never used them. Over the years I have learned how misinformed I was, and how badly prejudice can distort reality. If you are curious see my article Discovery at the Museum: How I Discovered the Apocrypha through Art.

Jews in Jesus’s day loved the Psalms. They were “awash” in them. Jewish fathers and mothers sang the Psalms to their children. We learn in 4 Maccabees “he [parents] sang to you the songs of the psalmist David” (18.15). Hardly a page goes by in the New Testament that does not contain a quotation and several allusions to the Psalms. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the Book of Psalms to New Testament “Christianity.”

At Qumran, the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), over forty manuscripts, or portions of manuscripts, were discovered, the most of any biblical book. Several of these manuscripts (scrolls or the remains of scrolls) contain significant portions of the whole book of Psalms.

The Book of Psalms in our canonical Masoretic/Septuagint tradition is divided into five smaller books on the analogy of the Books of Moses, the Torah. They are

Book One = Psalms 1-41
Book Two = Psalms 42-72
Book Three = Psalms 73-89
Book Four = Psalms 90-106
Book Five = Psalm 107-150

Dead Sea Scrolls and Psalms

The Great Psalm Scroll (11QPs) and the other remaining Psalm manuscripts discovered at Qumran give us a window into the world of Jesus and the early Way. What happens when we unroll the scroll and investigate the contents of the Book of Psalms that was known to them.

We learn first of all the content and arrangement in the Psalms in the DSS from Pss 1-89 is virtually the same. This covers what we call Books I-III in today’s psalter. However, Psalms 90-150 (Books IV-V) exhibits considerable variation in arrangement and content. That is from Psalms 90 to 150 we find a different order and we find additions that we often do not know in our NIV psalter. For our purposes today, I want to focus on two of those extras in content.

11QPs: The Great Psalm Scroll (and related Manuscripts)

11QPs is the designation for the large psalter discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The number 11 stands for Cave 11 where the scroll was located. The Q stands for Qumran. And Ps stands for Psalms.

The Dead Sea Scrolls psalter contains two works from what Protestants, since Martin Luther, call the “Old Testament” Apocrypha (no the Catholics did not write these). These are the psalm of Sirach and Psalm 151. Both Psalm 151 and Sirach’s psalm are known to us from the Septuagint.

Ben Sira’s Psalm in 11QPs

Ben Sira’s psalm comes from the book of Sirach chapter 51. As the Book of Psalms includes “psalms of David” that are in Samuel or Chronicles, the principle is the same. In 11QPs, Ben Sira’s psalm comes between our Psalm 138 followed by “A Psalm to Zion” and then Psalm 93 and then goes on to the end of the Psalms. What does this Psalm says? It is a wonderful prayer. I will quote from the NRSV version of Sirach 51. Note how Ben Sira address God as “Father” and he refers to the “God Creed” (Exodus 34.6).

I give you thanks, O Lord and King,
    and praise you, O God my Savior.
I give thanks to your name,
     for you have been my protector and helper
and have delivered me from destruction
    and from the trap laid by a slanderous tongue,
    from lips that fabricate lies.
In the face of my adversaries

    you have been my helper and delivered me,
    in the greatness of your mercy and of your name,
from grinding teeth about to devour me,
    from the hand of those seeking my life,
    from the many troubles I endured,
 from choking fire on every side,
    and from the midst of fire that I had not kindled,
 from the deep belly of Hades,
    from an unclean tongue and lying words—
    the slander of an unrighteous tongue to the king.


My soul drew near to death,
    and my life was on the brink of Hades below.
 They surrounded me on every side,
and there was no one to help me;
I looked for human assistance,
    and there was none.


Then I remembered your mercy, O Lord,
    and your kindness from of old,
for you rescue those who wait for you
    and save them from the hand of their enemies.
 And I sent up my prayer from the earth,
    and begged for rescue from death.


 I cried out, “Lord, you are my Father;
    do not forsake me in the days of trouble,
    when there is no help against the proud.
 I will praise your name continually,
    and will sing hymns of thanksgiving.”


My prayer was heard,
     for you saved me from destruction
    and rescued me in time of trouble.
For this reason I thank you and praise you,
    and I bless the name of the Lord.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the God of praises,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the guardian of Israel,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to him who formed all things,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the redeemer of Israel,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to him who gathers the dispersed of Israel,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to him who rebuilt his city and his sanctuary,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to him who makes a horn to sprout for the house of David,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to him who has chosen the sons of Zadok to be priests,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the shield of Abraham,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the rock of Isaac,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the mighty one of Jacob,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to him who has chosen Zion,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

Give thanks to the King of the kings of kings,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his loyal ones.

For the children of Israel, the people close to him.
    Praise the Lord!

While I was still young, before I went on my travels,
    I sought wisdom openly in my prayer.
Before the temple I asked for her,
    and I will search for her until the end
.

From the first blossom to the ripening grape
    my heart delighted in her;
my foot walked on the straight path;
    from my youth I followed her steps.

I inclined my ear a little and received her,
    and I found for myself much instruction.

I made progress in her;
    to him who gives wisdom I will give glory.

For I resolved to live according to wisdom,
    and I was zealous for the good,
    and I shall never be disappointed.
My soul grappled with wisdom,
    and in my conduct I was strict;

I spread out my hands to the heavens,
    and lamented my ignorance of her.
I directed my soul to her,
    and in purity I found her.

With her I gained understanding from the first;
    therefore I will never be forsaken.
My heart was stirred to seek her;
    therefore I have gained a prize possession.
The Lord gave me my tongue as a reward,
    and I will praise him with it.

Draw near to me, you who are uneducated,
    and lodge in the house of instruction.
Why do you say you are lacking in these things,
    and why do you endure such great thirst?
I opened my mouth and said,
    Acquire wisdom for yourselves without money.

Put your neck under her yoke,
    and let your souls receive instruction;
    it is to be found close by.

See with your own eyes that I have labored but little
    and found for myself much serenity.
Hear but a little of my instruction,
    and through me you will acquire silver and gold.

May your soul rejoice in God’s mercy,
    and may you never be ashamed to praise him.
Do your work in good time,
    and in his own time God will give you your reward.

Translation of all the biblical texts discovered at Qumran

Psalm 151: A Psalm of David

Psalm 151 ends the Qumran Psalter just as it does in the Greek Septuagint. It is preceded by our Pss 140 and 134. Psalm 151 is short compared to Ben Sira’s prayer being similar in length to the Songs of Ascents. Again for ease of checking it out, I will quote the Psalm from the NRSV version. Like many of the Psalms in our received Psalter, Ps 151 has a heading.

This psalm is ascribed to David as his own
composition (though it is outside the number,
after he had fought in
single combat with Goliath.

I was small among my brothers,
and the youngest in my father’s house:
I tended my father’s sheep.

My hands made a harp;
my fingers fashioned a lyre.

And who will tell my Lord?
The Lord himself; it is he who hears.

It was he who sent his messenger
and took me from my father’s sheep,
and anointed me with his anointing oil.

My brothers were handsome and tall,
but the Lord was not pleased with them.

I went out to meet the Philistine,
and he curse me by his idols.

But I drew his own sword;
I beheaded him, and took away
disgrace from the people of Israel.

Dead Sea Scroll, The Psalms and the Apocrypha

The presence of these texts with the DSS Psalms indicates at least two realities.

First, and this is beyond reasonable doubt, that these texts were well known, that they were treasured, that they were used in worship. They sang them, they prayed them. As such they shaped the world that Jesus and the early church/Way lived in and worshiped.

Second, these texts were likely regarded as Scripture by the Essenes at Qumran (the people who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls). This is not proven but it is extremely likely. The editors of the The Dead Scrolls Bible, Martin Abegg, Peter Flint, Eugene Ulrich (all well known Scroll scholars and editors of the scrolls themselves) are of this opinion. The fact that these texts are embedded in the Psalms scrolls, surrounded by recognized scripture, with no distinction made is hard to argue against.

Regardless, both of these texts, Ben Sira’s psalm and Ps 151, continued to be copied, read and sung in the early church. And Ben Sira continued to be used among the Jews themselves as both the many quotations of Sirach in the Mishnah, and the discovery of the Hebrew Sirach at the Cairo Genizah by Solomon Schechter in the late 1890s demonstrate.

I, of course, had no clue that was the case and probably would have denied it had I been told. But today since I love Jesus with all my heart and with all my mind, I too love these texts because they help me see him as the King of the Jews as well as the Lord of the Nations.

Now you know …