Saturday, November 4, 2017

Debunking Bad Arguments of Skeptics

Biblical Theology IX: Samuel

What is divided up between 1 and 2 Samuel in most English translations is actually a single book entitled “Samuel.” In reality, Samuel-Kings constitute what should be considered volume 1 & 2 of the same work.

Theology: The book teaches that God is the sovereign king over all things, and determines everything that will occur. He closes and opens Hannah’s womb. Eli’s sons do not listen to his rebuke and repent because the Lord decided to kill them instead. Armies win or lose at the Lord’s say so. Courage and cowardice are from the Lord. He sends out His spirit or evil spirits according to His will.  He raises up what kings He wishes to rule and also puts them down. He decides what people will think and by what advice they will be persuaded (e.g., Absalom with Ahithophel and Hushai).

The theme concerning the necessity of a king is brought out once again as the high priest, Eli, and his sons, are wicked and are displayed as needing to be placed under a priest/king in order keep the priests in check. The book also contrasts two kinds of kings in an effort to argue that it is not just any king that Israel needs to govern the people with the law, but a king that acknowledges YHWH as the sovereign King over all things and follows Him. Hence, Saul is contrasted with David as one who does whatever he pleases as though he has absolute power, whereas David is accountable to God and repents when he abuses his power, seeking to acknowledge YHWH as the true sovereign King with absolute power.

Hence, the king “after God’s own heart” is David. The phrase refers to the fact that David is the king that God wants in contrast to Saul who is the kind of king the people initially ask for. Allegiance to David is displayed as allegiance to what is just and to YHWH. In contrast, Saul is presented as the enemy of God and God’s people. This is especially displayed, not only in his attack of David, but of his killing of Ahimelech the High Priest, the 85 priests with him, and the men, women, infants, and livestock of Nob.

        In contrast to the idea that YHWH is a localized deity who rules over Israel alone, He is presented as stronger than all other gods, even in their own territories and temples. He is said to be the only true God. Hence, He is also able to deliver their armies into the hands of Israel. This is a theme that is developed throughout the Deuteronomistic History, and really throughout the Old Testament, but it becomes a major theme in Samuel, and especially in the Book of Kings. The book even begins with the ark of the covenant captured and taken before the Philistine god Dagan, who is found one morning prostrate before the ark and the next morning prostrate with its hands and head cut off. A plague breaks out in the Philistine cities in order to show that the gods of the Philistines offer no protection from YHWH, and YHWH is recalled by the Philistines as the God who defeated all of the Egyptian gods on their own turf. This is a major departure from ancient Near Eastern thought, where a foreign god was only capable of defeating a people group in their own land if they had offended their gods. In the theology taught by Samuel (and the Bible in general), however, YHWH is stronger than the Philistine gods in their own arena, even when His people have been defeated in war because of their unfaithfulness to him. In other words, the ability of YHWH to defeat all other gods is not due to those gods allowing him to do so, but because He is the true sovereign king over all of them, and they are unable to defeat Him. Hence, He will bring victory to His people through their allegiance to His king, as long as the king has allegiance to Him.

Ethics: Samuel is really a theological book. The only ethics in it are really the encouragements for its leaders to remain faithful to YHWH, and have an allegiance to the messianic (i.e., anointed) king. This is displayed in David’s allegiance to Saul even when Saul wants to kill him (1 Sam 24:3-7; 26:9-11) and his reaction to the reported regicide of both Saul and Ishbosheth (2 Sam 4:9-12). Specifically, however, it’s a call to have one’s allegiance with the righteous king who is chosen by YHWH. One can see the argument of the DH developing from the need of the people to have a king who functions as a national ruler/judge/deliverer to the need of the people to have a righteous king who functions also as a priest who represents God in both His strength and character. Written at a time that Israel has no king, and David is dead, one can see the authors reaching out toward the Messianic king of the future, and arguing that only when the righteous Davidic King rules Israel will God’s people be rescued from their enemies and have peace. David’s sins are meant to show that even David is not this king, but is an imperfect type.

The Davidic Promise

2 Sam 7:8-16 “So nowsay this to my servant David: ‘This is what YHWH of hosts says: I took you from the pasture and from your work as a shepherd to make you leader of my people Israel. I was with you wherever you wentand I defeated all your enemies before you. Now I will make you as famous as the great men of the earth. I will establish a place for my people Israel and settle them there; they will live there and not be disturbed any moreViolent men will not oppress them againas they did in the beginning and during the time when I appointed judges to lead my people IsraelInstead, I will give you relief from all your enemiesThe Lord declares to you that he himself will build a dynastic house for you. When the time comes for you to dieI will raise up your descendantone of your own sonsto succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for my nameand I will make his dynasty permanent. I will become his father and he will become my sonWhen he sinsI will correct him with the rod of men and with wounds inflicted by human beings. But my ḥesed will not be removed from him as I removed it from Saulwhom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will stand before me foreveryour dynasty will be forever.’” 

2 Sam 22:51 He gives His Messianic king a link between heaven and earth; 
He is faithful to His Messiah, 
to David and to his seed forever!

Biblical Theology VIII: Ruth

Theology: The Book of Ruth is a literary work that is designed to teach a singular concept, namely, the concept of חֶ֣סֶד ḥesed. This word is usually translated in English texts as “kindness” (KJV, NIV, etc.), “lovingkindness” (NASB), “steadfast love” (ESV), “faithful love” (NJB). None of the translations quite capture the concept. The idea, instead, is conveyed well through the literary development of the story, which begins with Naomi’s family, which includes a couple of Moabites. Naomi loses her husband and two sons. She then makes the statement to her two daughter-in-laws, “May YHWH do ḥesed to you both just as you have done with the dead” (1:8), as she tells them to return home. Ruth, of course, stays with her and swears an oath to take care of her and to worship the God she worships (Chapter 1). 

She then meets Boaz, in Chapter 2, who tells her that she can pick whatever wheat she needs from his field without needing to go from field to field. He tells her that she is free to also drink the water of his workers whenever she is thirsty. He even lets her have her fill of the food at lunch and instructs his workers to give to her even from the sheaves they have harvested, and that they are not to touch her, giving her protection. When Naomi hears of it, she exclaims, “May YHWH bless him! He has not stopped showing his ḥesed to the living and the dead” (2:20).

In Chapter 3, Ruth offers herself to Boaz instead of seeking a younger man as her kinsman redeemer. Boaz replies to her,  “The Lord bless you, my daughter. “Your ḥesed is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor” (v. 10). Boaz agrees to redeem her if the man next in line to redeem will not do it. He then sends her away with a shawl full of barley.

Finally, in Chapter 4, Boaz marries Ruth and YHWH gives to her a son. At the beginning of the story, Naomi, whose name means “bitter,” views herself as cursed by God and declares, “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (1:13). However, in the end, the young women of the community proclaim, ““Praise be to the YHWH, who this day has not left you without a kinsmen-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel!  He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth” (4:14-15) and “Naomi has a son!” (v. 16). The son, of course, is the grandfather of David, and through Naomi, God will eventually bring His Messianic King, Jesus Christ into the world to redeem all who are united to Him.

In each instance, the individuals involved go beyond what is required of them to do. The daughters don’t have to stay with Naomi as long as they do. Ruth does not have to stay and take care of her even after that. She does not have to glean in the fields for her. Boaz is only required to let the poor and resident foreigners glean in his field. He does not have to give to her so much of his food and let her pick her fill, eat with them, give her the drink of his workers, or protect her from the workers. She does not have to offer herself to him as an older man. He does not have to redeem her, as there is another in front of him. In all of this, the narrative is meant to convey the idea that YHWH, who is the one who has really done all of this ḥesed is not required by the covenant to do it; but because of His great love and mercy toward His people, He does it. The book is also meant to teach that even when one thinks that he or she has been cursed because of his or her circumstances in life, that God may be using it instead as a great act of ḥesed toward the individual and toward God’s people. What looks like a cursed life may, in fact, be a blessing that God is working out toward the individual and His people. Through Naomi, God ultimately saves both Naomi and all of His people by bringing the king needed to unify Israel under the law (as the Book of Judges argued), and the Savior, the ultimate Kinsmen Redeemer, into the world. The genealogy at the end is meant to convey the idea that every birth among God’s people is an act of ḥesed by which he has blessed and not forsaken them. And all of this through a Gentile He does not have to include in His work.

Ethics: Every main character in the book displays God’s ḥesed in their actions toward one another. As such, the people of God, who represent Him, should also go above and beyond what is required by God in the Bible in their loving and caring acts toward one another. 

Biblical Theology VII: Judges

Theology: The book teaches that a king is necessary in order for Israel to remain faithful and be directed to the covenant God has made with them. The phrases, “In those days there was no king,” and “Every one did that which was right in his own eyes” are repeated toward the end of the book as Israel becomes more depraved (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). Without a king, the people will spiral out of control in their own false religion they think is right, as God will give them over to be enslaved by their enemies, lose the inheritance of the land He gave to them, and eventually destroy themselves altogether. Since deliverance from slavery and claim to the land is given to them as a reward for being in covenant with YHWH, they have no claim to it once they have turned away from that covenant in their rebellion toward God. Judges/Deliverers are raised up for individual tribes, but eventually, the book argues, a single king is needed to do the work of the deliverer for the entirety of God’s people who remain faithful to Him either by not turning away from Him in the first place or by repenting. The wicked are left among them as a test to their faithfulness and as a judgment against them.

Judges argues that when God’s people break covenant with Him, they will be given over to judgment. What keeps chaos at bay is God, and what keeps them in good standing with God is their faithfulness to the suzerain covenant He made with them. The book conveys the idea that when His people are in sin, the inheritance of the land begins to be taken away from them, and they reenter the previous slavery from which YHWH had delivered them. In the Deuteronomistic History (DH), this will eventually lead to complete exile of both the northern and southern kingdom. Judges foreshadows this. However, if His people repent and again recommit themselves to the suzerain covenant made with God, He will raise up a deliverer who will destroy the yoke of their enemies and restore the inheritance to them. This is called the Judges Cycle. The steps are as follows: (1) Israel is at peace, (2) They turn away from YHWH, (3) YHWH delivers His people into the hands of their enemies, (4) Israel repents and cries out to YHWH, (5) YHWH hears them and raises up a deliverer/judge, (6) Israel is at peace again in the land. This cycle happens twelve times in the book (Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Debra, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, Samson), perhaps corresponding to the number of tribes. The self destruction of their sin is displayed throughout the book as Israelites end up destroying one another without any need of their enemies to do it.

Ethics: Faithfulness, again, is seen in terms of obeying YHWH. To do what is right in one’s own eyes is to ignore God’s Word in order to do what one thinks is acceptable for himself. It is to throw off YHWH as Lord and to make oneself Lord. Repentance from this betrayal is to recommit oneself to YHWH. The book is also setting up the rest of the Deuteronomistic argument that the inheritance of the land will be both lost and restored by a king who directs Israel to faithfulness to God. The Israelites specifically break the covenant in the book, and in the DH, by adhering to foreign religious systems and having sexual relationships with unbelievers. The depravity eventually equals that of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The judges, however, also represent God in their judgment, as God will destroy those who tempt His people with their wickedness. However, the kind of leaders Israel is given in the book mirror the depravity of the people as it progressively gets worse. The judges themselves, therefore, are a bit off in some way. The judges cycle begins with God raising up a foreigner as their first judge, then a left-handed judge, then a woman; but by the end of the book, the people get worse and worse, and that is when the judges get worse (Gideon consults omens, Jephthah sacrifices his daughter, Samson has sexual relations with unbelievers, which is seen as one of the worst crimes one can commit among God’s people both in the book and throughout the DH).

One of the ethical points the book wishes to make is that, even if Israel is delivered from its unfaithfulness when it repents, there are tragic and destructive consequences that will still result from it, both in terms of their depravity and in terms of their destruction. In other words, God may save His people, but the world cannot be turned back, and the chaos they place within their own lives will decay life and destroy. Only a righteous king who functions as both judge and savior can ultimately put an end to this downward spiral.

Biblical Theology VI: Joshua

The Book of Joshua is the beginning of what is referred to as the Deuteronomistic History that stems from Joshua to 2 Kings. The history in general, as is the book of Joshua in particular, is concerned with Israel’s possession of the land as the inheritance of those who follow God.  Israel’s residence in the land, or lack thereof, therefore, is the result of Israel’s allegiance to YHWH, as it is displayed in their obedience to Him. YHWH must be worshiped through obedience to the law, which is represented by sacrificing at the tabernacle/temple, where the ark of the covenant resides. To worship at another altar is to symbolize the worship of an alternate religion (via pagan means of worship) that YHWH rejects, and therefore, to do this is to reject the covenant made with YHWH, even while claiming to worship Him.

Theology: The land belongs to YHWH. It is His land. The land, and its filling up of God’s people, is given as the inheritance granted by God to His people. To be an Israelite, one must follow YHWH by obeying Him, as the book of Deuteronomy had taught. Anyone who does not obey Him has broken the treaty of Deuteronomy to love YHWH, and therefore, must be removed from the land by death or exile. Anyone who obeys YHWH, even if he is a Canaanite, or if she is a woman who cannot normally inherit land, will, indeed, inherit the land as his or her possession. Hence, the blessings of creation that run through the Abrahamic promises given to the patriarchs belong, not necessarily to the physical descendents of Abraham, but to those who are his descendents in terms of their allegiance to the God of Abraham. God will remove everyone who does not have allegiance to Him from the land, either by way of His people removing them, or directly. Allegiance to Joshua (Greek: Jesus), who delivers them into the land, is allegiance to YHWH.

Ethics: Israel is to respond in obedience to YHWH and His servant Joshua if they are to consider themselves true Israelites. If they do not, they will be considered Canaanites. If Canaanites respond in obedience to YHWH as well, they will be shown mercy and considered Israelites. This is brought out the most in the contrast between Rahab, a Canaanite, and Achan, an Israelite from the royal tribe of Judah.

22 Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” 23 So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel. 24 Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord’s house. 25 But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day. (6:22-25)
24 Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. 25 Joshua said, “Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.” Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. 26 Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. (7:24-26)

Similarly, Caleb and his daughters will also inherit the land because of his allegiance to YHWH. The idea is that, regardless of ethnicity or gender, those who have their allegiance with YHWH, displayed by their obedience to Him, will inherit and live in the land forever, and those who do not, regardless of ethnicity or gender, will be removed from the land through death and exile. God requires obedience to His servant, Joshua to enter the land, and He requires a commitment to the covenant to love and worship Him by being creational in one’s works toward Him and His people in order to keep the inheritance. The communal responsibility of faith in YHWH, taught by Deuteronomy, therefore, is a large part of Joshua.

It is important to note that the inheritance of the land follows faith in YHWH. As is with the rest of biblical teaching, whether one is truly in covenant with Him is displayed by his obedience or lack thereof. Hence, works identify the true Israelite, but they do not make the true Israelite, since such is according to God’s election in the Deuteronomistic History and will be manifest itself in his or her confession (24:1-28), and the validity of that confession, in works (e.g., Rahab and Achan).

Biblical Theology V: Deuteronomy

Theology: Deuteronomy is set up as a suzerain treaty, where a greater power/king makes an agreement to adopt a lesser power/nation under his protection if they will agree to give tribute to him. God makes this deal with His people, agreeing to bless them, if they pay tribute to Him by worshiping Him.

The book emphasizes in its introduction that God is not visible, and therefore, cannot be worshiped through that which is visible. He, instead, is worshiped through the words He has spoken. They function as His “idol” through which He must be worshiped. Deuteronomy takes the Sinai theology from Exodus, therefore, and treats it as an introduction to the law. YHWH will be worshiped by His people by their close adherence to His commands in all aspects of their lives. This is how He will be loved.

If His people betray their vow to follow Him by disobeying the law, they will be cursed, and no longer under His protection. They will be given over to the demons of the nations to be trampled down by them and their kingdoms.

Ethics: To do what is unjust is to betray the covenant made with YHWH. Justice must be restored by bringing about judgment according to the lex talionis (law of reciprocation). The law is not one that simply seeks vengeance, but rather functions off of the creational principle, and therefore, asks what can be done to ensure that the victim will survive the unjust attack on his or her livelihood.

Some of the laws are meant to be deterrents, but others simply mean to restore a possible loss so that further life is not lost. When the betrayal is not one that can be rectified, either because it threatens God’s people in general, and therefore is not a specific injustice committed against a particular person, or because the victim him or herself was killed, the just penalty is death. The laws function off of the creational principle, and are not, therefore, merely legal prescriptions, but instead the trajectory the nation must take to worship God as their suzerain. It is to take upon the role of the image in seeking a justice for the victims within the covenant community that will either ensure that they survive, or to deter an injustice from occurring frequently. Those who worship YHWH by doing what is right to one another will remain blessed in the land. Those who do not do what is right to one another will be kicked out of the land as those who have been cursed. This is because breaking the law is to break the covenant made with God, and to say that one no longer wishes to be under His care. To obey the law, giving God His tribute (i.e., obedience as worship) is to continue to affirm the covenant that was made with Him, expressing that one wished to remain under His care. The covenant and obedience, therefore, are linked together in this way. This means that God’s people cannot worship Him without doing what is right to one another; and doing what is right to God’s people is the principle idea of worshiping YHWH in the Bible.

Biblical Theology IV: Numbers

The Book of Numbers begins with the numbering of the tribes of Israel (Chapters 1-2), singling out the Levitical priests as their mediators (Chapters 3-4), and then throughout its literary development, argues that Moses and the Levitical priests are the rightful  and necessary mediators of, and authority over, God’s people, who exist to keep them from destruction. It thus presents numerous examples of Moses and Aaron, along with the priests, as leaders who mediate between God and His people, and what happens when they fail to do so, or are opposed by the people.

Theology: God takes the Levites from Israel, instead of their firstborn sons, as His own. He sets them apart as the only ones who are allowed to care for His tabernacle. Hence, their inheritance is the tabernacle of God, rather than land. The tabernacle itself is the place of mediation between God and man. Their upkeep of the tabernacle, and later temple, saves the lives of the rest of Israel. If they neglect it, Israel will come under the wrath of God, or if someone else who is not a Levite attempts to maintain it, he will be killed for it. Only the qualified designated leadership is acceptable to God.
The camp is, therefore, ordered around the tabernacle, and as in Leviticus, the closest to the tabernacle one is, the closer to God, whose presence is the sphere of life, and the further away one is from the tabernacle, the further away from life and the closer to death he is. The ones who, therefore, have the authority to mediate between matters of life and death, what is acceptable and unacceptable to God, what can be in His presence and what cannot be, are the priests. No one else is permitted. Throughout the book, then, the priests are viewed as leading the congregation into righteousness and combating chaos/evil. They are essentially religious judges and warriors who are to keep the people of God clean and righteous so that God’s wrath will not fall upon them.

Moses is the highest authority over the priests. He speaks directly with God, many times with Aaron as well. In fact, Moses and Aaron are seen as a pair in Numbers because they both fill a single role together as prophet and high priest. When Moses’ authority is attacked, God views it as an attack upon His own authority and the people are severely disciplined for it, including other leaders like Miriam or Korah. This authority is transferred to Joshua toward the end of the book, “so that the people will not be like sheep without a shepherd” (27:17). It is the priests who are doing the will of Moses, therefore, who have his authority, and the book very clearly teaches that to rebel against Moses is to rebel against God.

Ethics: What the book ends up teaching, therefore, is that God cannot be approached without the specific leaders/mediators He has established. No one can just enter into His presence, and no one can take the authority to speak for Him or mediate for Him except the ones to whom it has been given. When the people are going to be consumed due to their sin, the mediators intercede in the book so that they are not destroyed.

To speak against these leaders, or to complain about their leadership, is to speak against God and against His leadership, and hence, it is met with God’s wrath. Order and harmony with God will only come to God’s community when the leaders are mediating for God’s people by maintaining the ministry of cleansing them from impurities, disciplining members of the community when they are in sin, praying on their behalf, and expelling what is unclean from the covenant community. If the priests do not do this, the people will perish.

Likewise, if the people reject God’s leaders, and wish to lead themselves, they will perish. They will be taken by their enemies either by sin or conquest. It is imperative, therefore, for God’s people to place their trust in God’s leaders as their mediators (both Moses and the priests who carry out God’s instructions through him). 

Allegorically speaking, Moses and Aaron represent Christ as the primary Mediator of God’s people, and the priests represent the elders in the New Testament who are commanded to perform the same functions as the priests in the OT. We may also say that the tribes/tribal leaders represent households that are to conduct themselves under the authority of Christ and the elders of His Church.