Month: June 2013

Song of Solomon

As a love poem, the Song of Solomon excels in extolling earthly marriage. The Song can be hard to follow, due to its poetic language and multiple voices speaking. But one need not fully understand the Song to understand its place in Scripture.

The Song, and the joyous earthly marriage of which it sings, points us ahead to a greater reality. This greater reality is expressed in the Old Testament but is more clearly expressed in the New Testament: the Lord has declared that in regards to the relationship with His people, He is the husband and His people are the bride.

“For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the LORD of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth. For the LORD has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” says your God. Isaiah 54: 5 – 6

For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you. Isaiah 62: 5

“…I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 31: 32

The reality of this relationship, clearly seen in the Old Testament, is also affirmed in the New Testament.

And they said to Him, “The disciples of John often fast and offer prayers, the disciples of the Pharisees also do the same, but Yours eat and drink.” And Jesus said to them, “You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? But the days will come; and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.” Luke 5: 33 – 35

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19: 7 – 9

The ultimate marriage is when Jesus returns and weds His purified bride. We are all awaiting this wedding, for it will be the start of life “happily ever after”, where sin and evil and pain are cast away and only shalom with God remains. Knowing that the ultimate marriage is between God and His church, and that earthly marriage is modeled after, and points ahead, to that ultimate marriage, these words of Christ should make more sense:

Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection), and they questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he is childless, his brother should marry the wife and raise up children to his brother. Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; and the second and the third married her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children. Finally the woman died also. In the resurrection therefore, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection…” Luke 20: 27 – 36

Jesus teaches that marriage is an earthly institution and it does not carry on into the next life. When Jesus returns to claim His bride, the ultimate marriage will occur and there is no longer a need for lesser marriages to point to His. Hopefully, as the church awaits her Groom and the age to come, the words of the bride in the Song of Solomon come to mind.

Listen! My beloved! Behold, he is coming. Climbing on the mountains, leaping on the hills! My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, he is standing behind our wall. He is looking through the windows, he is peering through the lattice. My beloved responded and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along. For behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers have already appeared in the land; the time has arrived for pruning the vines, and the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land. The fig tree has ripened its figs, and the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance. Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along!’ Song of Solomon 2: 8 – 13

In the final words of the Song, the bride implores her husband to hurry.

Hurry, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.

As we wait for our Groom, what is His response to our plea to “hurry”?

“Yes, I am coming quickly.” Revelation 22: 20

Amen. Come Lord Jesus!

Ecclesiastes

The book of Ecclesiastes has a reputation of being heavy and depressing.  This reputation is somewhat deserved, for the book deals with the concept of a life lived without God.  The author, presumed to be Solomon, came to accurate and honest conclusions regarding a life lived outside of the will of God, whether it be as an atheist, who denies God outright, or as a pagan, who turns from the one true and living God to false gods and idols (which Solomon did).  The conclusions of an atheistic or pagan lifestyle are heavy and depressing.  Consider what Solomon said:

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.”  What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?  A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.  Ecclesiastes 1: 2 – 4

I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.  And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven.  It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.  I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.  What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.  Ecclesiastes 1: 12 – 15

Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me.  Why then have I been extremely wise?”  So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.”  For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten.  And how the wise man and the fool alike die!  So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.  Ecclesiastes 2: 15 – 17

Without the one true God providing an objective body of truth by which Solomon could evaluate the various enigmas of life, he concluded that all was vanity and meaningless.  Why labor hard when you are going to die and lose all you worked for?  Why strive for wisdom when the fool meets the same fate (death)?  These are appropriate conclusions to draw if there is no God or if He has not revealed His will to us.  For considering that all go to the grave and cannot escape the clutches of death, many things of this life do seem futile and lacking ultimate meaning.

But Solomon did not stay down in the dumps; he also reflected upon the God of Israel, and a life lived according to His will, and despite the heaviness of Ecclesiastes there is also a hopeful tone.  Solomon was able to see the meaning and purpose of earthly living based upon the light of the revelation of God.

There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good.  This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.  For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?  For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight…Ecclesiastes 2: 24 – 26

I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor – it is the gift of God.  I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.  Ecclesiastes 3: 12 – 14

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.  For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.  Ecclesiastes 12: 13 – 14

Upon all his reflection, Solomon ends Ecclesiastes, in essence, with the Mosaic covenant – “fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person”.  It seems fitting that Solomon, having thoughtfully considered life with and without God, would return to the covenant of God given through Moses and preserved in Scripture, for it is the covenant of God that gave meaning and insight and purpose to Israel.

This notion of examining life lived outside of the covenant of God is also present in the New Testament.  Just as Solomon reflected upon his apostasy, the Apostle Paul examined the claim of some Corinthians who said they were Christian but who denied that a body could be resurrected.  These Christians wanted to receive the blessings of the New Covenant while denying the historical facts upon which the New Covenant is based.  They wanted to live, so to speak, outside of the will of God, while still claiming to believe in God (just as Solomon did when his wives led him astray).

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.  Moreover we are found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.  For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  1 Corinthians 15: 12 – 17

Just as the atheist wants to be able to deny God and yet claim there are objective truths on which one can base their life, these Christians Paul addressed wanted to claim they were Christian while denying an essential doctrine that is a basis of Christian faith.  Paul did not grant them their wish, for he exposed their hypocrisy in claiming to believe in Jesus while denying bodily resurrection.  Paul rightly told them that if they deny the resurrection, they deny the entire Christian faith and there has been no “once-for-all” answer for sin.  In other words, life outside of the real Christ is meaningless, for there is no forgiveness of sin and only the judgment of God awaits us after death.  False christs, such as a Jesus who exists outside of a real bodily resurrection, offer no hope.

However, just as Solomon was able to turn back to the God of Israel and appropriately evaluate life, Paul too was able to instruct the Corinthians of the truths of God that derive from the actual resurrection of Jesus and that allow one to appropriately understand life under the New Covenant.

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.  For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.  The last enemy that will be abolished is death.  1 Corinthians 15: 21 – 26

One of the great Christian hopes due to the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is that we too will be resurrected and made alive in Christ for eternity.  One day Jesus will return and claim His kingdom in full – those whom He has rejected will be sent away and those whom He has saved will live on a renewed earth as willing subjects under a righteous King.

In the meantime, between now and then, one of the primary meanings and purposes of a New Covenant Christian is to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ kingdom, since God desires the gospel to be made known to all people.  Everyone, when Jesus returns, will either by part of His kingdom or will be sent away condemned to hell.

If they are condemned, having refused the forgiveness of Christ for the duration of their whole life, they will spend an eternity outside of the love of God, and they will lose all meaning and purpose.  All of their earthly striving for pleasure and power, their continual rejection of God, will result in the heavy and depressing conclusions of Solomon:  their life on earth will have been “vanity of vanities” and “meaningless”.

Proverbs

The Scripture speaks of two types of righteousness in regards to humanity.  The first type is referenced in the proverb below.

He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.  Proverbs 17: 15

The wicked and righteous in this proverb are distinguished as we would expect – by their character, their moral performance.  It is almost self-evident to state that the righteous should not be condemned, and that the wicked should not be justified.  It makes sense that such practices would be an abomination to God.

This type of righteousness, based on moral character, is one that we all should fear, for the Bible says the following words:

There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God…Romans 3: 10 – 11

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.  Romans 3: 19 – 20

If the type of righteousness spoken of in the proverb was all that we had, we would be a people without hope, because God’s law would show us our sin and show us to be wicked, and we would have no grounds for thinking we should be justified before God.

Yet there is a different type of righteousness, and it is applied independently of human works.  It is a type of righteousness that flips the proverb upside down, where the wicked are justified before God, where a truly righteous man (Jesus) is condemned, and where rather than being an abomination to God, this occurs according to God’s will.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  2 Corinthians 5: 21

The great mystery of God revealed in Christ, and foreshadowed in the sacrificial system of the Levitical priesthood, is that sin can be atoned for and that righteousness can be granted to humanity outside of the law due to Jesus Christ.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.  This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus…Romans 3: 21 – 26

Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”  John 6: 28 – 29

So with this logic that comes only by means of revelation, the righteous are those who have faith in Christ, regardless of their works, and the wicked are those who disbelieve in the Son that the Father sent, regardless of their works.  Make no mistake about it, there is still a judgment of the righteous and the wicked.  But the terms of the judgment are different than what was anticipated by Old Testament Judaism, since the Prophets did not receive the full revelation of Christ.

Praise be to God that we are not bound by the truth of the proverb and moral righteousness, but rather are freed through the truth of the gospel, in which the righteous Christ stood in our place, doing a work we could never do, and bearing the wrath that we deserved.