Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's Israel - No Buts About It

Recently at our district ministerium I was speaking on the Old Testament book of Habakkuk, pointing out the yet to be fulfilled promises to Judah, especially the promise of the glorious Coming of Messiah in Habakkuk 3:3-4. In the context of the teaching, I mentioned my serious concerns over several messages I had heard fairly recently in which the preachers took Old Testament passages like this, and prefacing their messages with a phrase like, "I know this is about Israel, but . . .", then proceeded to preach an application of the text instead of preaching the meaning of the text itself. While the applications were probably valid, the main thrust of the passage was lost.

After the meeting, several of the pastors came and confessed that they had been committing this same error in their preaching. They also pointed out a number of very prominent preachers from whom they had heard such a comment. I mention one here because he was referred to several times by the pastors and apparently has had some influence on them - R. Albert Mohler, Jr. in his book He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (2008, Moody). One of my staff members mentioned to me he had noticed this kind of error in Mohler's comments on Ezekiel 37 in chapter ten. I had not read the book, so he loaned me his audio CD of the book, to which I have now completed listening (it takes a lot longer for me to listen to a book than to read it).

If I may, I would like to balance my criticism with these advance thoughts. (1) Apart from the section I am going to point out, I appreciated Mohler's book. I commend the emphasis on the necessity of expositional preaching with the Gospel at the center. (2) I have no objection to using Ezekiel 37 as a model for ministry, evangelism, personal regeneration, or even church revitalization - in fact we should do so. What preacher would not resonate at least somewhat with the chapter title "On Preaching to Dry Bones"? But, these are not the meaning of the passage, nor the main thrust of the passage - they are secondary applications.

Now, here is the statement from the chapter which has been brought to my attention. It concerns the meaning of Ezekiel 37. "This is about the future hope of the resurrection. It is about God's promise to His own people, that He would give them new life. Of course, this prophecy took place at a specific moment in Israel's history, and it was first directed to that reality - a different time and context from our own. But, like every text in the Old Testament, this prophecy is fulfilled in Christ. Ultimately, it's great hope is not limited to Israel. This is the hope of the Church - restoration and resurrection through the preached Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Please notice the "but" in the middle of this quote. It's about Israel, "but" . . .

Shouldn't the expositor first be seeking the meaning of the text in it's own context? But Mohler seems to want to rush as quickly as possible to use the New Testament to reinterpret to Old, an invalid way to read the text. It would seem that he is doing this to not allow the reader time to even think that there is any other intent for this passage than the one he wants to give it. The New Testament uses the Old consistently with the meaning and intent of the Old, not in a way that reinterprets the Old.

"This is about the future hope of resurrection." Well, yes. But the passage is unmistakably about the reunification of the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel into one, the regathering of all of the tribes of Israel to the promised land, the spiritual regeneration of the whole house of Israel, as well as the resurrection of Israel's believing dead. Mohler has missed all the important stuff.

"It is about God's promise to His own people, that He would give them new life." This is only true if by "His own people" is meant believing Israel. This cannot be forced to mean "His people" indiscriminately.

"Of course, this prophecy took place at a specific moment in Israel's history . . ." Agreed!

". . . and it was first directed to that reality . . ." Yes, Ezekiel's prophecy is directed to the reality of the Babylonian captivity. But, his prophecy is also directed to the reality of the future for that historic people and their offspring. Ezekiel 37 has not yet been completely fulfilled. For example, the Northern and Southern kingdoms have never been reunited. Israel has not yet experienced spiritual regeneration as promised in this chapter. Ezekiel is addressing a reality yet to come.

" . . .a different time and context from our own." Yes! So, we must be very careful about how we hop and skip from the past and future to our own time.

"But, like every text in the Old Testament, this prophecy is fulfilled in Christ." I would like to know what this statement means. Of course we agree that Christ is the fulfillment of everything in the Old Testament (and New Testament as well) - the law, the prophets, and the writings. But, some of this is yet future. If by "is fulfilled" Mohler means that Ezekiel 37 has already been completely fulfilled in Christ, then he is terribly mistaken. Much of this is yet to be fulfilled in Christ. Christ is the future Davidic King presented in this chapter (v.24-28). By trying to compress the meaning of this chapter into the Church age, Mohler has completely missed Jesus Christ presented in this chapter as the future King.

"Ultimately, it's great hope is not limited to national Israel." I absolutely agree. But if the promises to Israel are not actually fulfilled as promised, they cannot be extended to anyone else for they would not even be true. If God does not regather, reunite, and regenerate Israel, nothing in this chapter can give hope for ministry, evangelism, or personal regeneration. If God will not keep His promises to Israel, then you cannot be sure that He will keep His promises to you in the midst of the Church age (this is the point of Romans 9-11).

"This is the hope of the Church - restoration and resurrection through the preached Gospel of Jesus Christ." While again I agree that the hope of the Church is the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that is not the "this" of Ezekiel 37. Ezekiel 37 is not about the Church, and applications may only be made to the Church secondarily. The hope for the Church in this passage it is to see that Christ, the Davidic King of the glorious future Messianic Kingdom, will fulfill all of these promises to Israel, and that the Church benefits because we have been grafted in to those promises.

It's about Israel. No "ifs". No "buts". And, yes, a glorious "and" for all those who believe and are grafted in to the promises to Israel's patriarchs (Romans 11:18-19).

Monday, June 1, 2009

Blessing Abraham's Nation??

Genesis 12:2-3 "And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, and so you shall be a blessing, and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

Genesis 17:19 "But God said, 'No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac, and I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him."

In light of such Biblical statements as the above, evaluate these recent news pieces from Israel Today ...

Sunday, May 31, 2009 "Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday told reporters in Cairo that he is convinced that US President Barack Obama is firmly committed to finally ejecting the Jews from Judea and Samaria . . . Meanwhile, Israeli officials cited by Ha'aretz decried the Obama administration's stiff demands that no more houses be built for Jews beyond the pre-1967 borders . . . Other officials attributed Obama's hard-line positions against Israel to his efforts to reconcile with the Arab and Muslim worlds, which will be the focus of a much anticipated speech he will give in Cairo this Thursday."

Monday, June 01, 2009 "Senior officials this week warned that the Obama administration will discontinue America's traditional defense of Israel at the United Nations if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not agree to stop building homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria. The officials were quoted by the New York Times as saying US President Barack Obama is seriously considering no longer vetoing harsh anti-Israel resolutions in the UN Security Council . . ."

Is there any other country left on earth who will bless Abraham's nation? Does Israel have anywhere to go for help, except perhaps to the lying, deceptive offers of the anti-Messiah? What will this mean for America, and for the missionary efforts that come from American churches and mission agencies these days?

Anyone left who still believes that the Book of Genesis is the very Word of God and takes it seriously should be prayerfully and alertly watching.