Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 1998
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 4: Disciplinary Truths of God’s Kingdom
Chapter 3: Kingdoms in Decline: The Discipline of Cursing
Lesson 82 – Decline of Kingdoms, Discipline of Cursing, Introduction to Prophets
12 Mar 1998
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We’re going to try to develop the basis for the prophetic section of the Bible. I want to begin by reviewing what the prophets are about. There are many different prophets in the Scripture, many different books in the Scripture, written by prophets, including the historical books that were also written by the prophets. These guys had an agenda and we want to think about why the Holy Spirit set up prophets to start with. Why these guys? We know from the Mosaic Law Code there were priests, and we know the priests dealt with sacrifices, they promoted worship, they taught the Torah to the people, they were teachers, they were doctors, the medical work that was done under the Sinaitic Covenant was largely administered through Levites, which shows historically that medicine was not a business, it was a ministry. We have that function, but the problem is along come the prophets. What are the prophets about?
We want to look at the chart on page 36 again to firmly fix in our minds so that as we get into details we won’t lose the big picture. We went into a little about law formats and this sort of stuff, we’ll review some of the covenants as the basis for how the prophets are working. Before we do any of that, before we get into any of those details, I want to review this process of restoration. This is a chart that we’ve developed after the David chart. The David chart didn’t have this top row on it. That was missing in David, because in David’s situation he had no prolonged period in which he was out of fellowship to build up carnality in his soul, to build up strongholds that had to be torn down. David was very quick to respond; even after he sinned he was quick to respond to the prophetic word spoken to him by Nathan. For that reason it’s not very visible when you look at the David narrative. Nathan’s role probably lasted not more than fifteen minutes. It isn’t quite as visible, it’s layered. So this chart we developed showing not the section of the David stories, but the Elijah story because Elijah is a very fiery figure, he’s easy to remember and your mind sort of puts it together better. Let’s review these four steps.
Table Showing Divine Chastening Preceding Restoration to Fellowship
Step in the Restoration Process
|Illustration in Elijah’s Ministry to Israel|
|Divine Chastening: destruction of mental “strongholds” of demonic idolatries to clear the vision of Who God really is.||Total failure of economic, security and religious promises of the Baalist agenda; direct contrast with the Word of Yahweh.|
|Conviction of Sin: Being made aware of the demeaning of God’s character by distrust of His promises and the specific disobedience to his Will.||Public confrontation at Mt. Carmel with a dramatic fulfillment of the Word of God.|
|Confession of Sin: Repentant turning from autonomy (excuses and blame shifting) to submission to the Cross as the sole point of contact with God (responsibility for the sin and cleansing by the Cross).||Viewers of Elijah’s challenge confess that Yahweh is their King and final authority, bowing to the ground in reverence and taking captive the false prophets of Jezebel.|
|Restoration: eternal forgiveness of God through the Cross but with temporal consequences not necessarily removed.||Israel’s economic prosperity returns with the coming of the rain; Ahab and Jezebel are destroyed. Yet national problems remain.|
The first thing that happens when there’s been a prolonged period of disobedience by the people, by people locked into a covenant agreement with God, and that’s the whole thing in this, God does not abandon covenants, so if we’re in covenant with Him, even though we turn against the covenant He is going to pursue because the covenant has got to come to pass. So it’s as though we are locked into these things. It makes for a very rough ride when we’re disobedient. So divine chastening occurred and the illustration we had from history so we can see what that divine chastening looks like, this is not just religious hokey words here, this is an actual historical thing.
I put the “Illustration in Elijah’s Ministry to Israel: Total failure of economic, security, and religious promises of the aalist agenda,” remember how those stories all conspired to show that. The god Baal was supposed to provide rain to under gird his economy. Baal was supposed to protect them, military security. Baal was supposed to be the one to have fellowship with them, etc. All those promises of the Baal cult failed, and in Elijah’s way they were dramatically disproved by circumstances in history. That was part of God’s working. There was a direct contrast to the Word of God, the “Conviction of Sin.”
On the right side of the chart two things are going on in this box. The first thing that’s going on is that up to the semicolon in that box is Deuteronomy 18 at work. The two tests out of the Mosaic Law were how does God authenticate Himself and disprove the false prophets. It’s always that what they promise does not come to pass. We can generalize that to our lives that false religion never finally delivers on its promises, Deuteronomy 18. The other test is a “direct contrast with the Word of Yahweh,” and that’s Deuteronomy 13. Even if miracles happen that is not proof because false religion has to pass this test: is it fitting with the Word of God, regardless of the miracles, all the hoopla, does the teaching of the false religion match the Canonical Scripture. That’s why the Bible is so important; it’s the only tool we’ve got to measure truth from falsehood. It’s the ultimate criteria.
What is going on with all this? On the left side, first row, “Divine Chastening: Destruction of mental ‘strongholds’ of demonic idolatries to clear the vision of who God really is.” What happens is that sin fogs our vision, it lowers the visibility and we no longer perceive who God is. There’s always a demonic element, the principalities and powers operating to project these visions, these falsehoods, into our heads. The church fathers clearly believed that. Paul said in
11 Corinthians 8 that the things which are sacrificed in false religions are sacrificed to demons. It’s quite clear, that’s the statement of 1 Corinthians 8. So the mental strongholds are there, and their insidious function is to destroy a vision of who God is, because everything else falls to the ground if we’re not clear on the nature of God Himself. That’s why we have to be so Theocentric. We have to keep going back to God, back to God, back to God, not how we feel today, not how we felt last week, back to God, back to God. He’s the constant, He’s immutable, He’s omniscient, He’s omnipotent, He’s the one who loves, human love can’t even compare with God’s love because God is perfectly secure, we can never show that kind of love because we’re not 100% secure, we don’t think. But God is 100% secure so He’s never threatened.
So the strongholds have to be cleared out. Why do these have to be cleared out, let’s go down the logic on the left side of this chart. You’ve got to clear the vision of who God really is. Why do you have to do that? Because what’s the next step? Conviction of sin. How do you get here if this is messed up? You cannot go to conviction of sin unless you have clear who God really is, because what happens if you go too fast from this box to this box is that what you pick up here is not conviction of sin, it may look like conviction of sin, but what it really is is social embarrassment, or personal embarrassment. But personal embarrassment and social embarrassment is not conviction of sin. That’s why Psalm 51 keeps pointing out, “Against Thee, and Thee only, have I sinned.” Yes, I did wrong to Bathsheba, yes I murdered her husband, yes I screwed up as the king of Israel, all those are very true. We’re not denying those. Those are consequences, but they are not the core of the sin. The core of the sin is not between man and man or woman and man, or woman and woman, child and parent, parent and child. The center of sin is against God. So unless we freely acknowledge who He is and are relaxed and comfortable there, we can’t move down here to conviction of sin. /p>
The role of all the prophets at this point in Israel’s history, their role spiritually is to hit this box. That’s what these guys are trying to do. All the books that are written, there are sixteen of them, their job is to get down into conviction of sin. Why conviction of sin? To mope around forever? That’s not the point; the point is to move down to the next thing, “Confession of Sin.” Why is that? So we can be restored. In other words, the idea is to keep moving to restoration, this is where we want to be, but we can’t get down to restoration until you get to confession of sin, you can’t get to confession of sin until you have conviction of sin, you can’t have conviction of sin if you don’t have a clear vision of who God really is. There’s a progress and it can’t be short circuited. So the prophets spent an enormous amount of time and energy trying to clarify who God was to the people. They had some very ingenious ways of doing this, because God was the one that was doing it.
Take your Old Testament out and let’s look at it for this prophetic section, get acquainted with this part of the Bible. The first five books we know, that’s the Torah. Then we go through and you pick up Joshua and Judges, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. You can think of those as all history books. Then you pass through Ezra, Nehemiah, which are also history books. The English Canon was put together in a different order than the Jewish Canon. It doesn’t make any difference, it’s the same set of books, but they’re in a different order. It probably just appealed better to the people that made up the Greek Septuagint Version; this was done 200-300 BC. So you have Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, and you have a little book like Ruth in there as a bridge between Judges and Samuel. Then you come to Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, also history books but they’re written after the restoration period. We skip over Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, those are all wisdom books.
Now we come to the section of the Bible where we have the three Major Prophets. There are sixteen books and there are three Major Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Look how long they are, skim through the length of the book and you’ll see why they’re called Major Prophets. You go through Isaiah and find there are 66 chapters, a lot of stuff there; Isaiah was one of the Major Prophets. Then you come to the next guy, Jeremiah; he has 52 chapters. Then there’s a little book called Lamentations which is also written by Jeremiah, after that. Then you come to Ezekiel; he has 48 chapters. Those are the “big three,” Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and not with surprise they are known as the Major Prophets.
TThere are thirteen Minor Prophets. “Major” and “Minor” do not refer to their importance; in most churches all of them are minor. We’re using the distinction “Major” and “Minor” simply to refer to the quantity, Major meaning they wrote a lot, big books, and the Minors are small. The Minor Prophets, if you keep going through the text you see there’s Daniel, and these are not ordered chronologically. I don’t know why they’re in this sequence, but this is not the order in which they wrote, this is not the order in which they ministered, this is not the order in which they even lived. Just thumb through and see size wise, these guys are smaller. There’s Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, and if your memory doesn’t work well and you need a silly little thing to remember the guys, you can think of Daniel, some little boy in your mind who takes a hose (for Hosea) and he sprays Jello all over the place (for Joel) making “a mess,” (Amos). That kind of gets those in your memory as far as the order and sequence. Those four men, Minor Prophets, they ministered in various ages and I’m sorry to say, we don’t really know why they’re sequenced the way they are.
Then you come to Obadiah, and you can see Obadiah is like the book of Jude, you don’t have to worry about going to sleep before you reach the end. Obadiah, Jonah, we all know Jonah and the whale, Micah, and Nahum. If you want some stupid little thing to remember them, you can think of Jonah saying O when he fell in the water and he got in the whale and the whale was taking him towards Israel and he thought that was his car (Micah) then when he finally went to Nineveh he created mayhem (Nahum) with his gospel. You can remember these guys, another sequence: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, again, out of sequence historically, out of sequence thematically. /p>
Then you continue through and you see that the next four books are HZHZ, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Zechariah. There are two pairs of H’s and Z’s. Then you come to the last guy before Matthew, Malachi.
Those are the sixteen books and sixteen books are a lot of books; it sort of suggests that since the Holy Spirit is the author of all of these books that He must have had a pretty important program on His mind to put all these in the Canon, even though we don’t bother to read them anymore. What are these guys doing? What is their central role as far as producing that awareness of God? Here’s how all sixteen guys went about producing an awareness of God. They did so by explaining how and why God worked in history. All these guys are centered on history; they are actually historians in the finest sense of the term.
SSome of these guys worked in the northern kingdom, some of them in the southern kingdom. But whether they were in the north or in the south, their ministry was always focused on the same thing, clarifying who and what Jehovah God really looks like; who is this God with whom we have to do? The southern kingdom was named Judah; the northern kingdom was named Israel. How many dynasties existed in the south? One. Why is that? Davidic Covenant, (I’m talking about after Saul). You had Saul, the first dynasty, and the Saulite dynasty really isn’t a dynasty, it’s just one guy. Then you have David and all of David’s sons and lineage. That dynasty survives from the time of David, which is approximately 1000 BC, down to the destruction of the southern kingdom in 586 BC. There you have 400 years of one dynasty ruling. In the light of world history 400 years isn’t that long, but if you subtract 400 from the year 2000 and it takes you back to 1600. How many of us and our ancestors were running around here in 1600? So this would be like we had a continuous family leading this country since the time of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Jamestown. That gives you a feel for how long the Davidic line lasted.
The average reign length in the Davidic line was 17.7 years. In the northern kingdom there were nine different dynasties, and the total length of time for the north was from 930 BC, the date of the civil war and the splitting of the kingdom, down to 721 BC, two hundred years. So here you have a kingdom one half the duration of the southern kingdom as far as length of actual monarchies go, it had nine different dynasties in those 200 years. See the instability in the north compared to the south. The prophets are concerned with that; the prophets deal with that. Why is the north so flabby, what is going on with all the turmoil and the assassinations, the political upset and all the rest of it going on in the north. We don’t have that in the south, almost had it several times but the dynasty always survived. /p>
OOn page 38 in the notes I want to draw your attention to a sentence. There’s a famous incident that I want to show you how fragile history is, and how often it’s only one person that makes the difference, in strange ways at strange moments in strange circumstances. I quote 2 Kings 11:1-3; this is just a quick snapshot of the low point in the southern kingdom for the Davidic dynasty. This is when, had it obviously been for God’s promises, the whole dynasty in the south would have gone down the drain. “When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she rose and destroyed all the royal offspring.” This cute lady is related to guess who in the north? Who was the other cute female we had? Jezebel.
Here’s Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, she saw her son was dead so she killed off all the royal offspring. What satanic thing is being done in verse 1? All the royal offspring? What does God’s promise say about royal offspring, what great covenant? Davidic Covenant. What did God say was going to happen to the Davidic line? It was going to survive. Who is it that’s really trying to destroy the Davidic line? Satan. Here you have a demonically inspired woman, very intimate now to the throne in the south, after her family took care of the north and polluted and contaminated the northern kingdom, now they’re coming down to the south to see if they can take the south out. And she almost does. 1 Kings 11:1 is the closest in history that the Davidic line ever came to being totally destroyed, and had it been destroyed God’s promise would have been forsaken and God would have been shown to be a liar. The prophets record all this.
Just to show you how thin the line was, and how God, in His sovereign grace and in His power worked to maintain His promises in Scripture.  But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah and stole him from among the king’s sons who were being put to death,” and the Hebrew indicates here she stole him right in the process, while these guys were being knocked off. How she did that the Scriptures don’t really tell us. But somehow this woman maneuvered her way in as the slaughter was taking place. She took this boy out, “and placed him and his nurse in the bedroom. So they hid him from Athaliah, and he was not put to death.  So he was hid with here in the house of the LORD,” that’s the temple in Jerusalem, “for six years, while Athaliah was reigning over the land.” Ah! That shows you why she was knocking off the royalty. She seized the throne, and in her sinful arrogance she thought that she could secure the throne by the usual political gimmicks. This is normal; Saddam Hussein is still doing it, knocking off your family. This is normal ancient Near Eastern politics, modern Near Eastern politics. This is how you make yourself secure, you eradicate all your enemies.
She was following the SOP of that time and era, except in this case she ran into something else, and that was the Word of God. She had a little problem, because God said the Davidic dynasty will survive, it will never be stopped. Why? Because Jesus Christ has to come and He’s not going to threaten and undermine the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. So she can do all that she wants to do, but she got out-maneuvered here. She didn’t know it, but inside the temple… and there’s irony in this because where is the last place she’d ever look? The temple. She’d look in all the villages, but she was a Baalist, she didn’t bother with the temple of Jehovah, so guess where for six years this boy was raised and he became the king of Israel. An amazing story, but it’s just to show you the flow of history and all the intrigue that goes on here, and the intimate knowledge that the writers had. Who wrote Kings? Prophets wrote Kings, we don’t know who they were but the prophetic schools did all this historical study for us, they did the historical analysis for us; they traced all these themes for us. Why? Because they’re telling us that history is His story. That’s the mode of history.
On page 38, second paragraph, “Because these kingdoms were under the special election of God in history, their decline is a special case illustrating the sovereignty of God over historical processes. Processes such as political intrigue, climatically-induced economic adversities, and the rise of foreign powers are not left without interpretation by the biblical writers. At point after point the Hebrew nation is confronted with God’s freshly spoken words through His prophets. We are not left to speculate why things happened as they did.” Notice, we are i>not left to speculate. This sentence is critical for history, underline this, this is what real history looks like, in contrast to what you learn in the classroom. “The ‘facts’ of history are explained in terms of the reign of the Great King Yahweh over not only His chosen nation [Israel] but also over all the pagan nations surrounding it.”
WWhat do I mean by that? Go through those sixteen books sometime and count the number of countries and nations that are mentioned in prophecy. Ammon, Moab, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, the Phoenicians, the Philistines, the Syrians and the Assyrians, all those nations are also in prophecy. Why are they in prophecy? Because the prophets have to interpret everything under the sovereignty of God. So if God is going to use the Assyrians to invade the northern kingdom in 721 BC and take them out, the people’s faith would fail if they didn’t know what? Who’s in charge of the Assyrians? God is in charge of the Assyrians. The analogy in our lives is does Satan have freedom to kill us? Does he have freedom to afflict us like he did Job? Of course he does, but in order for us not to get discouraged we have to understand that over and above him there’s an unseen hand at work. That’s the prophetic message, that no matter what the scourge is, whether it’s nature, drought, hail, fire, the Assyrian military, whatever it is, over and above it all is the omnipotent sovereign hand of God. This is the view of history.
“All the material in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, the minor prophets (e.g., Obadiah, Joel, Amos) and the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) refutes the unbelieving critics of Scripture. For the past two centuries,” this is what you’ll get in high school or college, “these critics, operating from a pagan frame of reference, have tried to ‘educate’ the world into seeing this period of biblical history as the model of ‘social reform.’ The prophetic cries against social evils, these critics claim, are early examples of the modern radical agenda of revolutionary socialism, world government, and environmentalism. These unbelievers insist upon using the biblical prophets as their forbearers, overlooking the obvious truth that the prophets believed unswervingly in the Creator-Savior-Lord of the Bible!”/p>
“In this chapter, therefore, I will show exactly the opposite from what is commonly taught in high school and college classrooms. We shall discover that the biblical prophets were reactionaries, not revolutionaries. Moreover, they operated under the authority of God’s transcendental ethical standards that applied to all men everywhere; they were not inventors of ‘progressive’ and ‘new’ standards in so-called human social evolution. In direct opposition to the usual secular propaganda, these prophets will be seen to originate vast amounts of literary prophecy—literature that utterly contradicts the critics’ own secular view of history! Out of this study will emerge further insights into divine chastening and our sanctification.” The idea is that these men called the prophets, yes they cried out against social ills, but it’s all inside a framework not shared by the classroom, not shared by the intelligentsia today.
It’s that framework we want to look at, and we want to do this with the idea in mind that two great events, that came to my attention over the last three or four years that I can cite of how we watch the news on TV, we read the newspapers, Time Magazine, we discuss this and that, have talk shows, 60 Minutes and something else, and this is how we pick up our history. What’s been the greatest historical event in our recent lifetime; what’s been the greatest historical event in the last decade? The fall of the Iron Curtain. We’ve heard all about the economic reasons for the fall of the Iron Curtain, the fall of the Berlin wall, and we’ve had this little piece of data here, and we’ve talked about the implications of the collapse of Yugoslavia, and our minds are buried in a pile of information. Why did the Iron Curtain fall when it did? Chuck Colson spent a lot of time thinking about this through his contacts in Eastern Europe and he wrote a book called The Body.
If you read that book you’ll see how he documents in all the countries where communism fell, Christians were key. In fact, the last May Day celebration in Moscow under the days of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev was the premier of Russia, and they always showed those pictures of Red Square where those solemn Russians with their overcoats and hats were sitting there and the military would be parading by. They always made a big show of these things, missile after missile, tanks after tanks, mechanized infantry units going by this review stand, and there were the Soviet bureaucracy standing there watching it. What the papers never reported is what happened in the last parade. In the last parade at the end of one of the military units came by Gorbachev there were three Christian students who happened to be Russian Orthodox and they held up a gigantic cross and on their cross and in their chanting at the end of the military parade was Christ has risen, and then they turned to Gorbachev, they looked right at him, and they said Michel Gorbachev, Christ has risen! That was the year the Iron Curtain fell. Coincidence? Not at all.
In Poland it was the Christians—Catholics and Protestants together—who refused to go along with communist doctrine. They would have to be forced to obey this little thing and that little thing, but basically it was just foot dragging, and the communist bureaucracy could never rule efficiently because they could never get the people willingly to go along with them, there was always this foot dragging on the part of the so-called religious people. Chuck Colson in his book has a dramatic story of what happened in Romania when one pastor, who continually preached the Word of God of God, they had to fire him, they were going to kick him out, so the Romanian secret police came to the church, the pastor and his wife knew that the police were going to break in and take them. So they said to the congregation, you get out of here and pray for us, we don’t want you involved in this. So the troops came in and arrested them, but a funny thing happened. Spontaneously in Romania all over the country there arose…, nobody knows why because this was not planned, but for some reason the ministry and the testimony of these Christians had so encouraged the non-Christians who were just bystanders to this whole thing, they all of a sudden started lighting candles in the street by the thousands. In desperation they ordered the secret police to try to shoot the machine gun in the crowd, and then the police became so convicted of what they’d done that they turned against them. That was the downfall of Romania.
What Colson points out is that the press never once reported this, never covered it. All they give us is the drivel and a pile of undigested historical material. A pile here, a pile here, a pile here, a pile there, and you go to the university campus and they have these big PhD discussions on the economics of the system. It wasn’t the economics of the system; it was that God had basically said the time is now. I am personally acquainted with some of the underground work that was done to prepare for that day. For years Christians ran a smuggling operation through the city of Vienna, a clandestine operation, nameless, largely under the sponsorship of Campus Crusade but it was what we would call in the military the black world, they were never on the organizational charts, the money that was funneled into them always disappeared into certain accounts, and was never given an accounting, the people who participated in this operation were nameless. And they disappeared; these people disappeared for probably some of them ten years, nobody knew where they were, they just went to Vienna. Then all of a sudden they were no longer in Vienna. What they were doing was establishing seminaries all through Eastern Europe to train pastors for the day of freedom, ten years prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain, careful preparation was being made. And they were all led into this by the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit knew that in the decade this curtain would fall, and He wanted the believers to be trained.
So there’s exciting stories if we could just have prophets in our day like these guys, who could peel away all the facts and say look behind the facts. Look at what’s going on here, some neat things are happening. I just heard the other day that prior to the breakthrough in Watergate there was a sermon preached in the city of Washington D.C. that led to a conviction of sin on certain people’s part that eventually resulted in Watergate. Never heard of that in the newspapers. Why? Because our God is the God of history and He’s always operating there. But you see, it goes back to what we started with. The problem the prophets fought with, the problems that we are fighting, even in our very view of history itself is that we have to have a vision of who God really is. The only way you get that is to see His footprints march through time.
That’s the story of these prophets. So we want to look carefully at what they’re doing to us. We’re going to do that through the mechanism of the structure the prophets worked through. How did the prophets analyze their history? The prophets analyzed their history in terms of covenants. So it gets back to the fact that if God is cursing the nation…, all sixteen of these guys are writing to audiences that are hurting, they are hurting economically, they’re hurting as far as military defeat, Jeremiah ministers at the end of his nation, he has to sit there and watch foreign armies come in, rape, pillage and destroy his countrymen, and he is given a mandate by God to go tell his country to surrender. And Jeremiah says you must be kidding, we Jews are going to surrender. Yes! Why is that? Because this is the fifth cycle of discipline under Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and I have ordered it and you are going to submit to it. Can you imagine what a popular man Jeremiah is? Now you know why he wrote the book Lamentations. That’s what he had to live through.
These guys were all living under extreme pressure, under awful suffering, and it comes back to this again, the diagram of evil. Cursing can’t be cursing unless there’s a God behind it. If there’s no God behind it, it is all worse than suffering, it is totally meaningless. You can take a heck of a lot of suffering and pressure in life if somehow lodged in the depths of your mind you know that in spite of all the pain, suffering and heartache there’s a reason for it. But take away that reason and now watch your strength ebb. You collapse because there’s no sense fighting it any more, there’s no reason to it, no rhyme and reason. That’s when suffering becomes unbearable. It’s bearable while you have a purpose to it. It’s unbearable when there isn’t any purpose to it. So the prophets go back to God and His covenants to say, God, you’re mixing good and evil, what are You doing in all of this suffering and sorrow?
Let’s look at what they are going to do: “The Covenant Background of the Prophets,” on page 39. [blank spot] … all the cultures of the world together under a one world covenant, then by controlling that covenant he controlled the world. So there’s this scheme by the evil one to unify the nation under Nimrod. What that did was it spread toxins, spiritual toxins throughout the human race, and would have taken the whole human race out spiritually unless God did some thing and what He did in 2000 BC, He started a separate nation. That’s the call of Abraham. God said I’m going to create a counterculture. From Abraham on there is tension in the air. The world at large is attracted to the fruit of the kingdom but hates the root. There’s this ambiguity, Abraham is a pilgrim and sojourner on earth. We follow in his steps; we are pilgrims and sojourners on earth. A pilgrim isn’t at home. Why aren’t we at home? Because civilization until the return of Christ is controlled under pagan principles of the evil one and there’s only refreshment and regeneration through this line that God started.
Out of this covenant God made three promises: He promised a land, a seed, and He promised that the world would be redeemed, there would be a worldwide blessing through this counterculture that He was growing up in the wake of Abraham. On page 39 we review those three promises. “First, He promised that Abraham would supernaturally father a family,” the key word there is the adverb “supernaturally,” because it’s not just the natural seed of Abraham. Think about it. Abraham’s first seed of the covenant, was Isaac born naturally or supernaturally? The whole story is that he was born supernaturally. That colors how we interpret who is Abrahamic seed. Remember the first time something happens in the Bible it usually sets up the interpretation for everything that follows. So when you see that the first seed of Abraham was a supernatural seed, that clues you that it’s not quite the simple thing that you think it is, that it’s just the physical seed of Abraham, it’s physical all right, but it’s a certain subset of all the physical things. I mention this to you because you might want to write on the side of your notes a word that’s new to us as we move into the prophets. The prophets started the doctrine of the remnant, it first appears in the Old Testament prophets, and that follows from this idea that this seed here is a supernatural seed within the physical seed.
Then the promise was for the land; that’s the second promise. “God promised that this family would possess eternal title to specific real estate from Egypt to the Mesopotamia. This promise included not only land for the Hebrew nation but also for the location of the future cosmic Temple of God, the everlasting Jerusalem.” When the New Jerusalem comes, it’s the New Jerusalem, it’s not the new London or the New Berlin, it’s the New Jerusalem. Why? Because it’s coming back to the same location, with the same lineage, the same heritage as the modern city of Jerusalem.
The tension that goes on for the number one promise is still going on today. Where do you see it? What are we seeing every day on the front pages of our papers? The pressure is on Israel to trade land for peace. They traded land for peace a number of times and it never seems to work out, everybody else gets the land and they don’t get any peace. But that’s why Netanyahu is not going to give up any more land, and people in our side don’t like that because they consider this a radical step. But the idea is that the Arab nations around Israel have said, Palestinians have said and still have not removed from their documents, their goal is the annihilation of Israel. In spite of all the Oslo accords and all the yak-yak about peace, the Palestinians under Arafat have never once given up; the stated objective is to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth. What does that come into conflict with? God said Israel is not going to be removed from the face of the earth, and the land is Israel’s because it’s His, not because the Jews are better, because God says that’s the way I’m running the show, if you don’t like it, lump it, but I’m running the show this way.
The third promise is that this will ultimately redound to the salvation of the world. Israel is the key to global peace. We see this in the Gospels when the Lord Jesus Christ says O Jerusalem, I will not come back to you until you say “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.” When Israel is ready to receive the Messiah, that’s when world peace will happen. So Israel is still the key to world peace, though not in the sense that most politicians think.
So this is heavy on God’s sovereign promises. Look at all three of these. How many of these are dependent on man? Ultimately none of them are dependent on man. They are all promises of God’s sovereignty. Yes, He works through men, and yes, men are involved in this, but the ultimate security for promise number one, promise number two, promise number three is God’s sovereign omnipotence, period. This is a covenant of sovereign grace. Nothing is going to stop the Abrahamic Covenant. Hitler tried it, lots of people have tried it, Herod tried it, nobody is going to ever undo the Abrahamic Covenant.
TThe second covenant is the Sinaitic Covenant, page 40, “In contrast to the Abrahamic Covenant, the Sinaitic Covenant revealed not God’s obligations to Israel, but Israel’s obligations to God. Rather than God’s swearing to Israel as was the case with the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 15:7-17, God required Israel to swear allegiance to Him to institute the Sinaitic Covenant policies. The outcome of these policies was contingent upon the response of the people: obedience would reap blessing; disobedience, cursing.” So here we have a covenant emphasizing human responsibility. It is contingent, blessing only follows obedience, positive volition toward God; rejection of God brings cursing. That’s the side of this formula.
Now the problem is, as I point out in the middle paragraph on page 40, this sets us up for the prophets, “At first glance, there appears to be a conflict between the Abrahamic Covenant that guaranteed a redeemed destiny for Abraham’s seed through the sovereignty of God and the Sinaitic Covenant that required a human response of repentance before blessing. How can God’s sovereignty guarantee future bliss when such bliss is contingent upon human conformity to His holiness?” A classic case, they still argue about it. But this was implicit in the covenantal structure of the Bible. “Specifically, how could the prophets speak of a future kingdom of God when there was no permanent repentance in Israel after all their efforts?” There’s a tension that is not answered until the prophets make this dramatic announcement that they will about the New Covenant, and we have to see how this resolve things. But it’s important to understand how God works.
We’re going to conclude by looking at the doctrine of election, page 40-41. There are four things that we list there; we want to apply them to the time of the prophets. Point number one under the doctrine of election: “Election rests upon creation, specifically, the Creator/creature distinction. Without the Creator/creature distinction there can be no final plan to cosmic history, only chance or impersonal fate.” That gets back to the diagram that we’ve gone through over and over, that there are only two ways to go, either God is there as the Creator/creature or there isn’t, and I don’t care who they are, once you deny the biblical God you have to wind up on the right side of the diagram, always. What you wind up with is man is an ultimate victim; there is just fate or chance that reigns, finally. /p>
Election makes utter nonsense unless you hold to the God of the Scripture. If you believe in the God of the Scripture then election is just a corollary to His existence. He designed the universe. Ultimately we can fuss about why He allowed sin and why did He allow Satan, why did He create Adam and Eve, why did He have the Garden, why did He do all this? But the bottom line is He’s the one who calls the shots. He chose a history that included evil. Could He have chosen another kind of history? I don’t know, ask Him some day. But He chose this one and He created the world with a potential for evil, and He knew very well the day He created the world that His own Son would die horribly on the cross to pay for sin. It was all included in the package. Why did He do this? The Bible gives us ultimately only one answer: He did it for His glory. That’s the final answer.
So election rests upon that foundation. The verse I quote, Romans 11:33, if you look at the context of that verse, that subject material that Paul is discussing just before 11:33 deals with none other than the election of the nation Israel. And here’s how Paul concludes his discussion. Does he say we’ve got it all aced, I can give you fifteen points and tell you God’s plan? He doesn’t say that. He concludes Romans 9, 10, and 11 with this: “How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways.” What is that? The incomprehensibility of God! Paul, the apostle, for all his intellect, probing to the very depths that the human mind can probe into the Word of God wound up finally with this answer: I rest my case on the incomprehensibility of my God. Notice he does not say He is not loving, God is loving, we can comprehend that He loves us. What Paul is saying is that we’re not omniscient. The incomprehensibility of God means that my mind, as a creature’s mind, can never grasp the thoughts of an omniscient mind. That shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. That’s where the case rests. If you don’t want to rest your case there, if you don’t like that, here’s the only other option: you’ve got a little finite mind running around the universe with no plan and that ultimately makes these minds meaningless because there’s no greater mind out there than these little things, just little bubbles floating on the ocean.
The second point: Election presupposes a fall. There had to be a fall and a destruction in order to be elected from it. God chose Abraham out of a fallen set of beings; you can see that by two prophets. I give you two prophets, I deliberately picked these out and you can find them for yourself if you have a study Bible, go to Romans 9 where Paul discusses the issue of election, look in your cross references and you see that the potter illustration was taken by Paul from two Old Testament prophets. The potter illustration and clay in Romans 9 was not made up by Paul. Paul refers to Isaiah and Jeremiah, that’s where he got it from. It was not new with Paul. Another illustration that there is very little new in the New Testament.
Three: “Election reveals new thought from God’s mind.” Often even guys at seminary don’t pay attention to this. Election always has surprises; you never can predict what God is going to do. We see that in a little sense in the way He works in our lives. You trust God for something, trust God for something, trust God for something and you think from the way you prayed that it’s going to come this way. How many times have you seen your prayers answered in the most weird bizarre way, it comes in from the right or the left or behind you and then you realize after you back off from it and think about it for a while, gee, that was a pretty efficient way He did that; He not only answered my prayer, He answered four or five unspoken prayers, He dealt with this person, that person, this person and that person, a marvelous game of sovereign efficiency. But there are always these surprises, and the surprises come because our God is omniscient and He’s incomprehensible to us.
FFourth thing about this is “Election is God’s basic eternal promise,” and it’s this one that rests at the bottom of the prophetic messages of the Old Testament. It’s very simple to grasp. “If the final state of the elect is promised, then every factor leading up to that state must also be promised. Implicit, therefore, in the Abrahamic Covenant promise to Abraham’s supernaturally generated seed are the ministries of the prophets among them. Whatever requirements that the Sinaitic Covenant required,” the Sinaitic Covenant required circumcised hearts of obedience, positive volition toward God. God said at Sinai, O that their hearts would be circumcised, that they might obey Me. That’s a prerequisite of that Sinaitic Covenant. So “whatever the Sinaitic Covenant required due to God’s holiness (repentance, circumcision of the heart, blood atonement) must have been included in the Abrahamic Covenant.” It’s that truth that now will emerge into something new, the New Covenant.
“The prophets, therefore, from Samuel to Jeremiah had a ‘dual track’ ministry.” That’s what we’ll discuss next week, the “dual track” ministry of the prophets. I’m going to demonstrate that you can take every prophet of those sixteen books, and you will see that the message in all sixteen of them consists of two tracks. Here they are: “On one hand, they prosecuted Yahweh’s case against the nation for its disloyalty to Him and announced the imposition of the Sinaitic Covenant cursings upon it.” So in one sense the prophets always have this stream of accusation and bad news. “On the other hand, they also preached that the nation would certainly enter a future Kingdom of God promised in the Abrahamic Covenant. Different prophets had different ways of expressing this duality.”
What we’re going to do starting next time is go through some of the formats that were used. If you look ahead in the notes, on page 41 you see that one of the things the prophets did is they preached that “Yahweh rules surrounding pagan nations as much as He ruled Israel and Judah.” If you want to read an exciting story, read Isaiah 36, that’s a neat story, it’s a great illustration of all the shenanigans that went on and why Isaiah walked in as a prophet in the middle of a big mess and he said what he did. Notice in Isaiah 36 how King Hezekiah conducted himself as a leader. He screwed up at first, but when the pressure came on, King Hezekiah was sitting there and he listened to something, and the pagan ambassador from Assyria made a big mistake. He came in there and he was trying to intimidate Hezekiah and that’s hoopla, but he overextended himself, and this is always the case. Watch this maneuver, it’s sort of like super martial arts that God has in history, where the forces of evil strike and at first they seem victorious so now they get their arrogance up even more and they strike again. Only one problem, when they make the second strike God grabs their arm and pulls it and they fall flat on their face. Isaiah 36 is an illustration of that, and it also will show you how in actual historical time one of the great prophets ministered to a decision making leader the prophetic message and how it was applied. It’s a super chapter about that.
On the bottom of page 42 you’ll see the second theme, “Israel and Judah had broken the Sinaitic Covenant and could therefore have no claim on Yahweh’s protection.” It seems contradictory but all these things will be pulled together when we study the New Covenant that’s coming up.