The Study of Biblical Theology
THE TASK OF BIBLICAL THEOLOGY
The task of the biblical theologian is to obtain and construct a complete picture of Yahweh’s revelation. To write theology satisfies the mind’s demands for grouping the particular theological ideas obtained through exegesis into universal categories. The process involves the discovery of the longitudinal themes unifying the entire Old Testament and laying the foundation for the New Testament. It is a process that begins with the exegesis of the individual passages for the purpose of finding the theological categories of the writers themselves and continues through the correlation of all such findings from the exegesis of the rest of Scripture. Thus, what is done in a passage or in a book is only a beginning.
Once the individual sections of the Old Testament have all been analyzed for their biblical theology, the task is to write an Old Testament theology. This, obviously, would be a lifetime project. But in working toward that we must remember:
1. The subject matter is the entire Old Testament (therefore, the theologian must avoid arbitrary selectivity and unwarranted proof‑texting);
2. The categories, themes, and unifying thoughts should be as consistent as possible with the categories present in the minds of the writers of the Old Testament; and
3. Since the revelation is bound up in the historical process‑‑a progressive, developmental revelation‑the themes should be developed progressively (the substance of the theology is the historical development of Yahwism).
After the theology of the Old Testament has been carefully articulated, then it must be correlated with the New Testament. To make this correlation prior to a painstaking exegesis of the Old Testament text makes eisegesis and naive proof‑texting more likely. To safeguard against reading something into the text, or interpreting a passage in a way that it was not intended to be taken, requires the determination of the biblical theology of the passage within the old Testament theology first.
As you begin to exegete and expound the Old Testament, you will begin to develop theological ideas. Seminary gives you the theological and biblical framework so that you can operate reasonably well from the beginning, even though you cannot exegete the Old Testament and finalize your theology before beginning to minister. But as you study and teach, you must keep these guidelines for biblical theology before you so that you are conscious of the broader theological categories and are able to avoid eisegesis. Then, over a lifetime of ministry you will refine and adjust your general theological categories.
THE PRESUPPOSITIONAL BASIS
Concerning the role of presuppositions, R. A. F. MacKenzie writes:
Coldly scientific‑‑in the sense of rationalistic‑‑objectivity is quite incapable of even perceiving, let alone exploiting, the religious values of Scripture. There must first be the commitment, the recognition by faith of the divine origin and authority of the book, then the believer can properly and profitably apply all the most conscientious techniques of the subordinate sciences, without in the least infringing on their due autonomy or being disloyal to the scientific ideal (“The Concept of Biblical Theology,” TT 4 :134).
Such a statement is firmly founded in the teachings of the Scriptures themselves; see I Corinthians 2:10‑16; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; and especially I Thessalonians 2:13: “. . . for when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.”
Cornelius Van Til also affirms that “a truly protestant apologetic must therefore
make its beginning from the presupposition that the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, speaks to him with absolute authority in Scripture” (The Defense of the Faith, p. 179).
God Exists. The presupposition that God exists is the foundation of all theology. A. B. Davidson writes,
Its position here and again is far in front of such an argument. How should men
think of arguing that God could be known, when they were persuaded they knew Him, when they were in fellowship with Him, when their consciousness and whole mind were filled and aglo with the thought of Him, and when through His Spirit He moved them, and guided their whole history? (The Theology of the Old Testament, p. 13).
Christopher R. North explains,
Certainly it was not abstract in origin, a product of the abstract intellect. The Old Testament doctrine of God was the Hebrews’ response to God’s confronting them in the crises, the deliverances, and disasters of their national life during a thousand years of history (The Thought of the Old Testament: Three Lectures, p. 24).
So the writers of the Old Testament never felt compelled to prove the existence of God. His existence is never questioned by them; only fools can say, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1; 53:2; Job 2:10). God’s existence was the one thing that gave stability to everything else.
God Revealed Himself. The second presupposition is that God has spoken, that he has made known his will. Thus, the literature of the Bible is unique. It is not just another collection of religious texts from the ancient Near East. It is not a selective borrowing from compatible predecessors in the development of religious ideas. Gleason Archer correctly says, “The Scripture record witnesses rather to the natural Hebrew genius for irreligion and apostasy” (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 135). The Scriptures record the unique revelation of the living God.
Walther Eichrodt states it this way:
First of all it must be noted that the establishment of a covenant through the work of Moses especially emphasizes one basic element in the whole Israelite experience of God, namely the factual nature of the divine revelation. God’s disclosure of himself is not grasped speculatively, not expounded in the form of a lesson; it is as he breaks in on the life of his people in his dealings with them and grants them knowledge of his being (Old Testament Theology, I: 37).
To this may be added the words of James 1. Packer:
The nature of revelation as an act of God is now clear. Revelation is our personal Creator and Upholder addressing us in order to make friends with us. We do not find Him; rather, He finds us. He sees us as rebels against Him, with our minds blinded and our characters twisted by sin, actively dishonouring Him by stifling His truth and serving false gods (God Speaks to Man: Revelation and the Bible, p. 41).
In clarification of the second presupposition it must be stated that God revealed himself in both historical acts and objective propositional statements capable of cognitive analysis. This dual aspect of the means of God’s revelation runs counter to the theology of Gerhard von Rad and his school which looks upon history as the starting point of faith (see Vriezen’s refutation of von Rad in his theology, pp. 188ff.). It also runs counter to Neo‑orthodoxy that regards revelation as only subjective, denying that God can be studied objectively (see Gordon Clark’s refutation of this in Revelation and the Bible, edited by C. F. H. Henry, pp. 29ff.). All theology, and therefore all exposition, depends on the presupposition that the Scriptures are the revelation of God, that the events and the words recorded have abiding spiritual importance for the people of God at all times.
We would also recognize that effective revelation is limited to the inerrant Scriptures. Man’s cognitive ability to apprehend this revelation depends on his spiritual condition as well as diligence in research. He must employ the grammatical, contextual, historical method of interpretation. The emphasis of both Testaments of Scripture is on the diligent study of the Word of God, and not that someone spiritually related to god will naturally understand all of revelation.
THE METHOD OF BIBLICAL THEOLOGY
The study leading to biblical theology must be inductive (although an incomplete induction). The emphasis on inductive study means that the categories, themes, motifs, and conceits must be exegetically derived from the biblical texts. The exegete must come to the text as much as possible without preconceived mental, logical, or philosophical schemes as the molds into which biblical knowledge is poured so that it comes out bearing his mold. This will contrast with dogmatic theology.
To avoid arbitrariness, proof‑texting, and selectivity, the basic view of each biblical writer must be ascertained. From this investigation of separate books, longitudinal themes that unify the Old Testament can be discovered.
The presentation of biblical theology must be deductive. It is not just a retelling of the parts (as von Rad does), but is the organized theology of the Old Testament.
The presentation should set forth the historical development of each category. Certainly consideration should be given to the separate times of divine revelation-‑prior to the founding of the nation, at the founding of the nation under Moses, then the time. of judges, monarchy, captivity and return. The next step in the development would be the relationship to the New Testament.
THE CENTER OF THEOLOGY
There has been a continuing debate over the theology of the Old Testament, especially concerning the center of it. There are those who find a unity or a central theological idea in the Old Testament, and there are those who see only a plurality of ideas.
To simplify the issue at this point, we may distinguish between Eichrodt’s view and von Rad’s view. Eichrodt sees the theology unified in the concept of “covenant” (but do not get this confused with covenant theology). He sees the covenant as God’s relationship with mankind, the irruption (breaking in) of the kingdom of God on earth (see the discussion below in the Use of the Psalter). Von Rad, however, sees the Old Testament as a collection of testimonies, or confessions, by Israel as to their faith. Thus, to him the center of the theology is the entire collection of confessions.
Eichrodt’s approach is more satisfying because it unites the theological ideas throughout the Old Testament. But the basic difficulty that everyone must face is the diversity in the Scriptures, that is, the relationship of the parts to the totality. The multiplicity of ideas in the Bible shows the difficulty of trying to make one central idea.
The Material of Theology
The entire Old Testament is the mass of material that must be used. It is so vast that it cannot all be represented in a theology. But what is to be selected?
It is obvious that some criteria are needed, and that in this there will be some subjectivity. The biblical material is the subject to be studied; if it has no unity, we cannot create one, if it does have unity, we must find it.
The necessary minimum for the theology to be a theology is that the subject matter be about God. Both the unity of God’s self revelation and the diversity of the history of mankind’s understanding of God and response to God are involved in this work. In other words, in the Bible there are constant tensions between popular religion and prophetic religion and these have to be separated in the understanding as well. So the theologian must search the scriptures to see what each writer says about God, about mankind, and about the relationship between God and mankind.
The Unity of Biblical Theology
The predominant unifying element of biblical theology is the self‑presentation of Yahweh, endorsed by the identification of Yahweh by mankind. Exodus 6:2,3 gives the pattern; it brings in the self‑revelation of God along with a note about the apprehension of that revelation by the people.
“God spoke further to Moses and said to him, ‘I am Yahweh; and I appeared to
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as El Shadday, but by My name Yahweh, I was not known to them’.”
Thus, a unity was presented in the revelation, but there was a diversity in the way that that revelation was received. The ancestors knew the name as early as Genesis 4:26, but they did not know it in the sense that Moses’ generation would, that is, by experiencing the fulness of the promises made to the ancestors. Exodus 6:7 confirms this meaning of the verb “know,” for it says to Israel‑‑who had just received the revelation of the name: “and you shall know that I am Yahweh your God.”
Exodus 3:14‑15 has the same effect:
And God said to Moses, “I AM that I AM.” And he said, “Thus you shall say
to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you’.” And God furthermore said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and this is my memorial to all generations.”
Such phenomena of the identification of God‑‑revelation and apprehension‑‑followed Israel throughout the history of the ages.
The second thing that gave unity to the religion of Israel was the uniqueness of Yahweh He was holy. His holiness was demonstrated by his power and his righteousness; and he protected it by his zealousness. The command to have no other god (Exod. 20:3) is without analogy in the ancient world. So is the second command, not to make any idols (Exod. 20:4). In the midst of polytheism, Israel was instructed to worship one invisible God, exclusively. This brought on a life‑and‑death struggle against syncretism with other religions. New ideas, epithets, and appraisals came along, but one constant identification of the true God remained. The legal literature demanded obedience to the one God, the prophets proclaimed it the true faith, and the hymnic literature testified to it. And a faithful remnant adhered to it.
This struggle with syncretism also became a constant in Israel’s religion. The defense of the faith, the proclamation of the sovereignty of God, was a basic unifying element in the theology. The intolerant attitude of the Hebrews stemmed from their claim that Yahweh alone was God. Faith survived only through the rejection of what was alien to Yahwism. It was a process of destruction and demolition, of judgmental decrees and polemics. The Old Testament is thus a cemetery for lifeless myths and silent gods. The triumph of Yahwism is made clear through the struggle, for the polemic not only shows pagan beliefs to be worthless, but maintains the true faith.
Diversity in Biblical Theology
In the midst of the unified theology in the Old Testament there were diverse elements. There were differing theological forms that examined God’s acts in different ways, largely because there was a struggle with “automaticity.”
The first form of theology was salvation theology. The great sections of the Bible that portray Yahweh as the saving God, the shepherd, the leader, or the ruler, comprise this material. The form of this theology is found in hymnic, prophetic, and historical literature alike. The emphasis of this form of theology is that faith in God’s deliverance is founded in the knowledge of his past saving acts. But he manifested his saving power in different ways at different times.
Unbelief in the saving God, evidenced in disobedience to His precepts, brought the preaching of judgment from the prophets. The messages of doom were to prompt faith before it was too late. So God’s reputation as a saving God was constantly being brought into crisis. God’s reputation as a saving God would have ended were it not for the fact that the prophetic oracles renewed the old promises. They proclaimed that in spite of the judgment on the nation of Israel, a great day of deliverance‑‑spiritual and physical‑‑would yet come. Sometimes the crisis was caused by mechanization. Israel began to depend on God without faith (see the battle of Aphek in 1 Samuel 4-‑having God “in the box” in battle--but that was magic--so they lost the box and the war). Judgment had to fall in order to make the people realize that God was indeed a saving God, but only if the people believed. Thus, one form of theology presented God as the powerful deliverer of those who believed.
The second form of theology was cultic theology, the portion of revelation that dealt with sacrificial worship and all that pertains to that. The same cycle developed here. The original cultic theology presented God as the Holy One, who dwelt in a Holy Place, and who could be reached only by atonement through prescribed ritual. But “automaticity” from unbelief set in. Empty ritual overtook faith. So the great reaction came. The prophets were not against sacrifice, as some of the theologians who see no unity argue. Rather, they were denouncing worship without faith; they meant to renew the intent and spirit of cultic theology, not do away with sacrifices. Obedience was better than sacrifice; a broken heart was the true sacrifice. There would come a time, too, when the temple would be overthrown and the people scattered, because of unbelief. God’s holiness was featured very prominently in this theology, and without faith people could not come near such a God.
The third form of the theology of the Old Testament is order theology. Here the texts describe God as the creator and sustainer of heaven and earth, the guarantor of life, of order, society, justice, and nature. It was not presented so much in records of saving deeds, or in the Levitical code, as it was in wisdom literature. But it too had to deal with the crisis of unbelief, an unbelief that made the theology automatic, predictable. The dogmatic systematizing of the old wisdom would not let God freely order the universe by his sovereign will. Rules established a pattern so that legalism made life predictable (God blessed the righteous, so that the absence of blessing was a sign of sin). Books like Job and Ecclesiastes show that God cannot be bound by such an order. Faith in the sovereign God is the constant demand of such writings.
This is but a brief sketch of the three main themes of biblical theological literature from the Old Testament, how their pristine messages were challenged by the popular religion of unbelief and paganism, and how their theologians rekindled the spirit of the faith through each crisis.
The Essentials of the Theology
Eichrodt’s idea of the center of theology as “the rule of God over all creation” is broad enough to work in each of the theological forms the literature took. It gives the young theological exegete a starting point in formulating theological ideas from any book that he or she may be studying. The statement has three essential parts.
God. “What we meet with in the Old Testament are two concrete subjects and their relation. The two are: Jehovah God of Israel, on the one hand, and Israel, the people of Jehovah, on the other; and the third point, which is given in the other two, is their relation to one another. And it is obvious that the dominating or creative factor in the relation is Jehovah” (The Theology of the Old Testament, p. 13).
In studying God in a piece of biblical literature, one would normally look for the names, and epithets used for God, the attributes that describe him, and the works that he does. This is the way that Eichrodt constructs his theology of the entire Old Testament, so a check of his outline will provide a corrective to possible omissions.
It is helpful when studying a passage to chart these things. On a sheet of paper make the top third the entry of “God” (usually when doing a Psalm the work will fit onto one page). Then across the page make columns of “Names” and “Descriptions” and “Works.” Then go through the passage and note the items under these headings. A picture of the revelation of God emphasized in this particular passage will begin to unfold.
Creation. The entire creation is subject to God’s rule in the Old Testament. However, in most of the literature, mankind is of prominent interest, and within mankind the seed and its relationship to the rest of the world forms the focus of attention.
In the middle third part of the page put the heading “Creation”; then across the page you can have categories to fit the passage: “Nature” (if necessary), “Believers” and “Pagans.” It may be that the passage only talks about believers, or maybe believers and unbelievers. Here you would note in sub-categories how they are described in the passage and how they act--what do they do. A picture of humans will begin to emerge--a picture to be seen in relationship to the presentation of God above.
The passages being studied will have much to say about believers in the world. They display the way of faith against the pagan’s way; they (whether Israelite or not) will be functioning in certain ways due to their faith. Conversely, the unbelievers will be following false or antithetical ways. Much of the literature is given over to the expansion of the faith or producing spiritual seed, inside Israel (reforms) and outside (commission to bring the message to the nations). All of creation at some time or another will be confronted with God.
Be very careful here. Phrases like “my people” and “Israel” and the like do not presuppose belief. In a passage like a prophetic oracle, or a psalm like Psalm 50 that describes “the wicked”--these may be Israelites, and they may have thought themselves “righteous,” but they are unbelievers and no better than pagans. This will be absolutely critical in interpreting and applying the passage. Too often the wrong applications have been made because the interpretation did not distinguish whether God was speaking to and about believers or unbelievers.
God’s Rule. This is the connecting link between the two. It is manifested by the acts of God and the responsibility of mankind. There are two aspects to this rule: the past rule of God which has up til now been partial and incomplete and yet developing, and the future rule of God which will be complete and eternal. Both are within the theology of the Old Testament.
Davidson again writes,
In its fullest sense the kingdom of God was only introduced in the coming of the Son of God into the world; and in this sense all that went before might seem only capable of being regarded as preparation for this kingdom, or at most shadows of it. And this is the view which has often been taken of what is called the Old Testament dispensation, namely that it is a designed shadow or adumbration of the new. But this is not the view which it takes of itself; the consciousness of Israel as reflected in the minds of its prophets and highest men was that it was the kingdom of God already. The apparent discrepancy disappears on a little consideration of what the kingdom of God is. It is the fellowship of men with God and with one another in love. In a perfect sense this could not be till the coming of the Son in whom this fellowship is fully realized.
The rule of God over creation, the kingdom in its beginning stages, is a predominant theme throughout the Old Testament. It developed by covenant and by promise, but yet fell short of the prophetic ideal with which the Old Testament fell silent. The ultimate expectation was that God would visit them, and the breaking in among men of his rule would someday be complete.
In the meantime the establishment of the rule of God in human hearts progressed. Most passages of the Bible address this in some way. So on the bottom third of your study sheet you will have the section on “God’s Rule”--either how it is being established, presented, received, rejected--whatever. On the Godward side of the matter, there will be items such as attributes of grace and salvation, deeds of compassion and deliverance, and the establishment of covenant relationships. On the human side of the relationship is belief, confession, expiation, obedience, and worship and proclamation, or unbelief and rejection followed by judgment. The requirements on mankind seem to fall into two areas: the establishment of the covenantal relationship, and the maintenance of it.
This latter aspect brings in the entire purpose of the establishment of the theocracy of God, the communion of the seed with the living God. That is the goal of the life of faith which God’s grace prompts in the human heart.
Any study of the text may use this broad outline to ascertain the fundamental theological ideas of the writer. Of course, many refinements and qualifications may be added, but at this point it will serve as a good study that the themes will correlate rather nicely with the New Testament literature, for although much of the New Testament is a fulfillment of the Old, even the New continues the promise of a future fulfillment, and that hope is the universal reign of God over all creation.
Finally, what you must do is organize the material into a useful presentation. After charting the theological themes and ideas, study them carefully to see what patterns emerge, what things are repeated, what contrasts are formed, and the like. You should be able to determine rather quickly in a psalm what the main theological thrust of the passage is. This idea you develop will be easily harmonized with the kind of psalm you are studying (a praise psalm, for example, ill focus on the nature of God that has been demonstrated through some intervention--this puts you at the center). Once you have in mind the theological center of the psalm, you should be able to state it in one clear theological propositional statement. What you are saying is that after you have studied the psalm (meanings of words, figures of speech, type of psalm, forms and functions) you can say that God is saying through this passage “such and so.” This theological statement will be similar to your summary message from outlining, but it will not be written in descriptive style (“David prays for victory . . .”) but in theological principle form (“God is able to deliver . . .”). (See below for the review of the method of doing exegetical and expositional outlines--tedious but absolutely critical). Writing the theological idea forms the transition from exegesis to exposition. For this reason, it is one of the most critical stages of the whole process. It will require careful thought and analysis, and a good deal of re-writing of the statement until it is correct, or as correct as seems possible at the present. The theological principle could very well be the “big idea”--the central thesis--of your sermon; but for the sermon it might be shaped a little more to be rhetorically effective. Even so, it is the substance of your theological findings that will be the heart and point of the exposition.
THE THEOLOGICAL SUBJECT MATTER
OF THE OLD TESTAMENT BOOKS
The following list of Waltke’s central theological ideas of each Old Testament give you something to go on in your study, and they show you what we mean by biblical theological ideas rather than systematic theological ideas (which would be the result of incorporating this material from the whole Bible into broader categories). Some of these are written as topics; to be more helpful, they should be stated in full sentences that express the theological point of the book.
I. THE PENTATEUCH (Moses): The Founding of the Theocracy: “The Rule of God over all Creation."
A. GENESIS: The origins behind the founding of the theocracy: the promised blessing of the seed in the land.
B. EXODUS: The redemption of the seed of Abraham out of bondage and the granting of a constitution to them.
C. LEVITICUS: The manual or ordinances enabling the holy Yahweh to live in residence among his people, making them holy (cf. Lev. 26:11‑12).
D. NUMBERS: The cultic laws of the camp in motion: the military arrangement and census of the tribes and the transport of the sacred palladium: the promised blessing cannot be frustrated from within or from without.
E. DEUTERONOMY: The covenant renewed in legal‑prophetic form.
II. THE PROPHETS
A. THE FORMER PROPHETS:
1. JOSHUA: The historical fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise made to the patriarchs and Moses to give Israel the land by holy war (cf. 1:2‑6, 11:23; 21:43).
2. JUDGES: The failure of theocracy under the Judges and the necessity of kingship.
3. SAMUEL: The establishment of a human monarchy over the theocracy.
4. KINGS: The failure of theocracy under monarchy: the kings of Israel and Judah could govern others but could not rule themselves.
B. THE MAJOR PROPHETS:
1. ISAIAH: The holy God will not permit unholiness in his people, and will therefore deal with them in such a way as to chasten and purge them and make them fit to participate in his program of extending his rule over the Gentiles (includes first the remedial discipline under Gentiles, and second, the promise of the covenant that cannot be frustrated).
2. JEREMIAH: Jerusalem will fall if the people will not repent; nevertheless, God's rule is assured through a new covenant.
3. EZEKIEL: The fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity are necessary measures for the God of glory to employ to correct his disobedient people; but “the day is coming when Jehovah will restore a repentant remnant of his chastened people and establish them in a glorious latter‑day theocracy with a new temple” (Archer).
C. THE MINOR PROPHETS:
1. HOSEA: In spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness, Yahweh’s faithful love will prevail.
2. JOEL: Divine judgment is to be visited upon Israel in the day of Yahweh.
3. AMOS: Yahweh is faithful to his covenant and to his law.
4. JONAH: While Israel is an ineffective servant under discipline, the sovereign Yahweh preaches salvation to the Gentiles through his prophetic messenger.
5. OBADIAH: Yahweh will revenge Israel against Edom.
6. MICAH: The necessary product of saving faith is social reform and practical holiness based on the righteousness and sovereignty of God.
7. NAHUM: Nineveh will fall for her cruelty and immorality because Yahweh is mighty.
8. HABAKKUK: The just live by faith in the face of apparent difficulties hindering the fulfillment of God's promises.
9. ZEPHANIAH: Yahweh is firmly in control of all his world despite any contrary appearances, and he will prove this in the near future by the Day of Yahweh including immediate and distant chastisement upon all the disobedient is clear.
10. HAGGAI: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to YOU
11. ZECHARIAH: Visions and oracles about Israel’s purification and restoration as God’s priestly nation in the glorious future.
12. MALACHI: Yahweh will come quickly with fire and with rewards to purify his theocracy.
III. THE HAGIOGRAPHA:
A. PSALMS: The. psalmists set forth Yahweh as king of the universe who is establishing his just rule upon the earth in and through his people; they pray for its realization and exhort praise and trust in Yahweh (McDaniel).
B. JOB: The suffering must learn to live by faith in the sovereign creator and ruler of the cosmos.
C. PROVERBS: A collection of maxims to give the student instruction in the skill of living a practical, righteous, and productive life.
D. RUTH: Yahweh sovereignly, but in a hidden way, effects the birth of his king.
E. SONG OF SOLOMON: A celebration in song of the joyful reunion of sexes in marriage.
F. ECCLESIASTES: In spite of the apparent futility involved in man’s existence, he will live life skillfully by trusting God’s sovereignty, goodness, and justice.
G. LAMENTATIONS: A song lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem with hope for the future based on God’s faithfulness.
H. ESTHER: An illustration of the vicissitudes of Abraham's physical but not spiritual seed.
I. DANIEL: A panorama view of Israel's history while subjugated by the Gentile world powers until the time of the Kingdoms.
J. EZRA‑NEHEMIAH: An account of the establishment of the theocracy during Gentile oppression.
K. CHRONICLES: A history of Israel designed to arouse support for the theocracy during Gentile oppression.
THE BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF
THE BOOK OF JONAH
Theological Ideas in Jonah
God. Even though the book carries the name of the prophet and reports his activities, God is the main character in the book, the one who is carrying the events to their intended end. YHWH and ’elohim are the main designations of God in the book; but with the use of the second there is a marked contrast to the “gods” of the pagans,
the description of which employs the same word. Yahweh shows Himself
to be the God.
The attributes of God reflected in the book are many. Jonah's words in 4:2 declare that He is gracious, compassionate, longsuffering, abundant in loyal love, and hesitant to destroy. These provide the reason for Jonah’s flight‑‑he knew that because of these God would have compassion. That compassion, hus (pronounced khoos), becomes the primary attribute of God in the book in as much as it forms the point of the object lesson in chapter 4, the message of Yahweh’s dealings through Jonah. This point brings together the previous ideas of Yahweh’s compassion toward Jonah and the mariners. In fact, the statement that salvation is of Yahweh (2:10) is explained by this.
The works of Yahweh that grow out of these attributes are many. The first thing that one notices is the revelation of God. This is done twice through direct communication to the prophet in the commission (1:1 and 3:1), through the lots (1:8), and through the circumstances in the storm and in the lessons of chapter 4. In fact, God’s word to Jonah is a call for service and a promise of future speaking through him (3:1). When the prophet reluctantly obeys, God’s word to him is one of rebuke (4:4 and 4:9). God's speaking to the fish (2:11) meets with less opposition.
The second area of God’s actions revealed in the book show His sovereignty over all creation. He throws the storm (1:4) and frightens all. He controls the lots (1:8) so that Jonah is found out. He is recognized as the God of the heavens (1:9) who created the sea and the dry land. The very waves and billows are His to control (2:4). He prepares the fish to do His will (2:1), the tree for shade (4:6), the killing worm (4:7), and the sultry east wind (4:8). All are at His control. Dealing with the pagans is less a problem than dealing with Jonah, for with them He answers their prayers and delivers them from certain death. But with Jonah it becomes clear that God punishes disobedience (1:10ff), for He cast out Jonah into the deep (2:4). His punishment would also fall on Nineveh (3:4) if they did not turn from their wickedness. That judgment on them would be a manifestation of the wrath of God (3:9). The punishment of Jonah is a discipline and a prod toward the compassion that He has (4:9).
The compassion of God is demonstrated by the saving of the mariners, Jonah, the Assyrians, and then Jonah from his plight again. The sending of the message of judgment was an act of compassion, for God and Jonah knew that when they heard and repented, God would turn from His wrath (3:9, 10). Thus, the picture of God, emerging from the book, is one of the sovereign Lord of all creation extending grace to those who will repent and turn from their ways. The sub‑plot that runs throughout this theological theme is that Jonah needs to learn the same compassion.
Mankind. Much can be learned about mankind from the book, but here we need to make a distinction between mankind in general and Jonah in specific as God’s prophet. The book reflects the recognition that man is great and capable of great enterprises (3:3). But it also attests to his evil ways of violence and destruction (1:2; 3:8). In the hands of God mankind is weak and fragile (2:3; 3:8ff). His fragility shows up in fear (1:5; 1:10) and repentance at the warning (3:8). Mankind is also very religious, for he prays to gods (1:5), casts lots (1:7), cares about taking an innocent life (1:14), and worships idols (2:9). All of his religious activities are in vain because he is spiritually ignorant (4:11) until confronted by the true and living God.
The desires of mankind in this book reveal his priorities. He values life and does not want to perish (1:6, 3:9). He prays not to perish (1:14; 4:4‑9). He tries to preserve the life of others (1:13, 14).
Ironically, Jonah appears in just the opposite light in the drama of the book. He is disobedient to the word of Yahweh (1:2) and hardened in it (1:5). He is willing to die (1:13) and in fact prays to die (4:2ff). He is angry over the fact that God turns from His wrath when the Assyrians repent (4:a). He claims to fear Yahweh (1:9), but only the fact that he wrote the book for the nation to read shows that he did turn from his plight.
Relationship of God and People. The compassion of God explains the drama that has preceded the lesson in which the word is first used; thus, the establishment of covenantal relationships between God and man in the book is a work of God. For His part, the steps to establishing this rule are: the revelation of a message of judgment to be delivered (1:2, 3:1), the showing of favor to the mariners (1:6), the extending of khesed to those who are His (2:9), the turning away from judgment (3:9) so that the people did not perish. With this pattern emerging, the climactic lesson not only rebukes Jonah’s attitude but explains God's intent all along. He has compassion for the wicked.
People, on their part, must respond to the words and works of Yahweh. In the calamity of the storm where death is certain, or in the anticipation of the judgment where death is sure, people pray (1:14; 3:8‑9). Even Jonah from certain death in the fish prays (2:2). This is a recognition that deliverance from death comes from Yahweh alone.
For the mariners, further response to God’s dealings comes after the storm has been calmed. That powerful display of God’s will was anticipated by them (1:16), and when it happened they feared Yahweh. Their sacrifices and vows (1:16) could be interpreted as worship or as superstition out of a pagan culture, but in the book may reflect a genuine turning to God. The next vow given in the book is that of Jonah (2:10). So the response to deliverance is worship.
For the Assyrians, the process is a little different. Their prayer for deliverance is a prayer for God to avert judgment. Thus, repentance from sinful lives of self indulgence is a must (3:10). The fast, the putting on of sack cloth, and the turning from evil, all reflect a genuine fear of God’s word. Thus, fear becomes a predominant motif in the book‑‑both the mariners and the Assyrians fear Yahweh, whereas Jonah only claimed to fear Him.
The turning point for the mariners comes from the fact that they believed (the hiphil of ’aman in 3:5 has the idea of considering the word preached as reliable and sure). Belief is genuine when it turns to the repentance and fear seen in their actions. Thus, God turned from His wrath against them.
One could say, then, that when mankind responds to God’s actions or words by faith, and turns from pagan idolatry to obedient worship and fear of Him, He will deliver them from impending death. All this is possible because of His compassion. Jonah tried to hinder the outworking of God’s compassion, so God had to bring him to the point of realizing what he was doing by removing from him, Jonah, the object of his compassion.
The Literary Structure of the Book
In studying the book one must work in literary units by compositional analysis and then compare similar units for their structural organization. When connecting the parts to the whole, one must try to distinguish the literary forms used by the writer to convey the message. In the process, do not misuse the concept of literary genre. Literary genre is a classification of works based on outward form (specific meter and structure) and also upon inner form (attitude, tone, purpose‑‑more simply, subject and audience). The analysis of genre may not always be helpful.
For example, Leslie Allen in his commentary classifies Jonah as a parable. Not only is this not helpful, it is not correct. A parable is an extended simile (e.g., “The kingdom of heaven is like . . . “ and then the story will continue). The best that can be said for Jonah is that it is a piece of didactic narrative about the life of the prophet.
More can be gained by studying the structure of the book from the perspective of the Hebrew style, i.e., repetition. The following observations may be made in seeing how the structure enhances the theology.
1. We would observe the balanced structure of the book to see parallelism:
“The word of Yahweh came to Jonah”‑‑Jonah 1:1, 3:1. Chapter one shows the disobedience; chapter three the obedience. The first half appears to be illustrative of the second half of the book: the message that “salvation out of certain death is of Yahweh” is first experienced by the prophet and then presented to the Assyrians.
Landes, in his article “The Kerygma of the Book of Jonah,” shows how the psalm fits into this twofold symmetrical structure:
1:17 focus shifts to Jonah 4:1‑11 focus shifts to Jonah
2:10 Jonah is spared 4:1 Jonah is angry because Nineveh is spared
2:1 Jonah prays 4:2a Jonah prays
2:2‑6a He refers back to his 4:2a He refers back to his distressing situation in Palestine
in the deep
2:6b‑7 He asserts God’s 4:2a He draws an inference from the thought God
merciful deliverance may save Nineveh: he must flee to Tarshish
2:8 He draws an insight 4:2b He asserts the mercy of God that leads to deliverance
from his deliverance:
idolaters forsake the
One who loves them
2:9 Jonah’s response to 4:3 Jonah’s response to Yahweh: a plea for death
Yahweh: worship with
sacrifices and vows
2:10 Yahweh’s response to 4:11 Yahweh’s response to Jonah: he acts so that
Jonah: he acts so that the prophet may respond favorably to
the prophet may the divine mission (already accomplished).
respond favorably to
the mission (still to be
2. We would also note the strong emphasis in the book on the activity of God in making his servant into a compassionate messenger of a compassionate God. God literally (and sovereignly) moves heaven and earth in his dealings with the miraculous: he prepares (hurls) the storm, appoints the fish, commands the fish, prepares the tree, brings up the worm, and calls in the east wind‑‑all with the stubborn prophet in mind.
3. We would also observe talionic (“eye for eye, tooth for tooth”) justice for Nineveh. Calamity ( ra‘ ) was declared for them in the terms of the evil they were doing ( ra‘) which had ascended up to God. When Jonah preached the message, God’s planned evil was removed, but it was evil ( ra‘a‘ ) to him.
They believed ( ’aman ) God’s message and turned ( shub) from their evil. God saw their turning, and He relented/repented ( nakham ) over the evil ( ra‘ ) He had said to do, turned ( shub) from his wrath (kharon) and saved them from certain death. The irony of the book is seen in the fact that Jonah then becomes angry ( kharah) over what was to him an evil thing. In short, the messenger of God did not share the same compassion that God had.
4. In the unfolding of the story emotions run high: fear, joy, and anger are lavishly displayed by the principle characters (note the adverbial accusatives). “Alas,” or better “Oh!” is repeated: once it is used by the mariners who are about to die and do not want to, and once by Jonah who wants to die.
The expression “lest we perish” is used twice: once by the mariners who feared greatly, and once by the Assyrians who believe and hope for deliverance from certain death. But Jonah is insensitive to their pleas: in the first utterance he is fast asleep, and in the second he is angry. In fact, the life‑and‑death struggle carries throughout the book: twice Jonah wants to die‑‑once for the mariners, and once because of the Assyrians. No one wants to perish except Jonah, and he wants to perish because the Assyrians do not.
5. We would note the prayers of the book. The verbs palal, sha’al, qara’, and shiwwa‘ are all used. The mariners, Jonah, the Assyrians, and Jonah again, all pray. The first three prayers are for deliverance from certain death, and they are all answered; the last one is for death, and it is not answered.
6. Already one may observe that God is desirous to save people from certain death. The climactic lesson ties the message together: khus, “to have compassion,” is the key word (it certainly must be studied in any exposition of the book). It means to “have compassion” in the sense of saving alive or sparing. It results in deliverance from destruction. Judgment is averted because of khus when God relents over His planned judgment. Grace and compassion are at work in bringing about the deliverance, but they are compelled by this “sparing through compassion.”
With these, and many other observations in the book, we may begin to see how the structure enhances the message.
The Purpose of the Book
The next step in determining the essential theology of the book is to determine the attitude of the author, the audience of the book, and the argument. Concerning the attitude of the author, whom we may assume to be Jonah, it must be said that he was moved to compassion by Yahweh in Assyria. The book falls silent with the rebuke of Yahweh, and so does not actually say that Jonah was moved to compassion. However, the fact that Jonah recorded all the events in the book, events which are humiliating to himself, suggests strongly that he was finally moved to compassion. God, if we may say it, is the hero of the book‑‑he has the last, convincing word. Jonah’s silence speaks his quiet acceptance.
The audience of the book would be Israel, the people to whom he prophesied. Prophets in Israel and Judah wrote for the purpose of instructing the nation on a course of action. The many bizarre events in the lives of the prophets were paradigms for the people (see Hosea, Isaiah, especially). We know that Israel in the time of Jonah was not walking in obedience to Him. In fact, we would say that Israel was then under divine discipline (according to the Book of Kings Jonah prophesied in the 750s; the kingdom of Israel was affluent and self indulgent). Their hated enemies, and the source of their discipline, came from the mighty Assyrian empire. The attitude of Jonah is more than likely the attitude of the nation.
Yet this attitude ran contrary to God’s instructions for the nation. According to Exodus 19 and Deuteronomy 20, they were to be a kingdom of priests who represented Yahweh to the nations. When they closed in on themselves they became disobedient in many areas. If they were to take the message of Yahweh’s deliverance to the nation, they would need to share His compassion. If they shared that compassion, they would realize anew that they existed because of His grace and compassion, for He had delivered them and made them His worshipers.
The argument of the book, then, concerns salvation out of certain and imminent death for the Gentiles, because Yahweh is a compassionate God.
The Theology of the Book
The theological statement that the book appears not only to be making but to be stressing, is that while Israel is an ineffective servant under divine discipline, the sovereign Yahweh extends compassion to believing Gentiles through His reluctant prophetic messenger. What makes the tension so strong in the drama is that these Gentiles are hated enemies, and that Jonah does not wish God’s compassion to be shown to them.
Correlation to the New Testament
Whenever a theological idea like this has been expressed, the next step is to determine the corresponding New Testament idea. One must be aware of the major changes between the testaments, but in an idea such as this, i.e., that God’s compassion leads Him to preach salvation to the Gentiles, is not hard to relate to the present world. The fact of the salvation or deliverance itself is incidental to the purpose of the book, for the purpose is concerned with turning the people of God into people who have compassion for the wicked who are spiritually ignorant.
The lesson for Jonah is, therefore, a valid lesson for us today: we must have compassion for those who are about to perish, no matter how wicked they may be. The danger is that God’s people too often channel “compassion” to things that have intrinsic value for them (as did Jonah with such a simple object as the shade tree). We too have compassion for such things (a dying lawn, a shade tree, a broken instrument that we value) that are trivial, and are insensitive to those people all around us who are perishing. This often comes into evangelistic efforts as well, in that we try to reach those individuals we think would benefit the Church the most. For the rest, we often think that Hell will not be hot enough for them, unless we are simply indifferent.
These thoughts may seem harsh, but for Jonah the rebuke of God over misguided compassion was just as harsh. He did not even care for the dumb animals that would be destroyed. The rebuke was for him, and for Israel who shared his attitude, and ultimately for us. God is a God of compassion, and we may not determine who the recipients of that compassion may be. We must take the message to all who will listen, and then rejoice in the miracle of their faith when they hear the word.
These are but a few ideas to illustrate how one might begin to bridge the gap between exegetical analysis and homiletical presentation.
THE USE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
You cannot do Biblical Theology and remain in the Old Testament for your material--at least not as a Christian doing theology, for Christianity finds the final revelation and the fulfillment of the Old Testament in Christ Jesus. So any exegetical work you do will of necessity demonstrate how the New Testament writers may have drawn upon your passage to make their point. In fact, you have to show where in the New Testament your message was used or alluded to, and how that application may or may not affect your view of the original text.
It is clear that the Hebrew Scriptures were held to be the inspired revelation of God by Jesus, the apostles, the scribes, and the Pharisees. A study of the terms used in the formulae for citing the Holy Books also shows that there was agreement on which books were canonical (the Samaritans and Sadducees restricting canonicity to the Torah).
But our survey of the copying and translating of the Bible also indicates that in Gospel times (roughly 50 B.C. through 150 A.D.) there was quite an array of Bibles‑‑different Hebrew scrolls, different Greek translations, some beginning works in other languages, plus the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Aramaic Targum. So which copy of the Bible were they to use? They knew that the Old Testament was God’s eternal word, and so it spoke to them as well as to the original audience; they knew that a principle of promise‑and‑fulfillment underscored the meaning of the Bible, for God was forever fulfilling His word and each fulfillment looked forward in promise to greater things. So much use was made of the Bible in varying degrees of literalness, and that use has to be understood by us in order to know how to interpret the Old Testament for today.
A major problem arises in our thinking when we begin to talk about “quotations” from the Old Testament in the New, for the concept of a direct quotation is not workable. They were the Scriptures to show fulfilment or to underscore new but related teaching; but they were seldom retaining it on the same literal and denotative meaning as it was originally written. In fact, once the text is changed to Greek or Aramaic, a slight alteration in the meaning is introduced (in addition to the change in contexts). Peter draws “Be holy, because I the LORD your God am holy” out of Leviticus, it may seem “word perfect,” but the meanings of the Greek words will only approximate the meanings of the Hebrew words, albeit in a close way. Yet what it meant to the Hebrews to be holy will be rather different than what it means for the Christian to be holy. They had diet laws and ritual purifications and restrictions on garments and agriculture‑‑all very different, yet within the range of theology of holiness as it was developing in God’s revelation.
We need, therefore, to think in terms of the progressive revelation in Scripture, observing how God brought forward the ideas and motifs of the Old economy. We need to think of how they used the Old Testament with varying shades of correspondence. As you know from reading the exegetical notes I have been satisfied with three general categories to describe these shades of correspondence; I have introduced them in the discussion of the royal psalms, but I shall illustrate them more widely here. You will need to think through this entire subject to your own satisfaction, because it will have great bearing on exegesis, textual criticism, and application procedures. To try to force the New Testament meaning into the Old Testament passage, to the letter, not only ignores the grammatical, historical, contextual exegesis we follow, but also oversimplifies the problem of how the later writers used the Hebrew Bible.
Category I: Direct Prophecy
The use of the Old in the New that has the closest correspondence of meaning between both passages is direct prophecy. The writer or the speaker in the Old Testament was conscious of the fact that what he declared was to be fulfilled in the future, and that usually in the so‑called Messianic age. This category, though, can be a little confusing, since many if not most of the prophecies had an immediate fulfilment that did not fully exhaust the meaning, that is, the first fulfilment became a type of the ultimate and full meaning (such as Isaiah 7:14).
Sample 1: Micah 5:2 and Matthew 2:6
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephratah, least among the clans of Judah, from you one will go forth for me to be ruler in Israel, his goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity (OT).
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you shall come forth a ruler who shall shepherd my people Israel (NT).
It should be obvious that this is a direct prophecy of the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem. But it should also be quite clear that Matthew is not using the Hebrew that we have, but the Greek Old Testament (but even there there are some differences). And interestingly enough, he does not read the last part that speaks of the antiquity of the coming one. It appears that Matthew is simply using the common Greek translation of his day to make the point of the fulfilment of the prophecy, and is not concerned with getting the precise reading of the Hebrew text, with which the people would not be familiar anyway. His point is to show that that prophecy was now fulfilled.
Sample 2: Malachi 3:1 and Matthew 11:10
Behold, I am about to send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me (OT).
Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you (NT).
Jesus is clearly referring to Malachi’s prophecy of the forerunner in this lengthy evaluation of John the Baptist. But note that he freely changed the pronouns to show that he is the Lord who is coming to his temple (as Malachi 3:1 continues to say). God spoke in Malachi (“me” = Yahweh), and Jesus wants his audience to know he is Yahweh.
Sample 3: Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:17
The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me‑‑to bring good news to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners . . . (OT).
The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel
to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden . . . (NT).
These are obviously not the same text. Jesus went in to the synagogue and read in Hebrew from the scroll of Isaiah. Luke, when recording the account in Greek, knew that Jesus had read from that passage, and so simply recorded it, probably from the Greek Bible. This introduces the major problem of the evangelists’ recording in their words the messages and activities of Jesus. He taught in Aramaic and Hebrew, but the translation is a close approximation of what he said‑‑essentially identical except for what is lost in translation.
It is possible that this passage also has a double fulfilment. Isaiah might have (and I can only surmise) thought he was the one anointed to preach‑‑and indeed he was. But his words ultimately refer to Jesus Christ.
Category 2: Typology
Typology is a form of prophecy, an indirect prophecy, because one cannot know it is a prophecy until the fulfilment or the antitype is known. Once the great antitype is present, then one can look back and see what God had intended. Typology usually has the person and work of the Messiah as its goal. So there is a clear pattern of parallel motifs, yet the type and the antitype have independent reality and meaning.
The practical side of this observation is that the exegete should recognize that the type has independent meaning in the development of revelation. One can certainly explain where it will go in the full revelation; but one cannot assume that the people of Israel knew that, or needed to know that to understand God’s revelation to them.
Sample 1: Exodus 12 and 1 Corinthians 5:7
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5:7, declares “Christ, our passover, is sacrificed,” and then adds in verse 8, “Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven . . . . ”
Exodus 12 prescribes Israel’s passover-‑the sacrificial lamb, the unleavened bread, the blood on the doorposts, the redemption of the firstborn. All of it had tremendous meaning for Israel’s redemption from Egypt. But the Holy Spirit legislated all of that with a view to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. We cannot separate the two passages in our thinking; but in the process of exegesis we first must determine what it meant to Israel, and then trace what God did with it in the fulness of revelation. The antitype gains a greater depth of meaning when the old is fully understood. But the antitype is on a different level, a spiritual level (not leaven, but malice and envy is the new meaning); and the redemption of our passover lamb is spiritual and eternal, not national from the bondage of Egypt. So we look for the differences as well as the correspondences, realizing that the type is prophetic in an illustrative way.
Sample 2: Exodus 16 and John 6:29-41
This is the account of the manna from heaven. The people of Israel murmured because they had no food, and so God sent them manna from heaven, with strict rules for receiving it. He did this to teach them that they should not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from God (see Deut. 8:3).
Taking the motif of manna as a metaphor, Jesus declared that he was the manna that came down from heaven, and that people who received him would never hunger. The manna is a type, a divinely prefigured illustration of this aspect of Jesus’ ministry. He came from heaven like the manna, to meet the needs of Israel as the manna had, but now in a spiritual sense and not a physical sense. If they believed him, they would receive this heavenly manna, just as if the Israelites believed the word of the LORD, they would go and collect the manna. Ironically, after Jesus finished the discourse, the people murmured.
Exposition of Exodus 16 would have the theme of God’s provisions for his people’s physical needs to teach them to depend on him; exposition of John 6 would have the theme of God’s provision for the spiritual needs of people through Jesus Christ. The first would or could mention how the New Testament will apply this to Christ; the latter would draw upon Exodus to clarify the point Jesus is making.
Sample 3: Psalm 22 and Matthew 27
Psalm 22 is a record of the suffering of David at the hands of his enemies. The language he uses is elaborate, hyperbolic; but it becomes historically and literally true in the suffering of Jesus at the cross. That it is a type of the Messiah was acknowledged by the Jews and the Christians. The New Testament refers to this Psalm at least seven times to show that it was a type of Christ’s death and exaltation.
Psalm 22:1 says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 records, “Eli Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We should note that Jesus used the Aramaic sabachthani, whereas the Hebrew in Psalm 22 has ‘azabthani. Mark 15:34 records, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” So here too there is some question over the language Jesus used in the address to God the Father; ’eli is the Hebrew, “my God,” and ’eloi the variant.
Psalm 22:8 in the Hebrew has: “Commit yourself to the LORD, let him deliver him, let him rescue him, because he delights in him.” Matthew 27:43 records the words of the mockers as follows: “He trusts in God, let him deliver him now, if he takes pleasure in him, for he said, I am the Son of God.” It is clear that the text is using Psalm 22, but it is not a direct quotation. The first verb follows the Greek of the Psalm, but thereafter it is only approximate. I think what has happened is that the people mocking Jesus knew (1) that Psalm 22 was Messianic, and (2) that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. So they recalled the words and used them, not realizing at the time that they were fulfilling the prophetic import.
These and other uses of the psalm show it is a type of Christ. The psalm has a meaning for a suffering person like David, but it has a greater meaning for the suffering Jesus.
Category 3: Midrash
As defined in the discussion on the royal psalms, a midrash is an analogical application. Expositors would find passages in the Bible that were analogous to their situations and use them to support their teachings, showing that their teachings were in harmony with what God had been doing in previous days. I suspect that every time someone today delivers an exposition, he or she is doing midrash because an application to modern times is being made.
Because it is an analogical application, Midrash will be the least exact in its correspondence to the wording and meaning of the text in Hebrew. Moreover, it does not have to center on the person and work of the Messiah alone, but looks as much to the life of the believing community--the application can be for anyone. The one making the application seems to develop a basic principle from the passage, even though he may play with the words in the process. He is in no way saying the original text meant this; he is applying it in a corresponding situation.
Sample 1: Exodus 34:29-35 and 2 Corinthians 3:12-18
In the Book of Exodus, the story is that Moses ascended the mountain to hear from God. When he came back down to the people, he was not aware that his face was shining, reflecting the glory. So to prevent the people from seeing it fade, and then ostensibly conclude the covenant was temporary, he put a veil over his face. When he returned to the LORD, he took the veil off. Paul used this story to support his point that the Jews do not understand the Scripture because they have not received Christ. Paul says, “To this day a veil lies on the heart” of the unbelieving Jew whenever Moses is read in the Synagogue. But, when he turns to the LORD (Paul changes the Greek of the LXX here from apostrepho to epistrepho), the veil is removed, for where the Spirit of the LORD is, there is liberty.
Paul’s point would be valid whether he used the Exodus story or not. It may be that he had just heard it read in the Synagogue, and then used it to make his point, and then kept it for the epistle. The original passage obviously did not mean that Moses was converted when he returned to the LORD and had the veil removed‑‑but it provides an excellent illustration of that point because of the parallels with the hardness of Israel’s heart. What is interesting is that Paul uses a Jewish midrash method to make the point. So the hermeneutic was not their problem; the rejection of Christ was the problem.
Sample 2: Genesis 21:10 and Galatians 4:21-31
Here too the apostle uses an Old Testament story to support his point in the argument of the book. He is affirming that once the promise is fulfilled in Christ‑‑and we are saved by grace‑‑we do not go back under the Law for sanctification. And so he draws on the story of Ishmael and Isaac.
In Genesis 21 Sarah saw Ishmael “playing” ( tsakhaq ) with the young Isaac, the child of promise. She perceived some threat there, and demanded that the slave wife and her child be cast out. Her words are quoted by Paul in his “allegorical” use of the passage [he is not using “allegory” as it is used today; he is using allegory in the classical sense, so be careful] to say that the son of the bondwoman should be cast out. It is interesting to note that Paul draws on the Greek translation which uses “give way to hilarity,” an intensified translation of the Hebrew, but he further modifies it to “persecute.” Paul, trained under Gamaliel, knew the Hebrew Old Testament by memory; this was a deliberate, interpretive change that he made here. Paul was using Ishmael to make a point about the threat of the Judaizers. His words interpret probably what Sarah was afraid of‑‑that if this slave child was allowed to continue he would threaten the child of promise. That Paul is making an analogy is obvious from his comparison “like Isaac.” To Paul, the Law brought us to Christ, but once the Christ came, the Law is done away with. Then, those who believe in Christ also become children of the promise, like Isaac, the son of the freewoman. To go back under the Law would be to deny the fulfilment of the promise and live according to the flesh, i.e., the Judaizers’ teachings.
Now if you do the exegesis of Genesis 21, you will not arrive at this analogical application without Paul’s writings. The message would center on some aspect of the preservation of the covenant by Abraham. But you cannot conclude that Hagar and Ishmael are unbelievers. In fact, the evidence looks just the reverse for Hagar at least.
Sample 3: Jeremiah 32:6-9, Zechariah 11:12,13, and Matthew 27:9
Matthew records the account of the death of Judas, and then adds that the circumstances fulfilled the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “and they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one whose price had been set by the sons of Israel; and they gave them for the potter's field, as the LORD directed me.”
But the passage in Jeremiah simply records that Jeremiah bought a field for 17 shekels of silver as the redemption price. In Zechariah they weigh out 30 pieces of silver as wages, but the LORD told him to throw it to the potter’s field. Now obviously something very unusual is taking place in this use of the text. Both contexts deal with the theme of redemption, the one buying a field (expecting the return from exile) and the other throwing money to the potter. Matthew, perhaps on his own or using a popular combination of prophetical passages joined in a concordance fashion, works the midrash to show that several Old Testament prophetic themes come together at this aspect of the redemptive work of Christ, i.e., the death of Judah. It begins with Jeremiah, and so it is attributed to him, for that would be the starting point of the ring of verses.
1. It is clear that a great deal of interpretation forms the use of the Old Testament in the New (as well as in the Rabbinic texts). In order to understand the passages, we must be familiar with the various ways that the Jews used the Hebrew Scripture. They were always looking to its meaning, application, or fulfillment.
2. They not only had a variety of uses for the Hebrew Bible in their new experience, but they had a variety of Bible translations that they could choose from. They seem to use the common Greek the most, for ease in communication no doubt, but at times they change it or use another if the wording works better in their interpretation. Their use of Bible translations is very much like ours--we can call all of them the “word of God”--but we know theologically that inspiration applies only to the original autographs and not the copies.
3. If you are doing an exegetical exposition of the Old Testament passage (one that is interpreted this way in the New), you must determine what the meaning of that passage was in the original context before you correlate its use in the New. For example, if you are teaching from Leviticus 23 on the Feast of Firstfruits, your lesson will be on thanksgiving to God. You may mention how Paul will apply this to the resurrection if you choose to‑‑but your lesson will not be on the resurrection of Christ. If you want to do that, use 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul teaches on it, using the feast as a type fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection. In short, we are trying to stay close to the meaning of the text in its context that we are expounding; to stray from that leads to confusion in the audience and possibly eisegesis in the expositor if one is not clear.
4. You must recognize how progressive revelation works in the understanding of the Old Testament. Israel did not have the Gospels, or Romans, or Hebrews, to help them understand where God was finally going with this material. But the Scripture meant something to them. So we try to determine the timeless, biblical theology of the passage. That biblical theology will correlate with New Testament theology‑‑but the circumstances will be different. For example, the theology of holiness, mentioned above, will be a workable motif in exposition; but we have to trace its development.
OLD TESTAMENT CHRISTOLOGY
“THE PRE-INCARNATE LORD”
Biblical Theology inevitably is about God. But as you work in the Old Testament you will discover at first that there seems to be some ambiguity in the various passages about the identity of the LORD--which person is it? In many places it will not make a great difference--it is the LORD. But when we bring in theological considerations, especially in view of the way the New Testament uses the Old, there is greater precision there. In Systematic Theology we generally say that the Father makes the decree, the Son carries it out and reveals the Father, and the Spirit is the One who enables it to be done. All three persons are involved, because they cannot be otherwise divided, being one essence. And so, for example, Creation is the decree of God--so one could say God Almighty the Father created everything. But the New Testament clarifies that the Son made everything. And this was by means of the Holy Spirit.
In dealing with passages where God is actively involved in human affairs, it would then be theologically correct and generally safe to have the second person of the trinity in mind (although not technically called “Christ” until the New Testament). And this is confirmed by usage, for there are enough clues in the Bible to indicate that Christ is indeed the LORD who is the center of revelation. Jesus said, “Search the Scriptures because they speak of me.” And if you engage in detailed exegesis of Scripture you will see that many of these references to the LORD in the Hebrew Bible are actually to the pre-incarnate second person of the triune God.
In this short section of the notes, then, I should like to survey several key passages to help clarify the picture of the revelation of the LORD in the Old and New Testaments. This brief and selective survey will support the Pauline purpose “that in all things He [Christ] might have the pre‑eminence” (Col. 1:18).
Revelations of God in the Old Testament
Throughout the Hebrew Bible we come across revelations of God (’elohim ) and the LORD (Yahweh), but they are not clarified or distinguished on the surface. The Spirit of God seems always to be distinct, revealed as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, or the Spirit of the LORD.
The Great Shema‘ could declare the unity and the uniqueness of Israel’s God: “Hear (shema‘) O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one” (or: Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone). The interpretation of “one” (’ekhad ) has received much attention, whether it means “one” in number or “one, alone” in uniqueness. When the Spirit of God is added to the title for God (as in creation, Gen. 1:1‑3), there already is a possible point of confusion. One thinks of the use of the term in Genesis 2 for Adam and Eve, which two were “one flesh.” This shows the word has a wider range of meaning. So Deuteronomy 6:4 would have to be studied thoroughly in the context of the theology of the Book of Deuteronomy; there it would suggest that the teaching is that Yahweh is Israel’s only and unique God, and that there is only one God as opposed to the polytheism of the pagans.
The pictures of God in the Old Testament reveal the two aspects of God’s transcendence and God’s immanence. The very first part of the Bible in creation shows this feature: In Genesis 1 God is sovereignly commanding everything into existence; but in Genesis 2 Yahweh God is breathing into man’s nostrils the breath of life. Sometimes God is high and lofty, above it all; other times he breaks into this world in a marvelous way (usually in passages that have heavy anthropomorphic language).
At times the nature of the Godhead seems a little confusing in passages. Malachi 3 is a good example. Verse 1 says “Behold, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me [this would be John the Baptist in the New Testament], and the Lord [’adon] whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold He is coming [this would be Jesus Christ], says Yahweh of hosts.” So Yahweh of hosts is sending the Lord of the covenant to His temple. Then in verse 5, as the prophecy continues, Yahweh of hosts says, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment.” The LORD, the sender, is the Lord, who is coming. And since the temple was always “the house of Yahweh,” for the one the LORD is sending to have it called “his temple” would be significant. This would have been hard to sort out without the incarnation, just as the prophecy of Elijah (Mal. 4:5) is hard for us to sort out without the second coming.
Proverbs 30:4 is another one, and it cannot be written off as poetic parallelism too easily. “Who has ascended to heaven and came down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know.”
Isaiah 48:12 begins an oracle of the word of the LORD that leaves no doubt that the speaker is Yahweh God: “Hearken to me 0 Jacob, and Israel, whom I called. I am He, I am the first and I am the last. My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together . . . . I, even I, have spoken . . . . Draw near to me; hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there. And now Yahweh God has sent me, and His Spirit” (vv. 12‑16). This passage has brought on a variety of suggested interpretations; but I would submit based on the complete revelation in the Bible that we now know the speaker to be the pre-incarnate Son of God, the second person of the trinity, sent by the Father, with the Spirit.
The point I should like to make is that throughout this paper every individual passage is capable of several explanations to resolve interpretive questions, but when they are all taken together, they consistently point in one direction, and when the New Testament revelation of Jesus Christ is added, then those suggested Old Testament conclusions are confirmed. Thus, “Let us” in the creation accounts could be explained as God speaking to angels, or the divine court, or as the plural of majesty, or the potential; but when the full revelation comes, we can at least say that the language used in Genesis allows for the fuller and later revelation of the triunity of the Godhead.
Prophecies of the Messiah that Approach Deity
When one surveys the several prophecies of the Messiah one finds a constant movement towards language that is too grand for a mere mortal, and that cannot be easily explained away as court flattery or enablement by God.
“In the wilderness prepare the way of Yahweh, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The passage goes on to say that Yahweh God is coming with rewards and judgment. But He is to appear as a shepherd. Throughout the Old Testament shepherding is associated with the work of Messiah (see Zechariah 11). This Messianic prophecy sees the coming of Yahweh God as a shepherd. The New Testament confirms that this is Christ, the Messiah of Israel, following the Baptist in the preparation of the way. The Good Shepherd (Chief Shepherd, and Great Shepherd) is therefore God, sent into this world.
The prophet announces that out of little Bethlehem Ephrata, “shall come forth for me One who is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings are from old, from ancient days.” Matthew 2:6 affirms that this prophecy is fulfilled in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. But the point is that the Messiah, who Micah says is yet to come from Bethlehem, has ancient origins. Commentaries offer a variety of interpretations here; but the verse seems to indicate at the least that Messiah has a pre‑existence.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The precision of the prophet’s words will be clarified by the New Testament claims of Jesus‑‑a child was born in Bethlehem, but the Son was given. To call this future king “Mighty God” is ambitious. While the term “God” (here ’el ) could refer to a human king in the Bible, it is never used that way in Isaiah. Furthermore, the designation of this king as “Father” is unexpected, for the covenant (2 Sam. 7) said Yahweh was the Father, the king was the son. Jesus would declare, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), for which claim they tried to stone Him, accusing Him of making Himself equal with God (v. 33). And Jesus was crucified for blasphemy, proving they understood that He claimed to be God.
The use of the word “God” (’el ) in Isaiah comes through very strongly in the designation for the future Messiah who would have this exceptional birth through the “virgin” (‘almah). He shall be called Immanuel‑‑“God with us.” Naturally this could be explained as a birth that would indicate how God was blessing His people; but Isaiah has something more grand in mind in the Book of Immanuel (Isaiah 7‑11), and the New Testament confirms this, showing that by the incarnation God became one of the human family. The words of the prophet have their fullest meaning in the virgin birth of Jesus the Messiah.
Psalms 110, 45, and 2
The “royal psalms” are the psalms that typologically prefigure the reign of the Messiah, the Davidic King. Thus, they are the most frequently quoted psalms in the New Testament. Psalm 110 predicts the King’s coming to begin his reign: “Yahweh said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” The “my Lord” is David’s descendant who will be his Lord; Jesus Himself used this psalm to present His claims of deity. Not only is the future king the Lord, but He is also a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, a point the Book of Hebrews spends some time with. But this would have been confusing, since the lines of King (Judah) and Priest (Levi) could not come together in one person. “Yahweh” in the psalm would have to be God the Father, since He is sending the Davidic King to claim His realm.
Psalm 45 celebrates the “wedding” of the royal bridegroom, a king who rules with absolute righteousness and integrity. At one point the psalmist rises to praise this ruler in terms not usually held out to a human: “Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever . . . therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness.” Court flattery? If this were an isolated passage one might come to that; but taken with all the psalms and prophets it goes beyond that. Hebrews quotes this passage as directly referring to God the Son who will rule with righteousness, because God the Father has anointed Him with the oil of gladness.
Psalm 2 is the coronation liturgy. The passage quotes from the Davidic Covenant, “You are my son; this day I have begotten you.” While this could be used of every Davidic king at coronation, Hebrews uses it in its ultimate sense of the exaltation of David’s greater Son, Jesus, proven to be the Son of God by the resurrection (Rom. 1:4; Rev. 1:5). In the psalm, to rebel against Yahweh is to rebel against His king; and to submit to the king is to submit to Yahweh and escape judgment. They are distinct; they are the same.
As an example of the “enthronement psalms” this passage will be useful. It announces the grand theme: “Yahweh reigns.” While much attention has been given to these psalms, the significant description of this reign is the constant that cannot be removed‑‑the reign will be established with great epiphany. The language could be explained as merely poetic, except that the prophets use it in great detail to announce the coming “Day of the LORD,” and Isaiah uses the expression to tell of the coming of the LORD to rule in the earth. The eschatalogical interpretation of these psalms and prophets can only fit the second coming of Jesus Christ, which the New Testament again and again declares to be with epiphany.
The Psalter never put the royal psalms and the enthronement psalms together. The “Son” would rule in god‑like power and majesty, or Yahweh would rule with epiphany and absolute authority. Only in the fulness of time would this become clear, that the Son of God who will rule is Yahweh coming in the clouds. Other passages in the prophets began to put this together briefly.
In this passage both the deity and the humanity of the Messiah are in view. Under the title of the “Branch” the Davidic king will come to rule. Two things in this passage are important. First, He will be called “Yahweh our Righteousness.” Do not mistake the importance of this; Isaiah 42:8 makes it clear that Yahweh is God’s name and that He will not share His glory with anyone. Thus, this coming King with His name must be Yahweh. Moreover, the title “Branch” (Zech 3 and Jer 33) is used in the prophets of the one who will unite the offices of King and Priest, something no Davidic king could have done. Only Jesus who fulfilled the Law could establish a new priesthood.
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days, and was presented before him, and to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Daniel saw this vision of what the psalmists had described‑‑the Father giving the kingdom to the Son. God is not an old man, but the vision uses that to distinguish Him from the Son. I think “son of man” is used to contrast this king with the world rulers who had come before‑‑all beastly. This one is human and humane. But the passage surely shows that Jesus Christ existed before the incarnation, and that existence was in heaven with glory, and that His dominion is certain.
The Claims of Christ
A survey of some (and it is only a few) of the passages in the New Testament add further light on our understanding of the Old Testament. Here we shall consider passages about Jesus as well as things that Jesus said.
Claims of Pre-existence
It is interesting to me that Rabbinic theology and Christian theology join here. Many Jewish teachers believed that the Messiah (whoever he would be) was pre‑existent. Not eternal, but pre‑existent. In John 17:5 Jesus said, “And now, O Father, glorify me with your own self with the glory that I had with you before the world began.” In many texts Jesus affirmed that He came down from heaven, that He was sent into the world, that He was from above and not from below and that He was returning to His Father in heaven (see John 6:33,38141. 50, 51, 58, 62). And of course Phil. 2:6 confirms this, saying that Jesus, “who was in the form of God! thought equality with God not a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself . . . .” There was a birth in Bethlehem, Jesus was born; but the Son was given, for the Son existed in heaven before the incarnation.
Logos, the Word
The prologue of John clearly declares, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” To this is added that “all things were made by Him” and that in time this Word “became flesh and dwelt among us,” His glory being the glory “as of the only begotten of the Father.” John’s first chapter clearly shows that Jesus Christ is this Word, and is therefore God. The Word is a divine person who became incarnate.
The point of the image in the chapter is that Jesus Christ is not only the creator of all things but the revealer of the Godhead. Genesis records the creation accounts; in chapter 1 the creative word is the agent of creation ("Let there be" is yehi, a short form of the name Yahweh), and John clarifies that Jesus is the Word that created everything; in chapter 2 Yahweh God forms man from the dust and breathes into his nostrils the breath of life, and John affirms that this too was Christ Jesus (see John 20:22). John 1:1‑18 teaches that light and life came from Him. But the use of the term “Word” also speaks of revelation; throughout the Bible Jesus Christ is known as the revealer of the Godhead (John 1:18 states, “No one has ever seen God; the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made Him known”).
To this we may add the words of the apostle in Colossians 1:15‑20, which says, “He is the image of the invisible God . . . for in Him were all things created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or
authorities‑‑all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together . . . for in Him all the fulness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell.” And in heaven are the words, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive power and glory and honor, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
The idea of Jesus the Christ being the image of God is a full and involved idea (Col. 1:15). An image is the revealed reality, and here it is the revealed reality of the invisible God (for Jesus affirms in John 4 that God is a spirit). Christ, then, is the visible manifestation of that in the Godhead which is invisible, both pre‑existent and incarnate. It will be consistently carried through, then, that either in the Old or New Testament, when the invisible God manifests Himself in the world in some form, it will be the second person of the Godhead doing it. Hebrews 1:3 adds that Jesus is the exact image of God, bearing the exact impress of the divine nature. The incarnation is the fullest disclosure, the clearest revelation of all that God is.
“I Am” Passages
In John 8:58 Jesus declares, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” For this they wished to stone him‑‑the charge being blasphemy. It is fairly easy to demonstrate that Jesus was here claiming to be the great I AM of Exodus 3, the God who revealed Himself to Moses. “I Am” in Hebrew is ‘ehyeh; “He is” in Hebrew is Yahweh. This is the clearest evidence that Jesus was claiming to be Yahweh of the Old Testament that is, Yahweh manifesting the Godhead to mankind. All the significant “I AM” passages fall into line with this‑‑I am the way, the truth, the life; I am the resurrection and the life; etc.
I have already mentioned how Jeremiah predicted that the messiah would be called “Yahweh our Righteousness.” Other texts make this same identification of Yahweh with Jesus the Messiah.
Zechariah 12:10. Yahweh is the speaker here; He says, “And I will pour out upon the house of David . . . the spirit of grace and of supplications; and they shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son . . . .” Yahweh will be pierced, and they shall ultimately look upon Him. Revelation 1:7 seems to pick this idea up, saying, “Behold, He comes with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him.”
I do not need to go into it at this time, but this introduces all the suffering messiah passages‑‑Psalm 22 (especially verse 17‑‑they pierced my hands and my feet), Isaiah 53 of the Suffering Servant (especially verse 10 with the use of ’asham, the “reparation offering”‑‑which forms the link to all the sacrifices of Israel as typological of the death of Jesus Christ) and many others. Luke 24 teaches that Jesus was able to go through the Old Testament showing how the Christ was first to suffer and then enter His glory.
Psalm 68:18. Yahweh is the subject of this song of triumph that portrays His great victory: “You [Yahweh] have ascended on high, you have led captivity captive, you have received gifts . . . .” As is well known, Ephesians 4:8‑10 quotes this in reference to Jesus’ triumph through the cross and the giving of spiritual gifts to His followers. If Jesus is not Yahweh, this application would be very presumptuous.
Isaiah 48:12, 41:4, 44:6. Several times in Isaiah Yahweh declares “I am the first, and I am the last.” This is clearly meant to be an exposition of the divine name Yahweh‑‑He is the eternally existing One. In Revelation 22:13 Jesus declares “I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
Isaiah 8:13,14. The prophet declares “Yahweh of hosts, him you shall regard as holy, let him be your fear, let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary, and a stone of offense, and a rock of stumbling . . . .” This passage is applied to Jesus in 1 Peter 2:7‑8. Of course, if that was the only passage, one could say figures of speech are being borrowed. But the cumulative effect of all these connections taken with the claims of Christ make the connection more than a borrowing of language.
Psalm 102. Eight times in this psalm is Yahweh addressed. The culmination is the stanza that is quoted in Hebrews 1:10ff. for Jesus: “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you endure, they will wear out like a garment. You change them like a raiment? and they pass away; but you are the same, and your years have no end.”
Isaiah 6:1-13. At his call to his mission Isaiah saw the LORD‑‑Yahweh‑‑high and lifted up, with his train filling the temple, and the angels singing “Holy, holy, holy” and proclaiming that the whole earth is full of His glory. There are hardly any passages in the Bible that compare with this vision of the glory of the LORD. In John 12 Jesus quotes two times from Isaiah to explain why the Jews did not believe in Jesus. Then he adds in verse 41, “Isaiah said this because he saw His glory and spoke of Him”‑‑Jesus, the LORD of glory, whom the Jews would reject. one of the passages quoted is Isaiah 53. According to Jesus, then, He Himself is Yahweh of hosts, the Lord most high, exalted and glorious.
Malachi 3:1 and Zechariah 9:9. These passages predict that the King will come, lowly, but riding on a donkey, and will enter his temple. The fulfillment is the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, recorded in Matthew 21:1‑14 and John 12:12‑15. What is interesting is that when Jesus drove out the moneychangers, he said that they had made “my house” a den of thieves. Throughout the Old Testament the temple is “the house of Yahweh.” Thus, he makes Himself to be Yahweh. Likewise, in Matthew 11 when Jesus quotes from Malachi 3, he changes the pronoun to make himself equal to Yahweh‑‑“he shall prepare the way before your face” (Malachi said “My face”). If John is the forerunner, then Jesus is Yahweh.
The Angel of the LORD
When we make a diligent study of “the Angel of Yahweh” [this exact reference] in the Old Testament, we observe that in some passages He is identified as Yahweh (e.g., Gen. 16:7‑13) and at other times the Angel of Yahweh is a distinct person from Yahweh (e.g., Zech. 1:12‑13 where the Angel of Yahweh speaks to Yahweh). The full revelation of Scripture, represented in the above discussion, offers an easy solution to this confusing issue‑‑Christ is the Angel of Yahweh. Thus, when the Angel of Yahweh is identified as Yahweh, it is a declaration of His deity; when the Angel of Yahweh is distinguished from Yahweh, it is a distinction of persons within the Godhead.
The proof for this association is not hard to come by. (1) We know that in the New Testament the second person of the trinity is the visible God. While the Father’s voice is heard from heaven, and the Spirit descending is in the symbol of a dove, Christ is the full manifestation of the invisible God in visible form. It would be logical to say that the same person of the Godhead who is visible in the New Testament should also be chosen to appear in the form of an Angel in the Old Testament. (2) The Angel of Yahweh no longer appears after the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Not a single instance can be found. It is logical to conclude that he is now the incarnate (and glorified) Christ. (3) Both the Angel of Yahweh in the Old and Christ in the New Testament are sent by the Father. In the nature of the trinity it is the Father who sends the Son and the Spirit, the first person never being sent Himself. Then, the similar ministries of the Angel and of Christ would further equate them‑‑to reveal truth, to reveal God, to lead, to redeem, and to judge. (4) The Angel of Yahweh could not be either the Father or the Spirit. According to John 1:18, “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared [exagasato] Him.” This verse states in effect that only Christ was visible to man, no one being able to see God the Father or the Spirit in their glory. As the Angel of Yahweh is the sent One, He could not be the Father, the First person. As the Angel of Yahweh is God in bodily form, He could not be the Holy Spirit, as the attribute of immateriality is always possessed by the Holy Spirit, and His ministry is not characterized by physical attributes. There is no valid reason why the Angel of Yahweh should not be identified as Christ of the New Testament.
So in passages like Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with a “man” and says that he has seen God face to face‑‑it would have been Christ, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. The appearance of the God of Israel to the elders on the mountain in Exodus 24 would also be an appearance of Christ. Likewise, the glory of the LORD that appeared to Moses and caused his face to shine would have been the glorious Christ, as Paul compares in 2 Corinthians 3. It is probable that every visible manifestation of God in bodily form is to be identified with the Lord Jesus Christ of the New Testament (Josh. 5:13‑15; Ezek. 1:1‑28; Dan. 10:1‑21).
While this terminology is limited to the New Testament, it is worth offering a word of clarification since the title of “son” occurs in the royal liturgy of the Messiah, and the titles of the Wonder king in Isaiah.
The expression that needs to be mentioned is the one in John, “the only begotten Son.” This is different from the title f rom Psalm 2 that describes the King as God’s “son” through adoption/coronation, and with Christ through the resurrection from the dead. The “monogeneis” is a term that describes the essential nature of Jesus as divine and eternal, and so it must be a figure of speech, as the creed affirms, “begotten, not made.” The verb “beget” is very different from “make” or “create.” One can only beget a child with one’s own nature. So to describe Jesus as the begotten of God is to say that He has the same nature as the Father‑‑eternal, divine, holy, omnipotent, etc. He is God. You and I are begotten of God by adoption, and we receive the nature of God by the Spirit through grace. But Jesus is different‑‑He is the only one of that kind, the “only begotten” of the Father. This description attests to His deity as Lord and God, and stands in complete harmony with the revelation of God throughout the Old Testament.
The special relationship of the first and the second persons of the trinity is therefore preserved by this constant use of Father and Son language. In prayer Jesus made that distinction also: He referred to God as “My Father”; He taught us to pray to God as “Our Father.”
There are many other passages that need to be studied as well to continue this theme, such as the nature miracles of Jesus, the power to forgive sins, the triumph of the seed of the woman in the fulness of time, the prophecies of the resurrection of the “Holy One,” and many others. But I think that there is enough evidence to say that the Old Testament began to reveal the truth that the New Testament clarified, that Jesus the Christ is Yahweh of the Old Testament, when that Yahweh manifests the Godhead with revelation through visions and appearances, or when that Yahweh creates, redeems, or judges the world.
It is amazing to me that in this time of Christian reflection the second person of the trinity has been fading into the background. I am not concerned here with radical theology that is looking for many gods, or a goddess, but with Christianity that still tries to stay in bounds. Liberal theologians prefer to talk about “God” or “God Almighty”‑‑the Father probably, because it avoids the issue of what to do with Jesus and His claims of deity. Conservative Christians within renewal or charismatic traditions, trying to bring life into the Church, often place a greater emphasis on the Holy Spirit. This is fine unless that takes the glory away from Christ, who must have the pre‑eminence. Jesus Himself said that the Spirit of God would not speak of Himself, but of Christ. The legitimate ministry of the Holy Spirit is to exalt Jesus Christ as Lord. So the witness of Scripture, the heritage of historical Christianity, and the ministry of the Spirit, all are Christo‑centric. There is no other name under heaven by which anyone can be saved. And at the end of the age every knee shall bow to Jesus Christ, and acknowledge that He is Lord of all. It should come as no surprise, then, that from Genesis through Revelation the Son of God is active, revealing the invisible God and completing the work of redemption.
In our exegesis of the Old Testament, we must work within the boundaries of progressive revelation. But as Christian theologians, we must correlate our theology with the rest of Scripture. And if the rest of Scripture brings into focus the fact that Yahweh is most often the second person of the trinity, then eventually our exposition will lead to the exaltation and glorification of Jesus, the Christ, God’s eternal Son.