What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Genesis 1:26 expresses the specific purpose statement of the Bible. God, the Creator, the Master Potter, is reproducing Himself! This is THE work of God. He is in the process of making man in His image. That project is completed in two stages, the physical and the spiritual. When the physical aspect was completed at creation, the spiritual one began. This is the overall project He is supervising.
God is already a unit: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!" (Deuteronomy 6:4). God is one, but consists of more than one Person. When Jesus came, He proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom of God. In doing this, He publicly announced the expansion of this unit to include others besides the two Beings already revealed.
A kingdom is synonymous with a nation. It consists of large numbers of people, but it, too, is one. Indeed, the church is called "a holy nation" in I Peter 2:9, and though it has many members worldwide, it is one church. Thus, Jesus announced that the Kingdom of God will consist of many more personalities. He also told us how we can become a part of it and how it will be accomplished. Through these means the project stated in Genesis 1:26 will take a giant step toward fulfillment.
John W. Ritenbaugh
In the Grip of Distrust
This could be called the preface to the Old Covenant, as it presents in stark terms what the covenant is about. He lists its three main facets:
1. They were to obey His commands and keep His covenant. Recall that God chose Abraham because he would teach his children how to keep His way. The covenant set out the terms for their doing this. This was the Israelites' primary responsibility under the agreement.
2. They were to be a special treasure to Him—a people unlike all others in their relationship to God. The Israelites were to submit to God, and He in turn would help them, blessing and protecting them as only the great Creator God could. Thus, the covenant contained reciprocal responsibilities and benefits.
3. They were to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This implies two additional concepts:
a. As a kingdom of priests, they were to fill the role of mediator or liaison between God and the other peoples of the earth. Just as He would work through the Levitical priesthood to the children of Israel, God would work through the people of Israel to the rest of the world.
b. As a holy nation, they would be set apart or separate from all other nations. He would require of them, as the people with and through whom He would work, that they be different, a cut above, of a higher standard. They had a responsibility to be a model for the Gentiles to observe and emulate.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Israel? (Part One)
The Hebrew word translated sign means "mark" or "evidence." The Sabbath day is the mark God gave His people to identify them as His own. By it, the folk of Israel would know the Source of their sanctification.
To sanctify is "to set apart for holy service,"or more basically, "to make holy." God's purpose for Israel from the start was to set it apart from other peoples by giving it His laws and His statutes. God has a special relationship with Israel. Speaking through the prophet Amos to "the whole family [i.e., all the tribes] which I brought up from the land of Egypt" (Amos 3:1), God reminds the people that, "you only have I known of all the families of the earth" (verse 2). God revealed His law only to Israel. When He did so, He made it clear that Israel would "be a special treasure to Me above all people, . . . a holy [sanctified, set apart] nation" (Exodus 19:5-6), if the people "obey My voice and keep My covenant" (verse 5). The theme is repeated in Deuteronomy 7:6: "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, . . . [who] has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth." (See also Deuteronomy 14:2.)
God prefaces the "Holiness Code" of Leviticus 18 and 19 by commanding Israel to be separate from other nations. This meant acting in a way different from that of the Gentiles, not walking "in their ordinances." Leviticus 18:3-4:
According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances. . . .
In Leviticus 19:2, He makes His purpose clear: "You shall be holy [set apart], for I the LORD your God am holy." God's purpose, the intent behind all His laws, is to create a people like Himself (Genesis 1:26), a people sharing and reflecting His most salient attribute: holiness.
Sanctification is also the purpose behind God's often-denigrated physical laws. Consider, for example, the reason why God imposed the dietary law, as stated in Leviticus 11. God does not cite the maintenance of health as a reason to obey the dietary laws; the Scriptures do not specify that obedience of these laws will cause good health or prevent disease (though this is a secondary, albeit unmentioned, benefit). Rather, God concludes His dietary laws with a statement of His holiness and a command for His people to be like Him. Leviticus 11:44-45:
For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Obedience to God's law plays a crucial role in bringing about this sanctification. It is not that a people become sanctified (somehow, by God's grace) and, as a result, start obeying God's law. God's Word does not support the Protestant concept that sanctification imputed by God's grace mysteriously empowers one to obey His commandments. They have it backwards.
Rather, obedience to the law causes sanctification. Law-keeping and sanctification become intrinsically connected: To obey God's law is to be sanctified. By its nature, law-keeping brings about sanctification.
In a national context, God states that obeying His laws creates a people unlike others on the earth, a people set apart from others, a holy nation. National sanctification produces what Balaam saw in Israel: "A people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations" (Numbers 23:9).
If commandment-keeping separates people from the nations while connecting them to God, disobedience of God's law has exactly the opposite effect. Commandment-breaking separates a people from God, and connects them to the ways of the nations. Individuals who disobey God's law become like the "world," the kosmos of the New Testament (I John 2:15).
Searching for Israel (Part Twelve): The Sign
God chose ancient Israel out of all the nations of the earth and determined that they would be a holy nation. He ordained that they would be a people set apart from the rest of the world. The Old Covenant was intended not only to be a schoolmaster to teach Israel how to live in such a way that they would recognize the Messiah when He came (Galatians 3:24), but it was also intended to set Israel apart—to make them holy. In so doing, He intended the entire nation to be a witness of Him. This passage demonstrates this.
God proposed the Old Covenant to Israel on the day of Pentecost. Israel accepted the terms of the agreement and thereby signed up to be a light to the rest of the world. God had given them the most superior set of laws that mankind had ever encountered, which would leave the rest of the world in awe due to the beneficial effects that would come from it.
We know from the New Testament that the only problem with this covenant was the heart of the people entering into it (Hebrews 3:10-12; 8:7-8). The God-given terms of the agreement were absolutely perfect for what He wanted to accomplish. One of His main purposes was for Israel to be an example, a witness, to the rest of the world of the right way to live. Incidentally, the Tabernacle that Israel carried with them in the wilderness was even called "the Tabernacle of witness" (Numbers 17:7; Acts 7:44).
If Israel had been faithful to the covenant, they would have received blessings beyond belief. In the blessings portion of Deuteronomy 28, God was prepared to set Israel high above all the nations of the earth. Their cities and farms would be prosperous; their children would be healthy and strong; their herds and flocks would be numerous; they would have an abundance of food; and they would have protection from their enemies. They would have rain in due season, and everything they put their hands to would be blessed. They would have enough that they could lend to other nations and not borrow. God intended them to be a holy people whose behavior and prosperity would make it obvious to the rest of the world that God had set them apart. The effect would be so dramatic that Israel would be feared!
However, as we know, Israel failed. The accounts of the Old Testament prophets show the great lengths to which God went for Israel in cleaning her up and taking her under His wing. Yet, once she caught a glimpse of her God-given beauty and wealth, all she did was play the harlot with the surrounding nations, rather than being a witness to them (see Ezekiel 16).
Today, the United States is the richest nation on earth, which seems to coincide with God's promise of blessing until we realize that America is also the greatest debtor nation. Parts of the nation suffer drought, and other parts are practically floating away. Much of our food is either imported or grown from genetically mutated seed. Our cities are filthy, crowded, and corrupt, and our family farms are dying through environmental regulation and corporate buyouts. We live in abundance yet cannot afford our lifestyles, plunging further into personal debt. The nation's churches are pathetically weak, barely standing to fight the onslaught of secular culture—and, in fact, accepting much of it in a misguided spirit of tolerance. In short, America is the farthest thing from being a kingdom of priests or a holy nation. Our entertainment industry shows, like nothing else, what sort of "witness" we are making to the world.
Israel failed because her heart was not right. Biblically, the word "heart" is synonymous with "mind" and "spirit." We know that God desires that all Israel be saved (Romans 11:26; II Peter 3:9) and that in the future He will replace Israel's heart of stone by pouring out His Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27). However, for a few—known as the remnant, the church, the Body of Christ, spiritual Israel, the Israel of God, or the firstfruits—God decided to do this ahead of time.
He gave His Spirit on the Feast of the Firstfruits, the day of Pentecost, AD 31, so that a remnant of Israel would have a heart of flesh and not of stone. God gave His Spirit so that spiritual Israel could obey God both in the letter and in the intent of His law. In addition, just as He gave Israel His law so she would be a witness, God gave the church His Spirit so that Christ's disciples would be witnesses. By receiving a portion of the Spirit that proceeds from the divine Lawgiver, the firstfruits are able to understand the intent behind God's laws. More than this, by yielding to the promptings and motivations of God's Spirit, they can begin to take on His character and actively do good rather than merely avoid sin.
David C. Grabbe
The Pentecost Witness
That Israel was a holy nation is far more important than is generally realized, and it affects our understanding of wavesheaf requirements. As a prelude to better understanding and properly appreciating many aspects of waving the sheaf, it is helpful to know that God specifically designated Israel a sanctified people. He set the entire nation apart as distinctive from the rest of the world's nations. As such, He gave them responsibilities to perform before the rest of the world as a testimony of their obedient service to God.
God's declaration of certain things as "clean" and others as "unclean" helped to define this holiness to them. Some things declared unclean could not even be touched without making a person ceremonially defiled until he performed the prescribed rituals. Among the things declared polluted or unclean were the Gentiles, whose uncleanness was not inherent but lay in their idolatry: They did not worship the God of Creation who set the Israelites apart. As such, even a marriage between an Israelite and a Gentile was forbidden except within very narrow parameters.
The ceremonial aspects of the Israelites' responsibilities are quite detailed, and God expected them to be followed exactly as instructed because each detail fits precisely within His purposes for His relationship with His sanctified people. Are we wiser than He is? God is not the author of meaningless regulations. Waving the sheaf of grain is one of these ceremonial duties, containing explicit instructions with spiritual ramifications.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Pentecost Revisited (Part Two): Joshua 5
In the larger context of end-time events, "the holy people" refers to God's chosen nation, Israel. The church, however, can also be alluded to here in antitype: Peter calls the church "a holy nation, His own special people" (I Peter 2:9). Both of these groups, Israel and the church, seem to be in the process of having their power "completely shattered."
This expression in the Hebrew has the primary meaning of "broken in pieces," "scattered," or "dispersed by force." It can mean something akin to "explode." When an object explodes, its pieces fly apart, and it can no longer do what it was made to do. The individual pieces are powerless to accomplish what the whole object did. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
This must be part of the meaning of the verse because the word power is really the Hebrew word for "hand." The hand symbolizes a person's ability to do work, to accomplish, to act. The translators have taken it to mean the more abstract "might" or "power," but they could have rendered it as "ability," "strength," or "effectiveness."
If this is so, we can expect the church's ability to do an effective work to decline still further because our power is not yet completely shattered. That is why it is so important that we make use of the abilities still left to us: to prepare ourselves for God's Kingdom. As an encouraging Jewish proverb reminds us, "When God shuts a door, He opens a window." We can take other avenues in the meantime while the road ahead is blocked for doing a public work.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
These two parables are somewhat similar. There is a man and a treasure, and after he finds it, he goes and sells everything he has and buys the treasure. These two parables are universally thought to be positive parables, unlike the first four.
We have already interpreted two of the symbols found in verse 44—"the field" and "the man." We find in verse 37 that the one who sows good seed is "the son of man." Wherever the term "man" shows up in these parables, it tends to mean "Christ." The "Son of Man" is obviously Christ, and "man" in these two parables is also Christ. In verse 38, Jesus says the field is "the world." In these parables, "treasure" is found in the world, and a "man," Christ, is doing something with it.
How is "treasure" used in Scripture? Obviously, the literal meaning of "treasure" is what first comes to mind: Jewels, gold, silver, other precious metals, art, and fine clothing would be considered "treasure." But this is a parable, and a parable is metaphorical. The symbol must mean something other than just a jewel, a chest full of coins, or a collection of fine art. How is "treasure" used metaphorically in the Bible?
In Exodus 19:5, God says that if Israel "will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people." Psalm 135:4 says, "The LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure." Notice also Malachi 3:16-17:
Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who meditate on His name. "They shall be Mine," says the LORD of hosts, "on the day that I make them My jewels."
The margin on "My jewels" is literally "special treasure."
We see the same thing in the New Testament. I Peter 2:9-10 says:
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
Notice the progression of identity here. First, this "special treasure" was Israel, the one God made a covenant with on Mount Sinai. In the Psalms, He calls His "special treasure" specifically "Israel" and "Jacob." In Malachi, God describes His "special treasure" as "those who fear His name" and "those who speak one to another" about His way. In I Peter 2 it is the elect are His "special people." It has gone from "Israel," to a little bit more general—"those who fear His name"—to specific again—"His special people, a holy nation."
In Matthew 13, the "treasure" is the church, which fits all of these descriptions. It is spiritual Israel, "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16).The church is composed of those among all the people of the earth who truly fear His name. And because God called us out of the world separately and individually, the church is now a people who were not a people.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 3): Hidden Treasure
He did not necessarily choose us as individuals before the foundation of the world, but He did decide that He would have a church, a group of people impregnated by His Spirit, a unique Family of His who would be in the image of His Son. The word "choose" suggests taking a smaller number out of a larger. In this case, the larger is the population of the earth, and the smaller number is that tiny remnant God has been working with - His church, His group, His family. The word "holy" implies the choosing had a moral aim in view. In other words, God was choosing a small number out of a large number, and the reason He was choosing this smaller number is to make this small number holy - holy as He is. He had a moral purpose in mind.
The apostle is saying we have been called, elected, become a part of this small group with a definite purpose in mind - that we should become holy. In order for us to become holy, God had to reveal some things to us, which Paul discusses in verses 5-12.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Salvation
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