What to do with those psalms in which David expresses hate for his enemies

In a reflection on Psalm 25, D.A. Carson has the following to say:

ONE OF THE STRIKING FEATURES OF the Psalms, especially the psalms of David, is the theme of enemies. This makes some Christians nervous. Does not the Lord Jesus tell us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43–47)? Yet here David prays that God will not let his enemies triumph over him (Ps. 25, especially v. 1), calls them “treacherous” (Ps. 25:3), and complains that they have increased and fiercely hate him (Ps. 25:19). It is inadequate to ascribe the two stances to differences between the new covenant and the old.

Preliminary reflections include:

(1) Even Jesus’ teaching that his followers love their enemies presupposes that they have enemies. Jesus’ requirement that we love our enemies must not be reduced to the sentimental notion that we all become so “nice” that we never have any enemies.

(2) New Testament believers may have enemies who must at some level be opposed. The apostle Paul, for instance, says that he has handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan to teach them not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20). Both 2 Peter 2 and Jude deploy pretty colorful language to denounce fundamental enemies of the Gospel. Even if his language belongs to hyperbole, Paul can wish that the agitators in Galatia would emasculate themselves (Gal. 5:12). The Lord Jesus himself—the same Jesus who, while dying on the cross, cries, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)—can elsewhere denounce his enemies in spectacularly colorful language (Matt. 23). It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, unless we are to accuse the apostles and Jesus of hypocritical inconsistency, the demand that we love our enemies must not be reduced to the sentimental twaddle that merely smooths enemies out of existence.

(3) A very good case can be made for the view that the primary concern of Matthew 5:43–47 is to overthrow personal retaliation, to eschew the vendetta, to overcome the evil we receive by the good we perform, to absorb the hatred of an opponent and return love. But none of this denies for a moment that the other person is an enemy. Moreover, those in leadership may, out of love, feel obligated to protect the flock by chasing out a wolf in sheep’s clothing, by exposing the charlatan, by denouncing the wicked—without succumbing to personal venom.

(4) One measure of whether one’s response is the hatred of vengeance or something more principled that cherishes God’s holiness and leaves room for forbearance and love, is the set of associated commitments. In David’s case, these include trust (Ps. 25:1–3, 4–5, 7b, 16, 21), repentance and faith (Ps. 25:7, 11, 18), and covenantal fidelity (Ps. 25:10).

via For the Love of God.

See also either or both of these posts:

Addendum: Dr George Guthrie interviews Dr David Howard on the same topic:

Review of ‘John’s Story’ ( a novel)

John's Story by LaHaye and Jenkins

I’ll open by saying that I did not enjoy reading this book. Perusing others’ reviews, I concluded that those who had an experience similar to mine were those who could point out flaws. So, if you nurture any hopes of deriving pleasure from reading John’s Story, don’t bother with the rest of this post.

This novel is set in AD 94-96, the last years of the apostle John’s life. The main characters—all named after historical people—are John, Polycarp (John’s disciple), Ignatius (another of John’s disciples) and Cerinthus (a heretic). The book is divided into 3 parts:

  • Part 1 is largely John dictating his gospel to Polycarp. Their dialogue serves as padding for the biblical text. (This section runs from page 3 to page 165 in the edition I read.)
  • Part 2 starts with John’s exile to Patmos and ends with his death in Ephesus. This section contains much of the text of Revelation, again padded with dialogue. (Pages 169-215)
  • Part 3 comprises the 5 NT books attributed to John printed out in their entirety in the NKJV translation. (Pages 219-310)

Doing the calculations, roughly 1/3 of the book is pure Bible. The other 2/3 is more than 60% Bible in my estimation. Conclusion: your time will be better spent reading the Bible.

Following, in no particular order, are what I consider to be some of the shortcomings of this book.

First, John seems to be clueless:

  • About  how Roman justice works. We know he’s an old man and the novel alludes to his extensive travels, yet it falls to a guard to enlighten him on his fate following his arrest. (I guess the explanation was for the reader’s benefit, but it could have  been executed better)
  • About the NT writings. The John in the novel is unaware of what Paul, Peter and even Jude had written concerning false teachers. When Cerinthus is presented, fake John (sorry, I have to distinguish him somehow) acts like nothing like this has ever happened before—or at least that’s the impression I got. I guess the authors were trying to convey the seriousness of false teaching… Additionally, fake John doesn’t behave much like the person who wrote the epistles, which have so much to say about love for God and others.
  • About what to do in general. He seemingly couldn’t do anything without Polycarp’s and Ignatius’ backing or at their suggestion. For example, Polycarp is the one who convinces him to disseminate Revelation among the churches (p186). Otherwise, John would have kept it all to himself!

Second, I wonder what the expression on my face was when I read that the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was found in the Pentateuch (p19). How did such an egregious error make it into the print version??

Third, we never really get to know any of the characters. We learn that John suffered from ill health as a result of his age and that he worried constantly about it.  Polycarp was red-haired and Cerinthus was a persuasive talker. Ignatius? I don’t recall anything special about him. Aside from a few place names, we’re not told anything about the culture, customs, architecture, etc. of any of the locations in the book—which is one of the appeals of reading historical fiction.

Fourth, was Cerinthus in the novel a gnostic or a works-religionist? Gnostics were big on secret knowledge and despised the material world, among other things. Earning/assuring your salvation through doing good works, as stated more than once in the novel, wasn’t one of their ‘things’. Some who read the book may come away thinking that they can identify a Gnostic…  (I’ve written a little about Gnosticism, using resources mentioned in this post.)

Fifth, all the believers in Ephesus met in one location. Everyday. In a chapel.

(5.a) It had been at least a generation since Paul spent 2 years there. Surely there had been some numeric growth in all that time?

(5.b) Ancient sources attest that Christians met weekly: (i)Pliny the younger, a Roman official whose job description included torturing Christians, wrote:

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. […] Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses.

(ii) Justin Martyr, a Christian, in his First Apology wrote:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.

One reason for not meeting daily was that many believers were slaves who didn’t have free time.

(5.c) I’m not too sure, but I think that there weren’t purpose-built structures for worship in the first century.

Sixth, at the beginning of the book John’s imprisoned in the Colosseum in a cell from which he can see gladiators practising. (a) The Romans had proper prisons nearby (b) Even the movie Gladiator got it right: practice was held in the ludus magnus, next door to the Colosseum.

Seventh, when John is dictating to Polycarp, the latter says things like, “I’ve never heard that before.” Others in the book express surprise at, or mock him for, his memory. I recently skimmed through Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Bauckham states that not only were eyewitnesses well-known in their communities, but that they also often retold their story. They hardly kept silent. It is therefore unlikely that John would spend 60 years not saying some things only to spill them out a year before his death. As to memory, the scholar in the video I embedded in this post explains it quite well.

In conclusion, I’m left wondering how much research Messrs. LaHaye and Jenkins undertook. If the omissions and misinformation contained in the book were deliberate choices, an authors’ note to the effect that they were taking liberties would have sufficed to silence me and my nit-picking ilk. John’s Story had great potential, and I’m disappointed that it wasn’t realised.

Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman

This post piggybacks on two of my previous posts: one from last week in which  I tried to imagine how the meeting between Jesus and the woman at the well went, and another in which I shared tips on how to read John’s gospel.
First, a quick comparison between the respected rabbi and the woman at the well:

Nicodemus Samaritan woman
He is a Jewish man She is a Samaritan woman
He is named She is anonymous
He is socially respectable She is a social outcast
He seeks Jesus out at night Jesus seeks her out at noon
Jesus does not fully reveal Himself to him Jesus clearly tells her He is the Messiah
He hides his belief She tells the whole town
He misunderstands ‘being born again’ She misunderstands ‘living water’

(With help from Eutychus Nerd.)

Here’s what I came up with in answering the questions (refer to the original post for details):

1. How does this scene flash back to ideas introduced in John’s prologue?

  • Misunderstanding: Both Nicodemus and the Samaritan misunderstand Jesus.
  • Jesus’ humanity: He was tired (4:6) and presumably hungry (the disciples went to get food)
  • Jesus as life and light: John 3:14-21

2. How does this scene foreshadow Jesus’ “glorification,” his death, resurrection and ascension?

  • In talking with Nicodemus, Jesus talks of being ‘lifted up’ like the snake in the desert. ‘Lifted up’ in John refers to Jesus’ death and subsequent glorification (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32)
  • God sent His Son into the world to save it (John 3:17). This salvation would be accomplished by His death and resurrection
  • Jesus has ushered in a time when God’s people can worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23)

3. Are there any repeated sayings or final sayings in the scene that help explain the meaning of the scene?

  • Necessity of new birth: With Nicodemus, Jesus talks of being ‘born again’ and being ‘born of water and spirit’ (probably both refer to the same thing)

4. Are there any symbolic elements in the scene?

  • Meeting times (night and noon)
  • Water in the conversation with the Samaritan
  • Food: Jesus explains to his disciples what His food is (4:31-34)

5. What elements of first-century Judaism does Jesus confront, replace, or surpass?

  • Jesus chides Nicodemus on not having understood the scriptures
  • With the Samaritan woman, He confronts heretical Judaism

6. Are there any important references to the Old Testament?

  • Moses and the snake in the desert (Numbers 21:5-9)
  • The ‘kingdom of God’ may have reminded Nicodemus of the Messianic kingdom foretold by the prophets
  • From where should Nicodemus have seen the new birth? Two possibilities:
    • Water and spirit in OT: Isaiah 44:3-5
    • Wind (spirit)giving life: Ezekiel 37:9-10 (both the Hebrew (ruach) and the Greek word(pneuma) can be translated either ‘wind’ or ‘spirit’)

7. How does this scene relate to John’s purpose statement?

  • We’re not told when Nicodemus believed, but he eventually did (John 7:50-52, 19:38-40)
  • The Samaritan woman matures in her perception of Jesus:
    • A Jew (4:9)
    • Sir/ Lord (4:11, 15, 19)
    • A prophet (4:19)
    • Messiah/ Christ (4:25, 29)
  • She believed, and on the strength of her testimony many in her town listened to Jesus and came to belief too (John 4:39-42)

(With help from the NET Bible notes and The NIV Application Commentary on John.)

Anything I missed?

How do I read the Bible?

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright offers some helpful advice, starting on a nerdy tangent:


In short:

  • Read frequently and thoroughly
  • Read in more than 10-verse chunks
  • See the parts in light of the whole (e.g. how a book fits into the Bible, or how an individual psalm fits in with all the rest)
  • See a book as a symphony and as a window into the rest of Scripture.

Via The Bible Gateway Blog.

Now that you’re all fired up to read John’s gospel in one sitting, check out How Long Does it Take to Read The Bible?

He had to pass through Samaria

I rearranged the scarf around my head so that I could see only straight ahead of me: I couldn’t bear the disapproving looks of the townsfolk. There was nothing I could do about the verbal insults, however. I hurried along the path for the day (I used a different route each day) thinking about nothing in particular.

I came round the corner and looked down the slope towards the well and saw a man—a Jew[1]— sitting there. I wondered what the stranger was doing at the well at that time of day, but then again the same question could be asked of me. I self-consciously adjusted my head-scarf again before reaching to uncover the well.

“Give me a drink.”

I might have jumped back a little from the surprise, I don’t know. My response tumbled unbidden out of my mouth, “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?”

He let my question linger in the air for a moment or two. As I awaited his reply, I got a chance to look at his face. He had a kind look about him which lessened my apprehension. His lips curved in a gentle smile as he replied, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Men had promised me numerous things before, but this was the first time I got an offer for a secret source of water. I pointed out the obvious. “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do you get that living water?” I just couldn’t resist the urge to show up this Jew so I added, “You are not greater than our father Jacob, are you, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?”

He let the comment on Jacob slide. “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of his words for he said them with such… authority. I was drawn to him. I wanted to hear more. “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.”

“Go, call your husband and come here.” He might have as well struck me physically. I’d not expected the conversation would take such a turn. My mind tried to come up with something to say to cover up the truth, but I found I couldn’t lie to this man. He was having a most unusual effect on me.

“I have no husband,” I feebly replied, focusing my eyes on a patch of dirt at my feet.

“You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”

Blood rushed to my face as my head shot up. How did he know that? Who told him? Certainly, my life was common knowledge around these parts, but surely no-one would have been sharing the town gossip with a Jew! In the turmoil of my thoughts, I failed to notice that the tone of voice he’d used contained neither contempt nor condemnation. All I knew at the time was that I had to change the subject.

I suppressed the emotion and said, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” The scripture lessons Mother had given me as a little girl had now come in handy.

As before, there was a pause before he gave his reply. “Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

His words burned inside me, even though I didn’t fully comprehend them. So I fell back on an answer Mother often gave when she couldn’t answer my questions. “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when that one comes, he will declare all things to us.”

“I who speak to you am He.”

I looked intently into his tired and kindly face. There was neither hubris nor guile in its expression. I knew that he meant exactly what he had just said, and that I’d not misunderstood him. While I was still contemplating the import of that brief and loaded sentence, a group of men emerged into the clearing where the well stood. Their chatter died down when they saw me. None of them made to move or to say anything.

My eyes were still fixed on the man before me. Could he be Messiah? Right here in Sychar? Talking to me? I couldn’t contain the bubbling within me any longer. Leaving my water jar I ran back to the city, crying as loud as I could, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did! Can this be the Christ?”

That man—Jesus of Nazareth—stayed in our town for two days and taught us from the Scriptures.  Many among us came to believe that he truly was the Saviour of the world. I came to believe that the Jewish rabbi at the well was my Saviour.


Notes

  • [1] It is likely she could identify Jesus’ ethnicity by His clothing, though I’m not sure.
  • Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB and ESV translations.
  • I’ve been contemplating a post like this for a while, and got the final push from this talk.
  • I also thought that this story wasn’t as perfect as could be. Hope you liked it anyway 🙂

What is your name?

While going through the material for my last post, I noticed something intriguing. Whenever someone asked for a name, the answer was not what the questioner expected.

Gen 32:29

Jacob: Please tell me your name.

Mystery Man: Why is it that you ask my name?

Exodus 3:13-14

Moses: If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?

God: I am who I am. Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’

Judges 13:17-18

Manoah: What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?

Angel of the Lord: Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?

Jesus told His disciples that many righteous people longed to see and hear what they heard, but didn’t. What a privilege it is to live at this time in redemptive history!

What was Jesus doing in Old Testament times?

Have you ever considered that the eternal Son of God was present and active among His people long before the incarnation?

In the Old Testament, there’s a figure called ‘the angel of the Lord’ who doesn’t quite behave as an angel should. In particular:

  1. He claims divine authority, speaking as only God can
  2. He exhibits divine attributes
  3. He performs divine actions
  4. He receives divine homage
  5. He is identified as God

The best conclusion is that he must be the pre-incarnate Christ.

The series mentioned in the above video is no longer freely available, but here are the highlights:

The angel of the Lord in the OT

Hagar in the desert (Genesis 16)

The angel of the Lord speaks with divine authority (Gen 16:10) and Hagar recognises that she has had an encounter with an all-seeing God (Gen 16:13).

Abraham receives three guests (Genesis 18)

At first all three men speak with one voice (18:5-9), but one is singled out and referred to as ‘the Lord’ (18:10ff).

In addition to renewing the promise of a son for Abraham, the angel of the Lord tells Abraham of the impending judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham then makes the first intercessory prayer recorded in scripture.

Abraham almost sacrifices Isaac (Genesis 22)

The angel of the Lord identifies himself with God by equating withholding Isaac from God to withholding Isaac from the angel (Gen 22:12).

Jacob wrestles with a man (Genesis 32:22-32)

After the fact, Jacob realises that he had met with God (Gen 32:30). Additonally, in Hosea 12, the mysterious figure is referred to as both ‘the angel’ and ‘God’.

Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3)

Exodus 3:2 says: “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” In verse 4, however, God calls to Moses out of the bush. Verse 6 then tells us, “And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Emphasis mine in each case).

Manoah and his wife get a special promise (Judges 13)

The angel of the Lord appears to an unnamed woman, promising her an end to her barrenness and an end to the Philistine domination. She tells her husband, Manoah, and he prays that the man of God would return. He does, and the couple prepare a burnt offering. The angel of the Lord ascends to heaven in the flame of  the altar. Manoah and his wife are terrified at the realisation that they’d seen God.

Zechariah the prophet sees a vision (Zechariah 3)

The angel of the Lord rebukes Satannand defends Joshua, the high priest. The angel of the Lord commands that Joshua’s dirty clothes be removed before making him a wonderful promise.

Conclusion

In these passages we see the Son of God preparing His covenant people for what would be His earthly ministry. He is the ultimate sacrifice willingly given for us (prefigured in Isaac); He is the ultimate destroyer of our enemies (prefigured in Samson); He is the one who takes away our filthy clothes of sin (prefigured in Joshua), and so on.

What’s more, He’s not done yet! He who has been continually at work throughout redemptive history has one more appointment on His calendar. We eagerly await a Saviour from heaven!

Sources