Review Lecture: God’s Faithful Character (Rikk Watts)

The use of the OT in the NT is a huge topic today in biblical studies. With books like 3 Views[], The Commentary on the NT Use of the OT[], Hay’s Echoes in the Letters of Paul[] (and now the Gospels[]), studies on intertextuality, (Jguo) intertextuality. There are positions on whether the authors are properly using the OT contextually, out of the original context, and now the position that the authors were recreating Israel’s story. Why should we consider what Watts’ has to say? As you may know, I’m taking my M.Div. at SBTS, and I enjoy reading works like these (in my small spare time) so that I can expand my knowledge of the Bible’s depths.

Rikk Watts, who used to teach at Regent College (lectures here), contends that the connection between the OT and the NT is God’s faithful character. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Why is such a dense subject so important?

As you’ll see in the outline below, Watts spends the first two and a half lectures going through the history of interpretation, looking at the views of writings and interpretations from before the time of Jesus and afterwards. While the task may seem arduous, Watts immerses the class through these writings and interpretations so that they may know where we have been and where we are going. Watts affirms that the NT was not written in a bubble, and neither are the ways scholars interpret the Bible today completed in a bubble. There is a history to both, but he is able to draw out how the NT authors use the OT while differing from the other Jewish and Greek writings that encompassed them.

In the rest of the lectures, Watts spends his time showing just how the NT authors showed how God’s character from the OT was the same in the NT. They did more than just interpret the OT in context. They believed that Jesus fulfilled the OT. Just as God worked in the OT, so he will work in the NT. The biblical authors recognized the patterns, and seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s plan, they showed the unity of God’s word through the way they interpreted the text.

Table of Contents

  • Issues, History, and Current Research (Part I)
  • Issues, History, and Current Research (Part II)
  • Issues, History, and Current Research (Part III)
  • First Century Interpretation
  • When Jerusalem Becomes Like the Nations
  • Conjoining Texts
  • Some Striking Divergences
  • God’s Exodus Plan Completed
  • Purpose of the Parables
  • The Law and Faith (Part I)
  • The Law and Faith (Part II)

Watts’ handout is brimming with incredible (and technical) information. The above outline is only the bare-est of bones of the whole class. Each section is filled with information. You can see a brief example in these two posts.

Watts is an incredible, engaging teacher. His application is always spot on and penetrating. He truly cares about Christ and his bride. He is not some ivory tower academic, but he draws his applications to the real world. He desires to show the world a church that loves and follows after Christ as seen through their actions. The handout that comes with the lectures is particularly detailed and wonderfully helpful.

Yet as a course for doctoral students, Watts often travels down a number of rabbit trails. There were many times I didn’t know where we were because the path went on for some time. On occasion, moments after getting back to the text, there was yet another diversion. Sometimes Watts would say, “If only we had time, we could go into this subject,” yet if it weren’t for the tangents he would have had at least some extra time.

In Mark 1:1-3, while talking about Mark’s allusion to Isaiah 40, Exodus 23, and Malachi 3, Watts brings his listeners to John 14 where the disciples asked Jesus to show them the Father. Knowing Jesus means to know the Father, but, though interesting and not entirely irrelevant, in discussing it in the middle of Mark’s content, it was difficult to follow the train of thought.

As a doctoral seminar, I thought there would have been a bigger focus on technical issues and how the NT uses the OT. Application is important, and it must derive from a proper interpretation of God’s word. However, these lectures were difficult to follow.

Recommended?

Teachers especially would benefit from the content found in the first three lectures, and the notes that go with the rest of his lectures would be well served. But the tangents may dissuade many from listening through all of the lectures. I wouldn’t recommend this as someone’s primary resource on understanding the NT’s use of the OT. Watts has written a chapter on Mark’s Gospel in the Commentary on the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament, and he’s written Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. These are dense works, and one should be well read in this type of study.

When it comes down to his premise that God’s faithful character is what toes the NT’s use of the OT together, I don’t agree that it is the main idea, but I do think it is one of them. Watts shows how our God is faithful and committed, and it is seen throughout all of the Bible. Our God can and should be trusted to fulfill his promises to those who are in his Son Jesus Christ. Watts guides the student into seeing how in all our ways we should acknowledge God (Prov 3.6a). We are to put our whole weight onto him, for he is faithful to his people. 

Lagniappe

  • Teacher: Rikk Watts
  • School: Regent College
  • Time: 20hr, 47 min

Buy God’s Faithful Character by Rikk Watts

Previous Posts

Disclosure: I received these lectures free from Regent College. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Review Lecture: Mark’s Gospel (Rikk Watts)

Rikk Watts is a full-time teacher at Regent College, and is known for his work on the Gospel of Mark and his book Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. He wrote the 100,000 word contribution on Mark to Carson and Beale’s Commentary on the NT Use of the OT [CNTUOT] and will be replacing Lane’s volume on Mark in the NICNT series. And word on the street says Watts is writing two books: Jesus and the Mighty Deeds of Yahweh (lecture here) and Heaven on Earth: an Introduction to the Christian Vision.

This is the second of Watts’ lectures that I’ve been able to review (see my review on Isaiah). This time I wanted to learn about Mark from one of the experts. I’ve been interested in Mark’s Gospel ever since I co-taught it at CCBC York in 2014. Ever since then I’ve stocked up on a number of commentaries, anticipating when Watts’ volume will see the light of day. I had the pleasure of partnering with Lindsay Kennedy (see his review of Watts’ class lectures here) in one of his Mark classes last fall and I found Watts to be extremely helpful in understanding Mark’s message.

Mark

As I’ve mentioned before, in his book Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, Watts opens up Scripture to the reader to see how Mark wrote his Gospel around Jesus’ fulfilling of (can you guess?) Isaiah’s Second Exodus. While I have yet to read INEM, Watts’ contribution to Carson and Beale’s CNTUOT convinced me to his position. His contribution is packed full of both grammatical and theological information, which seems like Watts is full of “heady” information about God and his Word. Yet listening to Watts’ is an entirely different experience. While his genius still comes out, his application comes straight from the principles of the text.

What relevance does a 2,000 year old Gospel have for us today? To pray like Jesus we must live sacrificial lives where we pick up our crosses to serve humbly (9.28; 10.45). I am to cut off that which causes me to sin. How do I see other people and how do I treat them? Do I humiliate them? Do I regard them as nothing? Or do I give them the most importance? Watts application cuts to the quick, and it’s the kind of application we need. Watts proves that a deep study and understanding of the Bible and a heartfelt relationship with God are not mutually exclusive.

Watts looks at Mark’s Gospel as being both a masterful work of literature. He is aware of how words and phrases are used throughout Mark. A “marketplace” seems like such an obscure word, but Watts sees that Jesus, the true Shepherd (6.34) and glorious Lord who walks on water (6.48), heals the sick in a marketplace (6.56). It was in the first exodus where Israel found out they were supposed to be holy, and here, following the New Exodus theme, Jesus teaches the marketplace Pharisees (7.4) about true holiness. He is the healing glorious Lord, and those who follow him are both holy and to live holy lives that honor him.

Watts also looks at Mark’s Gospel as being a historical document about the true living Son of God. And because these characters are real and situations tense, Watts uses this understanding to explain why Jesus does what he does. For example, in Mark 14 Jesus sends two disciples to find a man carrying a jar of water (which would be rare). They are to follow him and talk to him about something “the Teacher” has said. Watts believes it is pre-arranged (the room would already be furnished and ready, v15), and given that Jesus is a wanted man (the Jewish leaders were trying to trap him in Mark 12), it makes sense that Jesus would work in the shadows. He still had to have one last meal with his disciples before he picked up his cross.

Watts believes the Gospel of Mark was written by Mark, before 70 AD. Unlike his Isaiah class, Watts’ doesn’t delve much into the views of other scholars, and when he does his discussion is brief. That being said, he doesn’t always finish class where he intends and often runs out of time only to have to catch up in the next class. He always makes it work out well, but I was disappointed with his treatment of Mark 13. It’s an extremely difficult passage for many Christians and scholars, and I was hoping to hear a thorough (as far as is possible in a classroom setting) of Mark 13. Watts reads all of Mark 13 as having to do with 70 AD, and I especially wanted to hear about 13.26 (“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory”). Instead, because of the way Watts spaced out the other classes, Mark 13 had to be split between two classes (Lectures 11 and 12) with both parts being rushed.

Though not a major downside, I was disappointed that the Mark lectures didn’t come with a handout like the Isaiah lectures did. The Isaiah handout PDF was 96 pages long. The Mark handout PDF is only 4 pages long (with a little bit extra on page 5). The handout for Isaiah helped hold my attention during the lectures as I was able to follow along while giving me plenty to look up after the lectures were finished. Since the lectures are not a book, it is difficult to go search and find the right spot where Watts speaks on a particular text. And since there is no handout, I would suggest that you take notes while listening to his lectures (though in my opinion, you should be taking notes anyway).

Conclusion

If I could ever recommend lectures on Mark, it would be ones taught by Rikk Watts. Watts certainly has a solid understanding of the Gospel of Mark. He is a biblical scholar who considers deeply both the biblical text, its teaching on God and his gracious character, and its application to our lives. Even though he rabbit trails a bit, Watts gives you plenty of good information to think about, and one can hear that he really loves the Lord. Watts studies God’s word and uses the Bible’s theology to shape his views on life so that he can teach us how we are to live before and serve our holy, loving, and glorious God.

Lagniappe

  • Speaker: Rikk Watts
  • Date: Winter 2014
  • Length: 27h 17m
  • Product ID: RGDL4404S

Previous Posts

  1. Was the Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?
  2. Our Response to Parables

Outline

  1. Introduction; Prologue: Mark 1.1-13
  2. Prologue: Mark 1.1-13
  3. Mark 1.14-45
  4. Mark 1.2-3.35
  5. Mark 4.1-5.43
  6. Mark 6
  7. Mark 7.1-8.21
  8. Mark 8.22-9.13
  9. Mark 9.2-50
  10. Mark 10
  11. Mark 11.1-13.31
  12. Mark 13.32-16.8

Video

Classes

(Sometimes these are on discount at certain times of the year. Along with these Watts has quite a few free lectures). 

[Special thanks to Regent College for allowing me to review this class!]

Our Response to Parables

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been listening to Rikk Watts’ lectures on the Gospel of Mark. Watts is well-versed in Mark’s Gospel, and he’s currently writing a commentary on Mark in the NICNT series.

When it comes to the parables, there is a wide range of views on what Jesus was trying to convey. What is a parable? Is it pure allegory? Is there only one meaning? Are there multiple meanings? Many think that parables are an “earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” but that places too much of a dichotomy in Jesus’ words as if he had a Gnostic ideal where we were to shed our earthly self to reach our heavenly life.

In the Beginning…

We must first ask the question, “Why did Jesus speak in parables anyway? What purpose did they serve?” The first use of “parable” in Mark is in 3.23, “And [Jesus] called them to him and said to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’” Jesus poses this question against the Jerusalem leaders who believed that the miracles he performed were really the works of Satan.

In Isaiah 6 (esp. vv8-13), Isaiah’s call initiates the judgment that the people have brought on themselves (Isa 1-5). Because they have rejected Yahweh, Isaiah’s preaching would cause the hearts of Israel to be hard. In Mark, the Jerusalem leaders have called judgment upon themselves by grouping the actions of the Messiah with that of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.

Sowing the Word

In Mark 4 Jesus begins with the Parable of the Sower, which contained themes that would likely have been familiar to his audience. 4 Ezra 9.26-37 (a pseudepigraphical work) speaks about Yahweh sowing the law after the first exodus out of Egypt. The Jewish fathers received the Law from Yahweh, but they didn’t follow it. As a result, they went into judgment and exile (2 Kings 24-25) which would require a second exodus (Isa 40-55).

Watts argues that Mark shapes his Gospel around Isaiah’s second exodus, and here the words of Jesus, Yahweh in human form, are having the same affect as they did in the book of Isaiah. Those who reject Jesus will end up in exile (Mk 13) and judgment (Mt 25).

Listen!

In Mark 4.3, at the beginning of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus says, “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.”

Watts points out that Jesus doesn’t say “Listen!” often. The critical point is that you must listen, and if you don’t understand how this works, then you won’t understand how the others work (v13).

According to Watts, the point of the parables is: (1) to reveal the mystery of the Kingdom, and (2) to reveal the nature of JC’s hearers’ hearts. This is what the whole Gospel of Mark is doing. Mark is teaching his readers about the promised kingdom of God which is coming through the Son of Man (Dan 7.13-14, 15-27), and you are being shown whether or not you care as you read Mark’s Gospel. In reading and listening to his Gospel, Watts contends that we are being put on trial. How will we respond to Mark every time we read his Gospel?

The response to Jesus’ parables passes judgment on the hearers (e.g., David’s response to Nathan’s parable [2 Sam 12], Israel’s response to Isaiah’s vineyard parable [Isa 5]). Starting from the Garden of Eden, Israel has a long history of thinking they are better than they really are. They say, “I’ll trust God… as long as it makes sense.” Adam and Eve didn’t think God’s word made much sense when it came time to take their test (Gen 3.1-6). The same goes for Israel immediately after the Exodus (Ex 32.1).

However in Mark’s Gospel no one understands Jesus! Jesus doesn’t make sense. Even his disciples have trouble understanding him, yet they still follow him despite they’re lack of understanding. The only way to deal with your arrogance and self-reliance is to follow Jesus even when he doesn’t make sense.

Idolatry and Hard-Hearts

The nations ask, “Where is their God?” (Ps 115.2). And we reply, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps 115.3). “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Ps 135.6). Those who turn to and follow after lifeless idols become ones who cannot see, hear, nor speak.

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.

Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

(Ps. 115.4-8; cf. 135.15-18)

Rather than following lifeless idols and becoming like them, we follow the one who does whatever he pleases. We can be like him. He gave us his word for us to know and to use wisdom so that we may live in a way that glorifies him. Humans are made in the image of God, but when we worship idols, we lose our humanity. We lose our ability to perceive and know how to live.

Watts calls Christianity the true humanism. It is only by being Christians, by trusting in Jesus as our Savior, that we can be who we were truly created to be.

Screen Shot 2018-03-23 at 7.06.36 AM

Parables take away our security blankets. Parables show us what we really think about Jesus and his message.

Previous Posts

  1. Was the Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?
  2. Review Lecture on ‘Mark’ 

Was The Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you may remember my series on Rikk Watts’ lectures on Isaiah. Watts, NT lecturer at Regent College, is currently writing a commentary on Mark in the NICNT series. The focus of his dissertation was on Mark’s use of Isaiah’s second exodus (Isa 40-55; 56-66). Now I’ve been listening to Watts’ lectures on Mark, and when Watts taught on the rich young man in Mark 10.17-22, he took a different perspective from what I’ve always heard.

Growing up I’ve only heard one perspective on the rich young man. He was rich, he was young, and he was self-righteous. He didn’t really keep the whole Law. He simply wanted to pull-one over on Jesus, or at least he was so deceived he really thought he had kept the whole law. Yet Jesus sees straight through his facade. Knowing the young man is covetous and greedy, Jesus tells him that he must sell his belongings, those things that keep the rich man from Jesus, and follow Jesus so that he will have eternal life.

The Other Way

But Watts doesn’t think that’s what’s happening at all. Instead, Watts sees Mark presenting the rich young man in a positive light.

The rich young man “knelt before” Jesus and calls him “Good teacher” (v17). He’s not a scumbag. He believes that Jesus can tell him how he can have eternal life. And Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (v18). His answer to the rich man to follow him (and not Torah) implies that he is equating himself with Yahweh.

Jesus points first to the law and gives a list of commandments that the rich man should know: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t defraud, do honor your parents. But the rich man has kept all of these from his youth. While this sounds farfetched, Paul says that when it came to “righteousness under the law,” he was “blameless” (Phil 3.6b). This doesn’t mean Paul nor the rich man were perfect, but that they were faithful to God by keeping to the Jewish laws and sacrifices.

Good, You Lack One Thing

In verse 21, Mark doesn’t say, And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lie.’” Instead, Jesus says, “You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” For the rabbis, “lacking nothing” was the mark of a truly righteous man. Jesus doesn’t require anyone else in Mark to do this. Why is this?

People can tell the difference between someone who wealthy and righteous and someone who is wealthy and rotten. For the Jews, keeping the law and having money was a genuine sign that someone was righteous. Watts believes this guy is being told to let go of his reliance on both Torah and all of the brownie points (material wealth) that testify to his being a truly righteous man from a Jewish point of view. He “kept the law and has shekels in the bank to prove it” (Watts, Lecture 10).

Watts says that if the rich young man really was selfish, the disciples would say, “Well, we know why he isn’t getting in. He’s selfish!“ They know about the oppressive wealthy (10.42), but here they are surprised! If this man has kept the law, he has money, but he can’t gain eternal life, what on earth can the disciples do?

But Many Who Are First…

But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v31). This rich man, who is first in everyone’s eyes, is now last because he refuses to follow the one who is greater than the Torah, Jesus Christ. But the disciples, who were low in everyone’s else’s eyes, and who would become lower because they followed the one who would be crucified, will be first.

But how can this be? They are not the best disciples. They do not understand Jesus’ teachings (4.10). They’re hearts are hard (6.52). They care little about those whom Jesus cares much about (6.36-37). They do not yet understand (8.21), and Peter rebukes his Teacher (8.32). They can not cast out a demon (9.18), and they do not pray with a heart of humility (9.29). They all want to be on the top (9.34).

The disciples will have eternal life so long as they follow and listen to the Beloved Son of God (Mk 9.7) who was crucified for our sins (15.39) and was risen from the dead (16.6).

“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (v27).

Previous Posts

  1. Our Response to Parables
  2. Review Lecture on ‘Mark’ 

IV. Gold Nuggets in Isaiah

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Grapes of Wrath

YHWH plants grapes. He dug up the ground himself. He cleared the stones. He planted his vineyard with choice vines. He built a watchtower in the midst of it. He made a wine vat for the fruits of his labor. Isa 5.2 says, “He looked for it to yield grapes.” So Yahweh waits, “and gets stinkers” (Watts, Lecture 3). In fact his vineyard “yielded wild grapes” (5.2). Watts says, “This woman is a gold-digger. She’s been taking extraordinary gifts, yet her response is appalling” (Lecture 3).

Yahweh owns this vineyard. Is he to blame? No, he’s done everything correctly. He’s no ordinary farmer. In 5.6, he controls the rain. And since this vineyard has failed to produce good fruit (Matt 12.33), he won’t let it rain. He “looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!“ (5.7).

Six Woes (5.8-23)

There are Six Woes on Judah which I will very briefly describe.

First Woe: Judgment on Greed (vv8-10)

The people join houses and fields to kick others off the land. The year of Jubilee came around every 50 years to make sure the people had a stake in the land. If these idolatrous people have there way, everyone will be alone. They will lose their land, and it will remain unfruitful.

Second Woe: Judgment on Decadence (vv11-17)

For these people, their life is filled with pleasure. They have no understanding of God. They have no spiritual perception. They do not regard his deeds or his works (5.12). They will go into exile. They will hunger and thirst. They will be the first course on Sheol’s menu. In being like the nations, they get a similar judgment (this is why the judgment on Jerusalem in Is 22 falls in the midst of the judgments on other nations. If Jerusalem becomes like these nations, they will receive the same judgments).

Third Woe: Judgment on Cynicism (vv18-19)

“They mock God’s work, but they drag their cartload of sin” (Lecture 3).

Fourth Woe: Judgment on Moral Anarchy (v20)

They call evil good and good evil. They think siding with Assyria is a good thing!

Fifth Woe: Judgment on Self-Reliant Wisdom (v21)

Yahweh isn’t against learning nor a good education, but he had better be at the center. They have no fear of the Lord, so they have no wisdom

Sixth Woe: Judah’s Might and Strength (vv22-23)

These supposed heroes are “only great warriors at the bar” (Lecture 3). They don’t care for people. “It’s a great mark of a man who can get plastered at the bar” (Lecture 3).

“Therefore” (5.24-30)

As fire devours dry grass (v24), these people have rejected God’s Word and God is able to destroy mountains and people (v25). And He will do it by nations far away.

The Vineyard in the NT

In Mark 12 Jesus is telling the Parable of the Vineyard (or of the Wicked Tenants) to the Jewish leaders. After his condemnation of the tenants who killed the prophets, those tenants are so greedy that they kill the Son too so that they can receive the inheritance. They kill him and threw him out of the vineyard. Unburied. A shameful death. In v9 Jesus says, “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.

Matthew 21 is even more telling. Here in v41 it is the Jewish leaders themselves who answer Jesus. “They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.’” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.”

The tenants will not receive their inheritance for they have rejected Jesus. They perceived that he was speaking about them. They wanted to kill him. Did they know Jesus was the Son in this parable? It’s highly likely. My points is that the tenants were not producing fruit, so the kingdom of God would be taken away and given to a people who would produce fruit. In Matthew 24 Jesus foretells of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 3.10). These leaders have rejected God’s word and God will destroy them by a nation not too far away (Rome in 70 AD).

Who are these people who will produce good fruit?

In John 15 Jesus describes himself as the “True Vine” (just as he is the true firstborn). “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit…. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (15.2, 4b, 5b-6). The disciples are commanded to love one another. They are told that Jesus chose them (like Yahweh chose Israel to be a pleasing vineyard) so that they “should go and bear fruit” (15.16).

Those who bear fruit are the disciples of Jesus, you, me, and everyone who professes Jesus as their Saviour and King. We can trust him to care for us and to produce fruit in our lives. “Any God who will die on a cross for me while I am yet his enemy will not play fast and loose with my life now that I am his friend” (Rikk Watts, Isaiah).


Thanks for sticking around. Tomorrow is my final post on Watts Isaiah class. It will be the review of his class.

III. Gold Nuggets in Isaiah

BambergApocalypseFolio034vLambOnMtSion (1)

Following the Golden Nugget series on Watt’s Isaiah class, here is part three with a few more nuggets of information.

Parables of Hardness

If you’ve seen my posts on Virginity in Isaiah, Isaiah is told to preach so that people don’t see, hear, do (Isa 6.9-10). Afterward he gives King Ahaz a parable, and KA rejects God’s word (7.12-13). Then, upon rejecting God, God’s judgment will come upon Ahaz and Judah (see my previous posts for more info).

We have a pattern: Parables -> Don’t Listen? -> Judgment

In Mark 4.3, upon telling his first parable here, Jesus commands the people to “Listen!” Jesus then speaks about “hearing” 8 times, and Mark gives an extra ninth at the end of the chapter. Those who don’t listen will be judged. After this Jesus cleanses the “ritually unclean”: a demon possessed tomb raider, a hemorrhaging woman, and raises a dead girl. In Mark 7 Jesus is confronted by some too-much-hand-sanitizer Pharisees who have a bone to pick with his disciples’ washing habits.

Jesus responds by saying, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (7.6, quoting Is 29.13).

Paul, in 2 Cor 3.14 speaks about the minds of the Israelites being hardened against God.  The only other use of pōroō (‘hardened’) by Paul is in Rom 11.7-8, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened (“pōroō”), as it is written, [and quoting Is 29.10-12 and Deut 29.2-4] “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” Israel denied God in the days of Moses, in the days of the prophets, and in the days of Jesus. God poured out a spirit of stupor on them so that they would be hardened.

The sealed book in Isa 29 is the Law of Moses, and it is veiled (Ex 34; 2 Cor 3). The people don’t understand the real meaning of the Law, or of God’s Commands, or of his Promises, because they don’t have Faith (2 Cor 3.14-15). When the Law is read in the synagogue, the true meaning remains hidden.

All throughout Mark Jesus has been teaching “not Sabbath keeping, but people keeping” (Watts). In Isa 1.11, the people are “kissing butt.” They’re brown-nosers (as a kid I always wondered where this phrase came from. It really shouldn’t take too long to figure out). They’ve intensified their religious activity. They’re praying more and giving more sacrifices. But the Lord is tired of it. Perhaps they should be caring for people more.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem in Mark 11. His authority is challenged in the end of Mark 11 and throughout Mark 12. When we arrive at the story of the widow, “If anything condemns the Temple, it’s that” (Watts). Here we have a magnificently wealthy center of worship, fantastic offerings, and yet the people don’t notice the widow. They aren’t loving their neighbour. They don’t “see” (in the sense of understanding and acting in love) that she is poor and in need of their help. They’d rather defer to the rich. And yet she gives more than the rest of them, for she trusts God. Unlike the rest, she isn’t showing off (Matt 6.1-4).

Isa 1.3 reads, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Dumb beasts can’t read or write, but they know food. Israel does not know who provides life, nor does the rest of unbelieving humanity (1 Cor 1.19, quoting Isa 29.14; 1 Cor 2.9, quoting Isa 64.4).

A Double Portion

Isaiah 40:2 says, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

That sounds pretty harsh. Yet to gain some insight into this we need to look at other biblical passages. Amos 3.2 speaks of Israel’s special status, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” Israel is called God’s “firstborn son” in Exodus 4.22.

Of the firstborn Deuteronomy 21.17 says, “But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.” As Israel is Yahweh’s firstborn son, they are receiving the double portion of all of their sins.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Isaiah 61:7 says about those who mourn in Zion (61.3), “Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.”

Jesus quotes Isa 61.1-2a in Luke 4.18-19. Jesus is the true firstborn Son who does what the other firstborn’s (Adam, Israel).could not do. He brings the good news to the poor by dying for the,. He proclaims liberty to the captives. He gives to those who mourn in Zion a double portion of everlasting joy. He is the one who lived perfectly. It is in him that believers will receive a double portion of everlasting joy (Isa 35.10; 51.11).


Come back tomorrow for one more nugget on Isaiah 5, the song of the vineyard, and the vineyard in the New Testament.

II. Gold Nuggets in Isaiah

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Following the Golden Nugget series on Watt’s Isaiah class, here are a few more “nuggets” of information.

John 9 and the Works of God

How are the works of God displayed in this blind man? Why didn’t Jesus say “So that my works might be displayed in this man”?

In Isa 42 the Servant of the Lord has been called in righteousness (v6). He will be given as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations (9.2; 2 Cor 4.6). He will open the eyes of the blind (Isa 42.6). In Isa 42.16 Yahweh says, “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.“

So who heals the blind? Yahweh? Or the Servant? God the Father does it through God the Son, Jesus Christ, showing his deity as the servant who would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. More so, Isa 42.9 says, “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare.” This paralleled with the new heavens and new earth (Isa 65.17), believers as new creations (2 Cor 5.17), and the consummation of the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21.4b-5).

Jesus is doing something new here in John 9. Not only is he healing the blind, this man sees the light! When every one fumbles their words before the Pharisees, this man stands boldly against them. This doesn’t know much about Christ, but he knows what Christ has done for him. He was blind, but now he can see. We might wonder why Jesus doesn’t come to this man’s rescue during the confrontation with the Pharisees, but once this man is cast out, Jesus appears to him. Perhaps those who deny Jesus’ works before man (i.g., the Pharisees) won’t be able to “see” or be with Jesus. John 9.39, “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’

Swallow Your Pride

In Isa 3.16-4.1, the very things the people relied on, God takes it away. The people are so prideful in their luxuries that God lays bare their secret parts (3.16-17). “In that day” the Lord takes away their jewelries and earthly joys (vv18-23). Instead of perfume, a belt, well-set hair, a rich robe, and beauty, he gives them rottenness, a rope, baldness, a skirt of sackcloth, and branding (v24). The men shall die in battle, and the city will mourn and lament. Seven women will grab hold of a man and beg to have his name instead of theirs. Their names are full of reproach, and they need someone to take it away.

And while their guides mislead them and swallow them up, leading them to death (the blind leading the blind [Matt 15.14]), one day the Lord will “swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’”

When does this finally happen? When are the enemies finally erased? Revelation 21.4,8, He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. Just as Egypt was “swallowed up” by the Red Sea in the great exodus event, so will death be “swallowed up” by the Lord at the end of our exodus event when we are finally in the fulfilled new heavens and new earth.


Come back tomorrow for a parable of hardness and a double portion of sin.

I guess that really doesn’t sound very inviting, does it?

I. Gold Nuggets in Isaiah

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Since the book of Isaiah is so large, I simply can’t write down half of what I’ve learned in Watt’s Isaiah class. Simply, there would be too much to say. Instead, over the course of the next few days, I’ve decided to write out a few “nuggets” of information, some larger, some smaller. I hope this benefits you as it does me.


The One Who Shows Compassion

In Isaiah, it is the Lord Yahweh who shows compassion to people. This is seen in texts like Isa 9.17; 14.1; 27.11; 49.13, 15; 54.7, 8, 10; 55.7; 63.7, 15. In the Gospels, aside from two texts (Lk 10.33; 15.20), Jesus is the one who shows compassion on others (Matt 9.36; 14.14; 15.32; Mk 6.34; 8.2; 9.22; Lk 7.13).

In Luke 10.33 Jesus tells the parable of the ‘good’ Samaritan who has compassion on the injured man. The point here is that the man “desiring to justify himself” (10.29) is to be like Jesus and show compassion on all, even his enemies, for all are his neighbour. And in Luke 15.20 the father (representing God the Father) shows compassion on his prodigal son. After all of his partying (15.13), the son receives another (and better) party from his merciful father (15.22-23).


The One Who Forgives

In Isaiah 33 the “destroyer” and “traitor” has “not been destroyed.” But God’s people wait for the Lord. He is their arm and strength “every morning (vv1-2). When the Lord lifts himself up there is a “tumultuous noise” where people flee and nations scatter (vv2-3). The Lord’s spoil is leapt upon (v4).

In vv 10-12 the Lord announces that he will “now arise” and lift himself up. The best his enemies can do is give birth to fleeting chaff and stubble. Their own breath is a fire that will consume them. In vv14-16 the godless sinners in Zion tremble and ask, ““Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire?” The answer? “He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil, he will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure” (vv15-16).

Jerusalem will be “an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent, whose stakes will never be plucked up, nor will any of its cords be broken” (v20). Yet “your (i.e., the enemies, rebels) cords hang loose” (v23). The Lord in his majesty will be for his people. He is our judge, our lawgiver, our king, and he will save (v21-22).

An abundance of prey and spoil will be divided, and “even the lame will take the prey” (even the lame will “leap” upon the spoil [v4]). And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick.” The people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity (v23-24).

So the lame will walk and sins will be forgiven. Zion will be made pure. This is the main theme of Isaiah. In Isaiah we see “God’s plan of how He’s going to get a Jerusalem full of bloodshed and murder, and transform them into a true city of the great King that reflects his character that becomes a light to the nations and carries out and effects Israel’s initial call as a blessing to the people” (Watts, Lecture 1).

What happens at the end of Isaiah? Yahweh promises to create a new “Jerusalem,” one that is “to be a joy” (65.18).

The New Testament

When we look at Mark 2, what does Jesus do?

Mark 2.5-7, “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” Jesus then heals the lame man and at the same time forgives his sins. The scribes think Jesus is blaspheming for two reasons:

  1. In their minds, Jesus isn’t God.
  2. Forgiveness isn’t proclaimed in houses, but in the Temple (on that point, see Jn 2.18-22; Heb 7.22-8.3; 9.7, 25-28).

Here, Jesus does what Yahweh promised to do: he heals and forgives. The lame man and his friends had faith. The scribes did not. The ex-lame man and his friends will be in the future New Creation. The scribes, if left to their own devices, being blind of Jesus’ deity, will not.


God’s Concern in Isaiah

God’s concern in Isaiah isn’t about getting us out of here.
It’s about constructing communities that actually look like God’s people.

It isn’t about abandoning creation.
It’s about transforming it through alternative communities where peace and justice happens under a different kind of King.

It isn’t about how you get to heaven.
It’s about how heaven gets here (Rev 21-22).

If people put something in God’s place, He will give them what they want. God gives people over to their idolatries, and it will be a judgment to them. Just read Romans 1.18-32. People become like what they worship.


Come back tomorrow for John 9 and the works of God, along with Swallowing Up.

Isaiah’s Call: The Idolater’s Curse and Effect in the NT

Isaiah 6.9-10 is quoted to in every one of the Gospels (Matt 13.14-15; Mk 4.12; Lk 8.10; Jn 12.40). In each of he Gospels salvation is announced and rejected, Why is this the case? How is it that Israel can so easily reject their Messiah?

Last time we look at Isaiah 6 and saw that Israel was idolatrous. They had been for a long time (e.g., Abraham was a pagan idolator). But more than that, much of Israel’s history after that had to do with God working idolatry out of them, and them clinging to it even harder. So God calls Isaiah to preach to them, with the result that their hearts will be hardened against God. Israel will become deaf, blind, dumb, hard-hearted, and eventually breathless as they continue to trust in their idols, even as it leads them to their doom.

In Isaiah 7-9, salvation and judgment are effected through parables. Ahaz has the choice to trust in God, but instead, he, like his wilderness forefathers, tested Yahweh. In the end, Judah would be judged by Babylon.

Jesus speaks a parable about binding the strong man in Mark 3. The Pharisees have rejected Jesus. Israel is doing what Ahaz did all those years ago. Once they respond in an attitude of rejection, Jesus speaks in parables. The hearts of Israel are hardened even more. Paul said Israel sought a righteousness all of their own (Rom 10.3) and not a righteousness brought by truly following God. Jesus commands the crowds to listen to his parable in Mark 4.3, and he ends his parables with, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (4.9). Some will hear, and some will not. Those who take and use what is given, more will be added. But those who do nothing with it, even what they have will be taken away (4.24-25; Matt 25.29).

How you hear determines if you are on the inside or the outside (“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables…” Mk 4.11). Watts says this is not about predestination. And what I think he means is that Jesus isn’t teaching a seed-form of predestination here. He’s not thinking about that at all. What he means is that Israel is idolatrous, and some will respond rightly to Jesus, but many will only become more hard-hearted to him. This is God’s response to an Israel/Judah who have already rejected him. In fact, in the Parable of the Vineyard the Jewish leaders understand that Jesus says he is the Son and that he speaks against them (Matt 21.45; Mk 4.12; Lk 20.16). Instead of bowing at his feet in worship, they want even more to kill him.

This was a brief look at Isaiah 6.9-10 and how it is used in the Gospels, but I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts. Hopefully we can start to see the importance of the OT context and storyline when studying the NT. Next up will be three more posts:

  1. Did Paul misquote Psalm 68 in Ephesians 4?
  2. Warrior Armour in Ephesians 6
  3. My review of Watts’ ‘Isaiah’ class.

Isaiah’s Call: The Idolater’s Curse and Effect

In Rikk Watts’ Isaiah class, he says that chapter 6 of Isaiah is the theological hinge to the book.

Outline

  • 1.1-2.5: Introduction to Isaiah. A lawsuit is inaugurated on the basis of the Deuteronomy covenant/law code.
  • 2.6-5.30: On the basis of Israel’s present condition, a sentence is given. Judgment and salvation leads to…
  • 6.1-13: Yahweh’s appearing as the great King and Judge in his Temple. Isaiah is called to effect the sentence of ultimate sanction (with salvation for a remnant).
  • 7.1-9.7: The sanction inaugurated:
    • Syro-Ephraimite War
    • Judgment is brought on faithless Ahaz and salvation is brought through Yahweh’s Davidic prince – a contrast between kingships.

So Isaiah 6 is the commissioning call of the one who will implement the sentence of judgment on Israel. The blinding, deafening, and burning are all related to judgment on idolatry. Since Judah worships idols she will become as blind as they are, “hence she too will be burned in the fires of judgment, just as they are” (pdf handout, 55).

Structure of Isaiah 6

1. Vision (6.1-7):

The inescapable conflict between Yahweh’s “glory” and Israel’s “heavy” iniquity issues in Israel’s judgment.

  • Setting (vv1-4)
  • Purification (vv5-7)

2. Commission (6.8-13):

Isaiah’s purging with fire is to become Israel’s experience.

  • Commission (vv8-10)
  • Outcome (vv11-13)

Setting (vv1-4)

Isaiah 6 has been a famous Call to Christian Service” for many. Yet, as Watts rightly points out, this is not everybody’s call. Isaiah was called to preach, but nobody would listen. This is not the kind of call people dream of having. “I love it when nobody listens to me,” said by nobody.

This vision takes place in the year that Uzziah died. He has been the best king since Solomon, and there is plenty of uncertainty as to who will rule over Judah now. But Isaiah receives a vision of the true King of Heaven, and his heavenly council (see 1 Kings 22.19-28 where, like here, judgment is soon to be announced).

In contrast to “the haughtiness and self-examination of men” (2.11-14, p56), here it is YHWH, not Israel, who is high and lifted up. The attitude of the seraphim is one of reverence in God’s presence, covering their faces and feet and crying “Holy, holy, holy.” In contrast, Israel couldn’t care less about their sin. What Isaiah alone knows will soon be known by all.

Purification (vv5-7)

Isaiah identifies himself with Israel. Watts says the ‘unclean lips’ may be crucial because it indicates false confession (Exod 20.7). Perhaps Isaiah hasn’t grasped both the enormity of what it means to serve holy Yahweh and the enormity of Israel’s sin. It may be a metaphor for covenant unfaithfulness, that of Israel’s unclean confession (Isa 8.13).

The heated coal/stone is put on Isaiah’s lips, thus purifying his lips and rendering righteous confession. Isaiah’s purification is by fire. Israel too will be purified by the fires of trial and judgment.

Commission (vv8-10)

And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed (6.9-10).

Other translations soften the Hebrew text.

LXX

And he said, Go, and say to this people, Ye shall hear indeed, hut ye shall not understand; and ye shall see indeed, but ye shall not perceive. For the heart of this people has become gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.

Qumram

“Seeing you will understand and your eyes will be appalled at the idolatry surrounding idolatry.”

Though we see they do give at least one interpretive clue as to Israel’s problem: idolatry. G. K. Beale says that Israel’s blindness and deafness is connected to their following of idols, and this is seen is Psalms 115 and 135.

Ps 115.2-11

Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
O Israel, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
10  O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.
11  You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord!
He is their help and their shield.

Psalms 135

This psalm speaks of how the Lord does as he pleases. He has chosen Israel as his own possession. He is above all gods. He does what he pleases to do. In that we see his strength. He brings clouds, lightning, and rain. He struck down the firstborn of Egypt. He sent signs and wonder against Egypt. He struck down nations and kings and gave the land as a heritage to his possession Israel.

Yahweh deserves praise for he is good. He will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.

He is unlike the idols of silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have eyes, ears, noses, and mouths, but they do not see, hear, breath, or speak. Those who make and trust them become like them.

De-creation

Israel has rejected God for so long that it is as if God says, “You want to follow after your idols? So be it. I’ll give you what you want then. I will make you to be like your idols… blind, deaf, dumb, and heard-hearted.” So Yahweh ‘creates’ Israel in the image of the gods they worship. “The people will become like the very idols they worship – blind and deaf” (57).

There is a back-and-forth debate in Isaiah about the wisdom of trusting Yahweh. Israel thinks they can see. They think they have wisdom, but it’s based on “idolatrous catagories.” They think they are clever and wise to partner with Assyria, but God gives them over to their own wisdom. God here, in his judgment, gives Israel up (Rom 1.24) to their own wants and desires, their own idolatries (the nation’s chief sin, 1.29-31; 2.6ff).

In Deuteronomy 4.15-28 the “primary sin against the covenant is… idolatry” (57). The result is “utter destruction and exile among the nations” (Deut 29.22ff; 31.16-18).

Outcome (vv11-13)

Isaiah asks how long this will happen. Yahweh responds that the cities will be laid wate, and if there is a tenth remaining they will be burned again. Again? When was the first?

Isaiah 1.29-31

For they shall be ashamed of the oaks
that you desired;
and you shall blush for the gardens
that you have chosen.

For you shall be like an oak
whose leaf withers,
and like a garden without water.

And the strong shall become tinder,
and his work a spark,
and both of them shall burn together,
with none to quench them.

They shall be burned by their idolatries and by Yahweh’s judgments, just like their idolatrous trees. There is a stump that remains, and this might be a remnant, a holy seed. That might be the tenth (or ‘stump’) that remains. As this is already too long, in my next post we’ll look a bit at how Is 6.9-10 is brought over the the NT. If there is a remnant spoken of here in Isaiah, the NT Israel is it, and they are still idolatrous.

The Virgin Birth in Matthew

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In my last post we looked at some of the original context of Isaiah 7-9 in dealing with the prophecy of the “virgin birth.” According to Rikk Watts, the “virgin” here is not a virgin giving birth, but a young maiden who will give birth, and this birth would point to God being with (or against) King Ahaz and all of Judah.

But What’s Going On in Matthew?

Matt 1.20-23 says, “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

Though this isn’t as difficult as Matthew’s use of Hosea 11.1 in 2.15 of his Gospel, even still Matthew isn’t prooftexting here. He’s telling us who truly fulfills this statement. How does Matthew know Jesus is the true ‘Immanuel’? Because God raised Jesus from the dead. In essence Matthew is saying, “You want to see the Davidic Prince? You want God to be with us? Here he is. Jesus is Immanuel, and you must believe in him.”

But what happens if the people don’t believe? What if their hearts are hardened and they are deaf and blind like their idols? Matthew has some of the strongest language toward those who refuse to believe in Jesus:

“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8.11-12; cf. 22.13; 25.30).

Matthew expects the reader to see Israel’s story in the name “Immanuel.” King Herod hardens his heart when he hears about the birth of Christ. Even the scribes, the Pharisees, and Israel herself reject Jesus. They are imitating the hardened kings (like Ahaz) and forefathers from years before. Once Israel responds to Jesus with rejection, Jesus begins to speak in parables in Matthew 13 (and quotes Isa 6.9-10). As a result, Israel’s heart is hardened all the more, just like in the book of Isaiah.

Immanuel, who will save Israel from their sins, is the final and ultimate expression of God’s judgment on an unbelieving nation. And the disaster that occurred on Israel in 586 BC under Babylon would be reseen under the Romans in 70 AD (Matt 24).

Isaiah 9.6-7, “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. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

What About the Virgin Birth?

Neither Matthew nor Luke give much explanation about the virgin birth because it’s not as important as the rest of the story. How do we know Jesus is God among us? By his birth? No, because of the way He lived.

In the Greek religion, many gods and demi-gods were born from virgins. Perhaps Matthew and Luke don’t pursue the conversation because they don’t want to associate Jesus with the Greek pantheon. Jesus was born differently than everyone else, and he lives differently than everyone else. He perfectly upholds the kingdom  of God on his shoulders with justice and righteousness.

Watts’ point is that there is a historical context to what is going on in Isaiah 7-9. But, typologically speaking, there is a child who will come and will bring a greater judgment if he is rejected. He is Immanuel who is God among us, and to reject him is to bring God’s judgment upon yourself. It is only fitting that Mary was a young, unmarried (though betrothed), woman who would give birth to a child while still a virgin.

Conclusion

I think Watts provides a compelling case in reading Isaiah’s prophecy through Matthew’s eyes. Many commentators have spent more time looking at the role of the virgin plays between Isaiah and Matthew rather than the role of Immanuel. I think Watts does a good job at keeping his eye on what was important to Matthew. I’d like to hear your thoughts about this. Does this seem to be a better interpretation? Or do you think Isaiah was prophesying about the coming Messiah? Watts’ conclusions are compelling, but perhaps you have a better perspective?

The Virgin Birth in Isaiah

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This is part one of a two part set of posts on the virgin birth in Isaiah 7 and Matthew 1. It’s not going to be some kind of detailed exegesis on the chapters, but more so the thoughts of Rikk Watts taken from his Isaiah lectures. The usual question goes something like this, “Does the Old Testament really predict a virgin birth?” Watts says no, it doesn’t. In fact, he says it makes no such prediction, but rather, it points to Someone greater. So what I’ll do this time is cover the original context and then consider if the woman in Isaiah 7 is a virgin.

Original Context

While Ahaz is the king of Judah, Rezin (king of Syria) and Pekah (king of Israel) go to Jerusalem to make war. Yahweh sends Isaiah to tell Ahaz not to listen to these two puffs of smoke. He is told that if he is not firm in faith (if he does listen to them and fears them), then he “will not be firm at all.” In fearing them Ahaz is tempted to renounce his sonship under Yahweh (Ps 2.7) and become a son-servant to the King of Assyria (which he does in 2 Kgs 16.7).

Next, the Lord asks Ahaz to request a sign, but Ahaz refuses to “test” the Lord. But now Yahweh will give a sign of His choosing, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria (Is 7.14-17).

At first, Ephraim (Israel, a.k.a. “not Judah”) would have been destroyed in 65 years. Now, before this child can grow to the age of knowing right and wrong, the Lord will bring Assyria onto Ahaz. In fact, by chapter 8, Assyria will come before the boy even knows how to cry “My father” or “My mother.” Things are only getting worse for Ahaz, the hardened king of Judah who is fulfilling Isaiah 6.9-10, “And he said, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’””

Things will be doom-and-gloom for some time, but eventually “the people who walked in darkness” will see “a great light” (9.2). Verses 6 and 7 famously tell the readers that a greater king is coming, “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. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

We know this hope to be Jesus, as Matthew 1.23 and 4.16 quote Isaiah 7.14 and 9.1-2. Ahaz is not the final authority. Jesus will be The Davidic King, the true Son of God.

The Meaning of the Sign of the “Virgin”

Is the sign intended to point to a future virgin birth? Some say it is, but Watts disagrees. He says it’s about a timeframe, one that centers around the age of the child. Isaiah’s saying, “If you don’t change your ways, within x number of years, you’re going to experience deadly trouble from the Assyrians.“ Before this “Immanuel” (meaning ‘God is with us’) becomes of age, Israel will know what it means for God to be with them, and it will be a visit in judgment.

Who is this Virgin Woman?

While I don’t have the resources on hand to go over this, nor the proper linguistical knowledge, according to Watts, this word for virgin in the Hebrew (‘almah) means an unmarried woman. “Any woman of marital age would be a virgin” (Watts, Lecture #4). If a girl was unmarried, then she was likely a virgin. While many read “the virgin will conceive” and think it points to a virgin conception, “no one in Jewish literature read this statement as a virgin conception” (Watts, Lecture #4).

(As for Matthew’s use of the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, Craig Keener says, “[T]he earlier Greek version’s term for young woman usually (albeit) not always meant virgin, as in Matthew.” However, I do not have the finesse to go into these kinds of Greek and Hebrew discussions. I can merely provide Watts’ discussion and some clarifying comments).

To reiterate,, if this word doesn’t mean “virgin,” but, instead, “young woman,” then what we have is a young, unmarried woman who will give birth to a child, one who will be a sign to Ahaz of God’s promised judgment on his and the people’s rebellious hearts (Is 6.9-10). It would make sense that this “woman” isn’t Mary, and that this soon-to-be-born “child” wouldn’t be Jesus for how would Jesus be a sign to Ahaz? How could he be a sign to Ahaz when Ahaz would have been dead for roughly 700 years by the time Jesus was born? There must be more to this story.

What then is Matthew’s purpose? Well, you’ll have to wait for part two.

Was Samson a Good Judge?

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For all of my church-going life, Samson’s had a pretty bad wrap. He had some positives: he was a judge of Israel, a lion killer who had multiple Holy Spirit fillings, and a Philistine killer. And then there were the negatives: he followed his appetite (e.g., food, women, etc), disregarded God’s law (again, food, women, etc), and fell for Delilah’s tricks. He was the last in a downward spiral of God’s judges over Israel, and, as is often taught, was the worst of the judges over Israel.

And yet, though I think this is so (having read through Block’s Judges/Ruth commentary), Watts has challenged that notion. This is not an original idea from him, but one from Gordon Hugenberger’s Judges class. Hugenberger has written an article called “Why Samson May Not Have Visited a Prostitute (Judges 16:1-3)” in a festschrift to Beale titled From Creation to New Creation, and is currently writing the Judges volume in the Apollos Old Testament Commentary series. My Digital Seminary has written about this article a little while ago. While it is illuminating, so are the comments. After reading the comments I thought it was a closed case. But as no argument is sealed with one piece of evidence, Watts came with a sling of evidence about this Philistine killer.

What’s unique about Samson?

  1. He’s the only judge Israel didn’t ask (or “cry out”) for [Judg. 3.9, 15; 4.3; 6.6; 10.10].
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    Was Samson a “dropkick” (i.e., a loser)? Watts said, “If you really think Samson is the worst of judges, you have a serious problem. You’ve demonstrated that God can’t provide [good] leadership.”
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  2. There are more references to God’s Spirit falling on Samson than any other figure [Judg. 13.25(?); 14.6, 19; 15.14].
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  3. He’s in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 (v. 32).
    • Though, so is Jephthah, and he doesn’t register high on the moral exemplar list (though that’s not the point of the “Hall of Fame”).
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  4. According to Watts, Samson is “one of the wisest figures in the Old Testament.” On two occasions he comes up with three-way puns.
    • One pun is found in Judg. 16.25-27, though I don’t know if it’s one of the “three-way” puns. Watts doesn’t tell us where the puns are found, and I’m not expert on which puns are three-way and which are not.
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  5. Samson keeps going back to Delilah. Samson must be a moron blinded by love, right? Yet, throughout the book of Judges, who keeps going back to Israel knowing full well that she will sell him out when there’s money/idols involved?
    • YHWH. He loves Israel, even when she consistently betrays him.
      • Also, it never says that Samson has sexual relations with Delilah. She is commanded to seduce him, which may or may not entail sexual relations (according to Watts, Hugenberger, and the English translations).
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  6. When Samson is about to die he prays to YHWH, but doesn’t repent. Yet YHWH still hears Samson’s prayer.
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  7. Where in the Bible does God effect a great deliverance to an unrepentant dreadful sinner? Samson.
    1. Where in the biblical narrative does God ever step in to win a greater victory in one’s death than was ever experienced in his life? Samson and Jesus.
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  8. Samson is the only judge where the author says, “And his parents did not perceive this was from the Lord” (Judg. 14.4). The author knows all the readers will make the same mistake as Samson’s parents and think Samson is a loser, much like the mistake many righteous people thought about Jesus in his lifetime (including his own family, Mark 3.21).
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  9. When Samson goes to Gath (Judg. 16.1-3), many think he’s up to no good in the house of the prostitute. Yet here we see the exact same language used about the spies who go to Jericho in Joshua 2, and nobody thinks the spies are up to no good (a summary of Hugenberger’s article on this topic can be read here).

Are There Other OT Parallels to Samson?

  1. On his way down to Timnah, God’s Spirit falls upon Samson and he kills a lion (Judg 14.6).Later on in 1 Samuel 17.36 we read of another character who polished his skills by killing a lion in his early days (which prepared him for the future holy war with the Philistines). Who is this character?
    • David
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  2. After this incident, Samson comes back from fighting the Philistines and finds honey (14.8-9). (Remember, he’s fighting this “holy war” alone).Again in 1 Samuel, there is another who is fighting the holy war alone (along with his armor bearer). These two men take on the whole Philistine army. Later on, they find and eat honey (while his own father is sitting under a tree doing nothing). Who is this man?
    • Jonathan

Are there more OT parallels? Probably. Watts asks, “What if there are more parallels with Samson and Jesus than any other figure in the OT?” This makes me curious: if Hugenberger is right, how many parallels have we missed? Watts takes the idea that Judges was written around the time of 1 & 2 Samuel, which helps make the case for the parallels between the books. If Samson really is so great, what other parallels have the biblical authors drawn from him?

After having listened to Watts, I’m eager to read Hugenberger’s commentary on Judges. I’d like to see what parallels he has found and how he defends his “Samson-is-more-like-YHWH-than-you-thought” concept. While I find this interesting, I can’t help but ask what this does to the storyline of Judges? How does this view of Samson relate to the other judges and the story as a whole? Until I know that, I’m not fully persuaded (though if the evidence warrants, I could be). I’d like to hear your thoughts on this too. Do you think Samson is a lost cause? Or is he simply misunderstood? Could it be said of us readers that we “did not perceive this was from the Lord”? 

Isaiah Class Introduction

Isaiah

In going through Rikk Watts’ Isaiah class, Watts lays out the class forecast in his handout (which is included with the MP3 download). When giving a projected forecast for a class, it’s important to stick to it, both for your sake and for the sanity of the students (especially when the book consists of 66 chapters). Watts follows through with his forecast, and this is seen in the following examples.

Class Forecast

Themes

Primarily, to acquaint students with the leading themes of the multifaceted message of Isaiah, noting in particular both their continuity and development throughout, and thereby providing students with a sense of the unity and diversity of material within the overall purpose of the book;

Knowing that he cannot cover every chapter and verse of the book of Isaiah, Watts tries to stick to the themes of Isaiah. A book is much easier to understand when one understands the broad themes that run-throughout the book. No (normal) person understands an engine without seeing how the engine works as a whole. Only then do you take it apart and study each piece.

  • Why does Jerusalem (and Eliakim) show up smack dab in the middle (chapter 22) of a section about specific nations being judged (13-23)?
  • There seems to be an extreme change in tone between chapter 39 and 40 (and themes between 55 and 56). Why is this?

Relevance

To assist students in understanding the relevance of the various Isaianic concerns to the life of the people of God in the contemporary world and in so doing to highlight ways in which the book can be preached both in the church and the world.

Watts isn’t satisfied with explaining the text to his students only to leave them to figure out what it means for today (or worse, they end up thinking they are more superior because they “understand” Isaiah now). Instead, he pinpoints the heart of Isaiah.

  • Israel didn’t trust that God was in control of history. Yet why did they think the gods of Babylon had any power at all? Why do we think our banks have the power to control our history? Or our government?

Biblical Theology

Secondarily, when the occasion arises to articulate the theological contribution of Isaiah to the NT by examining the ways in which numerous Isaianic texts have profoundly shaped the message of NT authors (e.g. Isa 6 in the Gospels and Acts; the use of the so-called Messianic prophecies), and to discuss the problems related thereto.

Finally, Watts have a few classes on Biblical Theology and how the New Testament reads the Old (here and here). I would really enjoy listening to both of these, and tastes of them can be found in this Isaiah class. I can tell Watts has a solid grasp on these issues. The New Testament authors were immersed in the biblical world. They grew up reading the Bible and having it ingrained into their lives. Surely they would understand the Old Testament better than we. Throughout their writings there remains echoes and allusions to the Old Testament (think of Facebook throwbacks). Yet how does the NT interpret the OT?

  • What is really going on in Isaiah 6, and why do all four of the gospels refer to this section?
  • If Isaiah intends “blindness” and “deafness” to be meant metaphorically throughout his book, how was anybody supposed to see that Jesus was the Messiah when He healed literal “blindness” and “deafness”?
  • Did Isaiah really prophesy a virgin birth?
  • What is Paul doing when he quotes Psalm 68 in Ephesians 4? Why did he take special liberties to change the wording?

Lecture List:

Here is the list of the lectures. I’ve tried to provide the chapters covered in each class.

  1. Intro and Overview
  2. Yahweh’s Lawsuit [1-3]
  3. Justice and the People of God [4-6]
  4. Isaiah’s Call: The Idolater’s Curse [6-9]
  5. Restoration and the Messianic Prophecies [9-12]
  6. Short-Sighted Security: Neither Egypt Nor Babylon [13-39]
  7. Yahweh Comes!… And Israel’s Complaint [40]
    • Yahweh’s Offer of Salvation: Earlier Traditions
  8. New Exodus and New Creation / Jacob-Israel: Yahweh’s Blind and Deaf Servants [41-45; 50]
  9. The Solution: A New Servant Israel 
    • Call and Task [42; 49]
    • Suffering Service [50; 52-53]
  10. Disillusionment and Injustice [56-58]
  11. Yahweh as Warrior [59-63]
    • Jerusalem-Zion Restored [60-62]
    • The Messenger to Zion [61]
  12. Salvation for Foreigners: My House is a House of Prayer for All Nations [56; 66]
    • The Last Great Lament [63-64]
    • New Heavens and New Earth [65-66]

Next Time

This is the more boring part of the posts (I mean, it’s from the syllabus, which despite pronunciation is the most non-silly part of the class). Other topics I did cover are:

These aren’t set in stone. I haven’t written them yet. They’re only thoughts right now. I may post more once I look back through my notes and see points of interest. All in all I will say that the special place Isaiah holds in the NT is more appreciated than it had been before. From topics of hardened hearts, to new creation, to idolatry, and salvation of Gentiles, Isaiah has more to say about life today than many Christians give it credit for.

Though I can’t simply give you all of the class information, I hope what I do put on here gives you a greater appreciation for Isaiah, the Bible, and ultimately Jesus Christ, the high King of Heaven.

The Major Prophet Isaiah

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The semester here in Waterford is winding down. I have three weeks left with two for teaching and one final. After that Mari and I will be heading back to Norway to get ready for our wedding celebration in June.

In the meantime I wanted you to know that I’ve been able to get my hands (or ears) on a class on Isaiah by Rikk Watts. If you don’t know who Rikk Watts is, he was originally trained as an aeronautical engineer. He did some engineering work for IBM while working toward (and receiving) a degree in philosophy, art, and sociology. He wrote his dissertation on one of my favourite books, the Gospel of Mark, saying that Mark’s themes, structure, and narrative came right out of Isaiah. The book is called Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. I haven’t started reading it yet, but from everything I’ve heard and read (here and in this good book), it’s genius.

Watts knows his Mark, and I’m going to see how well he knows his Isaiah (meaning, I’m going to learn a lot from him). I requested to review this class from Bill and Kim at Regent College, and my request was approved! So I’ll be throwing some posts up on here about different things Watts says. I don’t know Isaiah very well, which is unfortunate because it’s one of the most quoted OT books in the NT (along with Deuteronomy and the Psalms). I hope you’ll enjoy the posts too and hopefully take some interest with Watts, his class, and his writings.

Watts is also set up to write the new Mark volume in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) series. This will set a new standard for Mark commentaries (and other works) to come, especially in dealing with OT quotes and allusions.