Book 2: Psalm 58 of 72 – Victors and Losers

Modern Christianity is occasionally guilty of half truths, much like the politically correct arena of the contemporary world.  We either preach a gospel of unconditional love, and neglect the gospel of hell; or we preach the judgment of the lakes of fire and neglect to point out that it is Jesus, our gracious Saviour, who is himself the Judge on the last day.

The world tells us that either we are all eternally ‘condemned’ to a life of no higher meaning, that we are but dust and ash of the earth and we will return to the earth as such; or that we are valued ‘as we are’ and that no one should be condemned because that is a basic human right.

What Psalm 58 teaches us, however, is that David saw the world differently.  In God’s economy, in His kingdom, there are victors and losers; the gospel requires that there are only two camps of people – those who are with Him, and those who are without.

David opens the chapter by pointing out the falsehood and lies of the ‘gods’ – that such gods are incapable of judging the children of man uprightly, because they are filled with violence.  He then moves on to the wicked who are estranged from the womb, from birth, as liars, spouting out venom like the Satan.  They are incapable of hearing He who can charm, and sing the right tune that provides them with a central bearing.  Indeed, His sheep hears His voice, and the wicked by contrast are deafened: John 10:27.

Psalm 58 is directed to the choirmaster according to ‘Do Not Destroy’.  It is unclear what this means exactly – yet it would appear the content of Psalm 58 contradicts this direction.  David pleads to God to break the teeth of the enemies, to tear out their fangs, to let them vanish, and to undo the damage that the wicked could cause by their flaming arrows.  They are to be swept away, and not to see the light of day like a stillborn child.  This is graphic imagery that David employs to show us that on the last day of Judgment, Jesus too will destroy the wicked in like manner.

The chapter ends contrary to the judgment of the violent gods in the opening; instead, their judgment is replaced by David’s God who judges on the earth, who rewards the righteous.

One may read this chapter and consider how this is reconciled with the loving God; how a loving God can ‘bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked‘.  Yet, it is because God is loving, that his ‘violence’ is firmly directed towards the unjust; firmly directed towards those who have been led astray and lead other astray.  It is in loving judgment that sin, and the sinners without the covering of Christ’s blood, is swept away.  His immense, epic intolerance of the wicked only demonstrates to His immense, epic love for His children.

This may be why the psalm should be sung according do not destroy.  David did not say that the Lord delights in destroying the wicked; on the contrary, He is simply describing that life under the ‘gods’ muddies the waters of His love with compromise.  Life under the ‘gods’ shows no distinction of right and wrong; of blessing and curse; of light and darkness.

However, His love transforms us.  The righteous can enjoy life intimate from the womb; speaking truth; that our lips and tongues are like honey to our neighbours’ hearts; and that we hear His voice because we are His.  Our closeness to Him, like a lamp on the hill, only condemns the wicked even more, like the shadow that darkens proportionate to the brightness of the light.  It is only when we are righteous, that we identify sin for what it is, and that (like the Lord) we demand it be destroyed with those aligned to it without remorse, as David sings.

Not all are victors, though we are all born losers.  The gods of this world deal out violence, making us believe in lies so that we are equally condemned by the illusion that it is all meaningless, and what is left is but atheistic/agnostic humanism.  No – David is singing that there is One who is victorious, and by standing in His victory, we are shielded from the damage and loss that comes from a life estranged from the Father.

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Book 2: Psalm 58 of 72 – Victors and Losers

Book 2: Psalm 57 of 72 – His love and my praise

Today, we often say “praise the Lord” when He does amazing work in our lives.  When He gives us favour at work.  When we are blessed with the gift of children.  When we are provided for materially.

Yet, how often do we still praise Him when we are in the midst of difficult circumstances?  When there is a re-structuring in my firm and that I am re-directed to a team that I have no expertise in?  When my supervisor is potentially demonised?  When my financial obligations outweigh my income?  When there is severe illness in the family?

We often look to Job as the forebear, as it were, of the generations of Christians who have suffered and yet looked to the Redeemer: Job 19:25.

Whom we do not often associate with such praise in the midst of suffering is a man like David.  Whilst in the 1st few chapters of the book of Job we learn some facts about the faithfulness of the eponymous hero, the reader is not familiar with him as we are with David, whose generational, familial, military background are laid out in the course of various books in the Old Testament.  Clearly, Job teaches us a lesson on God’s sovereignty in the midst of unjust suffering.  It is a parable for us that even in the most extreme forms of suffering, God’s answer is in the sacrificial lamb: Job 42.

David, on the other hand, teaches us our interaction with the politics of the world as a man who grew from a mere shepherd boy to become a king setting a new precedent (since he likely drew limited inspiration from Saul’s leadership when he took over the reins to lead Israel) of what it means to shepherd a uniquely, unparalleled, theocratic kingdom.

It is within such context that we approach this psalm, which David wrote when he was still but a soldier, fleeing and hiding in a cave from Saul’s wrath: 1 Samuel 21, 24.

David starts not with self-justification, but with humility: “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge.”  Indeed, our source of refuge is in God, because our security lies not in our education, not in our accumulated life experiences, not in our accolades.  Those are measures of how the world values us.  God, however, values us simply as His beloved children.  David thus yearsn, “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.”  Yes – let your will be done, not mine; let your purpose be done, not mine.  Yet this purpose is one that is for me; it is one in which I have the privilege in partaking.

Shortly before the pensive Selah, we are told that God will send from heaven to save David; he will put to shame him who tramples on David.  It is then clarified that God will send out  “his steadfast love and his faithfulness“.  How exactly is this played out?  We see this in 1 Samuel 24:

12 May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. 13 As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you. 14 After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! 15 May the Lord therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”

16 As soon as David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. 17 He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. 18 And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. 19 For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. 20 And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.

This is a turning point for David.  He could have very well set a wicked example of murdering the Lord’s anointed.  He could have uprooted the person whom the Lord, and Samuel, had appointed as the 1st king of Israel.  Instead, David exercised mercy; he repaid wickedness with love.  Why?  This could only be due to the revelation that David received in the cave, in hiding, in the storm.  Instead of justifying himself, instead of finding his comfort in his friends, in his band of brothers, he found comfort in knowing that the Lord sent help in the form of steadfast love and faithfulness.  David therefore approached Saul in the confidence that the Lord is the just judge who would deliver David from Saul’s hand.

The story of David’s mercy is told in generations to come.  David’s rise to kingship was not due to Saul’s own demise.  That was happening concurrently.  The Lord has already been preparing David’s heart to take the role of the anointed king, and this is one of the crucial moments beautifully juxtaposing the persecuted shepherd who exemplifies the meaning of mercy, against the wrathful king who exemplifies the meaning of self-justified vengeance and Pharisaic achievement.

That this happens in a cave is almost, itself, a commentary that this is the spiritual battle which we face in the dark of our hearts.  Do we walk the path of Saul in pursuing every end  and strategy to achieve political and economic might?  Or do we allow God to balance the scales of justice because we trust that He will deliver us from “the midst of lions, fiery beasts, children of man whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords“, as David goes on to describe in this chapter?  David’s goal was not even to exalt himself; he merely set his eyes on Him who provides our refuge; yet, in doing so, we learn from 1 Samuel 24 that he exudes the qualities of a king that Saul does not have.

Much like the story of Joseph and his brothers, Haman and Mordecai, so also the enemies’ plan to dig a pit in David’s way would only end with the pit being the enemies’ ultimate destination.  Satan’s attempts to lure us into death is itself converted into an opportunity for the Lord to save us through death into re-born life.  That is the Selah that David invites us to ponder.  That is the extent of God’s faithful love, that He can transform even the darkest circumstances into the source of our everlasting joy.

As Spurgeon comments on the whole chapter:

Mystically this hymn may be construed of Christ, who was in the days of his flesh assaulted by the tyranny both of spiritual and temporal enemies. His temporal enemies, Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and people of Israel, furiously raged and took counsel together against him. The chief priests and princes were, saith Hierome, like lions, and the people like the whelps of lions, all of them in a readiness to devour his soul. The rulers laid a net for his feetin their captious interrogatories, asking (Mt 22:17), “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” and (Joh 8:5) whether the woman taken in the very act of adultery should be stoned to death or no. The people were “set on fire, “when as they raged against him, and their teeth and tongues were spears and swords in crying, “Crucify him, crucify him.” His spiritual enemies also sought to swallow him up; his soul was among lions all the days of his life, at the hour of his death especially. The devil in tempting and troubling him, had laid a snare for his feet;and death, in digging a pit for him, had thought to devour him. As David was in death, so Christ the Son of David was in the grave. John Boys, 1571-1625.

 

The Lord’s faithfulness and love in the first half of the chapter are then the cause of David’s gleeful response in the latter half.  “I will sing“, “I will awake the dawn“, “I will give thanks to you“, “I will sing praise to you” – why?  “For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

David’s preparation for the throne does not require academic excellence, military might, or political savvy.  His preparation was simple.  He turned to God’s steadfast love.  He knew that such love had the power to transform his circumstances.  It was not a distant, impersonal love which would only lift one’s emotions; it was a real, tangible, force personified and exemplified in the work of Christ on the cross.  It is that grace and mercy which drove David to take the high road, and which grew him into a person that he never imagined he would become.  This was his spiritual marker, his milestone, and arguably one of his most important moments in consolidating his kingship.  Oftentimes we face similar dark circumstances, and write them off in hopes that the Lord would give us favour in better times; yet it is in these dark circumstances that we need to find refuge in Him to consolidate His purpose in our lives.

Book 2: Psalm 57 of 72 – His love and my praise

Job 32-42: The Slaughtered Lamb

Chapter 32

The three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, ceased to answer Job (v.1) – because Job was righteous in his own eyes.  However, then comes Elihu (whose God is he (Jehovah)), the son of Barachel (whom God had blessed) the Buzite (from “Buz” – one of the chiefs of the tribe of Gad – 1 Chronicles 5:14, meaning “contempt“).  So Eliphaz burned with anger, the man who hails from the tribe who strikes at the heel of his raiders (Genesis 49:19).  He identifies himself as one of the young, one of those who would have listened to Job during Job’s days of glory (c.f. chapter 29), yet he recognises that the true teacher is the Breath of the Almighty (v.8; indicative of the Holy Spirit; c.f. Genesis 2:7, 7:22, Job 4:9; see also Job 33:4-5).  It is the Holy Spirit Who is the Wisdom that makes man understand, the very Wisdom whom Job spoke of in chapter 28.  He will not show partiality due to his youth, for the spirit within him shall speak words of truth unveiled and without flattery (v.21-22; c.f. Psalms 5:9; Romans 16:18; 1 Thessalonians 2:5).

It is interesting that Elihu as a character is only verbal between chapters 32 and 37.  He was not introduced at the outset, for is he mentioned by the LORD when the LORD rebukes Job’s three friends.  In the coming chapters, Elihu’s words will show that his focus is not on behavioural modifications leading to God’s stamp of approval; quite the contrary, it is in the LORD’s sovereignty and Ransom (chapter 33.v22-24) by the power of His Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, that Job can plead for this very Mediator.  In a sense, Elihu is akin to Elijah – both figures of Christ, but also foreshadows of John the Baptist, he who prepares the way for the LORD’s coming.  Just as Elihu ceases to speak in chapter 37, so the LORD speaks immediately in chapter 38 as if ushered by this prophetic and mysterious figure.

 

Chapter 33

The Spirit of God has made Elihu, and the breath of the Almighty gives Elihu life – this is how Elihu’s words of truth begin.  He does not set a weighty yoke on Job as Bildad, Eliphaz and Zophar did (v.7; c.f. Matthew 11:30).  Elihu speaks as though he is the author of the book of Proverbs – “For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it” (v.14; e.g. Proverbs 6:16; 30:18, 30:21, 30:29).  So also God’s truth is not interpreted merely from one angle of man’s perception, but also from the perspective of a dream, in a vision of the night, in deep sleep (v.14-15), to give man a revelation to turn such man aside from pride and evil deed (v.17), to preserve a man from the bottomless pit (v.18, 24) – this is most predominantly shown in the Ransom (v.24), the Angel of the LORD, the Mediator, one and only (v.22-23).  It is through the propitiation, intercession and mediation of Christ Jesus that Job’s flesh can become fresh with youth, returning to the days of his youthful vigor (v.25), allowing Job to pray to God through the intercessor (v.26; c.f. Book of Hebrews), salvation by the gift of righteousness.  The fulfillment of the Kinsman Redeemer in Job 19:25 is thus fulfilled in the words of Elihu in Job 33:28 – Christ has redeemed Job from going down into the pit, and his life shall look upon the light.  Behold, God does these things, twice, three times with a man – to resurrect his soul from the pit.  Such is the act of the glorious and divine resurrection!  So Elihu enlightens Job to the true wisdom whom Job had been alluding to in his self-defence.

Adam Clarke comments:

It is this that gives efficacy to all the preceding means; without which they would be useless, and the salvation of man impossible. I must think that the redemption of a lost world, by Jesus Christ, is not obscurely signified in Job 33:23, 24.  While the whole world lay in the wicked one, and were all hastening to the bottomless pit, God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him might not perish, but have everlasting life. Jesus Christ, the great sacrifice, and head of the Church, commissions his messengers-apostles and their successors-to show men the righteousness of God, and his displeasure at sin, and at the same time his infinite love, which commands them to proclaim deliverance to the captives, and that they who believe on him shall not perish, shall not go down to the pit of destruction, for he has found out an atonement; and that whoever comes to him, through Christ, shall have everlasting life, in virtue of that atonement or ransom price.”

 

Clarke also further provides the following paragraph for v.26-29:

 

Ver. 26. He (Jesus Christ, the head and ransom price) shall pray unto God, (shall make intercession for the transgressors, for he is the Mediator between God and man.) And he (God the Father) will be favourable, ( yirtsehu, will manifest his good will towards him.) And he shall see his face ( panaiv, his faces, God the Father, Son, and Spirit) with joy, ( bithruah, with exultation or triumph,) for he will render unto man his righteousness, ( yasheb leenosh tsidkatho, “He will restore to wretched man his righteousness;” i.e., he will create the soul anew, and restore to the fallen spirit that righteousness and true holiness which it has lost, and bring it again to its original state of perfection, through the grand atonement mentioned Job 33:24.) But when is it that wretched miserable man shall be brought to this state of salvation? This is answered in Ver. 27. When God, looking upon men, seeth any of them saying, I have sinned and perverted that which is right, and it hath profited me nothing-has afforded nothing equal to my wishes, and the tribulation which I sustained in seeking happiness in forbidden things. Redeem my soul from going down to destruction, and my life shall see the light, or shall be as the light. This is the prayer of the penitent, which God has promised to hear. This is one of the best, the deepest, the most spiritual, and most important chapters which the reader has yet met with in the Book of Job. It is every way important, and full of useful information. It is a grand exhibition of the WAY of salvation as revealed to patriarchs and prophets.”

 

So, just as Clarke defines the way of salvation, as specifically revealed to the patriarchs and prophets is no different from the way we see it – Job, Elihu and Paul and Peter all look to Jesus Christ the eternal mediator for the restoration of their souls, so that they too, like Jesus (c.f. Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27), would be resurrected on the Day of the Bridegroom.

 

Chapter 34

Elihu continues his words, in answer not only to Job but also to his other three friends (v.2).  Obviously his words are laced with sarcasm – “Hear my words, you wise men” (v.2).  In particular, Elihu charges Job very high upon his words.  As Matthew Henry comments:

Did you ever know such a man as Job, or ever hear a man talk at such an extravagant rate?” He represents him, (1.) As sitting in the seat of the scornful: “He drinketh up scorning like water,” that is, “he takes a great deal of liberty to reproach both God and his friends, takes a pleasure in so doing, and is very liberal in his reflections.” Or, “He is very greedy in receiving and hearkening to the scorns and contempts which others cast upon their brethren, is well pleased with them and extols them.” Or, as some explain it, “By these foolish expressions of his he makes himself the object of scorn, lays himself very open to reproach, and gives occasion to others to laugh at him; while his religion suffers by them, and the reputation of that is wounded through his side.” We have need to pray that God will never leave us to ourselves to say or do any thing which may make us a reproach to the foolish, Ps. xxxix. 8. (2.) As walking in the course of the ungodly, and standing in the way of sinners: He goes in company with the workers of iniquity ( 8), not that in his conversation he did associate with them, but in his opinion he did favour and countenance them, and strengthen their hands. If (as it follows, 9, for the proof of this) it profits a man nothing to delight himself in God, why should he not lay the reins on the neck of his lusts and herd with the workers of iniquity? He that says, I have cleansed my hands in vain, does not only offend against the generation of God’s children (Ps. lxxii. 13, 14), but gratifies his enemies, and says as they say.”

It would appear, then, that Job has somewhat lost sight of the joys of being with the LORD, although his description of God is far more accurate than that of Bildad, Eliphaz and Zophar.  Elihu’s words can be summed up as follows – “Will he then make repayment to suit you, because you reject it?” (v.33).  Elihu, rather than speaking words of what appears to be rebuke, is actually trying to reclaim the Christological perspective in Job’s suffering.  God will never allow wickedness, and he is neve wrong (v.10); indeed, of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not do wickedly (v.12).  However, throughout this, Elihu does not accuse Job as wicked.  He is merely reminding Job that, in the midst of Job’s suffering, if indeed Job is righteous, then what Job is experiencing is still just.  It is still the sovereign act of God; the God who will not pervert justice (v.12, 17); the God who is righteous and mighty and is impartial to men of all stature (v.18-32).  Although Job is declaring in the recent chapters his pain and anguish as one who obeys the LORD, and considers that “It profits a man nothing that he should take delight in God” (v.9), he is indeed better off than if he had sinned (chapter 35:3).

 

Chapter 35

So chapter 35 opens with Elihu comparing the predicament of a sinner and that of a righteous man – what advantage is there, if the guilty flourishes and the innocent perish?  Elihu answers, by indicating that those who cry out for help (v.9-11) may not receive an immediate answer (because of the pride of evil men) (v.12).  As v. 10 states, such cries are merely cries for deliverance – but they do not cry out to the Deliverer.  Yet, that is not the case with Job.  However, despite the LORD not yet speaking in the book of Job since Job’s afflictions, Elihu reminds Job that the LORD’s silence should not be taken as an opportunity for Job to doubt the timing of the LORD’s judgment, lest he opens his mouth to proceed in empty talk and multiply words without knowledge (V.15-16).  As Adam Clarke comments – “they cry for deliverance from the pride of wicked men; but they are not heard, because they cry not to God… He will not attend to such vain cries; they cry from their oppressions, but they cry not to God.”  This indeed is timely advice for a day when Christ’s Second Coming has been approximately 2000 years in the waiting, with people not girding themselves for His return, perhaps even doubting that He would even return at all.  He who was once a righteous man, like Job, would be tempted to grow weary of waiting for the Bridegroom.  However, as sure as the sun shall rise from the east to pursue his Bride, the Church, to the west – so also Christ’s return is imminent hope for Job and Christian alike.

 

Chapter 36

So Elihu continues to elaborate on the just timing of the LORD’s judgment – as in the days of Noah when the LORD closed the door to the ark at his divine appointment, so also Job should look forward to the appointed climax of Christ’s return.  He is described as:

 

  • He is mighty in strength of understanding (v.5);
  • He will exalt the afflicted by giving them their right (v.6; 15-16);
  • His eyes are on the righteous (v. 7 c.f. Psalm 34:15);
  • He sets us as kings upon the throne (v.7 c.f. Revelation 1:5-6, 3:21)
  • He will bless those who listen and serve him (v.8-11)
  • He will allow those who do not listen to perish (v.9-14)

 

From v.17 onwards, Elihu warns Job to not fall into the camp of those who scoff by being enticed by wrath (v.18), that Job should not long for the night nor turn to iniquity (v.17-21), and remember that the LORD is a powerful teacher (v.22-33).  As Elihu sums – “Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable” (v.26).  This humility before God far exceeds that of Bildad, Eliphaz and Zophar who have claimed no knowledge of the vastness of God’s personality and yet they still make definitive charges against Job as if they were God Himself.

 

Indeed – “let not the greatness of the ransom turn you aside” (v.18).  This verse is quite difficult to understand although Matthew Henry sees this as regarding a bribe turning Job away:

 

Even a great ransom cannot deliver thee when God enters into judgment with thee. His justice cannot be bribed, nor any of the ministers of his justice. Will he esteem thy riches, and take from them a commutation of the punishment?”

 

No gold is sufficient to satiate the price – except for the “gold” found in the salvation of Christ Jesus, the true Ransom of all ransoms shadowed by the deaths of the innocent sacrifices under the Levitical law.

 

Chapter 37

Starting with chapter 36:27, after Elihu admits the vastness of God’s unsearchable character, he describes God’s majestic act of creation in intimate detail:

 

  • The spreading of the clouds, the thundering of his pavilion (v.29)
  • Lightning is scattered about him, covering the roots of the sea (v.30)
  • Lightning strikes its mark, its crashing declares His presence (v.33)

 

These themes are carried through and brought to a climactic end in chapter 37, acting as a cloud-like shroud to usher in the LORD’s majesty in chapter 38:

 

  • That his words are like a thunder, thundering with his majestic voice (v.2, 4, 5)
  • His lightning to the corners of the earth, unrestrained when his voice is heard (v.3, 4)

 

The Genesis-type language in chapter 37, combined with the LORD’s booming voice and Word, are indicative of Elihu’s understanding of how creation came into being and his focus on God’s intention for man, vs. Job’s three “wise-men”’s views of man’s intention of God.  Elihu’s words in this chapter illustrates the powerful and authoritative aspect of the LORD’s words and commands – the imperative nature of His Word causing immediate transformation.  And yet – God has not actually “spoken” in the way that Job has stated God to be in silence!  Elihu is still able to identify the gospel in the creation, that God has not ceased to speak, and that it is only by his Word and anything can be sustained (c.f. Colossians 1:15).  So Elihu displays in this chapter to us, fallen man, that God’s revelation is just as powerful by his spoken word as can be traced in the sky, in the snow and in the very ice of His breath.

 

So Elihu goes on immediately in this chapter to describe the life that is breathed from God’s Word.  From v.6-13, he explains that the LORD’s sovereignty in all events of life and uses the winter imagery; that snow shall fall on earth in his mighty downpour (v.6), whilst the hand of every man is sealed and beasts remain in their dens (v.7-8); that by His breath, ice is given and broad waters frozen (v.10) – ultimately, “whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen”.  Even in the nature of this world, God’s love is wildly imprinted.  Such are the wondrous works of God which, if Job considered further, would reveal the reasons for his current demise (v.14-18).  Job is revealed for his over-presumption of the LORD’s perspective, with Elihu stringing question after question:

 

  • Do you know how God lays his command upon them and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine?
  • Do you know the balancings of the clouds…?
  • Can you spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?

 

Chapter 38

After 37 chapters of apparent silence (which Elihu would of course dispute, as he would affirm the LORD’s presence during Job’s friends’ “wise” counsel), the LORD booms into the scene by answering Job out of the whirlwind (very different to the LORD who spoke a whisper in 1 Kings 19 to Elijah), his first words being:

 

Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

 

It is important that the LORD’s first words are words of justice.  The LORD immediately identifies those with false counsel, just as the LORD, upon reacting to the enemy’s work in Genesis 3, immediately adjudicates the situation at hand.  Without such justice, there can be no mercy by the power of the Passover Lamb.  Yet, the LORD does not begin to provide answers.  Instead, as fitting to the precursor by Elihu, He continues with the questions in this chapter with regard to the majesty of his creation (a total of 26 questions including his very first statement!).  Several of these questions validate Elihu’s position in chapters 36 and 37.

 

However, whilst these words appear to be directed to the men who have darkened counsel by words, to the men who have misrepresented God in their attempts to be humble; God’s questions are most fitting if they are posited against the enemy, the Satan.  Just as if God is speaking to the prince of Tyre in Ezekiel 28, or the Day Star, son of Dawn, the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:  WHO is this enemy?  Did he lay the foundation of the earth?  Where was he when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?  God’s accusation is that of the enemy’s lack of wisdom and knowledge.  “You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!” – fitting words of irony against the prince who so heavily relied on his wisdom and understanding (Ezekiel 28:4).  Even the enemy has not seen the gates of death and deep darkness, the very Sheol which is the prison the LORD has prepared for the father of lies and his children (John 8:44; 1 John 2:22).  While the LORD is clearly speaking to Job here (c.f. Job 42:7), similarly his words directed at the prince of Tyre and king of Babylon and not merely to those men, but to the evil spirit speaking behind those men.

 

Chapter 39

So the LORD continues his questions, which hones in onto the lives of the creatures He has made (15 questions), covering:

 

  • Mountain goats, from the old giving birth to the young becoming strong (v.4);
  • Wild donkey, who has the arid plain for his home, the salt land for his dwelling place, scorning the city (v.5-8);
  • Wild ox’s unwillingness to serve man, unwillingness to be bound (v.9-12);
  • Ostrich, who appear beautiful but can hardly be called pinions and plumage of love (v.13-17)
  • Horses, which are mighty, leaping like locusts, with terrifying snorts and great exultation in strength (v.19-25)
  • Hawks, which soar (v.26)
  • Eagle, which mounts up high and makes his nest, dwelling at his stronghold and where the slain are, spying out the prey and  (v.27-30)

 

The LORD therefore spent two chapters – 38 and 39 – describing His activity in the nature of creation, and in the life of creation.  The vastness of his glory which transcends man’s feeble understanding and role in His large universe.

 

Chapter 40

So Job responds in this chapter humbly – “Behold I am of small account; what shall I answer you?” (v.4)

 

The LORD’s response in v.7 is a refrain from chapter 38:3 – “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me”.  As Adam Clarke interprets:

 

Verse 3. Gird up now thy loins: I will not confound thee with my terrors; dismiss all fearful apprehensions from thy mind; now act like a man, kegeber, like a hero: stand and vindicate thyself. For I will demand of thee-I will ask thee a series of questions more easy of solution than those which thou hast affected to discuss already; and then thou shalt have the opportunity of answering for thyself.”

 

Sometimes we forget the majesty of the Lord.  Sometimes we blaspheme, use his name in vain, treat him like a theological topic to be discussed, molded, politicized for our debased desires.  Yet have we an arm like God, thunder with a voice like his (v.9)?  Can we truly treat our workmanship as though we have adorned ourselves with majesty and dignity, clothe ourselves with glory and splendor, abase those who are proud and bring them low and tread down the wicked where they stand (v.10-12), let alone bind the enemy (v.13)?  No – although we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do His works (Ephesians 2:10).  We are none of these things outside of Jesus – that is the LORD’s response.  Without the Lord, our own right hand cannot save ourselves (v.14).  Even a grand creature such as the Behemoth cannot contend with the Lord himself, although he may be the fear of men (v.19-24)!

 

It is here that we realize the Lord, at this point, is but using the Behemoth as an analogy both for himself (see Job 41:10) and for us.  If we cannot even contend against the Behemoth, how can we contend against God?  And yet, even if we think ourselves equal to Behemoths, are they not also humbled by the Father above?  No matter how much we boast, we are but the clay of the potter.  We who mold are but molded daily by His grace.  As Matthew Henry commented:

 

The behemoth perhaps is here intended (as well as the leviathan afterwards) to represent those proud tyrants and oppressors whom God had just now challenged Job to abase and bring down. They think themselves as well fortified against the judgments of God as the elephant with his bones of brass and iron; but he that made the soul of man knows all the avenues to it, and can make the sword of justice, his wrath, to approach to it, and touch it in the most tender and sensible part. He that framed the engine, and put the parts of it together, knows how to take it in pieces. Woe to him therefore that strives with his Maker, for he that made him has therefore power to make him miserable, and will not make him happy unless he will be ruled by him.”

 

Chapter 41

The analogy at the end of chapter 40 continues here, from Behemoth to Leviathan.  Can we play with Leviathan, a type of the Lord?  Can we draw the Lord out with a fishhook, press down His tongue with a cord, put a rope in His nose, pierce His jaw with a hook (v.1-2)?  Will He make many pleas to us, speak to us with soft words, make a covenant with us and make Himself a servant forever?  (v.3-4)  Will we play with Him as with a bird, or will we put him on a leash for our girls?  Will traders bargain over Him, divide Him up among the merchants?  Can we fill His skin with harpoons or His head with fishing spears?  Lay our hands on Him? (v.5-8)  Can we strip off His outer garment, come near Him with a bridle, open the doors of His face?  (v.13-14)

 

Yet, all these things we have attempted to do and have done against our Lord Jesus Christ!  Is he not the lamb led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7)?  Was he not whipped and his flesh torn (Psalm 22:6)?  Did we not divide his garments (Psalm 22:18)?  Did we not spit and laugh at him (Mark 14:65)?  Such is the grace of God – that the Lord had the power, majesty and authority to be like the Leviathan, and yet condescended himself incarnate as though a lamb.  Here is Jesus, whose very sneeze could have flashed forth light, with eyes like eyelids of the dawn, flaming torches coming out of his mouth, smoke from his nostrils – this is the power imbued in the creature from the Creator.  Is our Christ the same one who can make the deep boil like a point, make the sea like a pot of ointment – indeed, is he your king over all the sons of pride (v.18-34)?

 

Chapter 42

So Job understands – the grace of God found in the Kinsman Redeemer who would humble himself (Job 19:25); the God who is like Behemoth or Leviathan; the Christ who, from Job’s sight, would be flogged just like an innocent lamb slain.  Job repents in dust and ashes, recognizing the grandeur of the Father’s glory and grace, and the Lord turns to Job’s “friends” in judgment – a judgment and righteous anger which Job is shielded from (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17).

 

The Lord is angry with Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar – they have simply spoken lies of Him.  He is not a Lord who is a glory-monger; or requires us to work in order to receive glory.  Quite the opposite.  Look now on the seven bulls and seven rams which Job is honoured to sacrifice as their mediator (v.8).  The Lord institutes Job as their mediator and intercessor, as their model of Jesus; it is on Job’s basis and merciful prayer that the Father chooses not to deal with the three according to their folly, for they have not spoken of Him what is right, as Job had (v.7-8).  In accepting Job’s prayer, and witnessing what appears to be a mindless slaughter of bulls and lambs (symbolically numbered at seven, the Lord’s rest), the friends should now see that Behemoth and Leviathan are what the Lord is entitled to.  Yet, it is the form of the lamb which the Lord took on, in order that even the likes of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar would be saved, so that they too can be like Job and be the mediators and intercessors of other “friends”.

 

Therefore, from Job 42:10, we see that Job is prosperous again and is restored beyond what he initially had.  He had twice more than before – in Job 1:3 it stated he had 7000 sheep, now he has 14,000; 3,000 camels, and now 6,000, and so forth.  Although Psalm 90:10 states that a normal man should only have a lifespan of 70 to 80 years, Job 42:16 states he lived 140 years and saw up to four generations.  He also had beautiful daughters, named Jemimah (“sunshine”, to answer the dark night of his suffering), Keziah (“beautiful smell”, like Kaziah, cinnamon, compared against the offensive breath to Job’s wife in Job 19), Keren-happuch (“little make-up box” as his youngest, beautiful taughter, compared against Job 16 where Job’s face was red with weeping, this beautiful daughter covering Job’s sorrow).

 

More radically, in v.15, Job grants them an inheritance among their brothers, which is not introduced until Moses’ time hundreds of years later (Numbers 27; Deuteronomy 25)!  Yet, it is also because only by allowing the inheritance to pass through the women can Jesus Christ be the rightful king!  Through Job’s obedient act, we are on step closer to the birth of the offspring who would stamp on the enemy’s head.

 

We look to Isaiah 61, which Jesus said spoke of himself – in v.7, the Word shows that because of Christ, we too (like Job) would be brought through our suffering to a new body, a new family – a double portion.  We are therefore looking forward to a future far outstretching the paradise of Eden, so that we might have a blessing in Christ which we would never have had with Adam.  There would be no enemy causing death and destruction, for our hope (which is not in our hope or found independent of God, c.f. Job 41:9) is in the Son.

Job 32-42: The Slaughtered Lamb

2 Samuel 24: Costly grace

2 Samuel 24:  Costly grace

As if the end of chapter 23 does not already indicate and maximize the sin of David as the shadow-king of Israel by referring to Uriah as among one of David’s thirty mighty men (murdered by David’s lustful adultery and scheming), once again David’s weakness is the subject of chapter 24.

2Sa 24:1-25  Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”  (2)  So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.”  (3)  But Joab said to the king, “May the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?”  (4)  But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel.  (5)  They crossed the Jordan and began from Aroer, and from the city that is in the middle of the valley, toward Gad and on to Jazer.  (6)  Then they came to Gilead, and to Kadesh in the land of the Hittites; and they came to Dan, and from Dan they went around to Sidon,  (7)  and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites; and they went out to the Negeb of Judah at Beersheba.  (8)  So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.  (9)  And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king: in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000.

v.4 – “presence of the King”; began from Aroer to Gad to Jazer to Gilead to Kadesh (land of Hittites) to Dan to Sidon to Tyre to Hivites / Canaanites to Negeb of Judah at Beersheba.  Why, again, is the “anger of the LORD kindled against Israel” (v.1) (chapter 21:15-20)?  There is no explanation in the narrative, but it is apparent that Israel has succumbed to disobeying the LORD.  Let us turn to 1 Chronicles which explains how this has happened:

1Ch 21:1-7  Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel… (5)  And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword, and in Judah 470,000 who drew the sword.  (6)  But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab.  (7)  But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel.

Note how Satan is the one who stood against Israel; but it is the LORD’s anger which was kindled against the visible church.  Neither narrative explains exactly what had caused Satan to be permitted to stand against Israel (c.f. Job 1-2) but one thing is clear.  This chapter is a fitting end to the two books of Samuel: while Samuel began with the unexpected election of this young priest over the House of Eli, we move quickly to the unexpected election of the young shepherd David over the House of Saul, and now we move once again to the House of Araunah the Jebusite (v.16) over the House of David.  In each instance, we see how God has narrowed down the elected offspring through whom the Christ would come; from the form of priesthood and kingship firstly rejected and then typologically portrayed by its replaced shadow, as a witness to the true fulfillment of the priesthood and kingship by the Angelic Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5-7).

Under this overarching and underlining agenda of the 2 books, it is important that Satan stood against Israel, and that God permitted Satan to do so.  Though it is not explicitly explained as to why Satan stood against Israel, what is displayed is the act of sin which David commits by numbering the visible church as incited by Satan.  In this act of listening to the enemy, David has identified himself as a type of Christ and not the promised King Himself.  It is therefore important to see man’s struggle with Satan since the books of Genesis to 2 Samuel, for no man has struggled successfully against Satan and crushed him definitively.  Even David and his mighty men only defeated Satan’s children, be it the great Egyptian, the remnant of the Rephaim, the Goliath, amongst other fear-inducing enemies – but The Enemy could only be bound (Matthew 12:29) by The One Chosen to crush him truly at his head (Genesis 3:15).  The victories of David are but shadows of Christ’s victory against the Satan; but they are at most shadows.  David is not the Christ Himself, for David must also rely on Christ as His Second LORD and Mediator (Psalm 2; 110 ; c.f. his Christ-centered in chapter 22).

Even Joab, the man who was not mentioned among the David’s mighty men, this schemer and murderer found David’s decree abhorrent (v.6).  For how can David puff up his pride in counting the visible church when the LORD has left a true holy remnant in Christ?  Such is the reason why Levi and Benjamin are not counted amongst the census – according to the Hebrew of these two tribes’ names, the Levites who are joined to the priesthood are not to be joined to this unholy census, just as the Benjaminites, the children of the right hand should not be equally included.  Yet, it is the Benjaminites and the Levites who are among those who receive the most ominous prophecies of Jacob in Genesis 49.  Where do they actually stand?  Are they really the joy of Christ’s childbirth, or are they truly riddled with warfare and ravenous wolves?  It is perhaps likely that focus on the lack of inclusion of these two tribes is to highlight the seeming confusion of the silver lining between the unseen and seen Church – very much the subject of this chapter.

It is then clear in v.10 that David’s heart struck him (or, more viciously, killed him – nakah נכה) after he had numbered the people – that the Holy Spirit grieved (Isaiah 63:10 / Ephesians 4:30), and quite right that he accepted how he had sinned greatly and pursued the LORD to take away David’s iniquity.  David did not, nor through a priest, sacrifice an innocent animal according to the Levitical laws for his sin.  He knew very well that these animals could not take away people’s sins (Psalm 51; Hebrews 9:23) – only the LORD could take away the iniquity (Mark 2:7).

(10)  But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”  (11)  And when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying,  (12)  “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the LORD, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.'”  (13)  So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.”  (14)  Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”

So in verses 10-14 we see the LORD presenting three choices to David – all of whom will be done to David by the LORD Himself: three years of famine, three months of persecution, or three days of pestilence (v.13).  Though in the first two options we see the LORD withholding his provision (be that provision of natural resources in the famine; or his protection from external or internal strife), it is only in the third option that the LORD is directly and positively inflicting pestilence on Israel.  David would rather “ fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but… not fall into the hand of man”.

How interesting it is that David still sees the LORD’s mercy in the midst of these three options which will afflict the nation as a result of David’s failed mediation as the righteous king of Israel.  David saw ahead that the LORD’s mercy in the three days; but he did not see any comparative benefits from the other two choices which will result in a combination of the LORD’s and men’s wrath.  Only in the third choice will we see sin personalized as between the church and the LORD (Psalm 51:4), the breaking of the covenant affecting first and foremost that God-man relationship.

(15)  So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men.  (16)  And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.  (17)  Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house.”  (18)  And Gad came that day to David and said to him, “Go up, raise an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”

What is interesting is that the LORD’s pestilence has spread from “Dan to Beersheba”, the same geographic spread of people from David’s census in v.2; and it is akin to the pestilence elsewhere in Scripture, be it in the days of Noah by the global flood (Genesis 7); in the days of Abraham by the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24); in the days of Moses by the ten plagues (Exodus 8-12); and this is but another way of sifting the spiritual Israelite from the visible Israelite, the symbolic sweep over the same people who had been counted part of David’s church in the earlier verses of this chapter.

Yet, we must not forget the imagery of what is shown here – and this is the very crux of the consolidated message and thrust of the two books of Samuel.  The Angel of the LORD by the threshing floor (quote) of Jerusalem – this place is symbolic not only because it is the Hebrew for the “city of peace”, but that commentators have recognized this place as Moriah, the place where the Christ would be crucified and where Abraham had foresaw that the LORD would provide a lamb for the burnt offering (Genesis 22; 2 Chronicles 3:1):

“This place is supposed to be Mount Moriah: on which, according to the rabbins, Cain and Abel offered their sacrifices; where Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac, and where the temple of Solomon was afterwards built.” – Adam Clarke

(19)  So David went up at Gad’s word, as the LORD commanded.  (20)  And when Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him. And Araunah went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground.  (21)  And Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be averted from the people.”  (22)  Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood.  (23)  All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.”  (24)  But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.  (25)  And David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.

And thus the chapter ends not on David’s victory; not on Israel’s faithfulness; but rather quite an opposite note.  The plague, caused by David, and inflicted upon Israel (upon whom the perfect rounded number of 70,000 were taken away from the visible church), could only be propitiated by the burnt offerings and peace offerings given on Moriah on the third day of the pestilence.  What a grand gospel picture that has been underlying 1 and 2 Samuel’s message!  It isn’t men who inflicted our Christ on the cross; it isn’t Satan who induces the wrath and punishment on David for he is but a tool of the Father in tempting David to sin; it is, in actuality, the Father in heaven who inflicts this wrath on the Son!

It is on this second altar, far away from the legitimized altar of the tabernacle but instead is placed on the exact location of Christ’s crucifixion, that we see the light of the world – the Son of God – break into the dim pestilence and wrath of the Father which would have otherwise continued to wipe out the visible church.  Yet, the Father had planned for the Angel to have mercy upon arriving at Jebus (the ancient Jerusalem) for this is where election is displayed for the world to see – the alpha and omega of election in Jesus Christ to be risen on the third day on the cross at Moriah.

The brazen altar which Moses made was at Gibeon (1Ch_21:29), and there all the sacrifices of Israel were offered; but David was so terrified at the sight of the sword of the angel that he could not go thither, 1Ch_21:30. The business required haste, when the plague was begun. Aaron must go quickly, nay, he must run, to make atonement, Num_16:46, Num_16:47. And the case here was no less urgent; so that David had not time to go to Gibeon: nor durst he leave the angel with his sword drawn over Jerusalem, lest the fatal stroke should be given before he came back. And therefore God, in tenderness to him, bade him build an altar in that place, dispensing with his own law concerning one altar because of the present distress, and accepting the sacrifices offered on this new altar, which was not set up in opposition to that, but in concurrence with it. The symbols of unity were not so much insisted on as unity itself. Nay, when the present distress was over (as it should seem), David, as long as he lived, sacrificed there, though the altar at Gibeon was still kept up; for God had owned the sacrifices that were here offered and had testified his acceptance of them, 1Ch_21:28. On those administrations in which we have experienced the tokens of God’s presence, and have found that he is with us of a truth, it is good to continue our attendance. “Here God had graciously met me, and therefore I will still expect to meet with him.” – Matthew Henry

And standing by this cross is not easy.  It is not cheap.  It is in fact very expensive – Luke 14:27.

Cheap grace is not the king of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin.  Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has.  It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.  It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.  It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.  It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.  Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.  Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.  Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “Cost of Discipleship”

2 Samuel 24: Costly grace

Genesis 2:15 – Salvation by works or faith alone?

We now come to a heavily misconceived topic – “Work”. The verse in Hebrew for Genesis 2:15 goes:

וַיִּקַּ֛ח יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם וַיַּנִּחֵ֣הוּ בְגַן־עֵ֔דֶן לְעָבְדָ֖הּ וּלְשָׁמְרָֽהּ׃

Here is the NIV translation:

“…Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

The Chinese 和合本 translation:

耶 和 華   神 將 那 人    安 置 在 伊 甸 園 、 使 他    修 理 看 守

The NLT translation:

The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.

The KJV:

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

NASB:

Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

Finally, the ESV (I will only highlight my bolded vocabulary in the previous translations):

“…and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and to keep it“….

Notice the discrepancy over the usage of the Hebrew for ‘yanach’ (ינח) (commonly translated above as “to put”, which can be translated to ‘deposit’, ‘by implication, to allow to stay or to rest‘), ‘abad (עבד) (commonly translated as ‘dress’, ‘cultivate’, ‘work’ or ‘tend’ – also can mean to work (in any sense); by implication, to serve, till, (causatively) enslave, etc.), and ‘shamar’ (שמר) (meaning normally to ‘keep’ – also can mean to hedge about (as with thorns), i.e. guard; generally, to protect, attend to, etc.) Why such a discrepancy? Any omission of one of the valid meanings in the context can crucially change the meaning of the verse. As for the Chinese translation, it should definitely be given its due consideration come later in this post – but a quick note to see is that it’s translation for God putting man there is God “resting” man in the garden, and “rested” man in the garden to “serve” (one of the possible English translations of ‘abad) and to “keep” (excluding the term “it” after the word serve and keep – why? This surely doesn’t make grammatical sense? Serve and keep what? Nothing? Or Eden, as the other translations suggest? Are these translations even reliable, given the not-so-trivial discrepancies?).

And yet, the problem on the common evangelical view of work is the basis of the interpretation of Genesis 2:15. A book commonly used in student circles in preparation for their work ministry in the future is “Thank God it’s Monday”, which, again, bases the Godly work and secular work divide on the faulty interpretation of Genesis 2:15. Sure, the book has its positive impact on enabling people to focus on God even during their nine to five (or nine to infinity, as is common in Hong Kong), but is it that simple? Can we incorporate God into our work? Or has it always been vice versa? What does Genesis 2:15, pre-fall, really say about “work”?

The basic definition of work is what we have to do in order for us to live. The basic level is to grow, hunt, and find your food, and build and maintain your home. This can involve earning money so someone else can hunt your food, or someone else can build our home. This work is crucial to life and maintenance.

Traditional Protestant Work Ethic

The traditional Protestant work ethic lies in Genesis 1 – that work is labouring in creating the universe. And because man is created in God’s image, the “logic” is that man, is in the image of God who is a worker. And this seems to be substantiated furthermore in Genesis 2:15 – that the Lord put man in the garden of Eden to work.

But this creates the false impression that full-time paid Christian work is better than secular work (which the octogenarian John Stott had once mistakenly thought in “The Living Church”). However, all work should be good – all our work should be our worship, and work therefore isn’t refined to the ‘religious’ sphere. 1 Corinthians 9 shows that everything we do is for God. In Adam’s sin in Genesis 3, we see that work has become a drudge and becomes toilsome, but work is essentially still a good thing. Is that true? That to be godly is to be working hard at our job as a form of worship? A duty that we owe to God? So being a Christian is akin to working hard?

Self-speaking theology of work

There is something disturbing behind working hard as a form of worship. As a preliminary note, it seems to suggest to the non-Christian that Christians can only be accepted by God through their hard work – an impression we wish not to impose on the observer, as we should be living witnesses for the gospel. But what do we make of the Genesis 1 and Genesis 2:15 interpretations of God as worker and that man is a worker in His image?

The simple differentiation lies in the Hebrew, which is a shame given the majority of English translations lend no significance in gender and nuanced distinctions. The word primarily used of God’s work and man’s work are different words in Hebrew! The Hebrew for God’s work is mla’kah ( מְלַאכְתֹּ֖ו ) in Genesis 2:2 , whereas, as we already stated the Hebrew for man’s work is ‘abad ( לַֽעֲבֹ֖ד ) in Genesis 2:15.

If work is what you do in order to live, then how can this definition work with God’s definition of His work? His work had nothing to do with his own sustenance of life. What we see from His work is that creation is a present and a gift for his Son – that God had prepared creation, and a bride, in worship of his Son (Genesis 1:31 and Revelations 13:8 – the Lamb was slain before the creation of the world, for it is not good for man to be alone, and Adam was meant to be a type of Christ, so Christ was slain before the creation of the world, and left his Father to incarnate and die and ascend as the Father, before creation, prepared the race of men and women in faith to be his bride).

Furthermore, the “logic” of the image of God being akin to being Him is quite inversely contradictory – given that the image of God is a very specific thing (as mentioned in my previous post on Day 3 and Day 6 – but more needs to be said about it). Mike Reeves, UCCF theological advisor, in his sermon on theology behind work states that no God-respecting Old Testament scholar thinks that the image has anything to do with working. How do we explain Genesis 2:15 then? Again, the ‘secret’ as it were, lies in the poor Hebrew translation offered in the English NIV translation as is commonly used in European and Asian churches. To suggest that man was put in the garden to work and to care for the garden is to directly contradict Genesis 2:5 – that no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground (‘adam)… but streams came up to water the ground. Furthermore in Genesis 7:12, we don’t see rain until the Noahic flood. If that is the case, Genesis 2:5 refers directly to man working ‘adam after sin (In Genesis 2:5 we see that God states specifically that there was no-one to work the ground (‘adam) – and this is repeated again in Genesis 3 where the ‘adam is cursed – in Genesis 2:15, God is unnecessarily silent on this ‘adam which is so crucial to understanding God’s reversal of his blessing on man, from the ‘adam being a blessing to ‘adam becoming a curse), as opposed to working “it” and keeping “it” (the “it” in English is of course neutral…but does it necessarily refer to the “garden” in the Hebrew?).

To sum up quickly: Earth is an uncultivated wasteland – a lot of work is needed to feed hungry Adam; yet the Lord forms Adam out of that wasteland outside Eden and then we get to see (v. 8-9) the Lord planting a finished garden, where Adam can receive the food that he needs (more on this point of food later on). So in this uncultivated wasteland, we have the garden of Eden which was planted in the east. Why does God take Adam from the uncultivated wasteland and put him in the garden? Genesis 2:15 should be an answer to this subtle point, which many people miss when they preconceive that Adam was made in the garden, which he wasn’t. The significance lies in him being brought to the garden from outside in. Unlike v.8 (where he used the word “put” to mean “to put (used in a great variety of applications, literal, figurative, inferentially, and elliptically)wholly, work.” – a type of putting that is NOT the same as the Genesis 2:15 “put” — Moses therefore did not use the word “the Lord put Adam there”, but Moses said he “rested him” (akin to “sabbathed” him – and in fact, this fits the Chinese translation!) in the garden. The man is therefore given rest in the garden, not work! But we still haven’t explained Genesis 2:15 – it doesn’t say rest… or does it?

The problem lies in the translation of the word “it” – but we can find comfort in the fact that God’s work (in Genesis 2:2) is not the same work used in v. 15, though the English seems to say so. The 3rd person pronoun of “it” in Hebrew however has a male and female distinction. Remember in my first few posts (Genesis 1:1, Genesis 1:2, and details of day 1) that the gender is essential to understanding exegetical insights which prevents problems of liberal or feminist thinking by understanding our roles in relation to God. If we were to respect the Hebrew grammar similarly, we should treat every feminine/male distinction with the same theological distinction as it deserves, which English does not preserve. So here we go.

In Hebrew, the gender for ‘garden’ (‘gan), is masculineגַן ” – yet, in v. 15, the word “it” (which in the English seems to be referring to the garden) is feminine -“הּ” . Essentially this would mean work “her” and keep/take care of “her” which simply doesn’t fit well if we were to imply that Adam was working/tilling/keeping the garden in v. 15 (let alone re-interpreting the word “work” in v. 15, which is different from v. 2). This displays a clear grammatical error in the English translation.

Genesis 3:23 shows God’s punishment for sin, each part of God’s curse being a reversal of Adam and Eve’s previous blessing. They had life, and now they have death. They had rest, and now they had work. If we were to give Genesis 3:23 its contextual understanding in light of pre/post-fall status of man, then we should give Genesis 2:15 its respectfully more accurate translation:

God rested/sabbathed man in the garden to serve and to keep

And why do I not include the word “it”? Because the nature of the word “it”, if used in this context (in English) would wrongfully include the “garden” as an object of the work. However, if we stay sensitive to the grammar, the word “keep” (kamar) is in fact quite similar to the keeping of the covenant in other situations (Genesis 17:9-10; Exodus 19:5; Leviticus 18:4-5; Deuteronomy 7:9). If we were to then understand the context of the female “it” and the consistency of “work/keep” with the keeping of the covenant (since we don’t work the covenant, instead, we kamar “it” (that is used in Genesis 2:15) and kamar the covenant). Therefore, kamar, the keeping of the covenant, is what we know as worship of God – for we, as Christian, serve the Lord and keep his commandments as worship and not as works-salvation in itself (Romans 7:7-25).

Thus it is not the garden that we serve and keep! But it is the gift that God established through his provision of the garden that we ‘serve’ and ‘keep’! The gift of the covenant which he established before creation, the covenant which he ‘barach’ed/cut @ Creation, the gift of salvation through his faithfulness (Romans 3:4)!

This is unsurprising given that the Lord God commanded the man in v. 16 to worship and obey – so the gift is given to man for a finished package to enjoy. In v. 19 we see that the Lord brings animals to man (v. 20-21) – man didn’t have to find the animals. The Lord then finds a suitable helper for man. Man can rest and all he needs to do is worship the Lord and have everything given to him! All of this fleshed out day 6 in Genesis 2 – so that, on the seventh day (the first day after man was made), man can have Sabbath. God has done everything for humanity and delivered them a pure gift. Man did nothing, God did everything.

If creation is a sheer gift of grace, undeserved and unearned love, then the Sabbath, also, is all about the gospel. Sabbath is life all about simply trusting the Lord, not the physical day in itself. Hebrews 4 shows that God’s rest is entered only by believing the gospel – simply trusting the Lord like that ends our attempts to end his favour. Hebrews 4:10 – anyone entering God’s rest = resting from his own work just as God did from his, intended for Adam. Similarly, salvation is about receiving God’s rest – that Christian faith and love lies in the truth that we no longer have to work to have true life – the Lord providing entirely for our salvation.

Therefore, unlike the Pharisees’ whose skewed theological understanding is enables us evangelicals to see that rest, rather than an absence of activity, is in fact absence of work which is different from activity! Israel wouldn’t have Sabbath days only but also Sabbath years. However, the Pharisees turned the Sabbath into earning God’s favour, and the point of the Sabbath is that God will provide entirely. But human sin is the choice to reject God’s favour, and the choice to embrace sin (Genesis 3). Thus, man is cursed with work, yet God still yearns to give humanity the rest we are given to enjoy. So what does God do after day seven? Indeed, to give humanity rest again through His work (John 5:17).

Therefore, the work of redemption through the Christ is to give us rest again in the second week after the first seven days!!!

Work of Redemption

John 5:16 – Jesus has just healed a man on the Sabbath; Genesis 2 shows that healing on the Sabbath is a good thing! Yet, it isn’t seen as ‘work’ – John 5:17 – I too am “working as is the Father”. So has this work anything to do with us? Absolutely not – this work of redemption, which the Lord had been doing after his Sabbath on (Genesis 3) is the work of redemption.

John 9 – We meet a blind man in this chapter; the disciples ask why he is blind and Jesus answers in v.3, so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. In v. 6 and 7, Jesus heals and miraculously brings healing through true sight – the gospel of redemption. The work of God after Genesis 3 therefore is a work of redemption and salvation. Jesus in John’s gospel goes to the cross to do the work of redemption. So in v. 4, as long as it is day, we must join in God’s work! To help in bringing healing and redemption to God’s world!

So, the good works (Ephesians 2:10) is joining in GOD’S work which not implicitly, but directly proclaims the gospel which glorifies His name to His good pleasure (Philipians 2:13)! To help in bringing healing and redemption to God’s world!

Two Types of Work

Therefore, we have two types of work: the work to live (temporarily in this fallen world, post Adamic-exile where he banished to the east), and then there is God’s work, which we join, to bringing about redemption. However, can we blend these two together? After all, we work to live, and not live to work!

And similarly, Paul expresses that our labour/work IN THE LORD that is not in vain – that when Christ calls his disciples/fishermen, he stops them and calls them away from their profession. Same with Paul himself, in Acts 18, we learn that he earns his own living through tent-making, but that is not the identity which he carries. No, he does that tent-making work, so that he can do God’s work! God’s work in that work is possible, but that work is merely a stepping stone, a launching pad so he can do God’s work! Therefore, he does that work in mind of the bigger picture of God’s work in redemption.

This is why what job you do or what you choose to do (whether full-time Christian work or not) isn’t the big issue – if you can be a stunningly effective-gospel preacher as a policeman (witnessing to many) but being a compromising pastor, then the former is much more pleasing to God’s work of redemption. Thus, we are missionaries wherever we go, whether we are in the law firm, in the hospital, in the office, on the field. This therefore makes sense of Colossians 3:23, which has been so poorly misused – Colossians 3:23 describes how our work is to partake in GOD’s work. Thus, we work so we can be about God’s work, and we must never confuse the two – since working hard at being a lawyer and doctor and teacher has nothing to do (except to send mentally and physically healthier people to hell) with the clarity of redemption through the gospel of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. Or, that we do work that provides us with enough flexibility to spread the gospel – indeed, our work must be related to the gospel. Are we providing our finances to God’s work? Are we providing our time to God’s work? Are we providing our work to God’s work? If not, then you have turned your work into works-salvation, a matter that is not edifying but only an emulation of Adam’s fallible choice in Genesis 3 to not keep or serve, but to reject the gift of the covenant of grace.

Genesis 2:15 – Salvation by works or faith alone?